by David F. Coppedge
Background and justification
Most evangelical, Bible-believing churches believe in the doctrine of creation as presented in Genesis, but few spend much time teaching or preaching it. It is often treated as a side issue, something to hold a seminar on once every few years. This presentation aims to re-open discussion about the place of creation teaching in the church, and explain how much benefit the church stands to gain by bringing creation back up to its true Biblical emphasis–especially today.
Theme and summary
Creation is a dominant doctrine and recurring theme in the Bible. It is not just about the past, but encompasses all of history and the eternal future. It is not just an intellectual doctrine, but has practical applications both to individuals and to the whole church. This presentation provides five Biblical reasons why creation must be emphasized by evangelical churches today, how it will help the ministry, and what happens when the church neglects creation. Finally, it will provide practical steps the church can perform to harness the power of the doctrine of creation.
Many subjects are considered worthy of emphasis today in the church. Among common candidates:
- Fellowship and community; body life
- Expository preaching
- Evangelism and missions
- The family
- Biblical counseling
- Cultural and moral decline
- End times prophecy
Creation is often treated as true, but only of special interest to eggheads and intellectual types. Some pastors tend to view those involved in creation ministries as a special interest group, like the proverbial man who only has a hammer and sees every problem as a nail. Here are some initial responses to these attitudes:
(1) Beware thinking “either-or”. Each of the above topics is extremely important and must also be emphasized. In this presentation, I will only seek to say what the Bible says. If I fail, please forgive and go with the Word. Certainly the Bible talks about many subjects besides creation; but is it possible that if we really restored it to many subjects besides creation; but is it possible that if we really restored it to its Biblical emphasis, it might seem like overemphasis? This List of Bible references shows that creation is not a minor topic in the Word of God.
(2) Creation is not just about the past. It encompasses the past, present and future:
- In the past, God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen. 1-2)
- In the present, God sustains the heavens and the earth. (Ps. 104)
- In the future, God will create new heavens and a new earth. (Rev. 21)
This brings to mind three corollaries:
- We will always be God’s creatures. (We are not autonomous; we are not evolving into godhood.)
- We will always be surrounded by God’s creation.
- Get used to it! (By that I mean: enjoy it; rejoice in what God has done, is doing, and will do.) Creation is as eternal as love in I Cor. 13. (See Rev. 14:7.)
(3) Creation is a vast doctrine with a multitude of levels, ramifications and applications, as we shall see. It is not just about carbon-14, geological strata, and fossils. It is an essential part of the chief end of man– to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Standing in awe of God for his glory, wisdom and love expressed in His creation is part of our eternal calling. Our chief end is distracted in the present world because of sin and evil, but after those are done away, we will forever worship God and enjoy His new creations, no longer cursed or tainted by sin. Since that is what we will be doing for eternity, it makes good sense to start practicing it now.
(4) What floats your boat? Each of the above subjects (worship, fellowship, etc.) is important and must also be emphasized; we are not saying pastors must choose between creation and these other things. On the contrary, we would like to show that each of these subjects will be enhanced, strengthened, and revitalized by an emphasis on creation. Creation is the “rising tide that lifts all ships.”
Example: Worship. Worship is big on the radar screen of most churches; isn’t worship the highest function of the corporate body? We gather in the Worship Center, and have our Worship Leader lead us in worship. Yet could it be true that much of what passes for worship today amounts to entertainment (dramatic solos and choral performances and concerts), or trying to get the audience into a certain worship mood? Many contemporary choruses, drowned out by drums and guitars, often say words like You alone I long to worship, you alone are worthy of my praise, yet fail to explain why God is worthy of worship. Creation can lift worship off the reefs of apathy, send it into the open sea and put wind into its sails! “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have made; I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.” What is the response? “Then sings my soul, my Savior, God to Thee: How great Thou art! How great Thou art!” Many classic hymns generate worship as a response to pondering the wonders of creation: e.g., When Morning Gilds the Skies, All Creatures of Our God and King, Fairest Lord Jesus, This Is My Father’s World, Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee, For the Beauty of the Earth, O Worship the King. There are some wonderful contemporary Christian songs that also draw attention to creation, but many modern “worship” songs are man-centered, talking about what God does for me, how He makes me “feel.” That is not worship. Worse, some songs are in effect dumbing down the church by repeating mantra-like simplistic phrases: “I just feel like praising the Lord” (repeat 24 times). Compare with the rich poetry of classic creation hymns:
- O tell of His might, O sing of His grace, whose robe is the light, whose canopy space. His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form, and dark is His path on the wings of the storm.
- Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite? It breathes in the air, it shines in the light. It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain, and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.
- Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty; all Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea.
- Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above, join with all nature in manifest witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
- I sing the mighty power of God that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad and built the lofty skies . . . . Lord, how thy wonders are displayed where’er I turn my eye, if I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky!
- All thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays; stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise. Field and forest, vale and mountain, blossoming meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.
- For another example, see this Student’s Evening Hymn written by James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), one of the world’s greatest scientists.
Reemphasizing creation will reinvigorate worship by getting the mind involved, not just the emotions. Emotion in worship is good and desirable, but must be the caboose, not the engine. The engine is the truth of who God is, and what He has done. (More on this in Reason #1, next.)
Example: Evangelism and Missions. If you want to win someone to religion, tell an unbeliever “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” If you want to win someone to the true and living God, tell him “God made you for Himself.” Unless you get the hearer through that point, you are not giving the whole message; it’s like starting at third base. By contrast, what a fantastic thought that we can be children of God who created the heavens! (See Psalm 8.)
Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of creation on missions should watch the excellent short film Ee-taow! from New Tribes Mission. The missionaries to a New Guinea tribe began with creation, not the gospel. They spent time explaining where the tribe was on the planet, in relation to other people groups. They went through some of the beliefs of other groups about origins: where did people come from? (When the tribe heard that some taught people evolved from monkeys, they said, “They’re stupid!”) The missionaries salted the oats by getting the tribe members to question their own creation myth; whose belief is right? “We don’t know,” they responded. Now, the missionaries launched into Genesis, and explained how the great Creator made the universe and the world and people, and how people sinned and incurred judgment. They took weeks going through the Old Testament covenants and sacrifices, laying the foundation for the Lamb of God. By the time they got to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, everything clicked, and the results were dramatic! The whole tribe converted and erupted into a dance of jubilation that went on for hours! Why? Because they understood the foundation: the Creator of the universe had come to earth and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin. This made sense to them: it was not just white man’s religion trying to talk them out of their own beliefs and traditions. It was the Creator’s message to the world! It liberated them from their superstitions and fears. Truly, it was good tidings of great joy for all people!
Few parts of the world have a creation foundation today; many parts of the world assume Darwinism is true (like Europe and China), or pantheism, which is similar. The doctrine of creation is essential to help pagan tribes – and civilized societies – understand the context of Christ’s redemptive work. Jesus said, If they believe not Moses’ writings, [including the Genesis creation account], how will they believe My words?
Example: Expository Preaching. “Preach the word!” Paul exhorts (II Tim 4:2). Amen! In theory, a Bible teacher will cover the whole counsel of God, given enough time, preaching verse by verse (that may take many years, with a near complete audience turnover by the time he finishes the New Testament). But in practice, advocates of expository preaching are often very selective about what parts of the Word they preach, sometimes spending weeks or months on one chapter in an epistle, but virtually ignoring hundreds of references to creation throughout the rest of the Bible. Though the NT speaks often of creation, many key passages on the doctrine are in the OT; these cannot be rightly neglected when preaching out of the NT, without taking into account their weighted emphasis in Bible doctrine as a whole. Even the choice to exposit the NT more than the OT is being selective; what preacher wants to spend the same relative amount of time on nine chapters of genealogies in I Chronicles as he does on Romans 8? But any selectivity undermines the premise of preaching the whole counsel of God with the emphasis the Bible itself gives.
It is apparent, therefore, in practice, that no matter the method, the Bible teacher faces the need to decide what to emphasize. This requires prayer, understanding of the times, understanding of the people, mature wisdom, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He is called to shepherd the flock of God (I Peter 5:2); this requires knowing where the wolves are as well as the green grass, which is more plentiful, and which is of higher concern at the moment. It is doubtful that the Apostles, who did not even have the New Testament, went through a systematic exposition without discerning the needs of the hearers; would it have been appropriate to teach for a month on marriage during a wave of intense persecution, for instance? New Testament books use reason (like Romans and Hebrews) or persuasion (like Galatians) to address specific issues facing their readers. It is a worthy goal to eventually cover every verse in the Bible, but with today’s mobile population, what happens? A new member under an expository preacher lands in I Cor. 7 and moves out of state by chapter 14, never really getting the balanced counsel expected. The result is, expository teaching is necessarily selective. Either by the preacher’s choices, or the listener’s availability, not everyone in the pew is going to hear the whole Bible taught at the same pace. Preaching the Word requires sound judgment.
Clearly Paul would not have advocated a blind, mechanical method of preaching the Word on some arbitrary timetable, oblivious to the circumstances the church was in. He even says so, forcefully, in the classic expository-preaching passage, II Tim. 4. Let’s look at the context of Paul’s exhortation to preach the Word. Paul, who discerned the needs of his audience and preached accordingly (II Cor. 9:19-22 – all things to all men), continues, For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. This prophecy has come true in the worldwide acceptance of Darwinism and its fruits, relativism and postmodernism. So if we are to preach the Word as Paul prescribed (and in this passage, written shortly before his martyrdom, we must consider the earnestness of his plea), we must reprove, rebuke, exhort (v. 2) the world with the message it needs in our day: There is a Creator, and you are accountable to Him. (More on this in Reason #5, later on.) Then, when expository preaching is linked to the need of the hour, it’s wielding the sword of the Spirit with power and precision!
The doctrine of creation is the rising tide that lifts all the church’s fleet, the fertile soil in which a bountiful crop of ministry grows, and the tool kit for the man of God. And no, creation is not just a hammer. It’s a skill saw, router, socket wrench, screwdriver set, drill press, sander, pliers, sledge hammer, crowbar, level, pipe wrench, paintbrush, shovel, rake, wheelbarrow, tractor . . . .
Now, let us consider:
FIVE REASONS WHY THE CHURCH MUST EMPHASIZE CREATION
Introduction to Reason #1
Picture this dramatic scene: the throne of Almighty God in heaven, blazing with light, from which proceed lightnings, thunderings, and voices; a rainbow arching over the throne; four living creatures with eyes in front and back, with the faces of lions, eagles, bulls and men, crying out before Him who sits on the throne, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. Around them are twenty-four elders prostrating themselves before the throne, and casting their crowns before Him. It is the ultimate worship scene in the entire Bible, and now we are going to hear them all exclaim why God is worthy of their adoration.
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