Know Your Challenges (II): Secularization
Based on a sermon by Aun Quek Chin—Singapore
“Do not love the world or the
things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not
in him” (1 Jn 2:15).
The Lord Jesus Christ paid a very
hefty price to save and transform us from a worldly to a holy people. Sadly,
however, many believers today have allowed themselves to be carried away by the
wave of secularization sweeping through the Christian world. It is indeed
tragic to see people reverting from their holy status to a worldly one. So how
can we recognize and protect ourselves against secularization[i]?
SECULARIZATION OF THE GOSPEL
When Christians no longer
esteem a gospel that emphasizes the things of heaven, but prefer one that
focuses on social issues, they have become secularized.
Contemporary theologians have
“The significance of evangelism
today is no longer merely a passive call to repentance. Instead, the new gospel
is about working amongst the poor and active participation in social work. We
must be the voice of the people, and the champion of their rights.”
“The question is not about how
I can find a good God, but about how I can find a good neighbor.”
To these theologians, finding a
Good Samaritan is more important than finding a good church; providing food is
better than giving someone the gospel. To them, the crux of the gospel is no
longer salvation in the kingdom of heaven, but rather things of the world. How
can such a gospel still be the pure gospel of Christ?
The Lord Jesus provides an
excellent example for us in staying focused on the right ultimate goal. When
news of how Jesus had cast out demons and healed the sick spread, many flocked
to Jesus. But what
did Jesus do? He retreated to a solitary place to pray! When the disciples
finally found Him, they exclaimed, “Everyone is looking for you, this is a
fantastic opportunity! This is the time for us to work because everyone needs
you.” Surprisingly, Jesus said, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may
preach there also, because for this purpose I have come.”
The disciples were puzzled: Did
the Lord not realize that many were trying to follow and believe in Him? These
multitudes clearly needed healing and peace, which He could grant. So why was
He not healing them?
In fact, the disciples had failed
to see that Jesus’ miracles were not the ends, but simply the means. The
ultimate purpose of these wonders was to enable people to know and believe that
Jesus is the Savior; that He is God who had come to this world as man in order
to save mankind. Unfortunately, the people only wanted to receive physical
peace and healing, not the gospel of salvation.
Jesus came to save our souls, not
our bodies. He came not to establish a social organization, but the kingdom of
God, i.e., the church, so that we can be saved. Thus, He had to reserve His
energy and time for His key priorities, even if it made Him appear to be lacking
in compassion. Similarly, it is not that Christians are not concerned about
matters in society, for there are many Christians who are involved in social
work. But the main aim of the church is to save souls, and it must stay true to
Some people claim that the
church’s involvement in social work facilitates evangelism. But we must be
careful not to end up drawing people to the baskets of bread rather than Christ. The phenomenal
growth of the apostolic church did not arise from a focus on social work, but
an unflagging reliance on the Holy Spirit. The door of the gospel was opened
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
SECULARIZATION OF THEOLOGY
When Christians no longer place
emphasis on the theology of the cross, but on the theology of success, they
have become secularized.
“For I determined not to know
anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).
Although apostle Paul was more
highly educated than many of his peers, he had come to realize that his great
learning could not bring him (or those around him) forgiveness of sins and
eternal life. So he decided to forego all his previous knowledge, understanding
that Christ is far more precious and important than anything else. Paul preached Jesus
Christ and how He was crucified for our sakes so that we could emulate and
follow Jesus. But what does following Jesus really entail?
“Then Jesus said to his
disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up
their cross and follow me’” (Mt 16:24).
The theology of the cross
emphasizes that we have to suffer with Christ. Even in the face of severe
persecution or great difficulty, we must never give up our faith because it is
a faith that will save for eternity. We must be willing to pay the price and
endure all pain.
However, there are Christian
leaders today who espouse the theology of success, teaching that believers can
use any means – including prayer – to obtain success. They base their claim on
the fact that our God wants us to succeed, not suffer; to enjoy, not endure!
Unfortunately for these Christians, their idea of success and enjoyment is
narrowly rooted in this present life.
For instance, they say that God
created the universe for man’s pleasure. Good health is a prerequisite for
deriving maximum worldly pleasure. Moreover, believers who are physically
unwell would not be glorifying to God. Hence, ailing believers should ask Him
to perform a miracle and heal them so that they can enjoy this world and
glorify Him. Under these types of New-Age theological philosophies, believers
do not pray to ask God to grant them faith and endurance in trials. Instead, they
demand that God take the trials away to enable them to enjoy His material
providence. The emphasis is on miracles, signs and wonders, and healing, not on
endurance or suffering.
