Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Artificial Divide Between Secular and Sacred

Like every religious organization, Emmanuel Enid does some things that require 'announcements.' We've chosen for a variety of reasons to play our 5 Before announcement videos five minutes before the worship services begin. Most of the time, these announcement videos are pictorial, with a musical underscore.

Several months ago we noticed very few people were paying attention to the announcement videos. So one Sunday, we experimented a little and played the song Let It Go from the movie Frozen to underscore the announcements. An amazing thing happened. The instant Let It Go began playing, every child under 14 looked up at the screen and began paying attention to the announcement of a new AWANA children's program we were launching.

Since that day, we've played music during the announcements that you normally wouldn't hear in a 'religious service.' We've played Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" from the movie Despicable Me, Imagine Dragons song "I'm on Top of the World," and we will possibly use Ceelo's and the Muppets song "All I Need Is Love" for December, or maybe music from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

I recently received a letter from a church member who asked some excellent questions about playing "secular" music during the announcements. Another person who watches our services online also wrote and asked similar things. A summary of their queries include: (1). What about character of the artist that is singing? (2). What about other songs that the artist may sing? (3). Though 'secular' music is enjoyed by all, should a 'secular' song be played in a sacred church service?

I responded to our church member with the following email.

Thanks for your kind email. I appreciate your transparency on the auditorium. We did have a purpose in the redesign, and it was not for the small portion of the congregation that attends REFUGE,  but the large portion of Enid that doesn't attend church anywhere. We feel that in the few weeks we've been in the auditorium that several unchurched people are beginning to attend REFUGE. I have some specific illustrations, but I think I'll move to the question about secular songs in the pre-service music.
There is a reason behind the decision. The first time we used secular music in the pre-service announcement slide we chose the song Let It Go, I did an unscientific survey that morning and watched the kids. An amazing thing happened. Nobody was paying any attention to the announcements, but when we started the title song from Frozen, every child within my view looked UP and paid attention to the announcement about the new AWANA'S Program. Our decision to play secular music is based upon people paying attention - it seems some tune out the songs that are traditionally played in pre-service announcements.
I agree with you that the lives of some of the artists (including Pharrell Williams) don't always reflect Christian character. In addition, OTHER songs that the artist sings don't always reflect Christian values. We agree.
However, we think you'll find that many Christian artists have the same issues. Not always do Christian artists lives reflect Christian character. In addition, there are SOME songs that are sung by Christian artists that we would not agree with theologically. Nevertheless, our disagreement with the artist's OTHER songs doesn't necessarily mean we can't express agreement in the message of some of their songs.
Finally, it's our desire to not separate the 'secular' from the 'spiritual' (or sacred)." Personally, we believe  in life and all life is spiritual - even when a Christian is listening to country music. We want people to feel that what you do in a church building is no different than what you do in a truck or car. So if it's fine to listen to some country music in your car, it would be fine to listen to that same country music in a church building. With that said, I'd suggest you offer us a country song that we can choose to play in the pre-service portion of our worship service for December or January.
We do go over the words of songs VERY CAREFULLY and discuss what is being said before the song is approved. If we feel there is something in the song that does not reflect our 'values' or mission statement, then the song will not be played.
I hope that answers your question!
I'd like to focus one phrase I used in the above email: - "It's our desire to not separate the 'secular' from the 'spiritual' (or sacred)."

The word 'sacred' comes from the Latin "to make holy.' It is the root word for 'sacrament' which is something that 'is made holy' by a priest's blessing. To the religious crowd of the Middle Ages, the sacred was segmented from the profane (Latin: "before the fence"). Contrary to the New Testament teaching that the ekklesia is the body of Christ, and wherever we go, Christ is, Christians in the Middle Ages began to compartmentalize their lives. The 'sacred' things they did occurred 'inside the fence' of the church (building) and everything else they did (outside the fence - i.e. 'profane') was NOT sacred. So, in the mind of a Christian during the Middle Ages, he could do things outside of 'church' that he would never consider doing 'inside' a church (building).

We think that divide between secular and sacred is artificial. Our belief, which we believe is biblical and inspired of the Spirit, is that if it is okay for a believer in Jesus Christ to listen to music outside a church building, then its okay for a believer in Jesus Christ to listen to the same music inside the church building.

