Overview of The Three Estates
Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, we thank You through Your Son, Jesus Christ, that we have been called out of the darkness of sin into the light of grace and forgiveness by the power of Your Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. We confess that we cannot do any good of our own power or will and beg that You would grant us Your grace to live this life in the places where You have placed us. You have put us here in these outposts in life. You have given us the mission to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us. Grant us Your grace and work in us and through us what we cannot. We ask this in the name of our Brother, Jesus Christ, the Lord. Amen.
This series of Bible studies introduces God's teachings about Vocation, the Three Estates, and Christian Service. These teachings from God's Word are all interrelated with the basic article of the Christian teaching: that we are Justified by God through faith in Jesus Christ alone, none of our works have any saving merit before God. In this world, as sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ we have been called by God to faith in Christ through Word and Sacrament, placed in our outposts, our communities, congregations, and families by the providential grace of God, all so that the Light of Christ may shine before men. This, then, is the foundation upon which we seek to understand where God has placed us in our various outposts in this world and what our mission is through His Gospel and by His strength.
Out·post ['autˌpəust]: a base camp in a distant and possibly hostile territory.
Mis·sion ['mi∫n]: a special and sometimes dangerous task given to a person or group to carry out.
God has a mission – a vocation – for the Christian to fulfill at each outpost (also known as the estates of family, church, and nation).
Vo·ca·tion noun [vō-ˈkā-shən] The stations in life where God has called us to live by faith serving neighbor, whether as a member of a Christian congregation, a family member, or in civil society. The word also is used to refer to a person's employment or main occupation.
Es·tate noun [i-ˈstāt] The realm, domain, or sphere of a particular kind of authority
This first study is a general introduction to understanding our outposts and mission by looking at Vocation and the basic outline of what the Bible teaches about the Three Estates.
What is the Doctrine of Vocation?
The Doctrine of Vocation in God's Word teaches us how we live by faith rather than by works within the places where God has called us through His Gospel. The word Vocation means “Calling.” And it is God who has called us and placed us at our outposts. In these outposts where God has called us we live by faith in His grace for the benefit of our neighbor. His Grace shapes the way in which we love our neighbor through life and actions.
How were we called?
I Corinthians 1:9
How does our calling to faith in Christ affect our relationships with our neighbors?
I Corinthians 7:17-24
What is an Estate?
In the Scripture's doctrine of Vocation we use the word Estate as a name for outposts where we live and where God has called us as his servants. Our outposts in these Estates have their own kinds of responsibility, duty, and authority in living our lives for the benefit of our neighbors and in service to them. The Scriptures set boundaries on our service and the kinds of relationships we have with our neighbor.
- Romans 13: 7-10
How are We Motivated by the Gospel of Forgiveness in these Vocations?
In the outposts where God has called us our love for our neighbor is not based on what we get out of the relationship with our neighbor. Our mission, our calling is to love one another even as Christ has loved us. To serve each other as He has served us.
- The last two sentences were references to Bible passages. Do you know what they are and where they are?
In the outpost of earthly employment and even slavery there is a difference between Christian love to our neighbor and selfish motivations for work:
Read 1 Peter 2: 18-25.
- Where does the motivation for serving harsh masters come from?
- What is the concern that the Christian servant should have for not only the good but the harsh master?
- How is this duty fulfilled for us where we fail?
In the outpost of living among non-Christians there is a difference between showing Christian love seeking the good of our neighbor and the idea of getting what we can from a relationship:
Read 1 Peter 2: 11-12
- For whose benefit is our service?
- When does God say the real benefits of this selfless service will be revealed?
- What is the goal of serving our neighbor?
Even in the outpost of marriage itself, with all the family issues, there is a basic foundation of selfless love husband and wife have for each other based on Christ's selflessness. Consider the example God gives for the husband:
Read Ephesians 5:25-27
- What is the responsibility of a husband toward his wife?
- How does the example of Christ in this passage show us the difference between real love and human desire?
What is the teaching of the 3 Estates?
The teaching of the three Estates is the doctrine of God revealed in Scripture which shows us the different realms of life in this world. The teaching shows us
- who holds authority in these different estates,
- who may hold office in these different estates,
- what the responsibilities and duties of those offices are,
- what the limits of those offices are,
- how God appoints the officers to administer the duties in each estate,
- and what the responsibilities and duties are of those under authority according to each estate. Living for the benefit of our neighbor.
What are the 3 Estates (with some of the other names used for each)?
These estates are the outposts where we live in this world. They are:
- Family (Marriage, The Household/Domestic Estate or Office, Nurture, Fatherhood);
- Church (The Office of the Keys, The Office or Estate of the Ministry, Teaching); and
- Civil Government (State, The Sword, The Civic Estate, The Office of National Government, Defense).
Where is this teaching found?
Scripture teaches us through the 4th Commandment regarding the honor due to those above us in each estate. Scripture also teaches specifically in numerous passages regarding the particular duties and authority of the officers and laity toward God and Man in each estate.
The Table of Duties "Consisting of Certain Passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Stations, Whereby These are to be Admonished, as by a Special Lesson, Regarding Their Office and Service" (SC Appx 2:1) lays out the basic passages regarding these estates. The Scripture passages quoted in Table of Duties describe what the life of faith looks like and how love is fulfilled in Christ in what He has done for us.
The Large Catechism on the 4th Commandment discusses each of the 3 Estates in some detail, distinguishing how authority is derived and executed according to each.
What is the source of authority for each estate?
The Lord Jesus Christ has all authority (Mt. 28:18), and, through His written Word, He establishes the distinction between the officers, the laity, the authority, and the obedience differently in each estate.
What are the spheres of authority and obedience for each estate?
The Household Estate is the family and includes all family members and those employed by the family
The Governmental Estate includes all levels, regions, and forms of civil government and their subjects.
The Estate of the Church includes the Church of Christ as individuals, congregations, and as a whole.
I Timothy 3:3-6
The Fourth Commandment and Authority in the Three Estates.
The Three Estates in Luther's explanation of the 4th Commandment in the Large Catechism.
Luther's explanation is organized in this way:
1) The Estate of Household, Approached from the duties owed by a child or servant. Sections 105 to 140.
2) The Authority of the Various Estates in Relation to the Estate of the Household. 141-149.
3) The Civil Estate. 150-157.
4) The Church Estate. 158-165.
5) The Household Estate, Approached from the duties of the parents, Fathers in particular. 167-177.
God has established each estate with their separate sphere of authority. These estates overlap in some ways. And every Christian is involved somehow either living in or also in the governance of each.
The Table of Duties as an Explanation of the Three Estates
Luther includes the Table of Duties in his Small Catechism. It is not difficult to see that Luther's organizing theme is the Three Estates. Observe the following divisions according to the Three Estates. I have left the sections of the Table of Duties in their original order and inserted the names of the Three Estates in Italics as headings.
To Bishops, Pastors and Preachers
What the Hearers Owe to Their Pastors
The Civil Government
The Family or Household
Prayer: O Lord, our heavenly Father, we thank You, that out of Your boundless grace for the sake of Your Son, You have given us the Holy Gospel, and have instituted the holy Sacraments, that through them we may have comfort and forgiveness of sin; we beseech You, grant us your Holy Spirit, that we may believe Your Word; and through the holy Sacraments day by day establish our faith, until we at last obtain salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with your and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.