(…continued) Now, to return to the question I asked earlier: what are we doing here today? The rite of confirmation, as we know it, is not mentioned by Jesus, it is not commanded anywhere in the Bible, and it was intentionally ignored and discarded by Martin Luther. As I said, it was later rediscovered by the Lutheran Church, polished off a bit and reinterpreted, and is now a part of a long and cherished tradition. But now it has a different meaning than it had in the Middle Ages and it would be good for us to briefly review that meaning.
The meaning of Confirmation has to do first of all with Baptism, Baptism which is a main event in the life of Lutheran Christians. Baptism, unlike confirmation, is spoken of quite extensively in the New Testament, it IS specifically commanded by Jesus, and it receives a great deal of emphasis by Luther. It is in Baptism, Luther says in the Small Catechism, that God “forgives sins, delivers from death and the devil , and gives eternal life to all who believe, as the word and promise of God declares.” Confirmation adds nothing to that. What more can be added? We receive the entire promise of God right from the start. So what is confirmation and what part does it have?
The answer is in the name now given to confirmation in the Lutheran hymnal. It is now called ‘Affirmation of Baptism.’ That is a good name to call it, because the name itself includes a proper definition of confirmation. To affirm is to agree to or with something, to say YES to something. In confirmation you say YES to what happened to you in your baptism.
Each of this year’s confirmands was baptized as an infant. Most Lutherans are. And they did not know 14 years ago when they were baptized what was happening to them. They understood no part of it. But their parents and sponsors were there, and they spoke in the infant’s place. For this reason, some people say Lutherans have it all wrong and we should not baptize infants who do not understand what is going on. But is God’s ability to love and make promises any less than that of human parents? Human parents love and care for and commit themselves to their baby long before that baby understands anything about what parents are or even calls them mommy and daddy. In the same way, God gives his promises and love and care right from the start; and then God gives to parents and sponsors the job of making sure that the little one hears about God and hears about God’s promised future for him or her. This takes place in bed-time prayers and Bible stories, in Sunday Schools lessons and church services, and then in confirmation instruction. And then, after 14 years, you, the confirmand are ready to speak for yourself. At the center of the confirmation service are the same four questions that are at the center of the baptism service. At baptism, your parents and sponsors were asked, “Do you renounce all the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises?,” and they said, “I do.” They were asked “Do you believe in God the Father?,” and they said, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” They were asked, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?… and.. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” They said, “I Believe… in Jesus Christ… I Believe…in the Holy Spirit” and so forth. Now, at confirmation, instead of God giving you the promise as he already did in Baptism, now, in confirmation, YOU make a promise to continue to live in the promise God has given you, to continue in the faith that you were instructed in.
Today the confirmands will answer the same four questions asked of their parents and sponsors 14 years ago, this time speaking for themselves, saying what amounts to, “Yes, I understand now what I did not understand before; and I realize that for a long time already I have been God’s child; and now I make my promise to remain faithful, never leaving or abandoning this faith given to me.” Confirmation is not in any way a graduation from, or an end to, anything. It is just the opposite. It is a promise to continue. When properly understood and honestly undertaken, confirmation is a wonderful opportunity to publicly thank God and affirm your faith in Him.
But if confirmation is in any way understood to be an end of anything, and if the promises are made without any intention of carrying through on them, then it is certainly a ‘fanciful deception’ and ‘monkey business.’ It is up to you which it will be.
Proverbs 3:5,6 — Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.
Colossians 2:6-7 — So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Lord God of our ancestors, we thank you for what you have done and will continue to do with our sons and daughters. Walk with them in life, and keep the evil one from obstructing their path. You see all; you know where the water is deep. Keep them from danger. Order their steps and guide their feet while they run the race of faith. May the good work that you have begun in them be brought to completion at the day of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen. (ELW, page 83)