“Christ came to serve me.… I will do likewise, seeking from my subjects not my own advantage but theirs… that they, not I may benefit.’” – Martin Luther (LW, AE, vo. 45, p. 120)
A major emphasis of Martin Luther was the doctrine of “Vocation.” Luther understood that if one desired to serve God, they did so by serving their neighbors. In this way, Christians serve as “Little Christs” to their neighbors within the different roles and vocations that they carry out. Luther pointed out that the milkmaid, the cobbler, or even the father changing dirty diapers are each performing great service to their neighbors in spite of the lowly tasks they carry out. Though their vocations are simple and unimpressive, by carrying out these tasks they are serving and glorifying God as much as a learned theologian or ruler. In this way, the doctrine of vocation sanctifies even humble, lowly roles and tasks and gives people in these lowly vocations encouragement to carry out these tasks with willing and cheerful hearts. Christians can be assured that they are honoring God, though their tasks may be menial.
The doctrine of vocation has implications for Christian artists. Certainly, liturgical art (i.e. art used to promote and share the Word of God) was important—especially within the Reformation—but with a proper understanding of vocation, the Christian artist should feel free to produce art for other purposes as well. Even if the art has no religious imagery and is secular in content, the Christian artist carries out his task of producing the artwork in service to his neighbor and therefore also in service to God.
Lucas Cranach, the famous artist and friend of Martin Luther, demonstrated a proper understanding of vocation and how it applied to artists. Not only did he produce beautiful pieces of liturgical art (as we have previously studied), but he also used his skills in service to his neighbors by producing secular pieces of artwork. He beautified spaces with his paintings. He produced works that were political in nature—commissioned by the Elector and local government. He also produced portraits for families and couples (including his portraits of Martin and Katharina Luther). Cranach demonstrated that the Christian artist could serve God in all aspects of his work. By serving his neighbor as an artist, he was serving and honoring God.
Let Your blessing rest on seed time and harvest, on commerce and industry,
on medicine and science;
sanctify the arts and culture,
the rest and leisure of Your people.
(ELH, p. 96)
Reverend Luke Ulrich
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church & School