"Partnerships for Change", a Westminster backed conference for about 300 delegates, was held in September 1993. This came and went without attracting much local or national media interest. "Global Forum 94" was held in June this year. Originally it had been planned with the hope of attracting 250,000 or more participants and visitors to its Global Market, Public Forum and many conferences. In February it was announced that GF94 would be curtailed to a four day conference. This and a number of fringe events, the most major of which was an International Peace Festival, took place with very little impact on the city. Lack of Rio's sand and sun and the clash with football's World Cup were two of the possible reasons offered for GF94's demise when it was first announced. Press reports however suggested that internal disputes amongst the organisers were at the heart of the problems. As yet no one has thought to blame those of us who had been at prayer - if they do, we will find it hard to plead "Not guilty".
My concern here is to consider a central issue raised by the different responses held by Christians, locally and nationally, to the present environmental debate. For me these were brought into focus by the different theologies that I have heard expressed over the last two years and the diversity of action they have promoted. It may be over simplifying things, but those Christians who responded to the Earth Summit seemed to fall into two types. I was one of the "pray-ers", others we shall call the "doers" and this group organised an open-air celebration to coincide with the September conference. Often such groups act separately, however we did our best to keep in touch over the months. Again this may be simplifying things too much (my space is limited), but there were obvious differences between the two groups from the start. I have said above that the "pray-ers" had strong reservations about the underlying principles of the environmental movement and the godlessness it is built upon. The "doers" seemed to have the very opposite concerns, "Christians have left it again to the world to identify a need and now the Church ought to get onto the front line of conservation". Not an exact quotation, but I hope a fair summary of their position.
Why then do we find these two very different sets of convictions amongst Christians? And do they matter in the long run? I want to make some suggestions which may help you answer these questions. I will start by outlining my own underlying approach to the Bible. To me the Scriptures should be understood at their most simple and straightforward. For this reason I have always believed that Genesis provides both a historic and scientific account of the origin of the universe. Job, in chapter 28, compares the search for wisdom with mankind's mining activities, and he concludes with the conviction "the fear of THE LORD, that is wisdom." The Holy Spirit, the tutor sent to us by Christ (John 16:13-15), takes those with this fear through the mine of Scripture to the places where God's wisdom pertinent to the everyday situations believers have to respond to is hidden. When faced with concern over environmental catastrophe where should we turn for instruction not only about the remedy but also the cause, except the Scriptures? However, as this is a mine we should not expect to find such wisdom from a casual acquaintance with the Bible. If we do not believe what THE LORD has said in the first place, we will fail to recognise its deeper significance. This has proved to be a very relevant principle.
I discussed environmental issues with several Christians who were in favour of an all-out effort to rescue the earth - without exception they did not have confidence in the historical accuracy of Genesis chapters 1 to 11. This, I observed, then affected their ability to grasp some of the implications of those chapters. All Christians (including liberal ones) use these chapters as the mandate for the human race being stewards of the earth. However, the same verse (Gen. 1:28) from which this understanding is derived contains THE LORD'S first command to mankind. This first command is to populate the earth to its limit! To literally fill it! Population control is a prime concern of many secular environmentalists. Should Christians not be asking if He who made this planet and told us to populate it fully is also capable of putting up the "No Vacancies" sign as well?
The second time THE LORD commanded us to fill this earth was after the flood when He spoke to Noah (Gen. 9:1). There is however, a very significant change in context - the command to manage the earth is missing! Is this because God knew that sin had made us incapable stewards? He certainly knew that we were now incredibly evil by nature (8:21). The animals were from then on in a very different relationship with humans, (9:2) indicating that it was at this point "wild" animals came into existence. We have to ask therefore what implications does this change of circumstance have on the stewardship mandate? (I leave this for your own consideration.) Sadly, those Christians who treat these chapters lightly not only doubt the extensive scale of the flood, but also consider such questions as irrelevant. I was most alarmed that as they are unbelieving in the matter of THE LORD destroying the world of Noah's day by water, they also appear to be unbelievers with regard to the coming destruction of the universe by fire. Perhaps in the light of 2 Pet. 3:3-7 I should not have been. One well known national church leader taught at the September event that passages which teach the destruction of this planet by fire are only symbolic and actually refer to the transformation that will take place before Christ brings about the new age on this planet.
Having come face to face with such teachings I am very concerned at the lack of understanding in the evangelical church today. I believe that Isaiah 5:11- 14 describes the situation vividly. Generally, there is a growing reluctance to talk about sin and the need for repentance. Most of the "green" Christians I met seem to share that hesitancy, their call is that we should think of our children or, as expressed by another well known speaker, accept that Jesus died to rescue the entire cosmos from demonic destruction. (He bases this on John 3:16 where the Greek word "kosmos" appears and wrongly equates it with the use of `cosmos' today.) It seems they do not want to offend their secular contemporaries by telling them to "Return to THE LORD!" I find Isaiah 24 an extremely relevant passage when we consider how men and women are polluting the earth. Written many years before the Industrial Revolution it strikingly describes the shaken earth and importantly it cites something other than our factories and cars as the cause. Verses 5 and 6 say "The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty." The present concern over the pollution of the earth is a God given opportunity for His people to let it be known that sin is the real pollutant. Men and women need to see that it is because they have transgressed their creator's laws, violated His statutes and broken the everlasting covenant He established, that this world, environmentally, economically and socially is falling apart.
I strongly believe that Christians have a relevant and vital message
for today, but we need a confidence in our God and a close relationship
with Him if we are to make it known. In Jeremiah 23:22 THE LORD says it
is those who have stood in His council that are able to announce His word
and turn people back from sin. The men of Issachar understood the significance
of their day and knew how Israel should respond (1 Chron. 12:32). In Daniel
11 and 12 the prophet is told that in the last days it is those who know
their God who will posses insight. Though not exempt from suffering and
death such people will take action, display strength and lead many to righteousness.
We cannot be sure if these present world upheavals are the beginnings of
the birth pains, though many are increasingly convinced that they are.
If they are not signals of the last years of this godless world, then they
are surely an advance warning of what will take place in the years immediately
before the return of Jesus Christ to this planet. When people say "I don't
know what the world is coming to!", Christians can reply with confidence
"I do! Chaos and then the return of our Creator!" Sadly too many of us
fail to see the will of God behind the news headlines.
This paper was written for the Biblical Creation Society, August 1994. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything in accord with the example of Acts 17:11 and the command of 1 Thess 5:21. Errors, or queries which are unresolved after consulting the LORD, should be referred to the author: Email Randall Hardy
© R Hardy, 1994.This paper may only be copied in its
entirety for private non-commercial use. All other usage requires the
written permission of the author.