Our kids listen to the music from Frozen.  Our members work out at the YMCA with Happy playing loudly as they lift weights. Our radio stations will play constantly All I Need Is Love this Christmas season, sung by Ceelo and the Muppets. If we aren't offended with the songs outside the church building, then there's no reason to be offended with them inside the church building.

We are the church.

We live life, and the presence of Christ in us makes this life very special.

As Michael Stewart eloquently writes:
Many people (wrongly) view their lives as divided into separate, unrelated parts. There are the parts that some view as secular, such as work, hobbies and recreation. These parts occur outside a sacred place, such as a church, and therefore are not related, in their minds, to faith. Then there are parts that are usually identified with a sacred place. A subtle dualism has developed among many people that divorces the sacred from anything that is considered secular.
Living out one's faith should be a natural overflow of the soul-stream within. Faith is interwoven into life, not reduced to a mere Sunday ritual. The principles of the Bible guide decisions, plans and actions.
This understanding of the unity of the sacred and the secular means, for the believer, nothing is secular. Everything one does, thinks or feels has something to do with God. The Bible presents a challenge: "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
The challenge is to live in the fullness of this unity. The marketplace and the church hold opportunities to fight the dualism of thought and live as a whole person for God.


David Panzera said...

I often reply about the Christians interaction with the world the way the Lord did with the Samaritan woman at the well.

The woman was in need of the Lord, the picture is that of the lost with the Lord coming to her with no conditions of acceptance. This was not approval of her life, her life's choices, the way she was living or anything else, just acceptance of her. Jesus never once sold out his holiness to gain her affection, followership or anything else. He remained 100% pure and yet was there for her 100% as well. He was making sure she understood one thing for sure....that nothing man-made should come between them at all. Not society and its contrivances and or rules of social norms or anything else. She marveled at this, I am sure she was drawn to Him by this.
Man seems to place a lot of stumbling blocks in the way of our relationship with Jesus. Secular anything at church or related to church often is just that, a stumbling block. Why not enjoy the joyful sounds of a funny, heartwarming or meaningful song? Why not enjoy where some movies take us away to. Only when those things speak against or contrary to God, His way for us or His commandments should we be ardent to uphold His standard. In such a way, "Let It Go" from Disney neither detracts from nor brings shame to the Lord God or His People...the same cannot be said for "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" because its the Holy Spirit driven and given wisdom in Christ to know the difference no matter how the song musically sounds to the ear...I'm sure you will understand my example here.

Wade Burleson said...

Good word, David.

Aussie John said...


You're so right!
The compartmentalizing of our lives has done a lot of damage to our witness of God's great grace in Jesus Christ.
Followers of Christ need to understand that worship is what we do as we live our lives, and is revealed in the way we live and function at work, play,and at home.

Victorious said...

hmmm..I have mixed feelings about "secular" music in the church building. I agree with Aussie John that compartmentalizing our lives can have negative results and missed opportunities to interact and share with those who need the good news.

On the other hand, when you compare the amount of time we spend being bombarded with interruptions, noise, visuals, doorbells, responsibilities, workloads, etc. to the time we spend in the "building", it doesn't seem like it's asking too much to want a retreat from those mundane-type things. Even Jesus felt a need to get away from time to time.

I think of the time set aside for spiritual things as a retreat from the ordinary everyday "stuff." The time focuses on the spiritual aspects which are often crowded out in the course of everyday life.

I didn't see Frozen, for example, but I did watch the video of "Let it Go." Should I hear that song again, my mind will not be on the spiritual, but probably on that darling, petite blond girl and her beautiful voice. When I hear Amazing Grace, my mind will find peace and gratitude and the love of Jesus.

There's a difference in where the mind focuses on when listening to music.

I don't necessarily feel rigid about it and my feelings very well may those of a senior... :)

Thought provoking posts are always good! Thanks, Wade!

Wade Burleson said...

Understandable, Victorious, how "Amazing Grace" casts your eye of faith toward Christ.

I argue that it is also possible for "Let It Go" to do much the same thing -

See my argument here.

Wade Burleson said...

There are two ways the gospel is revealed - clearly and subtly.

Amazing Grace is the former. Frozen is the latter.

Victorious said...

Yes, I agree the gospel can be revealed clearly and subtly. But your post seemed to say that when "Let it Go" was played, it appealed to those 14 yrs. and under. I'm guessing that the video Frozen targets the young within that age group primarily.

So, I was wondering if that age group in particular would relate that video or song in a spiritual way.

