Sacred, Secular or Both in One
We learned from older religions, particularly Hinduism that there is a pattern of devolution. They started simple, uncomplicated and non-professionalized. Years later, it was professionalized, classified, complicated, rigid and many times, intolerant. The priests adopted more and more so called Spiritual duties to perform, leaving the rest with more and more so called non-spiritual functions. Thus the oneness, or wholeness was divided into two, Sacred and Secular. (In my next post I will touch on Buddhism)
Hindus were not alone. Read the Old Testament. Abraham the father of the Jewish nation believed and it was accounted for him for righteousness, just like Rehab the harlot. Abraham offered sacrifices himself without the need of a special Priest. He did not wear a mitre or an ephod, or a robe with pomegranates and bells. It worked pretty well without them. The rest of the patriarchs did the same thing with the same results. It was later – much later – the idea of a Mediator came in.
Historically, it is clear from the Old Testament that God did not want any dualism (Exodus 3: 10-22). God told a lay man, first a prince and later a keeper of sheep, named Moses, to go to Pharaoh of Egypt and boldly demand freedom for the Israelites from slavery! Moses was understandably afraid of Pharaoh and had misgivings about his own people. In order to allay his fear, as well as to boost his confidence, God showed miracles and gave him a glimpse of the future and specific directions. God promised His presence and strength for this mission. Exodus chapter four gives us additional clues. In spite of all these promises, Moses requested a mouth piece (Exodus 4:10) and a messenger (verse 4:13).
Though eloquence is useful, God has other gifts equally, sometimes even more powerful than words. Verse 14 is enlightening. God was angry, real angry with Moses and gave in to Moses’ importunity allowing Aaron to be the mouth piece, the messenger. Moses could not see the long term consequences but God did. I think this was the beginning of the dualism. We want persons who are eloquent, handsome and head and shoulders above others to be the go between.
This reminds me of a similar instance in Israel’s history; this time, not a priest but a king. Their reason was clear; we need a king just like other nations around them! 1 Samuel 8:5. Samuel was heartbroken. You will read one of the sad verses in the Bible; “Lord said to Samuel, listen to the voice of the people in regard to all they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). Hinduism did the same; first the Brahmin (priests) and second the Kshatria (kings) the first two of their castes.
Are Christians safe from this type of dualism? Let us look at the Apostles and the early church. A word of explanation is in order lest I sound like an unkind critic. I highly respect the Apostles. Raised by the Church of England, we never spoke or wrote without adding the title Saint before their names. Imagine them living with Jesus and learning daily from him? The Epistle of St. John 1:1 reads “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life (Jesus)”. To me, they could do no wrong, despite their own assertion “that they were men as same nature as you” (Acts 14:15). The first time I heard that they were prone to error was when I heard the veteran missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones, on or about 1959. As a young Charismatic, I thought he was, kind of, modernistic. I put the topic out of mind for another convenient season.
That season came around in 1971, while living at Bradford, Ontario, collecting books for my own library; from second hand book stores, mostly from Salvation Army. Okay, I was cheap. I got started with the complete set of works by E. Stanley Jones. One of them called The Way, we used for family devotions. Chapters on Stephen, Barnabas and one chapter in particular, titled “Making the Secular Sacred” caught my attention; almost eleven years after my first encounter with the author.
Let me quote Jones: “In Stephen, Christianity was simple, unaffected, unprofessionalized. It is significant that the most Christianized person in the NT was a lay man. The Leaders were too conscious of being leaders and in that consciousness lost some of the Christian spirit. (A very thought provoking statement) Stephen belonged not to the twelve but to the seven. And yet before long that word seven spelled in Acts 6:3 became the seven in Acts 21:8. Stephen heightened everything he touched. He dignified the common place, took a job the Apostles turned down as beneath them and made it more significant than anything the Apostles themselves were doing. Stephen served tables but he did in such a way that the table serving became sacramental –those tables became a veritable table of the Lord. The Lord’s table and around them people of all races ate the bread which became the bread. He did what St. Francis of Assisi, years later said –preach the gospel, if necessary use words.
Commenting on the popular verse in Acts 6:2, Jones wrote “the Apostles felt they should not drop preaching the word of God and attend to meals…we (Apostles) will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. It sounded spiritual. That tradition has continued until today. But it introduced into Christianity a dualism between the Secular and the Sacred- a disastrous dualism. It did several things: it made Spirituality function in terms spiritual instead of the total life, material as well as Spiritual. It made ministers the ministers of a vague Spirituality instead of a vital, whole life impact. It also made for unreality. If the minister was not spiritual he had to act like it, so he put on spiritual tones and spiritual dress. And the lay man? They dealt with secondary things-the material – and therefore lived a secondary life. It took the sense of mission out of the laity, and life sagged. They were not in a first rate calling, so they did not have to lead a first rate life. This has driven a disastrous wedge into western civilization. It must be withdrawn. All life must take on the sense of the sacred, and all callings be divine callings. Holiness must get back its original thought, wholeness. Holiness is wholeness.
This dualism was not in Jesus. He preached and taught, healed and fed, all as a part of one impact of the kingdom. But Jesus was a layman and had the lay mind – life was all one piece. The Apostles missed their step at this place and moved out of the line of the succession of Jesus. The Apostolic succession therefore is not Christian Succession; it is the Apostolic succession. St. Paul got back into the line of Jesus, so he could say these hands of mine provided everything for my own needs and for my companions, Acts 20:34” As Jones wrote, this must be withdrawn! More in my next post.
God bless, Danny Paul