Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Our Current Understanding of the Doctrine of Vocation: An Informal Fallacy?

The Doctrine of Vocation has been all the rage in Lutheran circles the past ten years. This is a good thing. But something is missing in all these discussions. We have forgotten the first premise. This could simply be the work of an enthymeme. But the pessimist in me thinks something else is at work, something more like a petitio principii. That first premise is "From the beginning God created them male and female."

Why have we left this first premise off? Are we just products of our age? Is this not something that we need to deal with first and foremost? Do we not have a vocation first and foremost as a man and as a woman? Does not all other vocations flow from this? And if we get this first premise wrong, will not all the rest be skewed along with it?

President Harrison in his address to the delegates at the 65th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, quoting Hermann Sasse, said, "Every great advance in the church began with the cry, 'Back!' Back to the Scriptures! Back to the Confessions! Back!" Resolution 4-11A“To Commend Faithful Service and to Study Proper Roles of Men and Women in the Church,” is a step in the right direction. One delegate, speaking in favor of the resolution, urged that the CTCR should not limit the scope of their study simply to the roles of men and women in the church, but also in the home and society. That delegate is right. I hope the CTCR heeds this delegate's request.

But we need not wait for the CTCR to speak. The task of teaching the vocation of being a man and the vocation of being a woman is given also to pastors. It is given to fathers within the home also. Our confusion over what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman leads to confusion in other areas of theology and practice, in church, in society, and in the family. Let's heed the words of Sasse and go back. Back to the Scriptures. Back to the Confessions. Back to the teaching of our forefathers in the faith. Let us mine the riches of their work to understand and practice what they preached.

So let's go back, back to the very beginning, back to the mandate and institution of mankind. For have you not read that in the beginning God created them male and female (Matt 19:4)? This is where we must start: at creation. This tells us what a thing is: who man is and who woman is. And not only who, but what they are according to God's revealed will. If we skip this, if we let modernity have its way, we cut ourselves off at the knees, standing on a shaky foundation.


  1. One delegate, speaking in favor of the resolution, urged that the CTCR should not limit the scope of their study simply to the roles of men and women in the church, but also in the home and society. That delegate is right.

    That was me. Another delegate had offered an amendment to use The Creator's Tapestry instead. I know a bit about that delegate's theological approach, and I think she was afraid of what the CTCR might come up with if they studied the whole enchilada when it comes to the vocations of men and women.

    What I suggested is what the amendment was trying to prevent. The original resolution was about studying the relationship of men and women to each other and the world as a whole. Such a study would have been very helpful when we discussed the issue of women in combat (for example).

    I look forward to seeing what the CTCR comes up with.

    1. With no disrespect whatsoever to my reverend former student teaching partner, with whose perspective on the greater matter I wholeheartedly agree: the Creator's Tapestry IS a CTCR document and takes the standard form of LCMS non-statement. No manifestation of the LCMS (convention, commission, faculty, officer, etc) is willing to say publicly anything more specific than "only men can be ordained" and "Wives, submit to your husbands." Another CTCR document, regardless of its assignment's particulars, will be every bit as vague as TCT because the CTCR is always comprised of voices as conflicted as those of the convention delegates. It is the Convention's job to speak authoritatively, and it won't. Most men there are afraid of hundreds of real live women in his life who would be beyond ticked if he made any kind of specific statement, such as, "Yeah, if it doesn't make sense for women to be in combat it really doesn't make sense for them have to have any job that requires them to carry a gun," or, "If the will of the voters is authoritative in this here church-like entity and authority in the church if absolutely nowhere else is given to men--hey, is that the Weinermobile?"

      And if the women were ticked, how would we ever make quorum at voters' meetings?

      I do not look forward to what the CTCR comes up with because the CTCR prefers to badger the people of God into presenting Him with square foot gardens rather than godly seed.

      I look forward to hearing specific teaching on the topic suggested by Pastor Braaten.

      Submissively submitted.

    2. Rebekah,

      Duly noted. It's in the works.

