“Your Priestly Calling”      1 Thessalonians 4:11-12  1 Peter 2:9              10/29/06

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO:  Taking a break from Mark, because this is a special

   day in the history of the church. 

On special days, ought to talk about what makes them special.

   Some things that need to be repeated through the years

   and impressed on our minds and hearts as the people of God.

 

INTRO:  October 31 is not just Halloween, very significant date in church history.

October 31, 1517 a German monk named Martin Luther took a list of 95 objections

   he had written against indulgences—letters blessed by Pope, to take away years

   of purgatory—and he nailed them to door of church in Wittenberg, Germany.

 

Those 95 objections, Theses, spread all over Germany and Europe.

His action was the catalyst for a great rediscovery of the Gospel

   that had been covered over by years of legalism.

That rediscovery is called the Protestant Reformation.

   As Christians rediscovered great truths of Scripture,

   filled with joy and the church was brought back to the Bible. 

 

You might not be interested in what happened in the church 489 years ago.

   You might say—I’m just interested in what God is doing now.

   But that’s not right. 

Part of being a Christian is to recount and celebrate the history of God’s

   work in saving a people unto himself.

Christianity a historical faith.  It’s not a philosophy or moral code. 

   Our faith is based on God’s great works in history. 

   We believe in the history of redemption.

 

Real sports fans aren’t satisfied with just watching the games of the current season.

   They love the history of their team. 

   When they are together they recount the great games, great players and coaches.

Lord want us to know the great works He has done throughout this Gospel Age—

   and the great saints He has used in particular ways to advance the Kingdom.

 

Hebrews 13:

   “Remember your leaders, who preached the Word of God to you.

   Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”

Lord expects us not just to remember Abraham Moses, David, Peter, Paul—

But also leaders like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the Wesleys, Spurgeon.

   Those the Lord used to lead the church in great ways.

With that in mind, want us to remember Martin Luther, man used by God.

   To do so, not going to focus so much on Luther, but on one of the doctrines

   that Luther rediscovered—doctrine of vocation.

We’ve looked on past Reformation Sundays, truth we need to be reminded of.

 

What is the doctrine of vocation?

   The word vocation comes from the Latin verb “to call.”

   Doctrine of vocation is the doctrine of calling.

It’s the teaching that God summons people, he calls them, first to salvation

   and then to serve Him in particular areas of life.

 

Now, we’re going to look at this in more detail—

   but the great power of this teaching is that it transfigures ordinary life.

All your duties, all your work, is work that God himself has called you to do.

   It has purpose, it has dignity.

   No matter how difficult, lowly, or hard it is,

   God himself has called you to it, so it is of eternal importance.

 

As I said, Luther and the Reformers rediscovered this teaching

    and it transformed the church. 

Christians began to look at the Christian life in ways that they

   had not seen it for centuries.  Resulted in an outpouring of joy,

   and tremendous transformation of church and society. 

 

We need to be reminded of this teaching today. 

   We need to be reminded how the church lost it for years, consequences of that.

   We need to see that there are always forces inside and outside the church

   that are at odds with this teaching. 

   We need to see again how precious it is. 

 

Let us look at the doctrine of vocation, will do so under three headings:

   1.  The historical setting

   2.  The biblical basis

   3.  The contemporary challenges

 

 

 

MP#1  The historical setting

The church during the Middle ages taught that there were two classes of Christians,

   followed at two different tracks called the spiritual estate and the temporal estate. 

 

The spiritual estate was considered the high road of Christian life.

   It was a better, holier, more god-fearing way of salvation.

The way a Christian entered the spiritual estate was to go into church work—

   to become a priest or to take monastic vows as a monk or nun.

 

All other Christians in the temporal estate, which was the low road to salvation.

   Temporal means earthly, rather than eternal.

This would include all Christians who devoted themselves to other work

   besides church work—farmers, merchants, soldiers, laborers.

There was nothing sinful about this work—

   but you would simply never achieve the same level of holiness as the other.

So if a person really wanted to please the Lord and live a spiritual life,

   and do things that would count for eternity—

   there was only one way, become priest, monk, or nun.

And many, many did—left ordinary lives, entered monasteries.

 

How did the Church get to this point? 

In the fourth century, Roman Emperor Constantine declared that Christianity

   was the official religion of the Roman Empire. 

   Everyone Christian by decree.

How do you live a genuine, serious Christian life in a setting,

   where everybody thinks they are Christian by birth?

 

The answer was a movement called monasticism.

   Monastic movement, like-minded Christians, serious about living Christian life,

   got together to live as serious Christians.  Take Christ’s commands seriously.

   To live a higher calling than the superficial Christianity of the masses.

 

Over time, the basic terms that the Bible applies to all Christians, were narrowed.

“To convert” no longer meant to leave sin and come to faith in Christ,

   meant to leave worldly profession, become a monk or nun. 

“Religion” no longer meant the totality of the Christian faith, being in church work.

“Spiritual” no longer meant life in the power of the Holy Spirit, living monastic life.

