Our ‘Vocation Vignettes’ series began back in March and since then 30 different essays have been contributed. We’ll take a break for the holidays and start back up after the New Year with more, but in the meantime I just want to take the opportunity to interject a few reminders and thoughts. The goal of this project is to push people towards theological reflection on what they do Monday through Saturday when they wake up in the morning. On Sundays we gather as the Church to experience again, through Word and Sacrament, what God has done in Christ for us and our salvation. We are confronted with the counterintuitive, liberating, perpetually shocking, unceasingly amazing truth that God does not need our good works!

But, as Luther pointed out, our neighbor does. In fact, the gospel of free grace frees us up from using people to feel affirmed or important so that we can actually start loving people. And the gospel provides more than just an individualistic, go-to-heaven-when-you-die kind of framework. It provides an all-encompassing, all-of-life-affirming, comprehensive worldview that’s not just interested in individual souls but structures and societies. It affects every aspect of life in the world God created and which he will one day re-create, indeed which he has already begun to re-create in the resurrection of Christ.

So how does this happen? Is it the Church’s responsibility to create and manage programs of social service and transformation? That’s the big question. Immanuel talks a lot about impacting the city, but what is it actually doing??

Earlier we used the language of ‘Two Kingdoms’ to guide us. ‘Two Kingdom’ theory is traditionally associated with Lutheranism, but isn’t unique to that stream. The ideas can be found in Reformed thinkers too and can be traced back further to Augustine and (hopefully) the Bible. This philosophy asserts that Christ sovereignly reigns over two kingdoms: the kingdom of Man and the kingdom of God, one via common grace and the other through special grace. And Christians are citizens of both kingdoms! The church is the instrument of the kingdom of God where the gospel is proclaimed; ‘secular’ culture is the realm of the kingdom of Man where Christians and non-Christians work together in the human task of cultivating healthy civilization. The Church should not be melded with the state and must remain distinct from the world; however, Christians are not to abandon culture but fully engage it for its good. We do this through our vocations in the kingdom of Man.

Perhaps another angle or other nomenclature may be helpful. The Dutch Calvinist Abraham Kuyper is not generally identified with the ‘Two Kingdoms’ approach, but some of his vocabulary lines up quite well with it and can be useful. He distinguished between the Church as institution and the Church as organism. The Church as institution is concerned with preaching the gospel, baptizing, catechizing, disciplining, fellowshipping, proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes again by eating the bread and drinking the wine… all under its ordained officers (elders and deacons). The Church as organism, on the other hand, works in the public sphere to affect positive change in all fields and disciplines. Kuyper has some great thoughts and leaves us a marvelous legacy even though there may be some places where I would quibble with him.

Another person who I wouldn’t agree with on everything, but who has many sound and provocative ideas is Lesslie Newbigin. He speaks of the sanctuary vs. the basement. In the sanctuary the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered. The pulpit is not the place to address issues of politics or economics. But the basement, as it were, is where ‘secret agents’ are trained to be embedded in the world to subvert through service. Education, art, science, politics, economics, etc… must all be infiltrated.

I like this a lot. I’m tasked with preaching the Word, not organizing an army of volunteers around my pet social agenda. If Immanuel doesn’t do this, who will? Yet there are already many voluntary organizations and vocational avenues in the city and I really want to see Immanuel people throw themselves into these, invigorated by the gospel and knowing that they are important even if they’re not always glamorous and are often frustrating (Jesus hasn’t come back yet!). I want to be part of training ‘secret agents’. Most of what Immanuel as organism does in the city will not be immediately obvious or something we can put on our church brochure, but I pray and trust that God is using us. May you find your identity more and more in Christ and may you be encouraged to live for Christ with renewed zeal in your vocations.

For the Sake of the Name,

Nathan

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