I don't know about you, but as an ex-Evangelical who was constantly told that I had to "Do Better! Do More!" for Jesus to demonstrate my "crazy love" for Him by living a more "radical" life, I'll never forget how comforting it was when I was first introduced to this doctrine.
Lately, however, I've been engaged in a bit of a personal struggle as it pertains to my vocations in life. In fact, this internal uncertainty has caused so many sleepless nights in recent months that it has even led me to make some major decisions, which will certainly affect me and my family.
Not that any of them are "bad" or "negative" per se, but it's easy to get caught up in the "What If?" game of always second-guessing yourself even when you're a Bible-believing Christian who already knows that this doctrine teaches us about such matters.
For that reason, I found it incredibly comforting to go back and reread one of the best pieces I ever read on the Doctrine of Vocation written by Pastor Andrew Preus.
In a day and age where every single Christian I know seems to want to always speak piously and self-righteously of being "called" to something or other, he reminds us...
So really, the Doctrine of Vocation is really the teaching of the Third Use of the Law. It teaches that God has created work for us to do. And while often we might be guessing what this work is, we more often than not have some clear direction in God’s Word. But it isn’t like God gives us a checklist or a step-by-step program. He simply teaches us what the Christian life looks like by teaching us what He has instituted for this life. The culture has taught us a warped version of God’s Law, completely rejecting the order of creation. But this order is not meant to be burdensome. It is burdensome only because we are sinners, and we stand accused. But when we keep our minds set on what God has actually instituted, we are given perspective. And we cling to God’s promise through faith, knowing that He has taken away the Law’s accusations.
Ok, great, but what does that actually mean though? What does that have to do with my day-to-day career let alone the other non-paying roles I've been given to serve as a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend (to name a few) let's say?
Since the word “vocation” is thrown around so much, I have been trying to work out in my mind and through study of God’s Word how we may actually speak of and teach about vocation. The following reflects what I have been working through for a few years, and I would appreciate any input.
Vocation is from the Latin word, vocatio, a calling. If something is your calling, then that means that God called you to do it; it means God told you to do it. And if God told you to do X, then it follows that he ordained and instituted the specific work of X. There are particular vocations, such as pastor, father, mother, husband, wife, and child. God has also instituted the government to maintain worldly order and peace.
And then there is the general vocation that he extends to all Christians, known as the call of love (vocatio charitatis). Some particular estates or vocations take priority over others. If a Christian holds a governing office, and he is neglecting his family, then he should step down from his office. In fact, the same goes with a pastor (1 Timothy 3:4,5). We consider the preaching office both spiritually as well as orderly, that is, in the order of creation. This is why Paul forbids women from teaching and preaching publicly (1 Timothy 2:12-14; 1 Corinthians 14:34-37). Now, according to its specific task to preach the gospel, the office of pastor is the highest office (1 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 13:17). But according to creation, the office of parent takes the cake (Large Catechism I, 141).
So God called me to be a father, a husband, a brother, a brother in Christ, a neighbor, and a citizen. He has also called me to be a pastor, though it won’t be ratified for another month.
What do all of these things listed have in common? That they entail good works and service for the church? Sure, that’s one thing. But more specifically, they are all instituted by God. I really can’t say for sure that God called me to do something -- that is to say, God told me to -- unless he has actually instituted and commanded it in his Word. All of these vocations listed above are actually instituted by God in his Word. If such or such an office is not instituted and specifically commanded by God in his Word, then we have no certainty or liberty to say that someone has a call to such office. A humanly instituted office may include very good work that serves the church, the home, and society, but that does not mean that that office is itself a vocation from God. It may contribute to a specific vocation -- and certainly often does! -- but we cannot call it a vocation as such unless God has actually said so.
Allow me to give some examples of services that, though often beneficial to assisting divinely instituted vocations, are not themselves vocations.
This isn't the first time we've tried to tackle a topic that is largely ignored by most churches for some reason, but like I said earlier, this commentary by Pastor Preus seems to be one of the best treatments of this subject that I've seen so I hope you found it helpful too.
At the end of the day, the key is to make sure we properly understand the Biblical Doctrine of Vocation without allowing it to be tainted (even if it's ever so slightly) by the "American Dream" or the Americanized-version, which places the ultimate value on "doing a good job" rather than keeping the emphasis squarely on simply serving your neighbor by doing good works in service to them (the previous post I wrote that hyperlinked above will address that in greater detail in case you're not too sure what I mean by that).
I think it's important to remind ourselves what we tend to so often forget...
Your specific job description is not what defines you in your vocation as a Christian unless that job description is specifically given and commanded by God. What is given and commanded by God is that you serve and help your neighbor. So if you are a deaconess, a school teacher, a financial planner, a journalist, or a candle-stick maker, you use your occupation to serve your neighbor. But the occupation might change.
So let’s think about how we speak of vocation. A vocation is not simply whatever job you have managed to get. It is a bit simplistic to define vocation as: “Having a job that isn’t in itself sinful + Being a Christian = Having a Vocation.” Now, your general vocation is to love your neighbor, which includes whatever boss or supervisor who might have authority over you. But just because you are called by God to treat whoever has authority over you with honor and respect does not mean that the occupation you have, in which you fulfill this general call, is, as such, your vocation.
A Christian man, in Christian liberty, is free to quit his job as a cook, for example, if he finds, according to the call of love, that he would be better off doing something else to serve his neighbor. Often a woman who serves as a deaconess or a school teacher -- or whatever -- determines, according to the law of love and in Christian liberty, that she should quit her job for the sake of her family or perhaps for some other godly reason. According to the call of love, it behooves them to give their supervisors as much due notice as possible before they quit their particular occupations. But they are nevertheless free to make these decisions.
On the other hand, a man is not free in the gospel to quit being a father or to prevent himself and his wife from being parents in order to fulfill some other aspiration. The same is true for mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, Christian brothers and sisters, and pastors.
This article has been almost completely law. And that’s alright, but since I am compelled to speak (or write) the gospel, here is how it relates. When God tells you to do something specific, the comfort is in the fact that what he has created he has also redeemed. When God tells you to be a father, he does this by means of giving you a son or a daughter. He sets you in an office that he created by creating that which makes you in the office. And he redeems his creation. That is to say, he forgives you your sins that you commit in your calling and credits to you through faith the obedience of his Servant whom he has sent.
God gives you neighbors to love, teaching you how to love your neighbor. He desires to save all of your neighbors (1 Timothy 2:4). And your service to your neighbor is not in vain. Even when a Christian laments over his heathen acquaintances who only seem to scoff at his Christian confession, he can take comfort in Christ’s promise that whoever confesses him before men has the comfort of Christ’s intercession to his Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32).
In other words, by God’s grace, solely because of Jesus’ merit, our labors are not in vain. And a Christian who labors in the work that was prepared for him to walk in (Ephesians 2:10) knows that he serves not man, but his Lord, who is gentle and kind to him (Colossians 3:24) and has saved him by grace (Ephesians 2:8,9), confident that his Lord rewards him, not because of his own efforts and struggles, but because of the merits of Christ (Ephesians 6:7,8).
As previously mentioned, I found that reading this piece helped me to better understand the Doctrine of Vocation in all it's beauty.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, "we extol all good works that contribute to the the general vocation of loving the neighbor."
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Executive Recruiter, 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 disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 2 years ago now. 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 repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" 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!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, 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 they are not blasphemous/heretical, 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 both past and present 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 (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). 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 "Christian 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. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!