Veith, Gene Edward Jr., & A. Trevor Sutton. Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017. “Chapter 6. “The Purpose of Your Life” pp. 151-172.
Veith and Sutton, after giving a brief narrative about some of the perceived failings among the millennial generation, point out that this generation does make some good points. “There is a nagging sense that modern life is overly compartmentalized and suffers from a lack of overall integration. Family, work, health, and spirituality are often divided and put in opposition with one another” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 152). There are many demands on our lives, some of which are difficult to fit together in a sensible way. The answer, say Veith and Sutton, is a recovery of “the doctrine of vocation” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 152). Along with justification and Scriptural authority, vocation was a critical component of the Reformation. “But the concept of vocation has been gradually lost. First it was turned into a work ethic. Then it turned into a pious attitude empty of specific content. Eventually it was reduced to just another synonym for a job” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 153). Previously it referred to the entirety of the way God calls His people to work out their faith in the community. Sadly, we seem to have lost this concept, resulting in confusion as we try to find the priorities in life and how they can harmonize.
A biblical view of vocation can be found especially in 1 Corinthians 7:17 and in Ephesians 5-6. In these passages God places his people in various roles in the community. Each is given by God and is a way that we can show God’s character (Veith & Sutton 2017, 154). The biblical view was described in detail by Martin Luther. Veith and Sutton assert that, unlike Calvin and the Puritans, who focused on God’s demands, Luther saw vocation as “a function of God’s grace” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 156). Through our vocations we are instruments of God, distributing his gifts to our world. In effect, Veith and Sutton say God works in the world through the means of our vocations (Veith & Sutton 2017, 157). He does this because his desire is that we should serve one another.
The Christian, then, has multiple different vocations, which Luther classified as fitting into four different “estates,” or categories. In the estate of the Church, Christians are particularly called to serve one another and their world (Veith & Sutton 2017, 158). They may have different roles, both in church and society, but all are actual callings from God. In the estate of the household, the family and whatever economic activity might be needed for the family can be found (Veith & Sutton 2017, 159). Luther spoke of the roles in the family as particularly important vocationals all as ways we can serve others. In the estate of the state we live in society, all that relates to our culture (Veith & Sutton 2017, 160). As with the household, our work in the state can include economic relationships. While the Church doesn’t actually have a political agenda, the Christian in the state does. Luther classes a fourth estate as “the common order of Christian love” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 161). Here the various vocations interact in cooperation and service.
The Lutheran view of vocation is set apart from a Roman Catholic view because it applies to all people in all of their lives, not simply to people in a special office in the Church (Veith & Sutton 2017, 162). All Christians are called to engage the world and live out their Christianity in culture. Veith and Sutton point out that the vocation of the Christian is not normally primarily engaged with churchly work (Veith & Sutton 2017, 163).
Vocation in Lutheran theology has one and only one ultimate purpose: “to love and serve our neighbors” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 165). Christians depend on God’s grace to provide justification, but they depend on God’s callings to enable us to love and serve our neighbors. Again, this is a departure from both Roman Catholicism and from broader Protestantism. Because of the commitment to serving others, Christians act not out of self-interest, but from an interest in others. Authority is also used to love and serve others, rather than to exercise power (Veith & Sutton 2017, 166). Veith and Sutton also observe that the doctrine of vocation allows and prohibits various activities in certain settings. For instance, sexual activity is to remain within the bounds of marriage, military action is within the purview of soldiers rather than civilians, and it is judges who can authorize lawful punishments (Veith & Sutton 2017, 167). Even as vocation gives some people autohrity to do particular acts, it also involves self-denial in favor of others. Veith and Sutton discuss this as the work of a shepherd, serving the flock, rather than a priest, making offerings (Veith & Sutton 2017, 168). For this reason, a Lutheran view of the “priesthood of all believers” is that of laying down our livesrather than exercising authority. Veith and Sutton conclude that our vocation is the place where we and our day to day existence are transformed, finding the living presence of God. Our ordinary affairs are changed to a “sacred means of loving and serving the neighbor” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 170).