27 April 2013

Vocation and the Prosperity Gospel

Whatsoever we do is to be done to the glory of God. We are to work as unto God and not as unto men. These Biblical teachings are well known and receive special emphasis today as the Church seeks to wage the culture war. To build a successful and thus powerful culture or civilization it requires a deliberate work ethic.

The doctrine of Vocation comes into play at this point. Championed by Luther and the Reformation movement, Vocation teaches that every Christian can serve God in his regular daily capacity. You don’t have to be a cleric or a monk in order to be a good Christian. These callings aren’t higher callings at all but part of the larger mechanism of the Kingdom of God. They serve a purpose as does the blacksmith, farmer, and housewife.

While on the surface this doctrine seems fairly self-evident to anyone remotely familiar with the Bible, it’s not that simple. Or rather, the doctrine of Vocation isn’t that simple. The teaching implies a bit more and that’s where I think it departs from Scripture.

While most worldly occupations are indeed valid, I do think some callings are higher than others. A mother has a higher calling than a blacksmith. That’s subjective but when we think in terms of eternity and the Kingdom of God it should seem fairly clear. I think a leader of the Church has a higher calling than someone working at a factory.

This does not mean these people are ‘better’, it simply means their gifts and callings are in a different capacity one which in the end may do more to advance the Kingdom.[i]

My problem with the doctrine of Vocation as it is commonly taught is that it is integrated with a concept of the Kingdom most often known as Dominionism. On the one hand this doctrine is as old as Charlemagne and Constantine. On the other hand in many ways it is a recent formulation.

The modern model grows out of the teachings of Abraham Kuyper and has been popularized in American Evangelical circles by the disciples of Francis Schaeffer. There are other varieties of thought, nuances like Theonomy which depart from Kuyper in significant ways. Nevertheless, we are surrounded by a host of terms and concepts which are all related. Theonomy, Reconstruction, Dominion, Sphere Sovereignty are often heard and they are backed up with terms such as ‘Biblical Worldview’ and implemented through concepts such as Vocation.

I’ve written elsewhere how this doctrine when combined with this particular view of the Kingdom can actually lead Christians to sanction sin in the name of upholding an ‘office’.[ii]

But primarily I’m struck by the fact that the Kingdom is then redefined in terms of the world. Political and cultural attainments and success are ‘building the kingdom’ and suddenly my construction/remodel work though certainly valid as a means to live and support my family becomes a holy endeavour.

And my contributions or those of a pianist or sculptor also help the Kingdom to grow and advance. In fact, the entire Western tradition can be spoken of as a manifestation of the Kingdom. Even pagans can contribute to it unwittingly through their labours when they reflect ‘Western’ concepts in the realm of art, music, and literature.

The Holy Spirit wrought covenanted Kingdom of the redeemed is transformed into a cultural mix of regenerate and unregenerate people coupled with objects, inventions, symbols, and creations. While I disagree with those who reject a theological distinction between what is often (and perhaps unfortunately) called the Visible and Invisible Church, I will freely admit this Sacral or Constantinian construct is a clearly outside the bounds of Scripture. It is an abuse of the concept of the Visible Church.[iii] The Holy Community is redefined and extended to include nations, and cultures, civilizations. This doctrine has brought to us the erroneous notions of political and cultural Christendom, Just War, sacred art, music and architecture, and a host of philosophical speculations which in the end are often at odds with the embrace of Scripture as the Word of God. Languages and clothing styles are for all intents and purposes baptized and from this font has flowed a great deal of racism, theft and murder masquerading itself in a cloak of righteousness.

Rejecting this theology of the pit, how then can we understand the verses I alluded to at the beginning? How can we work Coram Deo (in the presence of God)? How can we glorify Him in what we do? What is the concept of Vocation?

As I’ve argued in another post our Vocation or calling is to be Christians.[iv] While we believe God governs and orders all including what we end up doing in life, that does not necessarily imply the task itself contributes to the advancement of the Kingdom.

A Sacralist will argue Rembrandt was contributing to the Kingdom as he painted. I would disagree. While I may or may not appreciate the work and what it communicates, I don’t think it helps build the Kingdom any more than other pagan generated works of art. They can provoke me to think about things in the same way his can. Some of their works may surpass his in their beauty. But at that point we have a problem because even terms and concepts like goodness, beauty and truth will be defined through the Sacralist lens.[v] And a Christian from another culture, communicating in his culture’s motifs will find himself ‘out of bounds’ and failing to represent a ‘Biblical Worldview’. It is the Sacralist Rembrandt-venerating worldview which is unbiblical, having confused culture with the Kingdom.

What about ‘low’ forms of work? Does the factory worker build the Kingdom by packing boxes on the assembly line? Do I build the Kingdom when I wire up a receptacle?

