In our efforts to Christianize “Labor Day” by turning it into a feast day celebrating the Doctrine of Vocation, I would like to offer you some recent reflections on why vocation is so important, how it can solve so many of the problems Christians are currently struggling with, and how it has the potential to revitalize contemporary Christianity.
This is from the introduction to the chapter on vocation that I wrote with Trevor Sutton in our book Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Post-Modern World:
The Reformation contributed three major teachings that would characterize Protestantism in all its diversity: justification by faith, the authority of Scripture, and the doctrine of vocation. The first two still have currency, despite recent criticisms. But the concept of vocation has been gradually lost. First it was turned into a “work ethic.” Then it turned into a pious attitude empty of specific content. Eventually it was reduced to just another synonym for “a job.”
Vocation was never meant to be just another word for “occupation.” Rather, it was originally about the Christian life that is fully integrated, meaningful, and teeming with purpose. Vocation was the locus for other important teachings, such as the priesthood of all believers, good works, and sanctification. It was not merely a theoretical teaching; rather, as taught in the early Reformation catechisms and sermons, the doctrine of vocation gave practical guidance to Christians in their marriages, parenthood, economic activity, and their role as citizens.
The doctrine of vocation shows Christians how to live out their faith in the world. It is about God’s presence in the world and how He works through human beings for His purposes. For Christians, vocation discloses the spirituality of everyday life.
Today Christians are greatly confused about how they should relate to the world. This is evident in the controversies about political involvement and cultural engagement. On the personal scale, champions of “family values” have a soaring divorce rate. Many Christians compartmentalize their lives, conforming to a consumerist and materialistic culture, while pursuing transcendent spiritual experiences that have little to do with their everyday lives. Christians today are variously—and sometimes simultaneously—waging culture wars, withdrawing from the world, and conforming to it.
The time is right to recover the doctrine of vocation. Doing so would revitalize contemporary Christianity and show Christians how once again they can be the world’s salt and light.
The chapter goes on with sections on “Vocation and the Bible,” “Luther on Vocation,” “The Christian’s Multiple Vocations” (including Luther’s important but oft-neglected doctrine of the Estates [the church, the household, the state, and the common order of Christian love], “The Importance of Vocation in the Christian Life,” “The Purpose of Vocation,” “The Priesthood and Its Sacrifices,” and “Vocation and Transfiguration.”
Those of you who have been interested in my writings on vocation–especially my books God at Work, Family Vocation (with Mary Moerbe), and Working for Our Neighbor–might also appreciate this new overview that can be found in Authentic Christianity.
You can buy the book–which also includes similar treatments of God, justification, the cross, the sacraments, the two kingdoms, and sanctification– here.
Illustration: “Happy Labor Day Cross Drawing,” Creative Commons, CC0 via Pixy.org