Confirmation: When? Early? Later, or not at all?

Abstract: This essay sets forth the Reformation pattern for admission to the Lord’s Supper – baptism, instruction, admission to the Lord’s Table. Age was not a factor in this historic practice. Modern changes have moved toward early communion before full instruction and confirmation. All three major Lutheran hymnals in the US have orders for the rite of first communion before full instruction and confirmation. Early communion was followed by a strong push for infant communion since the Eucharist is the birthright of the baptized.

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Hymn Summary: Second Sunday after Trinity

A Multitude Comes from the East and the West (LSB 510) — 1 yr

In Luke 14 Jesus explains the ones who eat bread in the kingdom of God: They are those who are poor, crippled, blind, and lame, that is (in context), those who are sinners and have no help except the Lord Jesus Christ. This lively hymn by Norwegian pastor, hymn writer, and hymnal compiler Magnus Brostrup Landstad (1802–1880) richly describes the love of God in inviting such sinners to his Supper (in time) and to the great wedding feast (in eternity). Most of those who had been invited from Israel rejected Christ. Thus, the call invited those of every land, that multitude coming from the east and the west. All the saints from all times are joined with us at the Lord’s Supper and will dine with us in heaven. All the trials, trouble, and mourning of this life will be forgotten. The plea, Have mercy on us, O Jesus, will be turned into a triumphal hymn based on the mercy Christ has had on His saints.

OR

Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Prepared (LSB 622)

Samuel Kinner (1603–1668) was a physician in Breslau, Germany (now in Poland). Although this physician did not call the Lord’s Supper the medicine of immortality, he clearly describes it as such: his body and blood, which grant rest, comfort, and pardon for weary and sin-oppressed souls. The saints are not to trust in and empty supper (such as the Reformed teach) but in the true Supper of Christ’s Body and Blood in, with, and under bread and wine! Reason cannot understand this reality of Christ’s presence, but the Word declares it to be true. We do not “spring our minds into heaven to access Christ there,” but rather receive him where he promises to be, at his altar. Thanks be to Christ for this consoling Supper, a true and blessed comfort when living or dying.


Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid (LSB 500) — 3 yr

Rhabanus Maurus (776-856), Archbishop of Mainz, wrote Veni Creator Spiritus, Mentes, which appears in varying forms as LSB 498, 499, and this one, 500. The Holy Spirit had an active role in the creation of all things (see Genesis 1:2). The hymn prays that he would continue to refresh us, freeing us from sin, and making us living temples. He who is uncreated light and fire is the one who gives the healing message of salvation in Christ alone. This holy one now makes sinners into holy saints. All of this is by the Spirit’s gracious work, not the work of man, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8–9). Rightly do saints who have received this grace return thanks to this Paraclete (counselor/comforter) along with the Father and the Son.

This hymn is paired with the tune, All Ehr und Lob, which was the tune used by Luther for his German versification of the Gloria in excelsis.

 


Rev. Thomas E. Lock serves as Kantor/Assistant Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Denver, Colorado. 

Infant Communion Makes Strange Bedfellows

— James A. Lee II

I have witnessed arguments in favor of infant communion coming from camps that simultaneously practice open communion. While I formerly thought that a causal connection between these practices was illusionary, I'm not so convinced anymore.

It seems to me that a robust ecclesiology prevents the connection of infant communion and open communion. Take for example the Eastern Orthodox churches. These churches practice infant communion but reject open communion. How so? The reason for this is also identified in the fact that many Eastern Orthodox parishes require rebaptism of converts to the East: sacraments can only be administered by and within the Church.1 Therefore, why would the churches of the East-the church-engage in fellowship with those outside of the church? Infants are communed because they are baptized: it is all part of initiation into the church.

But we also see the practice of infant communion by the Episcopal church and voices within the ELCA. In church bodies that welcome all baptized Christians to the altar-even the non-baptized-infant communion is not an issue. Why? Again, the answer is connected to ecclesiology. The church has no confessional borders, the church is open, the church is not defined by propositional truths. Why then would the celebration of the sacrament not be administered to infants?2

The similarity of these two sides is in the immediacy between the administration of baptism and the reception of the Lord's Supper. All that is required of an individual for the reception of the sacrament of the altar is his or her individual participation in the church. The difference is that the Eastern churches do not operate with such a broad and open understanding of the church. The churches of the East are the church; those outside of this communion do not participate in the fullness of the church catholic and orthodox. Our Episcopal and ELCA examples operate with less rigid and defined boundaries. While the churches of the East do not practice open communion, in both instances initiation into the church entails and demands reception of the Supper.

