Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Animal Farm and the Doctrine of Vocation

Two seemingly unrelated events crossed my mind the last week. One had to do with a discussion of the doctrine of vocation in the church. If you are unfamiliar with this idea it actually goes back quite a ways and is probably best championed by Gene Veith.  He writes:

The word "calling," or in its Latinate form "vocation," had long been used in reference to the sacred ministry and the religious orders. Martin Luther was the first to use "vocation" to refer also to secular offices and occupations. Today, the term has become common-place, another synonym for a profession or job, as in "vocational training." But behind the term is the notion that every legitimate kind of work or social function is a distinct "calling" from God, requiring unique God-given gifts, skills, and talents. Moreover, the Reformation doctrine of vocation teaches that God himself is active in everyday human labor, family responsibilities, and social interactions.

That seems to make sense, right? Stay with me. The other event was that I sat down and read Animal Farm, a book I have been meaning to read for some time, having never been required to read it in school. As an aside, the list of classics I haven't read in spite of a college prep background in high school and a liberal arts B.A. is amazing. I am kind of glad because now I can read them and probably get more out of them but still it is little wonder we have such ignorance in this country. Anyway. The point being that all vocations have value in the eyes of God.

So what does Animal Farm have to do with the doctrine of vocation? Animal Farm is a biting satirical tale of a farm taken over by animals with the Soviet era promise of equality and shared prosperity. As the years go by it becomes apparent that in spite of the empty rhetoric some of the animals are working really hard and others (the pigs mainly) are living off their labor as the intellectual leaders of the farm. They are kept in line by slogans that seem to indicate that they are invaluable to the farm but it is obvious that they are being used by the pigs. The original commandments of Animal Farm are abandoned and replaced with one commandment.


Orwell, George (2009-07-01). Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (p. 118). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

This is where the connection clicked for me. All animals are equal but some are more equal than others. All vocations are equal but one is more equal than others.

In spite of  the claims of the doctrine of vocation that all vocations are equally valuable in the Kingdom, the uncomfortable reality is that one vocation expects all of the rest of the vocations to work to earn a paycheck to in turn support them. It is pretty hard to say that God values the work of plumbers and cashiers as much as the vocational pastor when the pastor pays his bills with the wages earned by the rest of the church. In fact it sounds rather like a self-serving doctrine when you get down to it. The church needs members to be content to show up day after day at their job to earn a check that they can give part of to the church so that the church can keep paying her bills, most especially the salary of the pastor. While Joe is swinging a hammer all day and Steve is answering the phone in an office, Mike is sitting in his office preparing a sermon, relying on the others to bring home a paycheck so that he can get a paycheck. Little wonder sermons on giving are so awkward. I think more and more Christians are questioning this whole system and wondering why they are busting their humps all week to pay someone else who is perfectly capable of getting a job.

All vocations are equal but some are more equal than others.

1 comment:

Neil Braithwaite said...

You nailed it! I was introduced to this truth by Jon Zens, who has been making a great argument against the clergy/laity doctrine since the 70's. Have you written anything extensive on this issue?