How the Sacred-Secular Divide Influences Attitudes to Business in Europe and Africa

We asked people engaged with BAM around the world to share how they see the sacred-secular divide affecting thinking in the Church in their country – and how this influences engagement of Christians the business sphere.

Perspectives from Europe and Africa

Patrick Kuwana – South Africa

In South Africa there is a church on almost every street in residential areas (especially the poorer township areas) and in fact in some areas it’s two to three in the same street. The latest statistics show that around 80% of the population profess to be Christians and yet South Africa is listed 67th on a list of 175 countries/territories on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (number one being the least corrupt). South Africa has also been listed as one of the countries with the highest Gini co-efficient (which measures the gap between the rich and the poor) meaning that economic inequality is at staggering levels and continuing to grow and is causing great racial division due the historical legacy of apartheid. This economic inequality is fuelling the high crime rate.

So why would a nation that claims to be 80% Christian have this prevailing situation that more resembles the fruit of darkness in society? It is because most of the 80% claiming to be followers of Christ have compartmentalized their Christianity into a ‘church box’ and have left their ‘business and workplace box’ void of the principles and practices they adhere to while in the ‘church box’. The missing link is that there is a huge void in understanding that God’s statutes and ways are the foundation of every area of life and hence we see almost no biblical influence in determining the culture of business and the overall structure of the economy. For as long as business and the framework of the economy are operated by unbiblical principles we will continue to see churches mushrooming all over South Africa and across the African continent and yet see very little positive socio-economic impact as a result.

The Bible is the most relevant economics and business manual anyone can invest in – but for as long we who claim to be Christians don’t realise this and remain in our ‘church boxes’ we will never see the change that God as entrusted to us to bring about in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

Gea Gort – The Netherlands

Dualistic thinking has a long history in Europe. It seems that the Church embraced more the Greek worldview where life on earth was viewed as unworthy, while the real worth was in the spirit, and in the thinking. This was quite contrary to Jewish holistic thinking; embracing all life as worthy. The Reformation brought some reform – priesthood of all believers – but only to a certain level.

The historical context in Western Europe is that the Church initiated and was involved in social care, until (secular) governments took over. This then caused even more that faith was considered ‘private’ and ‘spiritual’. Meanwhile, especially the Evangelical part of the Church, focused on “saving the individual soul” and on spiritual discipleship of its members, but lost connection with society.  The Church as a whole– as well as her business people – became comfortable and affected by materialism. Or business people felt the only thing they were good for was giving finances.

At least in Holland, thinkers and politicians like Abraham Kuijper, although they were quite holistic as they thought to influence society through religion, were still talking about different ‘spheres’: Government shouldn’t go into the Church sphere, and Church was separate from the business sphere. This is another split caused by dualistic thinking – dividing worlds in our thinking – which is a hindrance for business as mission. Business is business, in Church we talk about spiritual matters. These are two different worlds. Let’s not connect the two! This is the way we’ve been taught to think.

Now the tide is turning. While former generations were ‘building Europe’ after the Wars, and focused on the material. A new generation is looking for meaning in work. They want to integrate the spiritual and the material.

Hakan Sandberg – Sweden

I have had people object when I have been talking about ‘the divide’, saying that they don’t recognize it. But I have had more people verifying that their own experience is that they have a sense that their business doesn’t belong in church and they have therefore developed a paradigm dealing with that, the ‘two-hat-syndrome’. I spoke at a big youth meeting (mainly university students) a couple of weeks ago on the theme ‘The doctrine of the Two Hats – true or false’. I got a lot of reactions afterwards that they have never heard somebody talk about this before and it was so needed. They expressed a clear sense that there are some professions considered better than others from a kingdom perspective. Professions that clearly serve people like, teacher, doctor, nurse, social worker etc. are ‘good’ while professions like engineer, economist and busdriver are ‘worldly’. They are in the beginning of their careers and already have this feeling. Alarming!!

The ‘discrimination’, if you like, of business people is even more evident in other European countries, where it is also so closely associated with corruption. Unfortunately in societies where corruption is prevalent it is even more difficult to have success in business if you chose not to get involved in corrupt practices. And the lack of role models makes it a trap hard to get out of. I believe we need to make great efforts to raise up a new generation of young business people everywhere, that view business as entirely good and as a way to build society. For those who follow Jesus, business should be a natural and impactful way of expressing the kingdom and changing the world.

Business people count themselves out in regards to having a significance for the kingdom of God. They are used to the fact that their money is always welcome and sometimes also their ability to sit on boards and make decisions. Many of them confirm that they are discouraged by this focus on financial contribution from the church and Christian organizations. One reason I believe for this paradigm in churches, on top of the fact that we still are bowing under the false doctrine of the sacred-secular divide, is that most pastors have no language to contextualize the gospel for the business sphere. They mostly don’t have experience from work in the marketplace and might even be intimidated to speak into that world.

Until we have people wired for and experienced from business, that are on fire for Jesus and his mission to reach the world, we will not have real, holistic impact through business.

With thanks to Patrick, Gea and Hakan.

Also read:

How the Sacred-Secular Divide Influences Attitudes to Business in Asia and Australia

How the Sacred-Secular Divide Influences Attitudes to Business in the Americas

What Does the Sacred-Secular Divide Look Like Around the World?


Photo: Joan Bardeletti