Unexpected Counsel from Martin Luther

For the average person, “pastoral care” and “Martin Luther” are probably strange bedfellows

“Bob Kellemen brings this side of Luther to light in Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied The Gospel to Daily Life. Kellemen—vice president for institutional advancement and chair of the biblical counseling department at Crossroads Bible College—explores the theology and methodology of Luther’s pastoral care ministry.”

 

For the average person, “pastoral care” and “Martin Luther” are probably strange bedfellows. If your Luther knowledge is limited to tales of bold opposition to the papacy or the painfully entertaining Luther Insult Generator, I wouldn’t blame you. After all, it’s his one-man-against-an-empire mystique that captures the imagination. But if we’re not careful, spending too much time looking at Luther as the great reformer can make miss out on Luther the pastoral counselor.

Bob Kellemen brings this side of Luther to light in Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied The Gospel to Daily Life. Kellemen—vice president for institutional advancement and chair of the biblical counseling department at Crossroads Bible College—explores the theology and methodology of Luther’s pastoral care ministry, demonstrating why we can, and should, look to Luther as a valuable source of wisdom as we help one another grow in Christ.

Hopeful Words for Comfort and Correction

Theologically and methodologically, the gospel was everything in Luther’s counseling ministry. According to Kellemen:

Luther turned the counseling of his day back to the Christ of the cross. Satan insists that we cannot trust God’s heart. The Christ of the cross is the one image, the one reality, the one truth that conquers the condemning lie of Satan. (40)

Whether comforting the suffering (the work of sustaining and healing) or confronting the sinner (the work of reconciling and guiding), Luther sought to apply the gospel to the hearts of those in his care because the gospel was, and is, their only hope.

And hope really is the operative word here. The suffering need to know that it’s normal to hurt, but that in and through Christ it’s possible to hope. Christ defeats the lie that whispers “Life is bad; God is sovereign; God must be bad, too” (82), because in the gospel we have a Father who dearly loves us. Likewise, hope presents us with our soul’s fundamental need:

Gospel counsel helps people to grasp together with all the saints a personal knowledge of Christ as merciful Friend. This is the most basic knowledge that the soul needs—the knowledge that the soul can trust Christ as best Friend. (159)

Whether we’re vocational counselors or laypeople doing the work of encouraging (1 Thess. 5:11), all of us should strive for this kind of emphasis. We’re living in a time when it’s shockingly easy to feel hopeless, regardless of whether we’re followers of Christ.

Continue reading…