Toward the end of the middle ages, the economy changed and the middle class emerged in cities around Europe. The changing economy allowed more people to participate and become financially independent. This new society needed a new expression of faith.
“As cosmopolitan people they expected the church to reflect a higher degree of cultural sophistication. It was abhorrent to them to sit in small, drab churches, listen to bad sermons preached by illiterate clergy, follow a liturgy in a language that many of them did not understand (Latin), and care much about a religion that was oblivious to their needs and concerns as citizens of the world.” (Sitter 192)
The Franciscans and Dominicans emerged to meet the needs of the faithful in this changing world. These movements embraced a Christianity that was accessible to everyone. No longer were the religious expected to remove themselves from society by living in a monastery. Now Christians were able to fully live their faith from within the society itself. “They demonstrated that laypeople could live with the same kind of conviction and passion as monks and nuns, though without having to withdraw completely from society.” (Sittser 202)
These movements acted as a bridge between the monastic spirituality of the middle ages and the everyday spirituality of the Reformers.
The Presbyterian Church traces its roots to the Reformation. Many of the ideals that the Reformation embraced can be found on any given Sunday at PCPC. For example, the empowerment of the laity.
“In God’s eyes there is no division between the secular and the sacred. All spheres of life belong to him.” (Sitter 206). In the Middle Ages Christianity often elevated the clergy above normal people. The Reformers sharply disagreed with this idea. They believed that all of the world belongs to God. Therefore, the everyday work that occurs outside the church was just as important as the work of the clergy within the church.
One example of this was found in their view of marriage. Before the Reformers, it became somewhat popular to participate in a ‘celibate marriage.’ The basic idea was that two people would marry but would commit to celibacy within marriage as a way to honor God.
The Reformers believed that every part of life was created by God and could be used to honor God; including marriage. Therefore, the Reformers encouraged Christians to embrace every aspect of their marriage as a way to honor God.
“They believed that the world belongs to God. No arena of activity falls outside God’s redemptive purpose. Ordinary duties matter just as much to God as fasting, solitude and celibacy. Thus Luther argued that marriage is a part of God’s divine plan; it is not a temptation to be overcome or a burden to be endured but a calling to be embraced and a gift to be enjoyed. Surprising everyone, he chose to marry as a priest, to please his father and to spite the pope, as he put it.” (Sitter 204)
Toward the end of the chapter Jerry Sitter encouraged his readers to identify a “secular saint- the parent, the teacher, the coach, the lawyer, the politician, the neighbor, the volunteer, the executive- who believes that how Christians live in the world matters to God.” (Sitter 207).
I can think of several people in my life that I would consider “secular saints.”
My sixth grade Sunday School teacher worked at an insurance company. Every Sunday for a year he taught a small group of 6th graders about faith and the Bible. Many Sundays there were no more than 3 of us in the class. Yet he faithfully came and shared of his own experiences of faith and discipleship. It was a deeply formative time in my faith development.
I know of doctors and dentists within my church who regularly travel on medical mission trips. They use their unique skills and abilities to help in parts of the world that are in desperate need of medical help.
I remember my sophomore biology teacher in high school that was also the assistant wrestling coach. We knew he was a Christian, but he was not outspoken about it. He approached teaching with a gentle, caring attitude. It was evident that he valued each student in his class. He created an atmosphere where it was comfortable and exciting to learn.
The world needs secular saints- people who embrace the essential teachings of Jesus and live out their faith within the part of the world that God has called them to.