The Sacred VS. the Secular: Having a Party Instead of a Bible Study

Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” Job 41:11b


by John Ellis

Several years ago, pretty much every other Sunday evening at my house, I hosted a group of men from church. We would gather, drink Scotch or beer, listen to music, and talk. Sometimes, we discussed theology. Often, though, we discussed sports or movies or philosophy, current events, politics, music, literature, you get the picture; our evenings together were rather unstructured, and we discussed whatever came to our minds. The evenings were fun and edifying.

At some point, we invited several of our younger brothers in Christ (they were in their early to mid-twenties). Several of them took advantage of the invitation, and showed up at one of the Sunday evening gatherings in my library. As the evening came to a close, it was obvious that our young brothers were disappointed. We discovered later that they were expecting a structured time of Bible study and/or prayer. The following Sunday, one of the younger brothers haughtily confronted me and a friend and accusingly asked, “What’s the point of your getting together? It was a waste of time!”

Well, my answer now remains the same as my answer then – the point is to have fun and enjoy God’s good blessings.

Sadly, my answer strikes many evangelicals as a tad too close to “worldly” for their comfort. After all, in their minds, we are to redeem the time God has given us; there is a hierarchy of spirituality, a sacred/ secular divide. Or, to “spiritualize” it even more, many counter with, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful (1 Corinthians 10:23).” To that, I respond, “Oh, but hanging out, drinking Scotch, and talking about music is often helpful and edifying.”

Much of the “debate,” if you will, comes down to an understanding of the sacred/secular divide. Many evangelicals accept it as a spiritual truth. On the other hand, I reject it as a gnostic lie of the devil. You see, paraphrasing the book of Job, everything under the universe is God’s, even Scotch and music.

If you’re unsure what is meant by the secular/sacred divide, in a nutshell, it’s a concept that claims that some activities are in the spiritual realm and, hence, of the highest good, while other activities are in the secular realm, and, hence, at best a distraction and at worst a stumbling block to sanctification. In other words, you can rank a person’s spiritual maturity by the ration of “spiritual” activities to “secular” activities. All of that, while well-meaning, is mostly hogwash.

God has not called us to be ascetics. Taking up our cross and denying ourselves does not mean depriving ourselves of God’s material blessings in an attempt to clear the path of our mind and spirit in order for spirituality to flood into our soul. To be clear, there is definitely a time to study the Bible and pray. Far be it from me to imply otherwise, I’m the guy who wrote this, after all. I will sadly concede that many professing Christians do not spend enough time in prayer and Bible study. But the correction to one sinfully out-of-balance way of life is not another sinfully out-of-balance way of life.

In his short yet powerful book Art and the Bible, theologian Francis Schaeffer tackles head on the gnostic (gnostic leaning, at least) bifurcation between the sacred and the secular found in much of Western evangelicalism. Schaeffer helpfully diagnoses that the root of the problem lies in the lack of understanding and/or submission to the lordship of Christ. He writes, “The lordship of Christ over the whole of life means that there are no platonic areas in Christianity, no dichotomy or hierarchy between the body and the soul. God made the body as well as the soul and redemption is for the whole man.”[1]

Schaeffer goes on to explain that God created humans as a whole; Adam and Eve’s creation/being included both body and soul, and both body and soul were declared good by God. After the Fall, after Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world by rebelling (sinning) against God, both body and soul were affected. All humans since have been born in Adam, and all humans since have been born with both body and soul broken and marred by sin. Sin, of course, separates humans from God. Thankfully, God provided the solution by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to live a life of perfect obedience, die on the cross as the punishment for the sins of his people, and then to be raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who repent of their sins and place their faith is Jesus are given new life and adopted into the family of God. One glorious day, upon Jesus’ second return, all those who are in Christ will have both body and soul restored and will once again be called “good” by God.

Over emphasizing the importance of “feeding the soul,”[2] the sacred and secular divide denies that our bodies are important, too; it denies that for those of us who are repenting of our sins and placing our faith in Jesus, our bodies are part of God’s redemptive plan, too. The sacred/secular divide denies the glorious truth that our entire being/existence is under the lordship of Jesus. And since all things under the heaven are God’s, all things not explicitly forbidden in the Bible can and should be enjoyed by Christians for the glory of God.[3]

By way of illustration, I’m going to conclude with an anecdote. Every Friday evening, my wife and I host one of our church’s community groups. We generally meet at 6:30 for a dinner which is followed by a discussion of the previous Sunday’s sermon and then close with a time of praise, thanksgiving, and supplication in and through prayer. By God’s grace, it’s an encouraging and edifying time for the group, both in the opportunity to reflect on God’s Word and communal prayer and in the fellowship. Even in that structure, there’s not really a hierarchy. However, when we’re called to glorify God by discussing the sermon (Bible) and prayer, it would be sinful, I believe, for the group to slough off that time for the sake of fellowship. Likewise, foregoing dinner/fellowship in order to spend more time in Bible study and prayer would not normally be a good and right thing to do.[4]

