Why The Church Should Not Embrace Environmentalism

earthrise-wide This is a response to this article at Venn Magazine and this post has been submitted to the magazine for consideration. 

Words matter.

In our communications driven culture, it’s important to use the right language to convey our message. When we read certain words, we bring to the reading experience a host of associations, feelings, and memories. These are not easy things to ignore, and that makes the task of carefully choosing our words an important one.

Such is the case when we talk about the Church and environmentalism. The word “environmentalism” is fraught with political connotations, and is steeped in a long history of liberal progressivism. While the Church is given a charge to take care of our earthly home, the principles and language of this movement run contrary to God’s word.

In America, environmentalism began its political journey in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, which was a time of seeking spiritual fulfillment in anything but Christianity. In this atmosphere, environmentalism was infused with a spiritual quality of finding oneself through unity with nature, which has continued to this day. In this regard, environmentalism began as a movement that was about treating nature as deity, which flies in the face of a Christian ecology.

But in principle, shouldn’t at least some of the tenets of environmentalism appeal to Christians? After all, on the surface it’s about sustainability and making sure that the natural resources we have now are there for future generations. It’s about getting pollution out of our water and air so that we can breathe a little easier about the future of our world. Isn’t that something we should want? And on the surface, the answer is yes.

This is a world that we as Christians are absolutely called to preserve. There are hundreds of references throughout Scripture to Creation reflecting the glory of God (try Psalm 19 on for size). God created our world and took care to make it beautiful. He specifically told us to take care of the Earth, and to nurture it (Genesis 1:28). In fact, the first man Adam was primarily a gardener, whose task was to improve the Garden. Many of the patriarchs in the Old Testament were farmers and ranchers, who developed and cultivated the earth to bring forth abundance.

But the reason that Biblical Christianity stands in opposition to environmentalism is because a Biblical understanding of the world places the environment under the care and nurture of humankind, while still recognizing the inherent value of nature because God created it. Environmentalism in its widely understood form is practically a religion in of itself that places worship of nature above that of the Creator. In his book, Pollution and the Death of Man, Francis Schaeffer understood the modern environmentalist movement to be glorified pantheism (meaning it was an attempt to find salvation through a sense of oneness with nature). But Schaeffer also said that while man and nature are distinct, we have a responsibility to recognize that nature has value because God created it.

It is because of this spiritual ethos surrounding environmentalism that we should seek to stay away from aligning it with a Biblical view of ecology. Traditionally, Christians have used the terminology of “stewardship” to refer to our responsibility regarding nature. The terminology of “environmentalism” brings echoes of something very un-Christian with it and we should seek to avoid parading any “ism” around without investigating its roots. We want a Christ-centric view of the environment and because Christ has redeemed us in our entirety, including our speech, we should be careful to use words that reflect a Christ-centric ecology.

This is not just a matter of preference since the language of environmentalism is steeped in the counter-culture tradition of the 1960’s and a pantheistic view of the world. The associations, feelings, and historical meaning of “environmentalism” won’t go away simply because we start slapping a Christian label on it (just think of the debate among Christians about the pagan origins of our various holidays, a debate that has raged for many, many years). The language of stewardship rightly puts the emphasis on our God-given responsibility to care for what He has given us.

Let’s celebrate our Christian heritage and our charge from Jesus to take care of our home. Let’s recognize that nature has value because God created it. But let’s remember to use language that draws attention to the Creator over the creation.  

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She Died And Wasn’t Discovered for 3 Years

poster

The other day I watched a documentary on Netflix called Dreams of a Life. It tells the story of 38 year old Joyce Vincent, who died in her apartment in 2003 and was not discovered until 3 years later.

The film itself was very well done and wasn’t so much about the logistics of why she wasn’t missed earlier but rather the social reasons for why she was so alone that nobody noticed she was gone for 3 years. The filmmaker interviewed former boyfriends and co-workers that she had, and painted a picture of who this woman was.

You can go watch the film yourself, but it all amounts to the fact that she wasn’t really connected to any kind of community  and she had no real relationships. Whenever she got a boyfriend, she simply adopted that person’s network. Her boyfriend’s community was her community; his interests were her interests, etc. She was afraid of letting people in and thus never really developed strong friendships.

