The Failure of Comfort Dogs: All Dog, No God

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: CBSCBSNKETVCBCNewsyInside EditionAFPGMAafter 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.

About Pastor Rojas+

Rev. Roberto E. Rojas, Jr. is the sole pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church (also known as "Zion New Life") in Winter Garden, FL, established in 1891. He attended the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN (M.Div., 2008-2013; STM., 2013-2014). During his studies at the seminary, he participated in a year-long exchange program in the Westfield House in Cambridge, England, and also in the Seminário Concórdia in São Leopoldo, Río Grande do Sul, Brazil. He and his beautiful wife, Erica, are happily married and live in Gotha, FL.


The Failure of Comfort Dogs: All Dog, No God — 175 Comments

  1. @Elizabeth Peters #150

    Thank you, Elizabeth. I appreciate your words, a correct application of Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and Law and Gospel.

  2. On the other hand, if the handlers proclaimed the pure Word and even if everyone who heard was saved I would expect to find a different article posted here titled “The Failure of Comfort Dogs: All Laity, No Call” What would happen to the 12k cost if we required the handlers too to be trained and rostered?

    Being a Conservative Confessional Lutheran(TM) myself, I can handle the concept of wide and narrow sense as applied to such diverse topics as ministry and gospel. I understand what is meant by living the gospel in the wide sense and can distinguish it from preaching the gospel in either the wide or narrow sense. I can distinguish between the ministry of Word and Sacrament and ministering to my neighbor’s immediate needs, e.g. the Good Samaritan.

    Consider the first miracle of Christ: the turning of water into wine. Was this for their eternal salvation or for their immediate physical needs? Why was Christ so covert. Why didn’t he preach the Gospel? And the feeding of the multitudes: why focus on their physical needs? Why did the multitudes gather? Was it to hear the Word or to receive healing (Mt 14:13ff, 15:29ff)? What happened when Jesus got all preachy (Jn 6:66)? Should we conclude that since feeding the poor is ineffective evangelism we should discontinue it?

    On money, are some of you stating that money that goes to Synod is corban and can only be used to further the ministry of the Word and Sacrament (ministry in the narrow sense) and cannot be used for mercy towards our neighbor (ministry in the wide sense)?

    Acts 6 describes the deliberate separation of ministry of the word from the more mundane ministry. Yes, it would be great if the Word was preached while the workers served the tables but that is not part of the job description.

  3. @ Elizabeth peters there was your doctrinal-scriptural response (see above comment and others that were previously posted providing the biblical definition and application of ministry which literally means to serve). When we use the Lutheran confessions to place limits on ministering in the biblical sense to our neighbor, I think we are either mis-applying the confessions, or they are not in line with scripture. Either is unacceptable.

  4. @Kelly Stephens #153

    On money, are some of you stating that money that goes to Synod is corban and can only be used to further the ministry of the Word and Sacrament (ministry in the narrow sense) and cannot be used for mercy towards our neighbor (ministry in the wide sense)?

    Some might assume so, given the needs of our seminaries, seminarians and some Pastors in the field as well. It’s the “traditional sense” of “missions”.

    The other thought seeming to be expressed is whether this “dog emphasis” is really “mercy” toward our neighbor.
    Perhaps it is just another way to claim, “We are doing GOOD!”, without really doing very much, at great expense and avoiding the Gospel in the process.

    But I think the moderators could close this thread any time now. Nothing new has been said after 50 comments, (as has been mentioned), and nobody on either side is likely to change their minds.

    [To answer your question about the intended use of “mission” money: I do expect mine to support missions. So I give it directly.] 🙂


  5. @Rolf Preus #95

    Right, not that Luther ever did. Oh that’s right, I recall that his vitriol was reserved for pastors acting badly; as in, Pastor Rojas’s article here. This is libel, friend, and an elbow to the stomach for those of us who support this WITNESS ministry. I needn’t tell you that is one of the current Synodical administration’s emphases in the Witness, Mercy, Life Together articles and blogs. The Comfort Dogs fall under Witness. That witness does NOT need to elucidate Word & Sacrament at every single turn, but simply introduce people to the love and care of our Creator working through His Son and our Savior.

    And, by the way, VERY MUCH is edited out of the news interviews. President Trump, no matter what you think of him, is RIGHT about THAT. The news people are dishonest little liars in love with their own echo chamber; they mercilessly edit out any references to Christ, Jesus, the Savior, the grace of God, etc.

    My Dad’s interviews have been edited to extreme degrees on more than one occasion. So down goes one of Pastor Rojas’s main points. Oops, I guess he should have checked first, and should apologize for the tenor of this article. So, don’t chide me for profanity when it’s very frustrating to read this drivel on a site that I otherwise respect, and from a brother who is otherwise very good and whom I consider to be “with me in the foxhole.”


  6. @Joel T Dieterichs #157

    “That witness does NOT need to elucidate Word & Sacrament at every single turn, but simply introduce people to the love and care of our Creator working through His Son and our Savior.”

    So I must ask, what precisely is being witnessed?

