I was recently sharing my testimony on how I became a pastor. I was speaking about my unique life trajectory of finding Christ my senior year in college while finishing up my degree in Public Relations from my first Alma Mater before heading to Bible College when they replied, “Oh, so you went to a secular school first...” I said yes and then proceeded to share about how after I graduated with my bachelors degree, I then went to Bible College to get my ministry degree.
A very innocent conversation but over the years I realized there is boundary in faith and culture that a majority of Christians insert into places. It separates the good from the bad, the Christian from the non-Christian, the pure from the impure. This divine division I’m speaking about identifies the two halves of our Christian culture: secular and sacred. This word, “secular” has seemed to anchor itself into our culture to describe what we can engage with and what we can't engage with.
The term “secularism” first was introduced in 1851 by an atheist named George Jocob Holyoake making it a fairly new word for our language. This word was used to describe views people had that were separate from religion. Although I agree that we have to be spiritually aware and discerning of our surroundings, we have allowed this word, a word that is forged by someone who doesn’t have a faith in Jesus, to become a term that we use often as Christians. We use it to declare a line, sometimes a divisive line between who I talk with, where I go, what I listen to, what I watch and how I interact. Because of these well-meaning yet awkward conversations with other Christians (most people who are outside of faith don't even know what the term secular is) I decided years ago to stop dividing my culture up and placing them into secular or Christian compartments.
I understand things are holy. I understand people are evil . The point here is not to give permission to indulge in everything and everyone. God says everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23). We have to be spiritually aware of our surroundings. Secularism in many instances allows us only to see divisive lines to not cross instead of seeing a opportunity for God to redeem a moment, a story or a workplace.
This is not a post about secular music but a greater position of how to engage with others and engage with culture. Basically, what makes truly Christian music "Christian" I would propose is the artists authentic heart to follow Jesus, not the t-shirt they are wearing, the label they are signed with or the film company that they are connected to. For example, some Christians in media want to affect Hollywood and create a Christian alternate "Holy-Wood" universe where there are only Christians making Christian films with other Christians. To live as someone who wants to restore culture back to Jesus, we need to move into Hollywood and lead these actors, directors and production assistants to Jesus. One of my old students who is an incredible film director and is a wonderful Chrstian, Drew Hall, just made a film posing spiritual questions about the after-life. This film is getting those who don't know Jesus to talk about spiritual things who normally wouldn't. You can check out his film here. Movies are modern-day parables and the movie screen is the story-telling "stained glass window" of our day. Drew has chosen to rub shoulders and build relationships with Hollywood to see Hollywood be a place where people can hear and see the stories of Jesus. He doesn't see secular or sacred, he just sees his life being used as someone to restore culture back to God.
Maybe we should stop waiting for the "Christian version" of Coldplay to rise up from a youth group somewhere and show up on the front doorstep of a Christian music label and instead start seeing each member of Coldplay as God sees them: a creation of God who has a gifted them to create music together (you are still a creation of God even though you're not redeemed). What if when you sing “you’re a sky full of stars … such a heavenly view”, you redeem that lyric as a exclamation to God from our lips as a praise of God’s beauty or even as a expression of love to your spouse celebrating your years of marriage that God put together in covenant. I’m saying that for a moment, Coldplay becomes the worship band that possibly God had intended all along for them to be, rather than a band to “be avoided” because of their “secular” positioning in culture. Basically, stop waiting for a "Christian Coldplay" to show up on the shelves of your favorite bookstore and why not put your passion into start praying for Coldplay to become Christian.
When it comes to engaging with others and ideas in culture, I am posing a greater idea which is this: Stop labeling with a secular or sacred line and start simply living a restored life in Jesus.
The Old Testament was very specific about a distinction of holy versus unholy. Much of the Old Testament faith is removing things from your life and creating a community free from defilement was a very essential and obedient practice. For example if you were to come into contact with someone who had leprosy you were to not touch them (Leviticus 13:45-46). A leper wasn’t allowed to come within six feet of any other human, including his own family and wasn’t permitted to come within 150 feet of anyone when the wind was blowing. Lepers lived in a community with other lepers until they died. This was the only way the people knew to contain the spread of the contagious forms of leprosy. These people were considered unclean not just physically but spiritually as well as many considered these individuals cursed of God and people were to avoid them.
Now enters Jesus. Jesus does something that caused many religious people to question Christ’s Rabbinical legitimacy and spiritual claims. He crosses the line. More than crossing it, he removes it. He heals a leper in Mathew 8:2-4. This was an incredibly bold move. Many around him knew that Jesus was a Rabbi and had to follow Old Testament rabbinical practices of cleanliness and holiness. Basically, Jesus knew to steer clear of something like this ... but He didn't.
Jesus showed a new behavior for us as followers of Jesus that we were to model: erase the boundaries that divided up culture as “us and them” and declare “we.” Jesus modeled living a life of going into broken places and fixing them. Jesus modeled this idea of living out restoration so much that he confused others with his actions to be with those who were considered unclean that He Himself was thought to be a drunk, glutton, friend of the cheaters…basically a sinner just like those He was reaching (Matthew 11:19).
Peter does the same thing. Peter used to seperate himself from the gentiles. As a Jew he was not to “defile” himself and engage with those who aren’t part of God’s tribe. But God removes that line of us and them and creates a “we” with both Jew and Gentile (Acts 10: 28-48). After Peter Paul follows the same trajectory of living a life that doesn't have secular or sacred boundaries to them:
That doesn't mean we can just do what we want and go to wherever we want to go without thinking. Jesus was intentional with everyone he met and everything He did. Jesus set Himself apart with His disciples to worship, show devotion to God away from the world. Jesus had his 12 disciples that He prayed for and with that were lifegiving relationships that were essential for him. To live consistently as a restorer and to redeem culture, you need a healthy community that you can get encouragement and prayer from. You need a place to get realigned with God’s truth regularly so that you don’t drift off course. He chose those men and women as a spiritual community for support and as a source of life-giving relationship while he was spending time with those in the world. Jesus made His life’s purpose to be about nothing but the Father’s business (Luke 2:41-52) as a restorer of those who are broken, fragmented and separated. He wanted to mend broken people. He wanted to provide belonging to the outcast. He knew he couldn’t do it without a community that was seeking God regularly. Living from a restored community allowed Jesus to go and bring restoration to those that needed it. Or in other words, living a restored life allows you to restore others because of Jesus.
Living a simplified restored life pursuing Christ gives you such powerful moments allowing you to be more connected to Jesus and where sin and darkness have less of a hold on you. Your authority in Jesus, confidence in Jesus and desire for the presence of Jesus becomes more important than anything else. This gives you the permission to go into places that you never knew you could before....
Part 2: Five Ways To Stop Labeling As Secular Or Christian And Simply Start Living For Jesus