Making the Case for an Earlier First Communion Age

August 18th, 2007
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Update: I learned in the conversation that has taken place in
the comment section under this post that in fact Dr. Stuckwisch is not
requiring children who are presented to him for first communion to have
committed to memory the basic/primary texts of the Small Catechism,
which are: Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Confession, Lord’s
Supper. I would therefore moderate my support for his comments and
indicate that I believe, as Dr. Sonntag makes clear in one of his posts
below, that clearly our Confessions indicate that such familiarity with
these texts is what our Confessions do expect and require. Therefore, I
would respectfully differ with Pastor Stuckwisch on this point. I would therefore not be communing the six year old child that Dr. Stuckwisch is communing. But,
otherwise, I heartily agree with his pastoral concerns regarding the
age of first communion. I believe Pastor Stuckwisch has done a fine job of making the case for earlier age of first communion, but I believe we are bound together to follow the practice indicated in our Lutheran Confessions of requiring memorization of the primary texts of the Catechism [not the explanations necessarily]. I continue to believe however, in spite of this difference with Dr. Stuckwisch, that the practice of denying the Sacrament to children until after they have completed a two or three year course of instruction is not founded on Biblical or Confessional principles. In the comments that follow this post, you will read how one pastor, William Weedon, is going about these things in his parish and I would agree with his practice]

One of the blessings of the new hymnal Lutheran Service Book is that it puts squarely in front of Lutheran pastors and congregations using it, the opportunity to think more carefully about an earlier age of first communion. Like many of you reading this, I did not receive the Lord’s Supper until I was in the seventh grade, after eight years of Lutheran day school education which included extensive instruction in the faith and complete memorization of Luther’s Small Catechism. But as I had children and observed them as they were taught the basics of the Christian faith: the Commandments, Creed, the Our Father and as they were taught about Holy Baptism and Holy Communion I came to realize that withholding the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar from them until they had gone through "confirmation" simply had no Biblical or Confessional justification.

I’ve been thinking for many years now that we really do need to end the practice of using the Lord’s Supper as a "carrot" we hold before the "horse" through the confirmation process. Further, I found myself growing increasingly concerned by the overall message we are sending when we withhold the Lord’s Supper from children and make it a sort of "graduation" gift, in fact, when confirmation is treated as a kind of "rite of passage" that Lutherans must go through on their way to adulthood.

Then, as I studied Scripture, the Lutheran Confession, Luther and other Lutheran fathers more I realized that our entire system of confirmation really is not rooted in the age of the Reformation and Lutheran Orthodoxy as much as it is rooted in practices that sprang up during the age of Pietism, when it was felt that we need to "do something" to make all these precious realities "more special" and to make sure that people are "really serious" about these things, hence, the process of confirmation became regarded as, in some ways, even more important than Baptism.

I’ve come to realize that we have this quite wrong. And just about the time I came to these conclusions, I was very sad to realize that a, thankfully small, group of Lutheran pastors had, based on similar concerns, gone too far over toward a solution that called on the Church to give the Sacrament to infants in arms and toddlers. Force-feeding the Sacrament to children who have no awareness of what this Sacrament is and why they come to receive it is a grave error and those who advocate infant communion are doing so in contradiction of Sacred Scripture and the Lutheran Confession. Sadly, the fact that there are some who go to this extreme has a tendency to "spook" others from even wanting to talk about an earlier age of first communion.

I awoke this morning to find this wonderful blog post by the Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch. Pastor Stuckwisch is a thoughtful, deeply pastoral and theological man who brings significant experience as a parish pastor and a parent to bear on this issue (he has nine children!).

I commend his comments to you and invite you to consider them prayerfully. I believe he makes the points that must be considered and I can find nothing in these words that contradict what the assumption is in our Confessions about those who wish to receive the Lord’s Supper. This is the most well stated defense of an early age for first communion I’ve read. What are your thoughts about it? Pastor Rick Stuckwisch offers these comments. Click on the "continuing reading" link.

Catechesis, Confirmation and Admittance to the Holy Communion

by Pastor Rick Stuckwisch

I met with a bright little six-year-old girl this morning, for an
hour or two, concerning the chief parts of the Christian faith and
life, the Law and the Gospel, and in particular the Sacrament of the
Altar. It was a great conversation. We talked about the Ten
Commandments and sin, the need for the forgiveness of sins above all
else, the love of God in Christ, the way He got forgiveness for her by
His death upon the Cross, and the way He gives that forgiveness to her
with His Word in the various means of grace. We talked about her Holy
Baptism and what that means for her, and what it is that Jesus gives to
her in the Holy Communion. We talked about who Jesus is, that He is
true God and He became true Man (because He was born of the Virgin
Mary), and that His Word is true and does what He says. The bread and
wine are His body and blood because He says so. We eat and drink them,
in faith, because He says so. With these gifts of Jesus Himself, we
receive His forgiveness of all our sins, because He says so. My young
catechumen did not doubt or question any of this, because she knows and
trusts Jesus, and His Word is sure and certain and sufficient for her:
"Take, eat, this is My Body; drink of it, all of you, this cup is the
New Testament in My Blood; it is for you, for the forgiveness of sins."

Where this six-year-old had questions, she asked. If she was
confused or uncertain about any of the things we talked about, she told
me so, and we clarified things together by considering the Word of
Jesus. She’s still learning lots of things about life, but she already
knows and believes that Jesus loves her and forgives her, and that He
would never lie to her, nor trick her, nor deceive her. She is exactly
right about all of this. Her faith and her confession are simple and
straightforward, and they are all the stronger and steadier for it. She
told me the Commandments, understanding them to be the Word of God. She
confessed the Creed and prayed the Our Father. She remembered and
rejoiced in her Baptism, explaining that it is the Word of God that
makes that water special, and grinning ear-to-ear at all that it means
for her. She knows and confesses what the Sacrament of the Altar is,
what it is for, and what it does.

This dear little catechumen will be admitted to that Sacrament of
the Altar for the first time in a few short weeks. She hasn’t memorized
the entire Catechism, yet, but I know it is only a matter of time. She
has been baptized, she is being catechized (as she has been and will
continue to be), and she confesses beautifully (to the extent that her
present capacity and maturity enable) the same Christian faith of the
one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. I
do not have any doubts about her readiness or worthiness for the Holy
Communion; my visit with her this morning confirmed that, even as it
also contributed to her ongoing catechesis. Nevertheless, her First
Communion will be a significant milestone in my pastoral practice.

Admitting a six-year-old to the Holy Communion is not so remarkable
in itself. I have had other communicants of this same age; but, then
again, I have not regarded age or grade-level to be the standard or
criterion for admission to the Sacrament. I have long held, and still
maintain, that admission is based upon the catechesis of the Word in
the Christian faith and life. By catechesis what I mean is the divine
work of the Law and the Gospel, whereby the Lord God puts the sinner to
death and raises him (or her) to new life through the forgiveness of
sins. It is a divine work that precedes, coincides with, and follows
after Holy Baptism. It is always sufficient, but never complete. It is
sufficient because it is God’s work. It is never complete, because it
is the way and means by which we live with Him, both now and forever.

The theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper is given to us in the
Institution Narratives of the Holy Gospels. All of Holy Scripture
informs our understanding of those narratives, which in turn inform our
understanding of the Holy Scriptures in their entirety. But all of the
essential questions concerning the Sacrament are answered there in the
institution of Christ Himself. It is the use of those Words in the
Divine Service, according to His divine command, that give the true
body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for
us Christians to eat and to drink. It is those same Words that teach us
what the Sacrament is, what it is for, and how it is to be administered
and received. Jesus gives His body and blood to His disciples; and His
disciples are those who are baptized in His Name and catechized in His
teaching, which is not a static but living and active Word, a daily and
lifelong instruction (and return to Holy Baptism).

In the past, I have always required a memorization of the basic six
chief parts of the Catechism prior to First Communion. In this I have
included all of the primary texts, as well as many of Dr. Luther’s
simple explanations. I have not understood this "memory work" to be a
function of worthiness for the Sacrament; for that person is truly
worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words: "Given and shed
for you, for the forgiveness of sins." But the fact of the matter is
that I have proceeded as though memorization were the criterion of
discipleship. Over the past year, I have come to think about this
differently, and it is at this point that my practice is changing. Not
that I am giving up on memory work as an important part of ongoing
catechesis! God forbid! But I understand this memorization to be in
service and support of the catechesis that is wrought entirely by the
Word and Spirit of God. In other words, it is my aim to treat the
active process of catechesis itself as the criterion for First
Communion, rather than the cognitive consequence of "memory work."

Here has been my dilemma, as I have been thinking through these
things, repeatedly, especially over the past year or two. On the one
hand, there are children who are brought to church faithfully and
catechized daily in the home; their entire life is immersed in this
context of the Word of God and prayer, in which they are always being
taught by what they are constantly receiving and experiencing, as well
as by the example of their Christian parents (and older siblings). On
the other hand, there are children who are brought to the church for
Holy Baptism, but only rarely or intermittently exposed to the Word of
God beforehand or afterwards; they are "catechized," not so much by the
Word of God in the life of the Church, but by the secular culture of
the world, exemplified by the preoccupations and priorities of their
families. I’m making these comparisons in the extreme in order to
illustrate the point. It sometimes happens that the children on the one
hand, for whatever reason, are slower in memorizing the Catechism,
while the children on the other hand may be able to learn it by rote
and repeat it rather quickly. So, the question arises, which of these
children are more thoroughly catechized and more readily prepared to
receive the body and blood of Christ in repentant faith and with
thanksgiving? I’m not suggesting or implying that any of them should
ultimately be denied the Sacrament, but it is this very sort of
scenario that has emphatically raised the question for me, as to how
preparedness for the Holy Communion ought to be determined.

It is quite clear to me that the Catechism is a most beautiful and
precious summary of the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, which
powerfully serves the catechetical process and continues to support the
Christian faith and life, even unto death. Likewise, the memorization
of the Catechism serves catechesis, faith and life, by all the more
firmly implanting the Law of God and the Gospel of Christ in the heart
and mind of the Christian. The value of these things can hardly be
overstated. Yet, the same Law and Gospel can be stated differently,
even more simply and straightforwardly, as also at far greater length
and with ever-increasing nuance. And memorization, as meet, right and
salutary as it is, cannot be equated with the repentance and faith
which the Word and Spirit of God effect in the heart of the Christian.
The Catechism’s summary of the Word, and the cognitive memorization of
the Word, rather support the actual catechesis of the Law and the
Gospel and so help to sustain the catechumen in the Word. But there
remains yet a distinction between these several things, which I believe
to be decisive.

My goal is not to dumb-down the catechetical process, nor to
short-change that process. In fact, I’m all in favor of a longer and
more thorough-going catechetical process, one that would involve an
extended number of years of pastoral instruction, as well as daily
prayer and catechesis in the home and family. None of us shall ever get
too much of this. But my interest is in the faithful stewardship of the
Mysteries of God in Christ, including, in this case in particular, the
giving of His Body and His Blood to His disciples, even His very young
disciples, baptized and catechized, for the forgiveness of their sins
and the nourishment of their Christian faith and life.

Those children whose entire life is immersed in a context of
catechesis, both at home every day and regularly in church, are going
to know the Holy Scriptures and the Small Catechism; it is only a
matter of time before they do, and it will normally be far sooner than
later. In the meantime, they are already the object of the Word and
Spirit of God, of the Law and the Gospel, unto repentant faith in the
forgiveness of all their sins. They know and love Jesus, because He is
knowing and loving them with His Word (faithfully spoken by their
parents and their pastors). They recognize His voice, and they follow
Him, because He is their Good Shepherd, and they are the sheep of His
pasture. Memorization will come with the repetition of prayer and
confession, just as comprehension of the Gospel will broaden and deepen
through hearing the preaching of Christ. The ability to confess the
faith will increase and become more sophisticated, as these children of
God grow in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man. But they
already have the fullness of the faith, because they have Christ Jesus
and His Word, and their life is hidden with Christ in God. They are not
ill-prepared to eat and drink His Body and His Blood, because He abides
in them with His Word and Holy Spirit, and they abide in Him.

Perhaps it is ironic, but it seems to me that those children who are
not so immersed in the faith and life of the Church are going to need
the greater structure and requirement of formal catechesis and
memorization of the Catechism as a prior preparation for the Holy
Communion, precisely because they are lacking the support and
sustenance of daily catechesis in the home and the regular rhythm of
participation in the Divine Service. These "pre-requisites," if you
will, become a means of pastoral care and a kind of "church
discipline," especially where parental care and responsibility and
self-discipline are lacking. In any case, I am more and more convinced
that admittance to the Holy Communion has to be a function of active
pastoral care, including the conscientious exercise of church
discipline across the board. Such pastoral care ought to mean the
communing of those who are baptized and being catechized in the one
true faith, whereas church discipline should not require the exclusion
of those disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ from His Table.

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  1. Holger Sonntag
    August 18th, 2007 at 12:51 | #1

    I appreciate the posting of this article on this blogsite for consideration and discussion. In general, however, I wish that Dr. Stuckwisch, prior to actually implementing this practice, would have pursued a joint, churchly approach to his concerns, simply because it will affect other congregations (people do travel these days…). There is, to be sure, no biblical date given for “confirmation” and or “first communion;” we may consider ourselves free on this account; yet is this not another case of “freedom to be tempered by love for the neighbor”? I remember vividly discussing these matters at Cyberbrethren some time back when it came to the liturgy. Then it was held that we should curtail the exersize of our freedom to serve, and not to confuse, the neighbor. Unfortunately, I don’t see this thought appearing in Rev. Stuckwisch’s considerations. Sadly, it’s all pretty much along the line of “I thought, and therefore I decided.”
    Paul McCain writes that the current practice of confirmation goes back to Pietism and its confusion of law and gospel, justification and sanctification. That might be, but who knows that today? In other words, does this mistake still shape our understanding and practice? Besides, is it not equally a Pietist practice to distinguish between those children who happen to have grown up in “Christian families” and those who haven’t? Are we here publicly confirming a “core group” of “serious Christians”? Now I readily admit that there are different levels of commitment in our congregations; Luther knew that there were such in his congregation. Past are the olden days when Missourians prided themselves of having congregations consisting entirely of “serious Christians.” That’s perhaps humbling, but then humility before God and man is a good thing. The question now is: how do we pastorally and in a churchly way deal with this reality? Early communion for some, not for others — is that the best way? In this way, some might never “be ready” for confirmation. To be sure, there will always been “cognitive” differences between Christians, even at an adult age. Yet it is precisely this reality that should, for the sake of the church, move us to stay with a rather uniform practice of seventh/ eighth grade instruction with following confirmation / Lord’s Supper instead of opening up the can of worms of individual assessment.
    Stuckwisch points to the institution narratives of the gospels as important sources for our theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper (and, in the context of the gospels, we there realize that, while there’s no catechism exam recorded prior to the Supper, the Lord gave his body and blood only to men who had been catechized by him for about three years — whatever that might mean). Might we enhance this by 1 Cor. 11, where Paul not only recounts the words of institution, but also gives eminently practical advice? Let the person “examine” himself, before he takes the Lord’s body and blood. Some “cognitive” process seems to be involved here, while no set age is given. But is six years of age the time when these processes are properly developed normally? There’s word of some churches who’ve pushed confirmation back to tenth grade to do justice to the fact that children today, for whatever reason, on average seem to mature more slowly (way in the day, you started working full-time at age 13, if not earlier).
    Let’s also consider that this “examination” implies also a critical scrutiny of what is said by the pastor / catechist / parent based on God’s word. How can this be done if you can’t even read yet? How can this be done at an age when children often simply believe whatever an adult tells them? I’m not denying here that baptized children can have faith. They can. My question is: can they examine themselves, as is proper prior to receiving the Lord’s body and blood? There’s a place for fides directa, and there’s a place for fides reflexa, lest we all slide down to some sort of collier’s faith to which Luther did not want to give the Lord’s Supper.
    I’m also concerned about a certain knowledge of the future that Rev. Stuckwisch seems to possess. Who is to say that children who seem quite teachable and eager to learn at an early age will continuously and harmoniously grow in catechesis and faith? Who’s to say that those who’ve only learned that catechism by rote won’t catch on soon? Let’s not underestimate the power of sin or the power of the Holy Spirit. Dr. David Scaer always urges us to baptize infants even of non-church members — his rationale being precisely that we don’t know what will happen in the future that is entirely God’s.
    A couple of troubling analogies for “early communion” come to mind: there’s, first of all, the ecumenical movement where the granting of communion fellowship — after an initial, but necessarily superficial “agreement” on the gospel — is one of the first steps in the long process of reaching theological agreement. That kind of agreement, despite all the talking and because of early communion fellowship, is, of course, never reached in this way. Instead, one settles for that blessed state of reconciled diversity.
    There’s, second, also the new LCMS-practice of ordaining pastors before they’ve had a chance to study God’s word and the scripture in an in-depth manner. Such study is to come after the ordination.
    By way of consequence, should we now also give communion to baptized adults who’ve been coming to church for years with their spouses but never became members after a formal instruction class. They’ve been subject to “active catechesis”, though they never took the time to study the catechism with the pastor and, perhaps, even memorize this or that part of it. Perhaps we should, at the latest, give them communion when they finally begin this instruction — or, wait, is that perhaps already open communion? (A similar case could be constructed with an adult desiring baptism: why not baptize him right after some informal instruction in the faith before the end of his class, or even before the class since he already desires baptism?)
    How about, therefore, we encourage, even urge, those who wish to be Christians in earnest, and their children, to take a humble view of themselves in relation to the other Christians? Luther stated more than once that, e.g., worship services were not needed by well-trained Christians who don’t need the ceremonies. Yet did he encourage them to stay home and have family devotions instead? He didn’t. He, in fact, humbly included himself among those who are still in the process of becoming Christians and therefore need churchly ceremonies. I understand this as an invitation to those earnest Christians to do likewise, to submit themselves to the agreed-upon ceremonies of the church for the sake of the weak and needy. In this way, they’d serve their neighbor, also by helping to maintain peace and unity in the church.
    McCain: All good points to keep mind, however, our Synod has already spoken to this issue and have encouraged earlier first communion and has provided for it in the new hymnal and agenda materials, which were formally approved and adopted by our Synod in convention, making them the Church’s books. I agree 100% that these things should not be rushed into, but…we have talked and talked..and talked and talked about them. The Synod has approved a separate rite for first communion thereby recognizing this as a legitimate practice.
    There is no justification for denying the Sacrament to those who are worthy and well prepared, have been examined and absolved, and do know what the Sacrament is and what they seek in it. Children who are able to recite the texts with understanding that Luther indicates are necessary for proper understanding and reception of the Supper, as he explains this in the Large Catechism, are to be welcomed to the Lord’s Supper.
    Because some have not come to this proper understanding should not result in punishing or depriving those who have. It is more than time for us to move past the mistaken notion that would tie Holy Communion to Confirmation.
    The argument you make that children may not, when they are older, wish to be involved in confirmation falls rather flat frankly when we take a look at how many young people stay active in the Church after their confirmation.
    Mastering the contents of a confirmation instruction program is not required to be able to receive the Sacrament worthily, that’s the bottom line.
    I support Pastor Stuckwisch’s approach and his reasons for it 100% and since The LCMS has formally adopted LSB there is no reason for others in our Synod to label his position and practice “unchurchly.” I’m sorry, Holger, but I believe you and I definitely must disagree on this issue.
    I am definitely not in favor, as some among us are, of force-feeding the Sacrament to infants, toddlers and preschoolers, but….I do not believe a six year old, or seven year old is *necessarily* too young. Luther’s seven year old child comes to mind here.

