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What Luther Says

'Little Crosses On The Shoes' (Or What Luther DIDN'T Say About Vocation)

Before we jump in and take a look at something interesting I found out today, I think it's important to make sure that we're all on the same page with a firm foundation first.

With that being said, please take a minute to read this excellent piece by Gene Edward Veith titled "Vocation: The Spirituality of Ordinary Life" to help us all better understand the Doctrine of Vocation and what it means for us in our daily lives (whatever it might be like and however it may be ordered by the Lord).

Now that we've established a clear understanding of what we mean by "vocation" and what the Bible actually has to say about it, I'd like to spend some time briefly commenting on the so-called "Christian Daily Devotion For Those In Business" as well as a famous quote from Martin Luther.

It all started with an email I received this morning at work and where it led me was fascinating for sure! It's the kind of thing I love learning about, because I'm the one who's always talking about the importance of being accurate, clear, and faithful about what the Scriptures say.

No, today's post isn't about how our common understanding of a popular Bible verse is inaccurate if not flat out wrong, but about how that's aparrently the case with a popular quote attributed to Martin Luther himself.

My boss subscribes to the Os Hillman "Daily Devotion For Marketplace Leaders" (a.k.a. Business Professionals) that are emailed out every morning.

They're not awful. They're just not Lutheran, and by that I mean that they're not Christ-centered (not explicitly anyway).

Being a "Daily Devotion" for "Business Professionals," I get that the intended purpose is to create and sustain a "godly mentality" among Christians of all stripes who are currently in the Working Class.

It's a noble pursuit, and I wish there were more men and women in the world like my boss who always strives to conduct and run his business using Christian ethics and principles.

Ah, but therein lies the real danger, my friends!

See, the purpose of such daily devotions is to edify and motivate yourself (the "Old Adam" perhaps?) -- but from a purely "Business World" and worldly perspective.

In other words, Os Hillman selects a Bible verse or two, he then hones in on a particular historical narrative recorded for us in the Bible, and then builds a "Christian Business Ethic/Christian Business Principle" from the passage of the text, which very well might not be what the original divinely inspired writer intended when he wrote it!

That can be a big problem. In fact, an even bigger problem is that, if you're not careful, then you can start to substitute those "Daily Devotions For Market Leaders" for daily Bible reading and meditation that is done IN CONTEXT let alone the kind that is truly Christ-centered instead of man-centered.

There was a time when I was that guy. Yes, several years ago, I worked from my Home Office as a National Executive Recruiter (a.k.a. "Headhunter") and I subscribed to this very same daily devotion. So, I speak from personal experience when I tell you that that's precisely what can happen, because it happened to me.

The "man-centered" messages received and read each morning quickly transform into the "me-centered" kind and it becomes far too easy to separate yourself as the star of the Biblical text and teachings when this wildly successful "Christian Entrepreneur" is feeding you with a daily dish of Joel Osteen-ish junk that merely has Jesus "sprinkled on top" when He's given the standard "In Jesus' Name!" at the end of the devotion (and that's if Jesus even makes a Guest Appearance at all!).

Bottom line, there are a lot of well-meaning believers out there who are eating a steady diet of this sort of stuff, and my boss is no exception. So, when he forwarded this morning's Os Hillman devotion to the entire Team, I took it upon myself to click the "Reply All" button and send out a couple of famous quotes attributed to my man Martin Luther about vocation.

That's when I made a surprising discovery!

I came across a paper written by "F.J.G." for the Word & World: Quarterly Journal of Theology publication back in the Fall 2005 (Volume 25, Number 4) titled "What Luther Didn't Say About Vocation" after I went looking for that quote about "crosses on shoes" that I'm sure we've all heard at one time or another.

Here's the famous quote from Luther...

"The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays -- not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship."

We've all heard that one, right?

Well, apparently, he never said it or wrote it!

According to that paper I cited earlier, there is no concrete proof that the quote can be attributed to the good Doctor. Instead, the author cites another quote on vocation, and says that it most surely can be traced back to Luther and, therefore, ought to be the one we think of and share whenever the subject comes up (just for good measure, I shared both quotes in response to my bosses email!).

