Pr. Oakes asked how the discussion about First Communion and Confirmation was going. Instead of replying there, I thought I'd make a new post, since the first one was buried several months ago.
Good question. After some discussion, we decided to separate first communion from confirmation and still allow confirmation to serve as a sort-of Lutheran bar mitzvah, a rite of passage into adulthood in the Church, and the opportunity publicly to confess the faith. Here is the letter that went out to all members of Hope.
"In the Agenda of the new Lutheran Service Book, there’s a rite called “First Communion Prior to Confirmation.” When I first heard of Lutheran congregations having first communion separate from confirmation a few years ago, my first reaction was to wonder if such a thing were a Roman Catholic practice. Since then, I’ve seen many Missouri Synod congregations that offer early communion. And now it’s a rite in the Synodically-approved hymnal.
"Why would such an option exist? A few reasons. Many pastors and congregations are frustrated with the current habit of waiting to admit children to the Lord’s Supper until they’ve reached a certain age and completed a certain number of years of study. If we withhold the Lord’s Supper from children until they’re 14 years old, we teach them for 13 years of life that the Supper isn’t important enough for them to be receiving it regularly. And if we withhold the Lord’s Supper until children have passed a class, we use the Lord’s gift of His Supper like a reward, which is the opposite of a gift.
"What do the scriptures say? St. Paul admonished that everyone who receives the Supper “examine himself” lest he receive the Supper improperly (1 Cor. 11:28-29). What do the Lutheran Confessions say? Everyone admitted to the Lord’s Supper is “examined and absolved” (Augsburg Confession, XXV). Faithfulness to the Lord’s gift of His Supper mandates that we let those who have been examined and absolved receive this sacrament (a divine institution), even if they are not yet confirmed (a human institution). That’s why an official service for “First Communion” is included in the new hymnal.
"What does the hymnal say? ”This rite is intended to be used to admit to the Lord’s Supper baptized children who have not yet been confirmed. Candidates for admission to the Lord’s Supper have learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They have received careful instruction in the Gospel and Sacraments. Confessing their sin and trusting in their Savior, they desire to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their faith in Christ and their love toward others. Concerning worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper, the Small Catechism teaches: ‘That person is worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.”’”
"Beginning now, when parents believe their children are ready to be examined in order to receive the Lord’s Supper, the pastor along with one or two elders will examine them. Ordinarily, these children will know the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They will know of their sinfulness and of their Savior, Jesus. They will know what Jesus offers them in the Lord’s Supper, and they will confess their desire to receive it regularly. After this examination, they will have the opportunity to confess their sins and receive Absolution. Having been examined and absolved, they will be welcomed to the Lord’s Supper with this rite from the LSB Agenda.
"Parents are the chief catechists of their children. They are helped by the congregation through the Divine Service, the Wednesday evening catechetical service, and Sunday School and Bible Class. It is my prayer that this opportunity for first communion will encourage ongoing catechesis at home and in the congregation. Children whose parents faithfully teach them the faith, as explained by the Small Catechism, and who regularly attend the Divine Service and Sunday School will be ready to receive the Lord’s Supper well in advance of their graduation from eighth grade."