19 Jan To Divide or not To Divide, that’s the Question!
It all began during one of our music practices, when a worship leader made a remark like this: “Do not bring your management, and learning and development stuff into Church”. It was one of those rare moments when I had so much to say but did not. Naturally a war was going on inside of me during the rest of the practice and our time together. I got back home and decided to text in WhatsApp, to clarify if he believed there was a strict divide between the sacred and the secular. His response went something like this, “I agree there is no secular and sacred divide but I was more concerned that secular ideals should not be brought into the sacred…” I thought to myself, ‘Not many will express this paradoxical stance but then most of us believe it and live it out to some level’.
This article is an outcome of a barrage of thoughts that pounded my head in the hours and days after to answer my question – ‘Should/Can we have a sacred secular divide?’. The Merriam Webster dictionary provides us with two different definitions each for ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’: it defines Secular as 1. ‘relating to the worldly or temporal’ and 2. ‘not overtly or specifically religious’ while Spiritual as 1. ‘relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit’ and 2. ‘relating to sacred matters’. After reading the definitions a couple of times I see two possible positions – position 1: there is a divide: or position 2: there is no divide. We’ll leave the possibilities of a spectrum and the merger grey areas for a later discussion!
Position 1: there is a divide: Let’s take the second definitions – secular: ‘not overtly or specifically religious’ and sacred: ‘relating to sacred matters’ to best support this stance. If we attach a religious tone to these words to mean a specific religious practice or ritual etc. then most activities that do not fit under the sacred umbrella – like going to school or work, playing a game, watching a movie etc. may be termed secular.
Let us attempt to see life from ‘position 1: there is a divide’ perspective (a.k.a. the popular perspective). I understand it is conventional to say, Church attendance, personal time with God, what we call the Quiet Time in EU parlance, fellowship, all ministry related activities, are all stereotypically classified under “spiritual” (they directly glorify God and affirm God’s will & Word). We suppose all of these glorify God by default however they are done. There’s added grace for mistakes in this realm. We tread this sacred space carefully. We ration our expectations and withhold tough and critical comments either out of fear or respect for the sacred space. The rest of the parts of our lives, from waking up, getting dressed, attending work/school, cooking, cleaning, shopping etc., until our going to bed are considered “secular”. Now the “secular” list is further divided somewhat on these lines (at least among the believers) – pro-spiritual (could indirectly glorify God, affirm God’s will & Word), like working or studying well, exercising and staying fit, maintaining good relationships with family and friends etc., neutral (may neither be for nor against God’s glory, Word & will), like household chores, shopping or playing etc., and anti-spiritual (against God’s Word & will), a believer visiting a pub, or dating an unbeliever or watching “bad movies” etc.
In an attempt to have one dividing line between the sacred and secular, we have installed many lines – dotted, blurry, opaque, transparent, semipermeable, impermeable and so on. Those warrants the many seminar and workshop topics we come up with from time to time. After most practical talks and workshops, the Q & A sessions are filled with such genuine doubts and questions. ‘Is it wrong to marry an unbeliever if he/she is a good person?’, ‘Are there gender roles in household chores?’, and according to me, the all-time classic – ‘How do I balance my work/studies and ministry?’ Most believers desire to glorify God and affirm God’s Word and His will in their lives but are hounded with many questions and they helplessly conclude saying “it is really hard, if not impossible to live spiritually in a secular world!” Isn’t this tantamount to saying ‘God’s grace cannot/may not sustain His (spiritual) calling in my life, to be who and what He has called me to be in this world, so, I need the dividing lines?’ Now that I have hopefully made position 1 look daunting if not downright silly, let’s move on to analyse position 2.
Position 2: there is no divide: Let me invite you to look at the first definitions of both the words: secular: ‘relating to the worldly or temporal’ and spiritual: relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit. We live in a world created by Yahweh – The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, Ps 24:1. Every person living on earth is an image bearer – bearing the image of our Creator God! The tripartite being that God created us comprises the body, the mind and the spirit. And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, Gen 2:7. In other words, you and I are spiritual beings living in our physical bodies with operative souls. We are called to play our part to keep our spirit, soul and body blameless until the Lord’s return, I Thess 5:23. At death my spirit returns to the God Who gave it, my soul’s emotional, rational and volitional operations cease, and my physical body starts decomposing, and hence through a ritual of burial is returned to the earth it came from, Eccl 12:6,7. If spirit is the essence of who I am and you are, shouldn’t everything that relates to us, affect us, consisting of us being eternal and spiritual?
As if this isn’t sufficient, the Bible goes on to say, our very breath was given by God (Gen 2:7), our body is God’s temple where His Spirit dwells (1 Cor 3:16), our food and water come from God (Gen 9:3), so, whether we eat or drink, or work we are called to do all to the glory of God (I Cor 10:31, Col 3:23-24).Our marriage is honoured and the marriage bed undefiled (Heb 13:4), our life and death are for the Lord and belong to the Lord (Rom 14:8)! Looks like God is in our lives from birth to death. Now tell me, where is the scope for the worldly and the temporal?