Here's the quote that can be traced back to Luther...

The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor. ... The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living.

Regardless of the quote you prefer to reference, here's something else to think about.

It's the reason why the author of that piece cautioned against using the more well-known Luther quote all the time whenever the topic of vocation comes up.

So, what about the maid sweeping to the glory of God because God loves clean floors and the shoemaker doing his Christian duty because God is interested in good craftsmanship? Decker thought that “the gist of the quote” could “come directly from the heart of this teacher and preacher of the faith,”6 but I’m not so sure. This does indeed sound something like other sayings of Luther, but I was suspicious at the outset because this “quote” seems altogether too slick.7 More important, its background notion that work is made “Christian” by singing hymns or appending little crosses seems altogether too modern. Luther’s foil for his doctrine of vocation was neither piety nor kitsch but rather the then Roman Catholic idea that only the call to the monastic life was a true “vocation,” not the call to make shoes or marry a spouse. The alleged word properly rejects the claim to monastic superiority, but it misunderstands vocation at its most crucial point. Work, it says, is pleasing to God because God likes quality work. This would be the American work-ethic version of vocation, theologically endorsing work as an end in itself. In the hands and mouth of a modern boss, good craftsmanship and clean floors (or a clean desk or a signed contract) to the glory of God could be a potent and tyrannical tool to promote the bottom line. Schloemann was right: what marks Luther’s doctrine of vocation is the insistence that the work is done in service of the neighbor and of the world. God likes shoes (and good ones!) not for their own sake, but because the neighbor needs shoes (and, as our African American sisters and brothers know, because someday we will need them to “walk all over God’s heaven”—Luther would no doubt have appreciated that eschatological perspective). 
It was the slippery malleability of the “Luther” behind the invented “apple tree” quote that bothered Schloemann and that he fully documented in his book. The saying has been used to imply a Luther imprimatur on the cause of the moment, some of them good and some not so good—but all too often unconcerned with the heart of Luther’s thought: the gospel of Jesus Christ and an eschatological ethic that serves Christ in the neighbor. In my opinion, that is the problem with the apparently invented quote on vocation. It rejects a certain kind of contemporary piety only to embrace a contemporary managerial vision of work, in both cases missing the mark of Luther’s actual teaching on vocation. 

Tough to argue with those points, IMHO.

Still, I've never heard of this publication before and so I'm not sure how "Confessional" (a.k.a. "faithfully Lutheran") they are although this paper would seem to give a pretty good indication I'd like to think. Just proceed with caution and let me know if you find anything that's "concerning" from them so I can update this post appropriately.

In the meantime, do read the full article. It's a short one, but gives us all something to prayerfully consider on this very important subject (particularly we Americans striving to live the "American Dream" and remain Christian in the process), and especially in this day-and-age of "the quotation is all over the Net, so it must be true!" mentality.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, yes, there are many great quotations out there that help us to properly understand the Doctrine of Vocation, but the Word of God is not all that complicated to understand either so always be sure to start there (and compare any quotes you find to God's Word).

Bottom line? I get that it's a tricky subject since many sincere Christians want to give the credit, glory, honor and praise to the Lord for any success they find in their careers (as they should).

Even so, any "daily devotion" is only as good as it proclaims Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind or, at the very least, keeps your focus on Him (not yourself) and His gifts to you (not your gifts to the world) unto salvation...not His gifts to be "manipulated" and "tapped into" unto closing that big business deal.

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

1 comment

  1. "any "daily devotion" is only as good as it proclaims Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind or, at the very least, keeps your focus on Him (not yourself) and His gifts to you (not your gifts to the world) unto salvation...not His gifts to be "manipulated" and "tapped into" unto closing that big business deal. "

    YES. A thousand times yes. Thank you for stating this so succintly -- this insidious perversion of the gospel, so worshipped in our "Christian" corporate culture. It's bugged me for years, and for a long time I wasn't sure *why* it seemed so wrong.


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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