As the head of the family should teach it

Who ought to be teaching the Catechism to the church’s children? Certainly pastors have a responsibility proclaim the Word to all people. But shouldn’t the parents, or more specifically, the “head of the family” be teaching the meaning of the Catechism to his family? It’s all very nice for the pastor to do this for the families of the church. He is, after all, a professional “catechist.” But I wonder sometimes if we make too much out of Confirmation instruction.

Wouldn’t a better “system” be something like this: the “head of the family” teaches the Catechism to his family. The pastor preaches sermons on the parts of the Catechism at designated times throughout the year. When the parents think that their children are ready for examination, they notify the pastor and set up a time with him for a questioning. When the pastor thinks that the child has learned enough, he admits him or her to the Sacrament.

The value of this is that it puts the primary responsibility to teach the faith to the children on the parents of the child. The pastor is the one who admits to the Sacrament, who examines, who questions, and determines if one is worthy (i.e. has “faith in these words…”). In other words, the pastor would make certain that every parent understood what was required or expected of those who communed. If they didn’t work with their children, they wouldn’t be admitted to the Sacrament. It’s as simple as that.

I say this because I honestly wonder sometimes if the whole 7th-8th grade confirmation instruction isn’t a colossal waste of time. We drill the kids in the catechism for an hour and a half or whatever, and how much of it is actually retained? To me, it makes more sense to put the responsibility for catechesis back on the parents, and let the pastor devote his time to preaching and administration of the Sacraments.

I also wonder if this wouldn’t lessen the amount of false Christians and hypocrites that are in the Church. (dangerous statement, I know). What I mean is this: the parents who refuse to do this, or the children who refuse to learn, simply will not be confirmed or admitted to the Sacrament. The way we do it now, it seems like everyone is confirmed, even if it seems like they are not really all that interested in being a Christian or have any hunger or thirst for the Sacrament. Should we really be communing such? I’m just saying…

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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6 Responses to As the head of the family should teach it

  1. Jason Zoske says:

    Excellent post Pastor. I agree, it should be the parents responsibility to raise their kids as confessional Lutherans. But unfortunately I have no doubt that God’s Word confessed and taught rightly as God has given us, probably doesn’t have much time, if any, given to it during the week. And it is shameful. A sin I have been guilty of with my own kids many times. I think of many people in my own family, raised as confessional Lutherans, but most of what they were taught about being a “Lutheran”, (which is simply a Christian who confesses God’s Word in it’s truth and purity as He gave it to us, nothing added), was only what they got on Sunday and midweek class. And I know it wasn’t retained. I didn’t retain it myself. Only in the past couple years have I begun to read, study and learn what it means to be a “Lutheran”, again. Many of these family members have walked away from the Lutheran church to other perverted Gospels, and some to no church at all. I can only wonder if they would have been fed God’s Word as He gave it to us, DAILY, growing up, how true faith given them at their baptisms, would have been given the food necessary to grow. This is what God has given us a parents to do. Instead it was a starving faith that most of us grew up with. I thank God that He kept me grounded in right faith, although weak at times, almost walking from the Lutheran Church myself at one point. I have struggled with members of my family lately who have walked away from right truth, and decided that it fine to mingle right doctrine in our Lutheran church with perverted doctrines in other churches.

    But I must confess that I have failed miserably this summer with my own kids, finding an excuse most nights to not read or pray together. Your posting has made me think about that sin and how dangerous it can be for our children.

  2. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Jason,

    Thanks for your reply. Maybe if we pastors just would say, “I’m not doing confirmation classes. If you want your kids confirmed and admitted to the Sacrament, you’ll have to take responsibility for this yourselves,” maybe it would spur them on more. Suddenly, they can’t just slough the kids off on the pastor or other Catechist, and would have to take some responsibility for it.

    I don’t know–some of this is just thinking out loud. I’m not saying it would work well, but if from day one, a pastor expected it to come from the parents, maybe it could.

    You are not alone in your failure. 🙂

  3. chryst says:

    Another one of those things that would be nice, but how to get there? The present practice is deeply ingrained and what you *and the catechism* suggest would be like pulling teeth, even with some of our most faithful people, I fear.

    Even separating confirmation from admission to HC is a great hurdle, for the same cultural reasons. “But pastor, if we don’t require confirmation before Holy Communion, why would anyone come to confirmation class?” Precisely.

    So is it better to ride the wave of the expectation that brings everyone in front of the pastor for a couple years, or see even less instruction happen when the pastor goes on confirmation strike?

    I also wonder when, if ever, Luther’s ideal of instruction by the head of the household actually worked well. And in these days of outsourcing everything from education to lawn care, is it possible to reverse the trend when it comes to the catechism?

  4. Chad Myers says:

    @Rev. Paul:

    I believe if you figure this out (the balance between having trained catechists and having involved parents), you will be the first leader of any Christian congregation ever to have done it 🙂

    I don’t mean to throw you into despair, but to assure you that you are not alone in this struggle and that there is no one right answer to this.

    If I had anything that sounded like advice worth giving, I’d say that you should appeal to the fathers to get them to stand up and be men. Form men’s groups and get the men thinking like fathers and leaders and I think that you will see things like religious education start to take shape more favorably.

  5. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Chryst–good question. Due to sinful nature, I doubt Luther’s ideal came to great fruition.

    Chad–agreed! Good points.

  6. forestboar says:

    I agree with what you write, Fr. Beisel. But it will take time. It has been this way since time immemorial in our synod – and Walther encourages the exact practice we are now opposing.
    I believe step one of this process (which I have implemented in my own parish) is to change the time of instruction. You can not pick a worse time to instruct in the faith than 7-8 grade. Too much is going on in their lives and bodies to give much benefit. They arrive eager for instruction, but the excitement fades very quickly, replaced by the rebellious spirit of the teenager.
    God made us to be curious about the nature of the universe around ages 10, 11 & 12. I have seen children with atheist parents start reading bibles at this age. By 13&14, it is gone. What do we do? Wait until after it passes to instruct.
    Also, we are trying to communicate the real presence to children who just gained the ability to understand abstract thinking. So, they abstract it. If we move the instruction back two years, they are still thinking in concrete terms. While I would love a practice like that of Fr. Stuckwish in South Bend, it will be a long time before people in Wyoming are ready for it. A change this momentous should be slow, and should not rely on only one pastor to implement it, lest it be just “my idea”. Over a period of the next century, I see it happening, although I won’t be there to see it’s end, or the inevitable benefits and consequences it would bring.
    So, for now, we instruct in 5&6 grade. In another decade, I’ll recommend moving it a year earlier. By the time I retire, that should put it at about ages 7&8, right where it should be. That will require changes in the overall instruction (moving it more to the parents, having another instruction at a later date, etc), because at some point, you need to instruct more fully. If we are not teaching the kids, then we will have to teach the parents how to teach.
    What would be ideal? Still living in the garden of Eden, unhampered by the serpent. As long as that isn’t true, we must make due with what we have.

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