Also, not having seen the video I really can't comment on that per se, but I think whatever songs are chosen to draw attention to the announcements should target or appeal to the age group who will be interested in the announcements.

Christiane said...

Isaiah 57:15
"For this is what the high and exalted One says-- He who lives forever, whose Name is holy:

"I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite."

I expect that those people coming to your REFUGE center who are 'unchurched' are very much brought there by the Hand of God. It sounds like a place of 'sanctuary' to me, and I am very much a believer in the holy places of this Earth, where Our Lord's Presence dwells.

I would like to share some words of REX RAY followed by my reflection on his moving words:

" On a mission trip in Mexico, I learned a church was about to loose its land as three years was about to expire to complete its building. All they had was two rows of concrete blocks when they ran out of money as most lived in cardboard shacks. I gave about a year’s tithe to buy all their materials. It wasn’t that much as the roof was tin and the floor was dirt.

Our 500 member church at the time was ‘collecting’ money to change the carpet from red to blue. As a young deacon; I was asked to pray for the offering. During the prayer, I confessed I felt like a hypocrite since I had not given anything as I had given to a needed church. I don’t know why I started crying. Maybe it was because of the goal of our church, but I know it wasn’t repentance on my part. Still crying going back to my seat, a lady I didn’t know gave me a long embrace. I was never asked to pray again."


Dear REX,
From the Eastern Christian tradition, comes this teaching:
"Our Lord cries to us in the depths of our hearts,
"Awake 0 sleeper, rise up from among the dead, and Christ will illumine you".
"And you shall be as I fashioned you, a child of light capable of great compassion and love. And then I will awaken within you my Holy Spirit. You will know the profound love without limits I have for you.
And your flow of tears will witness to the melting of frozen places within you. The softening of your tear stained face will be an invitation for me to take up my abode in your heart. I will remove from you all harsh judgement"

REX, we know this: that God comes to the humble places of the Earth: a stable with a dirt floor in Nazareth long ago, or a 'cathedral' built with a tin roof and a dirt floor in a place far away.
You said, "I don’t know why I started crying."
Maybe the memory of the holy ground of that dirt-floored church overflowed in the place where 'changing the color of a carpet' was considered the way to honor God? The contrast must have been very painful. Love, L's"

rixshep said...

Good word, Pastor Wade! I am excited to hear this. I have long rejected the idea thatlife and faith need compartmentalized.

John Whitehead and others point out that secular humanism was one of the original sources of this silly divide between secular and sacred.

Their purpose was to shut people of faith out. The church is being infected with humanism when it accepts this artificial divide.

High time for Christians to reclaim relevance in all areas of life!


Anonymous said...

What's "REFUGE"?

Christiane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wade Burleson said...


REFUGE is one of our services on Sunday morning.

Anonymous said...

Interesting read and a learning experience for me.

I heard the background music "Happy" a few weeks ago on your church's live stream and though I'd heard the song before and knew the name of the artist, my usual practice is to refrain from searching for more info online because often it's not profitable and I like to be cautious. However, when I heard it in your live stream, I thought maybe there is something interesting about this guy since a church is using his music. I did a quick search on his name and clicked the top result. It was 2 clicks from Emmanuel Enid's website to porn on my computer showing Pharrell's nude version of another song he sings "Blurred lines".

I appreciate knowing the direction you are going and why and thank you for the wake up call to be extra cautious even for things coming from the church.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

John Whitehead and others point out that secular humanism was one of the original sources of this silly divide between secular and sacred.

Actually, no. (Though Secular Humanism(TM) is a longstanding boogieman of the Chrsitianese Culture War crowd.)

JMJ over at the blog Christian Monist has written a lot on the Secular-vs-Sacred divide, and he traces it to Platonic Dualism which cross-culture diffused into the Church early on, separating the original Jewish monistic idea which drew little distinction between Secular(TM) and Sacred(TM), Physical and Spiritual.

Joe Blackmon said...

Anon Mon Nov 17, 01:04:00 AM 2014

Given that Don Quixote had a known heretic, Wm Paul who wrote The Shack to "preach" the "gospel", and affirms Rob Bell as a precher of the gospel, this isn't that much of a surprise. What's next, Wade? Well, to get the attention of men in the announcements, we used porn?

Wade Burleson said...

Joe, porn is destructive. So is a pastor who doesn't understand authenticity.