300 words reflection
A Theology of Vocation and the Call of God
Understanding the call of God as vocation
One’s primary location for ministerial service and leadership may be in the community or in a specific parish. But regardless of one’s ministry setting, or one’s status as "ordained" or "lay," the vocation of ministry itself necessarily places us at the intersection of congregational life and community concern.
What you will see in your reading and in some of the articles I have recommended for you to read are references to "a calling" and also "a vocation." In this course it is my hope and prayer that you will discover (and know) the place of God’s choosing for you in regard to Christian Service, whether you name it "vocation" or a "call" from God.
Paul wrote to the congregation at Ephesus concerning some that were called to ministry or service (Ephesians 4:11-13), "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." While this is a determining passage for the church of today (even though they do not always see it or understand it), in reality not all of us are called to be a pastor, or an apostle for that matter. Some are called to be teachers, evangelists, and prophets that may or may not include "ordained ministry" as we often know it. And yet there are also areas of service (ministry) that do not appear in this passage.
I do not seek to argue against ordained ministry (as I am ordained myself), but I do get frustrated that we have seemingly created a gulf (at times a huge chasm) between the clergy and laity. In fact, there are several voices in the Church today that are seeking to address the issue of our understanding of such a chasm. For example, Dr. Howard Snyder writes:
The New Testament doctrine of ministry rests therefore not on the clergy-laity distinction but on the twin and complementary pillars of the priesthood of all believers and the gifts of the Spirit. Today, four centuries after the Reformation, the full implications of this Protestant affirmation have yet to be worked out. The clergy-laity dichotomy is a direct carry-over from pre-Reformation Roman Catholicism and a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principal obstacles to the church effectively being God’s agent of the Kingdom today because it creates a false idea that only "holy men," namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity.
It is important to remember that we are not focusing on being ordained as a pastor or an apostle (though we need some more of those folks around). This course is about discovering and knowing exactly what God has in mind for us (as individuals and families) within His kingdom, in order to be an effective servant of the living God.
Jeff Goins in Relevant Magazine reminds us that,
The word "vocation" comes from the Latin vocare, which means ‘calling.’ It suggests some grand purpose in your life, that there are unseen forces guiding you in making key decisions that will lead you to fulfilling your destiny. It has an air of grandeur and mystery to it. It sounds intentional and meaningful. After all, who doesn’t want to be summoned for something great?
Based on this definition, "a calling" is "a vocation" and it is significantly different from "an occupation."
Goins later writes:
Occupation, on the other hand, has the same root as the English word ‘occupy,’ which we all know means ‘to take up space.’ And that’s just what most occupations do—they take up your time, energy and (in some cases) your dignity… It’s the thing you do to pass the time, while you dream of doing other things. While there is nothing particularly wrong with an occupation, there is nothing remarkable about it, either. One thing is certain: It cannot be mistaken for a vocation.
So I remind us again that we are not talking about an occupation, or a job. We are talking about a specific role or a place of service that brings glory to God and to His creation. In other words we are going to focus on "a calling" or a "vocation." How do you know the "call of God" in your life? How can you discover that unique and yes, even mystical place of service and ministry? What I think will be of some help to you (or even needed) in the next few weeks (and beyond) will be:
A trusted confidant or mentor in whom you have a great trust
A personal determination to ask hard questions of God, of yourself, of your mentor, and of this class
A willingness to struggle and the refusal to accept "easy answers" or "trite and flippant" responses
Last but not least, the discipline to wait on the Lord in order to hear His voice
Theologian Frederick Buechner has written, "Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need."ã€€ Discerning our vocation or discerning God’s dream for us is first of all requires prayer.ã€€ Discernment helps us to separate out what may come from God and what may come from self-centered interests or cultural pressures.
Before we get too far in this class, I want to remind us of some words from Os Hillman when he writes,
We should step back for a moment and remind ourselves again that each of us is called to a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, first and foremost. From this position all else comes. The fruit of our relationship with Christ moves us to the level of our calling in work. That work – whether serving on the mission field—or delivering mail-- is a holy calling of God. The reason God holds a high view of work is that He created each person in His image for an express purpose in this world to reflect His glory in ALL aspects of life.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17).
We are reminded by Paul Stevens (The Other Six Days),
We live in a post-vocational age. Without any theology of vocation we lapse into debilitating alternatives: fatalism (doing what is required by `the forces' and `the powers'); luck (which denies purposefulness in life and reduces our life to a bundle of accidents); karma (which ties performance to future rewards); nihilism (which denies that there is any good end to which the travail of history might lead); and, the most common alternative today, self-actualization (in which we invent the meaning and purpose of our lives, making us magicians). In contrast the biblical doctrine of vocation proposes that the whole of our lives finds meaning in relation to the sweet summons of a good God.
In that same book by Stevens (The Other Six Days), Klaus Bockmuehl, offered a useful metaphor to show the relationship of the human, Christian and personal vocations. A wedding cake has a large base (the human vocation), a smaller layer built upon it (the Christian vocation) and a still smaller layer at the top (the personal vocation). They are interrelated, each building on the other. The Christian is not exempt from the human vocation but there is another dimension of the call of God as shown in "call" language in both testaments. And finally each of us is a called person. But that call is some combination of the human and Christian vocations that is unique to our own person and life path.
