I am fascinated by the Reformation. What started on October 31, 1517 with Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses on a Wittenberg University church door historically ended in 1648 with the signing of the Peace of Westphalia. We can see the effects of the Reformation in America today. A German family visited our Austin home a few years ago and asked why America had so many different denominations? During the Reformation, the German Provinces were designated by the ruling Prince as either Lutheran (Protestant) or Catholic. I explained to our German friends our American immigration history and long history of religious freedom which allowed different Christian denominations to co-exist.
Dr. William C. Placher, previously the Charles D. and Elizabeth S. LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Wabash College, author of Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005), explains that the theology of vocations greatly changed during the Reformation. It no longer pertains only to the clergy:
“The idea that any station in life (and by ‘Stand’ or station, Luther meant family role as parent, grandparent, child, and so on, as well as job) could be equally a place from which to serve God constituted a great breakthrough toward equality. No longer was ‘vocation’ a category that fit only those who entered the priesthood, the monastery, or the convent.” (page 207)
Luther is one of my favorite theologians. He wrote in a direct style that made his breakthrough theological concepts understandable by the common person. Luther used 1 Peter 2:9 (“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”) as his scriptural support that all Christian work that supported the community and aided the kingdom of the world was of equal value to God. All people are priests and some Christians are chosen as ministers. God does not elevate the priesthood (contemplative life) above secular occupations (active life). Luther put his theology into practice by leaving the monastery, getting married, and working as a minister.
Luther needed to communicate this concept to a population that viewed the spiritual life as separate from the worldly, material life. While hiding in Wartburg castle, Luther preached a sermon that highlighted this concept during the 1521–1522 Christmas season:
“… all works are the same to a Christian, no matter what they are. For these shepherds [Luke 2:15-20] do not run away into the desert, they do not don monk’s garb, they do not shave their heads, neither do they change their clothing, schedule, food, drink, nor any external work. They return to their place in the fields to serve God there! For being a Christian does not consist in external conduct, neither does it change anyone according to his external position: rather it changes him according to the inner disposition, that is to say, it provides a different heart, a different disposition, will, and mind which do the works which another person does without such a disposition and will. For a Christian knows that it all depends upon faith.” (page 214)
Christians who work in offices, restaurants, manufacturing plants, airports, schools, homes, and other locations can rejoice that their work is just as spiritually meaningful as those who work in the church. The gifts God gave individuals can be used to uplift our community in many ways and are equally valued by God.
But the Protestants took Luther’s vocational theology even further. How does God call individuals to vocation? This subject will be discussed in Part II.