Christology and the Care of Souls

As Lutheran pastors we do not preach signs or wisdom, we preach Christ (1 Cor. 1:23). We proclaim to the world the saving word of Him who took on flesh to bear our sin and be our savior. Justification by faith alone may be the central doctrine of our teaching, but without Christ we can neither understand nor believe that truth. Thus the doctrine of Christology should permeate pastoral care even as justification by faith alone does. Though this topic is mostly explored systematically, as we look at it we soon realize that it comes up in almost every area of pastoral care. Everything the pastor does and everything we do as Christians relates back to Christ and how He reveals Himself to us in Word and Sacrament.

To begin dogmatically, the word “christology” means “the study of Christ.” Dr. David Scaer writes that, “on that account [it] is the topic which more than any other gives the Christian religion its most distinctive character.”[1] Essential for the care of souls is teaching about the office and work of Christ. In order to facilitate this teaching Christian tradition has been to define the office of Christ in a threefold manner: Prophet, Priest, and King. We shall explore in this paper what this has to do with the pastoral care of souls. How do the office and work of Christ pertain to pastoral care and how can they be understood for their proper purpose: the comfort of our souls and the assurance of salvation? We begin with Christ as Prophet.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor;he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” (Isa. 61:1-2) These words from the prophet Isaiah Jesus applies to Himself. By taking flesh upon Himself and being born of the Virgin Mary our Lord set out on the task to proclaim God’s Word to the world. The very Word of God has been anointed by the Father to announce the good news to the poor and to comfort those who mourn. The word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Messiah,” meaning the Anointed One. The Word and Lord we proclaim is Jesus the Christ, the truly anointed prophet of our God.

The Church sings, “Lord Jesus, who art come a teacher sent from heaven and both word and deed God’s truth to us hast given, thou wisely hast ordained the holy ministry that we, thy flock, may know the way to God thro’ thee” (TLH 485).[2] Our Lord Jesus has been sent from heaven to teach us God’s truth. God spoke to His people of old through the prophets, but now He has spoken to us through His Son. (Heb. 1) This should be of supreme comfort to souls in doubt. We have a God who has spoken to us Himself. No other religion has that – there is always a human intermediary. But for us has come a mighty savior to speak His own Word to us.

This is the source of our assurance and truth. God Himself has spoken to us in the flesh. In the past He spoke by way of angels or the glory cloud, but now the Son of God has proclaimed to us in person of His free salvation. When Christians are in doubt of what truth is, whether we are truly saved, or when the words of men fail them, pastors remind their flock that we have the Word of God. Jesus has spoken to us His eternal Word as our Prophet. In that office He also established that men should proclaim His Word to us in His stead. Lowell Green writes that this is the proof that “God wants to save all sinners…He comes ‘vested and clothed in His Word and promises.’”[3]

The second part of our Lord’s threefold office is that of Priest. The writer to the Hebrews states, “So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’; as he says also in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’” (Heb. 5:5-6) Jesus Christ is our great High Priest who has been appointed by God the Father to offer the perfect sacrifice. That sacrifice is His own body and blood. Christ’s work as Priest consists not only of offering the sacrifice for sin, but also being Himself the sacrifice and continually interceding on our behalf before the throne above. This we sing, “Jesus, my great high priest, offered His blood and died; My guilty conscience seeks no sacrifice beside. His pow’rful blood did once atone, and now it pleads before the throne.” (TLH 220)

What does this mean? How can Jesus be our priest who offered the eternal sacrifice for sin and now pleads on our behalf? The Formula answers that, “it was not a mere man who suffered, died, was buried, descended to hell, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and was raised to God’s majesty and almighty power for us…God’s Son truly suffered for all.”[4] The work of Christ as Priest is the chief article of our faith. Our God and Lord died for our sins and was raised for our justification and is the only Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Because of the shedding of His blood all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Him.

To souls wondering whether they are good enough or whether they have done enough to redeem themselves, we speak that we have an advocate with the Father. Jesus Christ Himself has made the once for all time sacrifice for sin. It no longer rests on the shoulders of mankind. We are no longer sinking beneath the mire of sin trying to swim our way out, but our Priest has sacrificed on our behalf and now stands before the throne to plead our case on high. Because of His work as Priest, we know that we will never be cast away from the love of God. “My Advocate appears for my defense on high; the Father bows His ears and lays His thunder by. Not all that hell or sin can say shall turn His heart, His love, away.” This comfort Christians will always have, that where Christ is we will be too. He has gone to prepare a place for us, including petitioning the Father in our place, and will take us to be by His side eternally.

