In the average local church, ecological responsibility does not form part of a holistic and comprehensive plan of mission. At best, ecological responsibility is seen at times as something important to learn about, before going on to the next subject. Or perhaps just of interest to a few ‘Green Christians.’
In confronting this unsatisfactory situation, I propose considering the range of meanings of integrity. In the first place, integrity means probity or uprightness. It is the quality required especially of anyone who holds public office – those who exercise control over the lives, welfare or cash of others. Secondly, integrity also means wholeness. For instance, the integrity of a document would be compromised if a significant part of it was removed.
At first sight, the Bible might seem to lean firmly towards the interpretation of integrity as upright behaviour:
The integrity of the upright guides them,
but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them (Proverbs 11:3, New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized Edition).
But a closer inspection shows that the two meanings – uprightness and integration – are closely connected in biblical thought.
The Hebrew words denoting integrity stem from a root meaning completeness. Integrity of character is based on a whole-life trust and commitment towards the God of creation and of redemption. The opposite of integrity, in a biblical worldview, is not just fragmentation but unbelief.
…I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering (Psalm 26:1, NRSV).
New Testament confirmation comes from the Letter of James: ‘The doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord’ (James 1:7, 8, NRSV).
A life of integrity, in the biblical view, is a life integrated by submission to the loving rule of God. One aspect of such a life will be caring for the whole family of creation. A holistic, integrated vision of mission needs to be undergirded by a holistic, biblical theology. And its ecological dimension also requires to be informed by science.
The ‘Five Marks of Mission’ (evangelism, nurture, service, social transformation and creation care) summarise the fullness of Christian mission. I would like to aspire to an inclusive Christian lifestyle in which no valid, Bible-based aspect of mission or discipleship is an add-on or an occasional interest, but all aspects are increasingly united in love for Christ.
So I am challenged by the psalmist’s prayer: ‘give me an undivided heart to revere your name’ (Psalm 86:11, NRSV).
Keith Innes was in parish ministry from 1958 until his retirement in 1997. Since then he has studied and written on biblical ecotheology.