Flying for Jesus

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway
Wednesday, January 7th 2009
Jan/Feb 2009

In February 2004, American Airlines pilot Captain Roger Findiesen asked Christian passengers on his Los Angeles to New York flight to identify themselves to the non-Christian passengers so that everyone could use the time on the flight to discuss religion.

He had just returned from a mission trip to Costa Rica and felt that the cross-country flight was the right place to encourage evangelism. Passengers, frightened that the pilot had lost his mind, began placing calls to their loved ones. Many complained to the media.

Perhaps most evangelicals don't go as far as Findiesen, but the 1980s and 1990s saw similar confusion about vocation, such as the increase in Christian Yellow Pages, directories for people looking for Christian plumbers, florists, and attorneys. The implication was that Christian vocation is about having a better work product.

Take Atlanta's accounting firm, HIS CPA: "Serving HIM by serving you…one tax return at a time." Founder John Dillard explains why he left a secular CPA practice to start his own Christianized accounting firm:

Although I was willing to share my Christian faith with people to whom I came in contact with, God was calling and he wanted me to be much move overt, but loving, to share the love of God. Having practiced the Golden Rule in my CPA firm for years, God was calling to be the true center of my life and not just a major player. (1)

This model seems increasingly out of place in our post-Christian culture.

On the other hand, you have Christians in the workplace whose ethical and moral framework makes them utterly indistinguishable from their secular counterparts. Under pressure to succeed, it's not unheard of for Christians to inflate their resumes, use inferior materials to complete a job, or gossip about colleagues.

How does a Christian operate in the business world without becoming either totally worldly, or subsuming vocation to faith and turning off colleagues and clients with proselytizing pietism?

Bringing a Reformation understanding of vocation to modern circumstances is in order. In medieval Christianity, the church taught that only priests, nuns, and others with holy orders had vocations. The more cloistered from the nitty-gritty of life, the church taught, the better. Reformers Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-64) considerably broadened the meaning of vocation to include all states of life as well as all work in society.

Luther wrote that every Christian has been called to his station in life-not just the occupation by which he serves his neighbor, but all of his relationships, situations, and involvements. Luther was clear that even the most mundane of secular stations are places where a Christian lives out his or her faith and through which God works to govern and care for his created order.

Rather than a focus on work output, Luther's understanding was about what God accomplishes through human callings. It is by our being a husband or wife, father or mother, manager or employee that God serves his people. In his sermon in the Castle Church at Weimar, Luther said,

The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor….The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living. (2)

God works through means. In the heavenly kingdom, God works through the means of Word and sacrament. In the secular world, God works through the order of creation and through human vocations. In the same way that we receive blessings through other people, God works through us to bless others.

A pilot who safely brings his passengers from Los Angeles to New York doesn't need to evangelize to be fulfilling his Christian vocation. God works through pilots, accountants, and bakers to bless those who use their services.

There is no need to hide in the pious ghetto of the Christian Yellow Pages to express one's faith. The Reformers showed that Christians can and do serve God by fully engaging the real world in whatever station they find themselves. In the same way that we are not saved by taking holy orders, we are not justified by trying to drag our menial or mundane tasks into special Christianized occupations of car salesman, banker, or journalist.

There is freedom in our vocations as well. A mother must feed her children, but she can choose how to do it. She might slave over a hot stove to cook a gourmet meal or she might order a pizza. She might earn money to pay someone else to cook.

Of course, we sin in our vocations as well. We don't use our time or skills as well as we should. We act outside of our proper callings, misuse our gifts, and struggle to fulfill our responsibilities. When we confess our sins, what do we do other than consider our vocational failings?

Luther's Small Catechism, first published in 1529, instructs the Christian to "consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?"

By considering vocational responsibilities, the penitent sees not some general failing but specific examples of disobedience when he receives forgiveness from God. And the penitent's faith in Christ-the only man who perfectly fulfilled his vocation-is strengthened.

1 [ Back ] See at (1 October 2008).
2 [ Back ] Martin Luther, "Sermon in the Castle Church at Weimar" (25 October 1522, Saturday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity) in D. Martin Luther's Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, trans. Frederick J. Gaiser (Weimar: Herman Bhlaus Nachfolger, 1883-1980) 10/3:382.
Wednesday, January 7th 2009

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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