Saturday, September 5, 2015

Vocation As Limits

Imagine the reaction to this scenario.  One day your nice little son or daughter comes home from school and says, "Today we learned to pray the Hail Mary!"  You see, your kid's teacher that year is a nice Roman Catholic, and as such, out of her very sincere and devout religious beliefs, for the good of the children, she teaches them the Hail Mary.

Would you applaud this?  Approve of it?  Say that it is a good thing?

No - you'd probably be really upset, and why?  Because the teacher exceeded the limits of her vocation.  In her vocation as teacher (either at a public school or even if she's a nice Roman Catholic gal with a teaching gig at a Lutheran school), teaching the Hail Mary goes beyond what she has been given to do.  It doesn't matter if that is her sincere belief - it doesn't matter if she is standing up for her faith.  She went beyond her vocation.

Vocations set limits.  They define what actions you can take and who you take them with.  I am a father - that gives me a whole set of responsibilities and duties -- but to my children.  I am a pastor - I am called to preach God's Word - a good thing.  But if I barge into a congregation not my own and demand to preach, I have exceeded my vocation - I have no call to preach there (no "diploma of vocation" there, if you will).

We forget that our vocations have limits.  If you have an office or duty - that's a good thing... but you are called to carry out the duties of that office.  And that's it.  You don't assume unto yourself duties not given to you.  That's the heart of enthusiasm, that's the Zwickau prophets and their error.  That is running when not sent by the Lord. 

This idea of vocation setting limits is all over the place in the Catechism - it's the heart of the table of duties... your station in life determines what you are *or aren't* to do.  Another application of it that I think of comes from the Large Catechism on the 8th Commandment: "Therefore, to avoid this vice we should note that 265] no one is allowed publicly to judge and reprove his neighbor, although he may see him sin, unless he have a command to judge and to reprove. 266] For there is a great difference between these two things, judging sin and knowing sin. You may indeed know it, but you are not to judge it. I can indeed see and hear that my neighbor sins, but I have no command to report it to others. Now, if I rush in, judging and passing sentence, I fall into a sin which is greater than his. But if you know it, do nothing else than turn your ears into a grave and cover it, until you are appointed to be judge and to punish by virtue of your office."

Did you see how often "office" came up?  Even when it comes to spotting sin - unless your job is to punish and reprove sin - you don't punish and reprove it.  This is why we have police - not vigilante mobs (sorry folks, but Batman is not acting in accord with good Lutheran theology... at least until the city puts him on de facto retainer with the batsignal, I suppose).  This is why we have judges. 

Thus, when looking at what you do, the question is not merely "what is right" but rather "what is my vocation?"  If you do something that is abstractly "good" or that you can argue for, but it's not your vocation... then it is fundamentally bad and should not be encouraged, even if good comes from it.

The ends do not justify the violation of ones office. 


Anonymous said...

Is being a Christian a vocation? In the past I have heard it said that a Christian has many vocations, the first being that they have been called to be little Christs.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Yes - and your vocation as a Christian is to love your neighbor in the various other vocations you have, confess your sins, and receive forgiveness.

Andrew J Preus said...

So wrt to the Kentucky clerk, she exercised her vocation rightly by refusing to enforce an unjust law. This isn't just about her as an individual; it is about her as an enforcer of the law. She recognized that she is put in her office by God. Sure, it's through a human government, but it is nevertheless an office and authority given to her by God. It is her duty to carry out the natural law even if her superiors insist that she violate it. It's about doing what is right within your vocation. Her office is county clerk. She carries it out according to natural law. She is doing her duty. She is being a vigilante no more than a mother is being a vigilante who, contrary to the positive law that says she must, refuses to put her child in a school whose mission is to indoctrinate her children in the ways of perversion and other darwinian dogma.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Actually Andrew, you're wrong. Her duty as a clerk isn't to carry out "natural law" - she's a clerk of the county, and therefore she is given to carry out the laws of the county according to the laws of the county. And if she cannot in good conscience carry out those laws, she either resigns or accepts punishment (and I would commend her for accepting her punishment without complaint).

Folks who have served in the military get this - like the centurion, they know what it means to be under authority.

This is what you need for order in society. We run on written orders and instructions - otherwise you leave it up to everyone to decide on their own what they should do in their office - do we really want every official deciding for themselves what the law ought to be? Do we not complain when "the libs" do this?

(Besides - Natural Law takes care of itself - that's the point of Romans 1. If you go against nature and order as God designed it, it will come back to bite you.)

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Interestingly - there are vocations in our governmental system where we do specifically allow certain folks to over right written agreements on the basis of larger law - and those are judges. A recent example of that in the news would be the judge who overturned Tom Brady's suspension. While the letter of the law (i.e. the collective bargaining agreement between the players and the NFL) would have said that what Goddell did was fine, the judge basically said that Goddell's actions violated the spirit of the Law -- the idea that there should be a certain amount of fairness and impartiality when it comes to punishment -- as this is a major theme to all just law. And so, the judge ruled -- even though the letter was on your side, it's not going to fly.

That's the duty, not of a clerk, but of a judge.

