Christian Earth-Keeping: A Response

Description: NECF Malaysia Cross-Currents Consultations
        Author: Dr Chan Geok Oon

This is a comprehensive paper with much ground covered. In my opinion it is timely that this environmental issue is raised. For far too long the church has been ignorant or perhaps wilfully chose to ignore the problem due to misinterpretation of the Scriptures, or lack of teachings by preachers and teachers from the pulpit. It is unfortunate that many Christians are unaware of the seriousness of the problem. A spirit of apathy has settled upon those who are called by His Name.

We have failed as God's stewards of the environment. Instead of being salt and light i.e. taking the lead in preserving and conserving the beauty of God's creation, we have not only lagged behind, but even discouraged others from being involved just because some of those actively participating in earth-keeping belong to the New Age or Secular Humanist movements. In the first paragraph of page 3, the author quoted the common excuse for neglecting earth-keeping as "Christ is coming back soon, and so we have to concentrate our efforts on saving souls instead of taking care of the environment".

My response to this objection/excuse for not being responsible stewards is based on the principles taught by Jesus in his Parable of the Talent (Luke 19:12-27) It is precisely because Christ is coming back to rule on earth in the millennial period that we have to be even more responsible 'caretakers' of the earth. The earth is leased out to us to enjoy and care for temporarily. The Master is expecting to receive it back in the same condition as when He let it out to us humans. As Christians we are to help maintain it and not to degrade it. If we truly love Him we would be concerned about the destruction of His world.

The last sentence of this paragraph, the author very aptly pointed out that we "need to care for God's creation in a sustainable way till Christ returns....." However, this may give the reader the impression that after Christ's return the earth can be destroyed, or there is no more use for it.

From my reading of Rev.5:10 and Rev.20:4, Christ is coming to have dominion on earth over a thousand years with his saints. The new heaven and new earth will appear after the millennial reign, and is mentioned in Rev.21, according to the chronological order of events. God is vitally concerned with his world. He gave through Moses the law of keeping the Sabbath for the land after every 6 years. (Lev.25:20-22). He even goes to the trouble of providing two extra year's supply of crop on the 6th year, while the land is left fallow, and being replenished of its nutrients. God hates to see the land over-exploited, and exhausted of its resources. Hence the stern warning given in Rev.11:18 which is quoted in this paper: "The time has come...for destroying those who destroy the Earth". There is a price to pay for individuals who out of greed want only destroy God's handiwork. If our Father is so concerned over the world and its environment ought not we, as his children be concerned as well? It is not for an ulterior or selfish motive that we care, but purely because it is our Father's world leased out to us to enjoy, care and to replenish. The word replenish if fully understood and applied, would result in the establishing of a sustainable "global village". In this context of globalization, we are seeing the world shrinking figuratively. What happens in one part of the world will very quickly affect the other part. Just look at what happened to the whole region of Southeast Asia when there was wanton destruction of forests and large scale clearing of land by plantation developers in Indonesia some time ago. The haze was so bad that some of us had to wear masks over our nose and mouth. The more recent event is the attack on America on Sept.11 2001. The whole world was affected not only economically, but also in many other ways.

The term "sustainable" is used several times in this paper. Since it is a significant term in the environmental context, some sort of definition of the term would be of benefit to the laymen. Birch & John Cobb has in their book :The Liberation of Life gave 7 characteristics of a sustainable global village. These are explained by J. B. McDaniel in his book: Earth, Sky, Gods & Mortals, Developing an ecological Spirituality: Quoting from McDaniel's book :Earth, Sky, Gods & Mortals, Developing an Ecological Spirituality: "Generally speaking, "sustainable" means sustainable into the indefinite future given the realities of environmental limits." He further goes on to list the characteristics of a sustainable global village as given by Birch & John Cobb in their book: The Liberation of Life:.

  1. The population will be well within the carrying capacity of the planet. What that population would be depends on the economic habits and social organization of the society.

  2. The need for food, water, timber, and all other renewable resources will be well within the global capacity to supply them.

