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Why Is Creation Waiting for the Christians?
by Shirene Chen
The provocative title of A Rocha’s inaugural conference in Asia, “Why is creation waiting for the Christians?” is perhaps the most overlooked, urgent question to be asked in the Christian church today.
A Rocha is science-led, research-based Christian nature conservation organisation with projects in 18 countries. A Rocha means “The Rock” in Portuguese, a tribute to its humble beginnings in a field study centre in Portugal.
The conference, held in the City Discipleship Presbyterian Church (CDPC) in Subang Jaya, Selangor on 18 July 2009 consisted of two parts. In the first part, Peter Harris, the founder and director of A Rocha taught the biblical foundation for Christian action in creation care. In the second part, Dr. Graham McAll, a family doctor in England, presented scientific evidence that climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.
So why is creation waiting for the Christians? Or put another way by Peter, “Although more and more, the environment is on page one of our newspaper, it is rarely on page anything in the Christian news.”
Peter explains that our neglect of creation is an example of the disconnect between what the bible says and what we do that can be traced back to the times of slavery in the southern states of America in the 17th to 19th century. At the time, Christian slaveholders, unwilling to give up their slaves, supported the institution of slavery and inhumane practices.
There is also the telling story of John Newton, the converted English slave-ship captain who read his bible on the decks while slaves perished beneath his feet.
Since then, the split between private faith and public affairs exists in the church and the bible is relegated to speak only on strictly “spiritual” matters.
Today, Christians are not connecting what the bible says to what we are doing to creation. We have allowed the “consumerism DNA to infiltrate the church, creating a genetically modified church preaching a genetically modified gospel.”
Three biblical pillars for creation care
What does the bible really say about creation care? Peter gives a framework of three biblical pillars.
1) Psalm 24:1
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
The earth is the Lord’s and we ought be accountable to the One who owns it. Yet we have lost the sense of whose world we live in. By using the word “environment”, we tend to think of the material world as what is around us, and put ourselves, idolatrously, in the centre of it.
Christians should learn to use the word “creation” more instead of “environment” because “creation” is the biblical perspective that puts humans as part of God’s created world together with the plant and animal creation. Because the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, we are to value all of God’s handiwork including the non-human part of it.
One consequence of the utilitarian, human-centred view of creation is the tragic fact that we only know 4% of the plants on the planet and we stand to lose 50% of them in next 50 years through climate change and loss of natural habitats.
Psalm 104 speaks of the extraordinary range of species that God has made in His wisdom. But we are behaving like children who burn the library of their father without reading the books.
2) Hosea 4:1-3
Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites,
because the LORD has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.
3000 years before the advent of the environmental movement, Hosea bleakly described symptoms of our ailing creation and the root cause of it. He showed us that our broken relationship with creation is the result of our broken relationship with God.
People think that the environmental crisis is only about saving plants and animals but the core of the problem is actually about changing human hearts. What changes the human heart? The secular environmental movement is angry, depressed and radical because it has no answer to this question. But the bible gives us an answer and a hope.
3) Romans 8:19-22
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Sermons on this passage seldom deal with the idea that the creation is groaning and there is hope for its liberation from decay. Why is this idea often neglected? Peter offers one possible reason – the church is afraid of getting the gospel mixed up with pantheism.
But the bible wants us to talk about creation. Psalm 148, written at a time when Israel is surrounded by nature worshipping religions, puts nature in its rightful place. In the psalm, all of nature sings praises to God “for he commanded and they were created” (v.5).
Creation is groaning because our relationship with the Creator is broken. While the old Adam broke our relationship with God (Gen 3), the new Adam, Jesus Christ, came to restore our relationship with Him (Romans 5:12-21). Therefore, those in restored relationship with God, the children of God, are to bring healing and wholeness to creation.
Awakening the sleeping giant
All over the world, Christianity has allowed the secular green movement to provide leadership in the field of creation care. Peter urges us that “most effective environmental campaign is to teach the bible because the church is the world’s largest NGO!”
In Asia, Christian leadership in this area is paramount because a large treasure trove of biodiversity is still concentrated in this region. However, our green landscapes are fast disappearing, falling to the same destructive forces – climate change, pollution, over-harvesting - that have wiped out the natural habitats in the West.
God has purposes for where and how we live (Acts 17:26-28). Peter believes that the Asian church can speak where the Western church cannot. If the Asian church gains the vision of creation care, it can lead and rouse the global church, the sleeping steward, to wake up before it’s too late and respond to the biblical call to be responsible earth-keepers.
Arabuko-Sokoke Forest in Kenya is the largest remaining remnant of coastal forest that once spanned the East African coast from Somalia in the north to Mozambique in the south.
It is home to a great variety of mammals, amphibians, insects and birds including rare species such as the tiny Sokoke Scops Owl and the peculiar Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew.
Mida Creek, adjacent to the forest is home to one of the most productive mangrove ecosystems on earth and is a significant feeding ground for internationally important migrating birds including Crab-plovers and a small population of Greater Flamingos.
However, the forest and the creek are being threatened by over-harvesting by local people as a means of earning money, largely to support their children's education.
To break this human-wildlife conflict and poverty cycle, A Rocha Kenya has developed eco-tourism facilities in the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida creek and channels the funds from eco-tourism into scholarships for secondary school children who would otherwise be unable to afford the school fees.
Called the Arabuko-Sokoke Schools and Ecotourism Scheme (ASSETS), this project has encouraged the local communities to value their natural habitats because they benefit directly from their conservation.
More information on ASSETS: www.assets-kenya.org
www.arocha.org - A Rocha’s main website with case studies of projects around the world, audio sermons, videos and books.
www.ecocongregation.org - tools for churches to integrate creation care into their worship, teaching, building, land, church management and mission.
www.arochalivinglightly.org.uk - resources to live out the biblical understanding of creation care in everyday lives.
www.climatestewards.net - A Rocha’s carbon offset climate change programme.