Christianity began in a Greco-Roman world. The New Testament was written in Greek, the common language spoken throughout the ancient world. Like English today, Greek was the language of commerce, diplomacy, and scholarship. The Apostle Paul was able to travel and effectively communicate over an extensive multi-lingual region because he was fluent in Greek. He could effectively debate and evangelize Christian concepts in a Greco-Roman culture.
One of the Greco-Roman concepts was dualism: the separation of the physical and spiritual natures. The Greeks viewed the spiritual or philosophical nature as superior to our physical nature. Philosophical reasoning was the pinnacle of life’s activities. The vast majority of people who labored with their hands were deemed inferior to intellectual philosophers. Today, we label the spiritual as the ‘contemplative life’ and the physical as the ‘active life.’
The Greco-Roman culture permeates the New Testament and the early Church. When Christianity became legal in the Roman world, the Church organized and institutionalized with full-time professionals such as priests, bishops, and monks. Dualism remained embedded in the Christian culture and theology which supported the belief that the spiritual life was superior, in God’s view, to the active life. Those called to ministry were more important to God than those working outside the Church.
Alistair Mackenzie, Emeritus Senior Fellow at Laidlaw College (New Zealand), and Wayne Kirkland, a writer for Signpost Communications in New Zealand, jointly authored Where’s God on Monday? Integrating Faith and Work Every Day of the Week (NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 2003, pages 91-97). They discuss dualism in our modern society and our vocabulary. It is important to use specific words when discussing ‘work’ “because the word ‘work’ has such a wide range of connotations.” Paid work can be clarified as a job, paid work, or employment. Tasks and roles are helpful in describing volunteer work.
All Christians are in full-time Christian work. We don’t live dualistic lives as our faith is a 24/7 faith. When referring to persons who are employed in religious organizations, “it’s much better to say ‘church work,’ ‘paid church staff,’ ‘employed by a Christian (or mission) organization,’ ‘cross-cultural missionary,’ and so on.” All Christians are ministers, “a royal priesthood,” (1 Peter 2:9). Only a small subset of Christians are paid church staff.
I have used the word ‘secular’ to denote the world outside the Church. However, the authors frown on this terminology. “When we use the word ‘secular’ we are making an unbiblical and unhelpful distinction.” There is no separation between the contemplative and active life. “Four helpful terms to distinguish these spheres are: marketplace, community, church, family. God is involved in all these arenas. When we exclude him we are contributing to secularization. Sadly Christians have virtually given in to this process in the marketplace and the community.”
The boundaries between the four terms are not rigidly defined but overlap. Many of us participate in all four areas but usually have one that dominates. For example, I worked in the marketplace as a full-time employee, but also raised a family, volunteered in my community, and attended my local church. “Consequently, ‘the workplace’ rather than being interpreted as ‘the place of paid employment’ or being limited to the marketplace, really should refer to all of these spheres.”