Of course, when you have judges appeal to an overarching theme or spirit and it hits in a way we don't like - oh, say in something like the Supreme Court legalizing Gay Marriage, folks get sort of bent out of shape.

This is not me saying it was a good ruling - just pointing out that it was an appeal to a higher principal trumping the written law... like what the Kentucky clerk did. I tend to favor literal, letter of the law sort of judges... and I like that in my clerks too. Unless they make me jump through less hoops, in which case the spirit surpasses the letter.

scott said...

I'll side with Andrew on this one. It would be one thing if she applied for the job as the description now requires. It is another thing if they change the rules while you are on the job. We obey God rather than men. Wilson references Daniel 6, which is a fine example of rule changing. Daniel refuses to do so, and when the whole thing is over, says that he not only didn't offend God, but didn't wrong the king either (6:22). (Wilson's post here:

And this argument will not end with federal and state employees. Canada's Supreme Court recently discovered a right to euthanasia, to be enforced beginning next year. This carries the possibility that doctors will not be able to use a conscience clause to get out of performing murder if there is not an obliging doctor around. Again, we should obey God rather than me. (post on Canada here:

This may mean that in the near future Christians are de facto barred from these kinds of jobs.

I have been thinking along the same lines as you in regard to vocational limits over other headlines recently, namely the Planned Parenthood videos. I haven't watched them for the specific reason that they make me want a vocation other than mine. I am not called as judge, jury, and executioner, but seeing those kinds of things only bring out that kind of desire to switch vocations. Those people should be arrested, tried, and executed by the state. Seeing that they are not does make one entertain the notion of vigilanteism.

Carl Vehse said...

The Missouri Synod view, 80 years ago, was expressed in an essay, Christian Citizenship, read before the Convention of the English District, Ev. Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States at River Forest, Ill. June, 1937, (originally published in 1937 by Concordia Publishing House). In his essay, Concordia Seminary Professor Theodore Graebner stated:

"The Church indeed has no interest at stake in the type of popular government under which it is placed in its external form so long as its freedom of worship is guaranteed. But the Christian individual, the church-member as a citizen, has a duty to make his influence as a life-giving light, as a preservative, as a moral antiseptic, to be felt throughout the political body. You cannot absolve him from the duty of serving under the guidance of a Christian conscience as a voting citizen and as an office-holder.

"In the second place, let us not forget that in our country the citizen is the ruler. It is true that, when we speak of the government to which we owe allegiance and obedience in agreement with the New Testament Scriptures (Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2,13; Titus 3,1), we have in mind the magistrates who sit in the courts of law and the executives who administer the law in community, State, and nation. Yet we cannot forget that the power which these officers wield is delegated to them under a constitution by the citizens. We elect our rulers and we elect our lawgivers, and we consider this privilege of the American citizen one of the greatest temporal gifts. This gives peculiar meaning to the texts which describe rulers as they ought to be. If government is to be righteous, is to protect and foster the good, restrain the evil, and make life and property secure; if it is to guard peace and order and give no unrighteous cause for war; if through it the Moral Law is to be applied without fear or favor; I say, if the Scriptures make these demands upon temporal government, they place them squarely upon the conscience of the Christian as an American citizen, since according to our Constitution it is the citizen in whom all political power ultimately resides. There is therefore as much reason for the Christian voter to consider himself an agency of God for righteousness as under another form of government our Church has placed this duty upon the conscience of kings and princes and of the magistrates who owed their fealty to the ruling house.

"Are we not compelled to conclude from this that the church-member who evades the duty of citizenship is guilty of a sin of omission? Let us put this positively and say that it is the business of every church-member as a citizen to be active in his stewardship as one of those who rule these United States.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


The job description hasn't changed. She still is to make sure that applicants for a wedding meet the legal standards before they receive a license. Her job hasn't changed - the legal standards have changed.

Agents of the state don't get grandfathered to uphold the law that was law when they sign on -- think on the utter chaos that would bring!

If the goal is to get those legal standards to revert... as a clerk she cannot accomplish that, nor is that task one that is given to her in her office.

scott said...

Even worse if the law itself changes to something evil! All the more reason to refuse.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I hate to say it... but the gays are here to stay. We need to deal. Really - we do.

Because we let people do plenty of other things that are self-harmful. We let people legally drink to excess, or smoke, or overeat, or rent hotel rooms together when they aren't married. Why, we even let them ignore the first table of the law.

Part of the American idea of law is that individuals have the right to do something stupid so long as it's voluntary and consensual.

Perhaps it's better to be a voice calling out to repent than to try to regulate the wilderness into a garden.

scott said...

This is not an alternative to calling for repentance. Neither is it regulating the wilderness into a garden. This is refusing to participate in something that she feels is against her conscience. It also happens to be contrary to natural and moral law (if there even is a difference). The regulating has been from the government in a fashion that will neither punish the bad or praise the good, but will rather work to destroy society.

I'm not saying she can't be fired or removed from her position. I'm sure she will. I understand why. But she is not hurting government or society. She is attempting to help. They are in the wrong.