The Challenge

I’ve been challenged. I often write about the importance of vocation as one of the means for the church to go about her daily life and carry on her mission. As a result, I’ve been collegially challenged over the last few months. Not so much to discontinue my assertions, but rather to consider some of the greater implications of our Christian vocation. Namely, what does it mean to have a “Christian” vocation? Yes, the stations we have in life certainly direct us in our daily service to our neighbor. But how does the Christian vocation inform our approach to, say, our life of stewardship, or the practical ways we love our neighbor?

Typically, I write about vocation for two reasons. First, because it’s an underemphasized doctrine and practice in the church today, and second, I believe it’s a better alternative to the current missional emphasis. Here I acknowledge that I’m often critical of the missional movement. But that’s because I am dissatisfied with the theology (and resulting practice) of the missional movement, not because I am angry at people for trying to share the gospel. In other words, I haven’t disavowed everything about the movement.

I certainly appreciate the zealous desire to reach the lost with the gospel. However, I am one who asks for a bit more theological integrity and corresponding practical application to go with it; so that the gospel stays the gospel, and the law stays the law.

I believe vocation allows the believer to be “missional” without making the gospel into a demand that has to be obeyed. Vocation allows the believer to celebrate the daily mundane stations of life as important and God ordained. It also guards against placing undue and illegitimate burdens upon the believer (i.e. “reaching out to an unbeliever is the only real work of a Christian”), which can cause him or her to then abandon the work and service of their daily vocations. But I’ve written much on this before. So, to the challenge at hand. Let’s see how it goes.

If vocation is to be central to the life of discipleship and the mission of the church, what might the Christian vocation look like as, let’s say, Christians handle their finances? Or what might it look like in our generosity toward our neighbor?

Whether you are traditional or contemporary, missional or confessional, the issue of stewardship is a constant in every congregation. It would be great if every Christian was a “tither.” But pastors will tell you that’s just a pipe dream. Typically most congregations have 20% of the people giving 90% of the funds. Yet, even if one tithes, does that mean they’re relieved from further considerations about their giving and generosity?

What I appreciate about some of the missional guys is the way they draw our attention to how we can help our neighbor in need through our stewardship. They challenge people to think about stewardship as more than the idea of fulfilling an obligation to God by giving a percentage of income to the church. They challenge people to go beyond just thinking about living within their means, but to consider how much they really need in order to live. In other words, how can their finances be used to serve their needs, but then also to serve their neighbor in need? (Granted, there is a tendency by some to portray this as a demand of the gospel. But for the moment, let’s say it’s couched within the freedom of the gospel.) How might we address this from the perspective of the “Christian” vocation?

I don’t think anyone would contest that most Americans are indulgent consumerists and materialists, Christians included. The crash of the housing market was clear evidence of that. Countless people got caught buying far more house than they could afford. The American dream had compelled them to think it was their right. So they believed the lie of interest only mortgages and became victim to the greed and indulgence of our American society.

But with that said, even if we can afford a particular over sized house, is it good stewardship to buy it? Sure, we have the freedom to buy it? But how does that fit with our Christian vocation?

How much is too much? How much is enough? How should Christians decide how much house to buy? Is that even a legitimate question to ask, or does that smell of legalism? For the moment, let’s says it’s legitimate.

Members of the Greatest Generation (the Great Depression and World War II era) will tell you that houses these days are outrageously large. I’ve had many in my own congregation tell me that when they were growing up the average was to have a lot more people living in a lot less house. But today “you young kids think you need such a big house.” “But,” we say, “we need them to store all of our possessions!”

Thus, the question, how much is too much? Does the Christian vocation compel us to think more deeply about our finances than simply attaining to percentage giving in our local congregation?  How many toys do our kids need? How many TV’s is enough? How many cars, boats, ATV’s, snowmobiles, and grown up toys do we need? How big do our houses need to be (or our churches for that matter)?

Does our love for our neighbor in need compel us to think more deeply about how we use our finances? I ask this coming off of a week of ministry where I dealt with two community (nonmember) families who are well below the poverty line. In fact, one couple has no car, no job, no savings, and come the end of the month, no place to live.

However, as in the book of Acts, members of our congregation are stepping up to give and to help. But I have a feeling it’s not to the point of selling some land or giving them one of their own cars. (Though, to be fair, I did put the situation to the whole congregation on Sunday and received quite a door offering for it.)

In the end, I fully realize that the moment we start establishing “guidelines” for how much house and how many toys Christians should have, we start down the dangerous road of legalism. Nonetheless, does the Christian vocation call for us to work through challenges like these? What do you think? Are these legitimate questions for us to muddle through as we consider our Christian vocation? If so, what might you suggest be a template for our thinking?

As always, this blog aims to move past partisanship and demonizing of those who disagree, and endeavors to thoughtfully, honestly, and collegially, foster the goal of talking 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.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

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2 responses to “The Challenge

  1. I find these words of Luther apropos.

    What you want others to do to you, you do to them” [Matt. 7:12]. Everyone who keeps this rule before him, each man in his trade, in business, and in dealings with his neighbor, would soon find out how he ought to buy and sell, give and take, lend and give without return, promise and keep his promise, and the like. And when we look at the world as it really is and see how greed has the upper hand in all business, we would not only find enough to do to make a living with honor in the sight of God, but would also acquire a fear and dread of this dangerous and pitiable life which is so overburdened, entangled, and caught up with the cares of earning a living and the dishonest pursuit of gain. (Treatise on Good Works From Luther’s Works, Vol. 44 pg 107)

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