Reflections of the Lausanne Theology Working Group
The Lausanne Theology Working Group hosted three consultations with a total of over 60 participants from all continents (averaging about 30 at each consultation), to consider the three main themes of the Lausanne slogan, “the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world”. These took place as follows:
- Chiang Mai in February 2008 on “The Whole Gospel”
- Panama in January 2009 on “The Whole Church”
- Beirut in February 2010 on “The Whole World”
At each gathering, we worked on the basis of several plenary papers and 15-20 case-studies, with maximum time devoted to interactive discussion.
The consultations began each day with a time of biblical reflection that challenged, encouraged and informed the discussions and debates that followed. In Chiang Mai we participated in expositions from Jeremiah, in Panama we studied 1 Peter and in Lebanon we studied Colossians.
When the three-fold Lausanne slogan was first used, it was probably meant primarily in a quantitative and geographical sense. It meant that the gospel should be shared with all the people who live in every place on earth. That is certainly a vital dimension of its meaning. We still face the fact that millions of the world”s inhabitants have never heard the name of Jesus Christ or the good news of the salvation that God has accomplished through him. We affirm and pray for all those whose calling focuses primarily on the world of the unevangelized, including particularly the Lausanne Strategy Working Group along with other Working Groups and Special Interest Groups within the Lausanne Movement.
Yet we recognize here that there are also qualitative dimensions to each “whole” that we need to address, and which the gospel certainly does address. The paragraphs that follow reflect our attempt to bring together both quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the Lausanne slogan that arise from the biblical texts and the story of God”s redemption of all of creation. These findings summarise some of what we learned together. They are not final or comprehensive but reflect the ongoing nature of doing theology – it is “theology on the way” and the results of the consultations of a working group. They serve as part of the Theology Working Group”s contribution to the Lausanne III Congress – Cape Town 2010.
Part One – The Whole Gospel
Although the Lausanne slogan begins with “the whole church”, we decided to begin with “the whole gospel”, since the church is itself the product and embodiment of the gospel, not merely a container that carries the gospel to the world. As we examine the biblical texts, we see that the whole gospel is comprehensive in scope and has wide-ranging implications for our later discussions of “the whole church” and “the whole world”. The gospel, as God”s good news in Jesus of Nazareth, is intimately tied to how we understand the mission of the church and our service and witness to the whole of creation.
Six themes shaped the structure of the consultation:
- The Gospel in Biblical Revelation
- The Gospel and the Achievement of the Cross
- The Gospel and the Power of the Spirit
- The Gospel in Historical Reception
- The Gospel in Mission and Culture
- The Gospel and Ethics
Plenary papers on each of these themes by participants in the consultation have since been published in Evangelical Review of Theology 33.1 (January 2009). The following statement is framed around some of the ways in which the Apostle Paul uses “gospel” in his letters.
A. The gospel tells the story of Jesus in the light of the whole Bible
- The gospel for Paul is above all else the historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth through whom God has accomplished salvation. The gospel is an account of the events of Jesus” death and resurrection, understood in the light of the scriptures of the Old Testament. “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4; and Gal. 1:11-2:10).“According the Scriptures” means “in accordance with the Old Testament” – i.e. with the narrative of all that God had done and had promised in Old Testament Israel that had now been fulfilled in the Messiah Jesus (Acts 13:32-39). For Paul “the gospel” was essentially the scriptural (i.e. Old Testament) identity, narrative and accomplishment of Jesus (Rom. 1:2-4; cf. 2 Tim. 2:8). The gospel was rooted in Scripture, shaped by the kingdom of God, and constituted by the accomplishment of Jesus as Messiah, who fulfilled the Scriptures and embodied the reign of God as king (cf. Acts 28:23, 30-31).
- Paul’s definition of the gospel, then, includes both the central historical facts (Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day), and their scriptural context and frame of meaning. Our understanding of “the whole gospel”, therefore, needs to include both also. We point to the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and we locate the full significance of that within the rest of all that God has said and done in the Bible as a whole. The Bible tells the whole story of what God has done to save the world.
