Friday, April 29, 2011

Christology and Care of Souls



Pastoral care is the care of the soul.  Lutherans have a heritage of the “Seelsorge,” meaning that the office of pastor tends to the cure of the soul – whose balm and healing is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Gerald Krispin in his article, “A Study in Luther’s Pastoral Theology,” observes that Luther saw the locatedness of the Resurrection in the mouths of angels and therefore the office of the holy ministry.  Krispin writes:

"Luther indeed found in the ordaining and sending of the angels the certainty that God wants to give us the resurrection of Christ, and implicitly found here the point of connetion to the men who are now “ordained” and “sent” through the office of the ministry to proclaim the resurrection.  It is in this office that Luther himself therefore declares the resurrection as giving Christ’s benefits for us, both as present consolation as an eternal hope."[1]   

The church therefore needs a preacher for the care of souls.  The office of the ministry is essential in the care of souls, for men need to be sent to speak the Gospel and administer the Sacraments in the stead of Christ.  The true seelsorge and caretaker of souls is Christ and Christ alone, who is present in His church – teaching, preaching, and feeding His church with His life-giving Word.  Pastoral care begins and ends with Jesus and His work.  Care of the soul follows the Creed, confessing God as Father through Christ and His work.  The Spirit sanctifies and delivers the gifts of Christ and calls sinners to repentance and faith.  The subject of theology is that God justifies the ungodly through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  Christian care of the soul flees to the God preached and revealed in Christ.   

Lutheran theology, and therefore spiritual care as well, begins not from above but from below – from the womb of Mary where the fullness of God dwelt bodily, and to the cross where Jesus, though innocent, died the death of a criminal for our justification.  Lowel C. Green in his article, “Martin Luther on Coming to God from ‘Below’ in Its Implications for the Church Today,” locates this “coming to God from below” theology as primarily a discovery of the vital distinction of law and gospel which framed Luther’s theology as a whole.  At the heart of the law/gospel discovery is the revolutionary insight that the sinner is not saved by the righteous of the law (active righteousness) but rather through the righteousness of the gospel (passive righteousness).  Of this reformational breakthrough Luther shared with his friends: “Previously I had lacked nothing except that I made no distinction between law and gospel.  I took both to be one, and I said that Christ did not differ from Moses except in time and in perfection.  But when I found this distinction, that the law is one thing and the gospel another, then I experienced my breakthrough.”[2] 

Green notes that Luther often referred to the law as man seeking God above as opposed to seek God below.  The gaze that looks up to God focuses on His divine majesty (God in his nakedness) where he only encounter me as wrath and terror (law).  Luther likens this to the unsearchable mysteries of God which encounters man as law.  In Luther’s rendering of Exodus 33:23, “Thou shalt see my back parts; but my face shall not be seen,” he notes that the law is the back part of God, revealing wrath, sin, and his hiddenness.  The Gospel of course is God’s face, how he wants to be truly seen and revealed to man.  Or as Luther brilliantly penned the fourth stanza of Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice “He turned to me a father’s heart; He did not choose the easy part but gave His dearest treasure.”[3]  This is why we must go below, to the cradle where God became incarnate to reveal Himself as the suffering servant and long awaited Messiah to save the people from their sins.  Faith belongs to the revealed God, to the Gospel in which God shows his will and his Fatherly heart in Jesus Christ – by incarnation, life, teaching, crucifixion, death, and resurrection.  This is the precise meaning of “Immanuel” (God with us).  Spiritual care begins here, with Immanuel as “God with us” – as man, and most importantly “for us.”  Green quotes Luther, “He remains a Child for us unto eternity.  He gives himself to us, not in fourfold severity, not in frightening majesty, but he gives himself to us as a tiny Child and he plays with us unto eternity in his childliness.”[4]   