If you have lived long enough, and observed the mess in the world, I understand it is difficult to see God and the spiritual elements everywhere. But let me urge you to look deep and long enough, you’d be amazed at the spiritual elements present not just in the Church but all around you. The devil is attempting His best to mar/destroy them, but God, in His own amazing ways, is both restoring and preserving them. The devil began his destructive work at the garden causing the man and his wife to sin and brought about death in their spirits and sealed them for an eventual physical death too. But that didn’t deter God from redeeming it back. This redemption cost God the life of His Son Jesus to be sacrificed on the cross. He did it nevertheless – The message is clear: “God loves people more than anything| More than anything He wants them to know| He’d rather die than let them go…” sings Point of Grace. When we have appropriated God’s gift of salvation through faith and confession, God’s redemptive work in our spirit is perfected. That’s our affirmation when we sing, “Born of the Spirit with life from above into God’s family divine, |Justified fully through Calvary’s love, O what a standing is mine! We now become the temple of the living God and God’s Spirit lives in us to convict, correct, and guide us to live the spiritual life leading us to eternal life. Now nothing about us is secular or temporal or worldly.
This paves way for life to flow through various realms seamlessly. “From the moment that I wake up| Until I lay my head| Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God!” All of my life is called to sing of the goodness of God! I glorify God equally through my eating, sleeping, studying, working, leading worship/Bible Study or preaching on a Sunday morning and you can keep adding to this list. No activity by definition is capable of giving God lesser or greater glory. I am called to do everything as unto the Lord for His utmost glory. This infuses significance and purpose to all my everyday tasks. No space we traverse is more or less holy. Every place has a role to play in the eternal scheme of things. That leaves a believer with just two choices – good: those that fall within the will and Word of God and evil: those clearly against the will and Word of God. In other words, those that the devil has tampered with and marred. I am sure, we will all agree, we have no business dabbling with the latter.
What does the ‘there is no divide’ stance mean to me? It is a call to remove the watertight compartments we have created and let life flow through seamlessly in our homes, work spaces, neighbourhood and gathering places for worship/Bible study. William J. Toms cautions “Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.” If I have declared God’s goodness, affirmed to live by faith with hope, joy, peace and love and an eternal perspective of things/people, on a Sunday morning I am called to live it out, with God’s help, in my home with my family, in my work/place of study and everywhere with everyone. There are no higher or lower degrees of living it out. The manifestation of my living it out might differ – I might sing, pray, preach, design, research, code, teach, study, relate or even simply ‘be’. Francis of Assisi quips, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Implicit in this saying is the understanding that our lives are the most powerful sermons. Live joyful, grateful, peaceful, exemplary lives and be a blessing. People around will notice that you possess a different, excellent and extraordinary spirit (Gen 39: 2, Num 14:24 & Dan 6:3)! God and the people around saw a difference in the way Joseph, Caleb, and Daniel carried out their work and whole life, not just in their religious actions.
While most of us agree about taking a few ideals and principles from the “spiritual” into the “secular” we still have problems when the ‘good’ ideals and principles we learnt in our Science, Social, Engineering or Management text books are applied in our “spiritual realms”. Are ideologies such as goal setting, professionalism, excellence, planning, healthy competition, accountability exercised within the body of Christ, be it Christian organisations, Churches or fellowships? It is very “(un)Christian” to hear phrases like, God leads (i.e., I don’t need to plan well), God forgives (i.e., I can go on making mistakes), God understands (i.e., I can do an incompetent job), God will take care (i.e., I don’t need to take care) etc.
It is tough to make sense of our faith if we communicate either in word/deed, that we will pay for a mobile that is meticulously built, drive a car that is excellently manufactured, live in an apartment that’s wisely planned and constructed, but preach a sermon/lead a Bible Study/singing that is sloppily prepared and delivered or done without sufficient learning/training/practice. I see this non-reciprocity, attempting to keep the “spiritual” in a watertight compartment, preventing the good from the outside to permeate, as a clear sign of danger. This has caused and is causing stagnation rendering our activities boring and lifeless, bad odour drawing attention for the wrong reasons or irrelevance leading to disconnection. When numbers dwindle and we hit headlines for the wrong reasons we could perform a soul-searching here!
As we ponder more on this sacred secular divide let us ask ourselves, what about my thoughts, words, feelings and actions, are they different in the sacred and the secular spaces of my life? Why? Does it make sense for them to be different? If there’s something in my profession that I shouldn’t bring into Church, should I as a practicing Christian be engaged in it at all? If there’s something I’m affirming in my Church that I can’t carry into my home, neighbourhood and work should I be affirming it at all? What should I do to minimise the gap so I can move seamlessly between these spaces? Did Jesus think, feel, talk and do things differently in the temple, as a wedding guest, during house visits, when teaching, while praying and on the streets working miracles? Did every act of Jesus glorify God the Father equally or were there some acts that carried more weightage to God’s glory, and were more aligned to God’s Word and will?
What did Jesus do then? What would Jesus do now? What should I do then – to divide or not to divide, that’s still the Question?!?
Evangeline Rajasekar is a Learning & Development professional at One Globe, an IT consulting firm. She is a trained Counsellor from Person to Person. She loves the Lord and is passionate about upskilling people through Training and Counselling. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.