Secular Saints

“Secular saints” would seem to be a contradiction of terms, and in some ways it really is.  The dictionary says that the word secular means “of this world, temporal”; and is distinguished from the “sacred”. A “saint” is one who had been declared righteous by God because, and only because, faith has been placed in Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior. But what is a secular saint?

Recently I heard an amazing statistic which stated that when church attenders were asked if they had conversations at home, during the week about the Lord and about His Word, 90% said they did not. Now, I cannot vouch that this was a “scientifically done” survey, but even if it was not of that caliber, it likely does reveal a lot of truth. Sunday mornings is apparently for church and religious activity (it is good for a well-rounded life as one millennial observed), but starting at around noon on Sunday, the Lord is not an integral part of life. So it would appear that many are saintly on Sunday mornings and secular the rest of the week. I read an article recently from the Colson Center in which the author noted that the real issue today for Christians is not atheism, but rather apatheism (apathy about God). This unfamiliar term is what a French philosopher reflected when he stated that “to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.” While Christians would say they don’t agree with such a sentiment, the problem is they essentially do. A seminary professor observed that so many in the church today simply don’t see theology and the practical out-workings of theology as something worth their time and energy. They basically don’t care. God is nicely compartmentalized and plays an insignificant role for most of the week.

The Bible has a word which describes the current secularization of believers, and it is the word “ungodly.”  We should note a distinction between “ungodly” and “unrighteous”. While these words are often found together, and overlap, there is a distinction to be noted. “Unrighteousness” focuses on the violating of divine law. There is a standard which God, the great Lawgiver, has established, and breaking His laws are acts of unrighteousness. “Ungodly” looks at marginalizing God in our lives, not a denial of His existence. When the 90% say that God and His Word are not talked about, this is the essence of ungodliness.  God is pushed to the outer edges of life but He is not an integral part of life (until, or course, a crisis happens). Obviously when one is ungodly, there is most likely a lot of unrighteousness there as well. Most secular saints have some feel for what is unrighteous and try and avoid some of the more obvious sins of the flesh. But they (to use Jesus’ term) do not “abide” in Christ on a daily basis. And Jesus was pretty clear, in John 15:1-11, that we need to maintain a close, daily, intimate relationship with Him; that is the core of being “godly”. According to Jesus, “abiding” brings glory to God, and that causes joy and real meaning to flow into our lives. Not to abide will always produce lives which lack real joy, lack the sense of fulfillment and God’s blessing. It is not that God ceases to love His children when they don’t “abide”, but His love is seen more particularly in that He disciplines them (see Heb. 12:3-13). 

How did we get to this place in the church, and what are we to do? The secular saint is the norm today and not the exception. Believers are sounding much like the “world”, reflecting its standards (see 1 John 2:15-17 for the apostles classic warning about the world—the secular).

Much of the blame for the current secularization of the church lies squarely at the feet of church leaders, especially those who are required by Christ to feed His sheep with the nourishing Word of God. The trend started in the 1970s but is full blown today. Bible doctrine and God’s standards are not really taught in most churches. Gone from most pulpits is expositional teaching of the Bible (just declaring in context what the Scriptures are saying). Being in the ministry myself, I have seen many too many men who simply do not feed their sheep. What passes for a biblical sermon is often not much more than religious entertainment.

  Many, in an attempt to help the unsaved person feel unthreatened and “at home” in the church, have backed off of declaring the whole teaching of the Scriptures. Gone are sermons on the tough sayings of Jesus, on hell and coming judgment, on the sanctity of God-ordained matters like life and marriage and many other “controversial” topics. Jan Markell noted in a recent article on “What Happened to My Church?” that “It seems like an ‘eleventh commandment’ came into the church: thou shalt not offend. Taking a stand was clearly over.” 

The result of “sermon lite” (tastes great, less filling) is that the saints suffer a terrible of lack of scriptural knowledge and spiritual discernment. Biblical illiteracy is rampant. They do not really know the character of God and they do not understand His standards. They apparently assume that God is an American; and He is not. Like a good parent, God’s love does not waver, but His favor does.

There is great blame to be given to the church, but each and every believer must personally obey Christ and daily have the wonderful experience of abiding in Jesus. Otherwise, being ungodly as well as unrighteous will always be the result. A believer cannot blame Pastor Jones entirely, for each of us is to be “abiding in Christ.” Am I ungodly (secular)? Are you ungodly (secular)? This is not a trivial question, but goes to the very core of our lives as believers.