Cranach in the Study

Over ten years ago, a friend introduced me to this painting he saw while touring the Luther lands in Germany. It’s a part of an altarpiece of St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg—the church where Luther regularly preached.

Ever since, I have always thought that this would make an excellent piece to have hanging on the wall of my study. Today, I got my wish. I was able to order a giclée reprint from and then had it framed at a local frame shop here in northeast El Paso.

Here is what strikes me about the painting:

  • Luther’s preaching points to Christ. He is preaching from the Scriptures, but the Scriptures always point us to Jesus. Therefore preaching should do the same. Preaching is not primarily aimed at educating or entertaining people, nor is it primarily aimed at changing people’s behavior. But it is to point to Christ who hung on the tree in place of sinners.
  • The congregation listens to Luther preaching, but their attention is also on Christ. They see Christ and hear Christ. Jesus should always “get in the way” between the preacher and the parishioner. This, then, is how the laity evaluates preaching—by what the preacher says about Jesus.
  • The congregation is made up of young and old. The congregation includes the youngest of those who believe in Jesus. Babies sit with an unobstructed view of Christ—at the front of the church. They, too, need Jesus. They, too, hear and see Jesus in the divine service. They, too, receive the gifts of Christ.


I’ve been reading Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of the Council of Trent. It’s a four volume analysis of the 16th Century council which solidified Roman Catholic doctrine and condemned Lutheran doctrine following the Reformation.

I had to laugh when in the section I was reading today, Chemnitz says that there is plenty more to say about the issue at hand, and he would say more, “if I were not afraid of prolixity” (Vol. 1, p. 595). I laughed (after looking up the word) because this work is already so comprehensive and thorough, that I can’t even imagine what it could say. But Chemnitz could go on and on.

I am completely impressed by the scholarship of these giants. I have another set of books that Chemnitz contributed to, which is a series of text studies based on a harmony of the gospels put together by Chemnitz, Johann Gerhard, and Polycarp Leyser. The books I have were printed in the 1860s. They cover the Gospels for the historic church year. Some of these studies are as long as 75 pages. Talk about serious exegesis!

So, on the one hand, it’s kind of funny for Chemnitz to talk about sparing words for the sake of brevity. He is anything but brief. And sometimes it’s hard to wade through pages and pages that cover every single aspect of a particular topic. But on the other hand, I admire their use of words. I feel as though even our best scholars today couldn’t come close to their understanding and depth of scholarship. Yet it makes me want to read more, study harder, and think more clearly about the things I study. I may not be able to produce the kind of work that these men created. I struggle to complete each sermon, and I have to push to be able to get a few words onto a blog every once in a while. But if nothing else, a little more careful study will give me a better grasp of the center of all this study—Christ Jesus. And that’s good enough for me.

The Pastor’s Study

Is the room in which the pastor works a study or an office? It’s the place that he has his desk, his library, probably a computer and usually much more. It’s the place that he meets with people, makes phone calls, plans and prepares for so many things. But above all, this room is the place where the pastor studies.

As long as I can remember, it has always been important to me to have a specific place set aside just for study. Already in grade school I always had a desk in my bedroom. I’m sure I didn’t always do my homework there (I didn’t always do my homework). But I always had a place for it. In college I always carved out a corner of the dorm room for my desk and work space. When I came home from school in the summers I managed to clear out a space in the basement at home and later in an extra room at the farm to put my desk, computer, and now growing theological library. When we moved to Kewaskum (WI) after getting married, I had a whole room to use as a study. I even have pictures of many of these spaces. Gallery of images of the spaces I have used for studying

In Kewaskum, I purposefully referred to the room as my study. It made sense, since that’s what I did there. That’s where I did the bulk of my studying for my first two years at Sem. But when I moved to Wauwatosa for vicar year, I moved my library to St. John’s. There I had a decent sized room to store all my books and a decent desk to work at. (I heard stories about how St. John’s vicars used to get this little closet-like room down in the basement next to the stage.) The room was right in the church office, next to where the church secretaries worked. It was right next to where the other pastors worked. It was an office. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t study there. In fact, I did some of my best studying in that room, especially in the early morning hours before the others would show up.

Our setup at St. Peter is rather similar. Pastor Janke and I are right next door to each other, just across the narthex from the church office. It’s a very efficient and convenient location. A couple months ago I even re-arranged the furniture in there to allow me to work more efficiently (my bookcases are now right behind my desk so I don’t have to walk around the desk to get at them).

But I have noticed something very interesting about that room. I noticed that when I’m really trying to study, when I’m trying to meditate on a portion of God’s Word, trying to pray, I found that it hasn’t been the best place. I found that it was sometimes better to go somewhere else. I’ve often carried my laptop into church to write sermons. I’ve sat in the pews in an empty sanctuary to pray and sing. It’s not that I can’t use that room to do those things, but it does seem to come more naturally in other places at times. I still have not been able to lay my finger on exactly what makes it that way. Is it the fact that I do so many other things there? Is it the fact that there are so many other things there?

Could it also be (in part) the way I view that room? Is it an office or a study? Is there a psychological difference between a room called an office and a study? Does it say something about what is expected of the time I spend there? Is the office the place where I coordinate and administrate and meet and strategize? But maybe a study is where a pastor meditates and supplicates and counsels and absolves. I’m wondering if my name for that room could be a constant reminder to me of what is my main task there. Perhaps it could be a reminder to others that this is the place where their pastor prepares to serve them by studying the Scripture, by spending hours reading and approaching God on their behalf.

There is a fantastic quote from George Stöckhardt on the work that a pastor does in his study that’s worth hearing:

A pastor must not simply regard it as a good way to relax from his official duties when he can on occasion, in moments of leisure, engross himself in Scripture and theology. No, here he has God’s command. The apostle of Jesus Christ makes the demand of every Christian bishop that he occupy himself constantly with doctrine and Scripture . . .  This quiet, solitary work in his study does not have the same glamour as other portions of his pastoral activity, as when the pastor has direct contact with the congregation and its members, and is more tedious, demands more exertion and mental effort than any other official act. Therefore, a pastor is well nigh tempted to dispense with this duty and labor much more easily and much more quickly than with other official duties. But there he had better consider that the apostle, where he begins to set forth the real work of a bishop, mentions continuing pursuit of doctrine, of Scripture, as the main duty of a bishop and as a necessary basis and requisite for all wholesome speaking, teaching, exhorting, and rebuking."

So if you hear me referring to that room at church with my name on the door as my study, you’ll know why.