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Saturday, September 04, 2004

Sacred Vs Secular

Recently I commented on a comment over at Messy's and got into a lively discussion about the application of Jesus' angry over-turning of the tables and chasing out of the money changers and traders from the temple court. According to "Sunday School Teacher", this is a clear principle that church facilities should not be used for any commercial purposes. Especially anathema in Teacher's mind is the fact that some "megachurches" which she euphemistically characterizes as belonging to the "Merging Church" - "the church that merges, blends in with the secular society, featuring McDonalds and Starbucks in the church facilities" a practice that she calls "bizarre," "irreverent," on par with "occult practices" and "other junk."

I lightheartedly commented that this is probably overstepping the boundaries of constructive critique and may also have been an example of over-zealous application of the scriptural principle taught in this passage. As the discussion continued, I began to realize that this was less about the megachurches and their approach to "doing church" (whether or not they actually have McDonald's, Starbucks and bowling alleys on their campuses, as alleged, is arguable, as I certainly haven't seen evidences of these the few times I have been on their premises, although I have seen books and gifts stores, cafeterias and even sandwich shops), and more about what we mean by "secular" and "sacred."

First of all, is Jesus' fury directed at the moneychangers and traders because of their conflation of the sacred with the secular? What if they had lined their tables outside of the temple? Would that have been acceptable? Similarly, if the McDonald's franchise had been next door to the church, the bowling alley across from the church and the Starbucks around the block, would that have escaped the indictment of compromising the sacred with secular? What if the shops were not run by the church? What if these stores were owned and run by other individuals and their existence were simply for the benefit and convenience of those who spend so much of their time at the church, especially on hectic weekends? So, is the question about ownership and/or function or purpose? Or perhaps we are asking all the wrong questions and the must return to another, more fundamental question regarding the relationship between sacred and secular.

What exactly is sacred? Is it the church building? Is it the sanctuary? Is it what happens within its walls at particular times during the week? What does it mean when the Scriptures allude to the holy, the holy of holies? And what is the significance of the curtain that prohibits entrance of ordinary people to the holiest place, breaking apart when Jesus triumphantly "gave up the ghost" on the cross? Is there, or better, ought there be, a division between sacred and secular in the lives of those who are wholly devoted followers of Jesus?

| 3 pre-Haloscan comments:

my church meets in a Greek resteraunt...6 days a week the place is serving spanokopita and bakliva; on Sunday we worship Jesus there. The emerging church is not tearing down the authentic wall between the sacred and the secular. The emerging church is recognizing the false walls that have grown between the two. If I believe Jesus has come to me, then I believe I am holy. Where I go Jesus goes. Where the church gathers Jesus comes. No place is off limits to Jesus. No place is more or less holy to Him. He changes every place and He changed me.

By Blogger R.K.J., at 4:04:00 PM

This is Sunday school teacher, a guy also, anyway: my point is that if a church thinks they will attract more "unchurched" people by providing refreshments and entertainments that are sponsored, owned and controlled by secular businesses, like McDonalds and Starbucks, this is ridiculous.

Powerful biblically accurate teaching, plus genuine Christian compassion, will attract those whom God is calling to reconciation with Him. We are to be Spirit led, not fleshly dependent.

My main point was not strict division between the sacred and the profane, in some ritualistic institutionalized definition. I don't believe a pulpit is any more holy than a baseball bat, or a pew than a rocking chair.

But I do believe a church building is called a house of prayer, not a house of entertainment, restaurants, bowling God needs worldly things to help Him attract people, His Word alone isn't effective enough anymore.

Can you and I come together and figure out what Jesus was so violently upset about in that den of thieves scripture setting? The money changers annoying Jesus. I'm not sure I totally understand this whole scenario.

But I do think Christians should somehow be separate from the world. Not in a legalistic way but in a militant, spiritual warfare manner, as determined by each person's conscience aligned with the Spirit and the Word.



By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:25:00 AM

Ron: Thanks for your comment. Do you think we can say that your church is "redeeming the place" in the same manner of the biblical injunction to "redeem the time"? The phrase is translated "making most of the opportunity" and was used in the context of evangelism (i.e. missional?) so it might be applied in the context of Christians needing to make the most of all opportunities, be it time, place, lifestyle, methods, media, messengers, etc. to get the eternal message across to a world desperate for it.

SST: So sorry for the confusion. There you go, it exposes my gender bias doesn't it? In any case, I will reflect a little more about your question regarding the annoyance of Jesus at the temple moneychangers and traders and perhaps might post something later. In the meantime, I remember a friend of mine who used to always say that while we do not modify the message, we must modify our methods, our media and even the perceptions of the messengers in order to communicate to a changing world.

I do appreciate your point about the slippery slope that Churches can slide into once they begin to "water down" their standards. I think quite a while ago Os Guiness wrote about this in the Grave Digger's File. Also, there was the story by George Bana in about the frog that was cooked in a slowly boiling pot because it did not realize that the temperature of the water it was in was rising incrementally.

By Blogger thebloke, at 2:04:00 PM

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