One of the false dichotomies that has plagued Christianity is the idea of the split between the sacred and the secular. The idea is that there are (at least) two different planes or compartments of living – that which is sacred or spiritual, and that which is secular or mundane. This scheme can manifest itself in two primary ways:
1. One manifestation of the secular/sacred dichotomy is the idea that the two planes do not really intersect. That which belongs to the spiritual plane really has no bearing on or relationship to that which belongs to the secular. This idea has tremendous influence in our culture – think of the hesitation to “legislate morality” or the admonition that one’s personal religious convictions not influence their professional (or political) activities.
Indeed Francis Schaeffer (and Nancy Pearcey, one of the great expositors of his thought) shows how such thinking actually bifurcates the very notion of truth. You can have “religious truth” which is personal and private and does not really effect or relate at all to common/public truth, which is primarily determined through the scientific method.
Schaeffer describes what we’re talking about with the analogy of a two story house. That which is spiritual, private, personal, or whatnot is relegated to the upper story and that which is public and involves everyday life occupies the lower story. When we go to church or a small group Bible study or pray we are operating in the upper story. When we go to work or school or the mall we are operating in the bottom story. And the two never intersect.
2. A second manifestation often appears in the mind of Christians. Often sincere believers tend to think that their activities in the “secular” world are unimportant or merely a means to an end – making money to feed their family and support the “real” work of ministry and missions. The only work that really matters is that which is spiritual.
Thus many people inculcate the idea that if they want their lives to really matter for the Kingdom they must be somehow engaged in full-time ministry. (Many people in the ministry seem to support the idea, though not necessarily in overt ways. There was a time when I bought into it too.) In this schema, the real work of the kingdom is done by those in ministry, and those in “secular” professions are called upon to help support it.
These false dichotomies rob many Christians of the joy of serving God in their work. The creation account in Genesis reminds us that God created everything from nothing (ex nihilo) and that everything was good. He then commanded Adam and Eve to bear fruit and to work (the cultural mandate). We fulfill the cultural mandate by advancing knowledge and the social good, by pursuing truth and beauty, by building a culture. (Did you ever think about the fact that the biblical narrative begins a wild garden and ends in a celestial city?)
There is a great calling and role for those who work in ministry, but there is also such for those who work in other fields. The sacred/secular split has its roots in Greek (Platonic) thought more than in the Scriptures.
Let’s get past it.