A Christian’s response to the article on “CRISIS MOMENTS, NO HOLDS-BRING OUT CHRISTIAN TEACHINGS ON ENVIRONMENT!” posted by Sylvester Ngonga http://www.lteconomy.it/blog/2019/06/11/crisis-momentsno-holds-bring-out-christian-teachings-on-environment/
I have been reflecting on what was written in the article. As a Christian, I must admit that it gave me a mixed feeling. On one hand I must applaud it for openly calling the Church as a body to rise to the occasion and help address the environmental degradation in our time. However it is its call for the church to reinterpret its biblical doctrine that aroused an uneasy feeling. It is more an issue than just semantics. The suggestion to revert to the old Naga spiritual tradition may sound appealing but then was the assumptions in the suggestion correct?
I must state my intention. I am not trying to proselytise here. My intention is to highlight how a Christian can respond to environmental issues on a biblical basis. The thoughts I am sharing may not be the last words but I do hope these will provide the food for further thoughts.
Biblical doctrines must put things in the entire perspective of the bible. Each doctrine cannot be adopted in piecemeal fashion without regards to the overall theme of the Bible. Re-interpreting theological doctrines of the church will mean finding new or different perspectives. However I lean towards the perspective that there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9 declared that “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” In the same refrain, I must submit that there is nothing new in what I am sharing. I am just trying to put the environmental challenge in a broader biblical perspective.
The blog does highlight the issues that may confront Christians when doctrines are adopted on ad hoc or piecemeal basis. Doctrines in the bible could be ignored or put aside in addressing more pressing issues. What the church and its various denominations need to do is to re-examine their current practices and re-establish the foundation of their doctrines. The evangelicals and the charismatics tend to interpret the bible differently. There is indeed a need for a council to reach deeper insights. Unfortunately this is going to be easier said than done.
In a nutshell, the narratives in the bible are all about God’s love. He is reaching out and inviting man to return to His fold. What He expects from man is succinctly summarised by Christ in two short Commands – man is to love God with all their heart, soul and mind and by loving their neighbours as themselves. God wants man to reciprocate His love in obedience not in sacrifice. “Man” is used generically to mean both sexes. We thus must to re-establish the proper doctrine on the care of the nature and environment in this context of this overarching love.
The narratives in Genesis Chapters 1-3 are pertinent here.
The narrative in Genesis 1 – God blessed his creation and told them to be fruitful and multiply to fill and subdue the earth. He made man in His image and gave him the dominion over the fish of the seas, the birds of the heavens and every living thing that moves on the earth. God provided food for man from plants that yield seed and trees that yield seeds in its fruit. God also provided green plant for food to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creeps on earth and has the breath of life. God deemed his creation as very good.
Narrative in Genesis 2: God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it. God told the man that he was free to eat the fruits on any tree of the garden, except for the fruits on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He warned that from the day man eats from it, he would surely die. The Lord God noted that it was not good for the man to be alone without a helper. So God brought every beast of the field and every bird of the sky to be named by the man but Adam could name any as a suitable helper. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh. God fashioned the rib from the man into a female, and brought her to the man. Since she was the bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, Adam called her woman.
Narrative in Genesis 3:1-6 – The serpent which was craftiest of beast of the field tempted the woman by arousing her awareness. It asked her whether God instructed her not to eat of any tree in the garden. The woman replied that they could eat the fruit of the trees in the garden, except for the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden and that touching and eating it would mean death. The serpent told the woman that she would not surely die. It suggested that eating the fruit would open her eyes and she would know good and evil, just like God. When the woman saw the tree, it looked good for food, it was a delight to the eyes and it would make her wise. She took and ate its fruits and she gave some to her husband to eat. .
The doctrine – while God gave man have dominion over everything that breath and move on earth, He also tasked man to cultivate and keep the Garden of Eden. The concept of DOMINANCE is not built upon the concept of ruling to be served but on the concept of STEWARDSHIP to serve and exalt the other living things. This reflects the interplay with two pertinent teachings from Christ together with the 2 Great Commands to love God and to love others. These teachings are that (1) the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and (2) Christ came into this world to serve and not to be served.
God completed the creation process with Adam. He was the last to be created but he was given the dominance over other living things. The task of cultivating and taking care of the Garden of Eden was not only to grow food for himself and all living things in the Garden. This task must be huge otherwise God would not consider the need of a helper for Adam.