    Frankly, this article is only one of many that I’ve read the last few years about the shortcomings of the comfort dogs. Pastor Rojas is by no means alone in this.

    At this point, I agree with Helen and others who said as much. The thread’s run its course.

    And for that reason, I’m out.

  7. Uh, oh. You’re done, huh? Is that, “oops, I might be right”? Or a, “you’re too prideful to admit when you’re wrong”? At the very least, this article does not “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3) And for that, it should be reproached.

  8. @Joel T Dieterichs #161

    Are you describing T-rav, or yourself?

    Our biggest problem is Fruecht’s “Everyone A Minister”, were he conflates and confuses ministry (service) with Ministry (the Holy Office), therefore confusing ministry with vocation. Now way too many people ‘feel’ called to ‘do good’ things. And the pastoral office, proper witnessing, and Word and Sacrament have taking a beating. Then liberal demonstrations fell of the cliff with social justice, and naturally the world (Satan’s playground) loves to promote these distractions. Both to draw people into the ‘right in their own eyes’ disguised as ‘church approved’, while simultaneously playing up the divisions and alt opinions as proof the Church is clueless, incompetent and unworthy of respect. Quite expected the Devil has humanity confused to now know what is up and what is down.

  9. Just re-read Pastor Preus’ comment. I understand where you are coming from with regard to the use of profanity. Didn’t even notice it. I guess though it depends on what one considers profanity. I never particularly found the use of that word offensive, particularly if it is not aimed at someone and was just used as an adverb. The way I see it, words are just the vehicles used to communicate ideas. To me its not so much the words that are used but the idea that is conveyed. I have read many comments on this site, even some from pastors, that are far more offensive in the idea they are trying to convey without the use of what some consider to be cuss words than what that person was expressing. That’s just me, we need to consider our audience I guess. Thanks for your correction on the matter. I will say though, I agree with Joel, Luther was extremely earthy, and at times downright wrong. We also see many ideas purposely expressed in offensive ways in the Bible. Hosea comparing Israel and Judah to prostitutes having sex with multiple lovers comes to mind. Ezekiel being told to cook his food over his own feces to show what Judah had coming is another example. Sometimes you have to turn heads to make a point. After all, we didn’t correct the pastor who refers to people condescendingly as “special snowflakes” or the one who makes the comparison between contemporary worship and pornography, did we?

  10. @Jason #162

    Considering the original use of the word we translate as minister is “service” it seems to me that creating a higher theological category confuses the issue. Using it in its original context is not conflating the issue. Elevating it beyond what was originally conveyed by the scriptures does.

  11. @Sean #164

    True. In recent times, it has become a mess. Maybe (like Luther) we should clean out the innovations. The Deacon Task Force kinda started that, even suggested something along the lines of word studies. What is a minister, elder, episkopos, presbyter, shepherd, et al? Because we run into those problems, especially with denominations like Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. And what is our pastor compared to the Roman Catholic (and others?) bishop-priest-deacon?

    I agree with Pres. Harrison’s comment about 40 years of bad catechesis, now approaching 50 years. I believe we have too many pastors who don’t have a clear enough picture of this problem (one is too many?) so it is clear WAY too many to our laity are not even close to being taught. And I think that is reflected in in the more emotional, feeling comments, even from both sides.

  12. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” Romans 12:6 ESV

    If someone can handle dogs in a way that helps people who are suffering, is that not a gift?

  13. @Elizabeth Peters #150

    > The bridge to preaching the gospel is the law which condemns sins. Dogs who comfort and soothe the symptoms are an impediment, not a bridge.

    Do you completely abstain from manners and “acting nice” in your contacts with strangers?

    Or, do you immediately probe for infractions to condemn?

    If so, I’m glad to have (not) met you!

    Much of what passes for “Lutheran” dialog is so bizarre and wierd.

  14. @Elizabeth Peters #150

    I almost don’t want to take you seriously.

    But, when I DON’T act severe, stilted, and (apparently) “Lutheran” (really?) to people in the world, as often as not they spill the beans on themselves, confessing some moral or ethical lapse.

    How the hell does that happen whenb my initial outward “facial” demeanor was — uh — “comforting” or “accepting” or “dog like?”

  15. @Elizabeth Peters #150

    > The bridge to preaching the gospel is the law

    When I act “nice” to someone, it’s the law. When I bring a friendly dog to them, it’s the law. Me trying to be kind is me trying to follow the law. A dog being a dog is following God’s natural law. The dog is being part of creation. The law is being brought to a sinner. They might take it the wrong way! You can’t control that.

  16. @mbw #169

    Mr. MBW,

    You use hell in vulgar terms. That’s terrible. Please don’t do that. “How the hell” is a heathen expression.

    I have no problem with people comforting others with dogs. Just don’t act like it’s a bridge to the Gospel. Don’t solicit money from people for a ministry that has nothing to do with the gospel per se. That’s my point, and the point of Pastor Rojas’ article.

