Both “vocation” and “laity” in our theme carry rich meaning beyond common usage and beyond what we can thoroughly explore in these few pages. However, we can provide some conversation starters as a step toward recovering some of the richness, and we will suggest why such a conversation is important.
The Editorial Council began its discussion of this issue by agreeing that the call implicit in vocation is a summons heard in every dimension of life. Richard J. Niebanck, writing in Lutheran Forum (“The Vocation of the Baptized and GoodWorks,” Volume 29, Number 4, November, 1995, p. 36), reminds us of the classical Lutheran view of vocation and “offices:”
“The work of politics, industry, parenthood, and all the other ‘offices,’ whether regarded as high or lowly, were to be seen as honorable and God-pleasing. Lutheranism taught people to enter into these roles or offices, viewing them as avenues for the performance of good works, ‘the fruit of faith.’ Within these everyday tasks Christians were to perform their priestly role of being ‘little Christs,’ mediating the gospel in word and deed, to their neighbors.”
“Vocation, as it is understood theologically, is grounded in both the doctrines of creation and redemption. The original call was addressed by the Lord God to our first parents, who were commanded to be stewards of the garden and procreators of humankind. By trusting obedience to God’s word of command, they were to fulfill their God-given mission concretely within the conditions of bounded existence, the situation of finite freedom.”
More extensive excerpts of Niebanck’s article are found on pages 6 and 7.
In this issue of Let’s Talk laypersons Andrew Tecsonand Barbara McKenzie tell us about their stewardship in different parts of the garden, to use Niebanck’s figure. Tecson speaks of the composition and performance of jazz as a metaphor of the Spirit and a medium for proclaiming the gospel. McKenzie reflects on the life and thought of Albert Schweitzer as a guiding principle in her work as a medical clinic business manager. These authors remind us that the fences between “church work,” “work in the world,” “work at home,” etc. can be taken down. They show us good works that are the fruit of faith and vocations that are grounded in baptism.
The word laity raises ancient questions. Our Christian life is sustained – indeed made possible – by God’s gifts of grace offered in the community of the church. The ministry of the means of grace is one of the vocations of the baptized and the church ordains these ministers to their vocation. How do we distinguish between those who administer the means of grace and those whose Christian vocations are the various ways of holding the world together? The recent debates surrounding the adoption of CCM show that this question is still before us.
Layman Gregory Singleton takes us on a journey through (as he puts it) “a little etymology, a little history, and (perhaps) a little theology” toward recovery of a New Testament vision of the People of God. Pastor Seth Moland-Kovash reflects on an address from the liturgy for Affirmation of Baptism, showing how it speaks indistinct ways to clergy and laity.
We continually remind you that “Let’s Talk” is an invitation. We are delighted when you accept. In this issue is a reader’s response fromRobert Benne to the two recent issues on “Human Sexuality and the ELCA” (Volume 8, Issues 1 and 2). His response includes a full-length article. It will occur to many that they are exercising their Christian vocation when they ponder this matter now before the ELCA. The invitation to respond remains open.