In my last post I re-started an answer to a question asked by Stephanie who commented that it looked to her like so much had been lost within the history of Christianity that she wondered whether we had not experienced some sort of “less dramatic 2nd fall.” In my first response I did not take the notion seriously. In this series of posts I am assuming that in the early centuries we did experience something of a fall-like loss of the fiber, the internal content of the faith. In this series I am pulling on the loose threads. In the last post I dealt with what N. T. Wright has called “Creation Theology.” In this post I am considering a loss of the original biblical idea of Calling.
Below are a number of passages where the term call and calling appear in the New Testament within the context I am addressing. I will be referring either directly or obliquely to these passages in my comments, below:
Acts 2:39: “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.”
Romans 11:28-29: From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
I Corinthians 1:2: To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
I Corinthians 1:26-29: For consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that he may nullify the things that are, so that no person may boast before God.
Ephesians 1:18-21: I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of his might which he brought about in Christ, when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 4:1-6: Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
II Thessalonians 1:11-12: To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
II Timothy 1:8-11: Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.
Hebrews 3:1: Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. He was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in God’s house.
II Peter 1:10: Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about his calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;
1. What is Calling? Calling (or vocation) is both the invitation of God extended to believers and the faithful, accepting response by the children of God to that invitation. So, if one is called, one must take action; that action is referred to by the writer of Hebrews as the substance of faith. In the Scriptures, all those who are called to faith are described having gifts, being sanctified and being holy (the saints). All members of the community were understood as “called.” The Greek word, ecclesia, which is translated into English as “church” meant to be called out of one’s homes to a public event.
Simply put, it is one thing to receive an invitation. It is something more to RSVP and it is a third thing to actually show up at the event. Yet, all these pieces are involved in the biblical idea of calling. If I understand it, an entire community could together be viewed as “a calling,” which could be examined or evaluated in the way a military commander might consider the strengths and weaknesses of his troops. Just so, Paul suggests to a community (I Corinthians 1:26) that they consider their “calling” and notice how few wealthy, noble and high-born people God had given them.
Why would such an evaluation be of use to them? Because a biblical calling, like an invitation to an event had three aspects: the calling of God, the initial response (RSVP) to that invitation and showing up at the event itself. And although that event can be said to have already started in Corinth by the time Paul wrote – the ecclesia were those called to hear and live inside the glad tidings of King Jesus – that living calling had a continuing and future purpose; they were called (I Timothy) according to the purposes of God. And those purposes inevitably involved conflict. Were they ready for it? Not if they continued to be divided.
Think of the story of Gideon. Every man in Gideon’s “called out” army was there for a purpose. Many were sent home for one reason or another – not their battle; not their time – but finally an evaluation was made. Only 300 men were retained. One can read the passage either way; they were the either the smartest water-drinkers or the most foolish. Either way: they were three hundred who were called upon to surround 10,000 Midianites in order to defeat them. Look at I Corinthians 1:26-29. The calling of the called-out-ones at Corinth – although they were not the brightest porch bulbs on the block – was to nullify the things that are.
Nullify the things that are… This makes no sense until we return to the critical keystone of the biblical purpose which I discussed in my last post: the redemption of creation, or, using the term we borrowed from N. T. Wright, “Creation Theology.” Those who are called into the kingdom of God are called to transform the world, to bring an end to oppression, to boasting, to cruelty, pride, arrogance and all the other marks of empire. Those are the things “that are” which Paul calls upon the Corinthians to nullify.
The called-out communities of Europe, Asia, Syria and Judea were to nullify the Roman Empire!? Ridiculous! You might as well ask 300 water-lappers to defeat 10,000 well-armed Midianites! Yes, and the point in I Corinthians 1 is the same as the point in Judges 7: God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise… …so that no person may boast before God.
“Without me, you can do nothing; with me, through my Spirit, all things are possible.”
A big difference between the older covenant of Moses and the new one in King Jesus is that God has stopped using violence to achieve the kingdom. So in our time the calling of the people of God is to so bless the world that empire itself ceases, without violence. Or at least, without the called-out ones doing the violence. Paul was warning the Corinthians: there was a job to do and there was trouble ahead.
To be called to God, to salvation, is to be called to bring heaven down to the earth. That is the calling of every Christian.
2. What happened to the Calling of Christians? Notice that when Paul greets the called-out ones in Corinth, he calls them all saints. Originally, to be called out was to be a saint. To be a believer was to invited into holiness; hagios, saintliness. All the believers were understood to be saints and saintliness was central to the lifestyle of Christian communities; a part of their calling. Over time, however, it became common to see only the leadership of the churches as saintly and only a few were called saints. At the very best, the leadership of the churches was seen to be called to practice a perceived “higher” calling. Yet, nowhere in the New Testament is there a higher calling: just different gifts. This was the beginning of the largely false distinction with which we still live between “the clergy” and “the laity.” Although it took centuries to develop the chasm, eventually the clergy were expected to have a calling and to be holy. The laity came to be seen as those who had no special calling and who worked in “secular” occupations and who needed to be sure to take a little time to be holy.
