Saturday, April 24, 2010

Creation Care

I have been in Christian circles long enough to see spiritual fads come and go. Someone comes up with a so-called revelation from God or supposedly new insight from the Bible and they push it as if it were the most important thing in the world. Eventually, the whole thing is shown not to be a work of God but a human idea of not much value at all. After a little while everyone forgets it - if we are lucky.

Unfortunately, sometimes these wrong-headed ideas, which have caused some of the church to focus on the wrong thing, become a tradition that hinders the mission of the church which is to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations.

Now when I say that these are bad ideas, I am not suggesting that they are evil or spring from some bad motive. They often have good aspects to them and usually come from well-meaning people. Those who promote them use the Bible (incorrectly) to back them up. And often some good is done, but in the final analysis it usually distracts the church from its biblical goals of reconciling the world to God and bringing Him glory.

The focus of this blog is on the idea of Creation Care, specifically the notion that we humans are stewards of God's earth and that polluting or 'hurting' it will offend God. But as we carefully study the Bible we will find the language of stewardship does not apply to our relationship to the earth.

Now the Bible does use the language of stewardship in relation to various things in the Christian's life. We are to be good stewards of our finances (Luke 16), the Word of God (1 Corinthians 4), and of our ministry in the church (Titus 1:7).

But there is other language used for the believer's relationship to other things. One concept that is used is that of 'dominion'. For example, the Christian is to exercise dominion over demons. "In my name, they shall cast out demons". (Mark 16:17) "Resist the Devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)

We find more direct language like this when the Bible describes our relationship to the earth. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26, repeated in v. 28) "You made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; you have put all things under his feet." (Psalm 8:6) This is not the language of stewardship, but of dominion.

Why, then, is the stewardship model used by some to describe our relationship to the earth. Well, one of the passages used is Psalm 24:1, "The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein". This clearly establishes God's ownership of the earth. So the reasoning is that if God owns it and we live on it, then we, not being owners, must be stewards. So if God is owner of it, how can we have dominion over it? Does not ownership imply dominion? If God gave us a kind of dominion, is that dominion not really a kind of stewardship?

Not necessarily. A person can have dominion over something without owning it. A person owning a home and living in it has dominion over it. But if that person leases that home to another, then a kind of dominion, not stewardship, is passed to the person leasing it. That is the kind of dominion that we can exercise over the earth. Not a dominion of ownership, but a dominion based on a lease.

You could say that God gave Adam and Eve a lease on the earth. Some day that lease will run out and the owner will return to take dominion back. Until that time, we have dominion. "The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD's: but the earth has he given to the children of men." (Psalm 115:16)

At this point, one might complain that if we use the language of dominion then that means that we can simply do as we please and ruin the environment and destroy God's creation. If we use the language of stewardship, then we will take better care of it because we are responsible to God for it.

I reject this reasoning on two grounds.

First, if the Bible uses the language of dominion and not stewardship then we ought to as well since, otherwise, we would be promoting a false concept.

Second, I reject the conclusion that exercising dominion means we will ruin it. If I lease a home does that mean that I would ruin it because I was not a steward? Not at all. I would care for the place because I live in it and I want it nice for myself and my family. I do not want to live in filth.

I want to live in a nice, clean environment. That goes for wherever I am. If I go to work, I want it to be clean as well. But there is a catch. Since the Fall of Man the environment tends to disorder and chaos. I have to work hard to create a good environment and to make a living. But to make a living some pollution is necessary. I certainly believe that God understands that some pollution is necessary when we are producing goods that make our lives better. But we can take reasonable steps to keep from polluting unnecessarily.

I am afraid, though, that this whole 'stewardship/creation care' model is just an attempt to hijack Christianity and use it to promote the radical environmental agenda. I am always suspicious when Christians begin talking like the world. We do not get our agenda from the world but from the Word.

Another point that I think is relevant is the impression given by the advocates of 'creation care' is that we sin if we do not focus on the environment and care for it. I am not implying that we should be careless about the environment; I just think that we need to focus on what God has directly told us to do in His Word and not get into these side issues.

There is no scripture that indicates that God will judge us regarding our care of creation. We will be judged by how we treat our fellow human beings (Matt 25) and by how we fulfill our ministry (1Cor4:4), but never by how we treated the environment. These things are not biblical matters. Rather they come under our dominion and our judgment as to what kind of environment we wish to live in. If we mess it up, then we have to live in our mess. If our rules are too strict then we endanger our means of making a living.

We need to focus on winning people to the Lord, caring for their needs, and discipling them in the faith. Now if caring for their needs to help clean up their environment, then we can address those issues. But it is too easy to get distracted from those things that the Lord has called us to do and to focus on other less important issues.

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