Nothing But Pastoral
Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr
17 October 2017
Recently, while teaching our Christian Education Night classes on Luther and the theology of the Lutheran Reformation, I was taken aback by someone in the class who suggested that Luther was not particularly pastoral. Luther was, after all, a university professor and a pugnacious theological controversialist; and what's pastoral about that? Yet this misses by a wide margin the significance of what Luther actually said and wrote. For example, he preached over 2000 sermons at St. Mary's Church in Wittenberg alone. His concern for the pastoral care of God's people led him to preach for John Bugenhagen, the pastor at St. Mary's, while he was providing church orders for Reformation-minded communities. Luther even complains about how long Pastor Bugenhagen was gone in the sermons that we have available to us. And despite his complaining, he was not about to leave the people of Wittenberg without preaching. That's nothing but pastoral.

When the fanatics were overturning statues, smashing windows, burning vestments and books, and enforcing new liturgical measures on the poor people of Wittenberg in 1521, Luther could not remain in hiding in the Wartburg Castle, but rushed home at peril of his own life to stop the public convulsions that were making such a wreckage of the community in his absence. His only weapon against these cataclysms was preaching. Not force. Not guns. Not civil authority. Just the word. That's nothing but pastoral.

Over the years of reading the Wittenberg reformer, I feel like I personally have received pastoral care from Luther, because he always seems to write something that is encouraging to me, full of the gospel, and that leads me into steadfastness and faithful confession. What's not pastoral about that? Yes, of course, he is occasionally very sharp tongued. But that is for my good. For a faithful preacher of the gospel of grace will always proclaim the law in all its severity, and in that preaching destroy my self-righteousness, so that the gospel could do its work of lifting up the lowly and feeding the hungry with good things. Luther has laid me low and caused me to hunger and then fed me on the food of Christ and His gospel of grace. That's nothing but pastoral.

Words from Luther's mouth and pen were shaped and normed by the article of justification and were full of grace. Luther always extolled the grace of God in Christ. Oh yes, this led him into verbal fisticuffs with his opponents, who taught righteousness by works. And even then, such verbal battering had as its goal the defense of the gospel of grace; without which God's people would be left without Christ himself. So, what we today consider Luther's rough and un-pastoral exterior was nothing of the sort. Rather, it was precisely the opposite. He had hard words for those who claimed to be authorities and teachers, who taught that people ought to have confidence in their own good works and led them away from Christ. He left for us a clear legacy of the gospel of grace, which motivated his hard words from time to time. A legacy of true Christian preaching has been left to us by Luther. That's nothing but pastoral.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"Christ is the joy and sweetness of a trembling and troubled heart. We have this on the authority of Paul, who adorns Him with the sweetest of titles here, calling Him the One 'who loved me and gave Himself for me.' Therefore, Christ is the Lover of those who are in anguish, sin, and death, and the kind of Lover who gives Himself for us and becomes our High Priest, that is, the One who interposes Himself as the Mediator between God and us miserable sinners. I ask you what could be said that would be more joyful and happy than this? If all this is true-and it must be true, or otherwise the whole gospel is false-then surely we are not justified by the righteousness of the Law, much less by our own righteousness.

"Therefore, read these words 'me' and 'for me' with great emphasis, and accustom yourself to accepting this 'me' with a sure faith and applying it to yourself. Do not doubt that you belong to the number of those who speak this 'me.' Christ did not love only Peter and Paul and give Himself for them, but the same grace belongs and comes to us as to them. Therefore, we are included in this 'me.' For just as we cannot deny that we are all sinners, and just as we are obliged to say that through his sin Adam destroyed us and made us enemies of God who are liable to God's wrath and judgment and worthy of eternal death--for all terrified hearts feel and confess this, in fact, more than is proper--so we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins in order that we might be justified. For He did not die to make the righteous righteous. He died to make sinners into righteous men, the friends and sons of God, and heirs of all heavenly gifts. Therefore, since I feel and confess that I am a sinner because of the transgression of Adam, why should I not say that I am righteous on account of the righteousness of Christ, especially when I hear that He loved me and gave Himself for me? Paul believed this most firmly, and therefore he speaks with such full conviction (1Th 1:5)." 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 2.20
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, Shepherd and Bishop of all souls, we give thanks to You that You have given us leaders like Martin Luther who proclaim your gospel in all its sweetness and graciousness, that we might know you as a God who redeems his people from their sins and therefore quiets their troubled hearts and brings them the peace that surpasses human understanding. Grant us in our day to have such leaders in our churches that the gospel might be vouchsafed to us as well. Amen.

For Baby Sophia Benton, that she may grow and be strengthened in her body and spirit, and thus able to be brought home to a loving family

For Christopher Atsinger and his family as Christopher lives out his final days, that they would be strengthened by the compassion of Christ and the power of the word of God

For Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman and his family who are arriving in Houston today, that their ways would be safe and their homecoming joyful
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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