What's New
Roman Missal
Rite of Reception
The Good News
Music & Video
Contacts & Links

Book Review:

" The Reform of Baptism and Confirmation in American
by Jeffrey A. Truscott

[Lanham, Maryland, and Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 2003.  Pages, 319 ++xvii. Hardcover, $75.  ISBN: 0-8108-4879-1]

horizontal rule

Jeffrey Truscott has contributed a most welcome addition to the shelf of books detailing the history of Christian initiation rites.  His work explains the development of the American Lutheran rites for baptism and confirmation as they appear in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978).  Christian initiation rites were being revised by other church bodies during the same late 20th century period, but the research trail of Lutheran theologians is particularly rich, making Truscott's study immensely valuable.

The book tracks the work of the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship and its Liturgical Texts Committee as these bodies worked and reworked the rites in question.  Members brought to the table an impressive knowledge of the history of baptism and confirmation, as well as the significance of these rituals to martin Luther and the tradition of Lutheranism.  They also brought the pastoral sensitivity necessary to create words on paper that can come alive in ritual prayer.  Humbly they sought the advice of other theologians and seminary faculties.  They stayed alert to developments in other ecclesial traditions and fashioned rites that spoke to the heart of Lutheranism.

Not without some disagreement.  Serious discussion evolved over getting the smallest details right.  Most notable among these re the very meanings of baptism and confirmation.  The infant baptism tradition fit Lutheranism's message of unearned salvation: God offered the benefits of baptism to infants who could not in any way try to justify themselves by works.  But adult initiation models celebrated baptism with conversion, a bit more difficult to hold within Lutheran soteriology (cf.41).  The meaning of baptism had to embrace conversion without jeopardizing the message of salvation (231).

Reworking the confirmation ritual was a predictably thankless task.  Luther himself retained confirmation as a ceremony to conclude a period of catechesis.  Later generations strengthened this interpretation by conferring certain privileges of membership on those who were confirmed, including admission to the communion table.  If baptism fully conferred the Spirit, confirmation marked one's entrance to adult faith.  But Pelagian accretions to this interpretation needed purifying.  The Lutheran Book of Worship now locates confirmation among the rites of Affirmation of Baptism, but Truscott observes that its meaning is still unclear (198).

There were many other issues that provoked discussion: an ecclesiological approach to baptism that enhanced the role of the assembly; a baptismal ecclesiology that roots the church in baptism; the celebration of baptism at the Easter Vigil and only a few other festive days of the year; an epiclesis over the water; baptism by immersion; anointing at baptism and confirmation; the lighting of a candle at baptism; the wearing of a white garment; sharing communion with infants; and the length of the ceremonies.

Truscott faces an enormous amount of documentation and takes the reader through it deftly and clearly.  He has enhanced the value of his study by conducting personal interviews with some members of the original committee.  His work shows great respect for the theologians who worked on the project, but he is not shy to critique the results.  The Reform of Baptism and Confirmation in American Lutheranism is the kind of book that will make future students of the initiation rites weep for joy.  It will supply a context for understanding why the rites developed the way they did.  It was important that this work be done in the generation after the publication of the Lutheran Book of Worship, and Truscott is to be thanked for shouldering the task.

horizontal rule

Top of page