Vocation, part one

When you hear the words “vocation” and “call” what do you think of? Do you think about pastors you know? Do you think of missionaries? Do you think about accountants? Do you think about sales clerks?  Do you think about your own life?

Unfortunately the words “call” and “vocation” have come to be associated with ordained ministry, or particular forms of service in and for the church. These associations cause us all sorts of difficulties. It tends to falsely suggest that those in ordained ministry are somehow more holy and more important than the rest. It tends to falsely suggest that other work is somehow less valuable in God’s sight.

Interestingly, this is somewhat similar to the situation in the medieval church. People who truly wanted to serve God became nuns and monks and priests. Everyone else was a sort of lesser Christian. Vocation called one out of society.  However, Martin Luther and John Calvin thought differently about this.

For Luther, the various stations in life are one of the ways in which God provides for us. Our vocation, to love God and each other, is expressed through the duties of our various stations.  Calvin says the knowledge that we are where God wishes us to be will give us the ability to bear “the discomforts, vexations, weariness, and anxieties of life. Indeed, … “no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight” (Institutes III.x.6)

Luther and Calvin are not modern persons ( Luther lived from 1483-1546 and Calvin from 1509-1564) and they believed, as was common in their time that God placed people in particular “stations” in life. If you were born a prince, that is where God wanted you. If you were born a stable boy, that is where God wanted you. Rising above one’s station was not an acceptable act in their day.  And yet, Calvin and Luther believed that one’s station in life did not make one a lesser Christian. They thought people could serve God in all stations of life.

Luther, Calvin and others suggest that we not only uncouple the idea of vocation from particular jobs, they suggest we uncouple vocation from any job. Our vocation is not our job, our work.

Our vocation, our calling or as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says the “chief end of man” (sic) is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Our vocation is to love God and to love our neighbor, a task that is not limited to our jobs.

Most of us will have a variety of jobs in our lives. Many of us will change careers. But none of us will change vocation.

I’d like to know, what do you think?

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cross posted at http://www.conversationinfaith.wordpress.com

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