The Sacred and The Secular

A consistent teaching that I have heard in Evangelical churches is that there is no such thing as sacred vs. secular.  The idea is that all things hold spiritual significance.  The way you drive your car through traffic says as much about you spiritually as the way you sing a hymn.  The act of taking communion can be just as defiling as foul language.

There are a number of passages that bring this teaching out.  One of significance is Colossians 1:19-20

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven . . .

Part of the reason we aren’t raptured up into heaven once we receive salvation is because we are to take part in God’s reconciliation of all things ( 2 Corinthians 5:18).  We are to do the work of making everything part of God’s Kingdom.  So what we listen to on the radio on Sunday morning shouldn’t be any different than what we listen to on Monday morning.  What we say and do at church is no more significant than what we say and do at the grocery store.  Our ministry reaches into anything and everything.  A stock broker is in full time ministry just as much as a pastor. There simply is no “holy ground.”  All ground is once again being made holy.

This is contrast against the strong Mormon theme of the sacred and the secular.  This dicotomy is most obviously set up by LDS temples.  “The LDS temple is the holiest place on earth for Mormons.  It is a sacred space” (source).  The vows made in a temple are of much greater signifcance than vows made elsewhere.  The actions taken in a temple have greater significance than actions taken elsewhere.

LDS garments are another source of this differentiation.  Mormons have sets of clothing which have a greater religious significance than any others.  I believe the LDS priesthood plays into this as well, setting the words and deeds of some as higher than the words and deeds of others.

I don’t here much discussion between Mormons and Evangelicals about this difference.  But I think it’s cultural implications are profound and should be recognized.  For Evangelicals there is no such thing as sacred teachings and secular teachings of the Bible, they are all the same thing.  Some  Mormons have anitpathy toward Evangelicals for showing up to church in blue jeans all the while Evangelicals mock Mormons for thinking that underwear can be holy (when both should be recognizing that all underwear can be a testament to Christ).

Evangelicals might have the tendency to become to casual with their faith and fail to treat God with reverance. Mormons have the danger of pining away for the sacred and remove themselves from their work within the secular. I believe the difference are sublte but greatly divide us.

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26 thoughts on “The Sacred and The Secular

  1. You make osme good points. I think the LDS emphasis on sacred places does create, for some, a sort of attitude that “when I’m in the holy place, I behave holy, when I’m not, I don’t need to.” this isn’t most people, however. The work of the Lord is sacred, and we should indeed be behaving as if we are on the Lords errand wherever we are. However, I find the scriptural backing you provide to be flimsy in supporting the evangelical argument that there are no sacred places, or that all places are equally holy. On the flipside, we need look no further than the Savior Himself. When he overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple, He did so out of indignation that His Fathers house, a sacred place, could be defiled by such activities. LDS hold contemporary temple worship in the same high regard, and we reverence not the building, but He who dwells there, and who’s work we do there.

    Of course our level of commitment to living a Christ-like life should be no different whether in the temple or not. I will say it is easier to focus on the most important things while in the temple, as opposed to out in the world with all it’s various distractions. Instead of sacred and secular, I prefer to use sacred and profane, as to me this contrast more accurately time in the temple to time in daily living.

  2. Tim, I agree with you right up until the paragraph that starts out “This is in contrast …” From there on you lose me.

    I don’t see any inconsistency with the belief that “our ministry reaches into anything and everything” (among other things you said) and that there are certain places that are holy. If our faith isn’t reaching into all parts of our lives, if our time spent in “sacred places” isn’t preparing us for life in “the world,” then what’s the point?

  3. On the other hand, the Evangelical attitude (if the difference is, in fact, how you describe it – which I’m not conceding) sounds an awful lot like “everywhere is special.”

    Which of course, eventually ends up meaning that nowhere is special.

    We keep finding ways to celebrate mediocrity.

  4. I think there is a strong history and purpose for holy days, holy places and holy symbols. The most notable new testament example is Jesus’ apparent special respect and consideration for the temple.

    I think the Mormon route makes a lot of sense for human psychology. Reverence for certain places and things reminds us and puts us in an attitude that we may not have if everything was the same. Sure we can pray in any position but being on our knees somehow makes a difference in our psychology. I think the psychological implications of ritual, sacrament, baptism, the temple, the garment, callings are the primary reason for these practices.

    However, I don’t think the differences “greatly” divide Mormons from Evangelicals. I imagine Evangelicals have things they consider more sacred than other things even if it is just the Sabbath vs. other days, prayer vs. other speech and the Bible vs. other books.

  5. On the flipside, we need look no further than the Savior Himself. When he overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple, He did so out of indignation that His Fathers house, a sacred place, could be defiled by such activities.

    The implications of the temple curtain being ripped in two should not be overlooked. I’ll agree, before Calvary, the Bible is all about setting up specific sacred places. After Easter, the whole world is being redeemed.

