Some Material on the Concept of the “Divine Call”

What follows is some material on the subject of a minister’s “divine call,” as it compares to the callings from God that laymen have in their godly occupations and stations in life.

The Augsburg Confession addresses this issue in its discussion of monastic vows and the claims that had been made for such vows. In the German version, XXVII:13 (Kolb/Wengert p. 82), Philip Melanchthon writes:

It was also said that one could obtain more merit through the monastic life than through all other walks of life, which had been ordered by God, such as the office of pastor or preacher, the office of ruler, prince, lord, and the like. (These all serve in their vocations according to God’s command, Word, and mandate without any contrived spiritual status.)

The Augsburg Confession speaks of the office of pastor or preacher as a divinely-ordered walk of life, and as a vocation in which people serve according to God’s command, Word, and mandate. With exactly the same terms and categories, and in the same immediate context, it also speaks of the (secular) office of ruler, prince, or lord as a divinely-ordered walk of life, and as a vocation in which people serve according to God’s command, Word, and mandate.

On p. 193 of Luther on Vocation by Gustaf Wingren (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), there is an interesting quotation from Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis (WA 43, 514), in which Luther describes the importance of prayer for those who have been called to an office of authority, and to whom God has given his divine power for the fulfillment of such an office. Luther speaks in this respect of magistrates in the political realm, of husbands in the economic/domestic realm, and of pastors in the ecclesiastical realm. As a category they are all called by God to their governing duties, and as a category they are all endowed by him with divine power for the carrying out of their duties. Here are Luther’s words:

It is most certain that without prayer you never effect anything, because government is something divine in its power; and therefore God is the Magistrate who calls all magistrates, not by the fact that he created them, but because he gives them the power, which belongs to God alone. For that reason he who is in the place of authority is as if he were God incarnate. But if heedlessly and, as it were, with unwashed hands they seize upon government, whether of church, of state or of family, and shut God out, do not pray or consider God, but wish to rule all things by their own counsels and powers, then the result finally is that in their economy they make the worst harlot out of an honest and chaste wife. In the political realm the state will be disturbed. There will be heresies in the church. Why? Because such a head of a family, prince, or pastor does not know God, the Author of all counsel and rule.

On p. 98 of Studies in the Lutheran Confessions by Willard D. Allbeck (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, revised edition 1968), the author comments on Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession as follows:

The article therefore declares that all those who teach the Word and administer the sacraments in the worship of the church must be “regularly called.” The call (vocatio), as a divine summons to a task, was not limited to the ministry in the church, as was noted in connection with Article V. The fact of the call was for Luther a consolation in the midst of temptation. He once said, “The vocatio causes the devil much pain.” [WA, TR 1,90] For it is a divine authorization, producing good order, whereas the devil loves self-assertive pride and disorder.

The comments that Allbeck had made in connection with Article V of the Augsburg Confession, to which he refers, are these (from pp. 71-72):

In his Confession of 1528 Luther, in condemning “all orders, rules, cloisters, convents ... with vows and duties” because they conflict with the doctrine of justification by faith, remarked that “the holy orders and true institutions established by God are these three: the priestly office, matrimony, and civil authority. All those who are found in the pastoral office or ministry of the Word, are in a holy, true, good, God-pleasing order and estate, since in it they preach and administer the sacraments, and oversee the treasury, the sextons, and messengers or servants. This is nothing else than a holy work before God.” [LW 37, 363] After stating that faithful parents and conscientious public officers also perform a work pleasing to God, he continued: “Beyond these three institutions or orders there is now the common order of Christian love” -- feeding the hungry, and so forth. [LW 37, 364] It is evident from this that Luther did not set the ministers up as a special order above the laity. He looked at the ministry as a function, a divinely provided service with a distinct task, namely, preaching the Word and administering the sacraments. This is the thought Melanchthon expressed in this article of the Confession.

