The Sacred And The Secular, Can The Two Co-operate In Gospel Mission? Kevin E. Jesmer 12-23-15

The Sacred And The Secular, Can The Two Co-operate In Gospel Mission?

By Kevin E. Jesmer                                                                                          12-23-15

Link to the essay series 

 Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (ESV)

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What I am about to propose is controversial to some people, but plainly obvious to others. I believe that it is possible for Christians to co-operate with secular entities to further the Gospel cause. Missionaries need to be proactive in nurturing relationships with the secular world, in order to bear fruit for God’s glory and for the longevity of the mission.


There is no question that the Bible does tell us not to be yoked with unbelievers. (2 Cor 6:14-15) A yoke is a piece of wood that fits over the neck of two oxen, enabling them to pull a load together. The yoke that should make the burden easier could make things unbearably heavy, without the right relationship between the two in the yoke. The basis of such a statement lies in the principle that we are God’s temple, his dwelling place. When God makes his home in our hearts we become his holy people, his children. He does not want us to compromise with idols or with the world. Jesus died to purify our hearts through the grace of forgiveness. Our hearts are made into a holy dwelling place where the Holy Spirit can dwell. With God’s grace, we can live as God’s holy children and his consecrated servants. But how does this principle apply when Christians seek to co-operating with secular powers to further the Gospel cause?


God does call all Christians to come out of the world and be separate. First, let’s explore the Biblical mandate to be a separated people. Consider a few Bible verses.  With these verses a Christian can come up with a pretty convincing argument on how there can be no working relationship with the secular world…ever. They could even argue that Christians must isolate themselves in guarded communities, in their attempt to be “different” from the world, for the glory of God.  Let’s look at some of these verses…


James 1:27, “27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (ESV)


1 John 4:4-6, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (ESV)


2 Corinthians 12:16-18, “16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (ESV)


Romans 12:2, “ Do not be conformed to this world,[a] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV)


John 17:11-16, “11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (ESV)

1 John 2:15, “15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (ESV)

John 15:19, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (ESV)

Indeed we are called to be God’s holy people. But what does that mean? And how can we live in this world and serve Christ alongside people and organizations who don’t believe in Jesus? Should we do this?

Jesus shows us how to be in this world, but not of it. Jesus is the pure, holy and spotless Lamb of God. “Holy” means to be set apart for God. Jesus is the definition of holy. There is no one as pure and holy as he is. The Holy One, took on flesh and came to this world, to dwell as a man and live among a sinful humanity. John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (ESV)


Jesus’ earthy ministry lasted for 3 ½ years. During that time, Jesus, the Holy One, walked among the people of the world. He preached, he walked in their markets, he spoke to crowds. He ate and drank with tax collectors and “sinners”. Matthew 9:10-11, “10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (ESV) Jesus came to serve, to seek and save what was lost and ultimately to suffer and die at the hands of sinners. Before his death, he never stopped reaching out the secular world with the Gospel message. After his death, he rose again and led all those who put their faith in him, to everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.  Yes, Jesus surely knows how to be in this world but not of it.


Jesus successfully navigated fellowship with tax collectors and sinners because he was always operating with a kingdom purpose in mind. What I mean is that, whatever Jesus did, he did for the glory of God and to expand his kingdom. There must be a kingdom purpose when we enter into co-operating relationship with secular organizations. Whatever co-operating we do with secular entities must somehow, compliment the objectives of Christ’s Kingdom. The principles of God’s work must be upheld as we labor together in the harvest fields.


We must have some relationships with secular authorities. We are called to pray for the secular world. 1 Timothy 2:1-42 reads; “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  (ESV) The goal of their prayers is so that people may come to the knowledge of the truth, which is the Gospel.


Christians are also called to live among the non believers in ways that they may be well thought of by outsiders. 1 Timothy 3:7; “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (ESV) But keep in mind, there will be times that Christians will never be well thought of, no matter what they do. But, despite the world’s rejection, we are still called to nurture positive relationships with those around us. Again, the purpose is to communicate the Gospel to them.


Christians must submit themselves to the ruling authorities living as citizens of the country that we are living in. 1 Peter 2:13 reads, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority.” (ESV) Romans 13:5-6, “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.”  (ESV) Jesus himself told his disciples to pay taxes to Caesar. Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (ESV) We are to pay taxes and engage in public service. Of course, the submission is only to a certain point. But that is the topic of a whole other paper. Whatever we do must be with a kingdom purpose in mind.


Christians can interface with the world, by working secular jobs. In Acts 18:1-3, we meet Paul and two others who were working in the market places. “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.” (ESV) Paul was a tent maker missionary. He, along with Pricilla and Aquila, sewed tents. That means that they must have rented space in the markets and negotiated with buyers and suppliers. They must have had relationships with those in adjacent market booths. We also meet a Christian working closely with secular city managers. Romans 16:23 reads, “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.” (ESV)  Erastus was working side by side with the secular authorities to help manage the city. In this way the Gospel could be shared as people worked together, even in a secular cause, like managing a city.