    We also can’t forget Jesus’ teachings about temple sacrifice (the holiest thing the average Jew could do). He said to leave behind the ritual if reconciliation with a brother was needed. To say there was anything more important than this ordinance was scandalous.

    sounds an awful lot like “everywhere is special.”

    Will the afterlife be any different? In the Evangelical viewpoint, eternal life has already begun for true followers of Jesus.

    And it’s not so much a ‘everywhere is special’ attitude as “holy work can be done everywhere”.

    Jared I agree that there are psychological implications to ritual which aid our worship. But I think you would agree with me that there is nothing inherent in those rituals which make them holy. They can be made to be profane just as easily as they can glorify God (if you disagree, than watch the average Mormons’ reaction to Richard Packham performing the temple ordinances on the internet). Equally, simple and mundane acts done in the name of grace, kindness and humility can have great spiritual implications.

    I’ve actually found that trying to bring Jesus into the more routine aspects of my life has done more to change my heart and attitudes than any ritual I’ve performed.

    I imagine Evangelicals have things they consider more sacred than other things even if it is just the Sabbath vs. other days, prayer vs. other speech and the Bible vs. other books.

    I can tell you that is true for Fundamentalist, I don’t think it’s so true for Evangelicals.

  6. Richard Packham performing the temple ordinances on the internet is profane only because he is mocking something that is sacred. This doesn’t make the ordinances themselves profane.

  7. Yes, both the Sabbath and Sunday are just as holy as any other day. All food has been made clean too.

    Richard Packham’s and Thomas Monson’s motives are obviously key to distinguishing the ordinance’s value. The simple movements and motions of the ordinances mean nothing.

  8. I think it’s an utter mistake for any Evangelical to think that a Mormon (or “most Mormons”) is incapable of having a spiritual experience in a bar. I’ve heard enough people at testimony meetings prove that idea dead wrong.

    Doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to try and create sacred space in one’s life though.

  9. It’s not Evangelicals who think Mormons can’t have those experiences in a bar. It’s Mormons. I’ve heard enough of the “don’t go where the Spirit can’t follow talk” to know that.

  10. Tim, very interesting post. For now, I just want to point out that your interpretation of sacred/secular frames how you interpret the ripping of the temple curtain: “The implications of the temple curtain being ripped in two should not be overlooked.” You apparently use the ripped curtain as proof that Jesus’ death abolished the separation between sacred and secular, but I think you only reach that interpretation because of your starting viewpoint.

    Other interpretations:
    1) Jesus, as the High Priest, fulfilled his Day of Atonement duty to part the veil of the temple and approach the mercy seat;
    2) Jesus’ death made the mercy seat accessible to anyone at any time.

  11. Tim said:

    In the Evangelical viewpoint, eternal life has already begun for true followers of Jesus.

    I’d say the same is true from the LDS viewpoint. Or at least my LDS viewpoint.

  12. Other interpretations:
    1) Jesus, as the High Priest, fulfilled his Day of Atonement duty to part the veil of the temple and approach the mercy seat;
    2) Jesus’ death made the mercy seat accessible to anyone at any time.

    I wouldn’t disagree with those interpretations. . .in fact I wholly agree with them, but you’re stopping short. You have to stop short because Joseph Smith sets up the Temple as a primary destination to receive salvation. Mormonism fails to recognize the full power of the atonement by reinstituting a necessity that Christ fulfilled. Smith raises the curtain back up and sets up his own rules about who can be pulled through it.

    Your view that the Temple and the curtain are somehow still necessary is influencing your interpretation of the ripping of the curtain.

  13. Tim said:

    You have to stop short because Joseph Smith sets up the Temple as a primary destination to receive salvation.

    That’s certainly not my understanding. The “primary destination to receive salvation” was and is the cross. The temple certainly provides a means by which grace is imparted, but it’s not a destination in itself.

    Tim said:

    Mormonism fails to recognize the full power of the atonement by reinstituting a necessity that Christ fulfilled.

    Perhaps it’s evangelicals who fail to recognize the full power of the atonement when they say that we can never be fully like Christ, when they limit the meaning of what it means to be joint-heirs with Christ, or when they say that those who never hear of Christ are destined to burn in hell for eternity.

    Tim said:

    Smith raises the curtain back up and sets up his own rules about who can be pulled through it.

    Joseph Smith never had that authority.

  14. Tim, “Your view that the Temple and the curtain are somehow still necessary is influencing your interpretation of the ripping of the curtain.” That I agree with. But just to make sure that you see my point: I didn’t list those interpretations in order to prove my viewpoint, but rather to show that the scripture in question cannot be used to prove my or your viewpoint.

    Other than that, I think Eric responded well to your claim that Mormonism places limits on the Atonement, etc.

  15. Can you help me out? I’m not aware of a place in the New Testament (post Easter) where Christians are directed to set up sacred spaces. I’d love to know where the scriptural support is that this is part of Christian worship. I don’t see it in scripture and I don’t see it in history.

    I seriously challenge you to meditate on the meaning of the ripping of the temple curtain the next time you are going through the final steps of the endowment ceremony. Ask yourself “should the veil still be standing?” Pray about it while you sit in the celestial room.