   And people began to think that this was a surer way to get to heaven.

 

So if you were a person who was concerned about your spiritual condition

   and really serious about following Jesus—there was only one path.

   You had to take vows of priest, monk or nun.

This lead inevitably to legalistic thinking that salvation itself was earned. 

 

Well, there was a young German man named Martin Luther,

   very concerned about his salvation. 

What did he do?  Became a monk.  Opted for harder, higher way of salvation.

   And he picked the Augustinian order—the Marine Corp of monks.

Threw himself into the monastic life—study, prayer, fasting, rituals.

   “If ever a monk could get to heaven by his monkery, it was I.”

   In spite of all his efforts, no peace, growing sense of his sin, futility of efforts,

 

Though study of Romans, he heard the Gospel for the first time.

   Holy Spirit opened mind to the glorious truth there is only one way of salvation—

   and that is by faith in what Jesus has done, not in what we do.

As a result of his conversion, Luther rejected the idea that monastic life

   is a better, holier, more God-pleasing way of salvation.

 

With that Luther rejected the two-class view of Christianity.

   Not just priests, monks, nuns who are called by God, serve God,

   All Christians are called by God, so all serve Him, no matter what work do.

Wrote a book called “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church”

   argued that the church had been taken into captivity by this teaching

   that the really holy way to God is by taking religious orders.

 

This is the way Luther put it:

      “. . . the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.”

 

This became one of the great themes of the Reformation, repeated over and over.

William Perkins—later Puritan, wrote:

   The work of a shepherd tending sheep is as good a work before God as is the action of

   a judge giving a sentence, or a magistrate in ruling, or a minister preaching.

 

William Tyndale—English translator, burned at the stake for faith, wrote:

   There is a difference betwixt washing of dishes and preaching the Word of God,

   but as touching to please God, none at all.”

 


MP#2  The biblical basis

What got into these men?  What caused them to say such things?

   extraordinary statements that it is not just preachers who have callings,

   but all Christians do—laborers, housewives, judge, magistrates?

What led them to say that a person who lived by faith could please God just as

   much by washing dishes as by preaching the Gospel

 

Consider the biblical basis of this teaching about vocation—

In those days, Christians were blown away by the re-discovery of biblical teaching

   of the priesthood of all believers. 

The teaching of the day that said priests are a special class of super-Christians.

   But the Bible says that all believers are priests.

I Peter 2:9, written to all believers:

   “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,

   that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous

   light.”

 

What does this mean?  This teaching of Scripture, called priesthood of believers?

   Teaching doesn’t just appear in the NT, has root in OT church.  Exodus 19:6

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

 

When the Lord said to Israelites, “You will be for me a kingdom of priests,”

   they already had priests—they had a whole tribe of priests, the Levites.

God wasn’t saying, you don’t need priests in the Temple anymore.

   He commanded that there be a special office of priest in the OT church.

So what did the Lord mean when He called all Israel a kingdom of priest?

 

A priest is a person who is holy (set apart for God),

   he has an intimate relationship with God,

   offers sacrifices and makes intercession to God,

   and his whole life is devoted to service of God.

 

This is what Lord was saying to the Israelites. 

Through the Messiah, through the salvation I provide—

   every of you will be holy, set apart for me, whole nation.

All you will have an intimate relationship with me,

   All of you will offer sacrifices of life to me, make intercession to me,

   All of life will be devoted to my service.  Shepherd, farmer, solider, merchant

This all came to glorious fulfillment in Christ, New Testament Church.

Priesthood of believers doesn’t mean that don’t need ministers,

   pastors, elders and deacons.  Christ commands church to have officers.

Doesn’t mean that we can do away with lawful spiritual authority.

 

Means that when God calls a person to saving faith in His Son,

   then Christ makes you a priest with Him to serve God.

That means that you are holy.  God has set your life apart for His service.

   Means that you can have an intimate relationship with God.

   Means that you can offer your life as a sacrifice to Him.

Means, as a Christian, don’t have to pursue a particular work to truly serve God.

   You serve Him where ever He has called you.

 

Not only did that do away with this idea of two different classes of Christians—

   it brought a dignity and purpose to every part of life. 

This is the work God has called me to do.

   This is where I am serving him and pleasing him.

 

One of the places where this immediately had repercussions was in marriage.

   The spiritual estate, being a monk or nun required vows of celibacy.

Christians said, Wait a minute. 

   If we are priests before God—then marriage itself is a calling.

   Resulted in many monks and nuns marrying each other.

Luther married a nun, Catherine von Bora.

   Married Katie to vex the Pope, spite the devil, and glorify Father in heaven.

 

When Christians during the Reformation rediscovered that truth—

   it made them giddy, made them drunk with spiritual joy.

   I’m a carpenter and I’m a priest.  I’m not second class citizen in Kingdom.

   I’m serving Christ as I make furniture.

I’m a housewife and I’m a priest.  I’m serving Christ as I change diapers.

 

My marriage is a calling in which I can serve God as I serve my spouse.

   My occupation is a calling in which I serve God.