  3. The rate of emission of pollutants will be well below the capacity of the ecosystem to absorb them.

  4. The rate of use of non-renewable resources such as minerals and fossil fuels will not outrun the increase in resources made available through technological innovation.

  5. Manufactured goods will be built to last; durability will replace planned obsolescence. Wherever possible materials will be recycled.

  6. Social stability requires that there be an equitable distribution of what is in scarce supply and that there be common opportunity to participate in social decision.The emphasis will be on life, not things; in quality, not quantity; on services, not material goods"

In short, given the limited resources in the earth, it ought to be able to support all generations at a decent standard of living if the above conditions were adhered to and if every human being live responsibly towards God, towards one another and the environment.

Dr. Lee has given many good suggestions concerning right actions to be taken. Right actions can be from two angles. On the one hand it takes place outside of our own personal life, i.e. at the political, or community level. We act to influence public policies and transform systems of economy, education, etc. Through our writing to the mass media, to the Department of Environment, co-operating with the Government by informing of any suspicious environmentally non-friendly activities that are taking place in our neighbourhood, namely open-burning of garbage, or dumping of industrial wastes (as happened in Pangkor Island some years ago). On the other hand, right action involves changes in our personal life-style and habits, such as using recyclable baskets instead of plastic bags galore, recycling our waste materials...separating bottles, paper, and plastics, as well as bio-degradable waste which can be turned into compost to replenish our garden. Through recycling we can greatly reduce waste thus making our earth more sustainable. According to a report in the New Straits Times on April 16, 2002, Barcelona recycles 25 per cent of its household wastes. Berlin 30 per cent., while Singapore recycles 40 per cent of its waste and plans to raise it to 50 or 60 per cent by the year 2012. Other western countries like US have set dates to achieve zero household waste.


Being aware or being informed is not the ultimate aim of this paper. What we are after is a change of heart and attitude that leads to right actions. Will right actions ever take place in our Christian community? To know what to do, and to do what we know are entirely two different things. There is no point knowing without doing when the knowing is all about doing. As pointed out by Dr. Lee, "it is our sacred duty to care for God's creation as His steward", and we do not want to deceive ourselves by just being hearers only and not doers. May I suggest that at this point in time we pause and brain storm. This will hopefully help us to have some concrete action plans to take back with us to share with our church leaders and pastors, and our friends for actions. We need to get from point A (passive listerners) to Point B (active participants in earth-keeping). For too long the evangelical church in general has ignored the cultural mandate and social concerns giving the lame excuse that saving souls is all important and everything else is unimportant. When we totally ignore certain aspects of instructions in God's word, we are going to the extreme instead of having a balanced view of the whole counsel of God.

At this juncture I would like to pose a few questions for our deliberations:

  1. How can the Church play a more active role in Earth-keeping? Would the formation of a steering committee under the NECF be of help to promote and assist churches get to point B?

  2. Is it possible to set up a small sub-committee in a church setting to help bring awareness to its members, and also to look for practical ways of educating and motivating its members to take positive actions?

  3. Can bigger churches set up recycle bins to collect used papers, bottles, and aluminium cans? What benefits would this have on the community and the environment?

    Can the sale of recycled items be used to feed the street people, or help finance the drug rehabilitation centre? For example Pearl International Hotel, in Kuala Lumpur has started a paper recycling project to create a cleaner environment as well as help kidney patients with dialysis. The Project is given the theme: "Recycle Paper into Lives". This project is assisted by MNI (Malaysian Newsprint Industries) and the NKF (National Kidney Foundation. The MNI turns old newspaper and magazines into newsprint (40 per cent of the local needs produced.) Bangsar Area, in Kuala Lumpur, alone has 5 recycling centres located in Georgetown Chemist, in front of TMC, Alam Flora pick-up, in Esso and Shell petrol station on Jalan Maarof. This residential area is known for its cleanliness and very high property value. Perhaps if other communities are just as environmentally friendly, and follow the good examples of the Bangsar Community, Kuala Lumpur would be a much cleaner and more pleasant city to live in.

  4. Can the church play its role as salt and light in helping the community set up a recycling centre in the neighbourhood?

  5. Suggest any other ways.


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