The Servants of the Lord

Many are the lads, and more recently lasses, who have heard the call of the Lord to enter the clergy. Just in case any needed prodding, many jurisdictions have an Office of Vocations to recruit. Vocation is a word meaning “calling.” Among Christians today it generally means a call to clergy ranks.

The modern division of the world into “sacred” and “secular,” and the abdication by the Church of the latter territory, means that, contrary to Jesus’ assertion, few are apparently called today. It was not always thus. While there have been deacons, priests (presbyters) and bishops from New Testament times, the division of people into clergy and lay, corresponding to the sacred/ secular divide, happened centuries later. There were numerous ordained offices; readers, acolytes, doorkeepers, exorcists and such, as well as the first three. And those ordained normally had a “day job.” The latter, in old-fashioned English, is known as a “calling,” to be a lawyer, carpenter, sailor or whatever.

But who is it that is calling?

That question was easy for the third century Christian. It was the Lord. Alas, in the nineteenth century, such jobs were a calling without a call, because by then calls only happened for Church jobs.

Yet if the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24), are not all tasks sacred and all callings from the Lord? The early church did not divide jobs into sacred ones and secular ones, despite non-Christians around them who did just that. For Christians, the emperor’s job was sacred, although the emperor himself did not recognize that. In the Christian view, the emperor was in place according to God’s will. Since the church was illegal, there was certainly a separation of church and state. But it was not that one was God’s and the other secular. It was rather both were God’s instruments, whether they knew it or not, and even when the emperor was bad. The Christian view was that it is all the Lord’s, so all that you do, you do for the Lord, at work, at home, in government, in church, or wherever.

No church council or pope has ever officially cancelled that thought. But it has clearly gone away. A call from the Lord to be a bus driver? To be an uncle? To be a wife? To support a charity? To weed the garden? To run for school board? The Office of Vocations doesn’t have those on its list. But Christian vocations they are, along with a host of others. The invention of “the clergy,” the professional career caste dominating the Church, has monopolized calls from the Lord, making others inaudible. Martin Luther, saturated in the writings of the early Fathers, made a valiant attempt to re-orient the Church back to the original concept. The milkmaid, he said, has as valid a vocation from God as the priest. All Christians are called to exercise sacred vocation. For instance, a call to one individual might include being a father, a farmer, a singer in the choir, and a member of the town council. All are aspects of the stewardship of the segment of the earth allotted to that individual.

We are all part of the “laos,” the people of God, by virtue of being ordained to that order by our baptism. The generic job description of our call is to serve as a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Individual callings do not a separate into sacred callings for church work and secular non-callings into doing other things. Each person baptized receives a vocation from the Lord for all aspects of life. The call to be clergy is no greater or less than any other vocation, and no more or less a call from the Lord.

Failure to understand the universal nature of vocation leads to confusion. Suppose I hear a call to “ministry.” In the distortions of the modern church, the non-clergy are essentially consumers, even if some volunteer to do minor tasks. So a call to ministry can only mean a call to be a clergy professional. But ministry on our sacred earth is for everyone in the royal priesthood of the baptized, not just for ordained priests. It might mean being a truck driver to deliver food, or sitting with someone recently bereaved, or jilted. Failure to understand this means many people don’t hear the callings they are given, while others assume mistakenly that it can only mean ordained priesthood, because they don’t grasp the enormous variety of calls.

This even influences our discussions about women in the priesthood when it is assumed that the call received by women to be ministers means they must seek priesthood. Our narrow view of vocation precludes understanding that we are all called, and we are equally called. No one person’s call is better or holier than another’s. There are no “higher callings,” there are only the Lord’s callings. But this equality should not delude us into thinking that all people can suit all callings. Equal does not mean identical, it means on the same level. Each vocation is personally crafted by our Lord to suit the qualities of each individual, as unique as each person’s DNA. A call to ministry has as many variations as there are baptized, adjusted not only to match gender but a host of other factors as well. In an organization where the first are to be last and the last first, and where each is valued as a creation and child of God, this equality should not surprise. But human sin introduces the thought of higher callings and more worthy dignitaries. When the clergy establish themselves as ruling a power structure instead of serving as one among a cooperative mosaic of callings, it is no surprise that things go wrong.

All the earth is sacred. It is the Lord’s. All people receive a sacred call from the Lord. Some do not accept it. Others misunderstand its nature, based on faulty perception of the sacred earth and think it can only be valid when done in a church job. I hope you have found the Lord’s niche made for you, wherever in the world it may be. If not, keep asking and make sure you know the answer could be in the ordinary.