It is not wrong to pray to God to
take away the bitter cup of our sickness but we must remember the important
proviso—“nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done”. To be prepared to suffer is not indicative
of a passive or negative faith; instead it reflects an active and steadfast
conviction that God’s way is the best way.
These theologians also believe
that health without wealth is inadequate. Healthy but poor believers cannot
enjoy the world. Poor and poorly dressed believers cannot glorify God. Our
poverty would embarrass God; how can the children of the Lord of the universe
be poorer than those of the world?
And you shall remember the Lord
your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish
His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
The theme of Deuteronomy 8 is
“Remember the LORD your God.” It sets out a range of things to remember the
Lord for, but proponents of Success Theology love to zoom in on this verse.
They believe that since God had promised to make Abraham a great nation, grant
him peace and great wealth, Christians today ought to pray to God to “claim”
this power to be successful in the world.
Prosperity theologians draw many
by preaching that God wants to give us abundant material wealth. Poor
Christians should pray that God gives them the power to earn money. God will
hearken to such prayers because God wants us to be rich and successful. But
does God really want us to be successful in this manner? Is the power of God
manifested in us so that we can gain wealth in this world?
See what Jesus taught through the
parable of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man was clearly more successful.
Every day, he wore purple (designer clothing in those times) and ate
sumptuously. Despite the gluttony, he remained healthy. With all this luxury,
he appears to be the one who truly “glorified” God. In stark contrast, Lazarus
was pathetic. So poor he had to beg and wait for scraps; he could not move on
his own and even had sores all over his body. And the great irony was that the
name Lazarus meant… “God helps”! How had God helped him? According to Success
Theology, Lazarus should be considered an utter failure, the most pitiful man
who enjoyed the least grace in life.
While recounting the parable,
Jesus astonished his listeners with a twist in the tale. After Lazarus died, he
was taken back to Paradise. When the rich man died, he went to Hades. Therein
lies an important lesson from the Lord Jesus—the crux of the gospel is not
worldly success or material blessings! Treasures on earth are as transient and
fragile as a flower. What we should pursue is the imperishable glory. This is
found in heaven and is eternal.
Understanding that we are but
sojourners in this world helps us endure worldly suffering. All things, whether
good or bad, will pass away; we shall pass away. The most critical issue is
what will happen to us after we pass away.
SECULARIZATION OF OUR LIFE
When Christians start to love
the world more than God and emulate the world instead of Christ, their lives
have been secularized.
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do
you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever
therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
We live, work and play in the
world. Naturally, we have many friends in the world. Does that automatically
render us enemies of God?
It is not a sin to conform to
local practices, i.e., “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. However, there are
certain cultures and traditions that are against the teachings of Christ. Being
determined to keep the teachings of Jesus Christ may bring believers into
direct conflict with these practices and the people who practice them. Some
believers are unwilling to sacrifice their ties with their friends and thus
decide to conform to worldly practices that are detrimental to their faith. At
this very instant, such Christians have been secularized in their life. They
have become enemies of Christ.
We remember the church of Philippi
as one that brought Paul much joy. But certain believers made him weep by their blatant lack
of concern with and contravention of the teachings of Christ. Interested solely
in their own bellies, they gave scant thought to whether their actions would
glorify and please God. As long as they felt glorious and satisfied, they were
So we need to keep asking
ourselves: Are our priorities rooted in earthly or in heavenly matters? Is our
aim a comfortable life today or glorious life eternal? Do our lifestyles
radiate secularity or reflect the image of Christ?[iii]
SECULARIZATION OF PRAYER
When we constantly pray for
earthly but not heavenly things, our prayers have been secularized.
Prayer ought to be used to worship
and thank God, to acknowledge our sins and seek forgiveness. It is the channel
for us to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Prayer is actually a
very holy matter. However, it is so simple to pray that we sometimes forget
about how sacred it actually is.
To believers in Old Testamental
times, the sacredness of prayer
was constantly reinforced. They could not directly enter into the sanctuary to
worship God; they could only worship from the outside. Entering was restricted
to the priests. Yet, even the priests could not enter the Holy of Holies. In
the sanctuary, a veil divided the holy place and the Holy of Holies. Only the
high priest was permitted to enter it once a year on the Day of Atonement.
