Luther on Vocation 8

luther on vocation“How is it possible for such a faith to be active in love, i.e., in works toward our neighbors on earth?”  “Why does this faith willingly descend to the realm which is otherwise ruled by law, the realm of works, the earthly kingdom?”  Some say Luther never satisfactorily answered these questions, according to Gustaf Wingren in Luther on Vocation.

“Luther has affirmed that faith and love hang together, but he has never demonstrated it,” says one critic.  “Serious consequences followed from the theoretical lack of a systematic relationship between justifying faith and the fulfillment of vocation in the service of love,” says another.  Luther is satisfied with the “affirmation that the one cannot be without the other,” but “the necessary inner unity between faith and the power proceeding therefrom for action in vocation Luther has not been able to establish.”

Wingren answers for Luther as follows.  “In him who has received the gospel in his heart, there dwells love for his neighbor, a fact at which he is surprised.”  “If Luther had shown by logical principles how faith must express itself in love,” “he would have replaced the reality of God with an intellectual construction and denied the miraculous character of something which is a miracle.”  “That faith is coupled with love is in fact the same miracle as that in which God became man.”  “Faith is the divine nature of works and it is poured out in works even as in Christ the divine nature is poured out in the human.”  “When faith works in love, it descends and is incarnated, as God became man in Christ.”

Put differently, that faith expresses itself in love through vocation is as much a miracle as the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus.

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How the Church Fails Businesspeople 3

Generations of people in this country find their identity in their jobs.  But that is an empty life, a life that leads you down a path of nothingness.  But what might it mean if God says, “Now you are the one to go deliver the message.”  You life must be interrupted if you are to be an instrument in meeting the world’s needs.  You must be ready to respond to the calling that God has on your life.  Think about the untouchables in India. What if God said, “I want you to be the one to travel over there and give them the message?  What about the epidemic of AIDS in Africa?  What if God is calling you to go do something about it?

After quoting the words above from the preaching of a “freshly ordained seminary graduate,” John Knapp in How the Church Fails Businesspeople rhetorically asks: “Must we really go to India or Africa to be instrumental in meeting the world’s needs?  Could it be that God also needs Christians to serve the world as factory workers, hairstylists, and bond traders?”

What is tricky about the sermon quoted is that almost everything in it is right.  Sadly, many people do find their identity in their jobs.  And that is an empty life.  If God says to me, “You need to go India,” I must obey that call.  If God is calling me to do something about AIDS in Africa, I must do something about it.

The error is in “elevat[ing] an ecclesiastical elite [i.e., missionaries to India or Africa] while subtly devaluing the rest of the body,” says Knapp.  One may infer from this that “God is more concerned with church-sponsored work than with Christians being faithful in a thousand other daily contexts,” betraying a “distorted conception of Christian vocation and calling, one that sorts human activities into contrived categories of secular and sacred.”

Here is a personal example.

In college, as we tried to figure out what to do after graduation, all who considered attending a seminary and becoming pastors spoke of discerning whether they had a “calling” to be a pastor.  The rest of us did not speak of a “calling” to be a lawyer or a “calling” to be a financial analyst.  God specifically “called” certain people into full-time ministry, we assumed, I think.  The rest of us weren’t so special, and were left to figure out which  “doors” were open and which “options” we should take.

In our young minds, in retrospect, a hierarchy of occupation was already in place.  Becoming a minister, a “holy” occupation, was a special path, requiring a special “calling.”  Becoming a lawyer or a financial analyst was something else.  And, many of us thought, something less.

How the Church Fails Businesspeople 2

Screen-shot-2012-03-06-at-5.15John Knapp, in How the Church Fails Businesspeople, recounts his surprise at hearing a sermon in which a retired minister expressed how “the responsibility of everyone in the church, as in the circus, is to support the performers, chief among whom is the preacher in the pulpit.”  This evidences the secular-sacred dichotomy prevalent in churches, which in turn reinforces a hierarchy of occupations.

I agree with Knapp that this hierarchy is not warranted by the biblical evidence.

But then I come across a passage like Ephesians 4:11-13: “And he [i.e., Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….”  And it makes me feel as if my being a lawyer is not as important to God and what he is about as being a Bible study leader (i.e., a “teacher”) at my local church.

Perhaps a more proper, or more contextually sensitive, understanding of this particular passage would not lead to this feeling.  I suspect, when viewed in light of the whole counsel of God that is the entire Bible, this feeling is probably unwarranted.

And yet.  And yet.  Sigh….

Luther on Vocation 7

luther on vocationHow should a Christian go about fulfill his vocation?

Luther might say, in “faith working through love,” since it is love that allows a person to “gladly give his endeavors to his earthly tasks, filling his neighbor’s needs and attending to his vocation” according to Gustaf Wingren in Luther on Vocation.

