Saturday, May 7, 2011

sacred vs secular

I read something the other day that divided up things women might do with their time into 'sacred' and 'secular'. Paid work was in the secular zone, but voluntary work in the community, church stuff and raising kids were classed as sacred. I think this a false and fundamentally unhelpful distinction. I don't think we can elevate certain things we do to a higher spiritual category than other things. Reading to our kids, changing nappies, going to bible study, performing a life-saving operation, teaching a year 5 class, sitting in a lunch room, sending emails, being on the tuckshop roster, writing a book, marking exams, operating a check-out... Things we do may be ordinary or impressive but in Christ they are all transformed into something glorious if I do them in faith, serving God.

I like this statement from Mitchelton Presbyterian Church's 'DNA':

8. We believe everywhere is sacred
We’re not dualists. We don’t want to separate reality into ‘the sacred and the secular’ because the Bible says ‘the earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord.” And because Jesus took on real flesh and became very much part of our world, and because God ‘so loved the world,’ we think it’s a mistake to draw too firm a line between ‘church’ and ‘life’, or ‘Sunday’ and ‘the rest of the week’. So when we’re in church we act and talk like ordinary people who follow Jesus, and in every other part of life we do the same. Our worship isn’t reserved for Sunday services… God is worth serving full time, all the time. So for us, everything we do, and everywhere we do it, is sacred – it belongs to God.


  1. I like the tenor of the statement. It's central point is correct.
    I just wonder if the phrase 'draw too firm a line between' functionally becomes 'draw any line at all.'
    I can recognise all of life as an act of worship and still recognise particular actions of the gathered community on Sunday as distinctive.

  2. It wasn't the 'Saudi Arabian scripture that must not be named unless you want to risk a flame way descending upon you', by any chance, was it? Did such dodgy logic only apply to women, or did the men too get to be several people at once?

    Yeah, I'll go with MPC over MPD on this one!

  3. the division is unprotestant! Go Mitchelton.

  4. "Things we do may be ordinary or impressive but in Christ they are all transformed into something glorious if I do them in faith, serving God."

    But what does that mean.

  5. Al - What does it mean to do something in faith? Yeah. Good question.

    I think it means that I'm a christian on Monday when I'm teaching music, just like I was the previous day at church. My sins are forgiven, my hope is in Christ, I look forward to the future kingdom remembering that it's already begun and I live as a member or it. I teach as a member of it...

    Phil 2:12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who is working in you, [enabling you] both to will and to act for His good purpose. 14 Do everything without grumbling and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. 16 Hold firmly the message of life.

    Do you have other ideas?

    Gary - I don't think the church in question is at any risk right now of neglecting the gathered community! Phil preached on each of his dna statements earlier this year. This talk was pretty good.

    Anthony - No. The logic was only applied to women. It was in the comments of a post, but I thought it quite revealing. Of course, the words sacred/secular weren't used. It was kingdom/non-kingdom.

  6. Setting up dividing lines is unhelpful. Christ wants all of us and all of what we do to glorify Him. How do we know what God will choose to use and what he won't? I smiled and said hi to a friend's daughter as I walked past her at school when picking up my son. Found out later she was really encouraged by that tiny encounter.

    So I say - Amen sister!

  7. Wholeheartedly agree with the thrust of the post and Mitchelton's DNA point.

    But I think the NT makes some kind of distinction between the things we usually classify as 'secular' and those we classify as 'sacred'. Passages like 1 Cor 7:29-35 and 1 Tim 2:4 suggest some kind of 'more direct service' of God than that possible by being involved in the normal shape of life in this world set up by creation.

    I don't like how we normally talk about it, or the categories often used, but a completely flat world, with no priority to the new responsibilities that we have only in the last days is as problematic as a view that creates another version of the two-tiered Christianity that the Reformers overturned with the priesthood of all believers. The truth is somewhere in between.

  8. Mark - did you mean 2 Tim, not 1 Tim?

    Me, I'm going with Col 3:22-24. If I work in a 'secular' job, I have a greater chance of earning the respect of my colleagues and the 'right' to tell them about the Lord if I perform my duties well. Most of these people will never darken the doors of a church even for a wedding, funeral, Easter or Christmas and would turn and walk away from you if you came up to them on the street and the first words out of your mouth were 'sacred'.

    Also, as one of my colleagues very nicely said when I left my most recent job, the people 'out there' (i.e. people who don't work in traffic related areas) don't realise the magnitude of the work that we do in answering questions about road rules and keeping road signs and lines consistent. It's work that can be literally life changing.

    Simone, would the person you refer to consider such work (which could mean the difference between life and death) to be sacred if I hadn't been paid for it because then it would be 'volunteer work in the community' as it was in the public sector? Or would the fact that it had been done under the auspices of a local government rather than an NGO still negate it? :-)

    I like the line one sometimes sees above the inside lintel of church doors - "You are now entering the mission field" (although sometimes the inside of that building can be as great a mission field too).

  9. First comment here. Hi! If there is a division, and it is as Mark says, then you'd have to question what things go where. eg Why is raising kids sacred? According to 1 Cor 7 passage that would be a worldly concern associated with marriage. Perhaps the only division to be made is between people who are paid to do ministry activities (and can therefore be single-minded about it), and those of us who aren't (and who therefore serve according to the opportunities presented by their work and family). Maybe the trick is to find the sacred within the secular.

  10. Welcome Louise!

    Yes. The problems with the sacred/secular divide are many. What hope is there for men who work regular jobs. And does it de-sacred-ise ministry if you get paid to do it?

    I agree. The trick is to find the sacred within the secular. If everyone took seriously the challenge to do everything as a christian, the world might look different.