Mending the Secular/Sacred Split

Many Christians find themselves living in two separate worlds, one on Sunday and the other the rest of the week.

They may see their faith as an add-on that merely supplements their daily routine. The effect that being a Christian has on their lives is limited to nominal traditions and comfort in times of crisis. They do not see their Christianity as having any implications on their jobs outside of being an upright, honest, hard-working, gospel witness while doing it.

On the other hand, they may see their faith as being somehow beyond their day-to-day. Worshiping God is something done in a Sunday service. Serving God is something done in organized church ministry. They see their jobs as John Beckett describes “a second-class endeavor—necessary to put bread on the table, but somehow less noble than more sacred pursuits like being a minister or a missionary.”[1]

In other words, they have bought into the secular/sacred split, dividing all of life into a two-story house that Francis Schaeffer described decades ago. They have relegated “real world” issues and “everyday” life downstairs along with all things secular. They have confined their Christianity upstairs, as it were, with personal preference, subjective values, and everything else sacred.

But, this is a huge departure from the Christian life as prescribed in the Bible, doing everything in Jesus’ name (Colossians 3:17) and to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31)

So, here’s the thing…

We need to mend the secular/sacred split.

As Nancy Pearcey states:

We don’t need to accept an inner fragmentation between our faith and the rest of life. … The promise of Christianity is the joy and power of an integrated life, transformed on every level by the Holy Spirit, so that our whole being participates in the great drama of God’s plan of redemption.[2]

The following are three ways in which we as Christians can mend the secular/sacred divide.

Civilization as Obligation

Upon completing the creation of the world, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Soon thereafter, sin entered into the world, corrupting God’s very good creation. However, much like we who are born sinners still retain the image of God, God’s creation still maintains much of its goodness.

Al Mohler suggests, “Christians understand that the world—including the material world—is dignified by the very fact that God has created it.”  It is on that basis that we are obligated to obey what we have historically called the Creation Mandate. We find this mandate in Genesis 1:28:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

In this verse, God gives us the responsibility to thrive in every dimension if his creation. We are told to be fruitful and multiply, establishing a social imperative. We are to replenish the earth, establishing a scientific imperative. We are to subdue the world, establishing a cultural imperative.

In essence, our sacred calling echoes in every corner civilization, even in those parts we would call secular. In having dominion over the earth—creative, wise, and righteous dominion—we do what we were created to do, bear God’s image.

Even in the most secular civilization, there is sacred obligation.

Education as Sanctification

A second way in which we can mend the secular/sacred split is by reconsidering our education as sanctification.

Many Christians sell the Bible short. We often fail to realize that the Bible does not simply offer a set of religious ideas to compete against all the other religious ideas of history. It proclaims a comprehensive worldview. It presents truth with a capital T.

Abraham Kuyper was famous for his declaration that “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” On that basis, everything we study in the domain of human existence must be subject to that sovereignty. All truth is God’s truth.

When we study—that is, everything from elementary phonics to advanced mathematics—we do so with the underlying assumption of God’s essential sovereignty. Without God, we would not have the capacity to study. Without God, there would be nothing to study.

If therefore, all truth is God’s truth, then every additional truth we learn brings us a step closer to knowing God.

Al Mohler puts it this way:

A robust and rich model of Christian thinking—the quality of thinking that culminates in a God-centered worldview—requires that we see all truth as interconnected. Ultimately, the systematic wholeness of truth can be traced to the fact that God is himself the author of all truth.[3]

In every subject we study, we must study it against the backdrop of God. In doing so, we are merely discovering the order by which God structured the world.

Even in the most secular education, there is sacred sanctification.

Occupation as Vocation

A way in which we can mend the secular/sacred split is by reevaluating our occupation as our vocation.

We seldom use the term vocation to refer to our jobs anymore. However, understanding the origin of the term helps us to better understand what our life’s work could be—and should be. Our livelihood should be a means of bringing glory to our Father by being filled with the Spirit and pointing people to Christ.

The term vocation is derived from the same origin from which we get the words voice and vocal. As John Stott explains, the “emphasis is not on the human (what we do) but on the divine (what God has called us to do). For ‘vocation’ is a Latin word, whose Anglo-Saxon equivalent is ‘calling.’”[4] Our vocation is our calling.

When we think of our daily work as an occupation, that which we do to merely occupy, we are robbed of the purpose God has in giving us the talents and opportunities he has given.

Furthermore, when we think of Christian ministry as only that which is done in the confines of the church by pastors and missionaries, we are robbed of the potential we have in using the talents and opportunities God has given.

One of the most dangerous misnomers in all of Christendom is “fulltime Christian service.” The term signals the wrong message in both what it includes, being employed by a church or parachurch ministry, and what it excludes, doing anything else.

In reality, every Christian should be in “full-time Christian service” regardless of who signs their paycheck.

Even in the most secular occupation, there is sacred vocation.

A few weeks ago, I sat at my dining room table with several Christian brothers. We are all from different walks of life—a U.S. marshal, an IT manager, a plumber, a graphic design artist, a lawyer, and me a teacher. Despite this diversity, it was a thrill—and a challenge—to discuss how each of us can use the minds and abilities God has given us to bring glory to the Father, be filled with the Spirit, and be conformed to the image of Christ. Two of us work for our church fulltime, but all of us serve God fulltime.

This conversation among Christians is possible, because…

Christianity is not a series of truths in the plural, but rather truth spelled with a capital “T.” Truth about total reality, not just about religious things. Biblical Christianity is Truth concerning total reality.

[1] John Beckett, Loving Monday: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul, 69.

[2] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 95

[3] Al Mohler, “Intellectual Discipleship: Following Christ with Our Minds.”

[4] John Stott, “Guidance, Vocation and Ministry,” in The Contemporary Christian, 132.

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2 thoughts on “Mending the Secular/Sacred Split

  1. Good stuff Travis. A practical application story: I recently saw a fellow christian (says he is anyway) leaning against the wall doing nothing for quite some time ( I am one of his managers). I went up to him and said “mike, who are you working for?” He said “well the owner isn’t here right now but he signs my checks, I guess I work for him” Me: you claim to be a christian so I will ask you again who are you working for? Finish this verse for me …whatever you do in word and deed, do ALL ????” He answered “to the glory of God”. He hung his head and went back to work. We have had several life application discussions since. He is in real life mending the secular sacred split I believe.

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