  2. Holger Sonntag
    August 18th, 2007 at 16:38 | #2

    The moment I sent off my post I remembered: yes, there is that new rite in the LSB (Agenda). And, rightly so, you called me on it — thanks. So, I grant you this point: it is now a rite of our church body. Yet I also recall that some observers were quite surprised to find such a rite in the LSB. I, for one, used as Commission on Worship site to lodge my concerns prior to the approval of the hymnal at the 2004 convention — surprisingly to no avail, as we now know.
    I checked back on the site of the LCMS commission on worship. I find this there: “A rite that is new to our Synod is First Communion. With recent surveys showing that more than a quarter of our congregations commune children prior to confirmation, the committee and commission believe it is important to provide careful guidance to pastors as they prepare children for faithful reception of the Lord’s body and blood. The committee is also planning to prepare an example of how pastors might examine children prior to their first communion.” (
    I take this to mean: 25% of congregations commune children prior to their confirmation anyways, so we did it and provided a somewhat uniform rite for it. I don’t take it to mean: we’ve discussed it carefully and for the following good reasons we now suggest the practice of early communion. So first was the practice, then the poll, then the rite, and now we’re in the phase of providing the rationale? Is the lex orandi getting a bit ahead of the lex credendi here? Also: how many of those 25% practice open communion?
    Yet I admit that you’ve been around longer than I have. So maybe there have been those ground-breaking, consensus-generating discussions (i.e., more than “talking about it one and off”) that I’m not aware of. I know that as late as 2003 I had a class at FW seminary where we were encouraged not to introduce this practice unilaterally. To be sure, now no one needs to do this anymore, but as late as 1 year prior to the convention this professor was apparently not aware of any consensual approach to the issue. — So it probably would be interesting to get those old materials out of the archives and see: when was the rite first suggested, by whom, and why?
    There are a number of things in the new hymnal I won’t use (e.g., certain hymns (you know which ones) — how did they get in there? are they now “good, right, and salutary” because they’re in the LSB?). And, who knows, pretty soon Synod might even bless us with a number of “contemporary” worship resources that are approved “by the church” — are they then fine, even though they will continue to wreak havoc and sow dissention in and between congregations? I might just pass on those too. Until futher examination and clarification, I’ll consider “early communion” to be just one of those things: approved by Synod? yes — good? the jury is still out. It could be that there are things approved by the church that are self-contradictory or self-defeating. And things unnecessarily undermining uniformity in ceremonies are among those. (Maybe there’s disagreement among us as to how necessary communion really is.)
    I add the following historical observation: while Spener did much to made confirmation a wide-spread practice (a practice that was later commended by anti-Pietist V. A. Loescher, of all men), it was already Chemnitz who — based on the Lutheran proposal for the 1541 Regensburg Colloquy — found that the corrupt and unevangelical Roman rite of “confirmation” with episcopal unction could be refurbished and do much good for the edification of the church in the true faith. Confirmation and first communion went together at the time, so Chemnitz systematically discusses it after baptism and prior to the Lord’s Supper. He clearly connects catechesis in the doctrine of the church — once the age of accountability (anni discretionis) is reached (and we can argue here whether that’s seven or older; in my mind it should be old enough so that the child can responsibly do what he’s supposed to do during the rite of confirmation) — and the rite of confirmation that included remembrance of baptism and baptismal faith; profession of that faith by the confirmand; examination concerning chief parts of doctrine; admonition to stay away from all false opinions; admonition to remain in baptism; public prayer for the confirmand (optional with laying on of hands). I ask: Is this good evangelical practice not also ours today, quite distinct from some Pietist aberrations that might have crept in at a later date?
    As far as I can see, Chemnitz never suggests breaking up the traditional order baptism — (catechesis –) confirmation — communion. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, it was first in the 1930s that the Roman church for some reason decided First Communion could be administered before Confirmation, which is now, apparently, a wide-spread practice. That makes me wonder: whom are we following here and why — novel Roman Catholicism and its reasons or historic Lutheranism and its reasons?
    You write: “Mastering the contents of a confirmation instruction program is not required to be able to receive the Sacrament worthily, that’s the bottom line.” Indeed, we’re worthy recipients of the sacrament by faith, and by faith alone, not by our knowledge of the entire catechism or any child-appropriate parts thereof. Yet the question here really isn’t about worthiness. It’s part of the larger question of “closed communion” or “to whom may communion be given?” The question of faith/worthiness is merely a sub-point (mostly for individual self-examination) of this broader complex. Part of it is also the need of first knowing and publicly joining the confession of the church (and rejecting all errors) before you publicly join the church at the Lord’s table. Clearly, Chemnitz’s rite of confirmation is about this: making a public, informed confession of the church’s faith as one’s own and rejecting all errors. Now, after thorough instruction, you make public the church’s faith that was yours from the beginning in a less public way (faith is invisible in the heart).
    Luther’s and Walther’s reasons for closed communion were that they wanted to make people Christians — I take this to mean that some learning of the faith and some public profession thereof would go prior to communion. What is so terrible or hard to understand about this that we now must also offer communion for the select few prior to regular confirmation?

  3. Kaleb
    August 18th, 2007 at 17:42 | #3

    This is not the first place I’ve read the claim that the LSB has a First Communion rite, but I have the LSB right in front of me and it’s nowhere to be found. What gives?
    McCain: It is in the Lutheran Service Book Agenda, the book used by pastors for performing all the various rites and ceremonies of the Church.

  4. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 18th, 2007 at 19:17 | #4

    I appreciate Brother Sonntag’s comments, although it does appear that we are of a different opinions on some aspects of this discussion. Several things that we are agreed upon, however, are the importance of catechesis and the practice of closed Communion. I would hope that he is not questioning my teaching and practice of these things.
    I’m not going to attempt an extensive response to Brother Sonntag’s comments here. I would welcome the chance to chat about this, even at some length, and a public forum would be fine, but electronic communications are finally limited in their benefits to such potentially volatile discussions.
    I don’t presume to know the future, but as a pastor I do know the members of my congregation, and a large part of my point is that the family context is certainly as much or more a factor in catechesis as is attendance of formal classes and the memorization of the Catechism. No one should assume that I willy-nilly admit anyone to the Holy Communion. I take these responsibilities very seriously and conscientiously. But parents who have demonstrated by persistent practice that they and their children will be in church faithfully, week in and week out, and who are also teaching and praying together with their children in the home, day by day, do not present a case in which I would be giving the Body and Blood of Christ indiscriminately. Pastoral care includes pastoral discernment. Luther, at least, likewise regarded parental catechesis in the home as a decisive factor in admitting the little children to the Sacrament of the Altar.
    As far as making decisions on the basis of what “I think,” I’m not sure how to reply to that. I’m not going to act contrary to my conscience, obviously, and I’m not going to do anything that I don’t think I should. But I surely don’t consider my own intelligence, knowledge and wisdom to be complete, absolute or infallible. My practice has been governed and guided by the Holy Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, the historic practices of the Church catholic, and years and years of mutual conversation and consolation with the brethren, both near and far. Those who know me could attest to the fact that I do not do anything arbitrarily or rashly; I am far more likely to drag my feet and wait patiently than I am to force an issue prematurely. Unfortunately, a blog post reflecting my thoughts at the end of one particular day in my life do not bring to bear the entirety of my study, thinking and conversation of the past fifteen years. An earlier blog post (from May), for those who may be interested, provides some additional thoughts and commentary.
    I disagree with Brother Sonntag on the place and importance of Confirmation. I don’t have a beef with a salutary practice of Confirmation, but I don’t believe that making that man-made rite a prerequisite for the Holy Communion is appropriate, nor waiting on such admission to the Sacrament until thirteen or fourteen years of age. As I have tried to indicate, I regard the catechesis of the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, as summarized in the six chief parts of the Catechism, to be the standard of admittance to the Sacrament of the Altar. But where this catechesis is happening, has been happening, and will continue to happen, what I am suggesting is that the mental mastering and memorization of the six chief parts per se is not a decisive prerequisite to First Communion. It was not so for Dr. Luther, nor for the historic Church catholic.
    I don’t believe that age or grade-level is the proper criterion for catechesis, confirmation, or First Communion. Children ought to be catechized from conception until death, before, during and after Holy Baptism, as well as before, during and after First Communion. And if there is going to be a man-made rite of Confirmation, it ought to be one step along the way of an ongoing, lifelong, daily catechesis in the Word of the Law and the Gospel. If we are going to use the rite of Confirmation that we have inherited, I frankly think it would be best to wait until eighteen or twenty-one years of age. But as it is a man-made custom with a chequered history, I am not nearly as interested in pushing that issue as I am in the faithful administration of the Holy Sacrament to the disciples of Jesus.
    Now, as far as an emphasis on catechesis is concerned, I know very few pastors who insist on this and do as much of this as I do. I do know one brother who flat-out puts me to shame in this regard, and I am humbled by his dedication and faithfulness. But for my own humble part, I have generally had children in catechesis classes with myself for four or five academic years, occasionally more. But most of those years follow upon their First Communion, and generally culminate in the rite of Confirmation as an opportunity for a public confession of the faith. Call it a “graduation” (a step up in the ongoing process of catechesis) or a rite of passage, that’s all fine with me. The emphasis is on the catechesis, and on the confession of the faith, not on the rite, far less on “earning” the Sacrament by diligent study and “memory work.” Instead of using the Holy Communion as a carrot on a stick, I find that the reception of the Sacrament of the Altar strengthens and supports the faith of my young catechumens and assists them in being disciplined and faithful in their catechesis. Brother Sonntag suggests that I do not take seriously the old Adam or the weakness and temptations of the flesh. I believe that quite the opposite is true. I agree with Dr. Luther that our young baptized fellow Christians ought to be catechized and admitted to the Sacrament of the Altar, so that they can be assisted (and help us!) in fighting the devil. Are they better protected from temptation by being kept away from the Sacrament until pre-adolescence and/or puberty? Hardly.
    I understand the concerns about closed Communion, but I believe this stems from a misunderstanding of First Communion and a false conclusion. Are the children of our congregations not to be considered members of the church, as though they were outside the fellowship? Surely this is not the intention. I hope not. I don’t commune children from outside the fellowship to which my congregation belongs, no more than I commune adults from outside that fellowship.
    Confession of God’s Word is to say the same thing that God has said to us. I object to denigrating the faith and confession of little children by dismissing it as “parroting” what they are told. That “parroting” is exactly what they ought to do; it is how they learn to speak the language of God and His Church. And those words that they are confessing are not empty and powerless human words, but the very Word of God, His living and active Word, His life-giving Word of the Gospel. This idea that we must wait until we are sure of a reflexive faith seems very dangerous to me. I cannot read anyone’s heart. And, as Dr. Luther argued against the Anabaptists in his own day, an adult is more prone and capable of lying and deceiving. Children are not sinless or “innocent,” nor do they believe “automatically” or “naturally,” but they are less full of guile, and less sophisticated in their practice of sin. What I have found, repeatedly, is that children of six or seven years of age make ideal catechumens; not becuase they are mindless or thoughtless, but because they take Jesus at His Word and believe what He says to them. They are also more inclined than older children to admit if they don’t understand something, and to ask for clarification.
    That’s all I have to say in response for the time being. I’m probably overlooking some of Brother Sonntag’s questions and concerns, but my own dear children are awaiting me to be their father and spend some time with them this evening before bed. As opportunity and propriety permit, I will participate in further conversation.

  5. Rev. Gifford Grobien
    August 18th, 2007 at 19:20 | #5

    What you are advocating strikes me as extremely individualistic. You actually go so far to say, “The question of faith/worthiness is merely a sub-point (mostly for individual self-examination) of this broader complex. Part of it is also the need of first knowing and publicly joining the confession of the church (and rejecting all errors) before you publicly join the church at the Lord’s table. Clearly, Chemnitz’s rite of confirmation is about this: making a public, informed confession of the church’s faith as one’s own and rejecting all errors.”
    You’re actually saying that an individual must know and condemn all errors before he’s admitted to the Supper. That would exclude far more people from the supper than those under age 14.
    You caution Pr Stuckwish not to use the institution to trump 1 Co 11, but you are coming very close to doing the opposite. The practice of closed communion is an expression and outgrowth of what Christ instituted: the very new testament itself. The Body and Blood are given to be eaten and drunk for our forgiveness, life and salvation. It is the gospel, one of the means by which we receive Christ. Christ certainly does not describe the Supper as a rite that delineates between those of different doctrinal understandings and allegiances. It is a meal for his disciples, which can include those of various levels of doctrinal understanding. This is clearly the case among the adults that partake.
    I am not saying to practice open communion, but the eating and drinking are not simply a way of marking off differences. They do do this, of course, because we eat and drink with those united with us. But the supper is not instituted for this; it is instituted for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Those who are united with us are not determined only by my doctrinal knowledge and condemnations, but by the pastor’s examination of my confession. These are related but different things, and important to distinguish. It is not up to me to attain something, but to the pastor to minister the gifts properly based on the confession of those he encounters.
    Now, the question is, what exactly is the faith of a child who has been baptized into the evangelical Lutheran Church, raised faithfully in this confession through regular hearing of the preaching, and is being catechized by parents and pastor? Is it not the faith that was publicly confessed by this child already at its baptism? “Do *you* believe in God the Father Almighty, etc.” “Yes, I believe.” Nobody makes this confession but the child alone. He does this by the Spirit, (1 Co 1-4), and, at very young ages, even without cognition. What other faith could the child possibly have? A Methodist, Roman, or Baptist faith, never having set foot in their doors or attended their services? The child believes what he is given, and the child who is raised by faithful parents and pastor is given the evangelical faith. “Unless you turn, and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” Mt 18:3, etc.
    This is not to disparage catechesis, either. Catechesis is closely related to the confession of faith, yet it is not exactly the same. They often overlap and use the same words, yet catechesis continues for a lifetime, even if a simple confession of the creed is already made as a child. On the other hand, the confession given by the Spirit (through catechesis), speaks the fullness of the faith, even if this faith can be and is expounded, detailed, systematized, and elaborated into many books. It seems you have falsely equated the individual knowledge and repetition of a certain body of catechesis, no matter how salutary this corpus IS, with the confession of faith.
    Yes, we must practice closed communion, we must opposed and condemn all errors. But is any one individual capable of doing this? Could even a single adult evangelical Lutheran, alone, oppose forever the false teaching of the devil? No. He needs the church. He needs the ministry of the Gospel and the fellowship of the body. So it is that a child, who could not stand on is own, nevertheless is admitted to the new testament of Christ, receiving the Body and Blood for his forgiveness, because he is under the spiritual care of his faithful parents and pastor. They keep communion closed for him while he enjoys the spiritual nourishment of Christ.
    Finally, a couple historical notes: what you call the “traditional” order of baptism-confirmation-communion is an accident of history, certainly not a thought-out, theological tradition put in place by the church. Confirmation began as an integral part of the baptismal rite, either a prayer or anointing, depending on the liturgical tradition, and by being given to the bishop, as parishes became more numerous and rural, bishops simply were not present for all baptisms, so the anointing/prayer was done later, when he could show up. Voila, a new rite! The simple, biblical order is baptism then communion, with confirmation strictly and properly speaking an adiaphoron. Second, there is the whole pre-16th century history of the practice, that is, the communion of even infants in both west and east up through the 12th Century. Finally, in a recognition of this historical precedence, Pius X in 1910 reduced the age of first communion once again to 7.