The theology of man’s dominance over creation is probably misplaced when it is considered without the doctrine of stewardship and servant hood. Once we can see the interplay of these elements, we can see the task for man had to include maintaining the harmonious relationships in God’s creation.
The fall of man did not start with greed but with covetousness. Covetousness is the desire for the possession of something which something one likes to have. Greed is a more severe form of covetousness. It is a selfish or excessive desire for more than is needed or deserved. Eve was tempted because she coveted to be more like God and failed to see God’s intention to keep man from harm’s way.
The fall of man, a term as used in Christianity, transitioned the first man and woman from a state of innocent obedience to God to a state of guilty disobedience. Instead of confessing his sin, Adam blamed God for providing the woman who had “helped” him to sin. This marked death coming upon man and the breakdown of the harmonious relationships among God’s creation.
Man had to struggle against temptation every day. The pattern of sin runs along this sequence – failing to listen to God the Creator; following our own impressions instead of God’s instructions; and making self-fulfilment the goal.
The only way for us to break the pattern is to reinstate the right biblical doctrine instead of reinterpreting them. What I wrote is not new. The fault of man misinterpreting biblical doctrines lies with man not listening to God and obeying His teaching in the Bible. Christians has to think that they are steward of the world and how to do the right thing instead of making things “right.
The call in the blog for the church to re-examine rather than reinterpreting their doctrine is appropriate. The church needs to be guided with a more comprehensive doctrine that not only aims to save soul but to love others as themselves. This must include their welfare and the easing the pain of working in a fractured environment. The church needs to pay attention to the environment in which the believers live and work in.
However what bothered me is the reference to A. Nshoga, a Naga research scholar and his call as a Naga to go back to their Naga tradition based on a multifaceted religion with the combination of theism, animism, supernaturalism, superstition, shamanism and lycanthropism. He claimed that the indigenous Naga religion is a belief in the existence of spirits. Every place is associated with a spirit and if there is a place there will be a spirit of that place who is supposed to be feared and propitiated.
Though I have travelled many times to India I must confess that I am not expert on the country.
This is what I found out. Naga is unique. Over 90% of its population are professed Christians. I will put aside the issue on how deep is the faith and the theology of Naga’s Christians. Yes I am aware not that the residents in Naga are facing challenges from environmental exploitation and degradation. But then is it not true that the rest of India is also struggling with the same issues.
Please read the following articles:
Here is an abstract: “There are many environmental issues in India. Air pollution, water pollution, garbage and pollution of the natural environment are all challenges for India. Nature is also causing some drastic effects on India. The situation was worse between 1947 through 1995. According to data collection and environment assessment studies of World Bank experts, between 1995 through 2010, India has made some of the fastest progress in addressing its environmental issues and improving its environmental quality in the world. Still, India has a long way to go to reach environmental quality similar to those enjoyed in developed economies. Pollution remains a major challenge and opportunity for India.”
Many societies outside Naga are not dominated by Christians but by other religious beliefs. They practice “multifaceted religion with the combination of theism, animism, supernaturalism, superstition, shamanism and lycanthropism” as in Naga traditions. They are also suffering the same issues on environmental exploitation and degradation as in Naga.
If the rest of India is also facing the same problems as Naga, then this calls into questions the assumptions that reverting to traditional Naga’s practice will help resolve the environmental issue. Will such a move be something like jumping from the pot into the fire? Is it justified to put the fault and blame on Christianity?
I am not trying to defend Christianity just because I am a Christian. What I am calling for is an unbiased criticism. Christianity was introduced into non-Christian societies and the clash with traditional and cultural beliefs would be unavoidable. When things go wrong, it is often easier to blame on the major change that society had undertaken. Is this the case with Nagaland? Unfortunately my research could not provide sufficient information to make a critical comment whether the problem with the environment is unique to Naga or whether it is better or worse off when compared to the rest of India.
However this is what I can lament. The environmental exploitation and degradation could be a sign that the churches in Nagaland could not have done enough to teach and impart the right biblical values on the stewardship of our environment. It is not enough to save souls but help their societies to enjoy a better quality in life.
The article is a good wake up call for the churches to response with the right approach!!