Can Secular Work be Sacred Too?

38637594_141a1c401a_mIn evangelical circles Christians sometimes seem to believe that ordained or otherwise specially assigned Christians (for example, pastors, Bible scholars or missionaries) are more honorable or deeply Christian than those living and serving the Lord in the secular world. Some might not even be aware they entertain such thoughts.

Personally, here is how I understand the matter. By the grace of God, I am an ordained minister. In my youth I responded to what I believe was a call from God. The church affirmed that call, trained and ordained me, thus “setting me apart” to carry out special tasks like preaching and teaching the Scriptures, proclaiming the Gospel, and giving order and leadership to a congregation.

However, I have three children who do not feel called in this special way. A daughter, until her recent retirement, taught in the public school system; a son is a publisher in the secular marketplace of ideas; and another son is a laryngologist.

From high school days forward our daughter was set on becoming a teacher. Our publisher son while in college listened for a divine call but did not hear it; he felt he didn’t have the temperament or gifts for such a life. My doctor son’s response to the question was essentially the same. Yet none of them resisted the possibility.

A divine call to full time ministry is known by a persistent inner sense of calling, mediated to the person’s consciousness directly or indirectly. It may come through Scripture or the godly counsel of other believers. The church recognizes and certifies the call, and the Lord in some measure blesses it when it is exercised.

So, I live with the sense that I am called while none of my three children profess such a calling. Even so, they are earnest Christians who believe they are living out professions to which they were providently led. They are content that their assignment is to serve the Lord and shine for him in the secular world.

All three (and their spouses) give significant service to the Lord’s work, whether in the church or through some other Christian enterprise. I’m inclined to say I have a calling; theirs is a career lived out as Christians.

I believe a calling to full-time Christian ministry has in it this central element of divine summons, whether given forcefully or gently, whether at a particular moment or over time. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). His call on the Damascus Road was forceful and precisely given in a brief span of time (Acts 9:1-9).

A career, by contrast, can appear to be self-chosen, even when chosen prayerfully. Or it can even be pursued with a similar degree of certainty as that of pastors and others living under a call. Christians who are motor mechanics, optometrists, farmers, or who pursue any of 100 other livelihoods, can work with a similar degree of conviction.

I call it a career because it does not ordinarily have the sense of summons or the same binding continuity that a call to full-time Christian ministry should have.

During the middle ages monks and priests were elevated and considered more spiritual than the lowly laity. But Reformers like Luther and Calvin introduced into the understanding of the church that, while the ordained have a special assignment which is critical to the soundness and effectiveness of the church, all believers should treat their occupation as a calling – a vocation – and seek to exercise it as such.

It’s true the Scriptures give special attention to the work and importance of “set apart” Christian workers (Hebrews 13:7,17,24; Acts 13:1-3). This work has in it that sense of divine summons (Mark 3:13-15; 1 Timothy 2:7; 4:11-13).

So, respect for these “called” workers is commended, and the congregation that looks up to its faithful leader is blessed.

Even so, lay persons are not thereby rendered second rate. Nor is the work they do in the secular realm less significant. Whether laboring in a bicycle factory or an insurance office, they labor as in the sight of the Lord and that makes their work a vocation. They might rightly consider their career as divinely appointed (Romans 14:12).

It was to all believers, lay persons and the ordained together, that the Apostle Paul addressed the words, “And, whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

So, secular work may in several respects be different from work to which one is divinely called, but for Christians self-chosen secular work can be sacred too. In either role God is to be glorified and glorifying God is what we’re all in the world to do.

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Photo credit: Eric Chan (via flickr.com)

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2 thoughts on “Can Secular Work be Sacred Too?

  1. Just this morning my Bible reading was from Paul’s first letter to the Christian church in Corinth.I read this verse ,in a Canadian Bible ( New American Standard Bible ,NASB ) given me by a Christian friend.I don’t have it with me as I type ( it’s on my bedside table), but here’s the NIV equivalent.

    ”In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” 1 Cor 9:14 NIV.

    I’d read this weeks blog’ Can Secular Work Be Sacred and had been thinking about it overnight.Now this verse seemed to be reffering to that special calling to the pastorate.I believe such a call does set a person apat.I don’t believe ordination is a sacrament as Roman Catholics do.Maybe that’s just a different way of looking at things which I don’t share.But I do believe ordination is the response to a very special call from God.

    On the one hand I always want to respect every ordained minister of the church .For they represent the church .During the sacrament of Lord’s Supper when we share bread and wine in remembrance oof Jesus giving His body and blood to save us ,does not the pastor preside and break then distribute the bread which becomes for us a symbol of Christs Body. That’s a very special isn’t it ,to preside at the sacrament.

    On the other hand I’m very aware of my Protestant heritage and believe it reflects the Biblical truth that only one man intercedes with God on our behalf.That man is Jesus Christ.Although the Anglican and Lutheran protestant churches still often call ministers of the church ‘priests’ ,I think the term ‘pastor’ ( shepherd ) is far clearer ,as in Ephesians.

    ” So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” Ephesians 4: 11-12 NIV

    For doesn’t the Bible say all believers are priests.(1 Pet. 2:5 & Heb. 4:14-16).

    ”you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5

    ”Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4: 14 – 16 NIV

    I respect fthe Roman Catholic Church as part of the Universal church..Just as Pope Francis ,in Chapter 4 of his first Papal encyclical’,Evangelii Gaudium ‘( The Joy of the Gospel) says that Roman Catholics can learn alot from the non Catholic churches ,so we Protestants can learn much from the Roman Catholic Church.But as a Christian of the Protestant tradition ,I do believe the Bible is our primary authority,above church tradition .

    And the Bible tells us there is only one way to God and that is through Jesus Christ

    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 NIV.

    I believe it is good for Christians to learn from other Christians ,even confess their wrongdoings to other Christians.But in the end it must be to God directly,through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit,that we confess our sins.Not to a priest. That’s my understanding of the Bible.We need pastors to shepherd us to walk with Christ,not priests to to intermediate between us and the Lord.

    If there had never been a Protestant reformation ,we may still be forbidden to read the Bible ourselves and certainly forbidden from reading the Bible in our own language.Something had to change and I thank the Lord for people like John Wycliffe and Martin Luther and John Wesley and Benjamin Titus Roberts ,who ,through the ages have brought us back to the Bible.Those folk are among the Christians who have reminded us and reawakened us to be mindful how Jesus intended our churches to be.We have it on record in the Bible.

    We know,through the Bible how Jesus and His disciples lived the holy life and how the church at and after Pentecost lived the holy life and evangelized.We have on record ,through Paul’s letters to the new Christian churches around the Mediterranean, the problems we will face in walking with Christ and how to serve God rightly and do justice according to His Word.

    This weeks blog relates to last week.s.For last week we learned how even in your holiday job at the Regina outfitters ,the way you worked and behaved stood for your Christianity,Pastor,so that shows secular work can be sacred too.I think must be sacred surely,if we are to obey our baptismal vows.

    I believe that in whatever line we work,God will call on us to be His Hands at important times.The Holy Spirit will be there to empower us to do so.

    As always ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ has set me on a journey of thought and sent me to consult my Bible .Just Call Me Pastor has become a useful and valuable tool in my Christian life and an inspiration that shepherds me to constructive thinking about my faith. .

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