  6. Holger Sonntag
    August 20th, 2007 at 18:56 | #6

    Dear Brothers from South Bend,
    I thank you for your learned and insightful comments on what I had written before.
    I know and trust that both of you take catechesis seriously and that you teach your members young and old to take it seriously as well.
    I also know and trust that you don’t take admission to the Lord’s Supper lightly but follow our historic practice of closed communion.
    For both of these things I thank God and commend you.
    I also know both of you to understand and appreciate the importance of uniformity in ceremonies, even in adiaphorous ones, for the life of the church.
    Obviously, “confirmation” is, at least in the Lutheran understanding, such an adiaphorous ceremony, but you still consider it to be salutary, at least when used rightly, that is, when not connected to the Lord’s Supper as conditio sine qua non for partaking in the latter.
    To be sure, we should not think too little of the faith of infants; they, through the mouth of their fellow Christians, confess the Christian faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed already at their baptism. This is indeed the Spirit’s doing (1 Cor. 12). Yet at what age do they become capable of “examining themselves” (1 Cor. 11), something that is necessary prior to communion attendance, but not prior to baptism?
    I will right away admit that this will vary, and we’re certainly not the first ones to notice this. The question then is: what do we make of it? Do we attempt to assess individually at what age children X, Y, and Z might be ready to do so or do we, jointly as a church, set a date at which most, if not all, children can reasonably be expected to be able to do this?
    Not to get into a perhaps misleading analogy, but let’s think of the age when a young person should be permitted to drive a car. In Germany, where I come from, the age is 18; here it is 16. The point being: a common age is established; not every teenager is examined individually for psychological fitness (which might, in fact, push the age back into his early 20s). I submit that when we live together with other people, even in the church, such common agreements and rules, while adiaphora in themselves, are necessary for the sake of love, that is, to avoid confusion and bad feelings and to foster the harmonious building up of Christ’s body which we all desire.
    I admit that I do not know Luther’s practice of “confirmation.” Yet I do know that, in the prefaces to the catechisms, he did make knowledge of the catechism a prerequisite for partaking in communion. I quote just one example from the 1529 preface to the Large Catechism: “those who come to the sacrament certainly should know more and have a deeper understanding of *all Christian teaching* than children and beginners in school.” Then the catechism with its five / six chief parts is recommended as the thing to study to gain such a “deeper understanding” of Christian doctrine that goes beyond that of children. Beyond catechism memorization, Luther recommends the attendance of catechism services, where the parts are explained and applied in greater detail, while he elsewhere points out that the attendance of worship without catechesis makes little, if any, headway in terms of training people in the faith.
    Luther continued to pray and meditate the catechism his entire life, and commended this practice to all pastors and Christians. Yet one does get a sense that there was a point when one would have learned the catechism well enough so as to go to the sacrament. Again, I don’t know how that was handled practically in those early days of the reformation. Yet from what we learn in Chemnitz’ Examination of Trent, apparently based on a Lutheran proposal for the 1541 Colloquy at Regensburg, the Lutherans gave a new, proper meaning to the old church rite of confirmation — adiaphorous in itself — by beefing up on its traditional albeit underdeveloped instructional aspects in order to affirm, not to compete with, the sacrament of baptism.
    Now, did the Lutherans admit children prior to this newly defined confirmation to the Lord’s Supper? Likely, since apparently confirmation became widely used first in the age of Pietism. Confirmation, as we all agree, is an adiaphoron, after all. However, what does this mean for us today? Perhaps less than we might think. Lutherans today, certainly we in the Missouri Synod (just read Walther’s Pastoral theology on confirmation), should be careful regarding playing the adiaphora-card in this matter. Confirmation as a prerequisite for the first reception of the Lord’s Supper has become a well-established practice among us. This, to be sure, makes it no less of an adiaphoron. Yet when we choose to change it, we must know that this has an impact on others. The old dogmaticians, at any rate, cautioned against changing long-established church practices — unless they can be shown to be contrary to God’s word. Would you want to go this far regarding our previous agreement and arrangements regarding confirmation/first communion?
    Not to reiterate my question regarding the inclusion of “early communion” in the LSB-package, a more general question would be: who started the practice of “early communion” (communion prior to confirmation) anyway? My www-based research of the Catholic church indicates that there it was more a result of a misunderstanding in the early decades of the 20th century that, however, was generally known to be not the norm, even though now it seems to be a wide-spread practice, at least here in the US: first communion at age 7/8; confirmation later on.
    On the Lutheran front, I found this information on a synodical website ( that was new to me: “In the 1960s the Synod participated in a pan-Lutheran study of confirmation and first Communion. The recommendation of this study was that it would be appropriate to communion children at the end of the fifth grade, prior to Confirmation. In response to this study, both the Commission on Theology and Church Relations and the Board for Parish Education submitted recommendations to the 1973 convention of the Synod. *These recommendations conflicted with one another,* the CTCR recommending that the Synod retain its traditional practice of communing children after they are confirmed, and the BPS recommending the adoption of the inter-Lutheran study proposal. The Synod itself adopted a resolution in 1973 that basically left up to individual congregations the decision as to what practice they may want to follow. Two studies done subsequently by a Board for Parish Services staff member in the late 1980s indicated that less than 20 percent of LCMS congregations adopted the study proposal and that this percentage remained virtually unchanged for nearly two decades. We have no evidence that an increasing number of congregations have adopted, or are considering the adoption of, the practice of early Communion in recent years.”
    I don’t know about you, but “pan-Lutheran” studies from the 60s and early 70s recommending this or that always make me a bit nervous. In this case, the CTCR spoke against it; the BPS in favor. This “conflict” of opinion was not resolved but merely delegated to the individual congregations, as are so many other things in the realm of ceremonies these days. And we all know the consequences of this on-going process of delegation of business that used to be Synod’s (see again Walther, Pastorale, section 28) to the local level.
    Summing up my post, I would reaffirm that confirmation as a prerequiste for first communion is indeed an adiaphoron, but urge us to treat it as carefully and uniformly as other adiaphora, synodical permission slips notwithstanding.

  7. Berton Greenway
    August 20th, 2007 at 19:38 | #7

    You know that I have been supportive of you in the past, and only disagreeing with you on rare occasions. But this is one of those moments of disagrement. I find myself in agreement with Pastor Sonntag. My objection to your opinion is not because I believe that the age when one receives his or her first communion is divinely set in stone. Its not, and I’ve often wondered if the age should be made earlier. But there is a Synodical issue here that I think you and Richard Stuckwisch have entirely ignored, and I believe you have done this, because, in your opinion, you believe your confessional judgment is right over against others.
    With Holger Sonntage, I too realize that the rite of first communion was indirectly approved by Synod when it was adjoined alongside other material of the hymnal, but that does not mean that it is a “right” rite, that is, a good and beneficial rite. No one has addressed Holger’s assertion that while the hymnal was approved by Synod, it does not also follow that every hymn is necessarily a beneficial hymn for our Church. One person who served on the Synod’s committee for the hymnal, who shall remain unnamed, expressed to me his utter disappointment at how some of the last few hymns were added. To be sure, overall, the hymnal is a fantastic achievement, and in a real sense, a miracle given the political climate under which it was put together. But the fact is that there are hymns in this hymnal that I will never use. I don’t believe they are “meet, right and salutary” for us as Lutherans.
    As a side note, I wonder, for example, when it was decided by Synod to promote the use of the anointing of oil for sick calls? There is mention of that in the hymnal’s agenda, yes? While there are some Biblical texts that speak of the anointing of oil (James being the most prominent that I am aware of) I am also aware that its use today is fraught with much potential for misunderstanding and abuse. We all know how the Charismatics view it. Have we really addressed the question as to the use of oil in sick calls, as a Synod? I was never taught that we were supposed to use it at the Seminary, and I’m not too old? Well maybe I am! :) But really, why do we do it? To ask the Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” There are any number of reasons that are suggested by others, but which one is ours. Which one do we agree with, and which one do we not agree with? As far as I know, was any of that decided by our Church? When was it studied by our Church in a synod wide way?
    As to the real issue before us, that of “First Communion,” this practice of divorcing confirmation from the reception of the Supper, I find it amazing how practice becomes the driving force of change in our Synod. To some like you Paul, and Richard Stuckwisch (both of whom I regard as very able theologians and wonderful writers) the change to first communion is a good change, because you deem it appropriate and confessional, beneficial to the Church. Yet, there are other “changes” amongst us as Synod as well, not Lutheran by any respect, but regarded as such by those who are practicing them. Its amazing how a change in our understanding of first communion can be adjusted because 25% of our congregations are doing it. Would that same principle apply to say, open communion. I would hazard to guess that more than 25% of our congregations now have a communion practice that most of us confessional types would find unacceptable. Having served on the East Coast, I know how many of those salt water Pastors love the “emergency” clause in our Synod’s discussion on communion. To them, just living on the East Coast is an emergency enough to allow anyone and everyone to the Lord’s Table. “Closed Communion may work for those congregations in Minnesota and Illinois,” they say, “but it won’t work here.”
    But here again practice is changed apart from any type of Synod wide theological discussion, debate and unanimity. I am so frustrated by how many Pastors simply do what is right in their own eyes, without any concern for what is being done by their brothers, or how my practice will affect my neighboring Pastor and congregation. And first communion is one of those practices that is fraught with issues that can have profound effect on our neighbors. Given the mobile society in which we live, this practice places upon us all kinds of interesting, and difficult scenarios that we once did not have.
    What am I supposed to do, for example, when Rev. Stuckwisch’s six year old communicant and his parents now move into my area? Do I commune this child, while others more than twice as old have not yet been communed in my congregation? How do you think that is going to go over with my people? Or doesn’t that matter? And if I say “no” to this child, what kind of hurt do you think that will cause to both the child and her parents? I had a situation ten years ago in which this very thing happened. I lost a family to a neighboring church that was more than happy to oblige. Of course, they were obliging on all kinds of things that were not Lutheran but that is a different story. Or is it? Selective practices cause these kinds of thing – all the time.
    Those of us who consider ourselves confessional pastors complain when this kind of thing happens with regard to other issues, but now we are doing the same. This is hypocritical in my opinion. We shouldn’t change without the rest of the Church, at least the great majority. And we shouldn’t do this without real Synod wide theological discussion.
    Paul and Richard, you may be right. Perhaps we should have first communion and that at a very young age, but in my opinion, you are putting the cart before the horse. The importance of being a Church is to act in uniformity, in worship, in doctrine and practice. That has always been our Synod’s desire. But sometimes we confessional Pastors are just as much violators of that. For example, we are supposed to use Synodically approved hymns, and we decry those “contemporary” types who don’t follow the Synod’s order. We march out Walther’s insistence that “Methodist” hymns should not be used in our Church. Yet, I am aware that some confessional pastors also use hymns that were never approved by our Synod. Still, the confessional pastors have no qualms about doing this because they regard themselves as able enough to judge what is right and wrong. The trouble with this is that my neighboring liberal pastor also considers himself confessional and just as able to judge the merits of hymns as I am. So in effect, no one is walking together. We are all doing what is right in or own eyes.
    I am certainly not the theologian that you or brother Stuckwisch are, but these are my humble concerns. We are a Synod, but many of our present decisions, our changes are not being made as a Synod is supposed to make them. How long before we ordain women? How long before the practice of open communion becomes the dominant position? How long for any number of things happen, when practice is driving theology? Shall I say, “E-L-C-A” anyone?” It should not be this way for us.
    Bert Greenway, FW 88
    McCain: Hi Bert, thanks for posting your thoughts and observations. I appreciate your points of view and I think you raise very valid and legitimate concerns. I would like you to post them over on Rick Stuckwisch’s blog site and I’m sure he would like a chance to read and consider your points of view. I’m not sure if he is following this conversation here.
    I’m not sure I can follow the “slippery slope” argument you seem to be making here from earlier first age of communion to the ordination of women, or worse. I wonder if that might not be a bit of a red herring fallacy? If Cwirla is reading this he’ll leap in and correct me on this point. Here is what the red herring fallacy is in discussions and arguments:
    As I read threads on this forum, I’m struck again and again by how often the logical fallacy of the “red herring” is employed in these conversations.
    What is a red herring?
    Here is one definition.
    Red herring
    This fallacy is committed when someone introduces irrelevant material to the issue being discussed, so that everyone’s attention is diverted away from the points made, towards a different conclusion.
    “You may claim that the death penalty is an ineffective deterrent against crime — but what about the victims of crime? How do you think surviving family members feel when they see the man who murdered their son kept in prison at their expense? Is it right that they should pay for their son’s murderer to be fed and housed?”
    But…Bert…know that I will continue to ponder your comments. Your point about putting something in the hymnal without more Synod-wide conversation is a particularly good point. However, I think that since the hymnal and its contents were widely circulated for several years it might not quite be accurate to suggest this just “showed up” and surprised everyone. I think it is an important conversation to have. I can not see a good reason to continue to holding back the Sacrament from children who are ready to receive it just because we have a custom to do so that is not supported either by Holy Scripture or our Lutheran Confessions. It is good to have these conversations.

  8. Mark Surburg
    August 21st, 2007 at 09:23 | #8

    Brothers in Christ,
    Anyone familiar with Dr. Stuckwisch and his work recognizes that he is a skilled theologian and liturgical scholar. His recent piece about earlier communion that was sent out by Paul McCain on the Cyberbrethern email service evinces (as we would expect) a deep appreciation for the Sacrament of the Altar and for the ongoing task of catechesis in the Church. However, I believe that Dr. Stuckwisch’s suggestion is based upon an inadequate exegetical and theological foundation and leads to a practice that fails to interact with the complexities of the issue.
    Dr. Stuckwisch reduces catechesis necessary for reception of the Sacrament to a very basic understanding of the parts of the Catechism. Satisfied for the moment (he is very clear that ongoing catechesis will continue) that a child can confess “to the extent that her present capacity and maturity enable,” he moves on to the fact that his “interest is in the faithful stewardship of the Mysteries of God in Christ, including, in this case in particular, the giving of His Body and Blood to His disciples, even His very young disciples, baptized and catechized, for the forgiveness of sins and the nourishment of their Christian faith and life.” Although the confession of faith and doctrine to which reception of the Supper is intimately tied is not completely forgotten, the primary emphasis falls on the vertical and individual dimension of the Lord’s Supper.
    This is not surprising because in his treatment of the Sacrament, Dr. Stuckwisch effectively limits our reflection to the Words of Institution alone. He grants that, “The theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper is given to us in the Institution Narratives of the Holy Gospels. All of Holy Scripture informs our understanding of those narratives, which in turn inform our understanding of the Holy Scriptures in their entirety.” Yet having said this, he goes on to say, “But all of the essential questions concerning the Sacrament are answered there in the institution of Christ Himself. It is the use of those Words in the Divine Service, according to His divine command, that gives the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and drink. It is those same Words that teach us what the Sacrament is, what it is for, and how it is to be administered and received” (emphasis mine).
    One would not want to argue against the first italicized sentence. Yet when paired with the second italicized sentence it can be misleading. The Words of Institution do provide us with the central truths about the Supper. However, in several key ways our doctrine and practice of the Lord’s Supper is not based upon the Words of Institution alone. What is more, the second italicized sentence is incorrect because when it comes to the administration of the Sacrament we certainly depend upon the apostolic instruction of 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 1 Cor 11:17-22 and 27-34. A practice of administering the Lord’s Supper that does not fully take these texts into account is not true to God’s Word.
    In his piece, Dr. Stuckwisch alludes to the Small Catechism’s statement when he says, “for that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.’” The fact that the Sacrament is Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins is certainly the primary emphasis concerning the Lord’s Supper, and indeed the Small Catechism clearly confesses this. However, it is not the only thing that we need to confess and believe about the Lord’s Supper as we understand Scripture’s teaching about the Sacrament. In fact, it is not even Paul’s primary emphasis in 1 Cor 11:17-34. The evidence amply indicates that the Corinthians knew full well that in the Lord’s Supper they received Christ’s body and blood. We see this in Paul’s question in 10:16 which assumes a positive answer (note the use of ouxi) and in the very fact that he can use the nature of the Supper (that it is the body and blood of Christ) in order to make a point as he deals with another issue (that of idols and food sacrificed to idols) in chapter 10. Paul assumes that they agree with him about the nature of the Supper as Christ’s very body and blood and so he can use it as part of a proof when he makes an argument about a different topic. In addition, the typological discussion about “spiritual food” in 10:1-4 indicates that the Corinthians held a very high estimation of the Supper (even if they misunderstood its implications).
    Instead, in 1 Cor 11:17-34 Paul emphasizes the horizontal or corporate dimension of the Supper – something that is true in addition to and concomitant with the fact that it is Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. The key passage for understanding Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 11:17-34 is 1 Cor 10:16-17. There Paul teaches how the Supper (the body and blood of Christ given to the individual) unites us and makes concretely manifest the body of Christ (the communicants joined together as Christ’s body through reception of the Supper). In fact, 10:17 is a prolepsis that prepares the way for the discussion in 11:17-34 (in and of itself it has little relation to the actual argument in chapter 10).
    1 Cor 10:16-17 explains why Paul can deal with a horizontal problem (the divisive conduct of some of the Corinthians at the Supper) and relate it directly to the body and blood of Christ. The application of 1 Cor 10:16-17 to the situation in 11:17-34 teaches us that the Lord’s Supper is the sacrament of unity and that we don’t bring our divisions there because such divisions directly militate against the very nature of the Supper. This applies on the interpersonal level of divisions (the specific situation that Paul is dealing with in Corinth). Yet the theology of the Supper that Paul teaches also applies to the confessional level of divisions.
    This is the fundamental insight that was advanced in 1995-2000 in the articles by Gibbs (Jeffrey A. Gibbs, “An Exegetical Case for Closed(d) Communion: 1 Corinthians 10:14-22; 11:17-34,” Concordia Journal 21 [April 1995]: 148-163), Das (A. Andrew Das, “1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Revisited,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 62 [1998]: 187-208) and me (Mark P. Surburg, “Structural and Lexical Features in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32,” Concordia Journal 26 (July 2000): 200-217). It has received an excellent summary in the 1999 CTCR document Admission to the Lord’s Supper: Basics of Biblical and Confessional Teaching (my article was submitted prior to its publication). Note that in the very first paragraph dealing with 1 Cor 11:17-34 the study emphasizes the observation: “Second, the divisiveness of the Corinthian Christians in their eucharistic assemblies was such a heinous affront precisely because the Lord’s Supper is divinely given to maintain and preserve spiritual unity among those who gather. To gather in disunity, then, is to contradict directly the very nature of the Sacrament and the purpose for which it exists” (pg. 7). It goes on to state regarding the 1 Corinthian passages, “Given this context it is not surprising that the two passages in which Paul teaches about (or relies on teaching about) the Lord’s Spper (1 Cor. 10:16-18; 1 Cor. 11:17-34) primarily emphasize the corporate character and implications of the Eucharist” (pg. 8; emphasis theirs).
    Obviously the Small Catechism is correct in pointing to the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins as the primary truth about the Supper. Yet in 1 Cor 10-11 Paul teaches us that “discerning the body” and communing “worthily” is about more than just this. When the CTCR document addresses what “discerning the body” involves, it lists the emphasis of the Small Catechism first. But then it goes on to add: “Second, ‘discerning the body’ implies faith in and desire for the effects of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s own words of institution (Matt. 26:28) indicate that the primary benefit of the Eucharist is the forgiveness of sins. Yet in the Corinthians situation Paul focuses so strongly on the corporate character of benefits of the Supper that the forgiveness of sins receives scarcely any attention. The Eucharist is God’s means for preserving the unity of the church, maintaining the many Christians as one body since they all eat of the one loaf (1 Cor. 10:17). To create divisions is to contradict the character and purpose of the Sacrament, and to fail to discern the body (pg. 19; emphasis theirs).”
    The Lord’s Supper involves two dimensions: the vertical/individual and the horizontal/corporate. In the context of 1 Cor 10 and 11 Paul teaches us that we must discern the nature of the Supper – what it is (the body and blood of Christ under bread and wine) and what it does (it makes us one body as well as delivering the forgiveness of sins). With good reason the CTCR document states: “The faith of one who communes worthily includes faith in Christ in a general way as well as faith in the real presence of Christ’s body and blood. Moreover, faith in the Sacrament’s benefits is also required, and especially its purpose to maintain the corporate identity and unity of the church as the body of Christ. Thus, faith in the Sacrament’s benefits also moves in two directions: towards the blessing of renewed relationship with God in Christ as well as toward the blessing of preserved and restored unity with fellow communicants” (pg. 20).
    A discussion about admission to the Sacrament of the Altar cannot be separated from the nature of the Lord’s Supper, the doctrine and practice of church fellowship and the practice of closed communion. And any discussion of these topics must treat both dimensions or else it is not being accurate in presenting the fullness of what Scripture teaches us about the Supper. There is the vertical and individual dimension of receiving Christ’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. There is also the horizontal and corporate dimension of the Lord’s Supper as the sacrament of unity (a very nice phrase employed by the CTCR document; cf. pg 7) to which we do not bring our divisions (neither personal nor confessional). This is a key realization because issues of church fellowship and the true exegetical case for the practice of closed communion as it relates to other Christians who confess that the Supper is Christ’s true body and blood (ELCA, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox) are based on this aspect of the Lord’s Supper.
    When viewed from the perspective of 1 Cor. 10:16-17, we find that there needs to be more of an emphasis on the unity of faith confessed at the altar – a unity that finds concrete manifestation in the act of communing. Since the sacrament of the altar is the sacrament of unity, we don’t bring our divisions to the altar (whether personal or confessional). This is also the reason why we catechize people so that they know what is confessed at that altar and then can join in that unity if that is in fact what they believe as well.
    And it is here, I believe, that Dr. Stuckwisch’s proposal brings us into difficulties. In keeping with the nature of the Supper, we require that adults go through catechesis so that they know what we teach and can share in the faith that is confessed at that altar before they join our fellowship and receive communion in the unity of faith. Included in this are topics such as the nature of Scripture, issues of the Sixth Commandment (homosexuality) and women’s ordination. We also require that those who visit our congregations share in this same confession in order to commune, and we exclude those who are a member of a church (the ELCA) that holds contrary positions on Scripture, women’s ordination, homosexuality and which also is in altar fellowship with Reformed church bodies. This raises the question: How at the same time we can justify having our own children commune who know little about the faith confessed at the altar apart from a very basic understanding of the parts of the Catechism?
    Now in raising this question I am not referring to the age at which children commune, but rather to the level of catechesis that is involved so that they can share in the unity of faith confessed at the altar. I believe the Dr. Stuckwisch’s proposal does not adequately take into account the unique character of the Supper set forth in 1 Cor. 10:16-17 and the manner in which those who commune there are confessors of the doctrine of their own church body. On biblical grounds, we treat everyone else who communes with us as confessors of what our church teaches (see the discussion in the CTCR document entitled “Christians as Confessors,” pg. 43-46). Why should children be any different? The proposal in question operates on the basis of a double standard. Those outside of our fellowship go through full catechesis (naturally catechesis is a life-long process, but I think we all acknowledge that there is certain depth of understanding that we want those coming into the church to attain) before they commune but our own children are exempt from this. A theological justification for this is necessary and we must be very careful about the arguments we deploy in the attempt to do this.
    It should not escape our attention that the central argument being advanced by this proposal (and by similar calls for early communion apart from full catechesis) is the same one commonly used by those who practice open communion. It assumes that a basic core of belief combined with faith in the presence of the true body and blood of Christ in the Supper is sufficient grounds for an individual to commune. Although used with a very different spirit, they operate in the same way because they both ignore the horizontal/corporate dimension of the Lord’s Supper.
    It should also be pointed out that another argument for early communion apart from full catechesis (to be clear, one that Dr. Stuckwisch does not advance in his piece) – the example of Luther’s practice – is anachronistic. Fellowship issues in 21st century America are quite different from the 16th century territorial church. Our present situation (a setting in which there are people who call themselves “Lutheran,” claim to believe the Book of Concord insofar as it is true, deny the true nature of Scripture, ordain women, accept homosexual pastors, and are in fellowship with multiple Reformed churches) calls upon us to take up the biblical teaching about the Lord’s Supper with a renewed emphasis on the horizontal/corporate dimension of the Sacrament as we face the new challenges our own day.
    In closing I would like to emphasize that I do not consider earlier communion to be the problem. Instead, the problem is earlier communion apart from full catechesis. Where bright children have grown up in faithful households with excellent catechesis, we should be open to making arrangements to bring those children through to full catechesis and then reception of the Sacrament. More often than not this will not be the case, and it will be necessary to wait until a later time (and here there is certainly reason to be open to moving our standard catechetical process earlier).
    I deeply appreciate Dr. Stuckwisch’s pastoral commitment to the Sacrament of the Altar and to the importance of catechesis. However, in this case I believe that the exegetical data – and therefore the theological data – present challenges he has not taken into account.
    In Christ,
    Mark Surburg

