Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

Word Study: Christian vocations

As mentioned on Monday, Opus Dei is Latin for the "work of God," and that not referring to the ministry or monasticism but honest work in any legitimate field of life done as an offering to God. I consider this an important development for Christians because the most basic and most primative confession of the faith is "Jesus is Lord," and as Sts. Peter, John, and Paul emphasize in their New Testament writings, that confession encompasses all of life, the totality. So it's vital, as I see it, to look at journalism (in my case) or teaching, or coal mining, or farm work—or anything—in ways that amen that confession.

I said on Monday that for years I believed only Calvinists (Protestants who found the outline of their theological system in the teachings of John Calvin) had a theory of vocation that covers all legitimate jobs, but as I've learned, Opus Dei proves me wrong; Catholics have a similar movement. I've also learned that Martin Luther (who was a pastor when Calvin was still an infant) also taught it. Lutheran journalist and teacher Gene Edward Veith writes about it, "Luther calls it the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms":

According to this view, God is sovereign both in the church and in the culture—but he rules the two in different ways. In the church, God reigns through the work of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit, expressing his love and grace through the forgiveness of sins and the life of faith. God also exercises his authority and providential control through all of creation—upholding the very universe, so that the laws of physics, the processes of chemistry, and other natural laws are part of what he has ordained. Similarly, God rules the nations—even those who do not acknowledge him—making human beings to be social creatures, in need of governments, laws, and cultures to mitigate the self-destructive tendencies of sin and to enable human beings to survive.

Thus, God has a spiritual rule in the hearts and lives of Christians; he also has a secular rule that extends throughout his creation and in every culture. God reigns in the church through the gospel, the proclamation of forgiveness in the Cross of Jesus Christ, a message which kindles faith and an inward transformation in the believer. He reigns in the world through his law, which calls human societies to justice and righteousness.

And this "Two Kingdoms" theory of Luther, Veith goes on to say, means that every person regardless of his calling or station in life can do his work as a vocation dedicated to the kingdom of God and done in His honor. Veith actually says that Luther found the "Two Kingdoms" in Augustine, the most highly regarded theologian of the early church among Catholics and Protestants alike. Augustine refers to the "two kingdoms" as The City of God and The City of Man, both under the Lordship, or sovereignty, of Jesus, the perfect God and perfect man.

Calvin elaborated this view of church and culture in the generation after Luther, but though the thinkers in both of their traditions knew the theory, it wasn't as revolutionary sounding in their time, the sixteenth century, as it sounds in modern times. That's because life was much less "differentiated" in the middle ages than it is in modern times. In most of human history, most people had to do a little of everything to survive. At least on the family level, that meant tending livestock, planting and harvesting crops, turning fibers into threads and those into cloth, and so on. There were few specialists in life then. Not until the industrial revolution did most people specialize in a "vocation" (other than the few in church and educational professions, and even fewer in arts and crafts and what later became known as scientific study or research). Even surgeons filled their times between operations by shaving beards and cutting hair and possibly preparing the dead for burial.

So when the "modern age" dawned, about 200 years ago, the preachers and teachers of religion had already been taking for granted that everyone knew Christ was the Lord of everything they did...did they not pray before planting, and before harvesting, and before taking their produce to the market to sell? So it wasn't until the twentieth century, when Christian thinkers like Holland's Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd and their students in North America and elsewhere "woke up" and said, "truck drivers may have as much a vocation from God as pulpiteers or university professors," and started the Christian labor movement and developing a Christian philosophy that reached beyond theology to every field in the curriculum.

Have you ever thought about your work as God's calling, or at least as His provision for you, and how you should do it as an offering of thanksgiving to Him its provider?

Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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