- Drawing our understanding of the whole gospel from the whole Bible will protect us from a reductionism that shrinks the gospel to a few formulae for ease of communication and “marketing”. We should, of course, be clear about the central historical facts of the gospel (as Paul was), but we should not abstract them from the totality of God”s revelation and the richness and breadth of the scope of the gospel’s power and demand. Popular pressure to define and stick to “the essence of the gospel” can become an avoidance of the gospel’s full biblical challenge, and is like asking for a beating heart without the rest of the body.
- The narrative nature of the gospel, based as it is on the whole Bible story of God”s salvation, means that people in different cultures sometimes “enter” the story at different points that respond to their particular or immediate needs, and are then drawn forwards to the central facts and affirmations surrounding Christ. The important thing is that, whatever the “entry point”, people are in fact invited to understand and trust in this story – the biblical revelation of the living God and his saving work in Christ.
- The preservation and transmission of the gospel can take many forms. We heard with joy of the way Dinka women in Sudan have preserved the gospel by their songs, in the context of a prolonged war that took their men away so much. These rich songs have been born in acute suffering, point to God”s redemptive story, and reflect many biblical themes and genres (especially laments). For these reasons, they would seem to participate in what “the whole gospel” means.
B. The gospel creates a new reconciled humanity in the one family of God
- For Paul, as “apostle to the Gentiles”, clearly the good news about Jesus was a universal message for all the nations. And that too had deep Old Testament roots. God’s plan, announced to Abraham, had always been to bring blessing through Israel to all the nations of the world. But the nations were utterly outside and alienated from the covenantal grace of God and membership in God’s household (Eph. 2:11-12). The gospel transforms this situation. From having been alienated from God, “through the gospel” the Gentiles can enter into the same status with God as enjoyed hitherto by Old Testament Israel, so that through the blood of Christ believing Jews and Gentiles can become one new humanity in the Messiah, reconciled to one another and to God through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:13-18)
- It is important to see how this “peace-making” work of the cross – reconciling Jews and Gentiles, and creating one new humanity – is not just a by-product of the gospel, but is of the essence of the gospel itself (Eph. 3:6). Paul includes it in the work of the cross. “Peace” is part of the good news – exactly as Isaiah 52:7 announced. Jesus is our peace, made peace, and preached peace. God has only one family (Rom. 3:29; 4; Gal. 3:26-29). In the Old Testament period, that had been ethnic Israel alone, “the house / family of Israel.” But from now on, because of the work of Christ, that one single family includes people from all nations – just as God had promised. And that is gospel – good news for the nations.
- The church, as the community of those reconciled to one another and to God, is therefore the embodiment of the gospel. “Through the church”, God proclaims the divine wisdom of the gospel to the principalities and powers (Eph. 3:10). The church is not merely the delivery mechanism for the gospel, but is itself living proof of the gospel’s reconciling power.
- Living demonstration of the gospel in the church will always be counter-cultural. It involves the refusal of ethnic division and renunciation of ethnic superiority. It calls for the practice of costly biblical hospitality, which means “love of the stranger”, as opposed to xenophopia (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9; Heb. 13:2), and the cultivation of Christian community as a banquet table open to all. A fighting and divided church not only has no message for a fighting and divided world; it is in fact a denial of gospel – it has no good news for it displays no good news.
C. The gospel proclaims the saving message of the cross and resurrection
- The very nature of “gospel” is that it is good news that has to be announced (as the biblical roots of the word show, Isa. 52:7). For Paul, the gospel must be heard as “word of truth” (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5, 23), and on being heard, it needs to be received and believed for what it is (1 Thess. 2:13). This message is to be preached to all nations in fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham. “The work of the gospel” (Phil 2:22) seems to refer primarily to this task of making the good news known to all by every means possible and at whatever cost. It is a whole-life thing (1 Thess. 2:8-9; Gal. 4:13-14). There is an intrinsically verbal dimension to the gospel. It is a story that needs to be told in order that its truth and significance may be understood.
