Sorry Switchfoot, We Should Divide Between the Secular and the Sacred

by Dave

I really like Switchfoot; in fact I can pretty much quote every line of every song in their first three albums. I went to see them in concert ten years ago and even was able to take part in a “town hall” meeting where they answered questions presented by youth pastors. In that meeting, a pastor presented a concern that as a band they were becoming less “Christian.” The lead singer, Jon Foreman responded much as he did in a recent post on CTKBlog. The gist of his statement is that there is no division between the secular and the sacred. This means that a song with no lyrics and a worship song are equally glorifying to the Lord when written/played/sung by a Christian in faith.

There is no doubt that we can (and ought to) do all things to God’s glory, and that therefore means that even non-explicitly-Christ-speaking-daily-life things can glorify God.* However, I believe that taking the next step to say that “there is no hierarchy of life, or songs, or occupation, only obedience” is to contradict the Scriptures. In fact, I believe that Paul taught us that there is a hierarchy within the activities of a Christian. He does so in distinguishing between “worldly things” and the “things of the Lord.” Specifically, I am referring to I Corinthians 7:32-34:

“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.”

The Division
In light of the brevity of life (v 31) Paul encourages each of the Corinthians to “remain as he is” (v 26) which includes not marrying if one is single (v 27) for the explicit reason that “those who marry have worldly troubles” (v 28). Of all that could be said about this passage I want to point out one simple thing: Paul distinguishes between “worldly things” (how to please a wife/husband) and what we could call “sacred things” (how to please the Lord). I believe that Paul is saying that married people are divided or “pulled between” the secular and the sacred. Further, he counsels the Corinthians to, if possible, remain single so that they could devote more time and energy to the “things of the Lord.” He specifically says that it is not sin to marry (v 28), but that he wishes that everyone could be single like him (v 7). And the foundation of this desire is that there is, in fact a division between the secular and the sacred. If that was not true, his recommendation would not make any sense. If there was no hierarchy, no difference between cooking a meal for your husband and evangelizing the lost, there would be no reason to recommend singleness.

What are the “Things of the Lord”?
So, if we accept this division it begs the question: What are the “things of the Lord”? Paul gives us some specifics in saying that single women’s interests lie in “how to be holy in body and spirit” (v 34). This seems to indicate that pursuing one’s sanctification falls into this category. Paul gives us another hint to its meaning in 1 Corinthians 15:58 where he calls us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” He later says of Timothy that “he is doing the work of the Lord” (16:10), when describing Timothy’s activities in Ephesus planting and leading a church. Thus, for the purposes of this post, I will define the “things of the Lord” as actions that specifically and directly build the kingdom of God in us and in others. Some examples of this include: evangelism, prayer, Bible study, Bible teaching, confrontation of sin, restoration, and counseling.

Application: What This Does NOT Mean
Foreman blames the distinction between the secular and the sacred for the “heretical” view that a “pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls’ volleyball coach.” Foreman is right in calling this view false. He correctly alludes to the fact that Paul explains that we are all a body and gifted differently in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul says,

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (vv 4-7).

We have all been gifted in different ways, to serve in different ways. And the plumber, professor, house painter, economist, stay-at-home mom, and pastor all can and should serve the church. And we all need each other. Like our bodies, we cannot operate unless all of the parts are functioning. Thus, Foreman is correct that a pastor is NOT more Christian than a coach. But the reason for this is not because all actions are of equal value, but instead because we can all do the “things of the Lord” in whatever role we play. We are all called to “abound in the work of the Lord” whether we stay at home caring for children, sing on stages, or preach sermons. But frankly, though certainly Jon Foreman may be seeking such things in his life, many of Switchfoot’s songs would not fall into the category of the “things of the Lord” according to Paul’s definition. 

Application: What This Does Mean
So the real division between the secular and the sacred does NOT mean that laypeople are less important than full-time workers. But I do think that a right understanding of this issue ought to cause us to: Prioritize the “things of the Lord.” I believe that we should not continue to say that everything we do is equally valuable for the kingdom. We ought to seek to place a priority in our lives on the “things of the Lord.” I really cannot think of a better example of this than my father-in-law. Dan Edmiston is not a pastor, nor has he ever been to seminary. He worked as a supervisor for a winery for a number of years and is now retired. And yet, the emphasis of his life is, and has been for the last 30 years, the kingdom of God. When Dan buys a car off Craigslist, he leads the seller to the Lord. When he forwards emails, they call us to look forward to the second coming of Christ. Dan just recently told us he had an in depth Gospel conversation with his doctor during a routine checkup. In those “worldly things” that we do I call us to be like Dan, seeking to always be ready to serve the Lord.

I do not say these things so that you will feel like there are even more things you need to do in your life, or to give you a new law. The verse which immediately follows the passage above is: 

“I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (I Corinthians 7:35).

This is my prayer: that these words would promote good order in your life and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. This will mean that we pray while we are changing diapers, that we memorize Scripture when we do the dishes. And it will mean that when we write songs that do not specifically talk about Jesus, we make sure that we are still telling people about Jesus. The saying oft attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (“Preach the Gospel at all times and use words when necessary”), though cute, in fact hides the fact that using words is always necessary. No one will ever be saved through looking at a pretty painting, or listening to Mozart, or having their plumbing done very well. People need to hear the Gospel to be saved (Romans 10:13-17). And we must abound in the works of the Lord for us to grow in the likeness of Christ, and for others to hear.

In following Switchfoot throughout the years I have heard a lot of their music. I have seen them in concerts, heard them talk to groups, watched videos of them. And yet, I have never heard them preach the Gospel. I have heard them talk about the Gospel, but I have never heard them preach the Gospel. They may do this a lot in their personal lives, and I hope that they do. But I fear that this emphasis on “all things sacred” has restricted their “abounding in the work of the Lord.” I hope that through this post we can reflect on this potential stumbling point for the purpose of avoiding it. And I pray that all of us whether married or single, plumber or pastor, will do everything we can to specifically and directly build the kingdom of God in us and in others.


*Footnote: How do we Glorify God in “Worldly Things”?
Though I often hear people talking about the fact that we can glorify God even in the small details of life, the question of how is rarely addressed. To help us understand I think we can compare Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians to Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.” In 1 Corinthians Paul tells us that pleasing your spouse is a “worldly thing.” The conclusion I see in this is that even in worldly things we can glorify God. If I seek to please my spouse in loving her, my action is God-glorifying. If I change a diaper with a heart of service, God is glorified. In fact, if we are thankful, and careful to make sure that it is not causing others to stumble, even eating and drinking can bring glory to the Lord (I Corinthians 10:31). This does not mean that all things are equally glorifying to the Lord, but that even little things can bring him glory. As Foreman said in his post, in this sense, obedience is what matters. We glorify God in obeying his commands, even when the action displaying the obedience is small.


Author: David M. Hare

Dave is a husband, father of four Africans, and is currently helping the Kwakum people do Oral Bible Storying and Bible translation in Cameroon, Africa.