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.
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.