Most of my life has been partitioned into secular and sacred activities. I made this distinction without ever performing any theological research into why this division exists. I was born into family (secular) and most Sundays went to church (sacred). I later became a student (secular) and played sports (secular). I joined the Boy Scouts which was primarily secular, although it was sponsored by a church where we met weekly (sacred). I started working part-time and eventually worked full-time (secular). I continued to worship on Sundays and became a church leader with more responsibilities (sacred).
Only in the last decade have I pondered the connections between my ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ life. Do they overlap? Should Christians integrate the sacred roles into their secular life? How does the Bible view these terms? The public seems to view religion as a sacred function limited to worship and prayer with a few individuals employed either as part-time or full-time sacred workers. Most Christians devote only a few hours a week to sacred activities. Why does our Western culture divide ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ activities?
Paul Sevier Minear (1906–2007), Emeritus Professor of Biblical Theology at Yale University, wrote Work and Vocation in Scripture (Work and Vocation: A Christian Discussion, John Oliver Nelson–Editor, Harper & Brothers, New York, NY, 1954, pages 46–51). In the fourth section, titled Summons to a Whole People, Dr. Minear explains the differences between Biblical and secular definitions of vocation. “As soon as we mention the term ‘vocation,’ we stumble again over one of the radical differences between the Bible and modern usage. … We may begin by speaking of vocation as a person’s conception of the central purpose of his life. … In modern usage, the term has been corrupted until it means little more than the profession or occupation that an individual adopts as a ‘lifework.’”
Dr. Minear is a Biblical scholar who states that the concept of vocation in the Bible was not a job or career, but a summons by God to a faithful life – a life that is always sacred. “Now the use of the term ‘vocation’ with this [occupation] as its primary meaning does not appear in English translations of the Bible. The nearest thing to it is the word ‘calling’ with its many cognates. In the Bible, the primary connotation of calling is the purpose of the one who calls, although the one called may understand and accept that purpose. The resulting effect of the call on the occupation of the one called is only a secondary meaning, and at times is marginal or practically ignored.” Occupation is a subset of vocation and increasingly important within our modern society. However, it is still within the realm of the one who calls.
“The sole origin of genuine vocation is the God of Israel.” Christians are called to a life of faith without segregating secular and sacred. God “determines whom He calls and for what end He summons them. He has a purpose even for those who are unaware of it, but the recognition of what one’s vocation is demands self-disclosure on God’s part and voluntary obedience on man’s. … The Biblical term [of vocation] is both narrower and wider. On the one hand, it is sometimes used to refer to a special mission on which God sends a person, a mission that can be rather speedily accomplished. On the other hand, it may be used to indicate the total, inclusive purpose of a man’s life, that destiny for which and to which he is summoned. … God’s purpose remains the pivotal fact.”
The Bible is clear about the division between secular and sacred: there is no division. “In the Bible, the vocation of an individual is not restricted to one segment of his existence, but embraces everything that he is and does. … This engagement in vocation of the whole range of a person’s capacities, skills, and purposes breaks down the segmentation of the worker’s life and tends to eliminate many of the psychological conflicts produced by such fragmentation. It undercuts, for example, the incessant competition between ‘secular’ work and ‘sacred’ worship, between activities that appear to be productive of good and those which appear to be sheer waste.”
Rest assured that from the moment you wake up until you fall asleep at night, your entire day is a life of vocation summoned by God. Whether you are at work, relaxing with your family, or doing your exercises, you are called. “That calling leads in the direction of wholeness.”