How does a confessional Lutheran who favors infant communion fit into this landscape? It appears that there are three possible options: (1) Infants receive communion because they are baptized. That is to say, confession of faith doesn't matter. Faith is seen primarily in categories of relationship and participation rather than articles of faith and propositional truth. (2) Infants receive communion because they share in the faith of the communities to which they belong, familial and ecclesial; they are communed on account of this faith and in anticipation of their future confession. (3) Infants receive communion because they already have a perfect knowledge of the faith and all of its articles.

While there are issues with all three options, particularly problematic to (1) and (3) is the practice of open communion. Why would a Lutheran parish that practices infant communion not commune all baptized infants, regardless of church confession? While a position against open communion may still be tenable, I fail to see a means of avoiding open infant communion. How could one admit a Lutheran infant to the altar and not a Baptist or Pentecostal infant? It cannot be on account of an infant's confession of faith, for no such confession has been articulated. It appears the tenable options are to conclude (a) that there is something lacking, missing, or irregular in baptism practiced by other denominations, or (b) that while baptism brings an infant into the church, the particular community to which the infant belongs imparts something additional to the infant that is not given in the waters of baptism. Otherwise, how could one not admit to the altar any infant that has received Christian baptism?

 

James A. Lee II is a Ph.D. student at Saint Louis University and Assistant Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worden, Illinois and Zion Lutheran Church in Carpenter, Illinois.

 

As an extension of LOGIA, BLOGIA understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed on Blogia are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

 

  1. See John Klentos, “Rebaptizing Converts into the Orthodox Church: Old Perspectives on a New Problem,” Studia Liturgica 29 (1999): 216–34.
  2. This seems to follow the logic found in Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, which then, in 1988, receives official support by the House of Bishops. See World Council of Churches, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982), 12.9; Ruth A. Meyers, "Rites of Initiation," in The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey, eds. Charles Hefling and Cynthia Shattuck, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 484–99.

Toddler Communion

— Mark Mattes Increasingly, Lutheran congregations are administering the Lord's Supper to children at ever earlier ages. The ELCA's "A Statement on Communion Practices" (II.A.2) had precluded infant communion. But the later "The Use of the Means of Grace," adopted by the Fifth Biennial Churchwide Assembly in 1997, opened a Pandora's box. It said that "mutual conversation" between the pastor, the child in question, and parents or sponsors should be involved to determine whether or not the child should be admitted to the Lord's Table. In Application 37c, it noted that "Ordinarily this beginning will occur only when children can eat and drink, and can start to respond to the gift of Christ in the Supper." The phraseology of "start to respond" is vague. What is meant by response?

St. Paul made it clear that a person must "examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28). Self-examination entails that one can test to see if one's belief squares with what Paul taught about the Lord's Supper. Given the wondrous gift that is offered in the Lord's Supper, every Christian before going to the sacrament does well to ask himself: (1) have I confessed and repented of my sins?, (2) do I believe God's absolution?, (3) do I believe that I am receiving Christ's precious body and blood, under the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of my sins, (4) do I share in the same confession and unity as had all the saints before me and alongside me?, and finally, (5) will I seek to amend my sinful life?

Those questions would be a tall order for a toddler. But increasingly congregations are admitting toddlers to the Lord's Table. In one congregation a five-year-old went to the table twice because the supply pastor had only blessed him but had not given him the elements.

Several questions need to be asked: If we don't use St. Paul's standard for admission to the Sacrament of the Altar, then where do we get our standard? If as a parent it is my intuition that my four-year-old should receive the Lord's Supper, then how can I defend my intuition except by claiming that it is based on the guidance of the "spirit." But if one should trust such an intuition and not rely instead on God's firm word, then is not my standard nothing other than that of the Schwämerei? Would guidance of the Holy Spirit contradict those words of Paul that he inspired in the Scripture? There need be no debate about this. God's Spirit will never falsify what he has already written in the word.