  9. Mark Surburg
    August 21st, 2007 at 09:59 | #9

    In the comment just posted, apprently the italicized text in paragraph three to which I refer did not copy. The first italicized sentence should be, “But all of the essential questions concerning the Sacrament are answered there in the institution of Christ Himself.” The second italicized sentence should be, “It is those same Words that teach us what the Sacrament is, what it is for, and how it is to be administered and received.”
    My apologies for the error.
    In Christ,
    Mark Surburg

  10. Berton Greenway
    August 21st, 2007 at 11:46 | #10

    Red Herring? Perhaps. My arguments were no doubt not as clear as I should have made them. They were clear in my mind! :) Still, I will readily admit that I am not nearly as an effective debater as are others. I am not the liturgical scholar and theologian that some are. For all those reasons I fear treading out on this blog ground lest I be make a fool of myself. Still, I know from having engaged in some theological debate, that the use of such phrases like “Red Herring” can also be used effectively to dismiss arguments that are made without really taking issue with them. Can it be that the use of the phrase “Red Herring” becomes a Red Herring?
    Throw out the arguments on the ELCA then. Dismiss the slippery slope that I tried to make. But as Pastor’s Sonntag and Surburg make far more eloquently clear than I could, there are great divisions here regarding this practice. There are questions that have not been addressed fully and completely by us, and yet the practice goes on among us. This is what is done on a whole host of other issues in our Synod. In this case, its just is coming from a confessional Pastor that we like, and perhaps an issue that some of us also like.
    Sonntag and Surburg have asked a most important question: What is the minimum instruction necessary? What level of instruction should we demand? I thought I knew, but now there is some question among us. What is that answer?
    I will ask this. What if Pastor Stuckwisch communes a four year old? Paul, can a four year old examine himself as Scripture demands? A three year old? How about two? Am I being silly? Using a red herring? No, I’m serious. Knowing that there are proponents of infant communion within our own Synod, what is to keep this “slippery slope” from happening? These issues have not been addressed by us, no matter how long it was proposed for the hymnal. These are confessional issues, ecclesiastical issues. And as I follow the blog on Pastor Stuckwich’s website, I am not seeing anyone, other than you Paul, who absolutely and definitively decries infant communion. As long as that is not done, as you asked to be done on that blog, we are in real danger of heading down a slippery slope toward infant communion. We need that parameter at least, to properly discuss this issue. And I don’t think that parameter is there.
    I must say I fully agree with Pastor Surburg when he says, “It should not escape our attention that the central argument being advanced by this proposal (and by similar calls for early communion apart from full catechesis) is the same one commonly used by those who practice open communion. It assumes that a basic core of belief combined with faith in the presence of the true body and blood of Christ in the Supper is sufficient grounds for an individual to commune. Although used with a very different spirit, they operate in the same way because they both ignore the horizontal/corporate dimension of the Lord’s Supper.” Pastor Surburg said it much better, but that is part of what I meant by the slippery slope. I can distinctly remember years ago a mission exec in the Southeastern District pressuring me (as a Pastor of a mission congregation) to implement open communion. When I told him how illogical it was to insist that our seventh and eighth graders be fully catechized before communing, and yet to allow the Methodist Aunt Bessie from Kansas to commune without being fully catechized just because she was an adult, he said to me, “Well, then you have made a good case for infant communion.” I had to tell him that that wasn’t at all what I had said!
    Finally, I ask again. Someone help me here. A practical question. What do I do with Pastor Stuckwisch’s 6 year old communicant, should he or she move to my congregation? Do I receive this child despite the obvious disunity that it will bring to my people? Do I reject this child at the table, knowing the confusion that it will cause this child and her parents, if not irreparable hurt and harm? Surely anyone can understand how difficult a situation that now places before me and any other pastor who communes at the more traditional age (at least traditional in our own Missouri Synod.) As I have said, I am not arguing that communion at eighth grade is the divinely ordered age, and I have often seriously wondered if we should drop this age, but at this point, in striving together in unity among my brothers and the congregations of our Synod, I see all kinds of problems that I would be causing if I did make this change. We need to do these things with some sense of unanimity. We need to address these issues in a full and complete Biblical and Confessional way – before we change.
    Bert Greenway

  11. August 21st, 2007 at 16:07 | #11

    I must also agree with Bert and Holger on most, if not all of their comments. Yes, there has been some official discussion on the issue as Bert pointed out, but its inclusion in the hymnal and the lack of discussion thereover was not a matter of a lack of concern. It was more of a matter of so much material, even though it appeared in parts here and there, and the question: What are the issues with the hymnal that are truly pressing. Thus eucharistic prayer and the wording of the Nicene creed appeared to be of the utmost importance and thus demanding the most attention. I greatly appreciated the surveys sent out by the committee and participated in all that I received, but in the end, the approval of the hymnal meant the approval of the hymnal, the agenda, the lectionary, the altar book, additional materials and computer program. Even though we have been using available materials for the last few years in preparation for the new hymnal, the complete package will remain unknown to us until we have used it for a few years.
    All that being said, I wish to add just one question to the topic at hand and that is, on what basis does a child of Lutheran parents receive special status to receive communion before confirmation? Bert and Holger make a strong case here that such a practice may, and actually would, have some interesting consequences. Having served a school now for seven years as well as a parish, having at any one time 20-30 confirmation students from all different parishes and denominations, I can think of many, but the chief of which would be: “Why does the Schultz/Schmidt/Meyer child get to go to communion and my child does not?” Well, the answer would seem to be: “Because her parents are in church every week and they have trained her well.” Response: “So if I come more often and train my child can he also take communion?” “If so, how often would I need to come?” “What must my child know?” “Is there a test of some sort he needs to pass?” Yes, it is a somewhat silly, but practical exchange. Obviously there was a bar for the girl jump to receive communion. What is the heighth of the bar? What are the criteria? In one congregation in my circuit, that bar is a two-hour orientation on a Saturday afternoon when they enter the sixth grade.
    I can honestly say that the most pious confirmand–including three of my own six children–that I have instructed over the last ten years was the only child of a single mom who had no church affiliation whatsoever. She started coming to class at the invitation of a friend. What happens when she completes her instruction this year? Only God knows. I will have been her first pastor. She will, I hope, have others.
    The practice we now have, while not being perfect, is adequate. It also is consistant with our understanding of altar fellowship: We admit to the altar those who have confessed a certain confession. We do not admit on the basis of age (young or old), or family relation (Lutheran or non), or spiritual potential, or personal appeal, or vibrant faith, or even, when it comes right down to it, superior intellectual ability. We do not even admit on the basis of confession alone, but confession and life. (What if, for example, the girl whom Rick and his assistant are going to commune has a best friend, who has an equally vibrant faith, but whose parents belong to an ELCA congregation. On what basis then is the exclusion/inclusion? What if she has a friend whose parents don’t go to church, but shows a vibrant faith? On what basis would she be excluded/included.)
    In short, if the girl is to be communed, confirm her. Declare to the congregation publicly that you consider her able to examine herself. Admit her to the altar on the basis of her public confession–not on the basis of family relation, or spiritual potential or any other criteria.
    This is not a great solution. It will raise issues in other congregations until she hits the age of 14 (I myself received a letter from a family upset that I had not communed their daughter, who was in my class at school, and I took to be a seven-grader but had been confirmed at another church–It was an honest mistake.) But it would be consistant with especially the greater issue of altar and pulpit fellowship.
    McCain: Perhaps however we can simply admit that the model of holding off confirmation until later in a child’s life is not good. I can find no evidence from the time of Luther or Orthodoxy that first communions/confirmations did not happen until a child was 13. Just last night in fact I was reading in an unpublished translation of the Braunschweig Church Order, written by Chemnitz, based on Wittenberg’s Church Order that the confirmation rite was only considered to be a formalization of a child’s successful examination for first communion, and happened at a much younger age than happens today.
    I’m simply no longer comfortable using the Lord’s Supper as an incentive for complete a curriculum of instruction in the Christian faith.
    I don’t see why, if we put our mind to it, we can’t have first communion followed by a more comprehensive doctrinal instruction program later.
    These are good things to discuss.
    I’m grateful that the LSB, effectively, has allowed us the opportunity to initiate earlier first communion. It is a carefully prepared, reviewed and now approved hymnal and agenda, certified to be doctrinally pure and authorized by the Synod’s highest decision making body. That, to me, is important. I’m sure if the Synod believes a grave error has been made in allowing first communion before confirmation, it will be addressed, but I hope instead we move away from what I regard ultimately as indefensible on Biblical and Confessional grounds. Withholding the Sacrament from those who know what it is, and why they come.

  12. August 22nd, 2007 at 09:03 | #12

    I agree: The Lord’s Supper should not be used as a carrot for instruction. As confirmation instruction is now structured, however, is that the case? I know of no children who yearn for it and so sit through the instruction–but that is because they do not know really what it is. As a child I remember being quite intimidated by the whole thing, walking up in front of the entire congregation, receiving communion from a common cup, hoping I did not spill it in some way, wondering about the sanitary aspect of the whole matter. Yes, I believed I was receiving the body and blood of Christ, but what actually was going to happen when I received it? I would guess that most children do not step so boldly to communion, but tentatively, not really grasping its power of comfort until much later on in life, when their sins, grievous and heartfelt, really begin to trouble them, and they discover gradually, over time, that in the Lord’s Supper there is true forgiveness, and comfort, and the peace that passes all understanding. It is at that point, that they begin to understand why the Lord’s Supper, why its central place in the worship service, why the instruction.
    [McCain response: I do not believe that this is something of which only a 12/13/14 year old is capable though.]
    Here of course, the question of adult baptism comes to mind: Do we instruct because someone wishes to be baptized, or do we baptize at the end of instruction, once the person has learned what baptism is, and realizes, that baptism is part of the Christian life?
    [McCain: Respectfully, I would say we would instruct only to the point a person can receive Holy Baptism. I would not expect to withhold baptism from a person until they completed a 12 week course. The Ethiopian Eunoch was baptized after a few hours with Philip.]
    If there is a carrot aspect to this issue, it is a carrot dangled in front of the parents: Once your child is finished with instruction and he or she receives communion, you are finished with your responsibility as far as “training a child in the way they should go.” This would seem to be the greater issue. This is, to a certain extent, what drives the logic of delaying confirmation into high school, as is the practice of another LCMS congregation close by: If the parents are not going to continue to instruct, the congregation will do so.
    This practice then might make more sense than early communion and later confirmation and recent scientific studies add a bit of creedance to it: While American children are maturing physically much earlier than even 100 years ago (i.e. girls are able to conceive at a younger age), mentally they are maturing more slowly. Why? Diet? Television? Parents? Society? The jury is still out.

