The Lausanne Covenant: Foreword

From the Chair of the Theology Working Group

I have just finished reading through The Lausanne Covenant again, and, as so often before, I find myself struck by its concise comprehensiveness, its profound simplicity, its breadth and balance. As you study it alone or in a group, I hope you will share my thankfulness to God, whose Holy Spirit so evidently enabled the process that produced it, and equipped John Stott in crafting it.

It reminds us of the foundations of all our mission: the person and mission of the living God; the truth of the Bible in its revelation of God and its telling the story of the universe—past and future; the centrality of Jesus Christ, his atoning death and his universal risen lordship over creation and history. But it does not waste our time wandering in the labyrinths of theological dispute. Christians can still disagree while getting on with the task of being and bringing good news to the world.

The Lausanne Covenant was prophetic in the sense of speaking in a way that applied the Word of God to the realities of the hour. And it retains its relevance and challenge now, and indeed for generations to come (as this new study guide in itself testifies). Yet it avoided being ‘prophetic’ in the narrower sense in which the word is used today—of tying itself to any particular brand of so-called ‘end times’ scenarios, which have a noticeable tendency to pass their ‘sell-by’ dates and recede into the mists of history.

There is a wholesome balance of biblical truth and mission imperatives. This is one reason why it is so appropriately called a covenant, since that is precisely true of the biblical covenants themselves. The Covenant makes many ringing declarations, strong affirmative statements of what the Bible teaches, and we joyfully raise our voices in agreement. Yet it never lets us rest content with signing a mere statement of faith. Again and again it calls for commitments to be undertaken, for choices to be made, for promises to be kept, for sacrifice to be endured, for words to be spoken and actions to be taken. I hope that the study of The Lausanne Covenant will not only strengthen your faith and understanding, but lead to some clear lines of obedience and practical outworking in the responsibilities and opportunities the Lord has entrusted to you personally.

A well-crafted balance in the Covenant, which was to prove both controversial and seminal, was between evangelism and social responsibility. (See the deliberate pairing of sections 4 and 5.) This combination is the result of allowing our understanding of mission to be formed by the Bible as a whole.[1] For the Bible as a whole gives us the ‘whole counsel of God’—that is, God’s mind, will, purpose, plan and mission. The Bible as a whole shows us the passion and compassion of God’s heart:

  • for the last and the least (socially, culturally, and economically) as well as the lost (spiritually)
  • for those dying of hunger, AIDS, and war, as well as those who are dying in their sin
  • for the landless, homeless, family-less and stateless, as well as those who are without Christ, without God, and without hope in the world

The God who commands us to disciple all nations also commands us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Furthermore, Lausanne sees evangelization as a process that ought never to be separated from church nurture through discipling, pastoring, training, and teaching. These things were clearly integrated in the mission and ministry of the Apostle Paul, but the second, sadly, is often neglected in the haste for church growth measured in terms of numbers of converts made or of churches planted. The tragic result is fast growth without depth, conversion that never challenges underlying worldviews, syncretism, false teachings, and appalling corruption and abuse among so-called Christians. It is not surprising to find section 11 on ‘Education and Leadership’ in a document crafted by John Stott, who only a few years earlier had pioneered what is now Langham Partnership International. The aim of Langham Partnership is to nurture depth in the local church by providing for evangelical teaching in seminaries and quality evangelical literature for pastors.[2]

We see a final beautiful balance in The Lausanne Covenant between its confident trust in God (with strong, positive, urgent affirmation of God’s ultimate goal of bringing the whole world to the knowledge and worship of the Lord Jesus Christ) and its lack of triumphalism (in what Christian mission has already accomplished), or arrogant, self-confident optimism (about what Christian mission has yet to accomplish).

As with many biblical occasions of covenant-making, there is an emphasis on humility, repentance, self-examination, and shamed acceptance of so many areas of our individual and collective failure. In signing this covenant, we are willing to accept the possibility that our lives may be a ‘stumbling block to evangelism’, and that the church ‘betrays the gospel, or lacks a living faith in God, a genuine love for people, or scrupulous honesty in all things’. The Covenant thus pours whatever responsive commitment we may make into the strong mould of God’s grace. We participate in God’s mission, but we do so as sinners and failures, knowing that we need the forgiving grace of God every bit as much as those to whom we bring the good news of its reality in Christ.

May these creative combinations of confidence and humility, of human energy and trust in God, of vision and realism, of joy in the Lord’s doings and grief over our human failures, of strategic thinking and the Spirit’s leading, of global vision and local action, of words and works—always remain characteristic of the Lausanne Movement as they are of its Covenant.

Christopher J H Wright
International Director, The Langham Partnership

Endnotes

  1. The implications of this ‘integral mission’ were further worked out in the Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility (CRESR) in Grand Rapids in 1982, in a document that equally deserves close study if this is an issue that troubles you. The effect of both documents, along with similar affirmations in The Manila Manifesto of 1989, has been that the Lausanne Movement understands the term ‘evangelization’ in its title in terms of holistic mission.
  2. For more information, visit www.langhampartnership.org
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Chris Wright went on to chair the Cape Town 2010 statement committee, which produced The Cape Town Commitment.

Date: 26 Sep 2011