Even worse, many congregations with an "open communion" policy unquestioningly and encouragingly admit the unbaptized to Lord's Table. How does that square with St. Paul's position as well as apostolic practice? Many congregations replicate the situation in the Book of Judges, where everyone did what was right in their own eyes. In light of toddler communion, it is ironic that many in our culture tend to make their toddlers older than what they actually are but their young adults younger than what they actually are.

While it is true that no one can fully comprehend the mystery of Christ's real presence in the Supper, that is no reason to dumb down those admitted. If anything, it is a basis to be far more cautious about admission to the Lord's Table.

 

Mark Mattes is Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

As an extension of LOGIA, BLOGIA understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed on Blogia are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

How Do You Know? Διακρινω!

—Aaron T. Fenker

If someone wants to understand the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11 is a very important section in this endeavor. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul recounts Christ’s instituting of the Lord’s Supper. Yet Paul has a stern warning for those partaking of this blessed gift, given for our forgiveness: “He, who eats and drinks judgment upon himself, eats and drinks not discerning the body” (11:29). In the active διακρίνω means, “(1) separate, arrange; (2) make a distinction, differentiate; (3) evaluate, judge [by careful attention]; (4) judge, decide [legally].”1 Moreover, the TDNT speaks in a similar manner about the meaning of the word in the active.2 Most notably, the TDNT cites 1 Corinthians 11:29 under διακρίνω: “‘To distinguish’. . . 11:29: μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα, ‘because he does not distinguish the body of the Lord (from ordinary bread).’”3 A look at the context of 1 Corinthians helps us to understand what διακρίνω means in 11:29, and what that in turn means for our understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

The word, Διακρίνω, occurs five times in 1 Corinthians, and each of these occurrences is in the active voice.4 If one considers the definitions from BDAG and TDNT above, it is clear that διακρίνω involves functions of the reason. How the word is used in 1 Corinthians bears this out. “So is there no one wise among you who can discern between his brother?” (1 Corinthians 6:5) Here the context is one of judging a dispute for which one needs reason, a very similar use to that of 1 Corinthians 4:7.5 Moreover, 1 Corinthians 14:29,6 which revolves around judging what prophets say, also speaks similarly.

Finally, let us consider διακρίνω as it occurs around the Lord’s Supper in chapter 11. In context, τό σῶμα from 11:29 refers to the Lord’s body given in the Supper. This body of Christ must be discerned lest unworthy eating occur. Such discernment of Christ’s body is on Paul’s mind even in 11:31. It is our reason that distinguishes between the bread and body, the wine and blood—that both are present.

I will certainly be accused of being a rationalist for such a view, but the involvement of reason does not mean that it is reason alone. Clearly our reason has been darkened by sin, but it has also definitely been illumined by faith—faith that trusts the words of Jesus and receives them as he gives them to us. Our faith is not irrational. God, in Christ, has redeemed even our reason that now serves faith. Usus ministeralis7 is not denied. Reason gives voice to what faith believes. Reason confesses the ὅτι of the Lord’s Supper, but does not and ought not attempt to describe the πῶς. Reason serves faith, and so cannot be removed, after all, “That which He did not take up, He did not heal.”8

 

The Rev. Aaron T. Fenker is currently serving as Associate Pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bossier City, Louisana.

 

  1. Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and William Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 231.
  2. Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. III: Θ–Κ, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 946–949. Space requirements for this article limit the discussion of διακρίνω only to the active voice.
  3. Ibid., 946.
  4. Cf., 1 Corinthians 4:7; 6:5; 11:29, 31; 14:29.
  5. “For who distinguishes you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received [it], why do you boast as not receiving?”
  6. "But two or three prophets shall speak, and the rest shall judge."
  7. Ministerial use, i.e., the ministerial use of reason.
  8. “τὸ ἀπρόσληπτον ἀθεράπευτον” Gregory of Nanzianzus in Martin Chemnitz, Two Natures in Christ, trans. J.A.O. Preus (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1971), 60.