Churching in a green age

Churches waste effort trying to do what the Holy Spirit can do without our help.
He planted the seed of spiritual life in us and he can maintain it.
This plea for 'green' Christianity was first published in "Insights" magazine.

In Western churches the Holy Spirit broke out of Pentecostalism's denominational cage in the nineteen-sixties. Is it merely coincidence that the Hippy movement traced its origin to the same period? I think not; so many features of the two movements run in parallel, and both arose from a frustration amongst ordinary people with the stiff conventions of the establishment which previously inhibited their expressiveness. They could no longer endure a system which preferred them to live conventional lies rather than explosive truths. Did the Charismatic movement merely copy the Hippies? That is not what I am suggesting; but there is but "one God and Father of all mankind, who is over all, works through all and is in all" (an uncomfortable New Testament text for Christian exclusivists) and his influence extends beyond the church as we know it.

The spirit of the age can at any period be the same Spirit we worship in Jesus' name. I believe he is just as active today, and just as evident in the church as in the world. Like the sixties phenomena, much of what is happening in today's cult movements is repulsive to those 'who love righteousness' but we have no more reason to absorb the wrongness of the current moves than we accepted the free love and drug dependency of many Hippies. 'Everyone who has this hope in Christ keeps himself pure just as Christ is pure'. Those who are open to the Spirit of God can avoid eating the tares which grow in the midst of the world's ripening cornfields. There is a new move in the church which parallels the well publicised ecology movement in the world at large. The central theme is Back-to-Life, and I want to be fully part of it.

For two generations the Western world and the churches within it have concentrated their efforts on easy methods and quick results. Chemical fertilisers and correspondence courses in holiness, quick selling and slick evangelism; butter mountains and membership drives. If there has been apparent success anywhere there has always been someone ready to package it and market it until the pervasive blandness made us all sick. Political 'Greens' have played the media weapon to force public awareness of problems in the natural world. The disillusioned in the churches have been less vocal but no less disturbed by the destructive monoculture which strong willed leaders forced on the church, stifling initiative, hijacking once vibrant Spirit-led movements and turning bright hopes into sad disappointments. Churches need to return to less organised simplicity. Let God's people grow.

Many of the churches men laboured to create have been tidy, organised and uniform, just like factory farms. The church God has always been nurturing is a living thing, like the rest of his creation. It is complex and varied, yet interdependent in ways we can seldom understand. It is untidy, like a field of wild flowers, and vibrant with life like that same disorganised meadow. We can stop worrying about pests and weeds, because over-protected plants are invariably the weakest strains. With less method, less rules and less artificial standards we will each be able to bloom more freely and to bring forth righteous fruit and good seed after our kind. 'Whoever is a child of God does not continue to sin, for God's very nature is in him' and God's implanted nature is more powerful than a thousand pulpit exhortations or pre-printed bible study courses.

The essence of Green doctrine is that there is life in the world. The natural world is in balance if treated with respect and reverenced as God's handiwork. Plants and animals live their course and die in their turn, but even their death contributes back into the wholeness of the planet. The essence of Christ's gift of the Spirit to the church is that 'he will teach you everything' and 'You will be filled with power'. God's new creation people are as fruitful as nature if they are allowed to express their supernatural life naturally. Church leaders have constantly been in fear of trusting the Spirit to lead his own people. But God did not save us to fail; we do not need to be propped up and checked over. The Spirit of God is capable of doing what Jesus said he would. Let us stop pouring on the unnatural fertilisers of methods, rules and systems which sap life from the soil of the church. Let us rather live from within, drawing on the resources which God placed in our newly created spiritual hearts. 'I pray that you may have your roots and foundations in love . . . and so be completely filled with the very nature of God'.

© Derrick Phillips - 1997