June 21, 2024
History of Work

Faith And Work: Conclusions
January 17, 2007By Allistair Mackenzie


It is apparent that some time in the second century after the Apostles the idea grew that it was only priests, monks and nuns who were considered to have a ‘religious’ vocation or calling. This calling was associated with the contemplative life, and clearly distinct from the active life associated with ordinary everyday work. The Protestant Reformers opposed this view, asserting that daily work is a part of the Christian’s vocation. The heirs of the Calvinist tradition further developed this perspective, but also found themselves contending with the secularising effects of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. The result was that vocation became identified with occupation or career with no other spiritual qualifications or associations. Also the views of vocation of the Reformers and Puritans failed to address the changes, the inequalities and alienation that were the results of industrialisation. Consequently the Church became largely estranged from working class people.

Socialism spoke more directly to their aspirations and anguish. Furthermore, Catholic theologians have only recently begun to demonstrate interest in Reformed and Puritan developments, while many Protestants appear to still elevate the status of ordained pastoral ministry and missionary service above other vocations. Today we end up with a variety of destructive consequences resulting from the impact of these influences. These bad consequences include:

(a) Ordained pastoral ministry or missionary service is elevated by many Christians above other vocations, and they feel the need to pursue these even when they do not easily fit.

(b) The Sunday-Monday dualism: The world of the marketplace is seen as ‘secular’ and depraved: the world of the church as ‘spiritual’ and divine. They are two unconnected worlds. Another similar development is the way faith has become a private and personal leisure time pursuit that is considered out of place in the public sphere of a pluralistic and secular society.

(c) Workaholism and the devastating consequences of unemployment when employment is seen as necessary for a true vocation and the source of fulfilment.

(d) An inflexible view of vocation that is not adequate to cope with changes in work patterns and career paths and gender roles, etc...

(e) A view of Christian vocation which seems to foster either a strong personal spirituality or a strong social concern, but does not often combine these two essential elements effectively.

We need to find a path that will lead us between the twin heresies of divorcing faith from work and idolising work. We must rediscover that our primary vocation is the call to follow Jesus. But we must also emphasize that this call embraces the whole of our lives, including our everyday work. It needs to effectively combine both the personal and social dimensions of the Gospel and nurture a lively everyday spirituality. We need to see ways in which our work is connected to the creating, sustaining and transforming work of God. This will not be a quietist view of Christian vocation that surrenders to the status quo, but one that will contest corruption and exploitation, and work to name and resist what is evil and to transform bad circumstances.

We must also strive to maintain a broad definition of work that encompasses not only paid employment but also domestic work and voluntary work. In this way we can seek to live a more radical yet also more balanced discipleship through the whole of our lives. The balance will be different for different people and different at different stages in our lives. Therefore we need a view of our vocation which includes some constant elements but is also flexible enough to help us make sense of lives in which the nature and mix of work that we do is regularly changing.

Employment remains an important part of life through which we express our Christian discipleship. But it is only one part of a multi-faceted life of discipleship. Unemployed people, home makers and voluntary workers have a vocation too! Our vocation as Christians does not depend on paid employment, but it must be expressed through our employment. We also need to understand that living out our vocation was never meant to be a solitary task, and we need the encouragement of committed companions and the community of faith to assist us. Is the concept of vocation is too outdated to be useful anymore? Some believe this to be so, but this writer believes it may be rehabilitated and given new content. Our study thus far suggests that any rediscovery of the relevance of vocation would need to include at least the following elements:

1. A view of vocation that grants meaning to the life of every Christian and rediscovers the priesthood of all believers.

2. A view of vocation that overcomes the dualism of separate sacred and secular spheres.

3. A view of vocation that relates to a person’s everyday work and helps to integrate the life of faith with that work.

4. A view of vocation that makes sense even when work is experienced as a negative and alienating reality.

5. A view of vocation which does not just accept unjust and oppressive circumstances, but works to challenge injustices and redeem bad circumstances.

6. A view of vocation which is not static, but can apply in a dynamic way to a world in which work patterns are constantly changing.

7. A view of vocation which includes an understanding of the place of leisure and the contemplative dimensions of life.

Excerpt from Faith and Work - A Thesis in Pastoral Theology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, Dec. 1997 by Alistair Mackenzie. faithatwork.org.nz.          Content distributed by HisChurchatWork.org > used for non-profit teaching purposes only.


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