- At the core of that message stands the cross as God’s saving solution to the catastrophic effects on every dimension of life, and on creation itself, of human and satanic rebellion. Sin deserves God’s condemnation, which for the unrepentant means the punishment of eternal destruction and separation from the presence of God (2 Thess. 1:9). The effects of sin and the power of evil have corrupted every dimension of human personhood (spiritual, physical, intellectual and relational), and have permeated cultural, economic, social, political and religious life through all generations of history, bringing incalculable misery to the human race and damage to God”s creation. Against this dark background, the biblical gospel is very good news indeed.
- The gospel declares that in the combined work of the cross and resurrection of Christ, God comprehensively took upon himself the judgment our sin deserves, and accomplished the defeat and eventual destruction of satan, death and all evil powers, the reconciliation of believers with God and one another across all boundaries and enmities, and the final redemption of all creation. The gospel then assures us that, solely through trusting in Christ alone, we are united with Christ through the Holy Spirit and are counted righteous in Christ before God; we receive the forgiveness of our sins, are born again into his new and risen life, adopted in his family, and have full assurance of salvation and eternal life. “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39), for our salvation depends, not on ourselves, but ultimately and objectively on the work of Christ and the promise of God. The gospel is the confident affirmation of this message, founded on the grace of God and centred on the cross and resurrection of Christ.
- The New Testament provides a rich plurality of perspectives from which to view the accomplishment of the cross, and metaphors to portray the dimensions of its atoning power. It is important that we do not regard these as options from which we are invited to select one that suits us best while relegating others. All of them are God-given and essential to our understanding and communicating the gospel. However, while we appreciate and explore the great range of biblical dimensions of the cross, and while we confess that ultimately it is a mystery that lies beyond the ultimate grasp of total understanding, we do not lose sight of the ontological, objective reality of it. Through the cross of Christ God actually accomplished the means of the world’s salvation. We call people to put their trust in that accomplished fact, not merely to assent to a particular theory of the atonement. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).
- The church that preaches the cross must itself be marked by the cross. It should be “cruciform”, not merely in its buildings. The church is the community of disciples who, in order to follow Jesus, have denied themselves and taken up their cross. On the one hand, this underlines the centrality of suffering as an essential dimension of bearing witness to the gospel – something the New Testament stresses repeatedly. On the other hand, this stands against false and distorted gospels that reject the way of the cross – whether by neglecting it in their theology, or by ignoring its demands in their practice. One of the prime reasons why we therefore reject and denounce much of the so-called Prosperity Gospel as effectively a false gospel is precisely that it omits the theology of the cross and suffering.
- The cross was the supreme act of self-giving by God. It is thus utterly contrary to the message of the cross when the gospel is commercialized, or its benefits are sold for profit. The gross abuse of indulgences in the pre-Reformation church lives on in some forms of Prosperity teaching, and in the practice of paying for anointings, for holy oil, or any other means of gaining blessing, healing, success or miracles. These are sheer exploitation of the poor and gullible for private gain, and stand condemned in Scripture (Acts 8:9-25).
- The cross was also the moment of supreme forgiveness of cruel enemies – “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. We reject, therefore, as incompatible with the gospel of the cross, and the clear commands of Jesus and Paul (Lk. 6:27-28; Rom. 12:14), the practice of cursing those who are believed to be the source of one’s failure to experience God’s miracles, sometimes in the context of public worship.