There’s nothing wrong with these tasks but I would argue they are not redemptive. They are not advancing the Gospel. Maybe the person doing them is by being honest, fair and by speaking truth to his co-workers but the work itself does not extend the realm of Christ. These works while (for the sake of argument) are honourable and necessary will not transcend the Eschaton viz., survive the Judgment and be part of the New Heavens and Earth. This is true of the doors I hang and of the music Handel wrote.

We are to be Christians and while we’re out in the world, doing whatever it is that we do, we interact with people, and conduct ourselves with humble integrity and then we can share the Gospel with others with a hope that they too will become disciples of Christ and have their lives transformed through the regenerating/sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Because I refuse to accept the work as redemptive we are often accused of teaching a Sunday morning only Christianity, a faith that doesn’t play out in daily life. They say we’re making converts only and not disciples. In fact the opposite is the case and ironically it is they who by promoting and baptizing ‘worldliness’ for that’s what it is, end being guilty of their own accusation.

We interact with the world as those who are but wayfarers or pilgrims. Our citizenship and thus our allegiance are to the heavenly Kingdom. This Kingdom has what we might call a ‘colonial form’ here on Earth which I would argue includes a familial element in the way it is administered. The called out people, the Church are not left without some simple forms and arrangements tell help us live here, interact with each other, and through temporal forms, signs and symbols, commune with the Eternal reality.

Our Kingdom ethic, taught so clearly in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the New Testament teaches us to lay up treasures in heaven, to avoid entangling ourselves with the world, to lead quiet lives minding our own business, and yet to exude forgiveness, love and grace. Our usage of time and speech are rooted in and geared toward the Kingdom and thus when faithful we are salt and light to the world around us. Our presence is in some ways sanctifying, in some ways agitating, but always proclaiming the Coming One and the need for repentance.

Rejecting power and the threat of violence we have little interest in the state other than its function as an instrument of Common Grace. It keeps fallen man from living out in full the consequences of sin. And yet this seemingly god-like power wielded by the Establishment is itself a temptation both to fallen man and those who though redeemed, are tempted by the flesh, and all too easily will substitute the Heavenly Zion for a cheap Babylonian counterfeit.

Money is one of the primary tools wielded by those who would earn the esteem of the world and reign over it. It is necessary to function but inherently dangerous and must be handled with the greatest caution. Granting god-like autonomous power and security it easily corrupts and is one of the most dangerous and easily embraced idols.

While we live in this Babylon we cannot let ourselves be fooled or seduced by the many temptations it offers. Sadly this flawed concept of Vocation lends to this, almost begs for it.

In the Sacralist scheme Vocational fidelity and Kingdom progress are tied to success.  Success at this point is defined by the culture and not by the Word of God.

The implications of this for the Church and the individual Christian life cannot be understated. While the most egregious examples of this are patent in Prosperity Theology, it is merely an exaggeration of this basic principle. The extreme version which has come to dominate the television and much of the Third World is really a symptom fueled by an emotion/sensate based theology.

While few have made the connection, the real root of the issue rests in a Sacral theology rooting Kingdom in culture and defining victory, progress and success within the social parameters.

Dominionism is essentially a Prosperity Theology.

Much of the material here is essentially summary and review, but the groundwork needed to be re-established before we proceed to further points.


[i] Of course the whole discussion assumes the Kingdom is a present reality. This was universally understood up until the advent of Dispensational Pre-millennialism in the 19th and early 20th century. This school by positing the Kingdom in a merely physical and yet future form cannot really enter into this discussion. And yet, various revisions of this theology have been forced to admit the New Testament teaches the Kingdom is (at least in some sense) a present reality. They retain their hope in a literalistic fulfillment (contrary to Acts 2 and other passages) and yet must speak in terms of a present administration of Christ’s Dominion.
That said, as critical as I am of this theology and certainly critical of its geopolitical implications, it is in some senses more apt to grasp the points I’m trying to make concerning the present age, the spiritual nature of the Kingdom (at least at present) and our task and posture toward the world. While I do think they’re wrong, on some levels I can find more practical common ground with a Fundamentalist Dispensationalist than a Theonomist. In this country, their embrace of American nationalism and militarism usually cancel this out.
You can do a (Control-F) search for ‘office’ and locate the portion I’m talking about.
[iii] Romans 9.6 more than hints at this doctrine which is actually replete throughout Scripture:
But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,
[v] Since the Church has effectively baptized the Western Tradition, our modern Sacralists as those of the medieval era are often confusing what is Christian and Biblical with ideas and concepts flowing from pagan Greece and often the Enlightenment. When I hear Christians speaking of the standards for judging art, I’m not hearing Peter or John, I’m often hearing Plato. For logic as the governing tool of theological dissection and construction, it’s not Paul I’m hearing but Parmenides. When it comes to economics, it's not Jesus, but often Adam Smith and surprisingly Jeremy Bentham.

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