Tonight at our congregation was the questioning and examination of catechumens before they are confirmed. Now, many a time and effort has been spent by many Pastors and committees and probably somewhere along the line there was even a task force trying to “figure out” what to do to keep ongoing instruction and study in life after confirmation.
Tonight, after having gone through the contents of the Small Catechism questions were open for among those present to ask. One of our faithful teachers asked the students how they planned on continuing their study of God’s Word now that catechism classes were over? I must say, their answers were fantastic – all started with hearing God’s Word in the Divine Service (even quoting Romans 10:17!), then mentioned some form of Sunday School, family devotions, and the like.
This seems so simple and yet as many know and is easily observed, life after confirmation in the Lutheran Church tends to be a bit downhill.
I have long thought a major culprit was tying confirmation to 8th grade, especially when so many of our Lutheran schools (including that of my upbringing and my current parish) “graduate” students at the same grade level. It lends to support the notion of confirmation as graduation. This is one reason, among many, that we have progressively lowered the age for catechumens to begin their study. Primary reason is to teach them the faith and have them faithfully receiving Christ’s gifts. Removing this tie to graduation and being done in their instruction in the Christian faith is an additional side benefit of this practice.
Children are far capable of learning the truths of the Christian faith, especially as expressed in the Small Catechism – and they are the intended audience for which Luther writes. They have faith and many desire to receive Christ’s gifts in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Only by God’s grace and working of the Holy Spirit are we kept in true faith – called, gathered, and enlightened with the Gospel. Yet, realistically speaking, teaching these children the Christian faith at a younger age they will not yet be at a level or an age where the graduation mentality has begun to set in place. They are learners in their schooling and learners in their catechesis. They know that completing one level and moving onto the next is not the final stage and the tie to catechesis would be the same. They are used to completing and continued learning and study.
Not only this, but it faithfully gives the Lord’s good and gracious gifts to His dear sheep, even these children. Parents, you are called to a vocation to love your children and bring them up in the instruction of the Lord. Pastors and teachers are there to assist and lead and guide but the responsibility rests on parents, particularly fathers. Teach them young, while they are sponges. Teach them in simple ways, as in the Small Catechism and in hymnody. Have them hear God’s Word in the Divine Service, not removing them from the preached Word. They will absorb, they will learn, and by God’s grace they will continue.