Vocation and Ministry

So, why does Group A insist that their doctrine is right? It all goes back to Lutherís doctrine of vocation which I think they have misunderstood and misapplied. Luther lived in a day and age where the Roman Catholic Church considered Bishops, Priests, Monks, and Nuns of the spiritual estate and called the common civilian of the temporal estate. They considered the celibate and the clergy holier then the average lay person. They did not have an understanding of how the common Christian civilian could serve Christ in their vocation.

Is not the idea that Christians must serve primarily in the Church, that such activity is more holy, doing exactly the thing that Luther opposed?

Luther wrote:

ďIt has been devised, that the Pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the Spiritual Estate; princes, lords, artificers and peasants, are the Temporal Estate; which is a very fine, hypocritical device. But let no one be made afraid by it; and that for this reason: That all Christians are truly of the Spiritual Estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone.Ē

Luther was elevating the priesthood of all believers in the midst of spiritual tyranny committed by the Roman Catholic Church. Group A who thinks they are being faithful to Lutherís doctrine of vocation are de-elevating the priesthood of all believers, and are not sustaining disciples of Christ after they have been baptized and confirmed.

I highly recommend Dr. Norman Nagel’s article on just this topic (it can be found online here). I don’t know about Group A, but those who emphasize the different vocations of members of Christ’s Church are not putting down “Luther’s doctrine” of vocation. What Luther was fighting against was not primarily that the laity could not read Scripture or that they didn’t go out and share their faith. He was concerned that making the priests mediators of God’s grace obscured the ever-primary Priest, Jesus. Dr. Nagel:

The primary threat is to the primary priest. Luther recognized this threat in the notion that there were still priests in the primary sense still offering sacrifices atoning for sin in emulation, cooperation, representation, completion or addition to the sacrifice of the one and only such priest in the New Testament. What Dr. Luther says against the Roman priests is not to get rid of them in order to put “the priesthood of all believers” in their place. That would be to replace one piece of popery with another. What was wrong with popery was not that it was popery, but that it infringed the one and only atoning sacrifice for sin done by Christ alone, and so done once, for all, sure, complete. To suggest something other or more is to rob Christ of his having done it all.

More from Nagel, because he puts it so clearly:

Emser criticized Luther’s exposition of 1 Peter 2:9, claiming that it obliterated the distinction between the clergy and the laity. Luther flatly denied this, and maintained that 1 Peter says nothing of the consecrated priesthood: “I did not say that all Christians are churchly priests.” Emser found two kinds of priests in 1 Peter 2:9 – inward and consecrated. Luther replied that it speaks of neither of these, but only of all Christians as priests. Later on ministers came to be called priests. “The priestly estate” had other better names and Luther runs through them in Latin, German and some Greek. What is important is what they are put there for: “the Gospel and the Sacraments.” God gives his gifts through ministers – it is for their being given out that the clergy are there. Gifts and Gospel involve two points: there are those who give out the gifts, and those to whom the gifts are given. If those who have been put there to give out the gifts do not give out the gifts, they have forsaken the Office which is the Lord’s located instrument for his giving out his gifts. If instead of their giving out of the gifts they move to exercising imperium, they are guilty of sacerdotalistic tyranny, which Luther denounces and from which he proclaims the freedom of Christians.

Let us get on then, rejoicing in this freedom, the freedom of the laity from sacerdotal tyranny, the freedom of the baptized that is theirs to rejoice in as priests, as a priestly kingdom, whose king is none other than he into whose name they were baptized. You may read 1 Peter as instruction for the baptized. Luther did not invent the identification of the New Testament priests, in the secondary or transferred sense, as the baptized. It is already there in 1 Peter. That is where the Christian life goes on, baptismal level, body level, incarnational level, Means of Grace level, Calvary level. There is no higher, more spiritual, more inward level, as both the sacerdotalists and Pietists assert (Emser’s inner and Spener’s Geistliches Priestertum, which replaces Luther’s “the baptized” with “the believers”). There is no “two-level” Church, with clergy above and laity below, or laity above (who hires and fires) and clergy below, or two churches, one visible and the other invisible. There are no levels–only where our Lord has put himself there for us (dir da) to give out his saving, enlivening gifts as he has ordained the Means of Grace to do, and put the Predigtamt there for the giving out of his gifts surely and locatedly in the Means of Grace (instrumenta prima, instrumentum secundum).

Sorry, a little more; then read the rest yourself!

The clergy are there for the giving out of “the Word of God and the Sacraments, which is their work and office.” The laity are there for receiving the gifts and living them out in their callings. Whatever their calling as laity, that calling neither makes them a lower level of Christian, nor inferior in their service to God below the clergy. Their calling is their priestly service to God as they serve their neighbors in their calling. “Just as all members of the body serve one another.”


One thought on “Vocation and Ministry

  1. Timotheos:
    I applaud this series! These issues I think are the most crucial to the Church and it is from them that many of the other issues seen as crucial flow. You do a great job of commenting on the weakness of Group B’s argument.

    I do think that one of the problems of Group A is not just that Group B misinterprets them, but that many members of Group A actually misinterpret it as well. So many are actually contributing to the netative stereotypes.

    Nice use of Nagel by the way!

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