Pastor Wade's Blog

The Besetting Sin of the Church in the 21st Century

Hugh Welchel asserts that the theology that divided the Church into the spiritual (or sacred) and the secular could be “called the besetting (or troubling) sin of the church in the 21st century.” I agree. This divide is responsible for the creation of two gigantic problems in the Church that automatically spills over into culture:

1.) The massive reduction of the workforce available to fulfill the Great Commission assignment of making disciples of all nations (Mt.28:19-20)

2) The misconception that our relationship with God can be reduced to church-related events and activities.

Hebrew scholars say that there is no word for “spiritual” in the Hebrew Old Testament. Why? Is it because they were not a spiritual people? The reason is because in the Hebrew worldview everything was spiritual. There was no need to distinguish between spiritual/sacred and the secular because no part of their existence was secular.

This harmful distinction began to be introduced into the church as early as the 3rd century by men such as Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea. Eusebius was a prolific writer and early church historian who argued that there are “two ways of life.” One was called the “perfect life” and the other the “permitted life.” The perfect life was connected to only to “church-related service” and the permitted life was everything else outside of the “church” ministry.

Essentially this was a denial of the priesthood of all believers. It asserted that only those with a special calling were commissioned with a special authority to act as his ministers, everyone else was just ordinary members with no authority other than what the church leaders conferred on them. This decimated the gospel workforce from every available believer making disciples of all nations to a small minority of men who receive a special call to “do the work of the ministry.” (Ephesians 4:11 does set forth a gifted group of persons with a special calling from the Lord - not to do the ministry - but to equip the people of God to do it.)

This subtle move of Satan divided believers into two groups - ministers and members: full-time professionals and part-time participants. This two-tier class system comprised of "clergy/laity, sacred/secular, and full-time ministers, who do the work of the ministry, with all others just members, who are expected to "pray, pay, and stay out of the way," has been in place for almost 1700 years.

The second part of the division into sacred and secular led to the misconception that our relationship with God can be reduced to church-related events and activities on the one sacred day of the week - Sunday.

Consequently, truth has been separated into two categories, one called facts and the other called beliefs. From the time of the Enlightenment, science is said to be the domain of facts. Religion, on the other hand, is a matter of values and beliefs.

Gary DeMar shows how this division effects modern life: “Many Christians claim a form of factual neutrality where some subjects (e.g., science, medicine, technology, geography, politics, mathematics) can be taught without any regard to religious presuppositions since “facts speak for themselves.” This is most evident in education where a self-conscious sacred-secular divide is maintained and supported by Christians. Ninety percent of Christian parents send their children to government schools. Since these parents believe that math is math and history is history, the religious stuff can be made up at church. But one hour of Sunday school and an hour at Youth Meeting each week and maybe a mission trip in the summer can’t make up for five days a week, six hours each day, 10 months of the year, 12+ years of a government-developed curriculum that is humanistic to the core.”

Chris Wright clears the misunderstanding from the life and times of Jesus as he writes, “The assumption that Jesus (or any other religious figure of his-day) operated in a sacred/spiritual/religious sphere that was quite distinct from the world of political power and action would simply not have made sense to any­body at that time. The whole of life was lived before God, and God was as much involved in affairs of state as affairs of the heart. Political activity (whether Jewish or Roman) was suffused with religious meaning and significance at every level. And religious activity had (sometimes life or death) political implications. The God or gods you worshiped did not inhabit some vacuum-sealed spiritual domain.

If you were a Jew, the God you worshiped was supposed to be King over all the earth. So if you had commented to any of Jesus contemporaries, who had just listened to him preaching and teaching about the reign of God, that “Jesus doesn’t get involved in politics, does he?” you would probably have met a blank stare of incompre­hension. The question itself presupposes a radical disjunction of a supposed world of spiritual reality from the empirical world of political reality. That di­chotomy is the product of the Enlightenment and not part of the worldview of the Bible.

The allegation that Jesus did not get involved in politics may imply that because Jesus did not lead a political revo­lution against the injustices of Roman rule, including if necessary violent resis­tance, he therefore had no political agenda. But a radical political stance is not the same thing as violent politics. Indeed in some situations, proposing nonvi­olence may be the more radical political agenda. So to say (rightly) that Jesus was neither politically violent nor revolutionary (in the contemporary sense) is not at all the same thing as to say that his claims, teaching and actions were “nonpolitical.”

To understand just how radically political Jesus was, we only have to ask why he was crucified. Clearly he was seen as such a major threat to the political powers who governed his land (both the Romans and the ruling Jewish establishment) that they saw only one way to deal with the challenge he pre­sented – to remove that challenge by removing him through political execution. The charge against Jesus was manifestly political. He was accused of claiming he would destroy the temple (thereby threatening its monopoly concentration of Jewish power) and claiming to be king of the Jews (thereby threatening Ro­man power).

It simply will not do at this point to say that the Romans and Jewish leaders misunderstood Jesus. We should not imagine that, somehow, Jesus actually meant it all only in a spiritual sense, as if he were actually talking only about a religious kingdom that had no connection with (and was no threat to) the “real world” of earthly politics. That’s all Jesus meant, we might say, but they made the ghastly mistake of taking him far too literally. They should not have felt threatened at all because the message of Jesus was only about God and personal faith, about good behavior and loving everybody and going to heaven in the end.”

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said in a sermon in 1874: “To a man who lives unto God nothing is secular, everything is sacred. He puts on his workday garment, and it is a vestment to him. He sits down to his meal, and it is a sacrament. He goes forth to his labor, and therein exercises the office of the priesthood. His breath is incense and his life a sacrifice. He sleeps on the bosom of God and lives and moves in the divine presence.  To draw a hard and fast line and say, “This is sacred, and this is secular,” is, to my mind, diametrically opposed to the teaching of Christ and the spirit of the gospel.”

We must expose and expel the sacred/secular divide and recovery the grand purpose of our Lord Jesus. We must see ourselves as a Great Commandment people, living in a loving relationship with and under the rulership of our Great Commander – King Jesus – serving in kingdom partnership by working for commission - the Great Commission! Then as we are going, we are to be making disciples, baptizing, and teaching them to obey all things Jesus commanded, thus helping to fulfill the commission as people join in this one New Man, the Body of Christ, under God's Kingdom rule. What a privilege and honor to work in partnership with him to fulfill his purposes by glorifying God and enjoying Him forever, beginning right now. We will then be empowered to feel the overflowing desire of Holy Spirit constraint to spread a passion for the preeminence of our great and glorious God in all things so that all nations worship Him! 

 

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