      The teaching is actually rather simple. How that works out, especially in twenty-first century America, is more difficult. But I think the first step in this is teaching what the Bible actually says about men and women roles in the family, the society, and the church. So at least getting comfortable saying it out loud that when Paul says "Wives respect your husbands," he actually means for wives to respect your husbands. When he says "I do not allow . . . " it means he doesn't allow and we shouldn't either, etc. It means we at least have to come to grips with the text, what it says, and agree that's what it says. Remarkably, perhaps ironically, this is where the more liberal minded are good. They say what the text says. They reject it. And say Paul was a misogynist and it's not part of the Bible. But they at least understand the text. Most conservatives nowadays spend so much time saying what the text doesn't say, or what Paul doesn't mean, that they don't ever get around to saying what it does say and mean. We need to get over that. So we need to state clearly that Scripture gives us an ideal of who men were created to be and who women were created to be.

      The second part is then to recognize that we are far from that ideal and try to find a way back. That's where it is difficult. I actually think the emphasis should begin in the home so we can take back our families. It is the primary institution from which the other come. But I think that's our starting point.

      I know this is probably not what you were looking for because it's not terribly specific. As I continue to study and learn, I will try to post more. So I hope this will suffice for now. Thanks for your thoughts.

    3. :D I trust the editors of Gottesdienst implicitly. The CTCR, not so much. But I also hope Gottesdienst won't be the only place making such teaching available. And I would like one of those big toasters.

    4. This is exactly the kind of thing that Lutheran schools should be all about -- telling Lutherans the ins and outs of God's creation and our vocations. I'm not sure it's played out that way though . . .

  2. I think Rev Braaten is dead on here. In Romans 1 we see that those who deny who God is as creator, then turn around and deny who they are as creatures -- thus they do unnatural things. Although we recognize our creator, if we refuse to recognize ourselves as creatures, as who God has made us to be, I have no doubt we will soon end up denying the creator. You can get the problem wrong starting from either end. We see this in the fact that people who accept improper women's roles, homosexuality, gay parenting, etc, are not fine with sitting in a church that disapproves of such behavior.

    God created man and woman. He created them different. And He said it was very good. So should we. Men and women being interchangeable in everything is wrong. If we refuse to teach our youth this, they will not learn it, and it will be too late by the time their college prof or army recruiter tell them whatever the world wants to tell them.

  3. I wonder if Luther got it right in the order of the Table of Duties? Preacher >Hearer >Gov't >Citizens >Husbands >Wives >Parents >Children >Workers >Employers >Youth >Widows >Everyone. It seems we'd like to retract the ordering and place Gov't and Citizens after Parents & Children. This is probably more in keeping with later Luther (e.g. Genesis lectures.) We might even place Husband and Wives before Preacher and Hearer if this ordering was meant to reflect the ordering of creation.

  4. The Creator's Tapestry document was a great blessing to me in that it led me through the logic of the order of creation from scripture in a concise and coherent way. When I read it, a light came on.

    That said, I don't disagree with the criticism of it offered above. The conclusions are weak but properly understanding the premises is more than half the battle. For a half-educated, confused layman like myself, it was quite helpful.

  5. The doctrine of vocation received renewed interest after Wingren published his dissertation in 1942. Much, if not most, "vocation" talk in our circles is pop-theology written chiefly for a lay audience.

    A helpful critique of Wingren is that by Hagen, found in Lutheran Quarterly (2002).

    We must reassess our theological categories, or "systematic categories," as I call them, including vocation, two kingdoms, saint/sinner, and so on, because BY THEMSELVES they are insufficient for dealing with the moral morass we're in today.

    To wit, see Laurie A. Jungling's use of vocation talk to SUPPORT same-sex relations. Available at: http://www.reconcilingworks.org/images/stories/downloads/resources/016_ANewVisionofMarriageasVocation-Jungling.pdf. Accessed July 31, 2013.

  6. Ambassador Curtis,

    I guess I'm just trying to change my besetting sin from road rage to optimism.


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