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04 October 2013

Challenging the sacred/secular divide.

Challenging the sacred/secular divide.

This week has seen a Church of England-backed consortium seal a deal to buy a segment of bank branches from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) under the name Williams and Glyn’s. In taking a 10 per cent stake, the Church of England will have the right to nominate a director to the board who will be charged with ensuring the new bank conducts itself ethically. And 'ethics' is most certainly needed in an industry dogged by malpractice and at a time when many are struggling to pay for essentials like food and feeling forced to turn to payday lenders.

We need change but who is going to initiate that change? As Christians, we know that staying on the sidelines is not an option if we want to see transformation. Sadly many of us may have adopted a Christianity that tells us that God is interested in what we describe as sacred, but not what we define as secular. By deciding to get into bed with RBS, the Church of England is blurring the lines between the sacred and secular.

We have to put aside the sacred/secular divide and brave the discomfort of bringing Jesus into every aspect of our lives and society. Developing a ‘theology of work’ is an important part of tackling this divide.

A Conservative conference speech by George Osborne revealed plans for a new Help to Work scheme to tackle long-term unemployment. Is it not high time that the Church also put work high on its agenda? The workplace is where many of us spend most of our time and it is a place God has called His children to make a difference.

Do we celebrate a promotion in a school or law firm as much as we would a newly-ordained church leader? A shop assistant, who prays daily for customers and colleagues, is also in a vital ministry.

It is great to hear some churches giving regular space during a service to hear testimonies of people making a difference in their place of employment. After all, aren’t these the missionaries of the modern day?

Working faithfully? is a brand new insightful report by the Evangelical Alliance that provides a snapshot of evangelicals' experiences of working life. It reveals that Christians are involved in significant working roles and have a strong sense of vocation.

Importantly, the report gives the Church an opportunity to reflect on its mission and the potential for us to make a difference in our work spheres.

Yet many churches offer minimal biblical and practical teaching on what it means to be a Christian in the workplace. Only 54 per cent in the survey felt their church helped people apply biblical teaching in the context of their workplace.

As long ago as 1945, the report Towards the Conversion of England concluded: “We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities for evangelism daily afforded by their various occupations, crafts and professions.”

These words remind us that the Church needs to get practical and put work high on the agenda. Rather than relegating faith to ‘private life’ Christians have opportunities to offer a different worldview, lead colleagues to Christ and bring the Kingdom mentality into the boardroom or classroom.

May the Church of England’s decision to engage with banking inspire us all to fulfil
our calling wherever God has placed us.

Manoj Raithathais the national co-ordinator of the South Asian Forum and co-author of Building the Kingdom Through Business: A missionary strategy for the 21st century world 

Working faithfully? is the latest Evangelical Alliance report in the 21st Century Evangelicals series