Justification and the Pastor's Daily Work

PROPTER CHRISTUM: Theology and Practice

Confessional Lutheran theology sets Lutherans apart from other theologies. What impact, if any, does this have on the parish pastor? How does Lutheran theology shape the daily work of the pastor? Particularly, what does justification have to do with parish practice? This question, Rev. Scott Murray suggests, could use some more attention. See below for an introduction to his thoughts on the matter.

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—Scott Murray

Often the article of justification has no traction in the actual practice of the pastors of the church. The prevailing term for the daily work of the pastor is "pastoral care." I am not sure where this term originated.1 Perhaps it derives from Seelsorge, the old term for pastoral work. Of course, our pastors were the original psychologists for whom the soul is the proper subject for pastoral work. At least this original psychology was a "-logia." Practice was then rooted in principles of theology. Mere care for the flock was insufficient. Undisciplined care can be worse than none at all. Caring will never suffice without a logia to support it. In some perverse way even a murderer, like Jack Kevorkian, might be said to care for his victims. Just ask him. So care is hardly sufficient. What makes pastoral care pastoral?

The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod offered a helpful document to enable congregations and individuals to think through biomedical ethics entitled: Christian Care at Life's End.2 Here care is modified by "Christian"; not just any care, but specifically "Christian" care. But what exactly defines what "Christian care" might be? How does the pastor specifically shape his pastoral and Christian care for the flock over which the Lord has appointed him as overseer (Acts 20:28)?

Could the article of justification help us to think through the daily work of pastors? It is my thesis that the article of justification can and should give a theological specificity to the acts of pastoral practice in the daily work of Lutheran pastors. We are, after all, specifically Lutheran pastors. How does our practice differ from the pastoral care practiced by other Christian faith traditions? Does it? If so, how and why? Is our practice different from the other helping professions in the modern medical and psychological communities? If so, how and why? The answers to these questions must begin with the article of justification.

The article of justification has a confessional status among Lutherans committed to the Lutheran symbols. Famously, Luther obligated us to the truth of justification in his Smalcald Articles:

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, "was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). He alone is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). "God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all" (Isa. 53:6). Moreover, "all have sinned," and "they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood" (Rom. 3:23-25). (SA II, I, 1-3; Tappert, 292)

While much has been written about the way in which justification shapes theology for Lutherans, and all the more since the ecumenical false start of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, too little has been written about the way in which justification norms pastoral practice on a daily basis. …

  1. Some bright young pastoral theologian might consider chasing this down.
  2. Commission on Theology and Church Relations, Christian Care at Life's End: A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (February 1993).