Updated: Apr 10
Ask people the following: when they are on the job, walking or standing still, eating, drinking, sleeping, or engaging in any activity that sustains the body or promotes the common good, do they consider their actions to be good works pleasing to God? You will find that they say no. They define good works very narrowly and confine them to church-related activities such as praying, fasting, and giving alms.
Tranvik, Mark D.. Martin Luther and the Called Life (p. 1). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
We need to recognize that Luther regularly preached the theology of Justification and this is important and crucial but this is just one side of the coin. The other side that was not being emphasize enough would be his teaching on vocation. Luther's understanding of the Word became flesh happens in the actual lives of his people and this is the basis of his notion of God's calling. He wanted them to understand that the great truth of God’s saving grace is carried to the farmer’s field, the mason’s quarry, and the midwife’s birth chamber. This is not only within the realm of work but the callings extend to the conversations with friends and the trials and joys of marriage and family life. It encompasses the whole domain of our relationship.
Although the quest for meaning of life, is a 20th century struggle, for Luther that quest appear in his world as the struggle of the faith within the power of God and satan. The domain of the work is on earth and according to Luther, we as human being needed to be connected to something we could trust, which give meaning and value to life. For Luther that is 'God'. Like it or not, Luther believed a theological perspective was hardwired into the human condition of work. When conceived this way, perhaps the distance between Luther’s world and ours is not as far as it seems when we are also looking for something to trust as we move into the 21st century. Luther provides us a way of thinking about God and life that is not tied to performance but about God that is present and actively participating in the life of the people. This is the realm of vocation and work and this is crucial for the continuation of life, as how God would have cared for them.
We understand that the chief article of the Lutheran faith, is about justification by faith through grace, where we are imputed with God's righteousness, not by works but by faith through grace. This imputation changes us, for it did not happened in an abstract but in the real life of the ups and downs in the world of family, career, studies, friendship and communities. Without an understanding of vocation, the earthly corollary to justification, is that the Word may enter the mind, but it really doesn’t return the justified sinner to the created world of real life. Vocation, justification and sanctification remain 3 doctrines that are so connected to one another that our life cannot be devoid of least we miss out the plan fo God in our life.
While many Christian churches have embraced an understanding of vocation and see it as central to their work, there has also been a tendency to concentrate on what might be called a “heroic” view of the concept. In this perspective, it is demanded that we link vocation almost exclusively with the challenges in an injustice world. The calling of Christians then is to speak up for the voiceless, include those pressed to the margins, and to work to end poverty and the desecration of the environment. This is very good and much needed but by and far deviate from the actual purpose of the doctrine of vocation as we understand it. The doctrine of vocation would be about 'faithfully doing the things that is called forth by the work', hence if I am a pilot the vocation demands me to ' land the plane safely'. This is how Christian faith should be lived out in a simple ordinary called life of our work.
Hence , it is crucial to speak of vocation and work from a theological and biblical understanding of work and how faith can shape the work we do. work must not be divorced from the notion of God (which encompasses our vocation), else we will interprete it exclusively as therapeutic or psychological and at time degenerate to meet selfish needs.
As we trace Luther's doctrine of vocation, we would like to ask - what does his life, his theological reflection, his own relationship with his wife, and his father would have shape Luther's sense of vocation and work. We see great significance of that life has been interpreted by Luther as caring for the world through our vocation.