On pp. 36-42 of The Ethics of Martin Luther by Paul Althaus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972) there is a very good chapter on the subject of “Stations and Vocations.” On pp. 36-37 the author begins the chapter by writing:

The Decalogue and the commandment of love do not give very definite or detailed instructions about what we as individuals ought to do here and now in living together with one another. This commandment of love, valid everywhere and for all people, becomes specific for us as individuals in the context of the station of life in which God has placed us. Through our station in life we are placed into a definite and particular relationship to one another. And our duty to serve one another thereby takes on very specific form. God has established stations among men -- Luther also speaks of orders, institutions, offices, or hierarchies. There are many and various stations in life, for “God is a great lord and has many kinds of servants.” [LW 46, 246] Luther sometimes enumerates them -- for example, the stations of fathers and mothers, married people, servants and maids, lords and subjects, and pastors, among others. [LW 13, 358] Sometimes Luther summarizes them in three basic stations: ministry, marriage (or the family, including everything related to business and the economy), and secular authority. [LW 37, 364; LW 41, 177; LW 3, 217] All those who are associated with the “ministry of the word,” and not only with the clergy, have an ecclesiastical station -- including administrators of the “community chest,” and “sextons and messengers or servants who serve such persons.” The station of marriage includes not only parents, children, and servants but also widows and unmarried women. And the station of secular government, according to Luther’s description, includes the “princes and lords, judges, civil officers, state officials, notaries, male and female servants and all who serve such persons, and further, all their obedient subjects.” [LW 37, 364-65] All these are “divine stations and orders” because God has established them in his word, and they are to be honored as holy institutions. [LW 14, 15; LW 13, 369] Since God has established them jointly and severally and given them to men, they all have the same validity; each station deserves the same honor and respect, and they ought to show this same respect to one another. [LW 46, 246]

And in a similar vein, Werner Elert writes as follows on p. 348 of The Structure of Lutheranism (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962):

The pastor’s calling is exactly analogous to worldly callings, as Luther sets forth in his exposition of Ps. 32 (WA 31 I, 189-218; 1530). Every performance of what a calling requires is a service to God. But only when it is actually done because of “a call and a command.” Such a call and command -- apart from the extraordinary instances in which God steps in directly, as in the case of the Old Testament prophets -- is always given to us through men and is therefore bound up with life in a community made up of men, and is designed for the purpose of preserving and shaping this community. In such a call -- one that takes place through men -- we may and should see a divine call if those who extend the call are authorized by God to do so. These are, for example, the persons to whom we owe obedience according to the Fourth Commandment, therefore parents, the government, the worldly “lords.” But God has also conferred on the church of Christ such authorization to extend a call. [WA 16, 34, 1. Cf. WA 38, 252, 18 ff.] The obligation implicit in the call applies to our readiness to love our neighbor. To him who is called it gives the necessary certainty that he has a call. [WA 17 I, 362, 1. Cf. WA 16, 35, 1; WA 20, 412, 21; WA 30 III, 519, 29.] Conversely, it imposes on the congregation that extends the call the obligation to honor its pastor and to hear his word as the Word of Christ. [WA 10 III, 398, 19; WA 37, 381, 14; WA 49, 140, 8. Cf. WA 11, 99, 2; WA 12, 531, 7.]

In summary, the consensus seems to be that the concept of a minister’s “divine call” to his office, and the concept of a Christian layman’s calling from God to his occupation and station in life, are essentially the same concept. The differences between them would lie in what it is to which each is being called, but not in the fact that God is the one, ultimately, who is doing the calling. The concept of a “divine call” is therefore not limited to offices that are a part of the public ministry of the church, but can properly be applied to any godly office held by any Christian.

David Jay Webber

August 25, 2001


This life is profitably divided into three orders: (1) life in the home; (2) life in the state; (3) life in the church. To whatever order you belong whether you are a husband, an officer of the state, or a teacher of the church look about you, and see whether you have done full justice to your calling and there is no need of asking to be pardoned for negligence, dissatisfaction, or impatience. (Martin Luther, “Lectures on Genesis,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 3 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961], p. 217)

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