Public Square

Have Christians Lost the Ability to Be in the World, but Not of It?

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Scripture tells us Christians are called to be in the world but not of it. The inability to do this has robbed the church of its witness over the last 100 years.

The secular has absorbed the sacred in the lives of many Christians today. Far too many of us have been conformed to the pattern of this world, not transformed by the renewing of our minds. Is it any wonder that we are unable to test and approve what God’s will is? (Romans 12:2) We are no longer salt and light for the culture around us.

This is largely because the church today has lost the understanding that God uses our work to influence our culture. It is what we do, not what we say that makes the difference.

This is not the way that it has been for most of the history of Christianity. Charles Spurgeon wrote in his aptly titled sermon “All For Jesus” (1874):

To a man who lives unto God, nothing is secular, everything is sacred. He puts on his workday garment and it is a vestment to him. He sits down to his meal and it is a sacrament. He goes forth to his labor, and therein exercises the office of the priesthood. His breath is incense and his life a sacrifice.

He sleeps on the bosom of God, and lives and moves in the divine presence. To draw a hard and fast line and say, “This is sacred and this is secular,” is to my mind, diametrically opposed to the teaching of Christ and the spirit of the gospel.
The Lord hath cleansed your houses, he has cleansed your bed chambers, your tables…He has made the common pots and pans of your kitchens to be as the bowls before the altar— if you know what you are and live according to your high calling. You housemaids, you cooks, you nurses, you ploughmen, you housewives, you traders, you sailors, your labor is holy if you serve the Lord Christ in it, by living unto Him as you ought to love. The sacred has absorbed the secular.

Throughout the history of Western Civilization (with the exception of the last 100 years) almost every good thing accomplished was done by Christians who understood their calling from God was to use their work to bring about flourishing for their communities.

Christian influence on values, beliefs, and practices in Western culture were abundant and well ingrained into the flourishing of society for over 1,000 years. We owe the concept of freedom and rights of the individual to our Christian heritage. Without this freedom there is no real freedom on the economic, political, or religious level. Our system of law and the founding of America’s republic government is described by some as the pinnacle of our American Christian heritage.

  • Think of the great movements for justice and equality, like the abolishment of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the civil rights movement – all based heavily on biblical principles.
  • Consider the creation of hospitals and universities, for the most part started by Christians.
  • Scientist like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Bacon, Braheand, and Boyle are just a few of the many important historical figures who greatly influenced Western science and considered themselves Christians.
  • Inventors like McCormick, LeTourneau, Morse, Kelvin, Faraday, Henry, and Pasteur used their creativity to devise devices and processes that brought about flourishing for everyone.
  • Artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael created some of the most famous works of art ever produced. Similarly, Christian sacred music by composers like Pachelbel, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, and Verdi produced music that is still celebrated today.

Western history is filled with the rich details of men and women whose lives were changed by Jesus Christ and who impacted the world through ideas found in Scripture in a wide array of disciplines. Through their work they radically shaped culture and were a great blessing to those in the world. To deny the influence of Christianity on Western Civilization is to deny history altogether.

This idea that the single most important influence in the formation of Western civilization was Christianity has been completely written out of the history books. In our current culture, Christianity’s positive contribution in history is almost completely ignored. The result is a majority of Christians disturbingly, and maybe even dangerously, ignorant of their own cultural heritage.

In 1923 J. Gresham Machen penned the following lines:

For Christians to influence the world with the truth of God’s Word requires the recovery of the great Reformation doctrine of vocation. Christians are called to God’s service not only in church professions but also in every secular calling. The task of restoring truth to the culture depends largely on our laypeople. To bring back truth, on a practical level, the church must encourage Christians to be not merely consumers of culture but makers of culture. The church needs to cultivate Christian artists, musicians, novelists, filmmakers, journalists, attorneys, teachers, scientists, business executives, and the like, teaching its laypeople the sense in which every secular vocation-including, above all, the callings of husband, wife, and parent–is a sphere of Christian ministry, a way of serving God and neighbor that is grounded in God’s truth.

Reading these words today, they seem prophetic.

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