Vocation vs. Churchianity

I love to see what happens when people discover Luther’s  doctrine of vocation.  Here Chaplain Mike at Internetmonk looks at St. Paul’s exhortation for the Christian life and contrasts it with what we hear from most pulpits today:

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.

• 1Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NLT)

Chaplain Mike then contrasts that with what we would be more likely to hear from pulpits today:

In today’s church, we might have expected Paul to give a list of doable activities that one could perform on behalf of others to express love.

We have this thing about being “practical,” and we want to know the “steps” of “application.” We value creative ideas, instructions, a manual with directions to follow. We want to know which books to read, which videos to watch, which seminars to attend, which websites to consult, which counselor can help us make the breakthroughs we need to live this out more fully. Paul does not oblige.

• In today’s church, we might have expected Paul to give examples or tell a story that touches our hearts about how someone showed extraordinary, exemplary love for another, how a person showed sacrificial generosity toward another—perhaps an unworthy recipient—and how God blessed as a result.

Perhaps the person who received love opened his or her heart to Christ. Or maybe the person who sacrificed received back abundant blessings from the Lord for showing such love. Maybe a marriage was saved, a prodigal came home, a life turned around. Perhaps a video clip would be shown of people extending themselves in remarkable ways to serve and bless others. But Paul gives no such heart-tugging motivational example or story. . . .

Paul’s encouragement, instead, must seem remarkably lackluster and ordinary from the point of view of those who invest so much in spiritual engineering and technology, motivational methods, and churchianity. . . .

• Live a quiet life.

• Mind your own business.

• Work with your hands.

The best way to show Christian love to others? It almost sounds like a prescription for a small, selfish life! Yet this is how the Apostle, by divine inspiration, encourages us to live.

Paul commends a life that is the very opposite of activist churchianity. Instead, he advocates the way of Christian vocation—Walk humbly and quietly with God. Don’t think it’s your job to change the world. Quit sticking your nose in everybody else’s business. Do your work and do it well. Let Christ’s love for others grow naturally out of that soil. Earn the respect of your neighbors over time as you live your life in Christ. Slow down. Get small. Run quiet. Go deep. Grow up. Keep on keeping on. Stand on your own two feet. Become a mature human being.

Not sexy at all. Kind of disappointing.

Maybe the video will be more practical.

via Paul’s Disappointing Approach to the Christian Life | internetmonk.com.

Raising children so they will go to church as adults

This has been out for awhile, but I just came across it in the course of some research.   Basically, if fathers go to church, their children will when they grow up.  If fathers don’t, even if the mothers do, the children won’t.

In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for our masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.

If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.

Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

Before mothers despair, there is some consolation for faithful moms. Where the mother is less regular than the father but attends occasionally, her presence ensures that only a quarter of her children will never attend at all.

Even when the father is an irregular attender there are some extraordinary effects. An irregular father and a non-practicing mother will yield 25 percent of their children as regular attenders in their future life and a further 23 percent as irregulars. This is twelve times the yield where the roles are reversed.

Where neither parent practices, to nobody’s very great surprise, only 4 percent of children will become regular attenders and 15 percent irregulars. Eighty percent will be lost to the faith.

While mother’s regularity, on its own, has scarcely any long-term effect on children’s regularity (except the marginally negative one it has in some circumstances), it does help prevent children from drifting away entirely. Faithful mothers produce irregular attenders. Non-practicing mothers change the irregulars into non-attenders. But mothers have even their beneficial influence only in complementarity with the practice of the father.

In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!

via Touchstone Archives: The Truth About Men & Church.

Yes, this is a study of Switzerland, which has many cultural differences from the United States.  In Europe, women have been taking the lead in church-going, and this may explain the relatively sudden secularization of that once-Christian continent.  The study is from 1994.  Still, the results are fascinating.  In your experience, do you think the study applies here?

It may be that the Lord has made it easy for fathers to carry out their calling to bring their children up in the instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).  All you’ve got to do, dads, is take your kids to church.  Can you do that?

Saying grace

The Religious News Service reports on a study about how many Americans have a prayer of thanksgiving before meals:

These days, 44 percent of Americans report saying grace or a similar blessing almost every day before eating; 46 percent almost never say it, leaving just a statistical sliver in between, Putnam and Campbell report in their recently published book, “American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us.”

“We are hard-pressed to think of many other behaviors that are so common among one half the population and rare among the other half—maybe carrying a purse,” Putnam and Campbell write.

Yet unlike wearing a purse, grace is often a private act: a quiet prayer around a kitchen table, a quick thanks in a crowded restaurant, or a bowed head before a bowl of soup.

“Saying grace is a very personalized form of religious expression,” Campbell said in an interview. “It’s something you do in your home, with your family.”

The privacy of saying grace—it’s not often shouted from rooftops—makes it a better measure of religious commitment than asking people if they go to church, Campbell said. Giving thanks for food isn’t generally said or done to impress the neighbors.

But the private prayer has strong connections to public positions, especially political ones, according to Putnam and Campbell. “Indeed, few things about a person correspond as tightly to partisanship as grace saying,” the scholars write in “American Grace.”

The more often you say grace, the more likely you are to identify with the Republican Party, Putnam and Campbell report. By turns, of course, the less you say grace, the more likely you are to identify with Democrats, the scholars said.

But there is one big exception to the prayer-politics connection. Eighty-five percent of African Americans report saying grace daily, a far higher rate than even Mormons, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, the runners-up in grace-saying. The rate for evangelicals, for instance, is 58 percent. Yet, blacks remain stalwarts in the Democratic Party.

via Comment on “How, or if, you give thanks speaks volumes”.