True care of the soul is oriented Christologically – to Jesus Christ and His promises.  Spiritual care and consolation does not speculate on the God not-preached in his terrified hiddenness.  Care of the soul does not begin with theodicy but rather with theophany – with God revealed.  Therefore the focus of pastoral care of the soul moves away from God along with his majestic attributes – be they omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience.  The Lutheran Confessions and therefore the care of souls does not begin there.  The Confessions proceed rather by expounding upon the economy of the trinity – namely the Father’s giving of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit.  In these latter days God speaks through His Son, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (Lk. 9:35).  In addition to the Scriptures, the most profound and simplest Christology is seen in Luther’s opening to his explanation to the 2nd article of the Creed: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord…”  Article III of the Augsburg Confession and article VIII of the Formula may very well be summed up in this simple prayer.  Most importantly Jesus Christ, true God, is my Lord.  Christian care and counsel cannot begin if God is not “for me,” for the Gospel is not truly the Gospel until it is “for me.”  The starting point for the care of the soul does begin through a theocentric apparatus, in lofty speculation, but rather proceeds Christologically – following the outline of the Creed.     

Along with the incarnation, a true care of the soul must be brought into the death and resurrection of Christ.  This is not to say that death and resurrection are a metaphor or illustration for the Christian life, but rather the true sum and content.  Christian consolation and care takes on a cruciform shape because its content is only Christ crucified and raised for sinners.  Therefore, baptismal life, accompanied by the preached law and Gospel, actually puts the sinner to death and raises him up to live before God.  In the care of the soul, man is exposed as a sinner.  And all sinners must die, whether they die to sin or die in their sin, for God is just and holy.  Dying to sin, means dying with Jesus.  The cross of Christ, if taken seriously, destroys all loopholes for the sinner to bypass the judgment of God.  The death of Christ therefore means that the old man cannot find an escape.  He must also be put to death through repentance and a returning to baptism.  This putting to death is by no means a onetime punctiliar event but a daily death to sin.  The new life through baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection therefore “indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” 

This Christology of the care of souls must be understood through the 3rd article of the Creed, namely that on the Last Day, “He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”  No amount of inaugurated eschatology can reign in that final rest in the here and now.  There must be prayer and vigilant anticipation of finally dying as a Christian in the full consolation of the Gospel.  Christian care of the soul must keep the third of article of the Creed ever before the ears and eyes of the church.  Sanctification through Jesus and the giving of His Spirit to build and keep the church must be retained as an essential article of faith.  Awaiting the Last Day and the resurrection of the body by daily reception of the forgiveness of sins is central to pastoral care, not simply for those near death but for all Christians, both young and old.  It is true that we live in a culture that either naturalizes or ignores death.  Both pitfalls must be avoided, that God’s full counsel and Holy Gospel can shine forth with the brightest light and truth.  Care of the soul ought to make use of the psalms and Lutheran hymnody to orient one toward the realities of death and resurrection which stand at the heart and center of the Christian life.   

Krispin postulates the idea, also observed by others, that all of Luther’s theological work took shape with pastoral considerations in mind.  That is to say, Luther was first and foremost a pastor who took care of his parish and those souls entrusted to his care.  His funeral sermons bring to light his third article theology that speaks only of Christ’s death and resurrection and the faith which claims these promises and his or her own.  Death upon the confession of faith is repeatedly the foundation of his consolation and care.  We see this in Luther’s own death, where Jonas seeing death was near asked the dying Luther, “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?”  It is recounted that Luther bellowed a loud “Yes!” – and died.  It is only by God’s gift of the Holy Spirit that we can also die as Christians.  A proper care of the soul puts the “yes” in the mouth of the faithful only by placing Jesus before their eyes and ears and upon their heart.        


[1] Krispin, Gerald S. "A Study in Luther’s Pastoral Theology.” LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology . (2001 (article originally published Eastertide 2001) ): 127-132.
[2] Green, Lowell C. "Martin Luther on Coming to God from "Below" in Its Implications for the Church Today." LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology . (2001 (article originally published Trinity 1995) ): 53-56.
[3] LSB 556, stanza 4.
[4] Green, p. 53. 

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