7@The Gospel in the Secularized World
Now before faith came we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian.
In this modern age we live a secular lifestyle, feeling little influence or pressure from religion. Let us first consider secularization in the context of the modern world. One might argue that there are two sides to human life: thegholyhside, the one that pertains to religious beliefs, and the secular side that represents our everyday life within the confines of our human abilities. But, in the course of our daily existences, we are sometime faced with strange or mysterious occurrences, something beyond the reach of our human understanding and abilities. We may refer to this mystery in life as being 'the holy', thereby defining religion as the appreciation human beings have of 'the holy'.
In early human communities, religions covered or controlled almost every sphere of human life. At that stage 'the holy' part of existence was at its maximum and 'the secular' part at its minimum. Religion permeated through almost every activity mankind could engage in. But in the course of human history, 'the secular' part extended its realm, thus gradually narrowing the sphere of 'the holy'. Today, especially in big techno-cities, most people live quite secular lives, feeling little influence or pressure from religion.
Can this secularization of the world be interpreted as the end of the age of mankind's reliance on religions? Some leading Christian theologians believe so, depicting the secularization of modern age as mankind entering adulthood, leaving the tutorship of religions. But if their interpretation is based on Paul's statement above(Gal.3:23~25), I cannot agree with them.
Paul calls 'the law' our custodian or tutor here. I want you to remember that in Paul 'the law' means 'Torah', the Jewish religion as a whole. Paul says the Jewish religion is 'paidagogos'. This Greek word means a tutor (usually a slave) who is hired to train a son of a nobleman until the son, the heir, grows to be an adult. All the religions including Judaism are tutors or custodians to train children to behave as heirs. As long as the heirs are under the supervision of the tutors, they can not enjoy the richness of their fathers. When they are grown up and freed from tutors, they can ascend to life and privileges of their fathers.
Paul declares, "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian." Religions have been our tutors, custodians and disciplinarians until the coming of Christ. When Christ became part of the history of mankind and completed God's saving work, those who were united with him by faith were freed from the tutor and can enjoy the richness of their father as his heirs. When Paul said 'the coming faith' and 'faith has come' in these verses, he meant Christ-faith. Only Christ-faith makes us sons of God. This is clearly expressed in the next verse(3:26), "For in Christ Jesus you are all the sons of God, through the faith." We were declared righteous, accepted into the fellowship of God and were made the heirs of God's glory and richness by Christ-faith. This was achieved without abiding by any religious rules or organisations. Man can be a son of God outside of religion. Where there is Christ-faith, there is freedom from the yoke of religions.
People believe that the driving forces of secularization are rationality or intelligence of mankind, which is true. Contemporary secularization began with the enlightenment movement in the Christian countries of Western Europe over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. After the Reformation took place in the 16th century, the rationalism of the newly rising bourgeoisie class antagonized the traditionalist dogmas of the churches. Rationalism promoted the development of science and aimed at resolving humanity's woes through reason. By doing so mankind was freed from the shackles of church dogmas. Mankind no longer requires the tutorship of religions any longer. Now, through the sole merit of innate reasoning, we are able to live freely and reach our aims. This is the secularism of our time.
Religious people, especially the clergy, have many grievances about secularization of the world and criticize it. They try to reconstruct their sphere of influence over the community and emphasize the necessity of religious devices, such as rites, creeds and clergy. But they try in vain. The secularization of the world is inevitable, almost humanity's fate. We do not have to be pessimistic about it, however. The secularization of the world can exert a positive influence on our future.
How can we consider secularization as being positive? Because the gospel, God's saving power for every nation, is not a religion. Even if religions of the world lose their influential power over humanity, the gospel movement does not lose anything. For God's saving power works outside religion, as Paul said, "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law(religion)." (Rom.3:21). Paul's evangelical work was carried out outside of Judaism, which was the only one true religion in Paul's time. Paul's work extended outside of religion, reaching people of all religions. Our work to bring the gospel of Christ should be carried out outside the framework of world religions. Religions do not help nor hinder the work of the gospel. Simply, in the secularized world, this gospel work can be carried without facing the opposition of organised religions.
The secular world seldom has any interest in religions. People in the secular world only believe in what is proven to be factual, the things they can experience and understand. They trust only in science. But in human nature there is something innate that is religious. It means that we, human beings, can not help thinking of the world we can not see nor understand, and asking about why we exist, where we are from and where we will go. 'Homo sapiens' is 'homo religiosus' at the same time. Beyond the limit of human abilities, for example beyond death, we have been trying to find the answers through religion. Religion certainly gave us various answers, but it did not give us the definite answer.
What religions could not accomplish, Christ has accomplished! Christ has given us the reality of eternal life by giving us the Holy Spirit(See Message No.3) . Christ has given this message outside of religion. He is giving it to people in the secular world. He gives you eternal life regardless of whether you are religious or secular, whether you belong to a religion or not. To Him, it makes no difference. The secularization of the world, therefore, does not steal anything from the work of evangelicals, instead it gives more opportunities and freedom for our evangelical effort.
The secularization of the world will be a pressure for established and historical religions, including Christianity, to be aware of the fact that they are all relative. It means that none of them can claim to be absolute or universal nor make themselves the condition by which humanity will achieve salvation or perfection. The secularization of the world will help people seek Christ who gives eternal life in the Holy Spirit outside of religion.