Monasticism received a lot of attention from Luther and his fellow reformers. They saw that the church promoted this “religious” way of life as the best way to improve a person’s chances to get to heaven. It was an example of salvation by human effort.
The reformers also criticized this life of poverty, chastity, and obedience because monasticism confused what it really meant to serve God and others. People were led to believe that you had to live as some kind of “super Christian” to really serve God. Luther said that Christians serve God in their everyday lives when they serve their families and neighbors. But it is hard to serve your family and neighbor if you are sequestered behind the walls of a monastery.
God gives us opportunities to live our faith (Ephesians 2:10). Luther described these opportunities as a Christian’s “station” in life or a “vocation” or “calling.” We have numerous relationships in our daily living: families, communities, schools, workplaces, the marketplace, friendships, churches, government. Each of these provides opportunities to serve God by serving others and by contributing to the welfare of the larger society.
In fact, God provides what we need to help us carry out our vocations. In Luther’s explanation to the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer in his Small Catechism, we notice how many different aspects of “daily bread” intersect with our service to God and others. “Daily bread includes everything we need for our bodily welfare, such as food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, land and cattle, money and goods, a godly spouse, godly children, godly workers, godly and faithful leaders, good government, good weather, peace and order, health, a good name, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” God gives us the opportunities and the means to help others.
Luther especially noted the value God places on the simple, everyday ways that Christians live out their various vocations. Yes, we are serving God. We are doing all things to his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). But God is also acting through us. He is working through us to care for others. Luther wrote, “God’s people please God even in the least and most trifling matters. For he will be working all things through you; he will milk the cow through you and perform the most servile duties through you, and all the greatest and least duties alike will be pleasing to him” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 6, p. 10).
When we think in those terms, we can see how what seems like an ordinary life is elevated in God’s eyes. We don’t have to be “religious” or “super Christians” to serve God. True Lutherans understand that we serve God when we serve others through our various vocations in life.
This is the 11th article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through his Reformation.
Author: Joel Otto
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: August 2017