When Jesus Christ died on the
cross for us, the veil was ripped in two. The author of Hebrews tells us that
the Lord Jesus Christ used His blood to tear this veil so that all who believed
in Him and whose sins were cleansed through the blood of Christ could directly
meet God and truly worship Him. Today, we are able to worship God directly,
whenever we kneel down and pray in the name of Jesus.
However, do we treasure this
access to the Almighty? Every time we kneel down and pray, do we believe that
we are worshipping God? Or have we lost the sense of its sacredness as a means
to come into the presence of the Holiest One?
We secularize prayer when we are
no longer awed or grateful for this sacred grace, and treat prayer as a mere
means for us to call for physical blessings because of our pre-occupation with
secular matters and concern for material possessions.
Blessed is the man whose
strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the
Valley of Baca, they make it a spring; the rain also covers it with pools. They
go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
The ancient saints rejoiced when
they could enter the temple to worship God. Although they had to first pass
through the Valley of Baca (Weeping), they did not mind. Any difficulty or
grief they had to bear paled in comparison with the joy of knowing they were
going up the mountain of God to meet God. They rejoiced because God was their
help and they were His people. These people could not even enter the sanctuary
and had to remain outside. Yet they were overflowing with joy and hope.
In contrast, believers today have
direct access to God. This is a precious and sacred grace that we must never
let go of; we must regain our joy of and hope in prayer.
Jesus taught us not to worry over
our food and clothing. In contrast, these are the very reasons why the Gentiles
worship their deities. They seek material blessings. There are also secular
Christians who pray only for earthly things. If they can find some other means
of obtaining material blessing, they are quite prepared to forsake God! We, on
the other hand, know that the heavenly Father will add “all these things” to us—if we keep
ourselves holy and pursue after the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
To reiterate, prayer is our
communication with God – our time to repent and acknowledge sins, look to God,
trust Him and build a closer relationship with Him. Never secularize prayer and
lose such grace.
SECULARIZATION OF THE TEMPLE
Now the Passover of the Jews
was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those
who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When
He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the
sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the
tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not
make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered
that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”
The temple ought to have been a
place of prayer and worship, but had become a place of profit-making! The
sounds of devout prayer had been drowned by the sounds of bargaining, the
bleating of sheep and lowing of oxen. The holy temple was no longer holy. The
holy people had become common people. What should have been an abnormal
scenario had become normalized because of its daily recurrence! They did not
even realize that this temple had already been secularized.
Jesus was usually meek, gentle,
loving and compassionate. He healed the leprous and enabled the lame to walk.
Once, worried that those who had come to listen to His word would be hungry on
the way home, He made bread for them to eat. But in this incident at the
temple, we see a completely different Jesus.
He was furious. He made a whip out
of cords, overturned the tables and rebuked the merchants harshly, “Take all
these things away! How can you turn my Father’s house into a den of thieves?”
Selling such merchandise in the
temple started as a service to facilitate offering. Those coming to Jerusalem
from far-off places would find it much easier to bring money to purchase
sacrificial animals than to drag the animals across hills and vales! However,
behind the seemingly thoughtful attempt to provide convenience was greed and
thievery. The temple priests were in cahoots with the merchants. Priests were
supposed to examine the animal, certify that it was without blemish and thus
suitable for sacrifice. But dishonest priests would keep rejecting the animal
so that the people would be forced to buy another one. In addition, the
pilgrims would also be aggrieved at being forced to pay the higher prices
within the temple ground. This was literally daylight robbery! For this reason,
Jesus said that the covetous priests had turned the house of God into a den of
thieves. There was no justice. Consequently, the people’s joy in worship was
When Jesus took action to cleanse
the temple of these robbers, He was filled with wrath. He did not care how many
people were coming into the temple or to sacrifice. Instead, He wanted to know
how many people were truly happy to worship God, held truly to their faith, and
truly prayed and worshipped with a heart of reverence.
The Bible says that we are the
temple of God. So have our temples become secularized? Have we become a den of
thieves? If Jesus were to come today and see this temple, would He take a whip?
Would He rebuke us and tell us to take all these things away? Jesus has already
warned us. He wants us to cleanse our own temple so that we can draw near to
God to worship Him, in spirit and in truth, in holiness and in reverence.
God Himself gave His life so that
we who were sinners could regain our status as sons of God. Wouldn’t it be a
tragedy if we were to cast aside such amazing grace and marvelous love in favor
of the world’s iridescent but ultimately ephemeral glory?