Coram Deo is about living every moment of our lives before the face of God–in his presence, under his authority, and for his glory–whether in the sanctuary, in the home or in the marketplace and the public square.
That being the case, we have chosen the term Coram Deo for an exciting new training opportunity from the DNA. We have captured the DNA’s best teaching and carefully condensed it into a set of video presentations and readings. Organized into a 12-week interactive course with other students or a self-study at your own pace, this is the same teaching you would receive at a five-day Vision Conference, the DNA’s flagship training program.
This post is the first in a series of four that unpacks the biblical idea of Coram Deo. (The entire paper is available here.)
The Bible reveals God as the all-powerful creator of everything (Col. 1:16). He is portrayed as the Supreme Ruler over all creation (Mt. 28:18) who orders and holds together the entire cosmos (Col. 1:17). He is not neutral towards His creation. He loves and delights in it (Gen. 1:31). But all is not as it should be. The Bible reveals sin not as an isolated spiritual ailment, but as somthing that has radically disordered the cosmos (Rom. 8:19-22). The redemption that God provides through Jesus will result in a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1) – not just saved human souls. While Jesus is our savior and redeemer, he is much more. He is the savior of the whole world – the redeemer of the entire cosmos (Jn. 3:16). The Bible reveals Christianity not as a religion, but as a comprehensive view of the universe—the only view that aligns with reality. This understanding of Christianity is not new. Indeed it is very old. It was concisely expressed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Colosse:
[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together… For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross
— Colossians 1:15-19
Here we read Paul’s doctrine of creation, his understanding of the sovereignty of God, and his awareness of Jesus as the redeemer of the universe. In short, Paul presents us with an all-encompassing Christian view of the universe. In this passage the words “all” and “everything” appear six times. Centuries later, this same all-inclusive Christian worldview was expressed by the great Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) this way: “There is not a square inch of the universe over which King Jesus does not claim, ‘Mine!’” Yet today, for many Christians, this comprehensive view of reality has been obscured.
The Sacred-Secular Fallacy
Today, there is a tendency for some to divide the world into mutually exclusive compartments. One component is labeled “sacred” and has to do with the spiritual life and presumably eternal things. Everything else goes into a “secular” category. For those who hold this divided view of reality, the consequences are profound. While they may love Jesus as their spiritual savior, they may fail to honor him as Lord over all areas of life. An invisible line divides their personal faith in Christ, their church attendance, worship, prayer life, and Bible study from other areas of life such as their work, leisure time, or care for their physical bodies. Anything that is labeled “secular” is assumed to be of little concern to God. Christianity is narrowed down to a scheme for spiritual salvation. The cross is a ticket to heaven and little more.
These are a few of the personal consequences, but there are other consequences as well. When this divided understanding of reality takes hold within a church, it results in the separation of the church from its surrounding culture. Sunday worship services and vocations in “full time Christian service” are assumed to be more valuable than seemingly “secular” pursuits in areas such as the arts, law, politics, social services, care for the physical needs of the poor, and so on. Little effort is made to connect the core doctrines of the Bible to cultural and civic life. Little effort is made to encourage church members to serve as salt and light (Mt. 5:13-16), bearing witness to the truth in all areas of society. Evangelism is pitted against care for the poor. “Full-time Christian service” is pitted against careers in law, business or politics. One compartment is higher and the other lower. The church is sealed off from society. It exists in a Christian “ghetto” with its own sub-culture of language, media, and entertainment. When the divided mindset impacts churches, they become impotent and ineffective at impacting culture. Rather than discipling the nations as Christ commanded (Mt. 28:18-20), the values and dominant beliefs of the surrounding culture begin to influence and shape the church.
Despite this, there is cause for great hope. God is at work in our generation. He is active around the world leading his bride back to a comprehensive, undivided understanding of reality. He is reminding his followers that he is Lord not merely of some limited spiritual realm—he is Lord over all! He created the spiritual and the physical realms and cares for them both. He seeks to be glorified not only in the church building, but also in the home, the school, the company, the courthouse and the houses of government equally. Furthermore, he is reminding his bride that while he passionately and actively seeks and saves lost people trapped in sin (1 Ti. 2:4), his redemptive plan is far grander. He is about the business of redeeming all things distorted through the Fall (Col. 1:19-20). It is this all-encompassing redemptive agenda that he calls his Church to participate with him in.
The 15th century European reformers had a motto that reminded them, in a very practical way, of God’s comprehensive concern for all areas of life and all spheres of society. The phrase was “Coram Deo” which means “before the face of God.” All of life is to be lived before the face of God and to his glory. There is no higher, no lower—no sacred, no secular. God is Lord of all.
Coram Deo is both liberating and challenging. It holds the power to free us from a debilitating mental dualism. It provides a fresh, faith-expanding perspective—one that leads to a newfound freedom to enjoy embodied human life in all its wonder. It opens the door for us to take new interest and delight in God’s magnificent creation. It liberates us to explore vocational alternatives outside of “full time Christian service” and still know that we are both serving and glorifying God.
As whole churches gain this new perspective, they escape from the Christian ghetto as Christians infiltrate the culture, taking with them the power of God’s Word lived out in human flesh. Coram Deo can lead to social and cultural transformation. Yet it is challenging because it shows us that our faith must impact our entire lives. When we truly grasp this concept, we realize we can no longer withhold certain segments of our life from God. Jesus wants our whole lives—every part—to glorify him. He wants us to join him in advancing his Kingdom in all areas of culture and all spheres of society. For those who have been trapped within a divided mindset, this can appear to be a fearful and radical step. Yet he promises that when we join with him, our burden will be easy and our yoke will be light. The responsibility of advancing the Kingdom belongs to God, yet he gives us the privilege of joining with him. When we do, he supplies the strength we need to do things we could never do on our own.
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer
To understand the concept of Coram Deo, you must start with God and His comprehensive Lordship over all of creation. His Lordship is true on three grounds.
First, God is the Creator of the world and all that is in it. The book of Genesis reveals that God’s artistry was both good and beautiful, in harmony with God and with itself. The physical realm, like the spiritual realm, is sacred. It is all God’s creation.
Second, God sustains all of his creation today. We see this in Colossians 1:17: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together,” and in Hebrews 1:3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
Third, in Christ, God is at work redeeming all of his creation. The apostle Paul writes, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19–20). God continues his work of reconciliation through Christ until Christ returns at the end of time (Eph 1:7-10).
For these three reasons, the dualistic sacred-secular paradigm is untrue to reality. There is no dichotomy in God’s mind. God has made, sustains, and is redeeming one world, not two, and Christians are called to live in one world.
– Scott Allen and Darrow Miller
Adapted from the foreword of Beyond the Sacred-Secular Divide: towards a Wholistic Life and Ministry, pp. 13-16. Copyright © 2011 by Scott D. Allen, Published by YWAM Publishing, a ministry of Youth With A Mission, P.O. Box 55787, Seattle, WA 98155-0787. All rights reserved. No part of the book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles or reviews.