  13. Holger Sonntag
    August 22nd, 2007 at 10:41 | #13

    Paul (McC.) — you write: “I can find no evidence from the time of Luther or Orthodoxy that first communions/confirmations did not happen until a child was 13. Just last night in fact I was reading in an unpublished translation of the Braunschweig Church Order, written by Chemnitz, based on Wittenberg’s Church Order that the confirmation rite was only considered to be a formalization of a child’s successful examination for first communion, and happened at a much younger age than happens today.”
    If you study the posts opposing early communion, you will find some latitude as far as age is concerned. Chemnitz, adopting the traditional age for confirmation / first communion, suggests confirmation at “the age of reason” (about 7). What is also confirmed by your study of the church orders is that confirmation concludes some type of instruction in the Christian faith prior to admission to first communion (given Chemnitz’ and Luther’s comments quoted earlier, that’s probably along the lines of the “full catechesis” advocated by Mark Surburg). So, I’d say, if your point is that confirmation (and therefore first communion) takes place too late in the life of children, maybe that ought to be discussed then instead of disconnecting first communion from confirmation altogether. Here a key question would be: when is a child capable of examining himself in the sense of 1 Cor. 11? Given that children, on average, seem to mature *more slowly* than in the past, we might actually have to push it back to an older age in comparison to the 16th century. Other pertinent questions: when is a child ready for “full catechesis”? and: should that be decided by a local congregation / pastor — or can we come up with a joint approach, something suggested by the very fact that confirmation was regulated by 16th-century church orders? Finally, I remind everybody favoring an early date for first communion like the Catholic church (or even infant communion like the Eastern churches) that ours is a different teaching on original sin and baptism — how does this factor into the equation?
    You also write: “I’m simply no longer comfortable using the Lord’s Supper as an incentive for complete a curriculum of instruction in the Christian faith.”
    So what if an adult person from a non-LCMS church wants to join your congregation, you commune him prior to the completion of his class, perhaps on a trial basis (kind of like conditional absolution)? Perhaps we should reframe the Lord’s Supper from calling it an “incentive” for studying to calling it an expression of the completed study of the faith — in other words, to calling it an expression of a shared confession of the faith.
    On the other hand, having the old Adam still around our neck, we need both law and gospel motivation; so the “carrot” of communion participation has a place in the motivation of learning and studying the faith too (just consult Luther’s catechism prefaces on that — do “we today” no longer need the stick/carrot of the law to implant the catechism into the heart of the young?).
    What I’m saying is this: we’re not making comments on early communion in an academic context here, but in a church body that’s been struggling with open communion for a long time, in fact, for so long that I believe it’s become a systemic problem (unenforced-unenforceable convention reiterations concerning “our historic practice” prove the point). I wouldn’t be surprised if the congregation in Paul Strawn’s circuit that does its “duty” of carefully instructing in a two-hour session is also one that does open communion and has a rather weak confirmation program. I know that Rick Stuckwisch’s congregation is different. Yet, to reiterate an earlier question, how many of the 25% LCMS congregations doing early communion also do open communion? Perhaps these two go together more often than we’d like — when exceptions (early communion) become the rule (open communion), a common LCMS problem, starkly highlighted by the mission exec quoted by Bert Greenway.
    You write: “I don’t see why, if we put our mind to it, we can’t have first communion followed by a more comprehensive doctrinal instruction program later.” — Is that realistic, given, again, the rampant practice of open communion in our midst that is often thinly veiled under the briefest of instructions for adult converts? In other words, if ours were a church where — across the board — thorough instruction in the catechism is not only valued in theory but also done in practice; a church where also closed communion would be practiced across the board; a church that even still practiced individual confession/absolution prior to communion (see AC XXV, 1), then early communion might be a possiblity. Yet as it is now, what works in one congregation (e.g., Emmaus, South Bend, IN, where all these things might be in good practice), might cause problems in our church as a whole. Here perhaps the strong should limit the exercise of their freedom for the sake of the weak, in keeping with the considered uniformity practiced by our fathers in the faith, beginning with the 16th century church orders. Leaving the decision to individual congregations, as was done in 1973, has nothing to do with order. We all agree on that when it comes to the kind of liturgies we use; why should it be different in this ceremonial question?
    You write: “I’m sure if the Synod believes a grave error has been made in allowing first communion before confirmation, it will be addressed.” I wonder: what does Synod actually believe in this matter to begin with since it was divided in 1973, which was apparently the last time Synod addressed the matter explicitly (and not in a thick bundle)?
    McCain: I can understand the concerns, but I’m wondering if perhaps we are not dealing with some red herrings. If Cwirla shows up on this discussion, he might explain how/if we have wandered a bit in logic as we discuss this situation. The fact is that the Lutheran Confessions make clear what the “basics” are for admission to the Supper and the case that Pr. Stuckwisch presented was of a child who meet those criteria. Memorization of the “basics” of the Catechism, not, mind you, the entire Catechism with all explanations and certainly not study of the entire Synodical Catechism with Explanation. I think we have made a mistake in tying first communion to confirmation, or our mistake was turning confirmation into something other than preparation for first communion. I tend to believe that we simply need to have first communion, when the children are ready, and confirmation later.]

  14. RevFurgeson
    August 22nd, 2007 at 11:53 | #14

    This discussion of First/Early Communion has other ramifications as well. Just what is ‘enough’ education to say that a person same-says the faith in accordance with the Lutheran Church?
    The question is one for all age groups. Is it enough that I train adult confirmands only the basic gospel message and the basic truth of the Lord’s Supper before they become communing members of the congregation (which is so often the criteria for early communion)?
    McCain: Yes, why not? If they confess the Gospel and know what the Lord’s Supper is, and why they come, in faithfulness to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and have joined our congregation…why not?
    Do we then assume that they will pick up the rest somewhere along the way?
    McCain: What’s to preclude our congregations from requiring continuing instruction? Why are we afraid of placing such requirements on people?
    What is good for one age group should apply to all age groups. Is the core problem a question of how young they can be or, instead, what is needed in order to be unified in confession? The same discussion can be had over weekend adult confirmation retreats. How do such things cover what takes a year (or more) to cover for youth in the classroom? What do these ‘shortcuts’ say about our understanding of closed communion as a confessional issue?
    McCain: Closed communion means we do not commune people who are not communicant members of our congregations because they have not been instructed in the Lord’s Supper and given their assent and promise to be a faithful member of our congregation. I’m not sure why this should be an issue with communing those who are already members of our congregations.

  15. weedon
    August 22nd, 2007 at 15:29 | #15

    Just a brief comment: At St. Paul’s this fall we have removed the age requirement for entering catechesis. Young folks may enter whenever they can recite for me the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Our Father. They will be confirmed after being catechized, but, of course, part of catechesis is teaching that catechesis is never over – no one outgrows the Catechism. At the end of the catechesis, all will be privately examined and absolved (as per the Augustana) prior to admission to the table.
    Thus, we could be communing children as young as seven or so this Spring. But it was deemed important by the parish to KEEP the traditional ordering of catechesis – confirmation – first communion for those who are admitted to the Table. This was done in consideration of the Synodical fellowship, so that the communicant children from St. Paul’s who went elsewhere would all be CONFIRMED at Lutheran altars.
    Since neither Scripture, nor the Lutheran Symbols, nor any part of our Synodical covenant specify a given age to start catechesis, this seemed to us to be the best way to approach the matter.

  16. weedon
    August 22nd, 2007 at 15:32 | #16

    One more thought: a purely suppositional one. Why is it that so many of the children we confirm at the age of 14 or 15 commune once or twice and then proceed to avoid the Lord’s Table for years on end?
    I suspect it is because they listened to what our actions said more than to our words. We can tell them how important the Lord’s Supper is, but when our actions deny that, suggesting that they are just fine without the Supper for years after they could have been receiving it, they take our actions to heart. It can’t be THAT important, they think. I lived without it for all these years.

  17. Berton Greenway
    August 22nd, 2007 at 17:02 | #17

    Now I am even more confused. What exactly do you insist upon that must be learned, confessed before communion? I always thought it was a thorough instruction in the catechism and its chief parts. The very structure of the catechism, with the Supper last, showed that Luther regarded it as the completion of all the other teaching. For us, that kind of instruction takes two years. For others, I guess it can be a couple of weeks. – Okay, so that might not be what most do, but I know of Pastors who have done that. I also know of Pastors who catechize adults and have them prepared for communion in two easy sessions as well. Man, I would sure have a much easier job if I could figure out how to do that!
    Paul, I really am one of your great supporters. I hope you know this. And I’m not rejecting an “earlier” confirmation and/or communion age, as Holger pointed out. I think all of us here are open to the idea of altering the age of which we confirm and commune. But this needs to be done as a Church, with at least some guidance about age, and with the clear understanding of what ought to be taught so that each communicant might be able to examine himself in light of the doctrines of the Lutheran Church.
    I found some information on Jay Webbers site. It even supports an earlier confirmation age, but note in most cases, there is some Church order that is followed.
    “A third broad generalization that may be made [regarding confirmation among Lutherans in the sixteenth century] is that confirmation was directly associated with both sacraments … The pastor’s instruction was to assure him that the obligation to instruct, which parents and sponsors had assumed with the child’s baptism, had been met and that the catechumen was now ready for the second sacrament.”
    A fourth broad generalization is that the usual age of the catechumen who partook of his first Communion was quite early when compared to present-day practice. Indeed, age was not regarded an important criterion. The major criterion was the catechumen’s readiness to partake of the Sacrament. Almost invariably the church orders used an expression such as “when the children have come of age.” According to German law, this was at age 12; according to Roman canon law, it could be interpreted variously as from 7 to 12.”
    “Where a reference to confirmation age appears, the age is rarely higher than 12. Thus Hohenlohe, 1577, and Ansbach, 1564, specify 12. The same age is suggested by Allstedt, 1533, and Lindow in Pomerania, 1571. The former states that persons over 12 are to be subject to a personal tax, while the latter requires 12-year-olds to contribute to the pastor’s support. In both instances, it may be assumed that the age was set at 12 because persons were normally confirmed or communicants by that time. Lower Austria, 1571, sets a range between 10 and 15. Brandenburg-Ansbach-Kulmbach, 1556, indicates that the age for first Communion was to be 12 or over. Braunschweig, 1542, suggests that the former custom of confirming at 10 or 11 be retained. The Church Order of Sweden, drawn up by Laurentius Petri (1499-1573) in 1571, states that no child younger than 9, or 8 at the least, should attend the Lord’s Supper. “For younger children can have little exact knowledge of the Sacrament.” During the 16th century the children in Denmark were often admitted to Communion when they were only 6 or 7.”
    Source: Arthur C. Repp, Confirmation in the Lutheran Church (St. Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), pp. 56-57.
    Why did the early Lutherans believe it was important to try and state some age for confirmation and communion? To bring about order in the Church. Granted, they were somewhat all over the board in terms of age, but it seems in regard to various regions at least, there was some attempt to bring about this order. They also were very concerned about when a child could truly examine himself. Anyway, this is what I think we need to do, as a Church, and not as individuals. This is even more important given the mobile society in which we live.

  18. William Weedon
    August 22nd, 2007 at 21:20 | #18

    As a Church we have already agreed that we do not need to agree on the age, have we not? I have received a child into my parish who was confirmed already and in the second grade. For years now we’ve confirmed after two or three years of instruction (depending on the child and the parents) and we confirmed from age 11 to age 14. It makes complete sense to me to LOOSE the requirement of age, but to encourage maintaining the order:
    Catechesis + Examination and Absolution + Confirmation + First Communion.
    The question in our Synod ought never to have been: how old are you? The question ought to have been: have you been taught all that our Lord mandated and have you been examined in this faith, absolved of your sins, and made public confession before the Lord’s altar?
    My $.02. And for what it’s worth, I think introducing the topic of infant communion on this thread is a bit of a red herring. I personally believe that the question would never even have arisen among us if we had been practicing according to our Symbols in the first place, instead of excommunicating children who knew their catechism until they reached a magical age! :)

  19. Mark Surburg
    August 22nd, 2007 at 22:37 | #19

    The issue of earlier communion cannot be separated from the issue of closed communion. Those who wish to commune their own congregation’s children apart from full catechesis, but then also require that adults from the outside who wish to join and commune must first be fully catechized (and require that visitors who commune at our altars share in the full confessional position of our church), need to admit that they are operating with a double standard. Then they must produce a THEOLOGICAL justification for doing so. This theological justification must not privelege one dimension of the Lord’s Supper over another, or else it is not being true to Scripture. The argument “We aren’t going to deny our children the gift” does precisly this since it relies completely on the vertical/individual dimension of the Lord’s Supper and ignores the horizontal/corporate dimension.
    The historical discussion about previous Lutheran practice is interesting and important, but it avoids the real issue. Until one produces a legitimate theogical justification for the double standard, we are left with a practice that is inconsistent. And inconsistencies in our theological foundation always foster bad practice. At least in the LCMS, we often seem to practice “pastoral theology by exception.” Holger Sonntag stated it well, “Perhaps these two go together more often than we’d like — when exceptions (early communion) become the rule (open communion), a common LCMS problem, starkly highlighted by the mission exec quoted by Bert Greenway.” I find it ironic that those who would so faithfully defend the practice of closed communion, do not see that they sow the seeds of open communion when they argue for earlier communion in the manner of this discussion. The fact that practitioners of open communion gladly embrace this line of argument (i.e., a basic core of belief combined with faith in the presence of the true body and blood of Christ in the Supper is sufficient for admission to the Supper) should give one pause. This does not happen by chance.

  20. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 23rd, 2007 at 00:42 | #20

    There has been a lot of further discussion on this topic since I was last able to check on it, and now I fear that I am somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of conversation that has occured in my virtual absence. As I mentioned previously, I am more than happy to engage in discussion and debate — especially with brothers who are as courteous and objective in their disagreements with me as those who have posted here are — but I also remain concerned that electronic communications are not the most ideal media for engaging such a topic. I don’t say that to avoid answering questions, but, frankly, so many of the questions and concerns that have been offered here are based upon assumptions that simply are not true. Then again, there have been so many comments and questions posted in such a short span of time, it becomes difficult to know how to respond clearly and constructively.
    I apologize that some of my remarks appear to have been misunderstood. A single blog post is hardly a sufficent context for conveying the breadth of my thought on the Lord’s Supper or its proper administration. I was reflecting on one particular aspect of my thinking, at one particular juncture in my ongoing efforts to be a faithful pastor. It is not the case that I limit my understanding of the Sacrament to the institution narratives (which, by the way, include the words recorded by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians). My point, following Luther, is that we know most clearly what the Sacrament is, and what it is for, from those narratives of our dear Lord’s institution of the Sacrament.
    I agree that the horizontal dimension of the Sacrament is important, and I’m very sorry if I have led anyone to think otherwise about my practice. I find it interesting, in this light, that offenses against the body of Christ are cited as a reason for denying the Sacrament to young members of the congregation. Are they not to be members of the body of Christ? How are they causing offense or dividing the body? It seems to me, ironically enough, that refusing them the Sacrament is as close or closer to the problematic situation St. Paul is addressing than admitting them to the Altar would be.
    Please rest assured that if any of my young communicants were to advocate homosexuality or women’s ordination, or deny the authority of the Holy Scriptures, I would place them under church discipline. I don’t say that in jest, either. That’s part of my point, which thus far appears to have been ignored, that pastoral care includes catechesis and admission to the Lord’s Supper of even young disciples of Jesus, but also the discipline of those young disciples (and their families), in a way that frankly does present a daunting challenge, I agree. But I’m not willing to withhold the Sacrament of the Altar from a disciple of Jesus on the grounds that it’s too much work for me to catechize, care for, or discipline that person.
    I’m well aware that some churches practicing “early communion” (sic) are also inclined to practice “open communion.” I regret such situations, but do not at all agree that admitting younger children to the Sacrament goes hand in hand with admitting anyone and everyone to the Sacrament. The young communicants of my congregation are no less members of our own fellowship than the adult communicants. It is not the case, as some have apparently interpreted, that simply a very basic knowledge of the six chief parts is all that is necessary for a person to participate in the Holy Communion at a particular Altar. Catechesis and confession go together, and both depend upon the Word of God. The confession necessarily flows from the catechesis of the Word, because such confession is a case of saying the same thing that God has said. The children of my congregation confess the Word in which and by which they are catechized (before, during, and after First Communion). I have suggested that the familial context is an important aspect of this catechesis; I believe very strongly that it is, and I am endeavoring to take that seriously into account in my pastoral care of my congregation, including both young and old, both parents and children.
    Concerning the LSB Agenda Rite of First Communion, I frankly have mixed feelings about it. I’m glad it is included, as a matter of principle, but I’m not particularly excited about the rite itself (not that there’s anything wrong with it per se, but it’s really more a “rite” of examination than a rite of First Communion; and I’m not necessarily in favor of any other “rite of First Communion” than that which consitutes the Holy Communion itself, simply received for the first time). I’m even less excited about the rationale that was provided for the inclusion of the rite, which is not the way to do theology. But I can’t take any of the credit or the blame for the rite of First Communion, as I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I wasn’t part of that committee, nor that working group, nor did I have any input on the matter at any step in the process. I did, along with everyone else in the Synod, have the opportunity to comment on it when the LSB proposal was put forth. And anyone who says they weren’t aware of it then, wasn’t paying much attention, because it was given a fair amount of “coverage” in the discussions that took place. I don’t recall that I responded one way or the other at that point, because I was rather ambivalent about the rite.
    I didn’t wait for the LSB Agenda to begin admitting children to the Holy Communion prior to the rite of Confirmation, because I followed Luther’s teaching in the Large Catechism along with the general practice of admission to the Lord’s Supper in Luther’s day as the historic Lutheran precedent for how admission to the Sacrament was handled. Luther says that anyone who is to receive the Sacrament of the Altar ought to know at least the first three chief parts (the primary texts) and the institution texts of Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion. Then, as Brother Sonntag has pointed out, he also urges that catechesis dare not stop there, but must continue; which is exactly what I have practiced and insisted upon in my congregation. But again, at the end of his discussion of the Lord’s Supper, Luther reiterates the responsibility that fathers have to catechize their children. At that point, he specifically states that the children should be catechized and admitted to the Sacrament of the Altar because they also have been baptized and we need their help in fighting the devil. So I do what I have been given to do, to catechize and care for the children and adults of my congregation, and I urge (and assist) the parents to do what they are given to do for their children.
    I am sensitive to the importance of doing things together with the Church. I’m not a proponent of people doing whatever seems right in their own eyes. I am a strong advocate of pastors and congregations committing themselves to use the Church’s official service books and hymnals (though, as others have also pointed out, this needs to be done with pastoral discretion; as was the case with TLH and LW in the past). I intend, at some point in the near future, to comment on the Lutheran rite of confirmation, but I’m not going to try to tackle that issue here. As far as admission to the Sacrament of the Altar, however, I disagree that I have gone off on my own and done something apart from the Church. I have been faithful in my stewardship of the mysteries of God according to the standards and criteria of the Holy Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions. Those standards are not, nor should they be, based upon age or grade level, but are matters of catechesis and confession of the Word of God, as sumamrized in the six chief parts of the Catechism. I do not agree that one has to teach the entirety of church doctrine in all its heighth and depth and breadth prior to admission to the Holy Communion; nor has that happened prior to eighth grade confirmation, in any case. I continue to require the catechesis and confession of the six chief parts. What I have done differently in the case that I mentioned on my blog, is to set aside the prerquisite of memorizing the six chief parts prior to First Communion. And as I have explained, I have done so, in part, because this young catechumen is being very thoroughly catechized both at home and in church. In other words, I have regarded her catechetical context as providing the same (or superior) structure and support for her faith and confession as formal classes and required “memory work” provide in other situations. And having said that, this young catechumen will be in catechesis classes with me, God-willing for the next four or five or six years, in addition to the ongoing catechesis she receives from her parents in the home, and in addition to being in church two or three or four times every week all year long. Don’t anyone try to tell me that she is somehow outside the fellowship of the LCMS.
    When I have had families with young communicants relocate and transfer to other congregations, I have urged them to respect the pastoral practice in the new place. I’m sorry if such situations cause anyone a hardship, but, guess what, being a faithful pastor in the world and under the cross isn’t easy. If it creates a pressure when younger communicants move into a congregation, what about the pressure that has here been urged to withhold the Body and Blood of Christ from those who do believe and confess the one true faith, but who aren’t “old enough” for the LCMS majority? I’m sorry if I sound a little testy, but I am frustrated by the fact that discussions of this topic often seem to proceed as though it is of little or no consequence whether these younger children receive the Body and Blood of Christ or not. Does the LCMS not really believe what we teach and confess concerning this Holy Sacrament? Do little children not have flesh and blood? Do they not still live in the world? Do they not have the devil constantly about them, day and night, allowing them to have no rest within or without? Shall we not believe what the Holy Scriptures have to say about the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh of all the children of Adam and Eve?
    Just as I believe that it is incumbent upon pastors to be going to confesion, because it is incumbent upon them to make themselves readily available to hear confession, so do I believe that it is incumbent upon pastors to catechize the children of their congregation, as early as possible, as long as possible, as faithfully as possible, and by such catechesis to prepare them for a worthy reception of the Holy Communion. I have a greater obligation and responsibility to my Lord, who has called me to be His undershepherd and to feed His sheep, than I do to the customs of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. I know that Dr. Luther was patient and pastoral in his approach, that he first of all taught and preached the Word before introducing changes. I have done the same thing. Dr. Luther also did not wait for the entire church to agree with him before evangelically reforming the administration of the Sacrament, but did so within his own “parish” as the people were ready for that gift of the Gospel. And that, too, is the example that I have endeavored to follow, not trusting in myself or my own judgment, but finally in Christ and His Word.
    It is late, and I am tired, and there were too many comments for me to even try answering all of them. But I hope and pray that my frail attempt at a response is of some benefit to those who are following this conversation.