It made me think how thankful I should be to have a church community that cares and to be in a place where someone will notice if you’re gone. (Sidenote: That’s why it speaks volumes if you notice somebody isn’t at church and you check up on them to see how they’re doing. It shows that you care.) In pre-marital counseling, we’ve talked about how our deepest longing is to be significant, and important and to be remembered. When we are God’s children, we are never forgotten. We may die and leave this earth but our names are forever written in the Book of Life.

Still, it says something about the cultural fabric of society when community has lost its place. Church communities are powerful because they are centered around the worship of the one true God. The Bible talks about putting others before yourself, and being a servant. American Individualism flies in the face of that and encourages people to go it alone (the woman in the film was from the UK, but I’ve digressed). When you go it alone, don’t be surprised to find yourself lonely.

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, it’s important to treasure what matters most. Our God, our salvation, our family, our friends, our church. In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul speaks of his thankfulness for the church in Corinth and their faith and God’s faithfulness. Let that be your model. And don’t be that person that never reached out and connected with others. Don’t coast through life. In the end, we all die. But for the Christian, death is just a doorway.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

P.S. Sorry if the post is a little disjointed…I have a headache the size of Texas. But if you read it, let me know what you think!

Stop Focusing on Millenials

Millennials like holding small churches as well.

Millennials like holding small churches as well. Image links to source.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about “millennials”. Millennials, according to the Internet, are a group of highly narcissistic Facebook addicts that can’t find time for church, otherwise known as people who were born between 1980 and 2000.

At least that’s what you might think if you read a few of these articles demanding that the church start catering to the “needs” of millennials (as if millennials don’t have the same needs as everyone else). One article I read said that millennials have “highly sensitive BS meters” and can detect any hint of untruthfulness in church. That seemed pretty narcissistic to me.

Here’s the thing: the church is not here to validate you. No, it’s really not. It is not a social institution designed to cater to consumers, despite the deplorable entertainment mindset of the modern church. The church is the bride of Christ. And it’s job is to serve Christ and propagate the Gospel.

The question, “Why are the millennials leaving the church?” should be completely irrelevant to any church that is faithfully submitting to Christ and preaching the word of God. Because any church that is faithfully preaching the Word of God doesn’t have to care about membership numbers. This is because numbers don’t matter, faithfulness does. The question is, “Are we serving Christ and preaching the Gospel?”

If young people are leaving your church, there’s two possible explanations: 1) the church is unfaithful and in sin OR 2) the person is unfaithful and in sin. In all the discussions about millennials leaving churches, it’s amazing that no one has stopped to ask, “Well, maybe the millennials are wrong for leaving.”

Whoa there. Do I dare suggest that young people born between 1980-2000 might actually be sinners? That perhaps have unbiblical expectations for what a church should do? And some of them may be leaving for sinful reasons?

Millennials (of which I am one) are people too. They need the Gospel and Jesus just like Generation X and the Baby Boomers. A church that’s preaching the Gospel and Jesus doesn’t need to worry about young people leaving, unless the church is in sin.

Is there a problem that so many people are leaving the churches in America? Yes, and I don’t mean to suggest that the decline in membership in churches is actually JUST the millennial generation’s fault. Churches have largely failed their members, but that includes ALL their members, not just millennials. The point I’m trying to make is that there are two sides to this coin, and we would be remiss if we didn’t examine both.

If you leave a church because it’s petty and judgmental and failing to preach the Gospel, that’s a good thing.

But if you leave because the church biblically declares sin to be what it is and that’s offensive to you, then the blame is on you.

What do you think? Is the focus on millennials too strong, or rightly placed? 

Do You Treat the Church Like a Corporation?

Click for photo souce

Click for photo source

There’s a trend in modern American Christianity. Whether this trend is of our own doing, or is a product of our culture is a subject of debate. There’s a lot of social and historical reasons why we fall into these trends, and it would be great to explore them a little later on. What is this trend?

You could call it the commercialization of the church, and it’s all about running the church like it’s a corporation.

The Church is Not A Company

This is everywhere. Pastors are posting incessantly on their blogs about how to “grow your church” or “attract new followers” or “increase attendance”. Recently, there was a blog from one of these “church consultants” entitled 8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark. At the start of the article, the author states that there’s nothing wrong with small churches. He then proceeds to list 8 reasons why being a small church is a negative. The problem was that this list could have applied to a small business, not a church.

And therein lies the problem: too many people view the church as a corporation that has to turn a profit or meet quarterly goals or boost sales to appease shareholders. In the church-as-corporation world, if a church isn’t growing every week, then something must be wrong with it. Never mind the fact that the vast majority of American churches have less than 100 members in attendance. While we do have a responsibility to go out into our community and witness to others about the Gospel, we can’t force growth. It has to be blessed by God, and if we try and make our church more like a business in order to attract followers, we risk losing the Gospel in the process.

Pastors Are Caretakers, Not CEOs

In the list mentioned above, the number one reason the author says is wrong with small churches is that the pastor is the primary caregiver. It’s hard to read a Christian list that claims that the number one problem with church growth in America is actually the most important thing that pastors are supposed to do (1 Peter 5:2-3). As in, that’s literally the definition of pastor. If we didn’t have the mindset that the church is a business, we wouldn’t be listing Biblical commands as “problems”.

It’s can be a little sad when there’s a funeral or a wedding and the pastor officiating talks about the parties involved in an abstract kind of way because he doesn’t have a personal relationship with them. It’s valuable to have a pastor that can actually relate to the people involved because it’s been his job to shepherd them as part of his flock. We live in the age of the celebrity pastor, where it’s fashionable to strive to have the largest Twitter/Facebook/Blog following that you can have. It’s almost as if the success of ministry is measured by the number of Facebook likes. Is that the way Jesus wanted the church to be run?

The Purpose of the Church

The truth is that when the focus of a church becomes all about growth and achieving set goals and increasing membership, the ministry of the church gets lost. It’s ironic how we can be so focused on growing attendance that we offer nothing when the attendees arrive. Did Jesus want His church to be all about “acting like a big organization” and “increasing membership”? Sure, growth is a good thing, and we should be doing our job to try and grow. But ultimately, the Holy Spirit and the work of Jesus is what grows a church. When you start arbitrarily setting membership goals that you can only reach by God’s grace, the temptation is strong to start incorporating entertainment and gimmicks to gain membership.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The foundation of growing a church is letting Jesus grow it, and making disciples of all nations and preaching the Gospel faithfully. The moment the mission of the Gospel is eclipsed by business-like goals, something has gone wrong. There is no point in asking sinners to fellowship with other sinners in the light of redemptive grace if our intent in leading them to worship is not so they can know Christ, but so that we can add a number to our count. We should pray that the Gospel comes first, and that any effort to grow the church is done in submission to Him. It’s His church, after all.

What do you think? Overreaction or spot on? Sound off in the comments about your thoughts on the commercialization of the church. 

Marriage: Should Ministers Officiate for Unbelievers?

This from the Gospel Coalition…

This pastor says, “No, a minister should not officiate a wedding for unbelievers.” 

This pastor says the opposite. 

It’s kind of a tough call. Both pastors make some very legitimate points. Marriage is given as a common grace covenant. Unbelievers get married all the time, and some even have long and happy marriages. The first author has a good point in that it is a pastor’s responsibility to look out for his flock. But if they’re unbelievers, they’re by implication not part of his flock and his officiating the marriage would seem to fall under the umbrella of evangelistic outreach.

The second author makes this case in that unbelievers are given marriage as part of God’s common grace. His conditions make sense in that it is an opportunity to witness and you are given the opportunity to give a Biblical account of what marriage is. You might not have that opportunity if you refuse to officiate the marriage.

The second author also seemed to have more Scriptural support for his position. It seems like an issue that could pretty easily go both ways. In the end, the glory of God is the deciding factor and I think both authors make a good points that are supported by Scripture. What are your thoughts?

SDG. Knowledge Ignites.