Is Nothing Secular?

For most of my life I had this idea that some things were “sacred” and other things were “secular.”

The church building, the Bible, communion, baptism, church camp, hymns, southern gospel music…all sacred.

School, work, pop music, tennis, bowling, free time hanging out with friends, movies, model trains…secular.

“Secular” didn’t mean “sinful.” The secular things could become sinful if we weren’t careful, though. The content of the specific pop music we were listening to, for example. Or what we actually did with our free time. But the concept of “secular” to me was simply a category of things that God was not directly involved in, or didn’t really care about.

There is comfort in seeing life this way. I could separate areas of my life into these categories. Yes, I would have to dress up and be on my best behavior when I was in church (sacred), but was free to let my hair down and have fun when I was at the bowling alley with my friends (secular). I could enjoy and appreciate the beauty and the feeling of being close to God when I was at camp singing “He’s Everything to Me” around the fire (sacred), while at other times I could enjoy the power and thrill of playing a Stan Kenton jazz band arrangement of “Here’s That Rainy Day(secular).

It was also comfortable for my friends who weren’t Christians. They knew I went to church, but their expectation was that I wouldn’t bring that Jesus stuff (sacred) to school with me (secular). And they were generally correct.

Over the years I’ve begun to realize, however, that this is completely screwed up.

What I’ve discovered is that there is no such thing as “secular.”

Now, if you’re not a person of faith, you may think that’s a typo. If you’re not a believer in God you probably think there’s no such thing as “sacred.” I can see why you would think that. I believe you are wrong, but I understand. It’s ok, because you believe I am wrong, too.

But if God is at all real, then it makes sense to me that “secular” is just a social construct for the places and things we want to keep God away from…as if we could.

I believe this is at the heart of much of the religious freedom debate. It’s comfortable for our culture to think in these categories because then it makes sense to keep faith out of the public (secular) forum and limit religious practice to our worship assemblies (sacred). It’s also comfortable for us believers because we tend to accept these limitations.

I also tend to think that this is part of the issue in the debate over how we worship within the church. Many tend to think: Organ, choir, hymns, stained glass = sacred. Guitars, drums, pop music, theater lighting = secular. If you think this way, I understand. I think you’re wrong, but I get it.

I’ve been involved in worship ministry for over 30 years and I can tell you that those who think this way don’t listen to organ music (sacred) on the radio in their car (secular).

A couple years ago Kathie and I took a trip to London. I loved the feeling of worshipful reverence we experienced when we attended Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is unbelievably beautiful and awe inspiring, but it is no more “sacred” than the crosswalk at Abbey Road or 221b Baker Street. God is present at all of them.

Is it possible that many find this separation comfortable because they don’t feel the need to submit the “secular” parts of their life to God? Just wondering.

I have come to believe that there’s no such thing as “secular.”

Seriously, is there anything in this world that God doesn’t care about and isn’t involved in?

This is why Christians can’t limit our faith to a Sunday church service. We can’t, or at least, shouldn’t keep our faith out of…well, anything! This makes the rest of the world uncomfortable, and it makes us uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

I believe that the modern worship music is an effort break down this wall, because we do listen to it on the radio. It’s not something that is limited to Sunday morning. Contrary to what some think, modern worship music is not an effort to bring the world into our worship, it’s an effort to take our worship with us into the world.

The church will never have the influence in the world it should until we realize that there’s no such thing as “secular.”

It’s all “sacred.”


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