To Luther, love is a natural expression of faith.  “A person’s health shows itself in all his doings; it consists of outreaching functions, even though he who acts does not consciously ascribe his actions to his health.  But when he falls ill, he notices that he is unable to do the things he formerly did.  In like manner love ceases when faith ceases,” and “his vocation weighs upon him with its demands,” becoming “a cross, not a joy.”

In other words, faith transforms how a Christian works.  “Law, as it is embodied in the many offices, had the function…to compel man to serve others, whether or not he wished to do so.”  In this way, “vocation operates with coercion, without his heart.”  But, “in faith,” the heart has been made new.”  “Our neighbor with his need does not press upon us against our will; rather he fills us with gladness, for it is our joy to serve him.  What earthly government would compel we now do freely.”

Love, a natural expression of faith, “overcomes all circumstances,” and “gladly does what vocation calls for.”

One implication: if I find myself unable to approach work with love for those I serve through it, and my job becomes a burden, then I am lacking in faith.

How the Church Fails Businesspeople 1

Screen-shot-2012-03-06-at-5.15Keith Green said, “if you don’t have a definite call to stay here [in the US], you are called to go” as a cross-cultural missionary to another country.

This quote has consistently been a guide and a fire for my walk with God as I attempt to discern where and how I should live and work.  (There are opportunities professionally for me to work in a country in the 10/40 window, and my wife is open to examining whether or not God would lead us in that direction.)  But what I just read in How the Church Fails Businesspeople (and what can be done about it) by John C. Knapp is making me uncomfortable by forcing me to re-examine this quote.

The world of business and the world of church are kept apart, in part owing to the false dichotomy of “sacred and secular” according to Knapp.  And this leads to a “hierarchy of occupations” in the church.  Full-time clergy and missionaries at the top.  Then other paid workers in Christian ministry right below.  Then “helping professions” like social workers and nurses below that.  Finally, at bottom, are the rest: “salespeople, postal workers, accountants, business owners, electricians, corporate executives, lawyers, and countless others who comprise most of the body of Christ.”

Let’s look at that quote from Keith Green again.

“If you don’t have a definite call to stay here, you are called to go.”

I understand — I think I understand — the prophetic impulse behind the quote.  Keith Green is challenging our default position that we are not called to be missionaries unless we  hear a  “definite call.”  One can, of course, examine the biblical evidence and see whether the default position ought to be this or something else.  We have friends who are career missionaries and they advised us to wait for a strong sense of a call.  At any rate, is there an undue, perhaps unbiblical, sacred-secular distinction implicit in the quote?  By endorsing being a missionary as the proper default stance over against all other alternatives, is Keith Green unintentionally presenting a message that being a missionary is on the higher rung of the hierarchy of occupations?  Quite possibly.   Confession: it certainly did have that very effect on me the first time I heard it at a missions conference when I was a freshman in college.

Perhaps a more charitable way of interpreting the quote, though, is to see it as a necessary wake-up call to us lukewarm Christians who, out of lack of passion for God’s mission rather than as a result of hearing God’s call to stay, hold to an unexamined assumption that, of course, God wants me here, where I am comfortable, where I am respectable, where I am not subject to unpleasant surprises, crises, and challenges.  Yeah.  I like that better.

Church & Work

thinking-vocationA while back, just as I was thinking about work, I came across this review series from Michael Kruse on How the Church Fails Businesspeople by John C. Knapp.  In particular, the following quote struck me particularly powerfully:

“We should ask ourselves what is being communicated when a church allots time on Sunday morning to commission a short-term mission team for ten days in Mexico, yet does nothing to commission new college graduates for their careers in business or government or education.  The crippling and unambiguous message is that ten days of volunteer work are more important to the church — and, by implication, to God — than a Christian’s lifelong occupation.”

I can imagine a pastor protesting and saying “crippling and unambiguous” is too strong an expression.  “If we the church don’t commission the short-term mission teams, no one will,” a pastor may say.  He’d be right.  “The intent behind commissioning the mission teams isn’t to downgrade other work,” he may add.  I absolutely believe it.

The issue, though, isn’t that the church is doing the right thing, with the right intent, when it comes to the mission teams.  It is rather that a message is communicated, unintentionally I’m sure but unambiguously nonetheless, by the very absence of a commissioning service for anything else.  And the effect in fact can be “crippling” for the vast majority of the congregation who are not missionaries, clergy, or even in the “helping profession” as Knapp later points out in discussing the false hierarchy of vocations Christians often hold.

All this to say, I think I’m going to read How the Church Fails Businesspeople, alongside Luther on Vocation.