In my first blog on Martin Luther’s vocation theology, I wrote about vocational word definitions, Luther’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:20, and how people determine God’s will for their vocation. In this second blog, I will discuss four additional Luther vocation topics. I will again reference the writings of Dr. Gustaf Wingren (1910–2000), former Professor of Systematic Theology at Lund University (Sweden), who published Luther on Vocation (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR, 2004).
Luther espoused dualistic theology. Dualism, in theology, is the assumption that there are two separate entities which represent good and evil. To understand Luther, one must understand his dualism beliefs. First, Luther believed that two kingdoms exist: heaven and earth. God and the gospel reside in heaven and on earth, the devil and law reside. There are two aspects of “vocation in relation to the two kingdoms: the realm of the works of the law on earth, where vocation is located, and the realm of the gospel of grace, in heaven, where man does not build on fidelity to his vocation or on works in general. … Vocation in relation to the two powers: God, whose weapon vocation is, and the devil, who attacks man’s life in vocation.” (page 164) It is faith that allows humans to resist the devil in their vocation.
Another dualism is two antagonistic components in humans: the old man and the new man. The old man bears his vocation on earth. At the resurrection comes the new kingdom which transforms the old man into a new man when he enters heaven. There is no vocation in heaven, only the goodness of the gospel. Neither law nor the devil exist in heaven. There is no office or station (Stand) in heaven. “In differentiating between office and its holder in that man has no office before God, but holds his office before men, Luther indicates a clear difference between the two kingdoms, a juxtaposition of earth and heaven.” (page 66)
A third dualism is conscience verses body. “Conscience expresses relation to God, and body expresses relation to earthly station, vocation, neighbor, the world.” (page 93) A laborer can be in jail and unable to serve his or her vocation, yet can mentally think and pray to God.
The purpose of vocation is to love one’s neighbor. Luther believed that vocation is not to be self-fulfilling, only commanded for the sake of others. He created the symbol of the cross of vocation to connect it to God’s love. “Vocation is ordained by God to benefit, not him who fulfills the vocation, but the neighbor who, standing alongside, bears his own cross for the sake of others. Under this cross are included even the most trivial of difficulties, such as: in marriage, the care of babes, which interferes with sleep and enjoyment; in government, unruly subjects and promoters of revolt; in the ministry, the whole resistance to reformation; in heavy labor, shabbiness, uncleanness, and the contempt of the proud. All of this is bracketed with the high and holy cross of Christ.” (page 29) The Holy Spirit is present in vocation and the love of Christ is active when love is shown to neighbors.
Another symbol that Luther used is the mask of God. Humans receive many God-given gifts which serve as God’s masks. “Instead of coming in uncovered majesty when he gives a gift to man, God places a mask before his face. He clothes himself in the form of an ordinary man who performs his work on earth. Human beings are to work, ‘everyone according to his vocation and office’; through this they serve as masks for God, behind which he can conceal himself when he would scatter his gifts.” (page 138) Humans are bearers of God’s own creative actions and are God’s co-workers. “Sanctification is hidden and unknown to the world; it occurs in the vocations of men, which are many and different.” (page 182) Luther’s symbol of masks and his co-worker analogy seems to place humans as almost God-like, something that goes against my Calvinist theological beliefs.
Luther confined vocation (Beruf) strictly to our earthly existence and reserved vocation for the faithful. Vocation is directed towards loving neighbors and opposes the devil who tries to undermine the faithful. Law is earth bound, commanded by God, and gives people boundaries to resist the devil. God is hidden on earth “but when, after death and the resurrection, hiddenness ceases, the burden of labor in vocation will also cease. Then earth’s time will be past, the devil defeated, and the old man who is to be put to death has died. There ‘offices’ are to be no more; and ‘the law shall not rule up there.’” (page 248)