D. The gospel produces ethical transformation
- “Repent and believe the gospel”, said Jesus (Mk. 1:15). Radical change of life goes along with faith in the good news. They cannot be separated. For Paul, the gospel involved putting off the filthy clothes of the old humanity and putting on the clothes that bore the aroma of Christ-likeness. In fact, Paul uses exactly the same words, “new humanity” (kainos anthropos), both for the union of Jew and Gentile in God’s single new multinational family (Eph. 2:15), and for the new way of life that this community is to demonstrate (Eph. 4:24). It is not the case that one is “gospel” and the other is “ethics”. This common way of summarizing the two “halves” of Ephesians is vulnerable to misunderstanding – as if one could separate doctrinal believing from ethical living. The belief of faith and the life of faith cannot be separated. Both are intrinsic to the gospel itself, for the “new humanity” is described as “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”, which is the work of the gospel of grace (cf. 2:10). The gospel speaks of a salvation that is by grace and unto good works. “Although we cannot be saved by good works, we also cannot be saved without them. Good works are not the way of salvation, but its proper and necessary evidence. A faith which does not express itself in works is dead.”1
- Paul”s missionary goal was not merely to communicate the message of the gospel for mental assent. Rather, his aim was nothing short of ethical transformation among those who received that message and responded to it by faith. He describes this, in the striking phrase with which he begins and ends his letter to the Romans, as “the obedience of faith among all the nations”. “The obedience of faith” is a remarkable single genitive expression – “faith”s obedience”. Obedience is the proof of the existence and validity of faith. It is striking how Paul speaks of “obeying the gospel”, not just believing it (e.g. Rom. 15:18-19; 16:19). The practical response of the Corinthian believers in giving money for the needs of Jerusalem believers was a proof of genuine faith. The gospel had been truly confessed because the gospel was being sacrificially obeyed (2 Cor. 9:12-13). Conversely, the wrath of God rests not merely on un-believers in an intellectual sense, but on those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8; 2:12). Paul saw the ethical transformation that the gospel accomplishes as the work of God”s grace – grace which is at work since Christ”s first coming and grace that shapes us to live ethically in the eschatological light of his second coming (Tit. 2:11-14).
- This understanding of the gospel as intrinsically ethical, a matter of obedience not just belief, is shared by Peter (Acts 5:32; 1 Pet. 4:17), James (Jas. 2:14-26), and John (1 Jn. 2:3; 3:21-24; 5:1-3), the writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 5:9), and of course goes back to Jesus himself (e.g. Matt. 7:21-27; Lk. 11:28; Matt. 28:20; Jn. 14:23-24). The gospel that is intrinsically verbal is just as intrinsically ethical. There is no gospel where there is no change.
- Although we may perceive the distinction that classical systematic theology makes between the event or moment of justification and the process of sanctification, we should not drive a wedge between them. Nor should we press the distinction between evangelism and discipling. Both are essential components of gospel ministry – as Paul’s missionary life and team-work demonstrate. An African member observed that the lack of proper discipling has resulted in Christianity being like a coat that believers wear most of the time; but when circumstances dictate, or pressures arise, people throw off the coat and behave as they wish, out of their other and older allegiances.
- Furthermore, greater attention to the biblical integration of faith and ethics within the nature of the whole gospel itself would help greatly in resolving the ongoing disagreement over the so-called relationship between evangelism and social engagement.
- The stream of biblical tradition that flows from the Abrahamic covenant, and the mandate to “go…and be a blessing”, provides another powerful perspective on the ethical and transformative nature of the gospel. We heard of research that observed that the long-term work of those who had gone to live and do business in a non-Christian country with the major motivation of “being a blessing” through constructive engagement, integrity, employment, etc., had resulted in deeper and more lasting impact in terms of well-rooted new believers than had resulted from the efforts of those who had gone with a concealed but primarily conversionist motive.
E. The gospel declares truth and exposes evil before God’s judgment
- According to Paul, the gospel is also truth that needs to be defended, against denial or perversion. So there is a polemical dimension to the gospel. It exists in explicit contrast and conflict with other worldviews, as well as to distortions and false teachings within the church itself. Being a servant of the gospel necessarily involves costly struggle and spiritual battle. This was Paul’s experience, and his warning (Gal. 1:6-9; 2:5, 14; Phil. 1:7, 27; 4:3; 1 Tim. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:8; Phlm. 13).
- If we embody the gospel and theology of the cross, we should expect resistance and opposition. To be prophetic is to incur the wrath of those with vested interests in the status quo. Good news is always bad news to those who stand under the judgment of God but refuse to change.
