Thursday, April 23, 2009


My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Confirmation:

Q: What is “confirmation”? What churches practice it and what does it mean? Does the Bible give any instructions about confirmation?

Confirmation is a church tradition practiced by many types of Christians, but there is considerable variety about its details among different churches, even between different congregations within the same denomination. Confirmation usually involves a time of instruction for the person to be confirmed, an opportunity for them to publicly state their agreement with the beliefs of their church, and a blessing by the clergy overseeing the confirmation. Confirmation is usually practiced by church denominations which baptize the infant children of their members. Because the child is not old enough to speak, sponsors (sometimes called godparents) and the congregation speak for the child at his baptism, and at confirmation, he speaks for himself that he agrees with what had been said at his baptism.

In the ancient church, as soon as new Christians were baptized, a minister would then place oil on their forehead and bless them. As it became more common for those baptized to be infants and children, this anointing and blessing were postponed until a later age and became what we know as confirmation. Some churches also see the mention of “laying on of hands” (Heb. 6:2, 1 Tim. 4:14 & 5:22, 2 Tim. 1:6) in the Bible as a reference to confirmation. The words “confirmand” or “catechumen” are used to refer to those preparing for confirmation, and they may study a book called a “catechism.” Some churches require that confirmations be overseen by a Bishop or other church leaders, while in many others, confirmations are overseen by the local pastor.

Since there are no commands in the Bible concerning the specific details of confirmation, local congregations have considerable freedom, and the variety seen in this tradition is understandable. The most typical age for confirmation among churches I have encountered is approximately 14 years or eighth grade, although it is not uncommon for churches to choose an age a few of years either side of this. On some occasions, a church may evaluate students’ readiness individually, without considering age. Many churches also make a practice of confirming baptized adults who come into their church from another denomination. In some churches, confirmation is also connected with beginning to participate in the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist, Communion), but in other traditions, children begin to take part at younger ages and are confirmed several years later.

Some churches, such as Roman Catholic and Episcopal, consider confirmation to be a Sacrament, while others, such as those from the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, do not. In some churches, confirmation is accompanied by anointing, which is the application of oil to the confirmand. A particularly beloved practice, especially among Lutherans, is the giving of a “confirmation verse” to each youth being confirmed. This verse is frequently used decades later as the sermon text for their funeral. Confirmation most often occurs in the spring, although the precise dates may vary. One traditional date for confirmations is Palm Sunday (The Sunday before Easter). Other popular dates include Pentecost (7 weeks after Easter), Reformation Day (October 31), and Mother’s Day. Recently, confirmation dates have often coincided more closely with the school year, taking place on a specified Sunday between late April and early June.

There are also several common misconceptions concerning confirmation. For example, it is sometimes understood that youth become members of the church when they are confirmed. This generally is true for an adult who is new to a church, but in most churches children become members at Baptism, although they might not participate in all aspects of congregational life until after confirmation. Another example of this is that confirmation is sometimes looked at like a graduation because it comes at the end of a period of more concentrated instruction. In contrast, it is actually intended as quite the opposite of a graduation. Instead of being an end to a person’s spiritual development, confirmation is intended to open the door to fuller participation in the congregation and a lifetime of continued discipleship and instruction in the faith.

In spite of the previously-mentioned differences in traditions, the common thread regarding confirmation is that a previously baptized person acknowledges their baptism, is given further instruction in the Bible and church teachings, and has an opportunity to publicly confess the faith and pledge their faithfulness to their church.

Readers are encouraged to submit questions for inclusion in future issues. According to your preference, you may include your first name or submit questions anonymously, and I will do my best to answer your questions as my knowledge and research allow and according to their suitability for publication. You may submit questions by email to or by mail to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Easter:

Q: What is the religious meaning behind the Easter holiday, and how are symbols such as decorated eggs and the Easter Bunny related to the Christian celebration of Easter?

To state it most concisely, Easter is the yearly celebration of the day on which Jesus rose to life the third day after dying by crucifixion. This occurred in Jerusalem, approximately the year 30 A.D. Ancient Christians considered this celebration to be the highest point of their worship for the year, and they viewed every Sunday as a commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection and a smaller version of the Easter celebration. Even today, the Resurrection of Jesus is a pivotal event for Christians, because the truthfulness of the Christian faith rests entirely on its authenticity.

The word “Easter” is actually a term unique to the English language. Because of the events Easter celebrates, the hymnal on my desk calls it, “The Resurrection of our Lord.” Other times it is simply known as “Resurrection Sunday.” Ancient Christians referred to this celebration using the same word which had been used to refer to the Jewish holiday of Passover.

The great majority of Christian churches celebrate the Resurrection in some way. The simplest of these celebrations lasts only one day and may include only special music or a more festive atmosphere for the morning’s service. In other Christian traditions, the celebration encompasses a significant period of time both before and after Easter itself. In the most elaborate of celebrations, churches may observe a season of solemnity and restraint, called Lent, for approximately six weeks before Easter as well as a season of eight weeks of celebration following Resurrection Sunday.

Some Christian churches also commemorate one or more holy days during the week before Easter (called Holy Week). These include Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a Donkey on “Palm Sunday” (one week before Easter), the establishment of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday, remembering Jesus’ Crucifixion on Friday, and even an evening or all-night vigil of Scripture and prayer on Saturday night.

Commonly recognized Easter symbols in America, such as the Easter Bunny or decorated eggs, are not drawn from the traditional Christian practices surrounding Resurrection Sunday, although some have more recently used the hatching of an egg as a way of describing Jesus’ resurrection to children. It is more likely that these symbols arise out of pre-Christian springtime festivals from Western Europe. However, because these symbols emphasize the coming of new life, they could be seen as complimentary images to the Christian celebration of the Resurrection and especially useful for the instruction of children about Easter’s meaning.

Q: What religious holy days does God require Christians to celebrate?

I cannot say that the New Testament gives any commands concerning holy days which must be celebrated by Christians as a requirement. In fact, Paul says in the book of Romans, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. (Romans 14:5-6a ESV)

Some churches observe only a small number of holy days during the year, such as Christmas and Easter. Other churches have more elaborate calendars which include dozens of holy days. The most common of these follows the major events in the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, from His conception and birth through His resurrection and ascension, and even specifies certain Scripture readings to accompany the commemoration of each event.

In many of the world’s religions, it is thought that observance of certain festivals will bring blessing, good fortune, or the favor of their god/gods. Christian holy days are notably different from this because they do not exist for us to offer something to God in exchange for his blessings. Instead, they exist to help us learn about what Jesus said and did during His earthly life and to remind us of His life, death, and resurrection for us. What matters is not the number or name of the holy days, but rather the person to whom they point and about whom they teach us, namely Jesus.

Readers are encouraged to submit questions for inclusion in future issues. According to your preference, you may include your first name or submit questions anonymously, and I will do my best to answer your questions as my knowledge and research allow and according to their suitability for publication. You may submit questions by email to or by mail to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.