Vocation quotes from Luther for Labor Day


Labor Day is a good day for Christians to celebrate Vocation.  That is, the teaching that our work, our family relationships, our church, our citizenship are all “callings” from God, the realms in which we live out our Christian faith as we love and serve our neighbors.  In addition to the cook-outs and the finales to our summer vacations, I invite you to meditate on the following quotations from Martin Luther, the great theologian of vocation.  (I discuss these passages in my latest book on the subject, commissioned by the Acton Institute:  Working for Our Neighbor:  A Lutheran Primer on Vocation, Economics, and Ordinary Life.)

Martin Luther on Vocation

If you are a manual laborer, you find that the Bible has been put into your workshop, into your hand, into your heart. It teaches and preaches how you should treat your neighbor. Just look at your tools—at your needle or thimble, your beer barrel, your goods, your scales or yardstick or measure—and you will read this statement inscribed on them. Everywhere you look, it stares at you. Nothing that you handle every day is so tiny that it does not continually tell you this, if you will only listen. . . .All this is continually crying out to you: “Friend, use me in your relations with your neighbor just as you would want your neighbor to use his property in his relations with you.”

Martin Luther, “Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount” (Luther’s Works 21:237)


There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do. …A cobbler, a smith, a peasant—each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops. Further, everyone must benefit and serve every other by means of his own work or office so that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, just as all the members of the body serve one another.

Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility, LW 44:127-130.


Now observe that clever harlot, our natural reason…takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and that, do this and that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you take a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or nun and compel my children to do likewise.

What then does the Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says ‘O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock this little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is pleasing in thy sight.”

Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage,” LW 45: 39-40.


[Human nature] knows nothing but its own good, or what is good and honorable and useful for itself, but not what is good for God and other people. Therefore it knows and wills more what is particular, yes, only what is an individual good. And this is in agreement with Scripture, which describes man as so turned in on himself that he uses not only physical but even spiritual goods for his own purposes and in all things seeks only himself.

This curvedness is now natural for us, a natural wickedness and a natural sinfulness. Thus man has no help from his natural powers, but he needs the aid of some power outside of himself. This is love.

Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, in LW, 25: 345.


When you pray this petition [“give us this day our daily bread”] turn your eyes to everything that can prevent our bread from coming and the crops from prospering. Therefore extend your thoughts to all the fields and do not see only the baker’s oven. You pray, therefore, against the devil and the world, who can hinder the grain by tempest and war. We pray also for temporal peace against war, because in times of war we cannot have bread. Likewise, you pray for government, for sustenance and peace, without which you cannot eat: Grant, Lord, that the grain may prosper, that the princes may keep the peace, that war may not break out, that we may give thanks to thee in peace. Therefore it would be proper to stamp the emperor’s or the princes’ coat-of-arms upon bread as well as upon money or coins.

Martin Luther, Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer (1528). LW 51:176-177.


[The ruler]  should picture Christ to himself, and say, “Behold, Christ, the supreme ruler, came to serve me; he did not seek to gain power, estate, and honor from me, but considered only my need, and directed all things to the end that I should gain power, estate, and honor from him and through him. I will do likewise, seeking from my subjects not my own advantage but theirs. I will use my office to serve and protect them, listen to their problems and defend them, and govern to the sole end that they, not I, may benefit from my rule.” In such manner should a prince in his heart empty himself of his power and authority, and take unto himself the needs of his subjects, dealing with them as though they were his own needs. For this is what Christ did to us [Phil. 2:7]; and these are the proper works of Christian love.

Martin Luther, Temporal Authority, LW 45:120.

Although the Christian is thus free from all works, he ought in this liberty to empty himself, take upon himself the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in human form, and to serve, help, and in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him. This he should do freely, having regard for nothing but divine approval. He ought to think: . . . . “I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me.”[i]. . .Just as our neighbor is in need and lacks that in which we abound, so we were in need before God and lacked his mercy. Hence, as our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians. . . .We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor.  Otherwise he is not a Christian. .He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love.”[i]

Martin Luther, Freedom of the Christian, LW 31: 366-67, 371.

