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Sacred vs. Secular? Or Sacred vs. Profane?

At Right On Mission, we are constantly trying to teach Christians to think Christianly. To think as one who loves the Creator, the creation, and all creatures is to think with love. To think as one who cares about the Truth of Who God is, and the truth of how things work, and the truth of what has happened, and is happening, and will happen is to think with truthfulness. To think with truth and love is to think Christianly. There is much, much more to be said on this; that is why we offer a required course called Developing A Christian Mind. But for the duration of this blog, let’s consider how Christian thinking is typically tied up with a comparison between the secular and the sacred.

So let me ask:

Is it sacred to read the Bible, but secular to take a sick child’s temperature?

Is it sacred to pray a prayer, but secular to build a boat?

Is it sacred to explain the Trinity, but secular to teach students how to do quantum physics?

The answer to all three questions is “no.”

In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is sacred to take a sick child’s temperature as long as the motivation is to help the child get healed. Same thing with building a boat: the biblical way to build a boat is to make a boat that functions and floats safely. Deuteronomy 22:8 provides an apt analogy: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you will not bring guilt for bloodshed on your house if anyone falls from it. Likewise, it is sacred to teach quantum physics because doing so is a way of teaching truth.

Think with me here: Just because something is sacred does not mean it is religious. It is not religious to take a child’s temperature, but it is sacred. It is good. It is of life, and of God.

Let’s define our terms:

  • Sacred means “holy; consecrated or connected to God.”

  • Secular means “of this temporal world, not the eternal realm.”

To pit the sacred against the secular is unhelpful, even meaningless, because everything good in this temporal world can be consecrated to God and is somehow connected to God already anyway.

Think about it. Just because something is secular does not mean it is profane.

Instead of comparing the sacred to the secular, the more telling juxtaposition is to contrast the word sacred with the word profane. Sacred vs. profane.

  • Profane means “that which desecrates what is holy; unholy, not consecrated; wicked; impious; irreverent toward God.”

Think with me again, if you will, to these same examples:

Example 1:

Because the child is sacred, it is sacred to take a child’s temperature in order to help the child heal.

It is profane not to take a child’s temperature if doing so is in your means and could somehow help

the child (James 4:17).

Example 2:

Because the people in the boat are sacred (all having been created in God’s image), it is sacred to

build a boat that works and keeps the people from drowning. It is profane, however, to build a boat with the intention of drowning its passengers.

Example 3:

Because truthfulness is of God, it is sacred to seek truth, even in the form of quantum physics.

However, it is profane to use quantum physics for the sake of making a bomb in defiance of God.

The implications of the difference between the sacred, the secular, and the profane are vast and consequential. To illustrate what I mean: it is sacred to care for people’s physical safety in a local church, right? Though it may be seen as “secular” to build a good, sturdy roof over the heads of the people in the church building, in a sense, it is still “sacred” to build a good roof due to the sacredness of the people as well as the cause. To be clear: it is sacred–not religious–to build a sound, dependable roof.

Question: If a local church were to be sued by the city for having a dilapidated roof that fails to meet municipal standards of building safety, should that church be able to get out of that lawsuit scot-free by appealing to Religious Defenses on the claim that the church has religious freedom to operate independently of the city under denominational authority that allows for shoddy roofs because religiously the denomination deems that the people in the church should always “trust God” for their physical safety?

If anyone thinks the above illustration is silly, then take an afternoon to research lawsuits in our country. Churches and religious corporations (such as Christian schools) have growing track records of trying to hide corporate corruption and clergy misconduct -- i.e., profane things – behind claims to religious freedom. Hiding profane behavior under God’s Name amounts to taking God’s Name in vain in violation of the Third Commandment, which incurs a punishment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)

So you see, it is critical to know the difference between the secular, the sacred, and the profane. I will end by offering this takeaway: The goal is not to avoid “the secular” (e.g., brushing your teeth, building a sound roof, and doing your workplace job) because all of that can be consecrated to God. The goal is to avoid “the profane.”

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