Creation, Mission and worship

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Because we live in a good world which a good and purposeful God has made, this helps us to understand a little bit more about why we are here and what God has made us for. 

The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith asks the question

“What is the Chief end of Man?” and the correct response is “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

This answer is rooted in the story of Creation. If God is purposeful, then we have a purpose too and our purpose relates to him.

Christopher Wright helpfully notes that

“The story that engages us in the Old Testament answers the four fundamental worldview questions that all religions and philosophies answer in one way or another.

  • Where are we? (What is the nature of the world around us?)

Answer: We inhabit the earth which is a part of the good creation of the one living, personal God, YHWH.

  • Who are we? (What is the essential nature of humanity?)

Answer: We are human persons made by this God in God’s own image, one of God’s creatures but unique among them in spiritual and moral relationships and responsibility.

  • What’s gone wrong? (Why is the world in such a mess?)
  • Answer: Through rebellion and disobedience against our creator God, we have generated the mess that we now see around us at every level of our lives, relationships and environment.
  • What is the solution? (What can we do about it?)
  • Answer: Nothing in and of ourselves. But the solution has been initiated by God through his choice and creation of a people, Israel, through whom God intends eventually to bring blessing to all nations of the earth and ultimately to renew the creation.”[1]

This points to God’s mission.

“The opening account of creation portrays God working toward a goal, completing it with satisfaction and resting, content with the result.”[2]

The aim, as we have frequently seen, is for God to have a people for himself, living under his rule in the place of his blessing.[3] The blessing is seen first of all in the place of blessing. Creation is the arena for God’s mission and for ours because he has placed us in this world to fill it and subdue it. In Genesis 1,

“we meet humanity with a mission on the planet that had been purposefully prepared for their arrival – the mandate to fill the earth, subdue it and to rule over the rest of creation (Gen 1:28). The care and keeping of creation is our human mission. The human race exists on the planet with a purpose that flows from the creative purpose of God himself.”[4]

Worship is about the whole of our lives lived out for the good God who has made us and loved us.  We have seen this in the way that the Creation accounts are suggestive of a great temple or throne room being prepared where God will reign.[5]  We have seen it in the way that man’s responsibility to till and to care for the land foreshadows the language of priestly service in the tabernacle and the temple.[6]

Worship is not what we do on one day each week in church buildings. We should seek to do everything to God’s glory.[7] Wright reminds us and challenges us that Psalm 24:1 and Job 41:11 reveal how

“The earth then belongs to God because God made it. At the very least this reminds us that if the earth is God’s, it is not ours.”[8]

We are not the owners of this World but accountable tenants responsible to God as the true landowner.[9] Indeed,

“If God owns the universe, there is nowhere we can step off his property, either into the property of some other deity or into some autonomous sphere of our own private ownership.”[10]

This helps us to think carefully about the nature of sin. It is fascinating that Genesis 3 starts with the serpent and Eve speaking. It is a long way through the passage before God’s voice is heard and we might be tempted to think that God was in some way absent and ignorant of the conversation. Similarly, whenever I give into temptation, one of the lies I believe is that God is absent and not able to see what I do. 

But God is not absent and God does see. There is nowhere that I can escape from his presence. Sin is “not on my time” but on his. This means that sin is idolatry because I am claiming that someone or something else (whether the thing that tempts me or me myself) has lordship over that particular part of time and space.[11] It also means that sin is robbery. All sin breaks the commandment “You shall not steal.” I rob God of his rightful lordship and possession of part of his creation.

Sin robs God of his rightful worship because when I give in to temptation, I put that thing I love in the place of God. Just as when Adam and Eve listened to the serpent’s word instead of God’s Word, so when I listen to my appetites,

“The creational hierarchy of relationships is disrupted as the creature ‘shakes off all reverence’ for the creator.”[12]

This is important because God’s mission now is not simply about blessing through creation and providence. The events of Genesis 3 point to our need, and indeed the need of the whole of creation, for redemption.[13]

So, our doctrine of Creation and Fall will necessarily push us towards talking about the incarnation. The church father, Athanasius, points out that sin puts humanity into a pitiful position.

