There is a holy tension that happens within the Christian tradition; depending on the denomination or the community, that tension is often stronger on one side than the other. This holy tension is the balance that we hold between the sacred (Godly, heavenly) and the profane (Worldly).
Some traditions fight the profane world, drawing back into holy traditions designed to separate themselves from the world and make their lives solely focused on God. We see this in some monastic traditions, but more evidently in American society through the Amish communities in the east and some of the “commune” traditions, even the Puritans at the founding of this country.
There is something to be said for living a “Godly” separate life. The focus and order can bring comfort as well as bring understanding and focus for a life. The problem that infects the ascetic life is that no matter how much we try and remove ourselves from the world we cannot avoid the world. Just think how the invention of the printing press affected the monastic life; no longer were they needed to copy the Bible, and over many years, well, you know.
Conversely, we know the problems that arise from the profane world.
I need not go into that, other than to point out that there are humanistic religions that promote how we live in the world. I would challenge you from thinking that those who live a purely profane life are any different then those who live a purely Godly life. I am not talking about egotistical folk, I’m talking about people who believe that all that ills of the world can be cured through humanistic means.
The problem that we find is that to live in one, devoid of the other, is to live unbalanced. I often say that one of the important markers of the protestant reformation and especially the reformed movement is the understanding that we have one foot in the sacred world and one foot in the profane, and we had to constantly shift our balance within the two.
This is often what makes things hard for us as a church, since we are forever trying to struggle and discern where God is calling us to be and where God needs us to go. In fact, it is also why some things that seem so easy for other traditions are so hard for us. In a profane tradition, the answers are somewhat easy we can arrive at them through seeing what “feels right” or using tools like moral relativism, otherwise known as letting people hear what they want. The same is true of the ascetic or Godly traditions that can give a quick answer based on tradition or rote understanding. Again, the problem is that in an ever-changing world, the rote answer does not always fit the question or even help people find a deeper faithfulness.
For us, planted in both the sacred and the profane worlds, we struggle to find what is right. Interestingly, often when we allow ourselves to struggle, we often find that the answers, though they may not fully respond to the initial question, are far more complete than we would find otherwise. For me, one of the greatest examples of this is Jack Rogers, who was asked by the pastor of the church where he was attending to lead a class teaching the con side of the homosexuality debate.
As a strong evangelical, the pastor thought he was in safe hands. So Jack and an elder put together a class (almost 15 years ago now) to discuss the issues around homosexuality and the church. Jack, who was “opposed” to homosexuality in the church in any way, came to listen and understand the issue from another side. This informed him as he listened to the openly gay elder and began to discern where God might be speaking in this issue. Let’s just say Jack lost a lot of friends when he changed his positions, but Jack realized mostly that he understood the issue from a position that did not take into account the world, the needs of God’s children, and mostly the understanding that the issues in the Bible surrounding sexuality are very different than what we have in the world today. You can read more in Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Revised and Expanded Edition: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church by Jack Rogers.
You see, when we open ourselves up, we begin to see and understand things better. I know that I will never fully come to understandings on many issues, but I know that God still speaks, so we need to take the time to discern. I know that through discernment, God always shows us the hope we need to live balanced between faithfulness to God and communal life in this world.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen