Vocation is the forgotten doctrine of the Reformation. Justification was & is central, but vocation has been lost & emasculated since then. In Luther’s day, just like our own, people had a misunderstanding in how God’s calling worked and the way that God was at work in his people.
In Luther’s day, the priests were the mediators between the people and God. The priests did God’s work. They were the ones that had a sacred calling, and they were the way that God was at work in the world.
But Luther recovered something different.
God’s calling wasn’t reserved for the priests. And God’s working in the world wasn’t exclusively through the so-called “professionals.” God’s calling was for everyone. Luther understood that God not only called the priests and monks, but he called the shoe-makers, the mothers and fathers, the bankers, and the farmer.
And all of these were sacred callings because God was at work in the world through these people.
God worked through ordinary people fulfilling their daily tasks in order to provide our “daily bread.” And God worked through ordinary people in their relational connections to “make disciples of all nations.”
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
In Luther’s day, the priest was Christ’s ambassador and no one else was. Luther’s understanding of vocation suggested what the Bible suggests; we all are Christ’s ambassadors. We are all ministers of reconciliation. And that plays out in our vocations as we serve our neighbors in our vocations..
The Professionalization of Ministry
I’m all about “professional ministry,” as I make a living doing the work that I do, but has it also created some in unintended problems? Recently, I was hanging out with some friends and my good friend Ken suggested that the Church has retarded the doctrine of vocation.
And he's right.
It seems that perhaps the professionalizalation of ministry has emasculated the doctrine of vocation and brought us back to a dangerous understanding of God’s calling.
Because now people are “called into ministry.”
As though there are Christians who aren't.
Even in the language we use, we’ll throw out a word like bi-vocational ministry. Think about what that means. Two-calling ministry. That means you have two callings, one of which is typically seen as “ministry” and the other that pays the bills.
That’s not how Luther understood the doctrine of vocation. Bi-vocation or “two-callings” ministry significantly handicaps that way God is at work in the world and the sacredness of all of work. Calling isn’t about what you get paid to do, but about the way God is at work in our churches, in our neighborhoods, and in our families.
Luther used at least four primary categories to describe God’s calling: family, work, church, and in the world as a citizen.
So that’s at least quad-vocational ministry.
But even within those vocations are more. There are multiple vocations even within one’s home. The calling as a husband or wife, which is distinct from the calling of mother or father, which is distinct from the calling to be a brother or sister.
And within one’s world, there are callings as a citizen, there are callings as a member of your neighborhood, and in our digital age, you might even consider that there’s a calling to your digital neighborhood.
In a person’s calling to their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and churches, they are called to serve and care for those around them. This happens by taking care of both the first article gifts, like helping a person with their house, home, and any bodily need. But it also happens in the calling to “Go and make disciples.” A person is also called to their home, neighborhood, workplace, and church to be a missionary.
Do you see what’s going on here?
For Luther, vocation was not something that happened only within the church. Vocation was anyway and anywhere in which you serve your neighbor. And because of that ministry is not something reserved for the professionals, but it is something done by ordinary people for their neighbors. Core to the Reformation was this crazy idea that everyday, ordinary people were called by God to do their work and serve their neighbors. There was this crazy idea that it wasn’t just the priests that had a sacred calling, but also the construction workers and farmers and mothers.