   My church membership is a calling in which I serve God.

On and on and on.

   Every sphere of life a calling from the Lord. 

   No work that is not truly respectable and highly important in the sight of God.


MP#3  The contemporary challenges

But as wonderful as this doctrine is, it is challenged in every generation.

   Let’s consider the contemporary challenges to the doctrine of vocation—

   there are challenges that come from both inside and outside the church.

 

1.  Let’s start with challenges from inside the church:

Christians today are just as susceptible to creating two classes of Christians

   as the Medieval Church was.  We do it in several ways.

 

Think about the phrase:  “Full-time Christian service.”

   Christians sometimes use that to refer to missionaries, pastors, church-workers.

There is a value implied by that phrase—

   Church work is the real service that honors God.

   People who are called into church work serve God full-time.

 

All other Christians can only serve the Lord part-time

   as they work church and ministry things into their schedules. 

So, if you sell cars for a living,

   you can serve God part-time by teaching Sunday school,

   But to serve God full-time, you have to quit selling cars and become a pastor. 

That’s no different in spirit from what the Medieval Church taught.

   Let’s reject that thinking.  All Christians can serve God full time in all callings. 

 

Another way the church attacks the doctrine of vocation is by saying or implying

   that the only way a Christian can serve God in a so-called secular job,

  is by using it as a platform for witnessing to non-Christians.

The idea is that if you are witnessing, then you are serving God.  If not, you aren’t.

 

By all means witness when you can. 

   It’s wonderful when Christians tell people about Christ in the workplace.

   But remember, you serve Christ by giving attention to your calling.

A Christian accountant serves Christ by giving attention to his client’s books.

A Christian computer programmer is called by Christ to program computers.

   Luther:  “God doesn’t want a cobbler who puts crosses on shoes,

   he wants a cobbler who makes good shoes.” 

And that good work itself, contentment in it, the Lord uses as a witness.

   Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your

   hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that

   you will not be dependent on anybody.

We are heirs of the Reformation, glorious doctrine of vocation,

   priesthood of believers—let’s be aware of challenges from inside the church.

 

2.  But let’s not ignore challenges from outside the church.

I think that the biggest threat to the doctrine of vocation from outside

   is our culture’s idolatry of personal fulfillment.

My mother started teaching school in the early 60s. 

   She’s retired now but still does some substitute work South Florida. 

I was talking to her recently and she said,

   I remember I used to ask kids what they wanted to be when they grew up—

   would say policeman, nurse—a salesman like my dad, teacher like mom. 

Now they say things like:  I want to be a movie star.  They’re totally unrealistic. 

   It’s all this business they’ve been fed about being true to their dreams. 

 

For Americans, the highest value is personal fulfillment.

   Making your decisions based on what will fulfill you. 

Not letting the expectations or demands any other people make on you

   influence your decisions—whether parents, peers, spouse, or society.

That’s being real.  That’s being true to your dreams. 

   We applaud that.  We encourage it.

 

But where is God in that?  Where is the sense of calling? 

   Essence of a call is that you don’t choose it.  It chooses you.

God calls through people and providence.

   He calls through people who give you direction and counsel and example.

   He calls through circumstances and responsibilities opportunities of life.

And sometimes we push against that because we don’t think

   it’s going to be personally fulfilling.  But in fact, fighting God’s calling.

 

John Calvin, writing about calling:

   “The Lord knows that the human mind burns with restlessness . . . every individual’s

   vocation therefore, is a post assigned to him by the Lord, that he may not wander about in

   uncertainty all the days of his life.” 

 

Wow, doesn’t that go against the spirit of the age. 

   My callings in life are posts assigned to me by the Lord. 

I’ve been called to be a son, husband, father, brother, pastor, church member—

   and the Lord wants me to stand at my post.  Let’s hold on to that, not allow the

   restless idolatry of personal fulfillment to make us discontent

CONC:  Praise God for Martin Luther and all the other great Reformers

   he used almost 500 years ago to recover what was lost to the church

   for hundreds of years.  Our lives are all the richer for it.

 

Praise Him mostly for the wonderful work of Jesus Christ who made it possible,

   by his death on the cross for all of us to be called as priests—

   set apart as holy, representing and serving God in our various callings.

 

Luther preached a famous Christmas sermon in which he asked—

   What did the shepherds do after they saw the baby Jesus?

What would the appropriate response be to such an amazing experience?

   The chorus of angels, the personal invitation to the manger,

   the sight of the eternal Son of God in human flesh.

 

Surely men who witness something that great are destined to great things—

   surely they would leave their secular jobs and do something great for God. 

But what does the Bible say: 

   “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God.”

 

Luther put it this way: 

   These shepherds do not run away into the desert, they do not don monk's garb, they do not shave their heads, neither do they change their clothing, schedule, food, drink, nor any external work.  They return to their place in the fields to serve God there.

 

And that’s exactly what you are going to do tomorrow—

   You are going to return to your place in the fields—

   Your family, your school, your workplace—

Because you are a royal priest—called to serve your God.