Justification as Pastoral Care

Jesus for you IS care of the soul.  There is a great little Blogia article… really just a teaser or a question posed by Rev. Dr. Scott Murray… (Click HERE to read it.)  I would really like to hear him say a little more on the subject (which I will just have to wait a little time for), however, it has forced me to think about the subject myself.  So let’s answer the question: How does the [Lutheran] pastor specifically shape his pastoral and Christian care for the flock over which the Lord has appointed him as overseer (Acts 20:28)? 

“Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works.  People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.  By his death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins.  God counts this faith for righteousness in his sight.” – Concordia, The Lutheran Confessions: Augsburg Confession, Article V

It has been said that the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls is this very doctrine of justification.  The center of the pastor’s work has to be the cross of Jesus Christ.  The existence of an absolute is jarring to the world, but necessary to the Christian life.  Too much of the world’s answer (and even our own flesh’s answer) is to create and allow a reality that is personal and unique to one’s self.  The problem for humanity is that God requires his church to speak back what he has spoken.  That means a specific and external reality in Jesus.  Pilate asked, “What is truth?” and the world has tried to answer ever since the fall into sin.  The church’s answer is that you are free from your sin in Jesus.  He is God and he is man.  He is the new Adam come to take your sin from your white knuckled clutches and give you his life in return.  It isn’t something for one and a something else for another… it isn’t different depending on your life story or upon your sin.  Jesus has come for all sin.  He comes for yours and he comes to kill it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Spiritual Care, said, “Caring for the soul is a special sort of proclamation.  The minister should proclaim wherever possible.”*  He echoes Paul… preach in season and out of season.  The church lives by the speaking of the Word of God.  Our God creates by his Word.  He strips us of our sins by his Word.  He makes water, bread, and wine extraordinary by his Word.  He makes us new by his Word.  The preacher’s duty is to proclaim that Word and that Word is the truth that makes for a new reality in the sinner.

What does JUSTIFICATION have to do with parish practice?  It is the content of the Church’s work.  It is the content and the work of pastor and the people.  I’m reminded of Bo Gertz’s Hammer of God.  A young curate is called to the deathbed of a parishioner who refuses to believe that he is worthy of Jesus and an eternal life with him.  It takes another member of the parish to come and remind the old man that he needed a Savior and that he couldn’t justify himself alone – at all.  Jesus had to come specifically for people like him – sinners.  We have a need for a savior.  Jesus is the exact savior we need.  What calls us Lutherans out from other Christians is that we believe that we can’t do anything to earn anything before God.  Our words are the Word of heaven… we can’t, by our own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ or come to him.  But God has called us by the Gospel… called us out of our own reality in the reality of heaven – under the shade of the Tree of Life.  Jesus is our reality… he is our truth… he is the absolute that the world continues to deny.

I would suggest that the article of justification pushes us toward daily proclamation.  It is the article of our confessions that reorders our work as preachers by the daily proclamation of the very Word of God.  From the other perspective, daily care of the people of God is informed and built upon the foundation that is Jesus and his cross.  This absolute is what makes the Lutheran pastor stand out from everything else in the world.  The Lutheran preacher’s message and work: you who were dead in your sin and could not save yourself or do anything before God have had that sin removed and now you are a son of the living God by the blood of Jesus.  You don’t do anything to earn or merit eternal salvation.  It is a free gift in Jesus.

That Jesus is what pushes Lutheran pastors through the brink of sorrows and pain and that carries them through the valley of the shadow of death.  It is the God-man that informs their teaching and their prayers.  Though there be tears, there is One who has destroyed sin, death, pain, and sorrow and brought new life to light.  The doctrine of Justification pulls us out of our false personal realities and plops us down before Jesus.  It’s the job of the Lutheran pastor to put that Jesus before every one of his sheep, that is the real care our souls need… in our ears, in our eyes, in our mouths, and upon our heads.

*Dietrich Bonheffer, Spiritual Care, Fortress Press, 1985 – page 30