Baptists have throughout history largely lagged behind other Christians in theological and practical discussion concerning the environment, but there are signs the Baptist conscience is awakening to the issue of creation care, a European Baptist leader told a recent gathering of British Baptists.
Keith Jones, rector of International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic, said in an address at the 2008 Baptist Assembly that while a holistic theology embracing both personal piety and respect for nature existed in the Radical Reformation tradition like the Moravians, that emphasis is not as strong among writings of early Baptists.
While there was some interest in stewardship in the earth in form of agricultural missions, Jones said except for a few dissenters, Baptist churches have tended to emphasize personal morals while viewing the world as corrupt and evil and ruled by Satan–a world from which they need to be saved.
Such dualism, Jones said, isn’t supported by the Gospel of John’s view of the world as “cosmos” in particular or with Hebrew thought forms in the Old Testament.
Before Darwin, Jones said, the investigation of the natural world “was thought to be a pious act, seeking to understand the wonders of God’s creation as another aspect of God’s greatness.” Still, except for individual Baptists like 19th century geologist Samuel Rowles Pattison, who questioned the then-older understanding that the earth was about 6,000 years old, such romantic notions didn’t take hold until the latter half of the 20th century.
Jones said more recently such ideas have come forth in practical concerns like sustainable development, eco-churches, the green movement and renewal of interest in the theology of creation care.
International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague has taken hold of the theology of creation care not only in liturgy, prayers and songs, but in the classroom, Jones said. Programs like a new degree program on creation care and environmental issues, practical concerns like recycling, organic husbandry, land care and energy conservation, he said, place IBTS “as the leading theological institution for integrated creation-care activity in Europe.”
The Baptist Union of Great Britain and BMS World Mission, together with the Baptist Unions of Scotland and Wales and the environmental group A Rocha, are producing a major new resource looking at issues of climate change and the Christian responsibility to care for creation.
“Future Shape?” a set of study materials aimed at Baptist ministers and churches, is being released over six months, beginning May 1.
The Baptist Assembly also passed a public resolution calling on churches to work for social justice in their own communities, starting with their own employees. The resolution called on churches, associations and churches to ensure that church employees receive a fair wage, have written contracts of employment, meet legal requirements for jobs and provide equal opportunities for employment.
“This Assembly believes that it is our duty as Christians to follow good employment practices, ensuring that all our employees are treated fairly and justly, and so enabling us to be a credible voice in campaigning for an end to poverty in the UK,” the resolution said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.