In the last post, I posed the question, “How can it be that churches offer the Bread of Life to their congregants and yet so many walk away hungry?” In response, I argued that Christians are hungry because, of the two ways that are available, they choose the wrong way, and as a result, go hungry. The church is not without a role, however, and, surprisingly, it is complicit in Christians’ struggles to choose well. In the following paragraphs, I will describe what has been, for me, a (perhaps, the) most troublesome characteristic of the culture in which I live, one that surreptitiously impedes so many Christians, even those who are genuinely interested, from growing to love Christ more and to follow the pattern of his life.
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An advanced degree in theoretical astrophysics is not required to notice the presence of the sacred/secular dichotomy in most of our lives. Whatever the precise origin, Frost and Hirsch,1 among others, invoke Marshall McCluhan’s famous phrase “the medium is the message” to argue that the church system, by way of its very structure, contributes to the maintenance of this approach to life. Regardless, there is little question that the sacred/secular dichotomy affects nearly all Christians. In the West, which is predominantly Christian, the sacred/secular dichotomy fosters a society where religion is a “Sunday thing,” promoting the belief that parts of our lives are religious and parts of them are secular. God relates to some things in my life, but not others. God can be ignored reasonably during major chunks of my week, because He has no real interest in those periods of activity. The church building, itself, promotes dichotomous thinking: religion, particularly prayer and worship, takes place in a building dedicated for that purpose. The workplace is simply not a venue for worship. For some Christians, but by no means all, the home is middle-ground. One might think that the Christian home is, well, Christian, and not secular. A number of years ago, the pastor of an evangelical church we attended asked of his 250-member congregation how many conducted family devotions. Two men raised their hands. The expectation is that churches, not families, carry out the religious training of our children. We are already seeing the consequences of this system and, no doubt, the consequences have yet to mature.
We give expression to our religion on Sunday and then live, more or less, however we want the rest of the week. The connection between what we do on Sunday morning and what happens at work on Monday morning is tenuous, at best. Does Christ have anything to do with washing laundry, pumping gas, writing a report, taking out the garbage? God may be found in the hymns on Sunday, but where is He in the cacophony that is Monday morning? A church sanctuary seems a perfect place for prayer, but prayer while seated in front of an office computer seems quite out of place, useless even. One might venture to suggest that, in the least, our Sunday religion impacts our behavior on Monday, but the sad truth is that, in so many cases, this is hardly true. The avalanche of contrarian data begins by examining the rate of pornography use amongst Christians.2 George Barna, in Growing True Disciples, provides more than sufficient supplementary data to make the case. There is something seriously wrong when those who are “called out ones” are still “in” with everyone else.
The fact of the matter is that many of us like a system where we can have our religion on Sunday, while keeping the rest of the week to ourselves. This arrangement seems to work out well, particularly since there does not seem to be much need for God during the week, except in emergencies. Some of us “say grace” at meals, and that is certainly appropriate. Fewer still have “quiet times,” but how many of these people actually connect with God? We don’t really know, but there is an even more germane question: how does a person relate what happens in a morning “quiet time” to the events that will occur during the rest of the day? The sacred/secular dichotomy has us by the throat and if the way of escape is accessible, it is not obvious.
Not everyone likes the circumstances in which we find ourselves. For those whom I quoted in why can’t we get the central thing right?, a dualistic approach to life is generating a seemingly unquenchable hunger. They know God, but only when He is dressed up in His Sunday best. During the rest of the week, He is invisible, and not available to meet their deepest needs.
Thus, I perceive that we have two rather formidable problems. First, we experience a powerful proclivity to sin, seven days a week. Second, we live inside a system that effectively keeps us from God for at least six days out of seven or alternatively, we choose to keep religion sequestered on Sunday. In an interesting, but frustrating, dynamic, the two play off each other. Sin blinds us to the fact that we need God during the six “non-religious” days of the week. And because we live without significant interaction with God Himself for those six days, our sin goes largely unaddressed. And around we go. That is where many, many Christians live and those who wish their lives were different do not know what to do.
1 Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. The Shaping of Things to Come, Hendrickson, Peabody, MA. 2003.
2 In a post by Christine Gardner at Christianity Today, slightly more than 1/2 of pastors who read their magazine had struggled with pornography within the previous year. 34% of female readers of Today’s Christian Woman‘s online newsletter admitted to intentionally accessing Internet porn in a recent poll. Focus on the Family reported that 47% of Christian families struggle with pornography. We might have one of two responses to these data: (1) Thank God these numbers are not much higher, or (2) Shouldn’t these numbers really be zero?