  21. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 23rd, 2007 at 08:10 | #21

    A few additional comments, now that it is morning and I’ve had some sleep.
    First of all, to the argument that, since Confirmation is an adiaphoron, we ought to agree in love (in the freedom of the Gospel) to practice that rite in a common fashion. This discussion is precisely not about the rite of Confirmation, but about catechesis and admission to the Holy Communion, neither one of which is an adiaphoron. As a pastor, I am given the responsibility to catechize and to administer the Holy Communion to the disciples our Lord Jesus Christ. I am endeavoring to do so as faithfully as possible, in fear and love toward God, according to His institution and the confession of the Lutheran Church.
    On the argument that a double-standard is set in place for children and adults, this really is the point at hand. Children and adults are different, and they ought to be dealt with differently with respect to pastoral care.
    For one thing, catechesis is not a fixed, static program of instruction, but an ongoing, daily, lifelong enterprise. So, just as I expect those young catechumens to continue being catechized, learning the faith and growing in wisdom and stature, so do I expect more of adults. Not in the sense that something greater is required for worthiness to receive the Holy Communion, but in the sense that they have a greater capacity for both understanding and misunderstaning, and have all along been “catechized” in something or other. There is no “neutral” ground that people maintain prior to being catechized within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
    Little children of Christian families are brought up in the faith from their Baptism onward. They are catechized in the Word and prayer of the Christian home, and in the life of the Church. They have not rejected the faith. They have not adopted a false confession. They have not abandoned the Church. They have not despised the means of grace. However, an adult who comes to me for catechesis has stood outside the life of the Church, or at least outside the life of the Lutheran Church. Such an adult has either had a false confession, or has held no Christian confession at all. Such an adult has previously been outside the fellowship, and is now requesting to become a part of the fellowship; whereas that happened for the young catechumen of the congregation already at his or her Baptism. It is also the case, as our dear Lord Himself says on more than one occasion, that adults must become like little children; not the other way around. So, if there is a double-standard, it is one that Christ Jesus set into place. Catechesis is, in many ways, as Dr. Scaer once described it to us at the seminary, the process of converting adults into little children. I think that is very much to the point.
    Finally, children are under the care and authority of their parents, who maintain a responsibility for their children’s catechesis and confession, especially through the formative years. That authority and responsibility is from the Lord, as it is also taught in the Small and Large Catechisms of Dr. Luther. It is one of the main reasons for the point I have made concerning the familial context and the role of parental catechesis in the preparation of a young child for the Holy Communion. No one has offered a theological rebuttal to that. An adult, again, differs from a child in this regard. Even the spouse of a member is not under the Christian spouse’s authority in the way that a child is under his or her parents.
    Incidentally, the fact that children are under their parents authority and responsibility (as well as care and protection) is probably the chief reason that I do not advocate the rite of confirmation for young children. I personally think that 13 or 14 is still too young for children to be taking such an oath. It is an adult promise to put one’s neck on the line for the faith, and it would best be made at the age of emancipation from the parental household. We have a lifelong obligation to honor our fathers and mothers, but there is a point at which we move out from under their authority, either to become heads of household ourselves, or, in the case of a woman, to move from the father’s “headship of the household” to her husband’s headship.
    But the point to which I wrote my blog post has to do with the manner of catechesis and confession, and the process of admission to the Holy Communion. What I was thinking out loud about is exactly a matter of pastoral discretion, in the exercise of responsible pastoral care. I am arguing that a pastor does have to differentiate, not only between children and adults (for the reasons indicated above), but also between the different circumstances in which the sheep entrusted to his care are found. It’s hard work, honestly, not an easy way out. It requires hands-on pastoral catechesis, as well as a close relationship with the members of the congregation (which may not even be feasible in much larger parishes than mine). But the notion of a cookie-cutter approach to preparation for and admission to the Sacrament of the Altar is not the best or most salutary way of doing things. People are different from each other, in all sorts of ways, and their situations are all the more different. Which is why pastoral care is a challenge, mainly one of properly dividing the Law and the Gospel in preaching, teaching, and catechizing the people of God, not generically, but personally.
    As a father, I dearly love all of my children, but I don’t treat all of them in exactly the same way, because they’re different people, they have different needs, as well as different abilities, hope and dreams and aspirations. It is much the same in the way that I provide pastoral care to the members of my congregation. When I hear confession, I don’t give the same pastoral counsel or “preach” the same text in the same way to each and every penitent. I listen to his or her confession, and then I apply the Word of God, the Law as needed and the Gospel especially, to that particular situation. That’s my “job,” if you will, and it is what I strive to do with catechizing both young and old. Of course the catechesis I give to a six-year-old child differs from the catechesis I give to a graduate student at the University. Last year, I frequently met with such a college student, and then, almost immediately afterwards, with a young Downe’s Syndrome girl. If a theological rationale is needed for why I dealt with those two differently, it is because I am a pastor to each of them, and God has given them different gifts in life, and different crosses to bear; and because, to whom much is given, much shall be expected.
    I really believe the two key factors in my practice, in contrast to the typical LCMS custom of recent generations, are these: (1.) catechesis is an ongoing, daily and lifelong enterprise for every Christian; and (2.) the standard for admission to the Holy Communion is not one of age or grade level, but of catechesis and confession of the Word of God. I believe I stand on very solid ground, both theologically and historically, in teaching and practicing accordingly.

  22. August 23rd, 2007 at 09:35 | #22

    We are having a good conversation about this subject. Unfortunately, one of our participants has managed to hook the “infant communion” red herring out of the comment pond. Let’s throw him back in and stick to the subject at hand: earlier first communion age. To that end, let me simply toss the “I.C. Red Herring” back into the pond with these parting words:
    1) infant communion does not lead to open communion necessarily; because 2) the only Church which has always practiced it is also the
    strictest church of all about closed communion, and practices that in such a way as to admit of NO exceptions, period.
    So, be advised, any comments or references to infant communion will be deleted. That is not what we are discussing here. Please keep the conversation on-track.

  23. August 23rd, 2007 at 10:28 | #23

    I guess I am coming to understand the context within which you are making your argument. You write: “Finally, children are under the care and authority of their parents, who maintain a responsibility for their children’s catechesis and confession, especially through the formative years. That authority and responsibility is from the Lord, as it is also taught in the Small and Large Catechisms of Dr. Luther. It is one of the main reasons for the point I have made concerning the familial context and the role of parental catechesis in the preparation of a young child for the Holy Communion. No one has offered a theological rebuttal to that.”
    I truly do think that you are blessed to have such a situation, within your own family, and within the families of your congregation. Where I am at, however (north Minneapolis) such idealic situations are hard to find. The children with which I work come from a myriad of family situations–most, if not all, not ideal. Some simply horrible. Still somehow, they need to be instructed. Could we then say that your practice is predicated upon the existence of Christian households in which the father is the head?
    But to a greater question: Having read what you have written concerning confirmation (“Incidentally, the fact that children are under their parents authority and responsibility (as well as care and protection) is probably the chief reason that I do not advocate the rite of confirmation for young children. I personally think that 13 or 14 is still too young for children to be taking such an oath.”), what do you view confirmation to be? What happens there? Is it really something more momentous than baptism, or the reception of the Lord’s Supper? A few words from you in this regard here might go along way to help us understand why you are doing what you are doing and guide this discussion.
    Yes it is true: Every person is different. It has always been that way, even among children of the same age. The advantage of a smaller context then is that we can fine tune our instruction for individuals. For that to be a common practice among us though, we would need to double or triple the size of the pastorate, and at the same time, split larger congregations into smaller ones in which no more than 75 to 100 people attend on a given Sunday.
    Finally, and this is just a small point, but it occurred to me as I read through the posts above, in that age (Reformation) when they were confirming at 10, or even as young as 7, they were marrying at 14 (Melanchthon’s daughter for example), and dying with regularity before 50…

  24. Holger Sonntag
    August 23rd, 2007 at 13:53 | #24

    Wow, the discussion progresses quickly. But I want to follow up on some factual questions raised earlier. Paul (McCain), you write: “The fact is that the Lutheran Confessions make clear what the ‘basics’ are for admission to the Supper and the case that Pr. Stuckwisch presented was of a child who meets those criteria. Memorization of the ‘basics’ of the Catechism, not, mind you, the entire Catechism with all explanations and certainly not study of the entire Synodical Catechism with Explanation.”
    Not to be tedious, but my simple question is: what confessional texts do you have in mind? [McCain: See Luther's Large Catechism]
    I’m guessing here (so please correct me!), but you seem to be referring to, among other things, the preface of the Small Catechism, para. 10-11, where Luther writes: “To begin with, teach them these parts: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc., following the text word for word, so that they can also repeat it back to you and learn it by heart. Those who do not want to learn these things … should not be admitted to the sacrament.” — So, if we took this text in an isolated manner, we’d say: whoever can recite the basic, “primary” texts of all the chief parts of the catechism (not just Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, as some (e.g., Rev. Peter Bender in his Lutheran Catechesis, p. 12-13) have suggested following the Latin and medieval church law / practice, not the original German text that has the tiny: “etc.”), even without really knowing what they mean (Luther, strictly speaking, discusses “explanation” first in paragraphs 14-16), could be admitted to the sacrament.
    As exhibit B, I could point to the (shorter) preface of the Large Catechism, para. 1-2: “This sermon … contains what every Christian should know. Anyone who does not know it should not be numbered among Christians nor admitted to the sacrament …” Since “this sermon” (i.e., the preface) only contains the primary texts, one could again draw the conclusion: Luther considered knowing words without meaning, or perhaps even with a false meaning, a sufficient criterion for the admission to the Lord’s Supper. [[McCain: And, of course, that would be an entirely false conclusion, which does not pertain to anything Pastor Stuckwisch or I have said in this conversation. ]]
    But then there’s of course para. 5 of that same preface that states: “those who come to the sacrament certainly should know more and have a deeper understanding of all Christian teaching than children and beginners in school.” Here he, finally, adds the meaning, the understanding to the bare words of the primary texts. One must actually not only recite the words; one must also know what they mean. Could it be that “knowing the words” and “a deeper understanding of all Christian teaching” relate to each other as necessary and sufficient conditions? I.e., while the former is necessary (Luther’s famous first catechetical step, SC Pref. 7), the latter (the second / third steps, ibid., 14, 17) is both necessary and sufficient?
    In the same tension I’d read what Luther writes at the beginning of the Fifth Chief Part in the LC, para. 2: “everyone who wishes to be a Christian and to go to the sacrament should know [what it is, what its benefits are, and who is to receive it]. For we do not intend to admit to the sacrament … those who do not know what they seek or why they come.”
    Again, if we read this in an isolated manner, then, for sure, anyone who could answer only these three questions correctly could consider himself a Christian and be admitted to the sacrament. And there are certainly those in our fellowship who advocate this, sometimes even reducing it to faith in the heart. Yet this reductionist reading would truly contradict what Luther just said in his preface about who should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper: those who have a deeper understanding of *all* Christian teaching, as contained and explained in the catechism. As he does elsewhere in more explicit terms, Luther treats Christian doctrine, not like a string of beads, but like a golden ring.
    This squares nicely with what Luther had said in 1523 in his Formula Missae, where he, unlike the current Roman practice (“they seek only to communicate”), required the examination to see whether those desiring to commune “give a reason for their faith and can answer questions about what the Lord’s Supper is, what its benefits are, and what they expect to derive from it.” I think that “giving a reason for their faith” is broader than the Fifth Chief Part of the LC, while we should also consider that the catechism had not be written yet and Luther was still engaged in building an evangelical church at Wittenberg from the basics up. What gives us the right to return to that stage?
    Consider also his famous 1533 Letter to Those in Frankfurt. There he writes very clearly: “… since we intend to raise and leave behind us Christians and since we administer Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament, we do not want to, nor can we, give the sacrament to anyone but to him who is previously examined as to what he has learned from the Catechism, and whether he wants to abstain from sins done against it.” Like a teacher, in question-and-answer format (perhaps asking: what does this mean?), the pastor “ought to examine the simple people and have them repeat it to see whether they know the parts of the Catechism and whether they realize the sin done against it and whether they are willing to learn more and amend their lives; otherwise, they are not to be admitted to the sacrament.” (BTW, this sounds to me like our favorite pedagogical tool, the carrot/stick approach.)
    Now, clearly, Luther in the context only mentions the first three parts, even in their medieval order (Creed, Prayer, Commandments), but it’s difficult to see how the pastor would not also “quiz” his congregants at least on the Lord’s Supper (see LC) — and while he is at it, why not also on baptism since he, as already in 1523, is to inquire about their life anyways (and the life of a Christian, as “fruit” of the Lord’s Supper, is a constant return to baptism in repentance, see LC)? — As Luther said in 1523: “participation in the Supper is part of the confession by which they confess before God, angels, and men that they are Christians.” Could one, realistically, be considered a Christian without a basic understanding of baptism? See LC IV, 1: “every Christian ought to have at least some brief, elementary instruction about [the two sacraments instituted by Christ], because without them no one can be a Christian.”
    These are the passages from Luther I know. Does anybody know more from the confessions (besides AC XXIV, 6 etc.)? Frankly, I don’t know how far we get by establishing some minimum according to possibly incomplete lists given by Luther (10 Comm., Creed, Lord’s Prayer or also baptism and Lord’s Supper — only the words or also the meaning/right understanding thereof?). He does talk about the catechism in the context. We do have a book called Small Catechism by the man who spoke thus. Can we add one plus one?
    Perhaps, when we draw in ecclesiology — no red herring, as we say: church fellowship is communion fellowship — we can distinguish two rings when it comes to the admission of the Lord’s Supper. The first ring has to do with the visible church: the communion of orthodox confessors of the faith gathered around the pure word and sacraments who strive also to live according to God’s word. The second ring has to do with the “invisible” church: the true believers contained in this visible church.
    Clearly, the pastor’s responsibility of examination has to do chiefly with the first ring: ordinarily, he gives communion only to those who are members in good standing in the “true visible church.” His question is: Are the individuals desiring communion Christians, as far as he can tell based on their confession of the faith and manner of life? After all, the sacrament was instituted “for us Christians to eat and to drink”. Obviously, he, like Luther, also needs to teach concerning true worthiness, ie., membership in the invisible church that is by faith in the gospel. Here, however, self-examination of the communicant is required: do I actually share the faith of the church, in particular when it comes to the gospel of the Lord’s Supper? As Luther said in 1533, those who lie to the pastor concerning their beliefs/faith ultimately deceive themselves.
    Now, what does mean for early communion? To be sure, infant baptism is to be followed by ongoing instruction in the faith by the parents and sponsors; and to the extent this instruction takes place / bears fruit, even the little children will confess the faith truthfully. We rejoice in that! And yet, when reading Luther’s remarks, I cannot help but seeing that he, once the catechism was written, made a rather complete instruction therein, and understanding thereof, the prerequisite for participation in the Lord’s Supper which then also subjected the participants to church discipline (i.e., excommunication).
    In other words, once you were admitted to the Lord’s Supper you were basically responsible for yourself, since no one is to receive the sacrament based on somebody else’s (not even on their parents’) faith – besides, it’s a public, personal confession of Christianity. In other words, when you commune, not first when you are confirmed, you are making an implicit oath of putting your neck on the line for the Lord and his word! If we think confirmation should first happen at age 18, as Pr. Stuckwisch apparently does, perhaps that’s then also a good age for first communion.
    I add the following X-rated quote in which Luther opines that baptism saves a person even in the Catholic church until the person turns seven or eight and his own understanding sets in (AE 41:207f.): “Now if a baptized child lives and then dies in his seventh or eighth year, *before he understands the whorelike church of the pope,* he has in truth been saved and will be saved—of that we have no doubt. But when he grows up, and hears, believes, and obeys your preaching with its lies and devilish innovations, then he becomes a whore of the devil like you and falls away from his baptism and bridegroom—as happened to me and others—building and relying on his own works, which is what you whoremongers preach in your brothels and devil’s churches.”
    Here we encounter the traditional “age of reason” (7 or 8, see SA III, 12, 2) when understanding is to set in and when, therefore, other words begin to have an impact on the words spoken and confessed in baptism. They can either deepen these words and lead to a greater appreciation of baptism (see Chemnitz’ remarks on the purpose of confirmation after due instruction in the faith!); or they can lead away from baptism and Christ (as seen by Luther in the Catholic church). This certainly explains a possibly early age at which, at the time, children were admitted to communion after an apparently rather detailed catechism instruction (and later also confirmation, see Chemnitz!).
    The real question then is not: early communion with or without full catechesis / confirmation, but: why confirmation / communion at seven / eight years of age? Where did that number come from? Is it set in stone? Can we adjust it according to modern insights into the child’s psyche? Should we adjust it individually, on a child-by-child basis? The reformers at least had the traditional age to go by as a generally accepted standard; this we no longer seem to have.
    [[McCain: Ok, make it seven then, for the sake of this discussion, that's still a LOT younger than 12/13!]]

