Christians far too often operate in what is called the “secular / sacred divide.” We bifurcate reality creating a private personal religion and a secular “neutral” public world. We essentially create two buckets. We erroneously categorize our lives to where God’s truth applies and where we believe it does not. We misjudge the secular as neutral, even sending our children to “neutral” secular education. Consider the two buckets where we compartmentalize sacred and secular.
In the religion bucket we have:
- The Bible
- My personal walk with Jesus
- Tithes/offerings/giving to the poor
- Volunteering in the Church
- Parachurch ministry
- Missions work
- Discipleship in doctrine and morality
- Marriage / Family / home life
- Everything we consider spiritual
In the secular bucket we have:
- City infrastructure
- Everything we do not consider spiritual
Granted, depending on your worldview you put some of these items into the opposite list, but this should illustrate the point enough for this essay.
What happens though when we are living in this divide, and we begin to realize that God cares about something on the list we deemed “secular”? What we do is we pull it over into the religion bucket. I see this time and again. It is a noble effort, but it makes a mess of things. We have not changed our divided worldview; we have only swapped buckets.
To illustrate this point, let’s take on the most divisive of topics, politics. When we live in the divide, but think politics should matter to God, we make a bucket change. We pull politics/government out of the secular bucket and add it to the “religion” bucket. Maybe in your experience it has always resided in the bucket where it matters to God, but it is in markedly in that bucket and not in the other.
The Conservative Error
Here is what happens. We participate in politics from the religion bucket worldview. This means what matters in politics is: godly leaders, that we are not persecuted for our faith, that our nation blesses Israel, that we honor the biblical definition of marriage, and first and foremost we stop killing the unborn. We will also talk a great deal about not becoming a socialist nation and rejecting Marxism. But that is about as far as it goes for the average Christian with politics in their religion bucket.
The other thing we, Americans, do when we pull politics into the religion bucket is to become religious about politics. We marry it to evangelism – sometime the Gospel even becomes about prophetic words about America or getting a person to convert to conservative politics. The Gospel is not the good news of Jesus, but a particular bent of political thinking that we have substituted in our ardent American branded evangelism. We make getting politics right a condition of salvation and wonder if someone is going to get to go to heaven when they die if they were too socialistic on earth. That whole sentence is another evangelical muddle for another article.
America becomes the barometer of the end times because we push the nation down into our religious bucket along with Israel and leave all the other nations in the secular bucket. Thus, how America is doing as a nation tells us how close we are to Jesus coming back. The clock ticks faster the more socialist or immoral we become. But perhaps we have become thus, because of our bucket problem, not because the world is exceptionally good at snuffing out the light of the Church.
The Substitute Gospel
Last year, I stood in a long line in Hobby Lobby. A lady struck up a conversation with me as we were the only two around not masked. She, like myself, is an evangelical conservative Christian. I shared with her about the books I’ve written to that end. But then the conversation took a typical turn. . . She began to tell me about “former” Christian who had fallen away and become liberal and how she was trying to return her to her faith. She did not mean Jesus. She meant conservative American politics. I do not even know if they left Jesus, but in her mind since this friend did not think like her it was a matter of her salvation being on the line. This troubled me. Not because I agree with liberal Christian theology, but because we have so religiously charged politics that we think it tantamount to the Good News.
Follow me carefully here. Politics is deeply theological. The Bible pertains to politics. But it is not through the lens of the first or second bucket. There are no buckets. There is no secular, but that also means that there is no handling of matters through “religion” per se. Biblical truth, yes. But Jesus was not a religious leader. He was Lord of all. His truth applies to all of life.
I used to teach that we needed to erase the line between sacred and secular, but I realized if we do not do that with the right worldview, we just dump the contents of the secular bucket into the religion bucket. Jesus did not create a “religion bucket” nor a “secular bucket” nor did he make life religious. We are not erasing one bucket, but two. In erasing the line, we allow God’s truth to unfold to all of life equally.
The terminology “sacred/secular” work to describe the problem of dividing/bifurcating reality – they cannot remain categories when the problem has been solved.