    Perhaps it’s evangelicals who fail to recognize the full power of the atonement . . . .when they say that those who never hear of Christ are destined to burn in hell for eternity.

    That’s funny I haven’t been to an Evangelical church yet that has cut Romans 2 out of the Bible. It’s a distortion of Evangelical belief to say that people are destined for hell because they haven’t heard of Jesus. People are destined for hell for a great number of reasons, but ignorance of Jesus isn’t one of those reasons.

  16. Tim said:

    It’s a distortion of Evangelical belief to say that people are destined for hell because they haven’t heard of Jesus.

    Some evangelicals believe that, some don’t. These days, there are probably more who don’t believe that than do. For what it’s worth, Rick Warren, who for better or worse is the most prominent evangelical today, when asked on CNN last week what happens to those who die not having heard of Jesus, said he doesn’t know.

    But I can say unequivocally that I accurately stated what I was taught growing up in an evangelical church. And I heard that taught in evangelical churches well into my adulthood. And I did not go to fundamentalist churches. And, to be honest about it, if there’s one evangelical teaching that led to me giving the LDS church a serious look, that was it. Who knows? Maybe life would be different if I had grown up in that segment of evangelicalism that agreed with C.S. Lewis on this issue.

    Tim said:

    Ask yourself “should the veil still be standing?”

    I don’t care to go into much detail about the endowment ceremony (for obvious reasons), but to me its ultimate message is that God does indeed provide a way through the veil, and that way is through the Atonement. I see no contradiction with the Biblical account. The truth taught is the same, but from difference perspectives and through different means.

  17. Tim said:

    Ask yourself “should the veil still be standing?”

    An answer from a Mormon perspective:
    I think both Mormons and Evangelicals would not dispute that there is a “veil” of some sort between God and people. We don’t see the spirits of other people, we only see their bodies, etc. Although we are in some sense in God’s presence, in another sense we are not. I think evangelicals could agree with this. The temple veil is an image of this truth. Its not a majic current, but a sacred symbol of this separation.

    The veil imagery to a Mormon doesn’t really have to do with salvation from death and hell as Tim seems to insinuate. Mormons believe that that has been accomplished and nothing more needs to be done.

    The Mormon temple veil is the imagery of passing through the veil of our understanding to a place where we are in the presence of God.

    This corresponds to Paul’s imagery in 1 Corinthians 13: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then [when we pass through the veil] we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

    However, I do find that Mormons have some things that are considered very sacred and Evangelicals, according to Tim’s account, don’t seem to have much differentiation. Ironically, I think that having sacred things, days, symbols is more in line with historical christianity. . . but I could be wrong.

  18. Ironically, I think that having sacred things, days, symbols is more in line with historical christianity. . . but I could be wrong.

    please share more.

  19. “I’m not aware of a place in the New Testament (post Easter) where Christians are directed to set up sacred spaces.”

    Tim, that’s probably because Paul, Peter and James thought it was so obvious to the people around them it didn’t need to be said. It was a no-brainer that the temple was a central part of Christianity. They probably never dreamed it would be less than obvious to people a mere 100 years later.

    The temple in Jerusalem was quite central to early Christianity – its destruction at the hands of the Romans was a massive religious crisis for both early Christians and their Jewish contemporaries.

  20. Seth, that’s not a very good form of argumentation. You’re better than that. Let me illustrate.

    “It was obvious to Joseph Smith and all of his followers that this “new faith” was a massive ruse. It was such an in your face prank they never thought it necessary to write it down. They probably never dreamed it would be taken seriously by people a mere 100 years later.”

    Would you let that fly?

    By the time the Temple was destroyed, Christianity was no longer requiring a Jewish conversion, Jewish Christians were no longer required to follow Jewish dietary laws and biggest of all, sacrifice was completely unnecessary. The book of Hebrews is all about how much better Jesus is than the Temple, the sacrifices and the Jewish priesthood.

    The simple textual evidence we have in front of us shows that the destruction of the Temple was not a crisis for Christianity. Jesus had already torn it down.

    I asked for some evidence not conjecture.

  21. Tim, do you believe that Hebrews was written before or after the temple was destroyed?

    Seth, I also find your comment interesting but needing support. Particularly the claim that Christians were deeply troubled by the loss of the temple.

  22. Tim, I should have clarified what I was doing there.

    I was basically throwing that out as a possibility for why we have no overt language about the temple in Paul’s writings. Simply trying to establish that the mere absence of a ritual or teaching from the New Testament is not proof of its non-existence in early Christianity. That was the limited point I was attempting to make.

    I acknowledge that it is mostly conjecture and my language didn’t convey that.

  23. Tim, do you believe that Hebrews was written before or after the temple was destroyed?

    I don’t have a strong opinion on it. But I do think it was written at the very least at a time when Jews thought the temple would be rebuilt as soon as Rome was thrown off.

  24. Pingback: Who Hung the Temple Veil? « Feast upon the Word Blog

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