This is part five of a 7-part series on the sacred/secular divide.
Despite the Greek way of thinking, the heresy that “some things are spiritual and others aren’t” gained ground throughout the second and third centuries AD but didn’t fully infiltrate the church until the 300’s when Constantine ruled the Roman empire and “Christianized” it. Unfortunately, it has remained with us ever since.
Within one generation, Emperor Constantine created a professional clergy class and ordinated bishops, designated Sunday as a legal holiday (in honor of Sol Invictus, the Roman sun god), sponsored many Christian buildings and cathedrals patterned after pagan temples, established official church doctrine as the sole measure of orthodoxy, constituted an official order of worship imposed on all churches within the empire, and appointed himself as Pontifex Maximus—as head of the church (For the Fame of His Name, Steel, p. 196).
Rick Love writes about this pivotal time within the church as well. It is worth quoting at length here:
The conversion experience of Constantine radically impacted the meaning of the gospel and the history of Christianity. On the eve of a battle on the outskirts of Rome, Constantine reportedly saw the sign of the cross in the sky with the words beneath that cross: under this sign conquer. He took that as an omen and painted the sign of Christ crucified on his weapons of war. The next day Constantine won a decisive victory.
Henceforth, the cross came to symbolize imperial power. It stood for military might rather than sacrificial love. Instead of the willingness to die for their faith, Constantinian Christians became focused on killing for their faith. “Taking up the cross” meant readiness to kill rather than dying to self. Under Constantine, the church and state became one. Christians possessed political power. Christian theocracy was birthed, meaning that state violence was both sanctioned and “sanctified”!
Under Constantine, the once dynamic movement called the church became institutionalized. Whereas it was once incarnational (or missional), it now became attractional. The focus was on people attending a fancy cathedral on Sunday rather than incarnating the gospel in the workplace from Monday through Saturday. The church became associated with sacred buildings, sacraments, and professional clergy. (Glocal: Following Jesus in the 21st Century, pgs 39-40).
After Christianity was institutionalized, Jesus’ followers in the Roman empire picked up habits, procedures, and the heresy of the sacred/secular divide that have remained with the church ever since.
What that Means for Now
How do we recover from this damage? We start by getting back to our roots. This inevitably means we must shake off some bad theology and habits along the way. For instance, evangelicals tend to view 10% of their money as God’s and 90% as at their disposal. Yet, Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s and all that fills it.” Clearly there is a mismatch in expectations if we think the things under our domain are ours alone without reference to the Sovereign King. We certainly have some right of disposal as His stewards, but not as fully and not as final owners.
Finances are only one issue in the sacred/secular divide. How about the sacredness of our roles? From Genesis 1-2, we see that our work is sacred in itself. Yet, we carry in our vocabulary unhelpful phrases such as, “I quit my job and joined full time ministry.” In light of what we’ve seen from the Hebrew “avad,” is there such thing as non-full-time ministry? The answer is a clear and resounding, “NO!”
In Acts 6:4, the apostles said, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.”
In 2 Corinthians 5:18, Paul says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
2 Corinthians 3:7-8 says, “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?”
You guessed it: in all of these verses the English word “ministry” is translated from “diakonia.” This word is used for any kind of service, including in Romans 13:4 when Paul speaks of the service of government rulers toward their subjects. Many countries today use this terminology within their governments. “Ministry of the Interior,” “Ministry of Education,” “Ministry of Manpower,” etc. are all terms used to describe government services to their citizens and the heads of those ministries are called “ministers.” It is interesting that Ministers in governments are more faithful to the original meaning of the word than we are.
In many contexts outside of the West, the Sacred/Secular divide hasn’t invaded (due to less Greek influence) and many Eastern churches as such do not have the baggage we carry. It is also worth mentioning that the goal isn’t to demonize Greek influence for its own sake. The LORD found the Greek language worth using to pen the New Testament in because of the richness of available words and ideas and their ease of transmissibility across much of the known world at that time. Not everything about Greek culture is bad; but just as no culture is perfect, all cultures leave us with some baggage. Wherever we grow up, there is both a remnant of God-ordained culture and a sinfulness that seeks to choke out what is good and right and beautiful. We must not let that happen. This is part of our fight until all the peoples of the earth have representatives standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9).
Next week, we will look at the Sacred/Secular divide through the lens of the New Creation.
Greg is the President of OPEN USA. He used his education to work as a tentmaker in the Middle East for 8.5 years seeking to plant a church amongst a least-reached people group. Currently back in the USA with his wife and children, they aim to return to finish what the LORD used them to start.
To learn more about B4T, read Business for Transformation by Patrick Lai.