I worked almost a decade in Europe. The office environment was completely secular. I rarely heard anyone discuss spiritual issues or their church involvement. We did regularly discuss work, sports, and politics, though. When my wife and I traveled, we toured the great cathedrals, churches, and religious sites. These structures looked and felt sacred. It was quiet inside as we examined these magnificent edifices, many built over 1000 years ago. Their beauty and grandeur evoked the heavens as our eyes tried to take in their wonder. Obviously, there was a stark difference between my secular office and sacred medieval buildings.
In his paper, Secular and the Sacred: Tracing Their Dimensionality and Tension, published in the book Faith and Work: Christian Perspectives, Research, and Insights Into the Movement (Edited by Timothy Ewest, Information Age Publishing, Inc., Charlotte, NC, 2018, pages 247–263), Dr. Timothy Ewest, Associate Professor of Management at Houston Baptist University, describes the difference between the secular and the sacred:
“The word secular is derived from the Latin word saeculum, intending to indicate ‘the world’ as opposed to ‘the church.’ The original use of the word is ascribed to Roman Catholic priests during the middle ages that would serve outside the church.” (p. 250)
“Sacred, from the Latin word sacer, means something which has a dedicated purpose or something that is set apart. This term is similar to another commonly used word, holiness, which is derived from the Greek work, hagios(αγιος), meaning different, separate or other.” (p. 253-255)
A good example of the difference between secular and sacred is found in Saint Augustine’s book, The City of God. He “outlined two possible societies for humanity, one being the ‘city of man’ and the other being the ‘city of god.’ The book was written as an apology to defend Roman Christians who were blamed for the fall of Rome, believing Christianity aided in the weakening of Rome. Augustine argues that the city of man was comprised of individuals who are damned, who worshiped false gods which cannot come to aid or protect their followers (e.g., Rome), and were contrasted by the city of god, wherein individuals believe in God’s providential control of history in the world, and ever present engagement and care for the world.” (p. 251)
Today, we know when we are in a secular or sacred place. The vast majority of workers work and live in secular places. “The prevailing assumption in business, as in most contemporary activities in America, is that there must be a wall of separation between a person’s beliefs and the workplace. It is assumed that this wall is required because we do not all share the same faith-based worldview.” (p. 252)
While Dr. Ewest is correct that most Americans separate secular from sacred, faith and work should not be separated. The sacred space is within you when you enter the secular world. You carry Christ with you at work, home, and wherever you are located. It is true that sacred places are built to remind worshippers of God’s presence, but it is our Christian faith that sets us apart from the secular world. Yet, we are commanded to follow the Spirit in mission into the secular world to transform communities. The secular and sacred boundaries eventually dissolve through our spirit-filled work. The secular then starts to become sacred.