Christians starting businesses for the glory of God.

What is the Sacred-Secular Divide?

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You don’t have to go very far today to hear some reference to the ‘sacred-secular divide’ or the ‘sacred-secular dichotomy.’ It’s in all the books, blogs, conferences—and occasionally in a sermon. And it’s always in a negative connotation.

So what exactly is the sacred-secular divide? In one sense, it’s impossible to define. It’s a kind of culture, a nuance, an entirely too subtle way of looking at life, vocation and ministry. It’s a shadow that covers many other aspects of our lives. It seems innocuous, but it’s not. The divide is a false dichotomy, a false worldview, an infection in the minds of Jesus’ followers that has done incalculable damage to the cause of the Church.

However, we can at least approximate the meaning of the divide in this way. It is a view of life built on a separation or distinction between those things, people and places someone believes to be sacred (holy and of God) and those believed to be secular (worldly and not of God). Certain callings are holy (missionary, pastor) and others are secular, i.e. of the world and therefore unholy (business, medicine, construction, etc). Certain places are sacred as well—church buildings, graveyards, seminaries while others are secular—my house, your house, schools, and athletic stadiums. I know you might like the sentiment, but a candle lit in a church building is no more holy or special to God than a candle on my 2-year-old grandson’s birthday cake. Caution: if that statement offends you, then you are living in the divide. In short, it is all about distinctions and separations and classes and castes.

Oh, you don’t think this way? Just listen to how many times you and those around you refer to “my Christian life”  as if there were another kind that you have. Or to Christian vs. secular music? Spiritual vs. secular books. Or to “Christian” movies. Or “Christian” coffee houses. Or to the church building as the Church or God’s House. Yeah. It’s everywhere.

Now someone will no doubt say, “But what about sin and holiness?” What about it? That’s an entirely different axis. Check out this diagram.

Sacred-Secular Diagram

As you can see, part of our problem is that we are measuring the wrong things. There is a distinction—one with eternal consequences—between righteousness (conformity to God’s character and commands) and unrighteousness (rebellion against God and His commands). But the artificial distinction between jobs, places, objects and foods as either sacred or secular is just plain bogus.

We’ll examine more of this issue in future blogs including where it came from, how it keeps going, it’s impact on the church and society, and the solution in future blogs. Stay tuned.

3 Comments

  1. purley quirt on September 3, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    A book that presents your position well is called: “In His Steps.”

    In its publication years it sold almost as many copies as the Bible ( 30 million).

    It presently can be read online:

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4540/4540-h/4540-h.htm

  2. steve_spaulding on September 9, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    I’ve followed this distinction for awhile, and would cite two authors which I believe have been helpful in this regard: Darrow Miller–who wrote Discipling Nations back in the late 90’s still very good on worldview transformation… but also Dallas Willard, now passed away, from likely America’s leading spiritual advisor for the past 10 or so years, who in The Divine Conspiracy spoke at least on one occasion about the damage that this divide has caused the global church–esp. in N. America.

    My own bias in this regard is that what we call another divide: the “Clergy-laity” divide, is part and parcel of the sacred-secular divide, and that in many ways, until we are able to get past even the whole “official ordination” of our clergy, we will likely not get over the ‘sacred-secular divide’…and that has to do with things like what is now a global ‘house-church’ or ‘simple-church’ movement which tends NOT to have full-time paid pastors, never a one-to-one correspondence between “pastor and church” and does not normally have a seperate, paid-for “holy” facility, etc., etc.

    That’s just a note for your ongoing discussion…one that while it can be controversial (and could cost alot of our f/t paid people their salaries…could, in the end, be a part of an incredible in-gathering of people not primarily into our churches–which have all-too-often been defined as buildings :), but definitely into the Kingdom.

    shalom, sms

  3. […] all struggle with the remains of the destructive illusion of sacred vs. secular. The good news, though is that since it’s an illusion it only exists in the mind. Soaking your […]

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