Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sacred or Secular: A False Dichotomy

I was recently accused of becoming too secular in my expression of Christianity. Apparently, if one chooses to expose false practices like reverencing church buildings as holy places then one is becoming secular.

The history of how we have come to identify sacred places as Christian church buildings is rather revealing. Late into the second century Christians were beginning the pagan practice of reverencing the dead. It came about from good intentions. A number of Christians had been martyred for their faith and were thus seen as true examples to teach the cost of being a true believer in Jesus Christ.

Consequently their place of burial became an often visited place to remind others that physical life is but a vapor but death truly has no sting for believers. Therefore in addition to meeting in homes it became common to meet at cemeteries. Cemeteries began to be seen as sacred places where reverence for martyrs was given and their story of courageously laying down their lives was retold to young and old. In the Old Testament these places would have been referred to as “high places”.

When Constantine came along at the beginning of the fourth century, he legalized Christianity and paid to have basilicas built. There was a sense of awe and wonder connected to these buildings especially because they were often built over or next to sacred sites, cemeteries, where Christian martyrs had been buried.

Hushed reverence was always associated with the entering of these edifices and even purification rituals were incorporated to ensure that those entering would give due respect to the fallen martyrs that the building had been constructed over.

And thus was born the idea of a sacred place that literally changed the definition of church from Jesus' original usage, which simply meant, "gathered ones", to the now almost universally accepted definition, "a Christian sacred building."

Today, people have forgotten the historical roots of church buildings but have managed to hold onto a false dichotomy between sacred and secular. They often live and speak differently when they are at a church building from their day to day activities. Onlookers often associate Christians by those who go to a sacred place. Sadly, this pagan assumption is endorsed and even considered mandatory by uninformed Christians as well.

But Jesus gave us a different command as to how we are to distinguish ourselves as Christians. I find it rather ironic that even his words "new commandment" are still, 2,000 years later, "new" for many Christians who go to church.

John 13:34 (NIV) "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

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