Something Better than Confirmation
AT THE time of their confirmation, children in Roman Catholic families kneel along the altar rail of their church. The bishop passes along the line of these young folks and puts a mixture of olive oil and balsam on their foreheads in the form of a cross while repeating a formula prescribed by tradition. This ceremony is regarded as “a sacrament in which the Holy Ghost is given to those already baptized in order to make them strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.”—The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1908, Vol. IV, p. 215.
Confirmation is also practiced in various ways by the Greek Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, the Lutheran Church and a number of others. Though not viewing confirmation as a sacrament, Protestant churches that have retained a form of this ceremony consider it as a rite during which the individual renews and confirms the promises made by others at the time of his baptism.
Have your children been confirmed? Should they be? Many sincere parents, desiring to see their children be strong in their faith, have encouraged them to get confirmed. Later, however, a considerable number have been disappointed, realizing that confirmation and the religious instruction preceding it did not make their children strong Christians. Parents often have seen their confirmed children lose interest and, in time, even stop attending religious services.
In such cases, confirmation has evidently failed in its intended purpose and, in the opinion of some, has even been harmful. For example, Vergote, an ecclesiastical dignitary at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, observed: “The baptism of infants and particularly their confirmation has had a disastrous and telling effect on their conscience. . . . Even before these children have had time to think about their faith, we ask them to make a solemn declaration of faith.”
Since the results of this custom admittedly are not what is desired, the question arises, Is there something better than confirmation, something that will really assist children to have strong faith?
Instruction is definitely needed. Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, wrote: “Faith, then, comes through hearing, and what is heard is the word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17, New American Bible) Such faith is a safeguard in this morally corrupt world. But where and when should children hear things that will enable them to have strong faith?
According to the Holy Scriptures, the home is the primary place for teaching children about the Creator. God’s law to the Israelites directed that parents give such instruction, and that they do so at every opportunity. They were told: “Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.”—Deut. 6:6, 7, NAB.
Note that parental instruction was required even though the Israelites had a sanctuary for worship. The sanctuary in Israel was, not merely a place for sacrifice, but also a center for education in the Law of God. Particularly was this the case every sabbath year during the festival of booths. At that time the entire Law was read to all Israel—the men, women and children. (Deut. 31:10-13) This reading was of great value in acquainting children with what God required of those who would gain his approval and blessing. But it did not relieve parents of their responsibility to teach their offspring. The instruction available at the sanctuary had to be supplemented by daily teaching at home.
Similarly, though assembling regularly with their children to hear God’s Word discussed at meetings of the congregation, Christian parents are under obligation to supplement this teaching. The apostle Paul counseled: “You, fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Eph. 6:4) Do you provide such instruction for your children? They need it in order to cope successfully with the everyday problems of life.
A God-fearing woman living in the first century C.E., Eunice the mother of Timothy, very much appreciated this. As a result of her training, Timothy knew the Scriptures “from infancy.” (2 Tim. 3:15) Her efforts were richly blessed in seeing her son become a young man of outstanding faith. Two of the inspired letters in the Bible are addressed to him. He willingly expended himself in behalf of others. In one of his letters to Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote: “I recollect the faith which is in you without any hypocrisy, and which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, but which I am confident is also in you.”—2 Tim. 1:5.
What Christian parents would not be pleased to see their children reflect a faith like that? But it does not come automatically. Regular teaching of the Holy Scriptures at home is a must. Whereas confirmation and the religious instruction preceding it have time and again failed to produce strong Christians, regular Biblical education by parents has repeatedly contributed immeasurably toward the realization of this aim. This is to be expected, for parental training in the way of righteousness is in harmony with the express command of God.
On the other hand, even those who advocate confirmation acknowledge that the ceremony is largely a matter of tradition and cannot really be supported by the Scriptures. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1908 (Vol. IV, p. 217) states: “The Sacrament of Confirmation is a striking instance of the development of doctrine and ritual in the Church. . . . we must not expect to find there [in Holy Scripture] an exact description of the ceremony as at present performed, or a complete solution of the various theological questions which have since arisen.”
Of course, for parents to help their children to have a faith based on God’s Word, they themselves must be well acquainted with its contents. Do you feel equipped to care for that God-given responsibility? If you are a parent who would like to improve the Biblical education being made available to your children, Jehovah’s witnesses will be happy to assist you by studying the Scriptures with you in the privacy of your home, and that without any cost to you. The entire family can share in this study. Thousands of parents have been aided through such studies to build up their knowledge sufficiently to do a good job of teaching the truths of the Bible to their own children. If you are interested in doing so, ask Jehovah’s witnesses about their home Bible study arrangement the next time they call on you, or write to the publishers of this magazine, requesting that someone be sent to demonstrate how such family Bible discussions are conducted.