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SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE
THE RESPONSIBLE USE OF RESOURCES

"In the final analysis, our economic and social behaviour is rooted in our deepest moral and spiritual motivations. We cannot expect to make the fundamental changes needed in our economic life unless they are based on the highest and best of our moral, spiritual and ethical traditions, a reverence for life, a respect for each other, and a commitment to responsible stewardship of the Earth. The transition to a sustainable society must be undergirded by a moral, ethical and spiritual revolution which places these values at the centre of our individual and societal lives."
 

 -Maurice Strong, Director-General of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, speaking at the Fourth Kew Environmental Lecture.
 


Increasingly the secular establishment is realising that how people live, and hence their attitude to the environment and issues of sustainability, is based ultimately on their spiritual values; and that unless these are of a high moral order people will not make the necessary changes for a sustainable lifestyle.

One of the tenets of a Christian approach to architecture is that it should be for the equal benefit of all mankind, worldwide, present and future - in short it must serve everyone and be sustainable. Though there are many definitions of exactly what sustainable means, it must include the responsible use of resources, often described by Christians as being good stewards of God's creation.

Resources are God-given
 
Genesis 1 v31 & 2v1

God created everything, every resource,  and at the completion of His work of creation everything was very good.
 

Genesis 2 v10-14

These verses invite geographical exploration and mention some of the resources to be discovered.

Deuteronomy 8 v7-9 Even after the fall the Promised Land lacked nothing, and the winning of minerals (i.e. mining and quarrying) was allowed.
Exodus 31 v1-6 Resources include design and craft skills, which can be taught to others, and are here seen as spiritual gifts.
Psalm 104 v14-15 This is one of the many psalms which remind us that God provides everything.
Matthew 5 v45 Resources are for everyone, good and bad, just and unjust.
James 1 v5 If we lack anything we have only to ask God for it; here the particular resource is wisdom.
1 Corinthians 12 v7 Gifts and resources are given for the good of all, not just the immediate recipients.
 
Dominion and Stewardship
 
Genesis 1 v28

God commands mankind to fill the earth and subdue it, to have dominion. This is before the fall so there is no implication of exploitation. Responsibility goes with ruling, and in the Hebrew it is the same word as used for a king ruling.

Genesis 2 v15

This is an example of exercising dominion - to work the garden making use of it for food (and beauty) and to take care of it; to ensure its continuity, its sustainability. The implication is that mankind is to spread out from Eden and subdue the rest of the earth, making it like the garden which God had planted (Gen.2v8) as something more ordered, cultivated, than the rest of the world, although it was all very good.

This is the basis of what is called the CULTURAL MANDATE.

Genesis 2 v20 This is another example of dominion and is the beginning of scientific research as Adam classifies and names the animals.
Matthew 25 v14-30 In the Gospels there are several parables calling for Christians to be good stewards in the use of their God-given talents and resources.
Luke 12 v42-48 This parable shows a basic use of resources - to ensure others have sufficient to eat. To whom much is given much is expected.
1 Timothy 4 v4-5 The Greek philosophers, and still some people today, believed that the physical world was evil and the spiritual world good. Paul wrote to Timothy to remind him that everything that God created is good - including sex. Provided things are received thankfully and used prayerfully in accordance with God's word, they are not to be rejected.
Ecclesiastes 10 v18 It is a good principle to maintain and repair buildings, and equipment, so that they do not fail.
Leviticus 14 v33-48 Demolition should normally be the last resort.
 
The Proper Use of Resources
 
1 Kings 5 v18,  7 v1-12 and
10 v18-21
King Solomon used resources to build a temple for God, a palace for himself, and a throne. Note how rich and decorative it all is.
1 Timothy 6 v17-18

Resources are to be shared out equally, whereas today 25% of the world's population consumes 80% of its resources.

Philippians 4 v11-12
1 Timothy 6 v6
Christians, like Paul, should learn to be content with however little, or much, they have.
Matthew 11 v18-19 Regarding food John the Baptist had little while Jesus had plenty - and people complained about both. What matters to God is how we use what we have, so both the cheap tin tabernacle and the sumptuous Gothic cathedral may be appropriate buildings for worship.
 
The Misuse and Abuse of Resources
 
Genesis 11 v1-9 The tower of Babel is more than just a wrong use of building materials, time and effort; it is symbolic of people trying to reach God their own way instead of by God's way.
Daniel 4 v29-32 Like the tower of Babel Nebuchadnezzar's palace was an expression of its builder's pride.
Ecclesiastes 2 v4-11 The pursuit of grand buildings and other projects can become idolatrous and take the place of God in people's lives.
Amos 6 v1-7 Like many other Old Testament prophets Amos warned against affluence, with its danger of being satisfied with an abundance of material goods while spiritually everything is wrong. The Israelites had been warned of this by Moses in Deut.6v10-12.
 
