The Lausanne Covenant: Foreword

Church councils date back to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). These councils have produced a rich heritage of significant documents over the centuries—confessions and creeds which have defined the theology of the church. The International Congress on World Evangelization, which was called in 1974, and from which this Covenant emerged, stands in that tradition.[1]

As this study guide goes to press, preparations continue for the Third Lausanne Congress, to be held in Cape Town, 16-25 October 2010. Shortly before one of its planning meetings, held in Buenos Aires in June 2008, I received an email from a respected Christian researcher who has been following trends in evangelical growth for over half a century. I found what he wrote compelling:

‘Evangelicalism is at a crossroads, and October 2010 can’t come soon enough! It may be the last chance evangelicals really have before the darkness deepens, and the Christian moral basis of Western society is swept away.’

I believe my friend is right. As we approach this Congress, we do so with a deep humility and seriousness of heart. We are living now at a vital time in church history and in world history. We must not let this God-appointed opportunity slip by.

So why are we urging people around the world to give time to a study of The Lausanne Covenant, which was published before many readers of this booklet were born? To view the past as irrelevant is a very recent and indeed very Western mindset. To understand our times, we must grasp how we arrived in them. Learning our history is a critical part of this. To engage with the forces behind the advance of Islam, or the disintegration of the West, we must first equip ourselves with the knowledge and wisdom of our past.

The Lausanne Covenant has been a great rallying call to the evangelical church around the world. It defined what it means to be evangelical, that is, what it means to have Scripture as final authority in what we believe and in how we live. It is a covenant with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and with God himself. The covenant form was chosen deliberately, as a solemn and public declaration to the world of the relationship between our faith and our lives.

Covenants are serious matters, not to be entered into lightly. They are binding agreements, and we need to read ‘the small print’ carefully, and ensure we have understood all the implications before we prepare to sign. John Stott and his team worked around the clock to complete their task of drafting the Covenant. They received and engaged with hundreds of comments from participants. Each section, written and crafted with clarity and conviction, is infused with a spirit of humility. The Covenant was drawn together with great care, balancing the right words and phrases and emphases, to reflect what the Lausanne participants believed to be the weight of Scripture.

When John Stott, as its chief architect, addressed the Congress to present it in its final form, he urged participants not to get out their pens (though it seems a few had already done so, perhaps too quickly). The better response would be to meet with the Lord in an unhurried way, and only then, if they wished to do so, to sign the Covenant.[2]

As you work through it, you may want to ask yourself whether you could sign such a statement. After each section, you will find a short commentary on that section and the Scriptures which shaped it. Take time to read the Scriptures, and to weigh them before moving on to the discussion questions. If you are studying as a group, you could add further questions from your own national or local context.

The Covenant‘s genius is that it came out of a gathering of evangelicals from 150 nations, focusing on mainstream, biblical, and primary issues, while avoiding controversial secondary issues. This is how it has managed to bring all evangelicals together, and become so widely-used as a foundation for partnerships across the world. The need to link arms and work together has never been more critical if we are to see Christ’s gospel made known in this generation and beyond.

We trust your study of the Covenant will help you to enter into a new covenant with God, and that this re-publication of the document will spur further initiatives and partnerships with fellow evangelicals, for the sake of the Lord we love.

S Douglas Birdsall
Executive Chairman, Lausanne Movement
Boston, Massachusetts (2008)

Endnotes

  1. Many regard this Covenant as the most significant missions document to be produced in the modern Protestant era. The one possible exception is perhaps William Carey’s Enquiry (into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen) written in 1792. Carey’s treatise gave birth to the modern missions movement. The Covenant has given an evangelical definition to world evangelization. It has also provided a framework for unity among Christians globally and formed the basis for many collaborative projects.
  2. Read more about John Stott and The Covenant on the Billy Graham and John Stott page of the Lausanne website, where you can also browse all content related to Lausanne 1974.
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Date: 26 Sep 2008