The Vocation Revolution. Martin Luther and 500 Year Reformation Anniversary

 

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is more or less the “Hamilton” of Germany this year–with a strange crossover merging pop culture and history.

What follows are my notes from a lecture at Acton University 2017 by Jordan Ballor (PhD Zürich); including some of my insights and comments. 

What is your vocation?

Before Martin Luther, the medieval view distributed the population into somewhat static “roles” (the military and clergy always being the exceptions; avenues of flexible upward mobility). One did one’s duty within the expectations of one’s place, and was rewarded with being worthy of approval.

There were mundane professions, on the one hand, and the way of perfection on the other.

Many look at the 1517 Reformation in economic terms, but the focus on vocational revolution was stronger.

Luther, personally, walked through a vocational transformation at the same time he was transforming Europe. This had theological, social, economic, and political implications. The “rood screen” between the “robed ones” in the choir and clergy and the unwashed laity sitting on the floor (religious and mundane), was removed, shuffling the ordered deck of medieval “role” cards.

Luther expounded the Bible texts “QVIA HODIE” (for today). He opposed the popular and libertine wings of the Reformation, asking rather “What is the faithful Christian to do…today?”

He appealed to the Christian nobility, and to Charles the emperor, in vocational terms. He called Charles to his vocational duty as emperor to call a great council (as Constantine had done), basically saying, “You can reform the oikumene.”

Martin Luther’s vocation: faithful exposition of scripture. 1520: temporal authority needs to act. But he knew Charles might fail to do so, and felt it correct, in this case, for local authorities and universities to do so in response to the emperor’s vocational failure.

What started as a theological dispute became a project for reforming all of life.

Luther held a pre-modern, pre-enlightenment worldview. He saw there being two kingdoms (sacred and secular); each consisting of three estates:

  • Household/oikonomia
  • State/polis
  • Church/ekklesia

Max Weber, in his study of the “Protestant work ethic,” was “off” in many ways. Capitalism existed long before the Reformation. But why only in the West was there thorough organization of labor and rational bookkeeping?

Weber explored the motivations behind Protestants. Why would they work so hard and in this way?

Weber traced some of it back to Luther, who equalized all vocations in the eyes of God. In doing so, he brought dignity to everyday work. Our “jobs” acquired a spiritual aspect, whether or not our vocations had anything to do with religious work.

Luther introduced the idea that all Christians have an equal vocation of following Christ, and thus their various forms daily work (some glamorous–some not) was of parallel value.

Luther never fully worked it out–this was left to the Reformed tradition, including Kuyper, and others.

But the wheels were set in motion and the train had left the station…

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Please go back to the main page and scroll down to see all the Acton University lectures I attended.