The Liberal Error
While conservative evangelical Christians make the error of religiously charging politics and truncating it to what we think to be essentially Christian issues, our liberal brothers and sisters make a different error. They believe that societal issues known in their circles as “social justice” is God’s concern. They draw upon the one another’s of Scripture in their desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. We can celebrate their heart in this, but not always the political philosophy. However, because the conservative Bible inerrancy Christians have left a vacuum in this area the resulting theology tends to mirror the world’s thinking. Thinking which is derivative from the Bible but has since assimilated too much of the world’s thought. Notwithstanding, we find a formidable critique of our own stream of the church from the progressive Christian crowd. I do not find a better path, but I do find a looking glass that shows we need to work on our own theology and compassion where it pertains to those trapped in darkness. Error begets error. Instead of pointing fingers, we may want to look at how we are contributing to the problem rather than believing the problem belongs to the error of another group.
Healing the Wounds
Truth cuts through the divide. It mends the broken and disunited church. It restores what was lost. It builds a sure foundation that does not fall in difficult times. There is a lot of healing that needs to take place and it starts with spending more time building on truth and loving those we with which we disagree. The conservative Christian angst “attitude” drives young people to the ideology of the liberal Christians or the world’s left. We need to understand what our methods are doing.
While we ought not to operate in any kind of split thinking when it comes to life, we can look at things jurisdictionally. The Church and State are separate. But God and State are not. Truth applies to both the Church and to the State. It does not apply differently. But the organizations have different areas of authority in a nation. The Church ought not control the State, but it ought to disciple a nation including governmental leaders. The State ought not control the Church. However, the government is to be made up of righteous people due to the discipleship they received from the Church. As a result, the State should reflect the glory of God in all it does, not as arm of the Church, but as a discipled truth loving institution.
Cities and nations should flourish because of God’s truth. We hinder that when we operate through the lenses of the sacred secular divide. We must not move the items we deem sacred over into a bucket that only sees through privatized faith, nor can we leave them left to rot in the secular bucket. Either option is a bifurcated reductionist Gospel and thus a heresy.
Rebuilding Your Worldview
Erase the line. Broaden your worldview. Learn about these subjects and institutions from a biblical worldview where God’s truth applies comprehensively and exhaustively to all areas of life. When this idea is lived out it creates great and prosperous nations that enjoy liberty. The Bible applies to the problems in institutions, neighborhoods, schools, education, healthcare, entertainment, etc. Applying it does not mean merely prayer in school and more institutions to use for evangelism purposes. The Bible applies to the vocation, industry, institution, itself. It applies to inventions, technology, science. We put these things in the first bucket when we begin to think only in terms of lunch time Bible Studies, expanded opportunities for evangelism, and money making for missions and church planting endeavors. This first bucket thinking, not the world’s darkness, not socialism, not Marxism, not liberalism, is why we are losing America. The other things become problems because of the vacuum.
Changing the way we think in this, will also create robust healthy churches who serve to disciple their nation in every area of life. No longer will church life only be on Sundays and Wednesdays, but our churches will vibrantly be alive in every conceivable way reforming all spheres of society with God’s truth through wholistic and creative discipleship.
It is going to take time to break out of this thinking. It is in literally everything we read and view. I hear it every day, all day, without end. It is in our Christian movies, sermons, books, newspapers, Facebook pages, live streams, conferences, workshops, schools, universities, and sometimes in our Bible translations. It permeates everywhere. I do not expect us to change our thinking overnight. But pay attention to what I’m writing about here and listen for it. Judge which bucket someone is talking from – everyone is using the buckets. Even I, who know just enough to write on this topic, use the bucket system in areas of thinking I have not yet taken to task. Working through this is all part of maturing our worldview to make it align with truth.
To reform a nation, you need to know what makes a nation truly great. Understanding America’s beginnings creates a pathway forward for all nations. From America’s first President, to the birth of capitalism, to the shaping of its institutions, Karla Perry shows the reader what makes nations flourish.