A conversation with my friends around a lunch table made me think.
My question was about how the natural world and our Christian faith relate to each other.
Each of us responded with a story to share about how we experience God when we walk in a forest, listen to a stormy sea, stick our fingers into the moist spring soil to seed the herbs and veggies or watch the crops grow.
The connection between the natural world and God is very natural, they said. God is the Creator.
The identity of Estonian people is rooted in nature. Few middle-aged people have grandparents who have not been farmers or fishermen, depending on rain, wind, sun, fertility of the land and generosity of the sea.
And even today, when more than one-third of our people live in towns, we can be characterized by “having a smartphone in one hand and the mushroom knife in the other.”
We readily acknowledge that we are bound to the natural world and that there is a mutual dependence between us.
We human beings depend on natural resources, and the well-being of the natural environment depends on how we, people, manage it.
As Christians, we also acknowledge that God takes care of us through the natural environment and everything it produces. There is no doubt about that.
Yet, when we come to verbal and practical expressions of our faith, the issue of creation care does not seem to have a significant role in what we say at our worship services and Bible studies or what we do together as church communities.
Even in Estonia, where a vital connection to nature is part of people’s national identity, creation care is not considered an issue in which the church should become involved.
One of my friends around the table offered an explanation: The issue of creation care first has to become important for our faith, and then actions based on that faith will follow.
So how can we make creation care important for our faith?
N.T. Wright demonstrates in his book, “Creation, Power and Truth,” that early Christians built a holistic understanding of their lives and worship on the Jewish doctrine of creation.
It was very important for them to protect their faith from the ideas around them that promoted a dualistic and escapist worldview.
According to those views, the natural world was secondary, dangerous and wicked; the solution was to escape from it.
Israel worshipped God the Creator. And it is important that the theological language of their worship bound together creation and God’s saving, sustaining and redeeming work; this gave people a reason to thank him and praise him (see, for example, Psalms 8, 19, 24, 95, 104).
In Jewish theology, God’s acts of creation and redemption belong together.
This is what the early Christians also believed. It was foundational to their faith that God’s kingdom is coming “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
They did not doubt God’s intention to redeem both people and the rest of created order (Romans 8:18-23). And they understood themselves as God’s agents in his total redemptive work in the world.
However, it seems to me that for many contemporary evangelical churches, the creation story belongs to Sunday School to explain to children how it all began. And then it is forgotten. The “actual and real” story starts with the Fall.
So, our worship services emphasize God’s saving and redeeming work, but this belongs exclusively to “me” and to those who accept the gospel and repent.
But does this not mean that we stop halfway when we preach about God’s plan for this world?
The theme of creation needs to find a way back to our Bible studies and worship services.
It requires our attention even more than that of the Hebrew people and the early church. The cumulating and accelerating ecological crisis leaves us no choice.
Some evangelical and Baptist churches around the world have found their way back to this early Christian conviction and express it in their worship services as well as in their community projects.
One of these Baptist communities in Europe is the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB).
Its current general secretary, Lynn Green, says in the Summer 2018 issue of their magazine, Baptists Together, that caring for creation “isn’t just an environmental issue, this is a discipleship issue.”
Articles in the magazine encourage churches to take action and provide them with different resources and ideas to do that.
This is just one of the steps that BUGB has taken in order to follow up their “Vision for the Environment” adopted in 2007.
The Baptist World Alliance Commission on Creation Care is in the process of collecting different resources to support churches in their theological reflection and to find worship materials and project ideas. These will be made available on the BWA website.
We do this to emphasize that the issue of creation care first has to become important for our faith, and then hopefully and with God’s help, our actions will follow.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series focused on creation care for Earth Day 2018. The previous articles in the series are:
How Martin Luther King’s Death Birthed Environmental Justice by Aaron D. Weaver
How Churches Can Turn Around Our Environmental Woes by Chuck Summers
Helle Liht is the assistant general secretary at the European Baptist Federation.