The Discussion of Sacred or Secular

Jimi Williams —  May 31, 2013

The Discussion of Sacred or Secular

I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between sacred and secular. Christians love to put things into neat little boxes. I think this somehow gives us a sense of security and sureness that we are living our lives correctly.

With music, art or books we try especially hard to place each person’s creative work into the proper category. Of course, to do this we need rules – lots of rules. Here are some examples:

  • If you sing about Jesus, then you are a “Christian artist”
  • If your book is sold in Lifeway, then you are a “Christian author”
  • If your CD does not mention Jesus or God or isn’t performed by a “Christian artist” (see definition above), then it’s “secular” music
  • If your art doesn’t include a cross, a depiction of Jesus or some other religious symbol, then it’s “secular”
  • If you sing music on Sunday morning at church, you have a “sacred” job, but if you sing music on Friday night at a local pub, you have a “secular” job.

The problem with our rules is that they are based on our own ideas and change over time. I remember 20 years ago all the outcry over drums in a worship service because “drums were secular and therefore of the devil!” I also remember the outcry against Jars of Clay when the song, “Flood” crossed over and took off at mainstream radio and a bunch of unsaved people started coming to their shows. Oh no!

Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The earth and all its people belong to him.”

If everything belongs to God, who are we to say what is not sacred? God says,”I made that. It’s for my glory. Therefore, it is sacred to me.” What if there was just one category and we viewed life as if everything was sacred? How would this affect the way we did business, the way we treated our lost neighbor or the way we appreciated someone’s creative work?

Jimi Williams

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Jimi is VP of Worship Resources for Capitol CMG Publishing, overseeing all Worship Together initiatives and resources. He also leads worship at his home church and at various events and conferences.

20 responses to The Discussion of Sacred or Secular

  1. If you want to reach Spanish speaking people, you aren’t going to do it by speaking French. I am constantly amazed at how God uses many different ways to speak to people who are not yet fluent in “Christian”. If you think God doesn’t use “secular” artists & songs, you may want to listen to:
    U2’s, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, or “Where the Streets Have No Name” (especially after you read Bono’s explanation of the song)
    Katy Perry’s “Firework”
    Black Eyed Pea’s “Where Is The Love?”
    John Mayer’s “Why Georgia” (a cry for us to help the lost twenty-somethings that many churches are doing a poor job of reaching)
    Martina McBride’s “Wild Angels”
    Sheryl Crowe’s “Light In Your Eyes”
    Whitney Houston’s “I Look To You”

    Certainly none of these are classified as Christian artists. But God has clearly used them to get His message out. And their songs can be an effective way to get that message across in a worship service, especially if you have people in your church who are still learning “Christian”.

  2. Well, all I can do is share how the Lord spoke to me when he called me to be a minister of music. The scriptures the Holy Spirit showed me were as follows:
    10Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
    (James 3:11 – 12)
    11Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
    12Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
    I can’t fill my spirit with secular music and Christian music and then expect to minister the truth or pure water of Christ when what is inside my spirit is mixed up. Music is spiritual, very spiritual. Consider the Biblical fact that Satan was the chief musician in Heaven and when he was cast down, his main source of influence is the music God gave him. Being perverted he perverts the music and the words and that influences our spirit. I loved rock and pop music and had a massive collection but when God called me to play guitar and sing for him, I had to put those away. The mixed messages caused confusion in me and would cause confusion to those I would be ministering to. I think we are afraid of giving up anything for God, but the styles are what we can keep, but the message needs to change. Would you listen to a preacher who smoked dope and drank on Friday nights and then stood in the pulpit to preach to you about being Holy. Your talents belong to God and he doesn’t need to borrow from the world to save the lost and keep his sheep. We cannot serve two masters: choose because you love God with all you are.

  3. I think that you have a point, but you’ve missed a bit. I can truly empathize when it comes to the artist part of things. I have yet to find a Christian plumber or Christian landscaper. It’s seems a bit unfair that if you sell cars or are in the military nobody says anything but if you’re an artist or a musician or a writer suddenly everything you do needs to have a picture of Jesus or words about God in it.

    However, God clearly endorses the concept of sacred. He told Moses to take off his shoes because he [Moses] was standing on holy ground. Well? God made the ground that wasn’t holy too, but he definitely identified the area where Moses was standing as sacred (i.e. set apart).

    I think that something that needs to be addressed is the instant condemnation of anything that isn’t expressly labeled Christian. That’s the problem that I see. If you’re a Christian and an artist, but your art doesn’t have an explicitly religious theme to it, then you’re viewed with suspect. It would be nice to expand this to other realms, but the truth is that this conversation is only particularly salient when you’re talking about artists (and very salient when talking about musicians). And there is great art out there that isn’t expressly Christian. Has anyone seen the painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch? It’s an AMAZING work (at least if you ask me). And that’s saying something because for the most part I think of paintings as nice things to look at while I wait for the dentist. But that one speaks to me. It IS great. But if Edvard were to go one of our American churches, you can bet that he would have been asked at least once (Why don’t you use your talents for God?) And what is that? What exactly does that mean? And THAT is where I think you should focus your discussion.

    • James, I think the point you make is exactly the point Jimi was making as well. He just said it differently. Good summary! Thanks for bringing your perspective to the conversation.

  4. Proverbs 14:12
    12 There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.
    Matthew 6:24
    24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

    I do not believe secular music is inherently evil, but it has no place in worship because worship is worship, not feel-good time. We are there to magnify God, not the band.

  5. The best way you can tell the difference between ‘Sacred’ and ‘Secular’ is simple. You can tell when a song is centered on God based on its lyrical impact. And Secular songs are centered on the beat or music. And thats for the majority true, there might be some that dont fall into this example of mine, but the majority of songs do. Also, there are countless Christ centered songs I’ve heard that dont mention the word(s) God, Christ, Jesus, cross but we could tell who is the song is focused on. A good example is the song “starts with me” by Tim Timmons and countless others.
    About the art not having religious symbols, i don’t agree. As an artist our work needs to capture the observers’ attention (many times by being totally different and not conforming to certain limits) in order for our work to reach different types of people. The list above needs to be revised -_-

  6. There is no simple dichotomy or distinction between secular and sacred. Artists could mention Jesus and teach anti-biblical lies in their music or you could have music that doesn’t mention Jesus but preaches the gospel as Christ preached it or teaches us how to live as Christ taught us how to live. Discernment is key for every song from every artist. Relying on general categorizations may just be a way to let your spiritual guard down. Compare what you hear with scripture and things that don’t match up with it put far from you. That of course assumes you are familiar with scripture. So, if you are asking the question “sacred versus secular” and want somebody else to do the categorization so that you don’t have to read your bible and have a relationship with Christ then you really aren’t following Christ anyways. Be careful. Take the hard road. The road to hell is the easy one with simple decisions and little to no spiritual wrestling. Christ’s path is uphill and requires the holy spirit, our comforter and guide, to navigate and empower us to walk it. “My sheep know my voice” Jesus said. Be his sheep, know his voice and through hearing his message in the music you’ll know if it came from Him.

  7. I totally agree with this post. Nothing that God made is inherently evil – what makes it evil is what we as people do with it. So for goodness’ sakes people! As worship leaders can we find a way to turn things around for God’s glory?

  8. I agree with Ken. What we listen to and what we see do affect and influence our lives. mind you, most of the secular artists are possessed by the devil (as many are satanists) and therefore project devil agenda through their music and art. That’s why most of their music and movies or art are full of violence, immorality, drugs, lust and money. Why would a Christian accept such, except if such a Christian does not know his standing. and moreso, no matter your level of faith, you could actually be destroying weak minds instead of strengthening them. Let’s not allow the devil to destroy us by making us see everything as good. EVERYTHING IS NOT GOOD IN THIS WORLD

  9. This post-modernist argument sounds great, but Psalm 24:1 is only one dimension to worship. Consider Genesis 4 – there are certain types of worship which are acceptable to God. John 4:23 speaks of a time when “true” worship will be expected, not necessarily what is sold at Lifeway or has the label “Christian” in front of it. – John 16:13

  10. What an exceptionally easy and simple way to look at things. Life is challenging enough without our trying to label and compartmentalize things further. Thanks for this refreshing point of view.

