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The Fifth Mark of Mission

By Richard Dormandy.

In 1984 the Anglican Consultative Council began to develop a mission statement for the worldwide Anglican Communion and in 1988 the Lambeth Conference adopted these ‘Five Marks of Mission’:

  • To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain the life of the earth.        

To some, this gloriously piece of muddled thinking only serves to blunt whatever cutting edge was left in the Anglican church's outreach. To others, it is a fine and unifying expression of intent. 

In its explanatory notes however, the Anglican Consultative Council says, "The first mark of mission, identified at ACC-6 with personal evangelism, is really a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Jesus' own summary of his mission... Instead of being just one (albeit the first) of five distinct activities, this should be the key statement about everything we do in mission."  If that is the case, we might wonder what ‘good’ it does to clutter up the list with the other four, especially as on the surface they seem to be equal in status. If this ‘good’ is Church Unity, does that outweigh the ‘bad’ of softening our focus on evangelism? And what if the ‘good’ is merely Worldwide Anglican Appeasement?

A friend of mine is a ministry selector in the Church of England. He says that the one area that candidates consistently have little to say about is the fifth mark of mission - in brief, care for the earth. This is hardly surprising. Not only are most people as yet unsensitised to environmental issues, but from a Christian point of view, Jesus makes this a command on precisely zero occasions. It seems baffling to many that the church should make it a mark of mission. Some probably see it as a sop to the green lobby - and we know how muddled they really are!

In this article I will explore:

  • In what sense care for the earth is a mark of mission
  • Why it is urgent and timely
  • How to embrace it
  • The Earth and Evangelism

Care for the Earth as the Church's Mission

The first article of the Shorter Westminster Catechism says that "Man's chief end is to worship God and enjoy him for ever," but the first human purpose expressed in Scripture is to care for the earth: "The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard it" (Genesis 2.15). To fulfill that purpose demonstrates the worth we place on its Giver. In other words, to fulfill that purpose is a central aspect of worshipping God.

Cultivating and guarding the garden (as the Good News Bible puts it) is the first mission given to humans. In Genesis Chapter 1, it is phrased slightly differently - "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." Whether intentionally or not, the verse in Chapter 2 interprets that of Chapter 1. What will be the nature of this subduing, or "taming" process? It will be one of cultivation and guarding. The Hebrew word 'abad’ – translated here as ‘cultivate’ – also has the sense of ‘tend’, ‘serve’, or even ‘worship’ and ‘recognise indebtedness to’. The second Hebrew word – shamar – translated here as ‘guard’ means to ‘protect’, ‘watch over’, ‘exercise great care and vigilance’. So while the humans are to take charge of the earthen wilderness, it's an activity to be done with humility and responsible vision.

But why is this the church's mission? Surely the church's mission is simply to tell people about Jesus. This care for the earth is nothing more than our general human mission! But Hebrews Chapter 2 makes it clear that the coming of Jesus brings the restoration of humanity. The writer says:

"We do not, however, see human beings ruling over all things now. But we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower that the angels. so that through God's grace he should die for everyone. We see him now crowned with glory and honour because of the death he suffered. It was only right that God, who creates and preserves all things, should make Jesus perfect through suffering, in order to bring many children to share his glory. For Jesus is the one who leads them to salvation."

These words make it clear that our restoration to full humanity is a good way of expressing the goal of Jesus mission – the gospel. Although the writer doesn't mention Adam by name, this is ‘Second Adam’ christology. By joining us in our fallen humanity, Jesus the perfect human blazes a trail through to a new possibility for us and God. In his wake, and through his grace, we can re-find our full humanity through the power of his cross and resurrection. Therefore, to actively live out this restored humanity is to proclaim the gospel. It is to express, not only our basic human mission, but also our Christian mission to proclaim Christ.

Why is this Mission both Urgent and Timely?

In September 2013, the UN panel on Climate Change met in Stockholm. One conclusion of their 3,000 page report is a 95% certainty that more than half the global warming since 1951 is caused by human activity. It's no good reactionaries claiming that 5% un-certainty means we should be cautious with the data. 95% certainty is overwhelmingly huge. Few facts are more certain. This is a conclusion that requires urgent attention. The fact that this measurement is ‘since 1951’ shows that the steep rate of change has happened in recent years; the fact that it is attributable to human activity shows that it may be within human ability to reverse it, and it is certainly within our grasp to retard it.

At the point of writing this article, large tracts of Britain are under water. Global warming has never been so frequently mentioned as a news item. Much of the time, the idea of ice caps melting doesn't move us too much. If anything, we may be secretly looking forward to a warmer climate. However, when it comes closer to home we get agitated.

