The ‘Greens’ We Have Lost
In the early days of my involvement with animal welfare, I recall that in 1989, a major event took place in the UK, the ‘Canterbury Festival of Faith and the Environment’, hosted by the Worldwide Fund for Nature and sponsored by the British Council of Churches. The Festival included a Conference on ‘Christian Faith and Ecology’ and a Cathedral Service, which proved to be highly controversial, because its structure was multi-faith. This event highlighted the fact that Christianity had lost out to other world faiths and to esoteric cults, almost entirely as the result of ecological and animal welfare issues.
Most Christian animal welfarists will notice that, should reference to religion be included in ‘Green’ or in secular animal welfare publications, these will usually be of ‘New Age’ or Eastern origin. I believe this situation is one of the gravest issues faced by the contemporary Christian churches worldwide. They have lost the bulk of compassionate, conscientious and spiritually thirsty members of ‘Green’ and animal welfare movements to other philosophies and religions which voice a positive concern for the non-human creation.
What began in the eighteenth century, the new age of scientific and rational thought – ‘the Enlightenment’ – as a trickle away from Christianity, in the twenty-first century has become a flood. This is partly the fault of Christians themselves who have failed to recognise, until it is almost too late, the implications of the Lordship of Christ Jesus over all creation, and who have discouraged the ecologists and animal welfarists who turned to them in sorrow at the abuse of the natural world and animals. This, despite the fact that Christians such as Shaftesbury, Wilberforce and Arthur Broome, were amongst the many who campaigned with great dedication for animal welfare.
In this age of syncretism, in which all faiths are presented as equally valid paths to God, we Christians must face a major challenge. Do we believe that all faiths are of equal value? The current situation is that nominal Christians or non-churchgoers commonly encounter a mixture of religious tenets and philosophies and have no clear understanding of any. They have no real knowledge of the Gospel and have no true relationship with Christ Jesus. Naturally, animal welfarists in this situation will select the portions of any religion which relate to their concern for animals – and will cease to look for Christ. More often than not, they will fail to recognise that the plight of animals in the non-Christian countries where their favoured religion is practised is even worse than the plight of animals in their own country.
An important tenet of belief held by most of the Eastern faiths and New Age philosophies is that the souls of both humans and animals progress throughout a series of lives by means of reincarnation, with the potential of achieving spiritual enlightenment, and fulfillment. Creatures are self-judged by the process of Karma and the balance of their good and bad deeds will be reflected in their various lifetimes.
These faiths contain attractive and admirable tenets; proclaimed as prime virtues are love and compassion. All life is to be reverenced, including animal life; and the most enlightened practitioners of these faiths usually practise vegetarianism and abstinence from all worldly indulgences. Each of the faiths in some way recognises that the world is not as it should be, that it is in ‘darkness’ and that the influences of the world are to be resisted and overcome. Christians describe this ‘darkness’ as the result of the evil which entered the world at the ‘Fall’.
Jesus, Light, Darkness, Judgment
The Old Testament contains 456 prophecies relating to the coming Messiah, who would restore order to the disordered creation, all of which were subsequently fulfilled in Christ Jesus.
Jesus did not dispute the existing belief that the world was in ‘darkness’ and He Himself preached that mankind had fallen away from the ways ordained by God. But Christ knew Himself to be the remedy for this plight and said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness” (John 8 v 12). Knowing that deeds reflect the extent of our love of God, He urged His followers to, “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5 v 16).
At the same time He warned that good deeds could not guarantee our salvation, for simply to be a member of the fallen human race meant separation from the perfection of God (Genesis 3 v 22-24). It is by God’s grace alone that any one of us, even the purest of us, is reconciled with God; and it is in His limitless love and grace that Jesus came to earth to lighten our darkness and to effect that reconciliation.
Jesus did not teach that man could achieve perfection by a series of human incarnations or that the world could achieve perfection. His warnings told of the reverse, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24 v 10-14).
I submit then that this is the world in which we find ourselves, a world of increasing darkness for creation and a world in which many have rejected faith in Christ. But Jesus continued, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of earth will weep as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24 v 30). So, in some splendid way, Christ will return to judge the world and gather His people.
To bring about the assurance of reconciliation, Jesus had to show us that He had taken upon Himself our guilt and the punishment we deserve for our fallen-ness. Following the sacrificial system, which the people of His time understood as essential for atonement, but which pattern He knew that He Himself had superseded, Jesus accepted sacrificial death on the Cross.
“For this reason when Christ was about to come into the world, He said to God, ‘You do not want sacrifices and offerings, but you have prepared a body for me. You are not pleased with animals burned whole on the alter or with sacrifices to take away sins.’ Then I said, ‘Here I am, to do Your will, O God, just as it is written of me in the book of the Law'” (Hebrews 10 v 5).
For all people of all time, He accepted punishment for even the gravest of crimes, including that of His own execution: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23 v 34). Through His broken body, we know that He is speaking to all who will listen: “There, I have paid for you. Only turn to me and I have interceded for you.”
It is this sacrifice on the Cross – Christ’s gift to His creatures – which offers hope of reconciliation with God, the Father: “. . . 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 20).
But before His death, to the Jewish religious leaders who claimed to know God, yet who were plotting to execute Him, Jesus took for Himself the Name of God, represented in the Jewish scriptures as, “I AM” and warned them: “And you will die in your sins if you do not believe that ‘I AM who I AM’. . . When you lift up the Son of Man, you will know that ‘I AM who I AM’; then you will know that I do nothing of my own authority, but I say only what the Father has instructed me to say” (John 8 v 24-28).
“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.” Christ proclaimed this, amongst the teeming faiths of His day, and added, “The Father and I are one“ (John 10 v 30). Jesus warned that we can only understand the nature of God, our Father, by knowing Him, the Son, “‘Now that you have known Me’, He said to them, ‘you will know my Father also, and from now on you do know Him and you have seen Him'” (John 14 v 7). And so, we learn that He Himself was God come to earth: “‘I am telling you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘Before Abraham was born, I AM'” (John 8 v 58).
‘Part Two’ – ‘Animals In The Christian Faith’, ‘The Fall Or The Kingdom’ and ‘The Redemption Of Creation’, will follow shortly! Thank you for reading and following our blog! Your comments are always welcome! ~Ros