Blog - Embodying Truth

Separation of Church and Work

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

We’ve all heard the words, "separation of church and state.” Many seem to think the American founding fathers wrote the phrase into the Constitution. Thinking that way is not only wrong, it’s harmful. The separation of church and work is also wrong—and also harmful.

The wrong began centuries ago with the split-up between church and work. As the children of that divorce, we live with lingo that reinforces the separation. We’ve been divided into "clergy” and "laity” classes. Our work is either "sacred” or "secular” (which the online Oxford Dictionary defines as having "no religious or spiritual basis). A tiny few of us are in "full-time service,” leaving the rest, if they want their service to count, to do it on evenings and weekends. Although "ministry” in the New Testament means "serving,” now you enter it only by leaving your ordinary job to go on the payroll of a church or mission board.

The harm is that church seems to have less and less to do with life as most people live it. And the separation plays right into the world’s agenda for the church. In the movie, Expelled, biology professor P. Z. Meyers describes the wedge he’d like to drive between Sunday and Monday:

" some people comfort, and we don't want to take it away from them. It's like knitting. People like to knit. We're not going to take their knitting needles away; we're not going to take away their churches. But what we have to do is get it to a place where religion is treated at the level it should be treated. That is, something fun that people get together and do on the weekend and really doesn't affect their life as much as it has been so far.” To hear him say these words himself, go to:

More than 60 years ago, J. H. Oldham called for a "re-uniting of Christian faith with actual life as it has to be lived by those in secular occupations.” He said, "A larger place needs to be found in public worship for the matters which exercise the minds of most worshippers.” Without that larger place, church members are "in danger of looking on the activities of . . . daily business as lying outside the religious sphere and as of little significance in the eyes of God” (Work in Modern Society).

We Christ-followers rightly struggle against the separation of church and state. Why? Because Jesus sent us into the world as his light-bearers. Why, then, do we raise so little objection to the practices that separate church and work? After all, it’s in our workplaces—not our church buildings—that the world can take its longest and hardest look at us.

Comments (4)

David Rupert (8/22/2012 8:03:35 AM)
Larry, another thoughtful piece about why we don't make the connection between our faith and our work.
I love how you connected the separation of church and state -- our horror at the excess -- and the separation of church from our worklife.
Henry Paasonen (8/23/2012 6:07:22 AM)
Should "church" and "work" be "separated"? What a false choice. If by "church" we mean the "body" of regenerated men and women in Christ, then of course "separation" can be seen to quarantine and categorize their lives by a sort of social and spiritual lobotomization. However, if by "church" we mean the organizational body and polity structure of that "body", then sure "separation" from our work in the daily world is recommended. Certainly, we don't want to use the Sunday pulpit or Sunday school or church budget for proclamation of whether we should work for Republicans or for Democrats. We do well to be clear what is "church", and to what extend "church" relates to the presence, purpose and power of the Kingdom of God in the world. Isn't it time for us, as followers of Christ, to go on beyond our repetitive discussion of "church" and "work", and to go into practical strategies and contextual action for being who we are in the world -- that is, "salt"? Why not go on beyond constant motivational messages, and go into actual strategic mobilization and situational methods, with salty tool kits, for being effective with the gospel in the workplace, in the world community, in the world mission of the church? Why not go on from the massaging of concepts, and go into the dynamics of a movement which actually multiplies men and women equipped to be saints salty in the city?
Oladotun Reju (8/8/2012 10:03:35 PM)
Good piece Larry. The African culture has a way of connecting people with their vocations. You don't have to ask someone's vocation once you know the family name - To try to separate our work life from our church life is like fragmenting our personality. This is the ancient landmark that we must do all not to remove
Le Thi Le Hoa (8/8/2012 6:05:43 PM)
Thank you so much, Dr. Larry Pearbody for your insights. Yes, I understand the Vietnamese church is so difficult to accept this concept It is my great concern but I am praying to God for His leading and guiding me following His will for the Vietnamese people in the future. Thanks again.

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