  11. So let’s see, if this was the case then songs like AC/DCs “Highway to hell” is sacred? Books like the satanic bible are sacred? Movies and songs about sexual immorality are sacred?
    And these glorify The Lord? I don’t think so.
    Look we must remember and understand that we are sacred because of faith in Christ Jesus.
    Because of that we must honor him in everything we do and say. That requires the wisdom to know what is safe and what is not.
    We only know what that is by the Word of God so we must trust that and OBEY it.
    If the younger brothers and sisters see you doing something that is a weakness to them (like going into a bar or pub) then they will justify it by your actions and end up in sin being weaker than you.
    We are held to a much higher standard than the “secular” realm. We are teachers whether we like it or not and receive a stricter judgment in the end.
    We must be careful with our liberty and not use it for an occasion to sin or causing one weaker to stumble in sin. Sin is not sacred.
    I personally do not listen to secular radio because I am a song writer and that noise affects my spirit, mind and over all my writing. It is the old adage “Garbage in garbage out.”
    We are admonished to walk by the spirit and by that we won’t fulfill the desires of the flesh, and the things of the flesh are evident.
    There are several scripture passages that tell us to avoid such things and avoid certain people so be careful of how you conduct yourself in sight of others.
    We represent The King of kings, what they see in us is what they will think of Him.

  12. If it helps get the message across, why can’t I use any music, movie clip, etc. in service?

  13. AMEN JIMI !!!! Thanks for posting this.

  14. I have just been reading about this in a book called “Diverse Worship” (Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid). One thing he points out is that this division between “sacred” and “secular” isn’t really even a Christian thing – just a Western culture thing.
    We could learn a lot from our brothers in sisters in Christ from the African-American churches or those in the Middle East, who make no such distinction. Our faith involves all of life and all of life is part of how we express our faith. And the more I think about it, the more I think that is actually a more Biblical approach. Sure there are parts of the world that are in opposition to God, but instead of hiding away from them, our calling is to bring transformation to these areas. I think this is what Jesus meant when He was referring to the Kingdom of God.

  15. Nice one Jimi. This drives me nuts sometimes, why do we Christians have to box things the way we do?
    As believers, there should be two objectives to everything we do …. (1) glorify God and (2) make disciples. Everything else is style and man-made and the way we outwork these two things differs with all of us and is up to us to figure out.
    Let’s face it, not all “sacred” artists do both of these all that well, and there are artists working in the mainstream arena who do both really well, through the life they live.
    We don’t refer to a plumber, as a “Christian” plumber if he goes to church on Sunday, but if he follows Christ there should be a desire in that plumber to glorify God and point people to God through everything he does.
    Anyway …. nicely put Jimi.

  16. So agree with you Jimi. It took me many years to see this, but we are His creation. I think the enemy of God has done quite a job at blinding us. Its time we look at it all from God’s perspective. Psalm 24:1 says it all.

  17. I love how Jesus takes our little boxes and cuts them to shreds. Whether it’s when he declared all food clean or his discussion with the woman at the well or so many other occasions, he says that the line that divides sacred and holy from the unclean and ungodly is now erased.
    The temple is us, not a fixed place on a mountain; therefore, where we go there goes the presence of God. Funny thing is where we are going we can usually find him waiting there for us too.
    Sure, some things should be avoided by some people but there should never be a static rule set as to what can be labeled sacred or secular. An example of this is that those that have weakness in the area of pornography and lust should probably never go “witnessing” at a porn expo. But, take a look at what XXXChurch is doing. They’ve been given strength to resist temptation in this area and are able to bring Christ’s light in the darkness of that industry. And because they’re found at porn expos I believe that in some strange and divine way that darkness becomes “holy ground” so to speak.
    I realize that’s an extreme example, but the principle can be applied in a variety of ways.

  18. I agree completely. It is so stuck in our heads as Christians that things must be this way that I sometimes catch myself feeling like a sinner listening to mainstream radio (whether country or other types of music). The rational me always wins the same argument you gave!! It is all His and every little piece of it can be used to glorify Him!

  19. Aaaaaaamen!! Thank you for this concise treatment of a topic that is constantly rearing it’s head in my life.