Saturday, October 21, 2017


From the Augusta Chronicle:

500 years of the reformation

Protestants see ‘no work so lowly’ that it can’t be a vocation


In 2017, we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Over the next seven weeks, this series will reveal the variety of ways in which life today bears the marks of the Reformation and its legacy.
Sept. 16: Why we commemorate the Reformation Sept. 23: Education Sept. 30: Politics Oct. 7: Conflict and the quest for unity Oct. 14: Marriage and family Today: Economics Oct. 28: Evangelism and missions


REaD mORE about the history of the American prosperity gospel in its diversity of forms in Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel by Kate Bowler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
GAP MInISTRIES is open on Thursdays from 9:30 a.m.-noon at the former Greene Street Presbyterian Church (enter at 1240 Ellis St.) Bible study is from 10 to 10:15 a.m. Assistance is available for clothing, food, obtaining an ID or birth certificate and medicine. Learn more about the ministry at

MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF Volunteers Dana Ellis and Mike Hodges sort donated clothing at the GAP Ministries clothes closet in the former Greene Street Presbyterian Church. In the early years of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and John Calvin professed that a person could have a vocation without being in the clergy.

Have you ever felt like others in your office were judging you for actually using all of your vacation time? Would you feel guilty if you just sat in a chair and read a book on a Saturday when you could be cleaning an untidy house or doing needed yard-work? Do you consider it a mark of good character if someone comes into work early or if they can work through lunch without taking a break? If so, then your perspective is likely informed by the Protestant work ethic.
The Protestant work ethic has been responsible for great progress and American success, and at the same time, for the tyranny of work in our lives. It is a legacy of the Protestant Reformation – part gift and part curse – and it is still with us some 500 years later.
Among the many changes that occurred as a result of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, one of the most significant for the average person’s day-to-day life was the concept of vocation. Vocation, which is a synonym for calling, was terminology that had long been employed only for the religious life. But with the arrival of thinkers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, no longer was it the case that the professional religious alone could be understood as having a vocation through which one might serve God. All kinds of work could now be considered a vocation through which one might serve and glorify God. All of life belonged to God, and so, the sphere of public life was now sacred, too.
Sixteenth century French theologian John Calvin develops his thought on the matter in a number of places, in his biblical commentaries and in his sermons, but perhaps his most famous work is his theological treatise Institutes of the Christian Religion. The closing lines from the 1541 French edition of the Institutes read as follows: “There is no work so lowly that it does not shine before God and is not very precious, provided we are serving our vocation in it.”
In other words, any kind of honest work could be understood as a calling, every bit as important to God as a religious calling. In this way, there was a democratic ethos about the idea of vocation. At the same time, Calvin was wary about the idea of ambition, and thought it best that everyone seek to serve God in their appointed station, which reminds us that Calvin was very much a man of his time, supporting the aristocratic social ideals of the day.
Over time, this particular influence of the Reformation came to be referred to as the Protestant work ethic, sometimes called the Puritan work ethic or the Calvinist work ethic. The Protestant work ethic is defined by notions of hard work, discipline and frugality. This term was first coined by Max Weber in his classic 1905 work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It is here that he develops what has become known as the Weber thesis, that is, the notion that the growth of capitalism was connected to the development of the Protestant work ethic. Part of the thesis involves the notion that Protestant Christians, and Calvinists in particular, were so driven as a result of the doctrine of predestination, in an effort to demonstrate that they numbered among the elect.

MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF GAP Ministries volunteer Ellen Beam bags some donated clothes for a woman at the GAP Ministries clothes closet. The ministry is open from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Thursdays when 130 to 150 people are assisted through the clothes closet, food bank, and other services, according to GAP Ministries’ Jodi Huff, who was assisting volunteers and clients on a recent Thursday.

MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF Volunteer Julie Usry helps a woman get a copy of her birth certificate, which is among the services GAP Ministries offers.
This thesis has been the matter of much controversy, and one can easily see why. Even if we approve of the economic system, it is troubling to attribute results that are financially driven and materialistic in nature to a spiritual reformation. The idea that success was a sign of God’s election is surely not something that John Calvin himself would endorse. Instead, this is a way that theological concepts have been largely misconstrued by Weber’s thesis. Election, to Calvin’s way of thinking, is entirely inscrutable, and there is no way that our success or lack thereof or anything that we ourselves do would be any indicator. However, Calvin certainly placed a high value on hard work. Work is of value in that it is an opportunity to glorify God.
But like so many religious ideas born from reformation and the best of intentions, over time they can lose their impact on the world. Religious ideas no longer influence the culture, but the culture begins influencing them. Such is the case with the Protestant work ethic.
One has to wonder whether it is now capitalism’s influence on Protestantism that has led to the understanding of the Protestant work ethic as it is broadly construed, rather than the other way around. For better or for worse, Calvin did not find ambition seemly. It is also not difficult to make the link between the Protestant work ethic and the American prosperity gospel. As some have mistakenly understood that the Protestant work ethic meant that success was a sure sign of God’s election, it is only a few short steps from there to the many different iterations of health and wealth or personal empowerment theologies that have been a part of American culture for the last century and beyond.
As for me, I recently told my husband that while going to the beach and relaxing for vacation was fine, I preferred a vacation where I felt like I had accomplished something. Where I could check off a list – I had seen this or that, been to this or that new place, had this or that experience, achieved this or that goal. I guess the Protestant work ethic goes on vacation, too.
Erin Kesterson Bowers is the associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in High Point, N.C.


Gene said...

It was the individualism (not a bad thing in itself) brought about by the Renaissance/Reformation/Enlightenment that led to the so-called "work ethic." It is curious that it is labeled as a primarily protestant phenomenon...most of modern America was built by Italian, Irish, Polish, and middle European Catholic (legal) immigrants.

TJM said...

Father in keeping with the new "liberal" spirit in the US, please do not post pictures of anti-Semite, Martin Luther. It is a microaggression and I am running to my safe space with the coloring book and crayons to cope with this vicious affront to my feelings!!!!

Carol H. said...

I saw in the Southern Cross that our bishop was participating in a 500 year celebration. My husband and I have decided not to give to the diocese appeals anymore as a result.

TJM said...


Good for you and your husband. Go one step further and tell them why you aren't giving them a dime. THat's the only language they really understand

Gene said...

TJM, You have offended and micro-aggressed against me because sharing your hurt feelings has frightened me and caused me to be conflicted regarding whether I, too, should run to a safe space. Plus, I am now also stressed by worrying if a coloring book and crayons is age inappropriate and may cause others to call me a homosexual, a sissy, or a public school teacher. You are insensitive, a bully, and Hitler.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Bishop Hartmayer will not be participating in the celebration of the Reformation.

On 22 October at 5:00 p.m. we will have a Commemoration of the Reformation and Prayer Service for Unity at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah. Bishop Hartmayer and Bishop H. Julian Gordy of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will co-preside.

The service will be the same as that used by Pope Francis and representatives of the World Lutheran Federation in Lund, Sweden, on 31 October 2016.

A commemoration is not a celebration. Each year Americans commemorate the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The service can be found here:

Gene said...

RE: Commemoration of the what purpose? I am asking this as one with a graduate degree in Reformation what purpose?

John Nolan said...

It's really about Anglo-Saxon prejudice. Living in northern Europe, with its inhospitable climate, they secretly envied those who lived in balmier southern climes. They invented the myth of the rugged individual hard-working northerner and contrasted this with the myth of the idle and effete southerner who indulged in long siestas and put everything off until tomorrow. Since these same southerners had stayed Catholic, their supposed idleness was to a large part the fault of their religion.

It's all nonsense, of course, as a cursory reading of history will show. But it persists to this day, most notably in Ireland (where north and south share the same miserable climate).

