In our last post, we saw how the contribution of the early church fathers created the idea that pursuing the contemplative life or a professional role in the church is the only truly religious vocation. In some ways this mentality still influences our modern Christian lives.
By the time Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the distinction between clergy and laity was fairly well established. With the establishment of celibacy for the clergy in the 11th century, this demarcation was complete and the laity were relegated to second-class status in the church.
This trend was also reinforced by the rise of monastic spirituality, which regarded vocation as a calling out of the world into isolation in the desert or the monastery.
In the medieval church, having a vocation or calling referred exclusively to full-time church work. If a person felt a calling, this was a sign that he or she might “have a vocation,” which meant becoming a priest, a monk, or a nun. The ordinary occupations of life—being a peasant farmer or kitchen maid, making tools or clothing, being a soldier or even king—were acknowledged as necessary but worldly.
Such people could be saved, but they were mired in the world. To serve God whole-heartedly and to live a genuinely spiritual life required a full-time commitment. The “counsels of perfection” could be fulfilled only in the Holy Orders of the church, in which a man or woman devoted every day to prayer, contemplation, worship, and the service of God. Even marriage and parenthood, though recognized as good things, were viewed as encumbrances to the religious life. “Having a vocation” included the willingness and the ability to live a celibate life.
The division of life into sacred and secular categories during the Middle Ages, with the subsequent subordination of the laity to the professional priesthood, marginalized the New Testament view of the priesthood of all believers.
This point was not lost on Martin Luther. It was through the Reformation that Christians began to rediscover the Biblical doctrine of work.
Question: Have you ever felt that your job was not as important to the Kingdom of God than full-time work in the ministry? Leave a comment here.
- Part 1: Two Historic Teachings of Work
- Part 2: The Early Christian View of Work
- Part 3: Is ‘Full-time’ Ministry Holier than My Job?
- Part 4: Do I Need to Quit my Job and Attend Seminary?
- Part 5: How the Protestant Work Ethic Has Affected Vocation
- Part 6: Three Cultural Movements that Changed the Meaning of Vocation
- Part 7: Marx and Our Longing for Work to Matter
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