This agitated state is how we should be all the time! Generally speaking, global warming will affect us in the UK less than in other parts of the world, but to fall into such complacency will certainly incur the wrath of God – if Amos and Isaiah of Jerusalem are anything to go by. It is projected that, by 2020, from 500 to 750 million people will be affected by water stress caused by climate change around the world. In countries like Bangladesh, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by 50%. Couple this with a growing population, and starvation is the inevitable result. At the present rate of sea level rise, it could take just 25 years for encroaching saltwater to waterlog the farmland and poison fresh drinking water for as many as 10 million people. And this is simply the outlook for one country.

These projections tell us that the situation is urgent. This is not a situation for musing or idle debate. This should not be a ministerial portfolio for some up and coming politician, nor should it be a convenient place to park the irritating energies of some ‘alarmist’ in the knowledge that they will safely burn out without consequence. This issue demands to be the number one problem to be solved. And because it has been largely caused both by human activity, and within recent decades, there is a real chance that timely human action will help. 

What we face, then, is a situation needing urgent attention with the utmost energy. As the church we are called to be prophets of God. As those who have glimpsed the renewed humanity in Jesus, our message is to lovingly call the world to live up to the full mark of humanity, and in this case that means caring for Creation. If millions of fish in a remote part of the ocean die because temperatures rise, that is not something of little consequence. Those fish were created and loved by God, so our neglect of this issue is a grave sin. The evangelists of former generations called their hearers to repentance and faith in Christ, citing all sorts of issues of their day: lust, gin, indolence, and so on. Like those Christians of the past, we can't say that we are any better than the average fallen human, but we can say that God has forgiven us, motivated us, envisioned us and empowered us to live differently, if indeed we do.

How can we embrace this Mission?      

The first stage has to be raising environmental awareness. Only a limited amount is achieved by holding an annual family service on the subject. In fact, this can have a detrimental effect by neatly wrapping it up into a topic that's been ‘done’. Similarly, the practice in some churches of farming the issue out to a couple of enthusiasts runs the risk of salving the minister's conscience while making sure that the church doesn't really have to address this issue.

Like any aspect of mission, including evangelism, Care for Creation must be brought into the mainstream teaching and preaching curriculum. This will require the minister as well as the church to go on a journey of growing awareness. Movements such as eco-congregation can help churches and individuals do carbon audits, but these must be thoughtfully integrated within a larger strategy. Too many churches have unfinished eco-audits filed under the heading, "We tried that but it just fizzled out." Again, as with evangelism, the Senior Pastor or Vicar has to own and be seen to own this mark of mission.

Then there have to be practical ways to make a difference. We all know about limiting our use of polythene carrier bags, but we need to do more than that! An Eco-audit will identify a wide range of simple possibilities. How fast do you drive? Why not limit yourself to 56mph - it's much more relaxing and won't add much journey time? But because churches are already communities, we can also make much bigger contributions. A huge number of churches have been built with large, south-facing roofs. A concerted effort really should be made to cover these with solar panels. Because of the installation costs, solar has been thought of as luxury investment for the already wealthy, but as churches we should consider it a moral imperative to at least investigate. Sometimes it's felt that such panels will obliterate the heritage value of old buildings. The reality is, however, that such measures are playing an active part in creating a future in which that heritage might exist. Imagine if only 50% of south-facing church roofs became place-holders for solar energy: what a huge difference that would make to the burning of fossil fuels in this country, and what better way for the church at large to demonstrate our calling as renewed human beings.

But there's more. How many churches are involved with new building projects at any one time in the UK? Scores at least! How many get to grips with the difference that green building principles can make? Not nearly enough. In our church in Tulse Hill, South London, we are gathering the funds to build a new Neighbourhood Hub. The building will seat well over 150 around tables, include small group rooms, a substantial kitchen, etc. It will be made entirely without cement. The cement industry is one of the primary producers of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Our building will be constructed to last some 200 years, and built using straw bales.

Straw requires a breathable render, which is why cement is simply not a good option. Lime render, however, is breathable. It produces 20% less carbon dioxide than cement in production and then, unlike cement, it reabsorbs the CO2 when it sets. Lime mortar is carbon neutral. Foundations, which are often quite unnecessarily deep concrete trenches, can be built with used car tyres packed with pea-shingle. The normal destination for car tyres is landfill, where they will occupy space for several thousand years, but they could be put to good use. We hope that our roof tiles will also be made of 99% recycled materials, again primarily rubber, and of course, we will make the most of our south-facing orientation both in passive solar heating and a PV array. Because straw is such a good insulator, fuel bills are expected to be cut by at least 50%. Our resource will be earth-friendly, financially sustainable, and affordable for local people. You can find out more about this project at wecanbuildourchurch.org.uk. If you know of anyone who might make a financial donation towards this project, please encourage them. We need to raise about £400,000 - and 30% of under 18s in our parish are cited as living in child poverty.

