Unless we care for the planet, we can’t make disciples or be missional
We have poisoned the earth God gave us.
We have ignored the command God gave us to nurture and protect and care for the planet.
A recent study released in the journal Science says we are eating away at our own life support systems, at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years.
We are degrading land and freshwater systems, emitting greenhouse gasses, and releasing vast amounts of agricultural chemicals into the environment
The world has already lost 50% of its forests. Between 2000 and 2010, 130 million hectares (320 million acres) of forest was destroyed.
We’re wiping out our coral reefs. Some studies suggest that if the rate of destruction continues, 60% will be gone in 30 years. Nearly all the world’s coral reefs will be in the danger zone by 2050.
We have garbage islands floating in our oceans, the size of entire countries. These grow at a rate of 10x every decade, and have been doing so since the 1950s. This debris kills 100,000 marine mammals every single year.
Scientists warn the planet could warm by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit this century unless dramatic action is taken to reduce our use of fossil fuels, and to restore forests and wetlands that can help absorb carbon emissions.
Today, there’s a lot of important talk about the mission of God and his church.
But, here’s my concern:
I cannot see how any credible theology of mission (or proposal for a missional church) can be constructed that neglects the centrality of creation care (including a robust eco-theology).
The church cannot join fully with God in his mission while it neglects its responsibility to God’s creation. And I see no way that we can be disciples of Jesus without a passionate concern for his creation, and a desire to heal the planet he gave us.
Sadly, much of the church sees little connection between discipleship and mission and creation care. And much of the church has little interest in joining with God in his mission to redeem and restore the whole of creation.
Creation care is missional. It’s essential to a missional church and theology. And it’s crucial to discipleship.
The world is watching. Do we exercise loving care of the planet? Are we concerned about those made vulnerable through environmental degradation and climate change? Do we engage in ecological responsibility and innovation? Do we cultivate sustainable practices and simple lifestyle? Do we testify to Jesus Christ through our caring relationship with humans and the planet?
Our care for creation can witness to Jesus Christ, his gospel and kingdom, and his restoration of all things.
The Lausanne Movement and the World Evangelical Alliance organized the Lausanne Global Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel in Jamaica in November 2012. After reflecting on Scripture and talking through the issues, the group formed two major convictions.
Firstly, creation care is a “gospel issue within the lordship of Christ. Informed and inspired by our study of the scripture… Creation care is an issue that must be included in our response to the gospel, proclaiming and acting upon the good news of what God has done and will complete for the salvation of the world. This is not only biblically justified, but an integral part of our mission and an expression of our worship to God for his wonderful plan of redemption through Jesus Christ.”
Secondly, “We are faced with a crisis that is pressing, urgent, and that must be resolved in our generation. Many of the world’s poorest people, ecosystems, and species of flora and fauna are being devastated by violence against the environment in multiple ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress, and pollution are but a part. We can no longer afford complacency and endless debate. Love for God, our neighbors and the wider creation, as well as our passion for justice, compel us to urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility.”
The group then outlined specific responses. How do we respond? Simpler lifestyles. Developing a theology of creation care. Addressing climate change. Taking leadership on these issues.
The group recognized the need for leadership on this issue. Leaders need to help Christians see creation care as central to the gospel, to church life, to discipleship, and to the mission of the church in the world today.
So, my hope is that our missional theology will lead us to confront climate change. And that we see this as a central issue in discipleship and witness today.
I hope Christians will understand the centrality of creation care, and will advocate for the environment.
I hope disciples will commit to simplicity and sustainability, and to caring for the planet God has given us.
I hope our theology will lead us to fresh and vigorous theologies of creation care.
This will involve cooperation between governmental, business, non-profit, academic, scientific, religious, and other groups. We can find solutions through collaboration.
It will involve making a firm commitment to care for the world God has given us. It will need a deep understanding of the inextricable connection between making disciples, being missional, and caring for creation.
It’s time for the church and its leaders to take this serious. The world is watching. The planet is crying out. The Spirit calls us to act.
Dr Graham Hill is the Founding Director of The GlobalChurch Project – www.theglobalchurchproject.com. He’s the author of “GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches” (IVP, 2016), and 3 other books.
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