Does modern worship fail by trashing the line between the sacred and secular?

A few years ago, a young adult very openly expressed his frustration with worship at church. “Rich, why is it that I feel closer to God at a Coldplay concert than I do at church?” This was a stunning admission, because it represented not just his experience but that of many and perhaps spoke to some doubts in my own mind. However, what came from this conversation changed how I viewed worship in church. Worship at church should either be made more like the secular music out there, if that is truly more spiritual. Or, there is something missing in the worship at church that needed to be changed. I tried the first, making relevancy a goal, but I think that hand has been overplayed. So, I am left with the second idea. What is missing?

It seems some would say there is no line between the sacred and the secular. This is quite a popular discussion over recent years. My confession is that I am quite tired of this sacred-versus-secular conversation. Why? Because, I think we are separating and discussing something that really is deeper than one dichotomy. Here is how I see it. The profane versus sacred, and the physical versus spiritual are the real dichotomies. We must still choose to hold some things “holy”–just like we do in marriage. And, we must realize that because of the Incarnation, physical is not disconnected to spiritual. So, can a place be spiritual? Physical is not something we just discard as computer minus the software, is it? Its more than that–our Savior is fully physical (human) and divine. Does our integration of sacred and secular degrade the importance of the holy? Or, is the abolishment of that line helpful?

Let me explain. When we say that there are some things that are holy—or set apart for God—we are saying that there are special days, times, and places we decide are God’s more than ours. A bank is set apart to deal with banking. A church is set apart as a place of worship—even if it is used as a basketball court on Monday. The idea that physical space is important and that the things physically created can be holy is something I believe in. A song can indeed be holy, right? It’s design, purpose, function, and beauty are all for the purpose of God’s more than mine. A secular song then can be for any purpose other than that. That difference does not mean God is not in the person who created each or that spirituality is not a part of both. It simply means that things set apart for worship are a specific just like things for banking are. Being set apart for something sacred or holy then can be a building. What makes it holy is what we purpose for it to be. Should then there be things specific for our life of faith and worship?

If worship is everything than worship is nothing. We are always meant to be in a posture of worship through all we do, say, and think. But, is everything a “special” expression of that worship? When we come to the table and partake in communion, that surely is more than when I sit and have coffee with another person. Indeed, having coffee can still be a “sacramental” moment between your friends and God even though that the venue is other than the communion table. To separate something as holy does not mean the other is not spiritual! It just means that it is not sacred. We can find and connect to our Creator in any setting. We can worship at any time and place because of the Holy Spirit in us. Sacred and secular are a both-and way of living. We learn to worship in both a time and place only for God and live out that worship everywhere else. The two are connected because we are in both places. In other words, let’s not erase a line that is useful. Just like some acts are only for marriage, should not some times, places, and acts only be for God?

Everything is spiritual because physicality is connected to spirituality. I agree that we should not live un-integrated lives where we are one person in one place and another person in the other. That is why I think people want to say the line between sacred and secular should be abolished. It is a decent argument. But, the point is we need things set aside for our worship of God. Music is a good example. The problem with CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) is that it attempts to bring sacred into secular. It is not birthed from the realities—most of the time—but from a marketing scheme based on “positive” feedback about your faith. It is useful to have music to remind us to live our walk, but does that music talk about grief, pain, and doubt? If you can bring those to a truly sacred place, why does our CCM not deal with them? Why does secular music deal with these human conditions and our CCM lack these at times? Sometimes we need to tap our toes, but this is not saying its a spiritual issue. Or, is it? As spiritual beings, all that we do is spiritual—even the physical things. So, maybe the issue is about how we see the line and not the line itself.

Sometimes we are more human with the secular than we are with the sacred. The Incarnation–Jesus as a man–informs us that physical and spiritual are connected. They are two different things, yet they are one. This paradox is not easy to grasp. No religion has their God descend from heaven and become one of the created and yet remain God—except for Christianity. If we can believe God’s presence is manifested in our praises as the Psalmist declares, is it a far stretch to see Jesus present in the sacrament he personally prescribed? Can and should the physical bread and wine connect us to something spiritual—just as other physical experiences with music, sunsets, and friends? Do we think of the entire other-than-church world as equal to or more than the sacred? Enjoy that movie, that food, and the good things in secular life as they are spiritual. But, do not forget to bring that same “human” to church. Connect to the true vine at church and you might begin to see how powerful the presence of God can be in the physical things we do together in worship. Sacredness matters.

The sacred and secular line is useful in reminding us to keep the best of us apart for God. We live in a planet in need of redemption. While we should be careful to think that God is in more than the sacred, we should also be warned that not setting aside time and place for God cheats us. We should gather to church with our true selves in a sacred time and place for worship. We then are sent into an often profane world where the true God still reigns and lives with us. Both the sacred and secular are where we live our lives. My answer to my young friend about the Coldplay concert is more of a question than an answer. “Do you bring that same honest, expectant, and human self to church that you bring to a Coldplay concert?” Who do you bring to church? God be with you!

Share:
Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

3 comments

  1. Thought-provoking as always. For me, it’s all about recognizing God. We live in a lot of distraction. I’m striving for a consistent reality with God. I agree with your last statement that we need to ask who we are bringing to church. Thanks man!

  2. I like the distinction you made between sacred and spiritual. I believe that a spiritual experience can’t be confined to the boundaries of religion, and that a spiritual experience doesn’t have to be sacred. If someone gets a spiritual experience while listening to Coldplay, why should that spiritual experience be any less than one experienced in church?

Leave a Reply