Saturday, January 3, 2009
Confirmation: Initiation or Inoculation?
Tony and I got in a discussion as a result of a facebook status on rites of passage. Tony is reading "Adam's return: The five promises of male initiation" by Richoard Rohr and was bemoaning lack of rites of initiation for males. Which lead to my observation that our culture actually lacks adequate rites of passage for everyone. And it seems to me that Roman Catholicism at its best does a much better job with rites of passage and initiation in general than Protestants. Which lead Tony to share the following observation:
I have been thinking a lot about Confirmation as one of those significant rites of passage. It is troublesome to me that many of our kids say, "When I was confirmed I really didn't know what I was doing..." It makes me wonder if what we do is initiating or inoculating.
Which got me thinking . . .
First, I think we take the statement, "I really didn't know what I was doing?" too seriously. What makes us think that any of us really know what we are doing when we give our lives to Christ? In fact to really know what we are doing is to follow a rather small God--one we can explain and control. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is not that small! Besides, most every commitment of value we make in life requires a leap of faith--a recognition at some point that we don't know what we are doing. I didn't really know what I was doing when I got married at 21. The vows are just as valid, I simply had to adjust as I learned what they really meant. Confirmation isn't a graduation, but a beginning. It is not the end of the journey by which we should have all the answers, but the beginning of a journey of walking with God. So of course we don't know what we are doing!
Second, other traditions recognize professions of faith that are much less informed than confirmation. Saying the sinners prayer and being baptized at age 6 and saying someone is saved is no different in my mind than baptizing a baby and saying the same thing. Both require that the child continue to commitment his or her life to CHrist, continue to grow in his or her faith, and continue to learn what it is he or she got into when signing up to be a follower of Christ.
Does that mean that we don't need to ask questions about how we do confirmation and how we view the commitments meant that day? No! I think part of the problem with confirmation is related to parents. We don't take it seriously enough for our children to understand its value. Ball, dance, piano, and other activities are given much more priority as we schedule their activities than confirmation, worship, or youth group activity. (And face it-any confirmation not followed up by regular church attendance and bible study is not a true commitment.) And we confirm at an age when parents have more control over when and where kids will be then they do.
Furthermore, I don't believe congregations takes confirmation seriously enough! This is something to celebrate! The confirmation of any young person is a major event in the life of a church!
Also, I seriously think that the Roman Catholic practice of confirming in High School is probably a much more valid way to handle it. They have a longer process that requires more of youth who are at an age where they are more aware of what it requires.
But that begs the quesiton, what do you do with a child whose already been baptized (and folks lets not knock infant baptism here, I know 4 and 5 year olds that have been baptized in traditions that practice believer's baptism) and who have an experience of God they want to celebrate and make public through a confession of faith? Maybe what we need is a series of rites of passage being careful that they don't become hoops kids must jump through or legalistic events but just more opportunities for confimring faith. Of course, confirmation, unlike baptism, was never meant to be a one time event. It can be done over and over. So why not make that possible?
I really think this is a serious question that we need to struggle with. I'm in the process of getting ready for Confirmation classes this spring and I'm struggling with what age to target given the fact that I appear to have a large number of youth who are on the rolls as professing members who have been baptized at young ages and still others who have never been baptized nor professed faith.
The sad truth is that reqardless of the method or age of baptism and profession of faith most of our churches have more people than we care to admit that have simply been inocluated to CHristianity--they have just enough of it to avoid catching the real thing--and maybe if we are really honest when we point that finger we find fingers pointing back at ourselves.
So Tony, Steve, Kim, others--what do you think?