“What else is all our work to God— whether in the fields, in the garden, in the city, in the house, in war, or in government—but just such a child’s performance, by which He wants to give His gifts in the fields, at home, and everywhere else? These are the masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things.”

Martin Luther, LW 14:114-115

Illustration by Timasu, on Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons



Why Lutheranism appeals to Russians


Vladimir Putin continues to crackdown on religions that are “non-traditional” to Russia, persecuting people because of their religious beliefs on a scale unknown since Soviet days.  Interestingly, Lutheranism is considered one of the “traditional” religions (as are Baptists), so that some Protestant church work is still legal.  In fact, Lutheran Christianity, as an alternative to both Orthodoxy and other kinds of Protestantism, is reportedly showing special appeal to Russians, particularly to intellectuals and scientists.

I stumbled upon an article entitled Russian Lutheranism:  Between Protestantism, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism.  in the East-West Church & Ministry Report (Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring 2003), a journal about Christian work in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe.  The authors are an Orthodox scholar and his assistant, Sergei B. Filatov and Aleksandra Styopina.

They survey the various Lutheran groups in Russia–which owe their “traditional” bona fides to the German immigrants Catherine the Great and other Czars moved in to help modernist the country, to the strongly Lutheran Ingrian ethnic group, and to Lutherans in the Baltic regions.

They say that Lutheranism appeals to Russians because its sacramentalism and liturgical worship preserves the sense of “mystery” that they value in the Orthodox Church.  Lutherans also affirm the ecumenical creeds and thus much of what Orthodoxy teaches.

But Lutheranism is said to be more “intellectual” and to promote more “freedom.”  Russians like the emphasis on the Gospel and on the Bible.  But they think Lutherans are less “extreme” in their theology than other Protestants. (Whatever that means.)  They appreciate how Lutherans teach that salvation is by grace alone, and yet avoid the predestinarianism of Calvinists.

Also the Lutheran theology of culture–the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms–allows them to affirm Russian culture in a way that other kinds of Protestantism can’t or won’t.

Though there have been some liberal Lutherans, most Russian Lutherans have avoided the liberalism of so much of Western Christianity.  That too is a plus for Russians.

The authors quote a theater director who became a Lutheran and the founder of the Bible Lutheran Church. an example of the artists, intellectuals, and scientists that the article says are especially attracted to Lutheranism.   He is now a fierce of the liberal Lutheran church in Germany, which had attempted mission work in Russia and which,he says, “is penetrated by the ideas of Calvinism, Baptism, feminism, moral relativism, and secularism and is an example of spiritual degradation.”

The authors quote from a pastor of the Bible Lutheran Church in Irkutsk, words that I find astonishing:

“There are two major religions in Russia, Orthodoxy and Lutheranism. Since the sixteenth century Lutheranism together with Orthodoxy has formed a part of Russian culture, science, and politics. Without the Lutheran tradition in Russia, only half of Russia would be left and the Lutheran part is not the worst half. You will become tired if you start counting everything that Lutherans have given to Russia. The regeneration of Russian Lutheranism is the restoration of the natural order of things.”

I suppose he is referring to Catherine the Great, a Lutheran before having to convert to Orthodoxy, who brought Western education and universities to Russia, along with the other Lutheran immigrants who were instrumental in bringing science, industry, and technology to what was otherwise a backward land.  Russia is a unique hybrid of Asiatic and European culture.  I suspect the pastor is crediting Lutheranism for the European part, though whether this is completely accurate I cannot say.

This article was published back in 2003, so I’m not sure of the situation today.

I offer this not only for what it says about Russia, but what it says about the ways Lutheranism might also speak to America and to Europe today.