There are several other straw-bale community halls and classrooms around Britain, but we will be the first straw church building. Why is that? Hopefully we won't be the last. Social housing has also been successfully built in Lincolnshire and Essex. Straw is a natural agricultural waste product. It is estimated that each year 240,000 homes could be built with the straw we produce in the UK. How we build is a major area of earth-loving mission in which the church can be leaders in demonstrating what it means to be humans renewed in Christ.

The Earth and Evangelism

Committed care for Creation is evangelism. Through it we are clearly and purposefully demonstrating how a renewed relationship with God through Christ gives us vision and hope. Of course it doesn't do away with the need for words to articulate the gospel, what the cross means, and how to receive the living Christ into your heart. The oft-quoted saying of St Francis, "Preach the gospel and use words if necessary" needs a caveat: "... and they are often necessary!"

Committed care for Creation also supports evangelism. Although our efforts to turn the tide of global warming are still hugely inadequate, there has been a significant turning of the tide in British culture. At a time when there are plenty of reasons for the average non-believer to feel the church is irrelevant, active care for the environment makes a powerful statement that many can relate to. Here in Tulse Hill, we've seen an enormous interest in our project as well as the sort of growing respect that will gain a hearing for the gospel. Jeremiah 29.7 says, "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you." When other concerned inhabitants of our world (and there are many) see us seeking the welfare of our world, they become more ready to hear what we have to say.

However, here in Tulse Hill we are again going further. One of the great things about Straw-Bale construction is that it lends itself to a self-build process. When proper training is given and the process overseen, this need not lead to any loss of quality. The upshot of this is that our project will bring a wide range of people from our wider community into a close, practical relationship with the church. They will not only see from a distance that we are doing a good and relevant thing; they will be doing it close at hand, with us.

What testimonies do we hope to come from this? We hope that a number of people will be able to tell stories of finding a vocation in construction which they were not previously aware of. We hope they will build on the training they have had, to find work either in conventional building or green building. We envisage many people telling stories of their growth in environmental awareness through participation in this process. As a result, once again the church will be seen to be leading people into the shape of renewed humanity. We anticipate others personally coming to Christ because they have come into the community of the church and found Him here. We expect an increase in community cohesion, a growth in inter-gender and inter-generational respect and empowerment. This is why our slogan is "We can build our church."  Empowerment for life is what it means to bring Good News.

I never thought I would be writing this article.

There are many other topics I could have turned to. I used to think that the green agenda was what liberals latched on to in order to avoid doing the truly Christian mission things of evangelism and Bible study. I suppose I also felt rather powerless to do anything about the environment - so what's the point? And finally, it all seemed a bit fanatical and obsessive. Through our straw-bale building I have begun to be more sensitised - in fact more human in the fullest sense - with a  larger, expanded, revitalised view of my calling in Christ.

Recently I was preaching on stewardship, and I talked about lending out tools. Personally, I have never subscribed to the view that "I never lend my tools." I think that stewardship principles require us to share. However, sometimes that means our tools are returned (eventually) rusty, blunt, dirty, broken, ruined even. How disappointed we feel when that happens. Dumb-struck sometimes! Imagine how God feels when he sees how we've treated the Creation he has lent us? We come to him with it still in our hands: dirty, polluted, damaged, suffering, groaning - and because of our own actions. We can't say, "Let me go to B&Q to buy you a new one, God." We can show willing to work hard in cleaning it up and being channels of restoration.

Becoming involved in this task nurtures hope. Anyone who has ever done gardening will know how demoralising it can be! This is especially so where the garden has not been chosen by the one tending it, such as in the case of a vicarage or manse. Sometimes the task seems both unending and impossible, but to engage with the task is both rewarding and generates hope. In our current global situation, it is also easy to become demoralised, but to engage is truly a mark of Christian mission; to engage nurtures hope.

For Follow Up

Here are a selection of websites which form a good starting for further enquiry:

wecanbuildourchurch.org.uk

greenchristian.org.uk

operationnoah.org

strawworks.co.uk

http://goo.gl/r2Tvqv (RIBA Sustainability Hub)

Richard Dormandy

Vicar, Holy Trinity, Tulse Hill, South London

Ministry Today

You are reading The Fifth Mark of Mission by Richard Dormandy, part of Issue 60 of Ministry Today, published in April 2014.

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