Those two doctrines of vocation

Here is what I was referring to in my coffee post: Calvin’s doctrine of vocation tends to emphasize working for the glory of God. That CAN result in doing things in isolation, a perfectionism that can be seen as “doing something for God,” possibly degenerating into a kind of work righteousness (as opposed to “works righteousness”). It CAN degenerate into scorn and ill-treatment of those human beings who are actually around us, resenting family members or customers for getting in the way of our work.

Luther, on the other hand, emphasized that vocation does not presume to serve God; rather, it serves our neighbor. Actually, God Himself serves our neighbor through our hands when we work in our callings. Thus, the focus in vocation must always be on the neighbor whom we are to love and serve.

Of course, we are to both glorify God and serve our neighbors, not playing these off against each other. The way God commands us to glorify Him is precisely to love and serve our neighbors, so these are not really in opposition. And, as was said, loving and serving our neighbor should include giving him the very best we can, and not just fulfilling him his possibly unworthy desires.

Right, we don’t know whether or not the barista in question is a Christian whose obsession with excellence was motivated by a desire to glorify God. I have, however, known Christians who pursued their work out of a religious motive but without regard of their neighbors. Also, there is no reason why Luther’s emphasis could not be shared by someone of some other theology, though his notion that God usually works through means–and ordinary, physical means at that–might not be accepted by hyperspiritual theologies.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Philip Larson

    Concerning Calvin’s view of vocation, *every* position, even the most biblical, can be warped. That sinners can warp a faithful position is no proof of its inferiority, of course. Rather, I would want to know if a position *implies* an error.

    This is from a hopelessly biased Calvinist, of course! I’ve thought that Luther’s views here were generally very compatible with Calvin’s. I love Luther’s insight that vocation is a way to love my neighbor.

    On whether my vocation is service to God, we know that it is from Col. 3:24 since even slave labor is “Christian service.”

  • Philip Larson

    Concerning Calvin’s view of vocation, *every* position, even the most biblical, can be warped. That sinners can warp a faithful position is no proof of its inferiority, of course. Rather, I would want to know if a position *implies* an error.

    This is from a hopelessly biased Calvinist, of course! I’ve thought that Luther’s views here were generally very compatible with Calvin’s. I love Luther’s insight that vocation is a way to love my neighbor.

    On whether my vocation is service to God, we know that it is from Col. 3:24 since even slave labor is “Christian service.”

  • Billye

    Thank you for your clarification of the previous post. God does not need our good work–but our neighbor does–whether we do that through our work or in our everyday activities.

  • Billye

    Thank you for your clarification of the previous post. God does not need our good work–but our neighbor does–whether we do that through our work or in our everyday activities.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I still don’t see a huge difference here. On one hand, you get people who try and glorify God by glorifying coffee and irritating customers. On the other, you get people who think that anything is good as long as it pleases the customer.

    Neither fulfills either a Reformed or Lutheran view. There are very real and major differences between the two theological systems; I’m just not persuaded that this is one of them.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I still don’t see a huge difference here. On one hand, you get people who try and glorify God by glorifying coffee and irritating customers. On the other, you get people who think that anything is good as long as it pleases the customer.

    Neither fulfills either a Reformed or Lutheran view. There are very real and major differences between the two theological systems; I’m just not persuaded that this is one of them.

  • Anon

    It is not glorifying to God to live out ones vocations in ways that do not bless our neighbors, and if one is not living consciously to glorify God in serving our neighbors, we are not -truly- serving our neighbor’s best interests. Is this not so?

  • Anon

    It is not glorifying to God to live out ones vocations in ways that do not bless our neighbors, and if one is not living consciously to glorify God in serving our neighbors, we are not -truly- serving our neighbor’s best interests. Is this not so?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X