Only 58% of evangelicals pray before they eat?  So 42% do not?  That sounds odd.  I wonder in what sense the non-prayers are evangelical.  I also don’t understand the correlation between Republicanism and saying grace.  Aren’t Republicans supposed to be the big money materialists?  Have Democrats really become that secularist?  It doesn’t surprise me that African Americans pray so much. But why do you think all of this is?

By the way, some time ago I sort of complained about the ubiquitous Lutheran table prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. . . .”  I’m over that.  Now I think it’s a good prayer, and we’ve started to use it.  It’s especially fitting for Advent!

Saying thanks before meals is a good way to cultivate the consciousness of vocation.  In thanking God, as the source of our daily bread, we recognize that He works through the farmers, the bakers, the hands that prepared the meal, and everyone else involved in the vast network of mutual interdependence that is vocation.

News we can choose

Old school journalist Ted Koppel lambastes both MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, concluding with this:

The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.

And so, among the many benefits we have come to believe the founding fathers intended for us, the latest is news we can choose. Beginning, perhaps, from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable, Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it. They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.

via Ted Koppel: Olbermann, O’Reilly and the death of real news.

One could argue that Ted Koppel himself was not completely objective and that his pioneering night time news show tended to tilt to the left.  And yet, if it is impossible to be objective in the news business, doesn’t that mean the postmodernists are right when they say that every group has its own “truth”?

Isn’t there a danger in only hearing what we want to hear?  Maybe conservatives should listen to MSNBC and liberals should listen to Fox.  Do you have any other solutions to this syndrome?

The Vocation of Military Service

In honor of Veterans’ Day and to salute those who served in the military, I would like to hear from those of you who are veterans.  How did military service impact your life?  What did it do for your character, personality, beliefs, etc.?  Those of you who have been in combat, did you come out of that traumatized or stronger or a bit of both or what?  (All of this has to do with the military as vocation.)

Bringing the Reformation to Protestantism

The original Reformation, whose anniversary we mark on October 31, began in 1517 as an attempt to bring medieval Catholicism back to the Gospel, the Bible, and Vocation. It has occurred to me that today the various Protestant churches need that same Reformation.

THE GOSPEL. Luther nailed his theses on the church door to challenge the practice of selling indulgences. In effect, people were told to give their money to the church, whereupon they would get to go straight to eternal happiness in Heaven. Today, in many Protestant churches, people are being told to give their money to the church, whereupon they are told that they will get health, wealth, and temporal happiness in this world. But the Prosperity Gospel is not the Gospel!

Neither is the Social Gospel of the liberal mainline Protestants, which construe the Kingdom of Heaven as an earthly utopia. Neither is the Social Gospel of many conservative churches, which construe the Kingdom of Heaven as an American civil religion.

In sophisticated theological circles, both of mainline Protestants and among a surprising number of evangelicals, the Gospel has to do with inclusion, of being accepted into the church community. The “New Perspective on Paul” says that the Apostle did not teach justification by grace through faith apart from the Law, as Protestants used to all agree. Rather, by “Law,” he just meant the setting aside of the Judaic ceremonial law. He was concerned with inclusiveness, of allowing Gentiles to become full members of the church alongside of Jews. Not salvation from the guilt and sin that comes from violating the moral law. Similarly, the business of the church today should be including everybody, not proclaiming a supernatural salvation grounded in redemption from sin.

The actual Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has, through His life, death, and resurrection, atoned for the sins of the world. The Protestantism that has drifted away from this Gospel is in need of Reformation.

THE BIBLE. Medieval Catholicism did believe in the Bible. They just didn’t use it much. Today’s mainline Protestants don’t believe in it at all. Many conservative Protestants believe in it–acknowledging its authority, inerrancy and all–but they have stopped reading it in their services and their sermons sometimes have not a shred of Scripture in them. Instead, the preaching is about self-help, pop psychology, politics, or generic inspiration. Sometimes the message is “believe in yourself” or even “have faith in yourself.”

The Reformers taught that the Word of God is not only authoritative, but a means of Grace. They preached the Law, to bring their listeners to repentance, and then they proclaimed the Gospel of free forgiveness in Christ. In the words of Walther, they preached faith into their listeners’ hearts.

The Protestantism that has drifted away from the Word of God is in need of Reformation.

VOCATION. Medieval Catholicism believed that the highest holiness required rejecting marriage, economic labor, and participation in the state. Instead, they required their clergy to take vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience to church authorities (to whose laws they were subject instead of the laws of the land). The Reformation taught that God calls all Christians to love and serve their neighbors in the vocations of the family, the workplace, the state, and the church. God Himself is present in vocations. Vocation was the Reformation doctrine of the Christian life.

Today, many Protestants are torn between a hyperspirituality that denies the significance of earthly life and a hypermaterialism. They do not know how to express their faith in their vocation as citizens. In their work, they either try to formulate a distinctly Christian way of exercising their professions, or they consider their work to be nothing more than a way to keep themselves alive and prosperous until they can go to church and engage in “church work” through the week. Meanwhile, the Christian family is at risk, as the divorce rate is as bad or even somewhat worse than that for unbelievers, a clear sign that Protestants have forgotten the vocation of the family.

The doctrine of Vocation solves the Christian’s problems of cultural engagement, political involvement, and being “in, but not of” the world. It does so by affirming the spiritual significance of the “secular” order while preventing the Church from being secularized.

The Protestantism that has drifted away from Vocation is in need of Reformation.


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