The Church at the Crossroads
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.'” (Jeremiah 6 v 16)
We ended Part Two of this post with the thought that there is a spirit in the world that seeks to attract people away from the worship of God to the worship of pleasure: “Do not love the world (systems) or anything in the world “(1 John 2 v 15-17).
None of us need much convincing that the world is not as it should be. Our fallenness is at the heart of all our worldly systems, including vivisection laboratories, factory farms, live exports, slaughter houses, bloodsports, fur farms, animal-based entertainment etc.. Humankind’s natural desire to improve its health, living standards and pleasure pursuits, has turned into the selfish materialism and greed now threatening all creation.
Despite this, the Christian churches have remained so silent that many thousands of animal welfarists have been drawn away towards other faiths and cults.
Back in the 13th century, close to Assisi, the tiny derelict church of San Damiano, became for Francis a refuge from the jibes of the worldly citizens of Assisi. As he prayed before the painted crucifix, it seemed to him that the image of Christ was gently speaking: “Francis, do you not see that my house is being destroyed? Go and restore it for me”(see video clip of this). Taking Christ’s command literally, Francis began to restore the building. Only later did he realise that “restoring the church” could have spiritual meanings as well.
I believe, if the Church is to meet the challenges of the 2lst century, then it must be restored. It needs to look right back to the Garden of Eden, prior to the Fall, in order to understand how God meant the world to be.
The Creation as described in Genesis 1 was a world in which all things lived in Peace and no creature fed off or harmed another.
In the Old Testament, Isaiah had a vision that a Messiah would come who would one day restore pre-Fall harmony to all creation, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat … they will neither hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11v 1-9).
In the New Testament, Paul describes the sufferings of a fallen creation, “all of creation groans with pain like the pain of childbirth”, a creation awaiting a redemption which is dependent upon the fulfillment of the sons of God (mankind) (Romans 8 v 19-22).
We, therefore, have a responsibility to help bring about that Peaceable Kingdom.
So has the Church veered from the path set for us – the path we were meant to follow? We stand at a spiritual cross-roads and look. We need to take the right path – ‘the ancient path’ – ‘the good way’ – the path Christ chooses for us to follow (Jeremiah 6 v 6).
We need to think about the way in which the contemporary Church is being criticised in opposition to our stand on animal welfare. Those opposed to us may not be saying, “We hate you!” but rather “Where are you?” Perhaps beneath it all is the cry “We need you!” We must accept that we should do more than simply bear these criticisms; we must use them.
We must realise that those who oppose us are suffering themselves – suffering from inner emptiness. Maybe, they are half hating us, yet half hoping that we can convince them we are right!
An important element which should be included in restoring the twenty-first century Church is the element of caring. We should be asking ourselves, “How widely and how deeply do we care?” Some of us are sensitised only to ourselves; others are sensitised only to family and friends; some are sensitised only to those of our own age-group, class, culture, gender, physical/mental ability, race, religion, species etc. To be a Christian, means to be sensitised to all of humanity and all of the animal kingdom – all sentient beings, even “to the least of these” (Mathew 25 v 40-45).
We can rejoice that God does care for all. He has entered into our world, worn the flesh shared by us and His animal creation, measured its frailty, and knows exactly how we feel. “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1 v 19-20). We ought to show the same concern for others that Jesus shows.
Almost 30 years ago, Animal Christian Concern was shocked into being following a TV debate called, “Is Christianity a cruel religion?” This question was raised as a result of foxhunting and factory farming being allowed on church lands. Over the years, I have heard such comments from believers as, “Animals are there for our use!”; “But there are so many human concerns and we should come first!”; “I don’t see any need to pray for suffering animals!”; “I don’t care for animals myself!; It doesn’t matter – it’s only an animal!” and ironically from a Christian bookshop, “Do you think I would waste space in my shop window advertising a Service of prayer for animals?!” How can a follower of Jesus say they don’t care about His animal kingdom? If we are followers of Christ, then His interests ought to be our interests. As followers we have to follow His way, not ours. And His way is the way of caring for all His creation.
Although there is a great amount of caring in the world, most of it is care for our own human species. The world is suffering from limited caring. What we need is unlimited caring, people who care not only for humans but also for animals. When we care only for our own kind we become human-centred, self-centred, which is the original sin and the source of actual sin. We deny the very nature of the Church which Christ founded. His love is indivisible and so must our love be.
Let us not forget that we are commanded to go into the world to preach the Gospel to the whole creation, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16 v 15). Paul does not miss the full meaning of this when he refers, in his letter to the Colossians, to the Gospel “which was preached to every creature which is under heaven” (Colossians 1 v 23), and there seems to be no reason to limit it to human beings. The preaching of the Gospel to the animal creation must be almost entirely in practical demonstration of the Gospel. When God’s love is channeled to animals a genuine preaching of the Gospel is taking place.
Peter tells us, in his second letter, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise … He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3 v 9). And Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed … in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8 v 19-22). Animals are awaiting mankind’s transformation into the knowledge and love of God in Jesus. I believe the sooner this happens, the sooner the redemption of all His creatures from the disastrous effects of the Fall will be fulfilled. We need to pray that we will be empowered to take Christ to all those who don’t yet know Him, pray for all suffering animals and pray for the redemption of all creation in Christ’s name.
So, will people of the 21st century, especially those concerned about the animal kingdom, listen to our appeal to them to turn to Jesus Christ? I think they will – but only if we proclaim the Gospel message properly by word and by deed. As May Tripp said in her article, ‘ACC At Canterbury Cathedral’ in ‘Animal Welfare: Through The Cross’, “Christian animal welfarists do have a Gospel to proclaim, a Gospel desperately needed in our time: the Good News that there is a Saviour for all creatures, both animal and human, from this world’s darkness, a Saviour whose name is Jesus, ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End’ (Revelation 22 v 13)”.
Thank you for reading! Your thoughts are welcome!! ~Ros