Environmentalism and evangelism; salvation proclaimed to creation
At the end of February, I started a new job for Lichfield Diocese as Evangelism Enabler with an Environmental Focus. Unfortunately, by Easter I, along with half the diocesan staff, were furloughed due the difficult financial situation – so my role will restart in September. However, the job title itself has provoked some interest. The point of the role is not do evangelism and environmentalism, but to see environmentalism as integral to evangelism. So, why might that make sense? What is the thinking behind such a connection?
The idea that evangelism and environmentalism are linked is a result of developments in missiology during the 20th Century. The aftermath of two world wars and colonialism led to the Church exploring its understanding of mission no longer as something white people did abroad but as a global phenomenon from everywhere to everywhere.
Also, within this rethink there was a new emphasis on the role social action played within mission. This led to a growing understanding of mission as something God does and we join in with rather than as something the Church does, and that God’s mission was about the coming of the Kingdom of God.
For the Kingdom of God to ‘come on earth as in heaven’ conversion and discipleship needed to include social transformation as well as personal transformation. Indeed, the two became integral to each other; a gospel message and discipleship that did not include a call to be part of God’s Kingdom vision was not a call to truly follow Christ, but attempts to transform society without a call to conversion and the work of the Spirit to transform people was never going to succeed.
Within Anglicanism this approach to mission was summarised within the ‘Five Marks of Mission’. The Anglican communion website describes these this way:
“The Five Marks of Mission are an important statement on mission. They express the Anglican Communion’s common commitment to, and understanding of, God’s holistic and integral mission. The mission of the Church is the mission of Christ.
The first Mark of Mission, identified with personal evangelism at the Anglican Consultative Council in 1984 (ACC-6) is a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Jesus’ own summary of his mission. This should be the key statement about everything we do in mission.
The Five Marks of Mission:
The mission of the Church is the mission of Christ
1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
3. To respond to human need by loving service
4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”
There are several things to note about this statement. Firstly, that all 5 marks flow from personal evangelism, but also note that is conceived as ‘proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom’. This includes the Good News about God’s love for each of us and being set free from the power of sin and death through Christ.
But the Good News - the gospel - is more than that. It calls me to be part of a new family with a vision for a new way of life that is about the coming of the Kingdom. This then informs what it is to be a disciple of Christ, this is what we are to teach new believers. If we do this then the next two Marks of Mission flow out of this discipleship: we share God’s love for others and serve them as Jesus taught the first disciples, but we also realise that God longs for a world in which all have justice and peace so we don’t just feed the hungry, we ask why they are hungry and seek to change society.
But that still doesn’t take the Kingdom vision far enough. It needs to include the whole of creation.
The addition of the fifth mark (it was not originally part of the document) may well be a response to increasing awareness of ecological damage. However, if that was so, this has awakened a proper re-examination of a vision of the Kingdom that was only about human social transformation.
If we turn to St Paul writing in Romans, the first eight chapters build up his understanding of why all people need to be transformed in Christ and what that means. So, chapter 8 is the climax of this argument.
Here Paul writes:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8: 18-23)
That is the gospel of salvation - it is for all creation and all creation will also, like us, become children of God. As St Francis famously put it: in Christ, we call all things our brothers and sisters. This means not only should we work to safeguard the integrity of creation, but the vision for creation - like that of a transformed society - is part of the gospel message we proclaim.
31 July 2020
Steve is a member of the Church Army Mission community and used to work for Church Army, first as Researcher in evangelism to post-Christian culture, and then as a Tutor on the Training Team. He has a background in social science and theology, particularly looking at culture and spirituality in today’s world and Christian responses to that, as well as many years working and teaching in mission and evangelism. His publications include Mission-Shaped Evangelism (Canterbury Press 2010), New Age Paganism and Christian Mission, (Grove 2003), and Starting, Assessing and Sustaining Pioneer Mission (Grove 2013)
11 May 2018 - Hannah explores what it means to be green hearted and our calling, as Christians, to to not only look after God's people, but his planet too.