  25. wcwirla
    August 23rd, 2007 at 14:14 | #25

    I agree with Pr. Stuckwisch’s original post and the comments made in defense of it. As a latecomer to this fine discussion, I would make a few observations, based on my study and 15 years of pastoral practice:
    1. There is no Scriptural or Confessional connection between Confirmation (a man-made rite, see Ap XIII) and admittance to the Lord’s Supper.
    2. There is no Scriptural or Confessional age of discernment when it comes to receiving the Sacrament. Old Testament or Jewish practices, while interesting, are not decisive.
    3. There is no uniform consensus regarding age of communion from the early church; there are arguments against it (indicating that it was going on). Most arguments made today on the basis of the early church are largely from silence.
    4. There is no necessary slippery slope between communing the congregation’s baptized children before they are “fully catechized” and either infant communion or open communion. The check against the former is the confessional requirement that they know what they are receiving and why. The check against the latter is that one deals with the preparedness of the communicant, the other deals with the appropriateness of one’s communion. In the same way, the 4th catechism question “Who is worthy to receive?” does not deal with open/closed communion, but with the preparedness of the individual communicant.
    5. 1 Corinthians 11, as I read it, has to do with communion within a congregation (ie Corinth) and its apparent divisions. The admonition that a man “examine (dokimazo) himself” and so eat and drink “discerning (diakrino) the body” does not refer either to a body of doctrine or to an intellectual grasp of doctrinal facts but to the recognition of the gift of Christ’s Body in the bread of the Supper AND the place of the communicant as a member of the Body of Christ (corpus verum/corpus mysticum – 1 Cor. 10:17). Any other conclusion we might draw from 1 Cor. 11 are inductive and need to be demonstrated at least beyond a reasonable doubt.
    6. The ability to examine oneself and discern the Body will vary from individual to individual. To whom much is given, much is expected. I have had three mentally handicapped individuals, all adults, all functioning at the cognitive level of a 6 year old. All were catechized and communed prior to my becoming their pastor. I have no reservations about communing them. Nor did anyone in my congregation. Nor do we have any such difficulties at say our Bethesda home. I have seen a marvelous video of a very moving divine liturgy conducted there. So if we do not have problems with adults who function as 6 year olds, why would be have problems with 6 years olds?
    7. The issue of synodical unity among the churches looms large in this discussion, especially given the mobility of our members. Waiting for the synod to come to a uniform consensus in practice may prove futile. We can’t even agree on how best to worship or whether women should vote. I shudder at the thought of something like this being decided by majority vote.
    I’m reminded of the Tractarian movement within Anglicanism. The Tractarians tried for years to persuade the Church of England toward weekly communion and a greater eucharistic piety. They wrote tracts, studied, argued, debated. Most of them (Newman at the forefront) wound up going to Rome. Then some bright bulb got the idea to stop yapping about it and just do it. Simply add a communion service to the Sunday morning lineup, without displacing the sacrosanct Matins service. Lo and behold, the Church of England came to see the wisdom of weekly communion by seeing it put into practice.
    8. If, as we believe (and we do the last time I checked the Confessions) that Baptism actually works regeneration and renewal, instills faith and grants the Holy Spirit, then we should expect to see the fruit of the Spirit manifest in our baptized children. Hunger and thirst for the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood would be such a fruit of the Spirit. Where this is evident, remembering that the Spirit works when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel, then this hunger and thirst should be met with the Body and Blood of Christ, the Holy Food and Medicine of immortality.
    It seems to me that withholding the Sacrament from a baptized child of the congregation until he or she can recite the attributes of God, the three genera of the personal union of the two natures of Christ, and all the implications of the sixth commandment is somewhat akin to not feeding the baby until he or she knows the principles of nutrition.
    (Yes, the last paragraph contains a logical fallacy. Extra credit to anyone who can name it, whether in English or Latin. But the point is valid nonetheless – Does an appropriate communion of a self-examined communicant necessarily involve a “full catechesis” (whatever that may mean)? Or may a baptized believer be catechized at the Table?

  26. Mark Surburg
    August 23rd, 2007 at 14:15 | #26

    I appreciate Dr. Stuckwisch’s comments very much, and we have arrived at the crux of the matter towards which I have been driving when he says, “On the argument that a double-standard is set in place for children and adults, this really is the point at hand. Children and adults are different, and they ought to be dealt with differently with respect to pastoral care.”
    Those who wish to commune earlier need to recognize this point and candidly agree to it (and I think it is the first time I have heard this explicitly acknowledged). I think that Dr. Stuckwisch has fielded the two legitimate arguments that can be deployed in support of it: these children are: 1) our 2) children. The first point acknowledges the fact that these are children baptized into the body of Christ, raised within this fellowship and not someone from the outside. This is not an unimportant point. The second point acknowledges something that we freely grant when it comes to infant baptism. Disciples are made by baptizing and teaching, and the teaching is a life long process. We recognize that as a person matures faith takes on intellecual components that were not present earlier – while at the same time faith cannot be reduced to mere intellecutal activity.
    If we are to practice earlier communion, then I believe that this is the way it should be presented. And if this discussion has helped to clarify this, then I think it has been useful.
    At the same time, while this is a legitimate argument, it is not without its problems – and let us be clear about this so that we know what we are getting into. It still remains that there is a double standard and the standard being used for children remains ready at hand for use in arguing for and practicing open communion. In the hands of a committed, careful confessional Lutheran pastor the double standard could be used without compromising practice (though as a friend at a large Chicago area parish wrote me – and as Dr.Stuckwisch grants – this becomes more difficult the larger the parish). I am not sure that the average lay person – much less the average pastor – will grasp how and why the double standard is being used (after all, many of them don’t even understand the practice of closed communion to begin with). I still think that in practice this line of argument presents open communion as an option right at hand and invariably in most settings in our synod today it will play out this way.
    I think that in our present context, it is more helpful to place a strong emphasis on the unity of faith confessed at the altar and train our children so that they can fully share in this before they commune. This may mean waiting a little longer than Dr. Stuckwisch would like. However, I do not find the argument convincing that a slight delay tells our children that the Supper is unimportant or that we are using the Lord’s Supper as a carrot in catechesis. A confessional pastor who teaches and practices a sacrmamental piety will be instilling a deep appreciation for the sacrament and the desire to learn the faith so that the young Christian can uniquely and concretely share in the confession of that faith at the Supper. I would emphasize that children who are preparing to share in the fullness of the vertical/individual and horizontal/corporate dimensions of the Sacrament continue to enjoy the gifts of the Word, Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution (just as they always do prior to communing, no matter the age at which this takes place). The fact that our Lord has so amply provided us in this manner allows us to adopt a practice of admission to the Lord’s Supper that will inherently encourage faithful administration of the Supper in the areas related to fellowship and closed communion, rather than adopting a practice that is quite likely to do the opposite.
    I wish to thank Dr. Stuckwisch for his comments of last night and today. They have clarified his position and advanced this discussion.
    In Christ,
    Mark Surburg

  27. Berton Greenway
    August 23rd, 2007 at 16:38 | #27

    In my experience as a Pastor for almost 20 years, when I hear about first communion apart from confirmation, the amount of catechesis that is done prior to this communion is almost always minimal. It is basically teaching the children that Jesus died for them and that the body and blood of Jesus is present in the Supper. Not much more than that. Rick’s instruction isn’t like that. William Weedon’s practice is even more assuring to me, since it uses the traditional order among us, of Catechesis – Absolution – Examination – Confirmation and then Communion. If we are to commune at earlier ages, I think William’s practice ought to be followed. That said, though both Rick and William commune at much earlier ages than do I and most of Synod (I am not saying it is wrong, just noting the obvious) they do demand what seems to be a thorough catechesis. Who knows, Rick’s six year old might be better prepared to examine herself than some of my catechumens. I would not venture to say.
    But this issue of early communion does involve, does it not, the need for the catechumen to be able to examine himself or herself prior to communing? I think we’ve all said that. Discernment of the body of Christ at His Table is necessary. Correct? And here we don’t mean some mere belief that we are the Church, but that the real body of Christ is really present on the Altar for us to eat. Though I know that other Pastors have disagreed with me even on that, and some confessional types as well, that does not seem to be the issue here, at least not on this particular subject on this particular blog.
    I would like to ask a few questions. I would be very appreciative of any response. Please understand that these are asked with all sincerity, and are not at all said in jest or in any way to provoke an argument. This issue is very important to me. Here they are:
    1. Assuming that we are talking about removing first communion from confirmation, what instruction is required for communion and what instruction is required for confirmation? What is the difference and why?
    2. Is the Confession for confirmation of more importance than communion? As Paul Strawn noted, Rick seemed to indicate that.
    3. What is the meaning of confirmation when first communion comes prior to it? Rick called it a graduation, but I’ve been trying to avoid that term since I became a pastor.
    4. Is there an age which you believe that most children cannot examine themselves? Five? Four? Would you receive a four year old at the Table, if I told you that he was catechized by a confessional brother in the ministry?
    5. How do you determine whether a child is ready to be catechized, when there is no set time for the catechesis that leads to first communion? What do you do if a certain parent thinks their little Susie is ready, but you don’t? How do you handle those arguments that I would imagine would occur when they see someone else communing and their child is not?
    6. What do you do about your own children? Does this cause any jealousy if your own child is invited to begin catechesis and others are not?
    7. If there is a different amount that must be learned for first communion – some minimum instruction? How is that a different carrot than the more traditional model that William Weedon uses? (Confirmation has been called a carrot here). Surely, there is still a required amount that must be taught and learned, yes? That’s some kind of carrot, isn’t it?
    Thanks in advance for any help you can give me.

  28. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 23rd, 2007 at 21:18 | #28

    Wow, I didn’t even think I’d been “away” that long, and yet I find myself way behind in the discussion again. I’ll catch up as best I can, as time permits, but I best not allow myself to stay up until 2:00 a.m. again.
    In response to Brother Strawn’s nice comments and his request that I comment on confirmation, which I had been planning to do already, I’ve posted a bit about that topic on my blog. I don’t wish to sidetrack the good discussion here, but, for those who are interested, I’d be pleased to receive your comments on that related contribution, as you may be able.

  29. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 23rd, 2007 at 21:36 | #29

    On the comments concerning the bare memorization of the primary texts vs. an understanding of the six chief parts, I think this does touch upon the crux of the matter at hand. However, I’d like to point out that my recent suggestions have been exactly the opposite scenario. I’ve described situations in which I have not required the memorization of the six chief parts as a prerequisite to the Holy Communion, but rather have engaged in pastoral conversation with these young catechumens to ascertain and contribute to their catechesis and confession of the same, even if they are not yet to the point of being able to repeat verbatim the words of the Catechism. I have not argued that a person merely has to repeat the words (though such echoing of the words is a good thing in itself), but I have argued, quite the opposite, that a very young child can have a “working knowledge” of the six chief parts, of the Law and the Gospel, the means of grace, and in particular the Sacrament of the Altar, prior to and apart from the mental mastery and memorization of the Small Catechism texts per se.
    Please understand that when I talk about pastoral care, which includes both ongoing catechesis and the necessity of church discipline (also for children and their families), I have not been advocating an easier or simpler approach, but have been pressing for a vigorous pastoral commitment to and engagement with the lives of our members. As Brother Strawn has pointed out, I have a big advantage in that regard, with a relatively small congregation (typically 80 people on a Sunday morning).
    Along with that, however, I believe that Dr. Luther’s point in his preface to the Large Catechism is that the catechesis is an ongoing, lifelong and daily enterprise for both young and old. That is why I am very resistant to any suggestion that First Communion should only come after everything has been learned; because I don’t believe that any of us ever reach such a point in this life; none of us ever outgrow the need for a daily return to the basics of the faith. By the same token, therefore, while I am eager to catechize children and bring them to the Lord’s Supper as early as possible, that work of pastoral care is coupled with an equal zeal for the ongoing work of pastoral catechesis, for as many years as possible, while also encouraging, assisting, and faciliating catechesis in the home and family. Don’t hear me saying or suggesting that all of this is smooth sailing and successful across the board. Surely we all know better than that. But I am gratified by the number of folks and families at Emmaus who do “get it,” not only in their heads but in their homes. And I’m simply expressing that, when you’re echoing Dr. Luther’s sentiments from the Large Catechism, you’re talking my language and beating time to my own drumbeat, as well.
    [McCain: Now this is interesting. I was not aware that the six year old with whom you were working was not able to recite the primary texts of the Catechism. For me this changes the picture. I believe that our Lutheran Confessions do indicate that such memorization, with comprehension, is necessary in order for us to be able with confidence to be able to say the person is capable of worthy reception of the Lord's Supper. It has been my contention that this is precisely what we as Lutherans say is necessary, what we have agreed is necessary. I would therefore have concerns if in fact those approaching the Lord's Supper for the first time are not knowledgeable of these texts. I suppose this is yet another debate, but I would say that only if a child can recite the words of the Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer and instituting texts of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper, with comprehension, he/she should not be permitted to receive the Supper. I had understood Pastor Stuckwisch to be saying this child had in fact mastered these texts. And this was why he was conversing with her about these things. I would therefore now have to temper my support for what Pastor Stuckwisch has written to say I would agree with him, but would have to disagree that memorization of these texts is not the norm or practice to which we, in the Lutheran Church, have committed ourselves via our Confessions.]

  30. wcwirla
    August 24th, 2007 at 09:35 | #30

    From a 12 year old girl in a catechism class some 10 years ago after we had completed the section on the Lord’s Supper:
    “For twelve years I’ve been told, ‘That’s not for you. Now you’re telling me that I need to receive the Lord’s Supper often, even weekly, and how important it is for faith in Jesus. What changed except my birthday?”
    And let’s not forget those mentally handicapped adults in all our pontifications about memorization, etc.

  31. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 24th, 2007 at 11:06 | #31

