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  • Writer's pictureDr. Roger D Duke

Are You One of God's Called? Think about it!

Introduction: Concerning This Concept of “Calling”

(This is the first chapter in The Four Callings of William Carey)


Roger D Duke

When people normally think of the word “calling,” minds immediately turn to the clergy or professional church minister. Because of this understanding, very seldom is the word “calling” associated with or synonymous to the word “vocation.” Please understand the word vocatio can be used in several ways. It comes from a Latin term that means “calling.” [1] In the Church realm, it is employed as God’s calling of men and women into His Kingdom by the preaching of the Gospel. It is also used to denote someone of the clergy. On the other hand, in secular terms it can mean a trade, profession, or employment someone might follow. This distinction between the “secular” and the “sacred” was a maintained by the Roman Catholic tradition until the time of the Reformation. It is the basis for the idea of separate clergy and laity. [2] This was a false dichotomy that the reformers labored to rebut. Martin Luther taught there was no distinction between the secular and the sacred. This theological praxis was one major issue separating the Roman Church from the teachings of the Luther and Calvin. [3]

For Luther, vocation was a “station” where one had been placed to be helpful to those neighbors and community around them. The duty of the station was to be “done as unto the Lord.” Theology demonstrates the biological order, i.e., father, mother, son, or daughter. Each of these is a “calling.” [4] Luther taught, when there was a difference in the spheres of home and office, problems would naturally arise. In the home Christian love rules, in the office more impersonal regulations of the vocation hold sway. Service to others based or love of neighbor should be the driving force in all venues, for it is in these different areas where we fill our different callings. For life at home, the relation between parents and children is vocation. Even as in the field of labor the relationship between the employer and employee is a vocation. Luther asserted, “In anything that involves action, anything that concerns the world or my relationship with my neighbor, there is nothing that falls in a private sphere lying outside of [my] station, office, or vocation. [5]

Humans are in community in this life and “It is only before God in heaven, that the individual stands alone.” [6] Here below, our purpose is to love and serve neighbor, whoever s/he might be. [7] The discharge of one’s vocation is primary to fulfilling the Royal Law (See: James 1:8). In Luther’s mind it was clear that every Christian held various “offices” or callings concurrently. One person, a male for instance, would be father to his children, husband to his wife, master of his servants, and civic or political leader. [8] All of these are vocations or callings of the same person. Each office has its own responsibility connected with it and is to exercise it for the good of neighbor. Gustaf Wingren has rightly observed, “God does not need our good work, but our neighbor does.” [9]

This sense of vocation for community’s sake seems lost to the 21st Century mind, however. Contrast Luther’s community schemata with David Brooks’ observations about present day views of vocation and work. Brooks believes for a life to be consider “good” the person ought to organize it around the idea of vocation. When someone endeavors to use their work to serve only themselves, they will always find personal ambitions and expectations will go unfulfilled. Personally, they will hardly find any sense of satisfaction and contentment they seek. If you serve a community alone, you will always wonder if people really appreciate you. And if your intrinsically compelling work focuses you on excellence, you will serve self and the community only in an indirect way. Brooks summarizes: “A vocation is not found by looking within and finding your passion. One can find it by looking without and asking what life is asking of us. What problem is addressed by any activity you intrinsically enjoy.” [10] It seems, he understands our present milieu where one performs his vocation for personal fulfillment or for other internal motive. Calling exercised not necessarily for the greater good of community, although this might be a secondary outcome or byproduct.

Conversely in Lutheran thought, every station where God placed someone with a task, was their personal vocation done for neighbor. Brooks understands, even if one endeavors to serve the community; s/he may do it with only a personal desire to acknowledge external appreciation, laud, or reward. [11] And at best, if one seeks to be excellent at their vocation, the person may only want to realize a higher sense of “self-worth.” Luther focused on the community at-large. Brooks comprehends the 21st Century individual ethos as self-seeking and employing vocation to further that end.

Luther was not the only reformer to speak of calling. He was the progenitor, the first to tease out this theology of vocation. His writings became the foundation for the doctrine. Then came John Calvin who built upon his predecessor Luther. Calvin believed, “God’s sovereign purposes govern the simplest occupation. He attends to everyone’s work.” [12] Calvin viewed work as the activity Christians did to deepen personal faith. It led to a deeper quality of commitment to God as one means of sanctification. Whatever a person did, excellence was the product, as unto the Lord. This Calvin considered as one hallmark of the Christian faith. For, “Diligence and dedication in one’s everyday life are a proper response to God.” [13] Calvin acknowledged “God in the details.” The ingredients of the mundane and monotonous chores of one’s life and calling are of the utmost importance in the service of our Lord Christ.

