Public Square

What are Our Primary & Secondary Callings?

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The doctrine of vocation was developed with its greatest rigor by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers, as we have seen before. They believed that our first call is to follow Jesus out of darkness into light and out of death into life. This “principal calling” includes a call to faith in Christ (Romans 8:28-30; 1 Corinthians 1:9), a call to the Kingdom of God (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12), a call to eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12; Hebrews 9:15), and a call to holy living (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Peter 1:15).

The reformers also recognized something else called vocational calling, which is the call to God’s service in one’s daily work. This is one of what Os Guinness calls our secondary callings. Our obedience to our primary calling to Christ can be seen working itself out in four distinct ways through our secondary callingsThese ways are our call to human family, call to church, call to community, and call to vocation.

1) The first aspect of our secondary callings is to be a part of our human family: brother, sister, son, daughter, father, or mother. God established marriage in the Garden and told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, which implies families. The family is one of the ways we are to fill the world with the image of God and thus fulfill part of the Cultural Mandate.

2) The second aspect of our secondary calling is to the church. All members of the church possess spiritual gifts, natural gifts, and abilities. We are called to use our gifts in service within the church to build up the body of Christ, to strengthen the body, and to carry out its purpose within the world. The diversity of gifts, each supporting the other, strengthens the whole church “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

3) The third aspect of our secondary calling, which flows from our primary calling, was described by the Puritan author William Perkins as “a certain kind of life ordained and imposed on man by God for the common good.” The gospel commands us to serve God’s purposes in the world through civic, social, political, domestic, and ecclesiastical roles.

We are to love God and to love our neighbor in the larger community beyond the church by engaging in justice and mercy as God leads us. Pastor Tim Keller in his book Ministries of Mercy insists, “To say that evangelism can be done without also doing social concern is to forget that our goal is not individual ‘decisions,’ but the bringing of all life and creation under the lordship of Christ, the kingdom of God.”

4) The fourth and final aspect of secondary calling which follows from our primary calling is our call to vocation. As Alister McGrath writes,

The work of believers is thus seen to possess a significance that goes far beyond the visible results of that work. It is the person working, as much as the resulting work, that is significant to God. There is no distinction between spiritual and temporal, sacred and secular work. All human work, however lowly, is capable of glorifying God. Work is, quite simply, an act of praise—a potentially productive act of praise. Work glorifies God, it serves the common good, and it is something through which human creativity can express itself.

On this blog, we have used the term vocational calling in the same way as the reformers.  We affirm that a Christian’s work is not a specific type of occupation but rather an attitude that sees work as Dorothy Sayers writes “not, primarily as a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. . . . [Work] is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s gifts, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”

Under this definition you may have different careers and jobs at different points in your life, but your vocational calling from God will stay constant.

Question: Have you understood your involvement with your family, church, community, and work all as a part of your calling

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