Animals are a first article gift from God. Dogs fall into this category. They’re creatures over which man has dominion, and beasts that we have domesticated. God has blessed us with plenty of temporal gifts for this short life: Dogs are one of them.
Dogs are unique animals in that, for the most part, they’re playful and loving. I’m fairly certain this is why Lutheran Church Charities has started a “K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry” and not a “Feline Comfort Cat Ministry.” Dogs have a unique quality to bring happiness to adults and children alike, more so than any other animal (e.g., fish, ostriches, honey-badgers, etc.). This isn’t even true of all dogs: It’s why they use Golden Retrievers and not Chihuahuas or Rottweilers.
It’s okay to recognize that some breeds of dogs possess unique qualities that make us happy, but this should never be confused for “ministry.” Plenty has been written on the proper definition of ministry; I won’t address it here. Suffice it to say, it is a grave error to confuse the temporal comfort from dogs with the eternal comfort from God: The forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Now, they don’t quite say that the Comfort Dog Ministry is a ministry in and of itself (though the title leads one to believe that); rather, they say, “our dogs are trained service animals prepared to interact with people in ways that provide a bridge for compassionate ministry to take place” (“A Bridge For Compassionate Ministry: LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry,” Brochure).
Yet, after analyzing several videos—here are a few: CBS, CBSN, KETV, CBC, Newsy, Inside Edition, AFP, GMA—after the Pulse Nightclub Shootings in Downtown Orlando, I realized that this “ministry” failed to let “compassionate ministry take place.” You would think that the dogs would be a “bridge” or a “means,” but they became the end! They were only a distraction that brought the world’s attention to themselves.
Here, the Comfort Dog Ministry leaders had all eyes on them—several news channels, social media, smart-phones, etc.—and they had the opportunity to say whatever they wanted. What did they do? They talked about the dogs instead of Jesus. Various videos talk about how the dogs are “non-judgmental,” “help people process what they went through,” “they are trained to be comfort-rugs with a heartbeat,” “they share what is going on, an important step in the healing process.” The only thing that sounded remotely Christian was this statement: “they allow us to show mercy and compassion as Christians to those who are suffering.” But this statement is about Christians and not about Christ! (Watch the interview here.)
With all eyes on them, they failed to speak of the one true God who had actual mercy on sinful mortals by condemning His Son in our place. They failed to speak of God, who judged His only begotten Son as guilty of our sin so that those who believe in Him would be declared righteous for His sake. They failed to speak of God, who provides true healing for all sorrow through His bloody wounds. They failed to speak of God, who suffered for our sake to forgive our sins. They failed to speak of the true Comfort given by the Holy Spirit, that by the suffering and death of Christ all of our sins are forgiven. They failed to cheer our broken hearts with God’s Word. They failed to speak God’s Word of Law and Gospel which is the only means to lead sinners to repentance.
They spoke of the dogs over and above God’s gift of marriage between one man and one woman, and about the dogs instead of Christ being the only true God. I understand that they had a short amount of time to speak, but they should have immediately directed attention to Christ rather than dwell on the conversation about the dogs. They claim that the dogs are a bridge, but, in fact, they are an end. Their failure is to spend time speaking of a dog rather than God.
In a time when seminary education is expensive, when pastors are repaying student loans, when missionaries are raising their own funds, when churches have large debts to pay off, etc., the money of churches and individuals would better be spent on supporting the pure proclamation of the Word of God through the mouth of God’s ordained servants: Pastors. Dogs do not speak God’s Word; therefore, they provide no comfort. Pastors preach God’s Word of Law and Gospel which gives the comfort of the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s bloody and torturous death for sinners. This Word is a “bridge” in and of itself. It does not need another vehicle or means. The Word itself is the means. We should trust that the Holy Spirit works when and where He pleases when the Word is preached. We should find our comfort in the fact that God’s Word will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent.