By Matt Williams and Jonny Hanson
(From the October - December 2017 issue of VOX)
In the second of our four-part series, Matt Williams and Jonny Hanson explore the connection between creation care and discipleship.
Although all Christians must be prepared to witness, ‘proclamation’ is not everyone’s main calling. All, however, are called to discipleship and making disciples is also a core aspect of mission (Matthew 28:16-20). Discipleship involves obeying all that Jesus taught, starting with genuine knowledge of God. This knowledge of God shapes all that we do, as the Bible emphasises.
But where is Jesus’ teaching on environmental care? It is not explicit – the pre-industrial global population of 300 million of Jesus’ time lived well within the carrying capacity of the planet. However, there’s still plenty under the surface of the Gospels relating to creation.
The first thing is “loving our neighbours as ourselves” (Mark 12:30-31). Given that we have seven billion neighbours (and counting) on one small planet, it’s clear that we can’t accomplish this mandate without caring for the creation that sustains us all: rich and poor, young and old alike. We see this increasingly with climate change: the West’s historic and current overuse of fossil fuels is driving extreme weather patterns that hurt the most vulnerable communities the hardest. To truly love our neighbours as ourselves we also have to share creation fairly, something that we’ll explore more in the fourth article in this series.
Jesus’ prioritising of ‘love our neighbour’ was not new teaching. It was rooted in Judaism and ultimately in the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament). Debate continues over how exactly Christian discipleship relates to the 39 books before Matthew but none would argue that the basic mandate governing human life has been erased (e.g. Matthew 19:1-9). The application is equally important for care of creation. We cannot enforce the agricultural law of Leviticus, for example, but there is no justification whatsoever for rejecting its principles of stewardship, sustainability and fairness in our contemporary food system.
Another key aspect of Jesus’ teaching and example is that disciples must live by God’s Word. Put simply, we must not do something just because it is immediately accessible or feels good, but because we know it is right. This is especially relevant to Western Christians; we know that we should care for creation and we know that people suffer when we abuse it. Yet it feels more convenient to have all the comfort of easy food, easy travel and the technology that makes our wish its command. But isn’t this life by the flesh rather than the Spirit (Romans 8:1-6)?
The fourth dimension of discipleship that relates to creation is wonder. Jesus didn’t just use the lilies of the field and the sparrows of the sky as handy sermon illustrations (Matthew 6:26, 10:27; Luke 12:27-28). He noticed them, delighted in them and called attention to God’s involvement in their sustenance and splendour. Whether we wonder at the stars in the heavens above or at the flowers beneath our feet, creation’s mere existence reminds us of a God who is there, and a God who cares for all that He has made.
Discipleship means becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. Becoming more and more like Jesus Christ means engaging with the world around us through the medium of His birth, life, death, resurrection and return. In terms of how we relate to the rest of creation, this means loving our neighbours as ourselves; reaffirming the equity and stewardship ethics of the Old Testament; living by God’s Word; and wondering at God’s world. Making disciples of all nations also means loving all of God’s creation.
Matt Williams and Jonny Hanson are two of the co-founders of Jubilee, an Antrim-based interdenominational Christian environmental and agricultural organisation launched in August 2017.