One of the best remembered quotation in the movie Amazing Grace was when Wilberforce confronted his newfound group of friends, some later to be known as, in sarcastic manner at first, the Clapham sect. He told them, at dinner table (what amazing thing happened at makan time!), his dilemma about going into pastorals or continuing in politics. Bear in mind that Wilberforce had been a Member of Parliament in the House of Common since he was 21 years old! – compare that to Dato Seri Najib who won the pekan seat (uncontested) at 23 years old and YB Fong Po Kuan, the who was elected to the Batu Gajah seat at 26.
But anyway, Wilberforce, having converted into evangelicalism was seriously contemplating about what we’ll say as “giving up his job to go into fulltime ministry”, i.e. leaving politics to go into pastoral ministry.
One of his Clapham saints, a lady, told him in a very sure tone, “We humbly suggest that you can do both”.
How when we today began to dichotomize between a secular and sacred life is actually thinking backwards, in regress back from Wilberforce into the neoplatonic thought which poisoned the Well of the Christian religion since St. Augustine drank from it.
The god of the Bible is not the god of Plato or Plotinus, I mean he is at least not the sort of god propounded by both great Greek philosophers. The Biblical god is the meticulous and loving Creator of the whole cosmos, who both concieved and made the world, matter spirit and all, from none. And human beings, the acme of god’s Creation were to be the little mirrors reflecting his sacred image and role both in the interaction with one another and with the wider world of nature. The truth is, Creation was not a profane thing, matter was not evil, but the joy of an outburst of love from the Creator. The body, flesh, is not evil, it is not the prison of the soul (as taught by Greek and Buddhist philosophy), but the would-be temple of god himself.
I believe the Incarnation is not merely what we traditionally believe as god becoming man because that is the only way he could be understood by us. Rather, I believe it was god identifying with us – with all the reality of being material, of being creature, of being human. And I really do not think god was despising material nor found it too obscene to be used as the vehicle for his ultimate revelation – The Word became Flesh.
The oft quoted and unfortunately oft misinterpreted words of Jesus, “My Kingdom is not of this world” has paralyzed centuries of Christians to have nothing to do with the so called “secular world” which is deemed to be evil and belonging to the devil. We are contended to operate within the Church, seeing life on earth as a journey to heaven, and while here trying to do away as much as possible “the things of this world”. I remember overhearing a conversations of a group of elderly Christians, one whom remarked to the others, “Good for you that you are retired, now you can plant your legs firmly in the kingdom of god. I still have one leg in the world and one leg in the church”.
That was in contrast to a dear friend, also an elderly christian, Mr. LT Jeyachandran, currently heading the Ravi Zacharias Intl Ministry in Asia who when invited to speak, refused to be introduced as “he worked for 30 years in the public service in India and then gave up his life to serve the Lord full time”. He commented that it was as if 30 years of life were in vain when working with the Government of India (he rose to the rank of Chief Engineer before retirement). To him, serving the Lord could be while working under the Government of India or as a Bible teacher in RZIM Asia, they are one and the same in terms of the demand of obedience to god.
I believe we live in a generation where it is crucial to reclaim the biblical vision of Lord Wilberforce and that of Bro. L.T., that it is a fake and unnecessary dichotomy to separate the sacred and secular in our life. God demands all the segments. And we are called into serving him not more effectively or more powerfully when working as a full time worker in the Church or Christian organization, but on equal footing of utter conviction to play the role of ambassadors of the King of Justice and Righteousness in all areas of life, whether in politics, economics, academics, business, finance, everything.
When we give up serving god within what popularly understood as “secular world”, we are in effect abdicating from our role to proclaim and effect the reconciliation which Christ has birthed forth through his death (Col 1:20). Christ has reconcilled the world, the whole world to god through his blood, we need to ensure that is worked out within our lives and into the lives of others around us. We are called to be the co-groaners with the Creation where it is in pain the most. And rest be assured that even as we groaned with the rest of god’s good earth, he is there with us, not as a silent observer from the high throne of heaven, but in all sorts of strange and mysterious manner, as the compassionate Spirit groaning with us and through us (Roms 8:22-26).