The calling of Christians to change the world became the charge of the special Christians, those who might some day be seen as saints, and it became the job of everyone else to “contribute to the needs of the (special) saints.” In the same way that the Greek dualism between spirit and flesh blunted the “creation theology” of Jesus, Peter, John and Paul, a dualistic frame grew up in which a few people came to bear the task and the rest were just there to support the few.
Not surprisingly, this was in line with the social construction of the pagan Greco-Roman temples: a few priests and priestesses who bore the task of mediation between a silent and passive people and their gods. And no one should be surprised that Christian worship centers, once Christianity emerged from hiding, mirrored the Greco-Roman pagan temples: a forward sanctuary/chancel bounded by a railing, within which only priests and acolytes could be and a large nave where the common people gathered, mirroring the pagan temple proper and the courtyard outside it where the people came to observe the sacrifices. Eventually, the Roman Church even defined “the Church” as the bishops and priests, properly performing the sacraments. The laity was no-longer defined as part of the church, the called-out ones.
And so the biblical idea of Calling, a called-out people, charged to transform the world, to bring down heaven by holy, everyday living was lost. The only institution which reflected the family-sense of the called-out community was the monastery, where not everyone had the same job; not everyone preached or prophesied, but where everyone’s work – gardening and washing dishes – were all seen as holy callings; ways of expressing faith through work.
3. Should Calling be reclaimed? My “volunteer” activity, the thing which I do a lot but for which I am not paid a cent, is “Cursillo.”
Cursillo is a movement with many names in many places all over the world, including prisons, and among high-school kids, in which “a three-day experience in Christian living” is sponsored by the many folks who have experienced the grace of God through previous weekends. Like so many others who have “made their Cursillo,” on my weekend I was bowled over by the grace of God; most of what I do now and have become since my weekend, began with my three-day re-meeting of Jesus. However, that is not why I serve as a Spiritual Director on at least one weekend (usually two) a year. I love Cursillo because along with a fire hose of grace, the Cursillo teaching emphasizes “the role of the laity” in the “’Christianizing’ of the world.”
You get that? In Cursillo we teach it is not the clergy; it is primarily the role of the laity to bring the world, the whole creation, to Christ. As Paul says so clearly in Ephesians 4:11-12, the few who hold the special offices who are now called “the clergy,” exist to fully provision everyone else (as well as themselves) for the calling of God: to reconcile the world to Christ; to nullify the things which are; to make disciplined followers out of the nations; to bring heaven down to the earth; to dwell in heavenly places: the job of the laity.
We Christians cannot fulfill our calling, there can be no redemption of creation without the fully equipped ministry of the laity, doing daily work with a growing recognition of the difference between the way things are and the way King Jesus wants them to be. The loss of the calling of every Christian to discover what it means to be Christian in what he or she does all day and how God wants work itself to change into something holy (like 300 vs. 10,000) has rendered the faith nearly impotent  .
No wonder we talk and sing and pray about going to heaven. We have lost our calling to be the salt of the earth. Our calling to all be a part of God’s salvation project needs to be regained.
I hope you can see that I raised many more questions here than I answered. Do you see how Calling fits with Creation Theology? How each requires the other?
Next, Common Purse and Guidance.
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1 Back to Post If it seems that Paul’s language in this letter is a bit vague we need to remember that Paul usually put his true meaning between the lines. In Ephesians 1, quoted above, he notes that God has not only raised Christ from death but seated him in heaven, far above all rule and authority… and every name that is named…
Paul does not baldly name the current Caesar here nor the dead Caesars who supposedly had become gods in heaven since they had died. Of course not although that is who he has in mind. Paul is clever as a fox but as “harmless” as a dove.
The New English Bible back in the 1960s translated “nullify the things that are,” as “overthrow the existing order.” That is exactly what Paul means to say but he is no fool. As a covert and clandestine movement, hiding for the time inside the legal sanctions of Judaism, Paul knows the kingdom of God will be exposed and opposed and that it will someday overthrow not just the Roman Empire but every empire, even the great corporatocracy of the late 20th and early 21st century, AD. Jesus shall be king in the end, shall have it all in the end. And Paul knows the people of the kingdom have been called to help bring Christ’s kingdom about.
2 Back to Post What has replaced the redemption of creation and filled in the gap of lay-calling in evangelical theology has been evangelism, a scoped-down version of telling people about Jesus: “If you died today would you be sure that you were going to heaven?”
Of course, it is a very good thing for people to find out about the king of creation. However, sometimes I have trouble recognizing in the evangelical Jesus, the Jesus of the actual scriptures. I am not opposed to telling people about Jesus; I do so myself. I just wish that the telling could be focused more on the priorities of the kingdom which is coming on the earth and not on escape from God’s good creation. How many more folk might earnestly enquire about Jesus if they saw most Christians engaged in their daily work to make the world a better place to live in anticipation of the return of the King and his court?