Martin Luther and Vocations, pt. 1

As long as I can remember, there seems to have been a gulf between those called into ministry full-time and those who work in so-called “secular jobs”.  Those who chose ministry appeared to be more sacrificial and spiritual, while the others were perceived to be less than holy and “caught up in the things of the world.”  Does Jesus really see it this way?  Does He really intend for this gulf to exist or dies He have something greater in mind?

Consider these words from German priest, professor, and reformer Martin Luther: “The idea that the service to God should have only to do with a church altar, singing, reading, sacrifice, and the like is without doubt but the worst trick of the devil.  How could the devil have led us more effectively astray than by the narrow conception that service to God takes place only in a church and by the works done therein… The whole world could abound with the services to the Lord…not only in churches but also in the home, kitchen, workshop, field” [O.E Feucht, Everyone a Minister (St. Louis: Concordia, 1979), 80].

As a Jesus-follower, I learned in Scripture that there really is no such thing as “the sacred” and “the secular”.  Psalm 24:1 reminds us, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”  John 1:3 affirms the same, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.”  I really like what Pastor Jack Hayford says about this dynamic in the DVD series, Fathers of the Faith: Wisdom in Difficult Times: “The division in the mind of God is not between the sacred arena and a secular arena.  But the division is between the light and the dark, and there’s a darkened world in the secular and in the sacred.  There’s darkness across the face of the Earth, and the Lord wants to seed it all with the sons and daughters of the light” [Jack Hayford, Conversations with Fathers of the Faith (Franklin, Lionshare Leadership Group, 2009].

Walking as disciples of Jesus means every area of our lives has been yielded to His Lordship, including what we do during a certain forty to sixty hours each week.  Many view what they do during those hours as a way to put bread on the table so they an do what they really fell called to do.  There may be some truth to that, but I think there is a broader way to look at it.

At the root of the English word “vocation” is the Latin word vocation which means “calling”.  Luther believed that having a vocation is more than simply an occupation; rather, it encompasses the whole life of the follower of Jesus and is not limited to job, career, trade, or profession.  He believed vocation was a calling for flowers of Jesus to contribute to the world around them by serving others.  Luther said, “A cobbler, a smith, a farmer each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way may kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another…”

The term “vocation” has long been used to describe “sacred” ministry and the religious orders.  Luther was the first to use “vocation” to refer also to “secular” offices and occupations.  Today, the term has become common, another synonym for a profession or job, as in “vocational training”.  But behind the term is the notion that every legitimate kind of work or social function is a distinct “calling” from God, requiring unique God-given gifts, skills, and talents.  Moreover, the Reformation doctrine of vocation teaches that God Himself is active in everyday human labor, family responsibilities, and social interactions. 

Reflection Points

  1. Consider your current vocation.  How does it reflect the character and ways of God by serving others?
  2. Who are the specific people that benefit from your vocation, your work, your calling?  Spend some time this week praying Father God’s heart for them.
  3. Who are the specific people that are benefiting you by their vocation, work, and calling?  Spend some time giving thanks for them this week.