• Roger Duke

Calling and the Christian Life | Episode 1



Editors Note: This is part 1 of the introduction to Concerning This Concept of “Calling” which is the first chapter in The Four Callings of William Carey. Dr. Roger D. Duke explores the question, "What is our calling?" Dr. Roger D. Duke serves as the Scholar-in-Residence at Stage & Story.

 

When people normally think of the word “calling,” minds immediately turn to the clergy or professional church minister. Because of this understanding, very seldom is the word “calling” associated with or synonymous to the word “vocation.”


DEFINING VOCATION



Please understand the word vocation can be used in several ways. It comes from a Latin term that means “calling.” [1] In the Church realm, it is employed as God’s calling of men and women into His Kingdom by the preaching of the Gospel. It is also used to denote someone of the clergy. On the other hand, in secular terms, it can mean a trade, profession, or employment someone might follow.



This distinction between the “secular” and the “sacred” was maintained by the Roman Catholic tradition until the time of the Reformation. It is the basis for the idea of separate clergy and laity. [2] This was a false dichotomy that the reformers labored to rebut.


Martin Luther taught there was no distinction between the secular and the sacred. This theological praxis was one major issue separating the Roman Church from the teachings of Luther and Calvin. [3]



VOCATION AS A STATION

For Luther, vocation was a “station” where one had been placed to be helpful to those neighbors and community around them. The duty of the station was to be “done as unto the Lord.” Theology demonstrates the biological order, i.e., father, mother, son, or daughter. Each of these is a “calling.” [4]



Luther taught, when there was a difference in the spheres of home and office, problems would naturally arise. In the home, Christians love rules, in the office more impersonal regulations of the vocation hold sway.


GOD DOESN'T NEED YOUR GOOD WORKS


Service to others or love of neighbor should be the driving force in all venues, for it is in these different areas where we fill our different callings. For life at home, the relation between parents and children is a vocation. Even as in the field of labor the relationship between the employer and employee is a vocation.



Luther asserted, “In anything that involves action, anything that concerns the world or my relationship with my neighbor, there is nothing that falls in a private sphere lying outside of [my] station, office, or vocation." [5]


Humans are in community in this life and “It is only before God in heaven, that the individual stands alone.” [6] Here below, our purpose is to love and serve our neighbor, whoever s/he might be. [7] The discharge of one’s vocation is primary to fulfilling the Royal Law (See: James 1:8).


In Luther’s mind, it was clear that every Christian held various “offices” or callings concurrently. One person, a male, for instance, would be father to his children, husband to his wife, master of his servants, and civic or political leader. [8]


All of these are vocations or callings of the same person. Each office has its own responsibility connected with it and is to exercise it for the good of the neighbor. Gustaf Wingren has rightly observed, “God does not need our good work, but our neighbor does.” [9]

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Crossway: Wheaton, 2002), 17.

[2] For a fuller discussion of the Roman Catholic tradition’s dichotomy see: “The ‘Catholic Distortion’” in Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: The W Publishing Group Division of Thomas Nelson, 2003), 31-35.

[3] Phillip S. Watson, “Abstract: Luther’s Doctrine of Vocation.” Scottish Journal of Theology Volume 2 Issue 4 (February 2009), 364-380; internet address https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/scottish-journal-of-theology/article/luthers-doctrine-of-vocation/A2E03 45C9D732002D25493E18A88C75E DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0036930600004841, retrieved June 2, 2017.


[4] Throughout the concepts of “vocation,” “calling,” “offices,” and “station” used interchangeably.