As we move into the “third historical period” of the Reformation and beyond (1500-1800), Placher documents that we see a dramatic shift in thinking on vocation. To this point in history, the idea was that only clergy had a vocation or “call” from God and that ordinary people who worked ordinary jobs did not so much. The idea was that since to some degree we “work for our salvation”; therefore, only religious jobs truly contribute to this end; that being the case, only religious jobs “counted” as a genuine call from God. However, Martin Luther concluded after reading the Apostle Paul’s writings that salvation did not depend on what we do. Because we are saved purely by the grace of God who loves "sinners, evil persons, fools and weaklings"; therefore, we serve out of gratitude and thanksgiving. We can serve our neighbors simply to serve them, rather than worry so much about how we are helping towards our own salvation (p. 205). Luther argued vigorously that there was no need to enter a monastery or a convent to be an "uber Christian," rather we should remain in whatever station God has placed us and serve God right where we are. Placher writes that when Luther began the Reformation around 1520, between 6-10% of the general population of Germany were priests, monks and nuns; however, only a generation later, that number had dropped by 2/3rds. Monasteries and convents were almost entirely closed and the majority of clergy had married (p. 206). Luther wrote that every Christian has at least two vocations: 1) a spiritual calling (to become Christ’s) and 2) an external calling to a particular line of work.
There were movements away from Luther’s position, for example the Peasants’ Revolt in Germany in 1525 and the stance of the Levellers in the 1640s who fought to abandon their ordinary occupations. While Luther’s work gave dignity to the ordinary citizen and his job, it also reinforced the existing social order. It became thought of as “sin” to leave the station in life or vocation God had given to a person. In some ways Luther’s teaching, while giving dignity to an ordinary person’s work, also resigned that person to accept their work as God’s call to obedience. To reject or leave the work, was therefore thought to be disobedience to God. This thinking was not accepted by all. While John Calvin agreed with Luther for the most part and warned against the human tendency to restlessness and discontentment with their vocations, nonetheless, Calvin advocated for some freedom of social motion from one job to another (p. 207). Other groups pursued more of a “radical Reformation” (p. 208). Groups like the Mennonites in Holland and North Germany and the Hutterites in Switzerland and Moravia pursued a communal life of simplicity. They viewed the government and the existing social order with suspicion, especially rejecting warfare in particular. Also, they only baptized adults, those who could make a clear commitment to Christ and rebaptized those who had been baptized as infants. These folks became known as “Anabaptists.” Meanwhile, most Catholics continued to think of vocation in terms of priesthood or monastic life and people like Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, Teresa of Ávila of Spain and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz of Mexico capably defended the values of monastic life.
As the Reformation continued to spread over Europe, in the 1640s, some members of parliament the Puritans sought to simplify worship and raise moral standards in England. They joined parliament in deposing King Charles I (and eventually beheading him) and placed one of their generals Oliver Cromwell as “Lord Protector” over England. Parliament recruited men of lower and middle classes to form an army while the Puritans sought to reform the Church of England by replacing bishops with elected regional assemblies called “presbyteries.” Independents and Congregationalists wanted local autonomy for their congregations. Baptists wanted to purify the church further by baptizing only those who had made an adult commitment of faith and Quakers found guidance from the “inner light” of the Holy Spirit (p. 209). Religious diversity was significant at this time in England's history. After Cromwell died in 1658, Charles II, the son of Charles I, returned from exile in France in 1660 and reclaimed the throne; the Church of England was reestablished as well. Those who continued to seek to “purify the Church” went underground, suffered persecution or moved to the American colonies.
Overall, the Puritans spent time encouraging others to look inward. While most Puritans thought themselves to stand in the Reformed tradition as founded by Calvin, they also tended to emphasize individual salvation more so than Calvin. Borrowing from the empiricist philosophy common in the 17th century, direct experience became the best way to “prove” the truth of something. So the Puritans as well as other groups like the Pietists of Germany spent a lot of time analyzing their “religious experience.” Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley spoke at length on the experience of their calling. However a different kind of challenge arose for those who had believed in the radical and free grace of God in Christ; Christians now began to utilize a particular kind of experience as the evidence that someone had been truly "called" by God (in the more general sense, i.e. converted). Some even began to view “success” in certain jobs as evidence of salvation and the idea of “vocation” shifted more and more to mean exclusively “job” (p. 210). The Reformers had sought to build the case that any job could be properly called a “vocation,” but in more recent times, Christians have grappled with the question of, to what extent their jobs should define their lives.