Not everyone is called to be a missionary. Not everyone is called to be a pastor. Ordinarily both of these vocations, according to the scriptures and Lutheran confessions, are specifically trained, intensely taught, and accompanied by a regular call and ordination. True, baptism does make all Christians into a royal priesthood, but strictly speaking, it does not make every Christian into a pastor or missionary.
Confessional Lutheran theology has long recognized this distinction, never trying to pit one against the other, or make one more important than the other, but affirming the order and station God has created for both. However, the recent “missional” emphasis would seem to blur these lines, using unhelpful nomenclature that asserts that everyone is indeed a missionary, even if they are not called, ordained, or trained.
Though perhaps well-intentioned, the intent to make everyone into a minister, or into a missionary, ends up devaluing and disordering the vocational roles God has apportioned for the good of society and the good of His Church.
Each person has a distinct vocation, just as valid and just as important as missionary or pastor, but nonetheless uniquely arranged for that believer and their life of service. As Norman Nagel notes, “The Holy Spirit is alive and at work through his gifts in every Christian, who then ‘offers Spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ Christians are both the temple and the royal priesthood and the sacrifice: all of them, all of their lives, bodily (Romans 12). What follows there, as in 1 Peter 2, is Haustafel—paranesis—which recognizes, indeed rejoices in, the diversity of the way the same gifts, which are given by the Spirit as confessed in the Third Article, work out in the particularity of each Christian life. Here there is no bondage of ‘all men are equal.’ Each is unique.” (“Luther and the Priesthood of All Believers,” Concordia Theological, October 1997, 293.)
Thus, whether parent, postman, pastor, painter, or paralegal, each vocation brings us into contact with others around us, first to serve them according to that vocation, and then, where possible, during the natural course of interactions, to proclaim the good news of Christ as appropriate to the opportunity and situation.
As most of us know, sharing the faith with unbelievers or new believers is very often most effectively done through personal, trusted relationships. No, it won’t happen every time an interaction occurs, but the joy of life in our vocation is that it is God pleasing, independent of our Gospel sharing. “As Luther and the Lutheran Confessions understand vocation, it is not a call of the Spirit out of the world but the calling of the Spirit to live within the mundane estates of congregation, family, and government. Luther spoke of these orders as the most fundamental forms of human existence. In his Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper of 1528, Luther calls them ‘religious institutions’ for they are sanctified by God’s word for the service of the neighbor.” (John Pless, “Contemporary Spirituality and the Emerging Church” Concordia Theological Quarterly 71, 2007, 363.)
Unfortunately, this profound understanding of vocation is often undermined when the value of the ordinary estates of everyday life are trivialized and dismissed as unimportant by the church in the name of what is claimed to be a more important “missional” way of life—whatever that means.
For example, a mother and her four young children go to the grocery store and meet a fellow shopper, but because she needs to tend to her children and the grocery shopping for her family she does not evangelize to the fellow shopper. Does this mean that she is not a “missional” person, or worse, that she is sinning? What about the college student who is tending to his studies instead of formally evangelizing the students on campus? Does he lack a “missional” attitude? Is he sinning? Or is he simply living his vocation as a student?
Demands to be “missional” can often evoke guilt or the illegitimate abandonment of a God given vocation. As Gustaf Wingren has demonstrated, the mission of God encompasses the greater whole of life. Therefore, perhaps the church should consider if “missional” pressure to abandon one’s vocation is not the greater disservice to the church.
Yet, to be clear, this is not saying that ordinary Christians cannot witness to others. Rather, when the priesthood of the baptized assemble around Word and Sacrament, they do so to be forgiven and freed, renewed and refreshed, discipled and dispersed out into the vocations of their daily lives. And, the more God-centered (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) they are in life, the more active they become in faith. Being regularly discipled, makes regular disciples, where they become more and more cognizant that through baptism and the Holy Spirit they are Christ-bearers and Kingdom-bringers to those around them in their vocation.
What is more, in worship, the priesthood of the baptized regularly pray the Lord’s Prayer, wherein the Second Petition asks, “Thy Kingdom come.” The explanation of this petition in Luther’s Small Catechism brings us deeper into the prayer. “God’s kingdom comes when our Heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”
People most regularly lead their lives here, in time, through their daily vocations. Note the profound connection between what the Holy Spirit gives (faith and the Kingdom of God) and where the Holy Spirit places believers (in the world to live a godly, vocational, life). “The same Spirit who calls us to faith through the externality of his word also calls us to life in creation” (Pless, 362). Consequently, the more active believers are in the faith, that is, the more discipled they are through (liturgy), Word, and Sacrament, the more prone (and prepared) they are to share the faith through the vocations of thier life.
It is my claim that if the church would begin to focus more intentionally upon the doctrine of vocation and celebrate the vibrant work of the Holy Spirit in the priesthood of the baptized, amid the mundane and ordinariness of their lives, rather than focusing upon the empty aesthetics of “abstracted Christianity,” and law-oriented demands to be “missional,” there would be a renewed vitality and discipled growth within the church.
As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully, honestly, and collegially, talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.