The Mission of the Church: Creation Care, Part 2 (The New Testament)

Eucharist-Mission1

Col 1:15-23

Christopher Wright quotes,

(Col. 1:15-23 ESV) 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,  22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,  23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. 

Wright comments,

Paul is talking about the whole of creation. He first says “all creation” (v. 15), and then uses the phrase “all things in heaven and earth” (v. 16). It could not be clearer that Paul has in mind the whole of the created universe—not just human beings.

Paul links Christ and creation in the most comprehensive way. Christ was there, of course, as the Son of God, even before creation existed (v. 17). Christ is the source of the creation of the universe (v. 16). Christ is beneficiary or heir of all creation (“the firstborn” [v. 15], “for him” [v. 16]). Christ sustains creation in existence (v. 17).

Paul includes creation in the saving power of the cross. Christ has redeemed creation (v. 20). It is vital to see here that the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, is the means of the reconciliation of creation to God, not only of sinners. “All things” that are reconciled in verse 20 must have the same universal meaning as the “all things” that were created in verse 16.

The order of Paul’s argument here is also revealing and runs counter to the way we tend to describe the gospel. We start from the other end.

We tend to start with individuals who need to have their sin problem dealt with. The cross is the answer to that individual problem, so that you can be saved and go to heaven. Meanwhile, you need fellowship and company on the way to heaven, and that’s what the church is for, so you’d better join one. As for the world out there, we have to live in it until we get to heaven, but we should not get too obsessed with it, since only what is “heavenly” really counts.

Individual → church → world → heaven. That is our trajectory, with its built-in dualism.

But Paul’s gospel works in the exact opposite direction. God has a very big plan indeed. Paul starts with creation—and relates that to Christ as its creator and sustainer. Then he moves to the church (v. 18), which will be the people of the new creation, because they are in Christ, who is the firstborn of the new creation just as he is the firstborn of the original creation. That is to say, the church belongs to Christ because all things belong to Christ, but also because the church is already, in this creation, the anticipation of the redeemed people of God in the new creation. Then, having spoken of all creation and of the whole church, Paul sums up their totality in the reconciling work of the cross (v. 20).

Finally, having sketched the grand plan of God for the whole universe and emphasized the centrality of the cross within it, Paul adds—“Oh yes, even you too [“and you” at the beginning of v. 21 is emphatic], you get to be part of this! You who were Gentile outsiders [as described in Eph. 2:11–12] can be among the reconciled, through faith in this gospel, which is now for everybody everywhere” (“proclaimed to every creature under heaven”, v. 23, could be better translated as “proclaimed in the whole creation / in all creation under heaven” [as in REB and ESV]; Paul sees the whole created earth as the sphere of gospel proclamation).

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 59–60.

The church will be redeemed and reconciled because it will be part of the Creation, which is to be redeemed and reconciled!

Rom 8:19-23

(Rom. 8:19-23 ESV) 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 

Wright explains,

Paul connects the redemption of creation with the redemption and resurrection of our bodies in Romans 8—a highly significant passage.

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 61.

Again, the logic in v. 23 is God will redeem the creation, and so he’ll redeem his church.

2 Pet 3:13

I’ve done a detailed analysis of the language of this passage recently.

(2 Pet. 3:10-13 ESV)  10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,  12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Wright comments,

The language of fire and destruction does not mean that the whole of creation will be obliterated. Rather, it is parallel to the same terms used to describe the way the sinful world was “destroyed” by water in the flood (2 Peter 3:6–7). What was destroyed in the flood was not the whole planet, but the world of sin and rebellion. Likewise, what will be destroyed in the final judgment is not the universe, but the sin and rebellion of humanity and the devastation they have caused. It will be a conflagration that purges and purifies, so that the new creation will be a place devoid of sin but filled with righteousness, because God himself will dwell there among his redeemed people (Rev. 21:1–4).

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 61.

Wright concludes,

I hope that our brief survey of the biblical theology of creation has provided sufficient justification for saying that Christians ought to be in the forefront of caring for creation. We have far more profound reasons for doing so, drawn from our faith and worldview, than merely prudential or self-serving ones (we’d better do something or we’ll all fry or drown). So, yes, Christians should seek to live on the planet in ways that are now generally approved as “green”—avoiding wasteful use of energy, reducing our carbon footprint, recycling rather than trashing, preventing pollution, and supporting political and economic initiatives that protect the environment from further needless destruction.

But is there more than that? What about ecological mission? Is it legitimate to apply our biblical theology for life at this point by saying that some people are called and sent by God with the specific mission of creation care, scientific research in the ecological arena, habitat conservation, and so on? I believe that the answer is yes … .

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 62.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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