This Friday, however, our community group is foregoing our usual schedule in order to throw a going away party for one of our sisters in Christ whom most of us are never going to see again after this weekend until King Jesus returns. The false sacred/secular divide states that our final community group with our sister would be best spent in Bible study. I disagree. I believe that the most edifying thing that we can do this Friday evening is to throw a party complete with feasting, drinking, music, laughter, and the making of memories.

Upon the return of King Jesus, those who are his will enter into our King’s feast “at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11).” On that final day, we will eat food as God intended food to be eaten; we will enjoy fellowship with Him and the saints as God intended fellowship to be enjoyed; and we will party the way God intended for us to party. Our going away party isn’t so much a goodbye party as it is a reminder of our unity in Christ, a celebration of God’s good gifts, and a reminder that our party is not a final goodbye because we will pick the party back up once our King arrives, only the eschatological party will make our Friday party look boring. With an understanding of how sin limits both our body and soul, this Friday in community group, we are going to do our best to remind ourselves that our redemption is holistic, for the whole of man, body and soul.

Furthermore, our party will not conclude on Friday. Beyond the already mentioned eschatological aspect of the party, the Christian life is not a series of one-off events; history, including our personal history, is going somewhere and, hence, connected. This weekend, Lord willing, we will continue the party on Sunday with another party, of sorts. We will transition from the good and right physical feasting to a spiritual feasting around the Word of God. That, too, serves as a reminder that there is coming a day when we will feast on God’s words in His very presence.

Now, for the record, my use of the word “reminder” in the previous two paragraphs is not alluding to some type of Platonic cave where our efforts and activities are merely shadows on the wall. Allowing Plato’s cave imagery and concept into our thinking as Christians helps create the false divide between the sacred and the secular. That gnostic-leaning, at the least, concept denies the lordship of Jesus over everything, including the physical/material. And it overemphasizes the brokenness of the physical/material while unduly elevating the “spiritual,” in an anthropological sense, to a point of idolatry. While our party may be a reminder of the final and complete blessings that are coming to God’s children in and through Christ; by God’s grace, our party will also be a substantive rehearsing of the lordship of Jesus over our entire being, including the material.

Knowing how to best spend our time and resources to the glory of God takes wisdom and discernment, and all of us are going to fumble the decision from time to time. Thankfully, God’s grace is sufficient even for those moments that we “wasted.” Remember, God is bringing His children safely home through the power of the Holy Spirit. Seeking counsel from brothers and sisters in Christ that are spiritually mature is always advisable. Humbly submitting ourselves to the lordship of Jesus over our entire life is a must for Christians. Eat, drink, party, study the Bible, pray, mow your lawn, watch TV, enjoy fellowship with fellow Believers in full faith to the glory of God.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 1973), 14.

[2] For one thing, material pleasures enjoyed to the glory of God “feeds the soul,” too.

[3] Adding a caveat to the “should” – time and place will have something to say about this. The entire world is broken, and sin affects all aspects, remember. Part of the curse of sin means that there are often obstacles blocking our ability to enjoy God’s good gifts. For example, after the Fall the good call to labor has become tedious, stressful, and, at times, painful. Providing for our subsistence means that there are times when partying is not the right thing to do. Likewise, because of sin, many, if not all, things must be enjoyed in moderation. I enjoy beer to the glory of God, but there’s a point when that enjoyment crosses into sin. In concert with Bible study, prayer, and counsel from our church family, we need to be honest about the “should” and whether or not we “shouldn’t.”

[4] There are going to be times and circumstances that demand a hierarchy. For example, we recently spent the majority of our time together in community group in prayer for some of our members who are being called to go through a period of intense suffering. That evening, I believed that the most valuable use of our time was prayer.


One thought on “The Sacred VS. the Secular: Having a Party Instead of a Bible Study

  1. I agree there should be no separation of the sacred and secular. Apart from evil, all is sacred. Christians can and should have fun together, which is sacred fellowshipping which edifies others and glorifies the Father. That being said, when we walk away from any gathering of Christians — whether we prayed, read the Bible, or worshipped together — we should be “changed people” (for the positive), transforming into the likeness of Jesus. Our school’s campus pastor wisely pointed out to me this year that we can walk away from really good structured Bible studies, “feel good” about the experiences, and not change one iota. Thanks for addressing this important topic, John. Happy Memorial Day Weekend!


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