“This, then, was the plight of men. God had not only made them out of nothing, but had also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word. Then, turning from eternal things to things corruptible, by counsel of the devil, they had become the cause of their own corruption in death; for, as I said before, though they were by nature subject to corruption, the grace of their union with the Word made them capable of escaping from the natural law, provided that they retained the beauty of innocence with which they were created. That is to say, the presence of the Word with them shielded them even from natural corruption, as also Wisdom says: “God created man for incorruption and as an image of His own eternity; but by envy of the devil death entered into the world.”[14] When this happened, men began to die, and corruption ran riot among them and held sway over them to an even more than natural degree, because it was the penalty of which God had forewarned them for transgressing the commandment.”[15]

Our rebellion against God had placed us under a penalty. Death had entered the World. As we have seen before, the problem is not merely that we are guilty and are awaiting judgement but the judgement has already started to be enacted in the corruption and decay we see around us, in our separation from God so that we act as rebel sinners and in the physical death we all experience. 

However, Athanasius goes on to say that The Fall also provides a dilemma for God.

“The law of death, which followed from the Transgression, prevailed upon us, and from it there was no escape. The thing that was happening was in truth both monstrous and unfitting. It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption. It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil; and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear, either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil spirits.”[16]

In other words, if the penalty is enacted then God’s creation purposes are frustrated. God is not enjoyed and glorified by his creation. However, if it is not enacted, then God’s Word does not come true and God himself becomes a liar. 

So, for Athanasius, the right solution is seen in The Son’s mission:

“For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own.”[17]

As we read Athanasius’s words, two things stand out. First of all, the incarnation is not about a God who was distant drawing close. God was always close to his Creation; he was never absent. He comes in a new way. Secondly notice how love motivates the Son. This is a love both for His Father, seeking his honour and glory, and for us, pitying our helplessness.

The Doctrine of Creation and Fall means that worship cannot happen outside of the Gospel. This is important because there is a temptation today to seek out a general spiritually that is voiced in statements like

               “I prefer to worship God as I enjoy the beauty of his creation.”

It is seen in services and ceremonies where, to appease interfaith sensibilities, Christ and the Cross are not mentioned.

Certainly, if the whole of my life is worship, then walking in the countryside or admiring the view across Birmingham on a snowy evening like tonight is part of my worship but that cannot be the whole picture. 

Worship that fails to acknowledge our fallenness and the need for a saviour is to ignore God’s Word to us and to believe lies about His creation. If Dan Strange is right in saying that

“To have ‘False Faith’ is to believe lies about God, lies that are both rationally and ethically unjustified,”[18]

then worship that ignores the Fall and denies the central place of honour to the Saviour is false faith and idolatrous. Idolatry is not just about the active choosing of another god to worship but also the failure to fully recognise the one true God as creator and sovereign over everything.

Contemporary Questions about mission

There is currently a debate within Evangelicalism about the role and mission of the Church. If mission starts with God on a mission and if that mission is about the whole of creation, then what is our responsibility in that?

Options suggested include the following:

  • That everything good which we do is mission – therefore, when we help care for the environment, heal the sick, help the poor etc, those things are part of the Church’s mission.
  • That the mission of the Church is specifically the Gospel. This is not to deny the wider responsibilities of humanity towards creation but the church has been given a specific task of making disciples.
  • That our mission is to make disciples, but this relates in some way back to the original creation mandate. Christians individually and collectively have a wider responsibility to Creation that flows out of the proclamation of the Gospel.

As I said, there has been much discussion and debate, sometimes heated. This means there’s plenty of further reading for you to peruse.[19]

At this stage I want to affirm that

  1. We certainly remain responsible as human beings for stewarding God’s creation. This must be even more emphatically true for those who have been restored to the image of God.
  2. Athanasius’ logic pushes us to the conclusion that we should be longing for the day when a restored and renewed Creation fully declares God’s goodness and greatness so that the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.

However, for a complete answer to how that happens and our role in it, we also need to answer questions about the nature of the New Creation and the extent to which it is completely different or a continuation of this Creation.

[1] Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, 55.

[2] Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, 63.

[3] See Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, 393-395.

[4] Christopher Wright, The Mission of God 65.

[5] See John Walton, The Lost world of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 2009), 36-52.

[6] See Numbers 3:7-8; 4:23-24, 26 and Deuteronomy 4:19. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 67.

[7] 1 Corinthians 10:31.

[8] Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, 397.

[9] Wright, The Mission of God, 397.

[10] Wright, The Mission of God 403.

[11] Strange, For their Rock is not as our Rock, 77.

[12] Strange, For their Rock is not as our Rock, 74.

[13] Wright, The Mission of God, 407.

[14] Wisdom ii.23 f

[15] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 1 (5)

[16] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 2 (6).

[17] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 2 (8).

[18] Strange, For their Rock is not as our Rock, 76.

[19] I suggest you start with Wright, The Mission of God and, for another perspective, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom and the Great Commission (Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 2011).

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