The Reformation Recovery of Calling

In this past Sunday’s sermon I referenced a Christian perspective on “calling.” This was an idea that was recaptured during the Reformation. Martin Luther contributed greatly to our understanding of this doctrine through his own writings.

In Luther’s day, the only people who were thought to have a “calling” were priests, nuns, monks, and others who entered service in the church. Other vocations were second class, if you will. If you truly wanted a life that pleased God, it was thought, you pursued a vocation in the church.

Luther affirmed that all vocations are an opportunity to bring God glory- regardless if they were in the church or not. He taught that it brought God just as much glory to raise crops to the glory of God as it did to preach sermons. Why? Because each was doing what God had gifted them to do and to be.

In my own life, I have sensed how the former understanding of calling has slipped back into the church. We hear talk of someone “surrendering to the call to ministry” in some mystical sense. This is viewed as a high, holy experience. In some ways this pre-Reformation understanding is still around.

But God’s word tells us that we are to live all of life to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31). A man called and gifted as a construction worker who uses his gifts to God’s glory is just as validated in his calling as a missionary planting churches in a foreign land. Why? Again, because both are using the gifts and talents God has given. My gifts are in pastoral ministry but you don’t want me fixing your car or designing a bridge.

The concept of calling does not mean that work is merely to be a platform for something we view as “spiritual.” This means that we bring God glory through our actual jobs as we serve God and neighbor. In the book The Legacy of Luther edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols, we read these words by Gene Veith: “But it is not necessary to always spiritualize what we do by using it as a pretext for churchly activities. The vocation itself- on the factory floor or the office cubicle, in the home, or the community- has value in God’s sight. It is the place of love and service, sin and forgiveness, faith and sanctification.” (p.188)

I hope you find the concept of calling one that encourages you. Callings can change over time. The student of today may be the pilot of tomorrow. The young mother of toddlers will be the mother of teens of tomorrow. Life has its seasons. We can serve one another by helping each other understand our callings and encourage one another in those callings.