Creation Care and the Global Church – Reflections on Cape Town Part 2

This is my final Cape Town post for the time being.  The Cape Town Congress is over, but the work of the Lausanne Committee continues with the now-in-process writing of Part 2 of the Cape Town Commitment, a plan of action for the global evangelical church.  I am eagerly awaiting that document, and will share observations on it with you in due course.  Meanwhile, my final thoughts on the Congress itself, and the remarkable Cape Town Commitment document released at the end of that meeting:

My particular interest at Cape Town was understandably creation care.  I had come to do a presentation on the topic, and personally and professionally I was curious as to what this gathering of the global church would have to say to itself on this topic.  My observations are three:

At ground level, the global church is very concerned about creation.

The hallways of Cape Town 2010 could be considered somewhat representative of the grassroots of the global evangelical church.  To the extent that is true, creation care is a topic that is full of interest and that generates a lot of concern among church leaders in almost every corner of the world.

I found myself in continual conversations with people at meals, in the hall ways, waiting for sessions to begin – and it wasn’t because I was looking for these conversations.  All I had to do was introduce myself:  “I work with a Christian environmental organization…” We would be off and running with a conversation ranging from the state of creation in his or her particular country to what evangelical theology has to say to this issue and everything in between.  Out of hundreds of conversations, I can only recall two people who questioned the reality of the crisis or the need for the church to respond: One was a wealthy businessman from Texas, and the other a sister from Australia.  Everyone else was unanimous:  “In my country, things are bad, are getting worse, and people are suffering.”

These conversations naturally moved to what can be done – and I came away with a stack of business cards and too many requests to come and visit.

On the other hand, at ministry level, there is little or no awareness of the crisis in creation, and very little action.

It is safe, I think, to use the program content of the Cape Town congress as representative of the kinds of ministries that the global church is involved in.  The days of the congress were organized under Lausanne’s motto: “The whole gospel from the whole church to the whole world,” and we were treated to reports from all the different parts of the world as well as surveys of various types of ministry, including evangelism of unreached people groups, Bible translation efforts, outreach to displaced people (refugees and international students) and ministry to HIV/Aids victims.   If you were to measure by the content in the main plenary sessions, you would conclude that there is no environmental crisis, or if there is, the church is unaware of it.

There was an afternoon program of smaller gatherings (called ‘Multiplexes’), and one of these was devoted to environment.  In a list of 160 still smaller ‘Dialogue Sessions’ there was just one presentation on creation care.  One.

I was not alone in thinking that there was a strange disconnect on this topic between what the participants were talking about in the hallways and what was being presented from the platform.  It is possible that this is an example of time-lag:  Ministry focus responds to needs as perceived in the world, but it takes time to change directions, develop strategies and move sometimes large organizations.  The people I was talking to ‘on the ground’ know things aren’t going well – but those in the control tower haven’t got the word yet.

The Cape Town Commitment makes a powerful theological statement about creation care, suggesting a new awareness is coming, and new initiatives won’t be far behind.

When I saw an early copy of the Cape Town Commitment, I was astounded.  I could not believe that this issue would be stated so explicitly.  Here is the relevant portion (click here for the source document):

We love the world of God’s creation. This love is not mere sentimental affection for nature (which the Bible nowhere commands), still less is it pantheistic worship of nature (which the Bible expressly forbids). Rather it is the logical outworking of our love for God by caring for what belongs to him. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” The earth is the property of the God we claim to love and obey. We care for the earth, most simply, because it belongs to the one whom we call Lord.23

The earth is created, sustained and redeemed by Christ.24  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 a 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. We support Christians whose particular missional calling is to environmental advocacy and action and those committed to godly fulfilment of the mandate to provide for human needs from the abundance of God’s creation. We remind ourselves that the Bible declares God’s redemptive purpose for creation itself. Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out, the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for individual persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people.  [Emphasis added.]

We are evangelicals.  Our beliefs and actions are guided by scripture, and expressed in our theology.  Thus should not be surprising that the thoughtful work of a group of theologians would lead toward a resolution of the disconnect described above.  If the program content of Cape Town 2010 represented the past, and the high level of interest in the hallways represents the present, it is my hope that this document represents the future:  This where the global evangelical church is going, and it is where it needs to go if we are really going to base our belief and action on scripture.

And this is exactly what we mean at Care of Creation when we talk about mobilizing the church toward a God-centered response to the environmental crisis.

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  1. It’s been over a month since Ed posted this. I am ashamed to have missed it until now. His reflection on the state of evangelicalism and Creation awareness is right on (can we still use that slang?).I represent earth scientists who are Jesus followers. We are just now awakening to the call for professional attention applied where God wants it and not where it makes us “richer”, smarter or more famous.I pray that the old evangelical, dualistic paradigm of “saving souls” (as though no body is attached) can be replaced by the holy-holistic view that all of God’s works are precious and deserve our ministry attention.

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