30 August 2012

Christianity and Creation

P1010070Over the past few weeks I’ve been making my way through Planetwise, by Dave Bookless, National Director of A Rocha UK, a Christian environmental conservation charity.

Early in the book, Dave Bookless reminds us of the historian Dr Lynn White’s accusation, made in 1967, that Christianity was the most human-centred religion.  You can read White’s paper, published in Science, here. What White wrote was that ‘[e]specially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen.’ He also concluded that:

Since both science and technology are blessed words in our contemporary vocabulary, some may be happy at the notions, first, that viewed historically, modern science is an extrapolation of natural theology and, second, that modern technology is at least partly to be explained as an Occidental, voluntarist realization of the Christian dogma of man's transcendence of, and rightful master over, nature. But, as we now recognize, somewhat over a century ago science and technology—hitherto quite separate activities--joined to give mankind powers which, to judge by many of the ecologic effects, are out of control. If so, Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt.

However, White saw hope not outside of Christianity, but within it. In his paper he appealed to St Francis of Assissi and his attitude to the creation.

His view of nature and of man rested on a unique sort of pan-psychism of all things animate and inaminate, designed for the glorification of their transcendent Creator, who, in the ultimate gesture of cosmic humility, assumed flesh, lay helpless in a manger, and hung dying on a scaffold.

That’s fair enough. But the idea that all creation is made not for man, but for God, and the idea that man is a steward of all that God has made – exercising rule over it in trust, on behalf of God – these ideas are not Francis’. They are found in the scriptures. Right there in Genesis 1 and 2. However, the Christian church has (sometimes wilfully) misread these scriptures, or not noticed them in its rabid desire to defend a literal reading of the biblical account of creation. So bent on proving Genesis 1 against science, the Church has been blind to the great theological messages contained in it. These messages rise to their full glory in the NT, where we are told that in fact creation is not merely for humanity, but for Jesus Christ – and hence properly for humanity only in Him. He is for creation, and creation is for him.

When the Church as a whole sees that the creation has a future in God’s purposes, that we are created as God’s image to be stewards of its glory on His behalf, and that our calling to this stewardship is being realised in Christ, then perhaps we will take ecology seriously and White’s well-founded critique will begin to be addressed.

29 August 2012

Rebaptising Christians

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Over the past months, I’ve heard of more than one instance where evangelical churches have either re-baptised, or were planning to re-baptise, Christians who had already been baptised in another church. It always deeply saddens me when I hear this sort of thing. It is deeply divisive to adjudge another church’s administration of a sacrament to be so deficient as to make it invalid. There aren’t many things more damaging to church unity. The logical conclusion of such a position is that someone might always get a ‘better’ baptism somewhere else!
 
In churches that call themselves reformed, this ought not to happen. If being reformed means anything, then surely it means we’ve got time for John Calvin!
…if we have rightly determined that a sacrament is not to be estimated by the hand of him by whom it is administered, but is to be received as from the hand of God himself, from whom it undoubtedly proceeded, we may hence infer that its dignity neither gains or loses by the administrator. And, just as  among men, when a letter has been sent, if the hand and seal is recognised, it is not of the least consequence who or what the messenger was; so it ought to be sufficient for us to recognise the hand and seal of our Lord in his sacraments, let the administrator be who he may.  
This confutes the error of the Donatists, who measured the efficacy and worth of the sacrament by the dignity of the minister.    Such in the present day are our Catabaptists, who deny that we are duly baptised, because we were baptised in the Papacy by wicked men and idolaters; hence they furiously insist on anabaptism.  Against these absurdities we shall be sufficiently fortified if we reflect that by baptism we were initiated not into the name of any man, but into the name of the Father,  and the  Son, and the Holy Spirit; and, therefore, that baptism is not of man, but of God, by whomsoever it may have been administered.    Be it that those who baptised us were most ignorant of God and all piety, or were despisers, still they did not baptise us into a fellowship with their ignorance or sacrilege, but into the faith of Jesus-Christ, because the name which they invoked was not their own but God's, nor did they baptise into any other name.    But if baptism, was of God, it certainly included in it the promise of forgiveness of sin, mortification of the flesh, quickening of the Spirit, and communion with Christ.    Thus it did not harm the Jews that they were circumcised by impure and apostate priests.    It did not nullify the symbol so as to make it necessary to repeat it.    It was enough to return to its genuine origin.    The objection that baptism ought to be celebrated in the assembly of the godly, does not prove that it loses its whole efficacy because it is partly defective. (Institutes, IV,15,16)

16 August 2012

Wisdom: Living Well

moth2As I posted some time back, the definition of biblical wisdom which I learnt at my alma mater, Highland Theological College (during the excellent Wisdom Literature module) was:

Wisdom is living well in God’s good, but fallen, world.

I think this is an excellent working definition, but I would like to amend it.

Wisdom is living well in God’s good world, both in the fallen and in the redeemed.

Not quiet as snappy, but I believe that wisdom itself (including the task of wisdom) will be a feature of the renewed earth. In the regeneration (as Jesus calls it in Matt 19:28), the realisation of true wisdom in every person, through the resurrection of bodies totally aligned to the motivation of God’s Spirit (1 Cor 15:44), will be one feature of the life of the new community, with Christ, our wisdom, as the head.

14 August 2012

Anarchism and the Church

orwellLast week, I returned from a few days in Catalonia. My holiday reading included Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. I thought I’d share a few extracts from this first hand account of Marxist/Anarchist revolution, accounts which concern the fate of the church in the midst of the turmoil. This is how Orwell saw things in Barcelona at the end of 1936:

Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen.

From his time fighting with Marxist militia at the front at Alcubierre:

The church had long been used as a latrine; so had all the fields for a quarter of a mile round. I never think of my first two months at war without thinking of wintry stubble fields whose edges are crusted with dung.

What to think of this? It would be too easy to take a simplistic view: Reds versus Christianity. Orwell offers his own observations, commenting on the approach of anti-Fascist papers in Britian:

Some of the foreign anti-Fascist papers even descended to the pitiful lie of pretending that churches were only attacked when they were used as Fascist fortresses. Actually churches were pillaged everywhere and as a matter of course, because it was perfectly well understood that the Spanish Church was part of the capitalist racket. In six months in Spain I only saw two undamaged churches, and until about July 1937 no churches were allowed to reopen and hold services, except for one or two Protestant churches in Madrid.

….

Obviously the Spanish Church will come back (as the saying goes, night and the Jesuits always return), but there is no doubt that at the outbreak of the revolution it collapsed and was smashed up to an extent that would be unthinkable even for the moribund C. of E. in like circumstances. To the Spanish people, at any rate in Catalonia and Aragón, the Church was a racket pure and simple. And possibly Christian belief was replaced to some extent by Anarchism, whose influence is widely spread and which undoubtedly has a religious tinge.

How sad that the church could be so readily identified with the cause of the rich and wealthy, and with the injustice that is present in every society, rather than with the cause of justice, especially for the poor. It happens too often. This speaks to our own times, when the world is crying out for clear, balanced and constructive Christian critiques of our own Western economic systems.