    12,000 dollars can be spent on a comfort dog. I have no opposition to that. Just don’t pretend that this is the way we can preach the gospel to people. The fact is that money is raised for comfort dogs by appealing to a ministry as if this is the ministry of the gospel, with bible passages included, bible passages that actually refer to people preaching the gospel to people. That’s not good. If people want to give to the preaching of the gospel they can give to people who preach it to people who need to hear it.

  17. @Elizabeth Peters #170

    Thank you for your reply. It is _conceivable_ that some in the church are deceived. That is not a concern I would have thought of. It is obvious that this activity is all about going around with dogs. Dogs could wear a tract dispenser (and I am not ridiculing that idea) but I don’t think most people would envision that. Nobody thinks a dog can speak very many Bible passages.

    It is apparent to me that this dog activity is something like “human care.”

    Our churches claim to do _everything_ in the name of Christ and His Gospel. Unless an activity is per se wicked, I don’t see how we undermine one of those activities and not another.

    But if you are a Lutheran, you would not take an absolute position against church activities that are not purely preaching, teaching and administering. Are you a Lutheran?

    Undermining these human activities does hurt feelings unnecessarily. I can go on about that. I half expect to take a shot now for holding human feelings above God’s Word.

    It is conceivable to elevate human activities above the one thing needful in church life. I thought I experienced that as a youth in a liberal Methodist church, but it’s more likely that their real problem was their weak doctrinal positions. While church social life is not my strong suit 🙂 and I too often find it irritating and participate sadly very little, I have not seen human activities actually elevated above Word and Sacrament ministry in a MO synod church.

    What I have seen is stubborn adherence, even at the top, to unjustified doctrinal changes introduced in the late 1960s and at other times. That’s serious, and one reason I am a lay member of ACELC.

  18. @Elizabeth Peters #170

    If people want to give to the preaching of the gospel they can give to people who preach it to people who need to hear it.

    If you’ll say ‘men’ who preach it, it will be in line with our official agreement with Scripture… that men are called to preach. And those who work faithfully in our congregations in Word and Sacrament ministry are worthy recipients of our gifts.

    To give to “missions” and then find out that the money is being used to subsidize the training of women for the clerical office overseas, while our leaders piously state that they are against women’s ordination is more disheartening than the news that some people here can afford to spend thousands for a dog!

    To continue to lend our name to an organization which purports to help persecuted refugees but somehow can’t find any Christians among them (they may all be dead by now?) is disheartening. That the Lutheran name is just a front for our government’s handouts is sad. That we can officially proclaim an organization “apostate” and continue to be “joined at the hip” with them in this fraud is beyond any words I want to type here.

    None of it will stop. All I can do is opt out.

  19. @mbw #171

    What I have seen is stubborn adherence, even at the top, to unjustified doctrinal changes introduced in the late 1960s and at other times. That’s serious, and one reason I am a lay member of ACELC

    Especially at the top.
    The faux pastor pipeline should have been plugged with the same speed that sent pastors into silence on BJS in the same hour they were gagged by a convention vote. [What were the lay delegates thinking!?]

    Instead the COP enthusiasts have nearly two years to push the unqualified into “ordination sans education” and ensure their base for decades to come.

  20. @Carl H #166

    WELL SAID, CARL! Wonderful quotation. Makes me want to say, “Look people, all of us are just commentary on the Scripture and the teaching of the apostles.” And yes, even the most educated of our ministers and professors. Commentary.

    To me, this entire conversation is showing our need for a Council of all Missouri Synod pastors and DPs. I know not everyone here is MOSynod, but please hear me out for a moment. This is why the early church needed councils: not everything was perfect, nor can it be. And so, although they can and did err, they nevertheless provided the framework of Christian Orthodoxy for a good 1,500 years. That ended when they refused to listen to Uncle Marty. I would say that 1546 years is pretty good as far as trying to standardize Christian teaching goes. Rome has a council and things are decided upon. We have triannual Conventions, and almost everything is left up in the air. I would guess because theologians are not left time to properly handle the various distinctions that we must make in order to be good theologians. And, I agree with you, laity suffer the most.

    But you know, it occurs to me that this is one symptom of a rapidly growing church (as it was 50 years ago), and one that has been immensely blessed. That there are troubling issues is no good reason to leave a church. It is a reason to STAY. Why else would they call this Web forum “Steadfast Lutherans”?

    If a church is very obviously being attacked headlong by the Devil, it’s doing many things the right way.

  21. Well, how about Law and Gospel dogs? The Law dog (possibly a rotty or pit-bull) would bite and tear at at a person while his handler shouted, “Repent you unclean sinner!” Hopefully, the sinner would repent before Law dog goes for the jugular. Then another handler would bring in the Gospel dog–maybe a sweet cuddly labradoodle–who would them lick the sores of the penitent much like the dogs who licked the sores of Lazarus as he lay outside the rich man’s gate. The Gospel dog’s handler would, of course, have to be an ordained pastor who would then absolve the penitent and share comforting words from Scripture. Both dogs, would of course, receive a treat. For the labrador is worthy of his hire.

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