One important principle in the Reformed tradition of the Christian faith is the emphasis of the community in the development of a person’s vocation. Community is important because it helps people to flourish. Without a community, individuals will not be able to experience God’s purposes in its totality. The individual and his/her community are complimentary. One needs the other. With this notion of community, the Reformed tradition has usually read the New Testament highlighting the organic character of the church, something which it serves as a framework for Reformed thinking about the nature of Christian calling and work in human society at large.
In his respect, Romans 12 calls Christians to have a balanced view of ourselves and our abilities. Without downplaying our gifts, we are also called to recognize the fact that the body of Christ is formed by many people, which have many and different gifts and abilities. Therefore, the church as an organism benefits all the members of the body and at the same time, it is nourished by them. Of course, such a process must be shaped by the love of our neighbor and not our own selfishness. As Paul in Rom. 12:6-8 clearly speaks. There exist multiple gifts in the church and multiple callings: the prophet is called to prophesize, the teacher to teach, etc. These particular callings recognize both the individual and particular vocation given to a person, and the general calling to Christians to be a disciple.
A more developed discussion is done in I Corinthians 12. Paul defends the diversity of gifts and callings yet highlights the unity of God. There are many gifts given to Christians, but they are given by the same God. Such a diversity in the body of Christ allows us to appreciate the organic aspect of the church. As the human body is formed by different parts, the body, however, represents a single organism. In the same way, the church has many members with different functions, roles, abilities, and gifts. All of them nourish the church. But in the end, the church is one organism.
The Reformers picked up this important aspect, and this has made that the modern Reformed notion of vocation is not only balanced but also can be applied to modern societies. Modern societies emphasize the individual, and it is important the church can respond to those challenges accordingly. By locating the Christian person in both an individual and communal sphere, the Christian calling can be adapted to the social-cultural needs of our modern times because taking a legalistic or non-flexible position might lead us to consider that a Christian person who works in some kind of work might not be a good Christian at all. This situation attempts to a healthy and broader notion of vocation. This reminds me of my father’s own story, who was a civil engineer before entering serving in ministry. However, one of my grandparents used to believe that because my father dedicated his early life to work as an engineer and earn money, he was not paying attention to God’s calling at all. The paradox of the story is that many years later, it was my father who led the construction of the building of the congregation where my grandparent was pastoring. This brief example shows that the danger of having non-flexible and outdated notions of vocation and work, assuming that all people in the church must do the same thing in the best of the cases, or nothing in the worst. On the contrary, the modern reformed notion of vocation teaches us that the church’s diversity is its DNA from the very beginning as Paul has suggested in the passages mentioned above.
In conclusion, the modern Reformed understanding of work has correctly picked up the spirit of Rom. 12 and I. Cor. 12 and thus it offer us a notion of vocation that allows Christians to do both: following Christ faithfully and developing our gifts and abilities further in order to flourish in the mainstream society as well. This is perhaps the benefits of the modern reformed motion of vocation. It recognizes that human societies and cultures change. For this reason, God gives gifts and abilities to people according to the times they are living taking into account socio-cultural factors also shape that vocation.