According to Calvin, God bids each of us to consider all of life’s actions and stations as personal callings. We all possess multiple callings that run concurrently.[14] God knows right well our inclination to restlessness. He knows how easily our fickleness carries us about. The Lord places us in our respective circumstances in order that we will not fill our lives with folly, or rashness, or mass confusion. God has ordained duties to each one of us in his/her life station. He did this, so that no one will go farther than we should when performing duties of that station’s appointed tasks. For Calvin, God had sovereignty identified our various stations for us. So, the duties of each person’s assigned charge would keep him or her from dashing about rashly their entire life. For God is not the author of confusion, even in one’s vocation. This was all significant in Calvin’s understanding. [15] “Consequently, the one who directs himself toward the goal of observing God’s calling will have a life well composed,” [16] Calvin asserted.

Before we leave the Reformation doctrine of vocation and turn to Carey’s Callings, there is one thing that is needful. If there is a calling—then there must be one who calls. Oz Guinness shares his wisdom of the topic. There is a life-changing concept we can learn and experience. Guinness posits: “Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.” [17] God then clarifies “between [the] primary and secondary calling[s]” for the disciple. [18] This becomes apparent as s/he lives a life of service in the Christian community and the wider world.

Guinness explains:

First, “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him.” [19] God calls us to himself—He calls us to His personal relationship. Our call is not to something such as an office of motherhood or politics, necessarily. This would seem contrary to Luther and Calvin as expressed above. But they would strongly advocate a call to Christian discipleship as expressed by Guinness. There is no contradiction only clarification and hopefully explanation.

Further, “Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him.” [20] At this level, Guinness would have us understand; if one is a homemaker, or practices law, or to teaches art history—then this is God’s calling and vocation for them. All these vocations are callings. All acts of service for neighbor by the disciple are always secondary callings. They are never the primary calling. The primary calling is to take up one’s cross and follow Christ. It is the calling to the disciple to come and die. Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” [21]This summons is the primary call of God to come to Christ. There is a difference in “callings” and “calling.” These “Secondary callings matter, but only because the primary calling matters most.” [22] With these thoughts in mind let us turn our attention to The Four Callings of William Carey.

[1] Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Crossway: Wheaton, 2002), 17. [2] For a fuller discussion of the Roman Catholic tradition’s dichotomy see: “The ‘Catholic Distortion’” in Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: The W Publishing Group Division of Thomas Nelson, 2003), 31-35. [3] Phillip S. Watson, “Abstract: Luther’s Doctrine of Vocation.” Scottish Journal of Theology Volume 2 Issue 4 (February 2009), 364-380; internet address DOI:, retrieved June 2, 2017. [4] Throughout the concepts of “vocation,” “calling,” “offices,” and “station” used interchangeably. [5] Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation, trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Evansville: Ballast Press, 1999), 4-5. This is a reprint of Gustaf Wingren’s original dissertation. [6] Wingren, 5. [7] Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Your Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 39. [8] Wingren, 5. [9] Gustaf Wingren; quoted in Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Your Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 38. [10] David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York: Random House, 2015), 266. [11] Ibid. [12] John Piper quoted in Hugh Whelchel, “John Calvin’s Contribution to the Biblical Doctrine of Work,” Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics online journal, (17 January 2013), (accessed June 6, 2017). [13] Alister McGrath quoted in Hugh Whelchel, “John Calvin’s Contribution to the Biblical Doctrine of Work,” Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics online journal, (17 January 2013), (accessed June 6, 2017). [14] John Calvin, A Little Book of the Christian Life, trans. & ed. Aaron Clay Denlinger and Burk Parsons (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2017), 123. [15] Calvin, A Little Book, 124. [16] Calvin, A Little Book, 125. [17] Oz Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: The W Publishing Group Division of Thomas Nelson, 2003), 29. [18] Guinness, The Call, 31. [19] Ibid. This quote taken from the New Testament, Romans 11: 36. [20] Guinness, The Call, 31. [21] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Good Reads,” accessed 3 February 2021, internet source [22] Guinness, The Call, 31.

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