The final part of the threefold office of Christ and the last part of our discussion is that of King. This is perhaps the office most talked about since the Reformation. Reformed Christians, those who follow after John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, hold this statement to be true, “Finitum non capax infinitum.” This means that the finite is not capable of containing the infinite. Some have used this to cast doubt on our Lord’s presence in the Holy Supper and the Spirit in Baptism. If we understand Christ to be removed from there, then Christians are robbed of their Savior and all comfort is lost. For if Christ cannot be present in the Sacraments, neither can He be present in our struggles.

Against this the Lutheran reformers write, “Christ is and remains to all eternity God and man in one undivided person. Next to the Holy Trinity, this is the highest mystery, upon which our only consolation, life, and salvation depends, as the apostle testifies in 1 Timothy 3:16.”[5] This is our comfort – that our Prophet and Priest took human nature upon Himself and suffered all things willingly, even death on a cross. He truly died according to His human nature and rose from the dead to receive from the Father the mantle of the King. Now as King He rules over all things for our good. He is with us in all situations, in all trials and in all temptations. He has suffered all things and is able to be with us in all our distress. He does not do this only in spirit, but in body. We read, “The human nature [of Christ], after the resurrection from the dead, is exalted above all creatures…He did not lay aside His human nature, but retains it to eternity. He has the full possession and use of the divine majesty according to His received human nature.”[6]

What does this mean for the care of souls? This means that the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is also King over all. He is able to do all things and be in all places. The right hand of God is not only located in heaven, but extends over all creation. That includes you. That means He can be truly present in the Word preached and read. He can truly be in the absolution spoken to you through the mouth of the pastor. It is also means that He truly is present in the Lord’s Supper. “Christ may give His true body and blood in the Holy Supper, as one who is present – and it is very easy for Him to do so. He does [this] according to the mode and ability of God’s right hand.”[7] Also, “according to His received human nature and with the same, He can be, and also is, present where He wants to be. He is present especially in His Church and congregation on earth as Mediator, Head, King, and High Priest. This presence is not a part, or only one half of Him. Christ’s entire person is present”[8] We can believe and know confidently that because Jesus is King, He can be with us always, just as He says. He has spoken to us as the true Prophet of God. He has made the eternal sacrifice for sin on our behalf and now intercedes before the throne. He now rules all things for our good and is with us at all times and in all places.

We asked earlier how the office and work of Christ (Christology) pertains to pastoral care. Perhaps the answer may be best stated: how does it not? In this we learn that Christ is our perfect Prophet, Priest, and King who neither slumber nor sleeps, who watches over all things and is with us in all situations. He daily and richly comes to us in His Word and Sacrament. That is such sweet comfort for our souls and the true balm of Gilead.

Works Cited

Green, Lowell C. “Martin Luther on Coming to God from ‘Below’ and its Implications for the

Church Today.” In A Reader in Pastoral Theology: Articles from Logia, a Journal of Lutheran Theology, 42-45. Fort Wayne, Ind.: CTS Press, 2001.

McCain, Paul Timothy, W. H. T. Dau, and F. Bente. Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2006.

Scaer, David P. Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. VI: Christology. Ed. by Robert Preus. Fort Wayne, Ind.: The International Foundation for Lutheran Confessional Research, Inc. 1989.

The Lutheran Hymnal. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941.

[1] Scaer, David P. Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. VI: Christology, Ed. Robert Preus, Fort Wayne, Ind.: The International Foundation for Lutheran Confessional Research, INC., 1989. Pg. 10.

[2] The Lutheran Hymnal. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941.

[3] Green, Lowell C., “Martin Luther on Coming to God from ‘Below’ in Its Implications for the Church Today” in A Reader in Pastoral Theology, Fort Wayne: CTS Press, 2001. 42.

[4] FC Ep. VIII:13-14 – All Confessions citations are from McCain, Paul Timothy, W. H. T. Dau, and F. Bente. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions : a Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2006.

[5] FC Ep VIII:18

[6] FC SD VIII:26.

[7] FC Ep VIII:17

[8] FC SD VIII:78

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