My first exposure to “dualism” was in my favorite movie of all time—Star Wars! You know what I’m talking about. The dualism of Star Wars is the dualism of light and dark, good and evil.
Dualism is a fancy word that basically means, “There are two things and the two things are different.” If you look up dualism on Dictionary.com, you’ll find this definition: “The state of being dual or consisting of two parts; division into two.” You might hear people talk about the dualism between mind and body; or spirit and matter; or good and evil. Or the Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force!
There is a specific kind of dualism that emerged during the Christendom era that has gotten in the way of the church’s mission. It’s not the dualism between good and evil or light and dark. I’m talking about the dualism of the secular and the sacred.
The Dualism of the Christendom Era
As mentioned in an earlier post, in Christendom everyone is assumed to be a Christian. As a result, the sacred/secular dualism was expressed in the division between “ordinary” Christians and “special” or “professional” Christians. Special Christians were those who were engaged in “full-time” or “professional” ministry—pastors, priests, monks, nuns, missionaries, and so forth.
But not everyone can be special, right? You’ve got to have some ordinary Christians in order for the special Christians to be special. So everyone else—everyone who was not engaged in “full-time” ministry—was considered ordinary.
Two kinds of Christians: special and ordinary. Special Christians worked for God. Ordinary Christians worked as farmers, blacksmiths, lawyers, merchants, etc.
Sacred/Secular Dualism Today
In many churches today, the sacred/secular divide continues. Congregants think of their role like this: show up to church, volunteer every now and then, and perhaps give financially to support the church’s ministry. But the ministry of the church is not their responsibility. After all, they work in the secular world. The church’s ministry is the job of the church staff. It’s the pastors who proclaim the gospel, conduct pastoral care, do evangelism, and provide for Christian education.
And what about missions? That certainly is not the “ordinary” Christian’s job; that’s the missionary’s job. Or the mission pastor’s job. At most, the only responsibility of the “ordinary” Christian is to go on an annual short-term mission trip. Or to donate financially to support those who do.
Dualism Destroys the Church’s Mission
Can you see why this dualism creates a problem for the church? It keeps the church from being the missional people we were meant to be. We end up with 1) “professional” Christians who are paid to carry out the mission of the church and live their lives in the realm of the “sacred,” and 2) “ordinary” Christians who show up for church, but live most of their lives in the realm of the “secular.”
In the end, the mission of Jesus loses out. Why? Because only a few of his people are actually working to fulfill his mission.
If we are to carry out God’s mission by bringing healing and wholeness to the entire world, if the church is going to incarnate Gods love to the world so that the world will flourish as God intends, then we must work to destroy the dualism of the sacred and the secular.