Christians are to live honorable lives among the pagans. Look at 1 Peter 2:11-12, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Keeping our conduct honorable among the pagans, means being good citizens and good neighbors and even friends with non believers.  It means submitting to the laws of the community that we are living. It could also mean co-operating with non-believers, from time to time in carrying out the good that we are called to do. It means praying for people. God may help some of them to be saved through our peaceful and quiet lives in the secular world.


We need to be careful giving secular authorities “a seat at the table”, in regards to mission. In regards to Gospel mission, we need to be careful that Christians are making the decisions to essential works. This requires God’s wisdom to navigate those who are coming to the table. Christians must realize that if we completely isolate ourselves from secular authorities, giving them no heed, then we can find our selves fruitless. We may be so consumed with being separated from the world that we literally find ourselves alone and out of touch.


God may want us to work together with people who don’t believe and at the same time, he may not want us to, for there are times when working with secular authorities could hinder the Gospel. No two situations are the same. There needs to be the wisdom of God in each and every relationship.


If we chose to work with secular entities, remember, that nestled among the secular bodies are sincere believers that will be favorably disposed to the Gospel cause. When Elijah felt that he was all alone and that the whole world was against him, God reminded him that he was not all alone. Look at Romans 11:3-4, “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (ESV) Though the organizations we may enter into co-operation with, are secular, there will undoubtedly be believers within those organizations. There is no need to suffer needlessly under a siege mentality. Lift up your eyes to see whom God is sending your way.


Jesus will protect his own, as they seek try to navigate this world. We try our best to be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. But in the end we trust the Lord. John 17:14-16; “ I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (ESV) Secular organizations are not the evil one. The evil one is the devil. Jesus promises to protect us from the evil one and help to nurture and strengthen the relationships the devil seeks to destroy.


I cannot think of examples, in the Bible, of Christians working directly with secular organizations to propagate the Gospel cause. But there are principles could open the way for this to happen under certain circumstances. Such co-operating relationships can be fruitful, though we can not find such examples in the New Testament. Some principles in the New Testament can support this thesis, as we have explored. There are also lots of examples throughout the last 2,000 of years of history. We see Christians nurturing relationships with secular authorities to push ahead with the Gospel cause.


Co-operation is a symbiotic relationship. There is a relationship of that brings mutual benefit to all those involved. There are some common goals that secular organizations and Christians share. The well being of the community and the upbringing of the children are some area of common goals.


Working with the secular can take on three forms.  First, there could be direct formal co-operation. Second there can be indirect co-operation. This could include the believers and non-believers unofficially coming alongside to serve a common purpose. An example could be disaster relief, or serving the homeless. Third, a Christian placing themselves in situations where working relationships may develop. Examples of this would be working secular jobs or participating in the public school system. It could also involve making secular holidays missional, like reaching out to the neighbors at Halloween.


America used to be full of examples of the Gospel and the secular working together. There was Bible distribution in the schools. There was Bible teaching in the schools. There were soup kitchens, hospitals, universities, homeless shelters, etc. Nowadays these types of relationships are becoming rarer as people are advocating the separation of church and state. But serving the poor, needy, the sick and raising the children always seemed to have been done through a relationship with the sacred and the secular.


There is a danger, when believers begin to work with the secular, that the secular may overtake the Gospel influence in such endeavors. Consider the case of the YMCA and many hospital systems and universities around the world. Yes, things could go south when we nurture prelateships with the secular. But things could also go south when Christians co-work with other Christians. But there is something to be said about giving people and organizations a chance and trusting God in the whole matter.


Though some works may loose their Gospel flavor, Christians should not grieve, nor hold onto their achievements forever. They need the creativity to move onto the next great cause and rejoice that the Gospel influence has been left in some institutions. Always remember, God is in control. Move onto the next work. God will do with that work as he deems fit. Those works will be like the ripple effect in the overall history of God.


As Christians, we need to open up our minds and our hearts to seek new and innovative ways to co-operate with the secular organizations to serve Christ. This type of relationship could be a well spring of many blessings. It will require God’s people to think outside the box. It will require us to confess that we are called to be missional and engage the world for a kingdom purpose.  I do concede that there will be situations where we don’t want to even have a relationship with the secular community. There are times when persecution does not allow this. This is where we need God’s wisdom and be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. (Matt 10:16) Yet, the early Christians found ways to minister, even in the persecuting Roman society. For those who seek the way of nurturing relationships with the secular, there is so much good fruit to be born, for ultimately it is the Lord who is in control.

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