To return, the question is – how did we get into this state of confusion about “Christian” work and “non-Christian” work? About sacred and secular?
As far as I can tell from my reading so far (which isn’t super-extensive, so I would encourage you to do your own on this topic), one of the biggest things Christianity is still wrestling with is Greek thinking. Despite it being a good 2,000 years since Greeks first started coming to Christ, their way of thinking still lingers in a few areas.
Very briefly, one of the key ideas of Greek thought back in Christ’s day was that material stuff (like skin, plants, animals, jobs, all the stuff that we interact with physically in this world) was somehow inferior to non-material things like thoughts and ideas. So, as a result, Greeks prized the ability to think about things more highly than actually interacting with the world. So, for instance, in the field of mathematics, Greeks loved maths from the point of view of thinking about things, but weren’t so interested in the practical application of it.
This is a broad generalisation, and we do owe a lot to the Greeks, but when this thinking and early Christianity mixed, a new form of Christianity emerged that put “spiritual” things (like prayer, contemplating of God’s Word, etc) on a higher plane than “material” things (like farming, looking after animals, eating food, making music, etc.).
Now, a quick read through the Gospels will tell you that this separation wasn’t an idea that came from Jesus. If you look at His ministry, as well as teaching and casting out demons, etc (i.e. “spiritual” things), He was also quite often healing people’s physical infirmities and sharing meals with people. His first public miracle consisted of providing more wine for a wedding. Could you get any more “secular”?
Alongside all his exhortations on serving God, there were instructions on marriage, how to use your money, and the need to help the poor and needy. There’s no indication that Jesus in any way separated himself from the world as we often think about it nowadays. This came in afterwards, and the evidence seems to be that it was from the Greeks.
Throughout the centuries, various forms of this error have been passed down. Taken to its extreme, we have seen Christians that have tried to completely remove themselves from the things of the world. (Think monks, Amish people, and other groups that try to avoid as much of the”world” as possible.)
However, the most common form of this problem that we see nowadays is the resulting vagueness that I talked about in the last post in this series. We kind of feel that some tasks and roles in life are on a higher peg than others. I’ve discovered from personal experience that rather than drawing the distinction based on theological grounds, we draw it based on a quite simple question: Can a non-Christian do this as well? If the answer is “yes”, then we tend to categorise that activity or thing as “secular”.
So can a non-Christian be a lawyer? Well, yes, lots of them are. So therefore, being a lawyer is a “secular” job. Ditto for farmers and accountants. Can a non-Christian be a Christian missionary? (Well, they can, but not really properly. But I won’t get into this here.) Well, no, not really, so therefore it’s a job that only Christians can do. It’s a “sacred” thing.
The other influence that can’t be ignored is Enlightenment thinking. When it came along, it was reacting to the dominance of the church in all areas of life that had existed up until that point. The Enlightenment placed man at the centre, and made thinking the central activity that was the path to all truth. During the last few hundred years, God was hurled out of science, politics, and as many other areas as they could get rid of Him, and a new way of thinking was formed that there were “neutral” things such as science, politics and education that shouldn’t be swayed one way or the other by religion. (Humanism, yes, religio, no.)
Well, you’d think that Christians would have fought tooth and nail over this issue (and many of them did), but Christians nowadays seem to have fallen for this idea hook, line and sinker. Most Christians today still have a vague feeling that if science and Christianity go head to head (as they do on a regular basis) that somehow science is a neutral, objective thing that can trump Christianity.
Most Christians today still think that separation of church and state somehow means that governments can do their own thing, without really having to be too involved with Christianity. Sure, Christians get upset if the government pushes abortion or same-sex marriages, but on the whole, we don’t see any connection between God and government.
To sum up, the Enlightenment told us that it was foolish to believe the Bible on all these things and be ruled by the church. Instead, we should just confine the church to a small group of spiritual things and leave man and his mind to work out the other stuff.
And the modern-day church has, either by default or (in increasingly more cases) by direct statement, said, “I agree completely.”
A third issue today is a rejection of the Old Testament as being in any way relevant to the modern Christian. If you read enough Old Testament, I can tell you – you will have no troubles seeing God as the Lord over all things, from farming to music to architecture to governments. If you ignore the Old Testament and write it off, it’s much easier to miss this aspect of His character.
Then, with all these ideas floating around in our heads, when we turn back to the Bible, we become blind to what’s there. Paul says to obey the Government in Romans? Well, that must mean that we don’t have to worry about whether what the government does is right or wrong – we just need to do what they say. (Except if it’s abortion or same-sex marriage.)
We read the epistles of Paul t and only notice the parts about church and our Christian character, and we only assume that the Bible talks about “spiritual” things and has nothing to say about the realities that we live in.
However, the only way that you can completely live a life devoted to “spiritual” things is to go into some form of full-time ministry, such as being a missionary or a minister. Otherwise, we’re left in the same dilemma as before – those of us who are not in these roles are spending hours of our weeks doing things that have no value (or worse, are things that God doesn’t like).
There has to be another answer.
So, in the next post, I’ll talk about what I think the Bible says about our faith and how it applies to life.