Carol H. said...

Sorry Fr Kavanaugh, I know that liberals like to play with words but I'm not buying it-literally.

Anonymous said...

Bee here:

Fr. Kavanaugh, are you suggesting the commemoration of the Reformation on Oct 22., to be co-presided by Bishop Hartmayer, will be for him emotionally equivalent to the solemn sadness Americans usually express at a commemoration of the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

God bless.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

The purpose is stated in the title: To Commemorate the Reformation and the Pray for Unity.

Why commemorate the Reformation? Because it is a part of our Christian history. Those who do not remember (commemorate) the past are doomed to repeat it.

Why pray for unity? Because it is the desire of the Lord that we be one. Prayer open us to God's will and that will is unity.

Carol - You are spinning the words, not Bishop Hartmayer. It is a commemoration, not a celebration.

Bee - I hardly can be expected to know what Bishop Hartmayer's emotions will be at the service. Like any bishop or other Catholic, I would imagine that he is saddened by the divisions in Christianity, like any bishop or Catholic he will know that these divisions are not the will of Christ. Like any bishop or catholic he will be aware that the movement toward unity is fraught, but necessary.

We commemorate many things with sadness. You do. I do. Commemoration is not celebration.

TJM said...

Pearl Harbor and The Protestant Revolt aka Reformation have a lot in common - both hugely destructive events.

Kavanaugh, I assume you are against removing all of the confederate statues, etc., because "those who do not rememmber (commemorate) the past are doomed to repeat it" Corrrect?

TJM said...

RPursuing the fairytale of Christian Unity provides a grand deflection for lazy bishops and clergy for catechizing the Faithful and getting Catholics back into Church. Feel good nonsense which gives them a nice photo opt for the looney left-wing media to print. Rebuild the rubble left in the wake of Vatican Disaster II and then convert the non-Catholic brethren to the One, True, Holy, Roman Catholic Church.

TJM said...

Gene, good job, you got all of the looney left's buzzwords in one sentence!

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also hugely destructive events.

Both are commemorated in Japan, but are not celebrated.

The sad, destructive memory of the Civil War can and should be remembered without erecting statues and memorials that honor those who sought to destroy the United States of America. It can be remembered without erecting statues and memorials as signs of the desire for white dominance in a multi-racial society.

(Whew! The CAPTCHA system just took me through 10 screens of street signs and cars!)

Anonymous said...

Luther to the Pope: "I will not serve!"
Who else is infamous for saying that?

HC said...

Donald Trump (5 deferments)

Henry said...

Fr. Kavanaugh:"Whew! The CAPTCHA system just took me through 10 screens of street signs and cars!"

I've not recently seen a single CAPTCHA signs/cars screen. Wonder how the system recognizes you as an extremely questionable character, but me as an impeccably reliable one.

TJM said...

Kavanaugh, nice that you alter your principles when it aids a left-wing loon, anti-American cause. Thanks for confirming you comments need not be taken seriously, at all,

James J said...

Fr. Kavanaugh:

Some people believe in commemorating by erecting statues or memorials, especially in honor of those who served.

There are memorial monuments at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Yasukuni Shinto shrine which honors Japanese War dead.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

The Confederates who served did so in an armed insurrection against the United States of America.

We should not honor insurrectionists.

Gene said...

Kavanaugh, you know zilch about The War Between the States, the Confederacy, or anything related to it.

John Nolan said...

Fr K

Yet you honour an earlier armed insurrection, presumably because it succeeded.

Treason doth never prosper; what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

Henry said...


You really need to be more gracious and less confrontational in your reactions to other commenters. Most criticism can be phrased positively. For instance, you could have complimented Fr. Kavanaugh by saying, "I'm impressed that your knowledge of the Confederacy is right up there with you knowledge of authentic liturgy."

TJM said...


Comedy Gold!!!!

Gene said...

Henry, or something like, "Kavanaugh, I think it is really neat how up front you are with your ignorance."