God calls the farmer, the businessman and even the hangman to his vocation. In fact, God calls every Christian not only to salvation but to service, Malcolm Yarnell said during the fourth of the Land Center Lectures on the Theology of Work and Economics, March 4.
“Every Christian has a vocation,” said Yarnell, associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern. But this truth remained hidden to many during the late Middle Ages. At this time, the papacy charged people for indulgences, promising them that they would escape purgatory. The church also degraded lay workers by exalting monks and nuns alone to a holy vocation. The reformer Martin Luther, however, razed this “medieval economy of salvation” in the 16th century.
“I use that terminology on purpose,” Yarnell said. “It was cash not for clunkers. It was cash for souls.”
According to Luther, this “medieval economy” promoted “a works-based salvation” and “wickedness among the clergy and the laity.” He responded to it by proclaiming not only that sinners are justified through faith alone but also that Christians form a priesthood of all believers. Although every person fills a “station” in this world, God grants a vocation only to those who have been justified by faith.
“First and foremost, you must be called to salvation through the Word of God,” Yarnell said. “You don’t have a vocation unless you have salvation, which entails, by the way, that when God’s Word calls you, you call back to him in faith.”
After calling a person to salvation through faith, God also calls him to service. In fact, God calls Christians to fill a vocation in every sector of life—in what Luther called the three stations of church, family and government.
“The idea of vocation has to do with all of our lives,” Yarnell said. As a result, God calls one Christian, for example, not only to his daily work but also to church membership, to fatherhood and to citizenship within his native country.
“All vocations are equal in the sight of God,” Yarnell added, “even if they receive different evaluations from men. A farmer may serve God just as faithfully, perhaps even more so—Luther would say—in comparison with a magistrate who governs men or a pastor who proclaims God’s Word.
“The key to the righteousness of a work is whether the work is done in faith for God’s glory. Whatever God has given your hand to do, do it in faith and for His glory, and God blesses through that, whatever that is.”
While no good work can justify, a Christian pleases God when he fulfills his vocation, and God uses it to bless others, Yarnell said. Vocation serves as a “conduit of God’s grace, of his love, to the people within this creation.”
Christians share God’s grace and love especially through the proclamation of the Gospel. Thus, the ministry of the Word is a Christian vocation. To ministers-in-training, Yarnell said, “The pastoral office is a vocation, a calling from God with its own responsibilities, authority and blessings. If you are not called into ministry, by the way, don’t go into ministry.”
When God calls a Christian to his vocation, He calls him to “carry the cross,” Yarnell noted. In fulfilling his vocation, a Christian will not always feel good, and he will suffer as he serves God and others in faith and love.
“Your vocation is found in your service to others,” Yarnell said, “and you realize that God loves the earth through you. This is Martin Luther’s understanding of a theology of work and economics, and to tell you the truth, I don’t know of a better one.”