    I appreciate Rev. McCain’s candor in evaluating my practice and my rationale for it. He has been gracious throughout this conversation, and I have been quite glad of the opportunity to discuss and debate what I consider a most important topic. In fact, I have been pleasantly surprised by how cordial and constructive this electronic conversation has been, since that is too often not the case in such a context.
    On this whole matter of memorization as a prerequisite to First Communion, I’ve responded to Paul’s most recent comments and caveats on my own blog, but want to repeat the substance of my reply here, as well. Since I can’t very well carry on this conversation in two places at once, it is my intention to continue the dialogue here, as time and opportunity permit. I have preparations to make for the Feast of St. Bartholomew this evening, as well as pastoral care responsibilities that will require my attention and energies today and tomorrow, so I don’t know how engaged I will be in the discussion right away after this post.
    I have to admit that I am surprised by Paul’s apparent misunderstood of my original blog post, since the main point to those initial reflections was a difference in my thinking on memory work as a prerequisite for First Communion. I’m glad that Paul has now been able to clarify his own position, despite my disappointment that we do seem to disagree to some extent on this particular aspect of the topic at hand. Nevertheless, there appears to be some new misunderstanding, stemming from my recent comments on the role of memory work, and I’d like to clarify those things if I can.
    In the past, as a prerequisite for First Communion, I have required that catechumens memorize (a.) the Ten Commandments, (b.) the Apostles’ Creed, (c.) the Our Father, (d.) all but the longest of Luther’s questions (and answers) on Holy Baptism, (e.) the first two questions (and answers) on the Office of the Keys, and (f.) the first two questions (and answers) on the Sacrament of the Altar. I have not considered this memory work to be a meritorious work, as though the catechumens were thereby earning the “right” to be given the Lord’s Supper, but as a means of serving and supporting the Word of God in their hearts and lives. It is this Word of God, after all, that returns them daily to the significance of Holy Baptism, by obtaining repentance and faith within them; and brings them to the Altar in that worthiness of repentant faith, also by training and guiding them in self-examination and confession of sins, unto the receiving of Holy Absolution. I remain adament that the six chief parts do these things, and that communicants of whatever age need to know this Word of God, these prayers and confessions, and be familiar with them, not only in their heads but in practice. But the question at hand pertains to the memorization of these fundamental texts of the Christian faith and life.
    [As an aside: In the subsequent several years of pastoral catechesis classes, following First Communion, in preparation for the rite of confirmation, my catechumens are required to memorize all of the six chief parts (including all of Luther's explanations), as well as selected passages from the Table of Duties. That remains my expectation, as far as ongoing catechesis and public confession of the faith are concerned.]
    Now, in the case of the six-year-old girl that I described in my blog post, I have not required her to memorize the six chief parts prior to her First Communion. Rather, on the basis of the fact that she is being catechized in all of these things within the context of her home and family, and that she is faithfully brought to church for the Divine Service and weekday prayer offices, I have considered that her catechesis in and confession of the Word of God are substantially and significantly supported and served by this familial context, in a way that actually exceeds the benefits of memorization. Having said that, let me repeat what I have already indicated: I am a strong advocate of memorization, and I drill this into my catechumens and their families at every age and grade level. But I have tried to distinguish between the purpose and blessing of such memorization, on the one hand, and the Word of God itself, which alone brings about and sustains repentance and faith. In other words, it is not memorizing per se that catechizes the child and prepares him or her for the Holy Communion; it is the Word of God, alive with Christ and His Spirit, which do that divine work of catechization. Memorization serves and supports that Word of God; but so does a familial context of daily prayer and faithful church attendance. That was my point.
    Now, as it so happens, the young girl that I described does know by heart the primary texts of the first three chief parts, as well as the Verba Domini of the Holy Communion, and certainly the Word of God by which she was named in her Holy Baptism. So, if that is the issue at hand for anyone, let me assure you that she has in fact memorized these things. In our conversation together on all of these things, she repeated those primary texts to me, even though I wasn’t specifically expecting her to have it all word-for-word perfect. But this drives to the point at hand: Is it her memorization that makes her well prepared for the Supper? Or is it not rather the case, that the same catechesis of the Word which has made her worthy and well-prepared to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, has also taught her heart and mind and lips to know and love and confess the Word of God in Christ?
    I guess I find it telling, and even a little troubling, that the single factor of memorization would be held to make the decisive difference. And I say that, again, as someone who values and advocates memory work very strongly. But memory work, taken in and of itself as an isolated factor, is not decisive in my opinion. I do not believe that it is necessary as a prerequisite, but neither do I consider it to be a sufficient preparation of itself. Instead, memorization serves that which is alone both necessary and sufficient, that is, the Word of God, which is nowhere more beautifully summarized than it is for us in the Small Catechism. Some children can memorize that Word very easily, without necessarily being engaged in the Word through daily prayer and catechesis. I rejoice in their knowledge and confession of the Word, to be sure, but I do not consider such a child to be more worthy or better prepared than another child who may find memory work a constant struggle, but who is daily and richly immersed in that Word within the family and in the life of the Church.
    The little girl that I described does know the primary texts of the Catechism. Not because they were assigned to her or expected of her, but because her father and mother pray and confess them with her, and her pastor and congregation pray and confess them with her, day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, all year long. She happens to be very bright and remembers things easily, but she is not made more ready for the Body and Blood of Christ by her intellectual prowess.
    What Dr. Luther addresses in the Preface to the Large Catechism is that fathers are required by God to catechize their families and households; in doing so, they are to expect their children and other members of the household to repeat the primary texts of the six chief parts word for word, and that any servant who is unwilling to do so should be dismissed (and any child who refuses to do so should be sent to bed without any supper). Repeating things word for word is an effective pedagogical method of catechesis, and it certainly leads (in time) to memorization of the text being repeated, but I do not regard this as requiring up front that those texts be memorized. Dr. Luther indicates that one should know these texts (of the first three chief parts) before receiving the Holy Communion; but I do not equate “knowledge” with memorization (nor memorization with knowledge). Children are taught to know these texts by their parents and families praying them and confessing them and putting them into practice in the home. This very process will also include the memorization of these texts, but at different paces and progress, depending on the child’s intellectual capacity and ability.
    For the sake of continued discussion and debate, I hope that these further comments and clarifications are helpful to Paul and others. I treasure highly the opportunity to engage in such fraternal conversation, which corrects me where I am in error and increases my understanding even where I am correct.
    McCain: There is no reason we can not, or should not, continue to talk about these things fraternally and respectfully. And thank you, Rick, for your further comments.

  32. Holger Sonntag
    August 25th, 2007 at 13:12 | #32

    I’m sorry, but, quite frankly, I do not think that Luther, in his prefaces to the catechisms, requires a person only to know the words of the primary texts of the first three chief parts. Where does it say that? As I pointed out in an earlier post, what he says in the pref. to the Small Catechism (10-11) — and let’s not overlook the “etc.” there that points to the two other chief parts — merely represents a necessary, but in and by itself insufficient condition. When one says: “you may not drive a car so long as you’re not sixteen,” this doesn’t mean that you automatically get to drive a car once you turn sixteen — doing that would have overlooked the important condition of actually obtaining a driver’s license!
    I frankly also don’t see a basis in Luther for advocating some sort of “comprehension” of what is meant in the primary texts of the catechism as a substitute for memorization in between early communion and confirmation. I understand full well that memorization is not the same as comprehension. Yet, as I see it for Luther, comprehension is the gradual result of a continual process the foundation of which is the memorization of an “iron ration” of text and explanation. Why else does Luther insist on preparing an *unchanging* explanation of the primary texts (SC Pref. 14-15, cf. ibid., 7), if “comprehension” could be had without prior word-for-word memorization of these explanations?
    Given this, it is not surprising that Luther, when it comes to his third catechetical step, taking up a “longer catechism” for the imparting of a “richer and fuller understanding” (SC Pref. 17, cf. LC Short Pref. 5: those coming to communion “certainly should *know more* and have a *deeper understanding of all Christian teaching* than children and beginners in school” — see the clear correspondence?), no longer requires “a single version” meant to be the basis for actual memorization.
    Thus: memorize the words of the Small Catechism, including explanations; be deepened in your understanding of these words by the substance of what is taught in the Large Catechism — then you are ready for communion. You stay ready for communion by ongoing catechesis on this dual basis.
    The question here is not at all one of worthiness — this is, in my humble opinion, the brightest red herring caught by this thread, Paul! — since, in my dull mind at least, full catechesis (as outlined above) relates to communion as repentance / confession relates to forgiveness / absolution: the former is a necessary prerequisite of the latter, but not its meritorious cause.
    I also remind everybody here of the preface of the Book of Concord where the authors pledged themselves not to deviate from it “in either substance or expression” (para. 23). “Substance” (“comprehension”, “meaning”) and “expression” (“words”) cannot easily be split up; they belong together as the Spirit belongs to the letter. If we want to retain the former — here: “the catechism’s doctrine plain” — we need the latter (LW 477,1: Luther taught the word of truth “in simple style to tender youth”).
    To reiterate: my argument is not over age per se; there can be flexibility. My concern has to do with what is required prior to (first) communion attendance. And here Luther, considering what he actually wrote, seems to be clearly in favor of what others have called “full catechesis.”
    It is great to have this discussion at this point in time, as those of us who serve in congregations are gearing up right now to begin yet another year of faithfully answering that decisive question: “Was ist das?” Thanks to all who contributed!
    [McCain: Holger is correct. Luther in his Large Catechism assumes those presenting themselves for Holy Communion will have committed to memory the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Scripture texts re. Baptism, Confession and Lord's Supper. I'll just say it is my position that such texts are to be memorized and comprehended as a sine qua non for first communion in a Lutheran congregation. At what age does this happen? That depends. I do not believe we should tie first communion to the completion of a 2-3 year catechetical program which is how now we have come to define "confirmation."]

  33. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 25th, 2007 at 20:55 | #33

    I don’t have the time or energy to reply properly this evening, unfortunately, but I must say that I do not recognize myself, my position or my practice, in the critique that Brother Sonntag has here offered in response to my comments. Evidently, I have failed rather miserably in trying to make my point concerning memorization. If I have misspoken concerning Luther’s preface to the Large Catechism, I apologize. I did not have it ready to hand when I was writing on the blog yesterday, and at the moment I am not where I can refer to it easily. It is surely not my desire or intention to deviate from either the letter or the spirit of the Lutheran Confessions, to which I have pledged myself before God and His Church. I stand ready to be corrected wherever I am in error, and I am glad for brothers in Christ who call me to task as needs may be. But if I am to be corrected, it ought to be for that which I have actually said or done, and not for caricatures of my teaching and practice.
    I have certainly not advocated a departure from the plain text of the chief parts or from Dr. Luther’s simple explanations thereof. I have only said that knowledge and familiarity with those texts is not restricted to or coterminous with their memorization. Does the Word of God become effectual only when we have first of all committed it to memory? Does the fixed text of the Small Catechism become fixed only when a person has memorized it? Does repeating something word-for-word only happen after it has been memorized, and not function as a pedagogical method of memorization?
    In any case, my main concerns ignored have had to do with the process of catechization and pastoral care. My point has never been to speak against the importance, the significance, or the benefits of memorization, which, as I have said more than once, I insist upon for my catechumens. But I disagree that such memorization is itself the means or the power of catechesis. It is, rather, a means of serving and supporting the Word of God, which catechizes with or without memory work.
    I remain wary of terminology like “full catechesis,” because it strikes me as contributing to the false notion — very much contrary to Luther’s prefaces to both Catechisms — that anyone ever completes or outgrows the necessity of being catechized (even in the basics of the six chief parts). There is always more to be learned, for one thing, but also the need to be daily returned to the ABCs of the Christian faith and life. I find it quite interesting, in that respect, that Dr. Luther describes himself as returning always to the chief parts like a little child. Again, it seems that we get things quite backwards when we insist that the little ones ought to “grow up,” when our Lord Himself admonishes one and all to become like little children in receiving the Kingdom of God.
    Incidentally, although I am all in favor of catechumens and first communicants knowing the Scripture text for Individual Confession and Absolution, I don’t believe that Dr. Luther includes that text in his preface to the Large Catechism.

  34. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 25th, 2007 at 23:16 | #34

    Having retrieved my Book of Concord from church, so that I now have the pertinent texts at hand, here is what I find:
    In Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism, he deplores the fact that people who are supposed to be Christians, who have been baptized and are receiving the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, do not even know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments. He faults the bishops and pastors, in particular, because they have not been catechizing the people even in these most basic, fundamental matters of God’s Word. Thus, Luther urges his brother pastors to have compassion for the people, and to “inclucate this Catechism in the people, especially the young.” It is clear from the context that what Luther means by “this Catechism” is the primary texts of the first three chief parts. His own explanations are described as these “tables and charts,” which are offered as a means of assisting in the instruction of the Catechism itself.
    Luther then outlines a plan for the process of catechesis, by which the people (including those already receiving the Holy Communion) are to be drilled in the basics and taught to understand them. It is evident from Luther’s comments and examples that he envisions this to be a pattern for ongoing, lifelong catechesis, which serves both young and old, each age according to its own circumstances.
    When Luther speaks of the necessity of a fixed text, it is again clear that he has the primary texts of the first three chief parts in mind: “The honored fathers understood this well, and therefore they all consistently used one form of the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments.” Of course, the same principle applies to the simple explanations that Dr. Luther provides in the form of charts and tables, but he is not referring to his explanations at this point.
    With the young, in particular, Dr. Luther urges that their pastors “keep to a single, fixed, and permanent form and wording, and teach them first of all the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, etc., according to the text, word for word, so that they can repeat it after you and commit it to memory.” I do take note of Brother Sonntag’s point about the “etc.” But for my part, I note, first of all, the disinction between “repeating it after you” and “commiting it to memory.” The repeating, in other words, as I have said, is a pedagogical method that aims toward memorization.
    Luther goes on to say that “those who refuse to learn . . . are not to be admitted to the Sacrament.” He does not say, “those who have not yet memorized,” but “those who refuse to learn.” There is a big difference between these things. It is one thing to be in the process of learning, repeating things word for word, and thereby beginning to commit them to memory; and quite another thing to refuse any part in this process. In any case, it is interesting that Dr. Luther mentions only here, at this first step in the process, anything about refusing to admit someone to the Sacrament. He makes that comment here, and connects it specifically to the process of learning (not to the completion of memorization). Only afterwards, in describing the next stage in the process of ongoing catechesis, does he advise, “after they have well memorized the text, then explain the meaning so that they understand what they are saying.” Here is where Luther’s simple explanations are brought to the fore. But nothing more is said about refusing anyone admission to the Holy Communion.
    Indeed, what Luther does go on to say, “finally,” in his description of ongoing catechesis, is that the people should be taught to yearn for the Sacrament of the Altar. He writes that, “if anyone does not seek or desire the Lord’s Supper at the very least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is no Christian.” “For a person not to prize highly the Sacrament is tantamount to saying that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell.” But no, without setting up any law about it, the pastors should “emphasize clearly the benefit, need, usefulness and blessing connected with the Sacrament, and also the harm and danger of neglecting it.”
    So, I ask again, as I have before, are the little children not in need of this Sacrament also? Do they not have flesh and blood, and live in the world, and face the assaults of the devil? Are they not Christians, who ought to be taught to seek and desire the Lord’s Supper? Although their catechesis is just beginning, and may be at a very elementary stage, they should in fact be brought to such a hunger for the Body and Blood of Christ, the Medicine of Immortality.
    Exactly as Dr. Luther writes in his Large Catechism, at the conclusion of his teaching of the Sacrament of the Altar: “Let this serve as an exhortation, then, not only for us who are old and advanced in years, but also for the young people who must be brought up in Christian teaching and a right understanding of it. With such training we may more easily instill the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer into the young so that they will receive them with joy and earnestness, practice them from their youth, and become accustomed to them. For it is completely useless to try to change old people. We cannot perpetuate these and other teachings unless we train the people who come after us and succeed us in our office and work, so that they in turn may bring up their children successfully. In this way God’s Word and a Christian community will be preserved.
    “Therefore let all heads of a household remember that it is their duty, by God’s injuction and command, to teach their children or have them taught the things they ought to know. Because they have been baptized and received into the people of Christ, they should also enjoy this fellowship of the Scrament so that they may serve us and be useful. For they must all help us to believe, to love, to pray, and to fight against the devil.” (Kolb-Wengert, 475-476)
    Earlier, in his Preface to the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther has similarly stated: “As for the common people, we should be satisfied if they learned the three parts that have been in Christendom from ancient days, so that all who wish to be Christian in fact as well as in name, both young and old, may be well trained in them and familiar with them.” He then goes on to identify specifically what he means by this, citing the primary texts of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Our Father. “These are the most necessary parts that we must first learn to repeat word for word. The children should be taught the habit of reciting them daily, when they arise in the morning, when they go to their meals, and when they go to bed at night.” (Kolb-Wengert, 383-385) Here we have, not only a pedagogical method for memorization, but, more importantly, the discipline of daily prayer and confession. Again, it is not those who have failed to memorize, but those who “refuse to learn these things,” who should not be tolerated. Of course, praying and confessing them several times a day, together with the head of the household, will certainly result in memorizing them (as is the case in the six-year-old girl I mentioned in my original blog post on this topic). Yet, it is not the accomplished fact of memorizing, but the reciting of the texts that is expected of children and all other members of the household. Once more, the texts that Dr. Luther is here referring to are the primary texts of the first three chief parts. That is made explicitly clear in what he sets forth. “For in these three parts everything contained in the Scriptures is comprehended in short, plain, and simple terms” (Kolb-Wengert, 385).
    “When these three parts have been understood, it is appropriate that one ought also to know what to say about our Sacraments, which Christ Himself instituted, Baptism and the Holy Body and Blood of Christ,” according to St. Matthew and St. Mark. “Thus we have, in all, five parts covering the whole of Christian teaching, which we should constantly teach and require recitation word for word.” This daily recitation, coupled with sermons, Psalms and hymnody, comprises the ongoing rhythm of lifelong catechesis. “The reason we take such care to preach on the catechism frequently is to impress it upon our young people, not in a lofty and learned manner but briefly and very simply, so that it may penetrate deeply into their minds and remain fixed in their memories.” (Kolb-Wengert, 385, 386)
    Again, I readily agree that memorization is an important and salutary aim, one that is accomplished by the tried and tested pedagogical method of repeating fixed texts, word for word, on a regular basis. Reptition is the mother of learning. That remains true and necessary, not only prior to First Communion, but all life long. For, as Dr. Luther writes in his longer (later) preface to the Large Catechism:
    “I am also a doctor and a preacher, just as learned and experienced as all of them who are so high and mighty. Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the catechism – and I also do so gladly. These fussy, fastidious fellows would like quickly, with one reading, to be doctors above all doctors, to know it all and to need nothing more. Well this, too, is a sure sign that they despise both their office and the people’s souls, yes, even God and His Word. They do not need to fall, for they have already fallen all too horribly. What they need, however, is to become children and begin to learn the ABCs, which they think they have long since outgrown. . . .
    “And what else are these bored, presumptuous saints doing – people who will not read and study the catechism daily and have no desire to – except thinking that they are more learned than God Himself and all His holy angels, Prophets, Apostles, and all Christians? God Himself is not ashmed to teach it daily, for He knows of nothing better to teach, and He always keeps on teaching this one thing without proposing anything new or different. And all the saints know of nothing better or different to learn, although they cannot learn it to perfection.” (Kolb-Wengert, 380-381, 382)
    These are the various passages from Dr. Luther that I have had in mind in making my previous comments. It seems clear to me that he does distinguish the primary texts of the first three chief parts as uniquely fundamental and foundational, and as the minimum that any Christian ought to know, including those “common people” who are already receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. These texts are to be read and recited daily, prayed and confessed morning, noon and night. A refusal to learn them in this fashion is tantamount to denying and despising the Christian faith altogether. Though these are the ABCs of the faith, they are not easily mastered – no, they are never perfectly mastered by anyone, of any age, in this life on earth – but they are the touchstone of ongoing, daily and lifelong catechesis for each and every Christian. They are an especially deep well, because all of Holy Scripture is summarized in these three chief parts; yet, they are also prayed and confessed by even the very young children.
    In addition to these first three chief parts, the primary texts of the Sacraments should properly be learned, as well. And all of these things should be the object of preaching and teaching on a regular basis. To this end, Dr. Luther offers his Smaller and Larger Catechisms as means of assistance. The Psalms and Hymns of the Church also contribute to increased knowledge and understanding of all these things. So that Christians are always growing from and into these chief parts of the Christian faith and life.

  35. Rev. Rick Stuckwisch
    August 26th, 2007 at 17:25 | #35

    Please accept my apologies for allowing the tone of my previous couple of posts to become more irritable than it ought to have been. I am running low on sleep and energy, and dealing with more different irons in the fire at once than I am able to juggle well. I have appreciated this conversation, and take no offense at those who disagree with me on various points. It is a privilege to have such brothers who are willing and able to engage in honest debate and even constructive argument. God grant more such faithful confessors to His Church on earth.

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