Love and Service - the Motives for the Proper Use of Resources
 
John 13 v15 & 34-5 Christians are to love and care for others as Jesus has for them.
Matthew 5 v44-47 Love includes serving one's enemies. Good stewardship is based on the Old Testament teaching of being made in God's image, and hence doing His work on earth; the New Testament takes this further for Jesus' disciples who are called sons of God and are expected to act as such.
Galatians 6 v10 This verse stresses helping other Christians, but in doing so includes helping everyone.
Ephesians 2 v10 We have been created specifically to serve God by doing good deeds, using whatever resources He has given.

1 Peter 4 v10-11
1 Corinthians 12 v4-11

 

Both Peter and Paul taught that everyone has at least one particular gift to use in serving others. The gifts include practical ones as well as the more exciting spiritual ones.
 

The above principles for the proper use of resources should be applied to each kind of resource, to materials, energy, existing buildings, land, tools and machines, finance and funding, where the application will be subject to technical knowledge, understanding and skills, which on the whole have increased cumulatively over the centuries.

However more needs to be said about those resources which were described as spiritual, or as only available to Christians, and which do not accumulate generation by generation but are given afresh to individual Christians in each generation - and which are unlimited.

 

SPIRITUAL RESOURCES

Only Christians are given these resources - spiritual gifts, the fruit of the Spirit, prayer, guidance and wisdom from God. This is not to claim that Christian architects are better designers or job runners than non-christians, but that as a result of God's grace in their lives they should be better than they would otherwise be, and that higher standards are expected and possible.

Indeed Jesus said that as Christians we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5 v48), and that without Him we can do nothing (John 15 v6). Nothing at all? No, nothing of eternal consequence. The early church did not choose the least spiritual for practical tasks but chose people known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom to run their widows' dinner club (Acts 6 v1-6).
 

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are given specifically for the benefit of the church, rather than those outside (Peter 4 v10) for the perfecting of the saints for their work of service, which is to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4 v11-12). However they include practical gifts like teaching and administration (1 Corinthians 12 v28), service in general (1 Peter 4 v11) and even skills in design and craftsmanship (Exodus 31 v3-4).
 

Fruit of the Spirit

The Christian's character should be marked by an increasing growth of the fruit of the Spirit - the result of walking closely with God and becoming more like Jesus. The fruit consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control (Galatians 5 v22-23). These apply to relationships with other people in any aspect of life. For architects perhaps meekness needs to be emphasised - the mark of humble people who are not self-assertive but listen to others, taking account of their needs and viewpoints, who do nothing out of contention or a desire to show off, but count others better than themselves (Philippians 2 v3). This does not imply any false modesty but a balanced view of one's talents (Romans 12 v3) and full use of them.
 

Prayer

Prayer is for guidance, but also for strength to follow the guidance, and for God to overrule to bring about changes in people and situations. It should be the first and not the last resort; God likes to hear from His children about everything they are doing. We are to accept all the resources, material or otherwise, with thanksgiving and to consecrate their use by following God's written word and answers to prayer (1 Timothy 4 v4).
 

Guidance

There are several aspects to guidance, the most basic being the moral guidance offered by the Ten Commandments and other teaching for straightforward obedience. With more complex ethical issues the application of a wider range of biblical teaching and principles is necessary to determine a truly Christian approach. Other questions are not matters of right and wrong but of choice between legitimate and good, or least bad, options; here Christians must heed the constant biblical summons to 'consider' and use their God-given and renewed minds (Romans 12 v2 and Ephesians 4 v23) to weigh up all the implications (Deuteronomy 32 v29).

Following the guidance brings peace with God, but does not necessarily ensure that everything runs smoothly, because there may be opposition. Christians must not compromise on moral issues, and must seek to implement as much as possible on ethical issues. However with questions of aesthetics, choice of structural system, or housing management policies, which are not matters of morality or ethics, it would be selfish and conceited to insist on one's own way however much one believed it was God's will for that situation. Love does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13 v5) but is concerned for the glory of God and to act in a manner honouring to Him (1 Corinthians 10 v31).
 

Wisdom

Wisdom is closely related to guidance because in the Bible it means knowledge of what courses of action will please God. It comes from a due respect for God, begins with knowledge of Him (Proverbs 9 v10) and is given to those who seek it (James 1 v5). A mark of the wise person is that they accept rebukes and learn from them, thereby increasing in wisdom (Proverbs 9v 8-9). They meet the known needs of the poor (Proverbs 28 v27), then go on to understand the cause of their oppression (Proverbs 29 v7) and act upon this knowledge (Proverbs 31 v8-9), because wisdom is concerned with social justice and equity (Proverbs 1 v3).
 

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