Missions, Outreach

The greening of Missions

You may have read that the world is teetering on the edge of certain extinction and that we are now one minute from midnight on the Doomsday Clock. While the Covid-19 pandemic may have paused most human activity and provided a brief respite for the earth, the beauty of a world where the peak of Everest is visible in Delhi, or the flourishing of some animal species and the lowering of air pollution all across the world are very quickly forgotten as we return to a post-pandemic (endemic) “normality”. Furthermore, the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine will likely further exacerbate the climate crisis.

It may well be that amidst the gloom and doom, accompanied by a growing deficit of courage and fortitude among the world leaders to act decisively, the younger generation is seeing the need to rise up and challenge the norms and hopefully bring about real change in responding to the climate crisis. I am increasingly convinced that evangelical Christianity is complicit in this apathy towards environmental stewardship.

For too long, evangelical Christianity has adopted a “default setting”, where it is all about us! We are at the centre of it all, where the creation mandate is given for humanity to subdue and have dominion, and therefore gives us licence to use (and abuse) all God has created. We believe that at the end of time, this “world will melt like snow” and will be no more and hence we should rightly be concerned only with saving souls instead of saving whales or planting trees.

There are evangelicals in the United States who contest the view that global warming and climate change is a direct consequence of human action. Environmental degradation and climate change are seen as the earth’s natural response rather than a result of human consumerism and greed. Evangelicals were generally tacit in their views and were complicit in discounting numerous efforts to begin to make conscious efforts in addressing and arresting the speed of global warming. Sadly, environmental ethics and caring for creation do not seem to have significance among Protestants. In our churches, there are many members who think that the bottom line is that we need only bother with saving souls and everything else is secondary, perhaps even unnecessary.  It may well be that that “saving souls” is the chief end of the mission of the Church.  But is that the chief end of the mission of God?

As I began researching on this particular area through a survey of the Scriptures, I found that God’s word is replete with all these references where we cannot ignore creation simply because Christ’s work on the cross redeems not only humanity but creation itself. We need to reread the creation mandate in Genesis 1; to respond to the psalmists call for creation (yes, in all of God’s splendid creativity) to praise the Lord; to recount as in Jonah 3 that God’s grace is extended impartially to the Ninevites as well as to the animals, contrary to Jonah’s personal preconceptions. We cannot ignore passages in Romans 8, where Paul wrote that “in hope, that all creation, now groaning, will be liberated from its bondage to decay” and also in Colossians 1, that God through Christ, will “reconcile to Himself all things.” This is well encapsulated in The Cape Town Commitment:

The earth is created, sustained and redeemed by Christ. We cannot claim to love God while abusing what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance. We care for the earth and responsibly use its abundant resources, not according to the rationale of the secular world, but for the Lord’s sake. If Jesus is Lord of all the earth, we cannot separate our relationship to Christ from how we act in relation to the earth. For to proclaim the gospel that says ‘Jesus is Lord’ is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth, since Christ’s Lordship is over all creation. Creation care is thus a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ.

Such love for God’s creation demands that we repent of our part in the destruction, waste and pollution of the earth’s resources and our collusion in the toxic idolatry of consumerism. Instead, we commit ourselves to urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility.1

Hence we cannot ignore God’s other creation!

There is a growing consensus among missiologists that stewardship and care of creation is an increasingly urgent aspect of missions that the Church cannot be nonchalant about. Integral missions involve taking seriously both the Great Commandment as well as the Great Commission; it is ministering to meet spiritual as well as existential needs. The importance of ecology and environmental stewardship in missions must help recalibrate how mission organisations and churches think about missions and how they conduct missionary activities in a manner that is biblically informed and ecologically responsible. Ecological concerns (example of carbon footprints) should be another factor of consideration before churches feverishly return to the norm of sending people on short-term trips.

While the biblical accounts are inordinately partial to human salvation—the work of saving people from sin and judgement, which is indeed an important focus of our partnership with God in His mission—that, however is not the whole story of God’s mission and therefore, that should not be our whole story in our mission emphases as well. If God is concerned about creation, should we not also be similarly concerned?

1   Lausanne Movement, The Cape Town Commitment, https://lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment#p1-7

Rev Dr Andrew Peh is a lecturer in missions and world religions at Trinity Theological College.