Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Evangelicals are Waking Up

There’s a new energy stirring in today’s evangelical church. At its core is a renewed understanding of the call of the Christian gospel to care for God’s creation. To powerful polluters, this is very bad news. But to the poor and vulnerable of the world, this awakening offers a brilliant ray of hope.

Two years ago, Christian delegates from all over the world convened at the Lausanne Conference in Cape Town, South Africa to discuss and affirm core elements of gospel proclamation. Prominent among those tenets is that the earth and its creatures belong to God. “We care for the earth, most simply,” they affirmed, “because it belongs to the one whom we call Lord….  We cannot claim to love God while abusing what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance.” [i]

Yesterday, the Christian world witnessed another tectonic shift: The Christian Reformed Church (“CRC”) convened in Ontario to discuss and adopt a powerful declaration regarding the Christian response to global climate change.  “Human-induced climate change," they affirmed, “is an ethical, social justice, and religious issue.” [ii]

Like the Lausanne conferees, the CRC delegates affirmed that care for the creation is inseparable from loving God and our neighbors. They went much further, however, honing in on the issues of Christian justice: “Climate change,” they said, “poses a significant threat to future generations, the poor, and the vulnerable.” And they called on all CRC churches to promote stewardship and to seek justice for the victims of climate change, notably the poor and future generations.

The CRC climate change declaration, however, does not end with concern for humans, but also extends to all species that God has made.  “We are called to commit ourselves to honor all God’s creatures,” they affirmed, “and to protect them from abuse and extinction, for our world belongs to God.”

While approved by a strong majority of delegates, the CRC declaration was met with skepticism by some.  Initially, some attempted to cast doubt on the body of scientific climate research acknowledged by the CRC.  The declaration states: “It is the current near-consensus of the international scientific community that climate change is occurring and is very likely due to human activity.” Some delegates attempted to water down the statement by replacing “near-consensus” with a much weaker “many believe.”[iii]

The Creation Stewardship Task Force, however, consisted largely of prominent atmospheric and earth scientists, as well as leading Reformed theologians. Their defense of the scientific consensus evidently carried significant weight among the delegates.

Even some delegates who expressed skepticism about climate science also spoke in favor of the declaration:

“I’m a skeptic on much of this. But how will doing this hurt?” asked Rev. Steven Zwart. “What if we find out in 30 years that numbers (on climate change) don’t pan out? We will have lost nothing, and we’ll have a cleaner place to live. But if they are right, we could lose everything.”[iv]

Still others expressed their concern that talking about climate change would replace the gospel of Christ.  But the CRC takes a very robust view of the span of the gospel.  The Task Force reflected this understanding:

“Jesus Christ rules over all. To follow this Lord is to serve him wherever we are without fitting in, light in darkness, salt in a spoiling world….

“We also recognize that there are many challenges in our world to God’s rule, but we believe that we should confront those challenges by seeking to do God’s will on earth, as it is in heaven….

“Thus our ultimate motivation in creation care is not any secular notion of ‘saving the planet’; salvation is through Christ alone. The Christian’s ultimate motivation for creation care is love for God and neighbor. This love for our neighbor includes both this generation and generations to come because we do not know the time of Christ’s return.”[v]

By mid-morning yesterday, the debate had run its course, and the entire declaration was resoundingly approved by the delegates.  In addition to the core findings regarding climate change, the declaration called for specific actions by churches and members. These include:
  • to live sustainably within our God-given resources;
  • to seek justice for the poor and vulnerable, and for future generations;
  • to reduce individual and collective carbon emissions to the atmosphere;
  • to advocate for public strategies that reduce carbon emissions; and
  • to advocate for an effective global framework to assist populations that are bearing the brunt of the negative effects of climate change.

Upon approving the declaration, the CRC leaders stood to sing these words so familiar and so dear to Christians:

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done.
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heaven be one.

Well done CRC brothers and sisters. The battle, indeed, is not done.  But you have taken a brave stand, and sounded a clarion call to Christians everywhere to care for everything that belongs to the Savior.

J. Elwood

[i] FOR THE LORD WE LOVE: The Cape Town Confession of Faith; Article 7

[iv] Church Called to Action on Creation Care; CRC Newsroom;


  1. In the Netherlands there are many denominations.
    Last saturday there was a day committed to 'de faire naaste', organised for and by three little denominations, all reformed ones. (one of them the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerk, the church where Norman Viss has been working; I think you may know him).
    'De faire naaste' sounds like 'de verre naaste' in Dutch. De verre naaste means: the distant neighbor.
    Fair is being used in the Netherlands in connection with Fair Trade, a trademark given to goods which are produced in a fair way.
    In the past those little reformed denominations didn't like to be engaged in such issues: they where linked to 'left'politics, and that was a bad thing in the time of the Cold War. I'm happy to see that that way of thinking gradually has disappeared.
    More and more churches are engaged in things like: green churches; Micha Course, etcetera.

  2. Tineke: I'm not familiar with each of the groups and issues you've cited. But I do applaud Christians who recognize that the scope of the gospel is limitless. Christians affirm, that God is reconciling ALL THINGS to himself in Christ, and that certainly includes trade practices and the mistreatment of distant peoples. The past century's church practice of ignoring matters of social justice in preference for personal conversion piety would probably be sadly familiar to Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The cost to the Christian witness in Europe and the world from such mindsets has been too great to bear.