I will be quoting rather liberally in the next couple of pages from Stevens book (The Other Six Days). But I am also using some of my own emphases and thoughts. So while I am heavily using Paul Steven’s research, some of the information will be my work.
The call of God in Christ, as we shall see, is not only personal and individual but corporate. The people of God (laos) is a "called" people (Acts 15:14). For example in the Old Testament, the word qara means "call out," a summons that implies sovereignty through naming. Naming, however, in Hebrew was not merely attaching "a verbal handle," but "to be called something was to be something." When God called Israel, they became his people. Tragically Israel was called but sometimes did not respond (Isaiah 65:12).
The "call" is an inviting summons, as in the case of Moses (Exodus 3:4) and Israel: "When Israel was a child I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hosea 11:1). In the later chapters of Isaiah "call" language is used in its highest sense for the Servant whom God calls in righteousness (Isaiah 42:6) for service as a type of those called from the beginning of humanity (Isaiah 41:2, 4). "I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles" (Isaiah 42:6). The use of "call' language for the commissioning of patriarchs (Moses, Abraham), judges (Gideon), and prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos) is worthy of detailed study. Such research reveals that in each case God's call was to a function, a specified task, rather than to an office.
Most people in the Old Testament who find their way into a position of service (e.g. Joseph) where they are fulfilling God's purposes are not "called" in the dramatic sense. They were certainly guided by God, though often this was only seen in hindsight (Genesis 45:8). So people are drawn into God's work differently. Perhaps prophets and religious leaders were given dramatic and compelling "calls" because their main purpose was to call others. In this way the means matches the purpose.
In summary, "call" language in the Old Testament is used primarily for the people of God who are summoned to participate in God's grand purpose for the world. It is a call to salvation, a call to holiness and a call to service. When applied to individuals, "call" language relates to that salvation purpose rather than being the means of identifying and giving credentials to leaders.
As we enter the New Testament, we encounter a new thing: not only are the people as a whole called but also each and every believer is called. The Greek words kaleo (to call, summon forth) and klesis (calling, vocation) are used prolifically in the New Testament. This is in sharp contrast to the surrounding culture where in classical Greek kaleo and klesis are only seldom used of a divine call, and then usually in conjunction with the mystery religions.
In the Gospels, Jesus used "call" to describe his invitation to repent, turn to him, and live for the Kingdom of God: "For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:13). Jesus did issue a "call" (or summons) to the Twelve to be with him and to be sent out (Mark 3:14; Matthew 4:21; 10:1). It is easy to misunderstand these "call" narratives as a change in occupation similar to what may happen today when a person leaves a "secular" occupation to go into "the ministry." The first followers are prototype (or model) disciples. The call of the disciples, recorded thirty years after the event, was necessarily transformed into a metaphor with timeless relevance. While in one sense the discipleship of the "Twelve" was unique, all Christians are now called to be disciples.
The apostle Paul used the "call" language in an especially rich way and was profoundly influential in the Church of Jesus Christ. He used "call" in four ways: (1) salvation in Christ, (2) living in a Christian way, (3) the interface of Christian discipleship and our life situation, and (4) Paul's own experience of anointing as an apostle of Christ.
I will not elaborate on all four ways of Paul’s use of "call." But, in one place, it seems that Paul uses "call" language for the "place in life" or "station" we occupy (slave, free, married, single, etc.). Though such life situations get taken up in God's call (1 Corinthians 7:17,24) and are transformed by it, the call of God comes to us in these situations (1 Corinthians 7:20) and is much more than occupation, marital status or social position.
In other New Testament writings there is a similar use of "call" to what we have encountered in the Gospels and the letters of Paul. In two places "call" is used for the leading of God to a specific ministry: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2; Acts 16:10). These are obviously exceptional, though God may call individuals in a direct supernatural way. "It is, however, questionable whether one can make a doctrine of calling to a specific ministry from such scanty references. What can be affirmed from the New Testament is the desire of God to lead each believer" (this is a direct quote from Paul Stevens).
From my own personal experience in ministry, the reality of these three words has taken on significant life: "belonging, being and doing." Looking at each of them is important in light of the "call of God." First there is the call to belong to God. Thus persons without identities or "names," who are homeless persons in the universe, become children of God and members of the family of God. "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God" (1 Peter 2:10). This is the call to discipleship.
Second, there is the call to be God's people in life, a holy people that exist for the praise of His glory in all aspects of life in the church and world. This is expressed in sanctification; it is the call to holiness.
Third, there is the call to do God's work, to enter into God's service to fulfill his purposes in both the church and the world. This involves gifts, talents, ministries, occupations, roles, work and mission - the call to service.
Finally, one last direct quote from Paul Stevens (The Other Six Days):
The Christian vocation summons us to take up the human vocation in its totality. We are not redeemed by Christ to become angels preparing for an immaterial heaven, but saved to become fully human beings serving God and God's purposes in the world through the church. So it is crucial to understand that for which we were originally formed and called by God.
In conclusion, I share this Prayer of Vocation with you from the Saint Meinrad Prayer Book):
Lord, let me know clearly the work which You are calling me to do in life. And grant me every grace I need to answer Your call with courage and love and lasting dedication to Your will.
|Due By (Pacific Time)||11/03/2015 04:00 pm|
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