Posts Tagged ‘sacred versus secular’

Last night I sat in a conference listening to Neil Cole talk about the damage we have done to the cause of Christ by making the ministry of the professional clergy more important than that of the average Christian. I could not agree more. If you are a follower of Christ, you have been called by God to be a minister in Christ’s name. The job of the “professional” is not to do what God has called you to do, but to give you every tool and training you need so that you can do what God has called you to.

This is stated as clearly and as boldly as possible by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:11-12

11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

As a pastor my job according to Paul, is to equip people for the ministry they have been called to by God. It is that work, work of ordinary Christ followers, that will build up the Body of Christ. It is the work of ordinary Christians like you that will make the real difference in the Church and in the world. People in positions like me are just coaches. You are the real players who make things happen.

Throughout the Bible we get the picture of how vital you are to the work of ministry. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about the church as the Body of Christ. He makes it clear that each and every person in the Body has a crucial role to play. Each person has a ministry that has been given to them by God. Each person is equally important in the functioning of the Body and the ministry of Christ. The hand is no more important that the foot, which is no more important than the eye, which is no more important than the ear. You my friend are of vital importance to the Body of Christ and if you are not doing the ministry God has called you to, then the rest of us are functioning one handed, or lame in one leg, or blind in one eye, or deaf in one ear. No wonder the church struggles.

But there is another very important point that Neil made. Do not think that your ministry that God has called you to is some “church” thing. Far too many people think that what they do from 9-5, Monday through Friday is “secular’ and what they do with the church is “sacred”. NO! All of life is sacred. Colossians 2:17 is clear, in whatever you do in thought word and deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I wrote a post on this several weeks ago. https://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2008/12/03/provocative-worship-pt-2-all-of-life-is-sacred/ The point is, whatever you do, is to be done as an act of worship. That makes all of life sacred. All of life is ministry. If you are called by God to be an accountant, or cook, or engineer, or flight attendant, you are to do that for Jesus and look for every chance to serve others in His name.

I know that for many people this is a new concept. I know this because I teach a university course on this at Belhaven College. My students are adults who are finishing their degree at night. They are by and large people who have been Christians for some time and go to good churches. But when we talk about their job being a calling from God and something sacred, the lights come on for the first time. They never heard this. They always saw their job as somehow being inferior to that of their pastor or some other professional church worker. Real ministry is what the pastor does. That is nonsense!

When I came to faith in Christ I had never been a member of a church. I had rarely attended a church. What I did have at that point was the example of ordinary people who led me to Jesus and a Bible that talked all about ordinary people who did radical things in service to Jesus. I had no expectation or model that said “real ministry is done by professionals”. So stupid me, I just started doing what I saw people do in the New Testament and what my friends had modeled for me. All of life became life in Jesus. Whatever we did became an act of worship. If we went white water rafting it was a chance to experience the joy of the Lord and fellowship in His creation. That was no less an act of worship than when we sat down with a guitar around a camp fire and sang songs and prayed. When we went to work and became salt and light in the marketplace, it was no less ministry than when we went to a local park and talked to pot smoking teenagers about Jesus. There was no divide between the sacred and the secular and between the professional pastor and the ordinary follower.

You are a minister in God’s church and what you do everywhere, everyday is to be sacred in the eyes of the Lord.

For centuries Christianity in the western world has been infected by a disease. It was transmitted to us by some of the most important and influential thinkers in the history of Western Civilization. Chief among them would be the Greek Philosopher Plato. But quick on his heals would be Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle held a view of the world that essentially saw the spiritual world as good and the physical world as bad. The ideal is the spiritual. Everything that is physical is base and tainted and to be overcome.

The church took this philosophy and combined it with a false understanding of what the Bible, meant when it spoke of the flesh and the sinfulness of the flesh. Instead of understanding “the flesh” as meaning the sinful inclination that we all have as we live in the world, many people taught that anything having to do with the body and the physical world was bad. It didn’t help the situation any when the professional clergy allowed and even promoted a thinking and mindset that saw religious vocation as being spiritual and Godly and other vocations as being worldly even if necessary for this life.

Well it doesn’t take much of a leap to arrive at a place where Christians believed that those activities that are directly related to “church” functions are spiritual and other activities are worldly. Eventually pastors, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox were seen, as the people doing real spiritual work and Christians who functioned in the work-a-day world were not. In the process we lost the understanding that everyone has a calling from God, not just those “called to ministry”.

There was a time when what someone did as their occupation was known as “their calling”. If you were a blacksmith then that was your calling. If you were a mechanic, or mother, or a seamstress, or butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, that was your calling. We used a term that made this clear. We said that what you did in your job was your “vocation”. It comes from the same root as the word vocal. It was understood that God had in some way spoken and called you to that vocation. In addition, he wired you in some way so that you could be good at that calling.

This dualist world of a sacred arena and a secular arena was not what God created. God created a physical universe. In that physical universe he placed physical human beings. When He looked across all that He had created He did not say, “Well that’s not too bad. It is not as wonderful as the spiritual realm I have made, but it is not too bad”. Far from it, instead God looked out over all that His hands had made and he said that is good. In fact all during the creation process, at each step along the way, God pronounced each individual piece as good. When He finished with the whole thing He didn’t just say it was good. He looked at the physical world and said it was VERY GOOD!

Perhaps the most important demonstration God gives us that the physical world is not bad or evil or inherently sinful is to be found in Jesus Christ. God came into the world as the man Jesus. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was fully a man, facing all things as we do yet without falling to sin and at the same time fully God. He claimed equal authority with the Father, to forgive sins, to be worshipped, even to lay claim to ownership of the Temple. Theologians call the doctrine of the Son becoming man, The Incarnation. It gets defined as meaning “to be in the flesh”. The key root word is familiar to any lover of a good thick bowl of chili con carne. It is chili with meat. The incarnation is the biblical doctrine that God came and took on or became meat. It doesn’t get more material, physical, or fleshly than that. If there physical world as somehow inherently evil and the spiritual was the only good, then the incarnation would have never happened. Jesus would not have gone to the cross for our sin. And we would be destined to an eternal punishment.

But it was not just that Jesus became flesh that breaks down the sacred/secular divide. We also need to remember that Jesus only spent three years “doing ministry”. He spent eighteen years doing “secular” work. He fulfilled the calling of being a carpenter. What he did as a carpenter was good. He did it in obedience to the calling the Father had placed on his life. He did it as an act of worship. It is no different in your life. What you do serving in some identified area of “ministry” is important. But what you do in service to God in the marketplace, the school, the community group, or your home is also sacred. It is something that God has called you to for His glory, the praise of His name, and the expanding of His kingdom.