Photograph of service in Sts. Peter & Paul Lutheran Cathedral in Moscow by Bischof Brauer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons



Democrats announce their “better deal”


Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his “New Deal.”  Now Democrats have unveiled their “Better Deal.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer, appearing with other Congressional Democrats, repeatedly used that phrase in announcing his party’s new policies.

The Better Deal aims to accomplish three things, in Shumer’s words:  “First, we’re going to increase people’s pay. Second, we’re going to reduce their everyday expenses. And third, we’re going to provide workers the tools they need for the 21st century economy.”

He then laid out several government initiatives that Democrats want to undertake to achieve those goals.

It doesn’t seem to measure up to the ambition of the New Deal or Lyndon Baines Johnson’s The Great Society.   Nothing trulyk ambitious or big-scale, like adopting a single payer health care plan like Great Britain’s or building a Welfare State like Sweden’s.  Increase people’s pay and make things cost less?  That sounds rather anti-climactic for the rhetorical build-up.

Is this a winning slogan?  A winning set of policies?


The Muslim civil war


Syria is the focal point of a global war between Shi’ite Muslims (led by Iran, with the support of Russia) and Sunni Muslims (led by Saudi Arabia, with support from the United States).

Charles Krauthammer describes the situation and explains the overall strategy, which I excerpt after the jump.

Can someone explain why the United States is involved in this conflict so deeply?  Why do we favor the Sunnis against the Shi’ites?  After all, ISIS is Sunni.  So is Al-Qaida.  And the Shi’ites are fighting them.

Both factions have their Islamic terrorists.  Both want to destroy Israel.

Is our position due to our desire to thwart Russia’s influence and its access to the Mediterranean Sea?  To our hostility to Iran that dates back to Jimmy Carter’s hostage crisis?  To our entanglement in Iraq, a country that has both Sunni and Shi’ite factions?

Yes, we have business ties to the Saudis and other Sunni countries. Are these reasons worth our involvement in what is, in effect, a Muslim civil war?  Or are there other issues that I am missing?

Map:  On a scale, the red shows the percentage of Shi’a Muslims; green shows the percentage of Sunni Muslims. Map by Baba66, NordNordWest. Before changing this file, please look at the detailed information provided in its source code. (Own work, Data from CIA World Factbook, ca. 2005) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons


Dissolving Illinois


Due to its long history of corruption, political paralysis, and bad management, the state of Illinois is a basketcase.  It has $15 billion in unpaid bills, $251 billion in pension liability, and a looming revenue drop.  It hasn’t had a budget in three years.

State lawmakers are meeting in a special session with a July 1 deadline, but are making little progress in finding a way forward.  If they don’t, two major bond-rating services are saying they will downgrade the state’s bonds to “junk.”

Any attempt to raise money by selling bonds–which is inevitable, since the state has such a big shortfall–would demand the highest interest rates, assuming any investors would take the risk.  That, in turn, would mean the state would have even less money, which sets up a death spiral.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass is proposing that Illinois just be dissolved.  Distribute its land to the surrounding states.  Chicago can be split between Indiana and Wisconsin (which can rename its part of the city “South Milwaukee”).  We can have the Milwaukee Cubs and the Indiana White Sox.  He goes on in this vein for Iowa, Kentucky, and Missouri.

He is being (mostly) facetious, but I don’t know what happens if a state implodes on this scale.  Any ideas or suggestions (facetious or serious) about what Illinois should do?

Read both an account of the problem and the proposal for dissolution after the jump.


Five sentences that killed 200,000 Americans


Addiction to opioid painkillers has killed nearly 200,000 Americans and has devastated far more lives than that.  How could this have happened?

A study has traced the problem to a five sentence, 101 word letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980.  The letter described a study of 12,000 hospital patients who were given narcotic painkillers.  It said that there were only four cases of addiction.  It concluded that there was therefore little danger in prescribing opioid painkillers.

That letter was cited and referred to in study after study.  It led doctors to prescribe that medication on a massive scale.

Unfortunately, the letter was mistaken, as a story explains after the jump.  But it led directly to the scourge that we are struggling with today.


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