- To proclaim and demonstrate the whole gospel, then, necessarily involves willingness to confront all that is bad news in this fallen world. The list of what constitutes that bad news would be too long to detail here. But it certainly includes the evils of poverty and injustice, political oppression and violence, brutality and war, human trafficking and slavery, ethnic and gender discrimination and violence, and the destruction of God’s creation through rampant consumerism. The gospel stands against these things as an integral part of its standing for the blessings of eternal salvation and the hope of God’s new creation. “The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist.”2
F. The gospel has cosmic power through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit
- The gospel is the power of God at work in history and creation. For Paul this was something to marvel at and celebrate. The gospel seemed to have life of its own, such that Paul could personify it as being at work, active, spreading and bearing fruit all over the world (Col. 1:6). The great paradox of the cross – something shameful and absurd to Jew and Greek – was nothing to be ashamed of, for it was the very saving power of God (Rom. 1:16) that was transforming history and redeeming creation. Such is Paul’s cosmic grasp of the mind and plan of God that he can hold all things from creation to new creation within the scope of the gospel, because fundamentally the gospel is Christ himself. The power of the gospel is the power of God, in Christ and through the Spirit.
- In Paul’s most eloquent summary of the gospel, he proclaims that all things in the universe have been created by Christ, and are being sustained by Christ, and will be reconciled to God by Christ through the blood of his cross. That is the breathtakingly universal scope of the gospel (Col. 1:15-23). And only after that survey of the cosmic significance of Christ, his church, and his cross, does Paul move to the personal reconciliation of believers. The Christians in Colossae could stay firm in their faith and hope (v. 23), because their salvation was bound up within a gospel agenda that was cosmic in scope, spanning all of space and time. Not surprisingly, therefore, the gospel is being proclaimed “in all creation under heaven” (v. 24). The scope of the gospel’s power must be the arena of the gospel’s proclamation – it is good news for all creation.
- The atonement is the work of God the Holy Trinity. The New Testament emphasizes the role of the Father and the Son, but we should not overlook the role of the Holy Spirit. It was “through the eternal Spirit” that Christ “offered himself unblemished to God” (Heb. 9:14); and it was through the Spirit of God that Christ was raised to life (1 Pet. 3:18, Rom. 8:11). The Spirit was thus part of the work of the cross and the resurrection.
- The work of the gospel, then, in all its dimensions including evangelism, discipling, peace-making, social engagement, ethical transformation, bearing witness to the truth, caring for creation, overcoming evil powers, suffering and enduring under persecution, etc., is pointless and fruitless without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament makes this abundantly clear, and it is demonstrated in the fruitfulness seen in those parts of the world church which believe that this is so and act upon that belief. There is no true or whole gospel without the person, work and power of the Holy Spirit. He is the missionary Spirit of the missionary Father and the missionary Son, breathing life and power into God’s missionary church. Without the witness of the Spirit to Christ our witness is futile; without the conviction of the Spirit our preaching is in vain; without the power of the Spirit our mission is mere human effort; and without the fruit of the Spirit our unattractive lives bear no testimony to the beauty of the gospel. We pray for a greater awakening to this biblical truth and experienced reality in all parts of the worldwide body of Christ.
- At the same time we are well aware of the many abuses that masquerade under the name of the Holy Spirit, the many ways in which (as the New Testament also exemplifies) all kinds of phenomena are practised and praised which bear the marks of other spirits than the Holy Spirit. There is great need for more profound discernment, for the detection of blind-spots and delusion, for the exposure of fraudulent and self-serving manipulators who abuse spiritual power for their own ends. Above all there is a great need for sustained biblical teaching and preaching that will equip ordinary believers to understand and rejoice in the true gospel and to recognize and reject false gospels when they are exposed to them.
There is a paradox about the whole gospel, in the tension between its historical and its eschatological dimensions. On the one hand we have the whole gospel, in that it has been fully and finally accomplished through the historical acts of God for our salvation in the whole story of the Bible culminating in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And yet, on the other hand, we do not yet see the whole gospel in all the fullness and richness of what it will ultimately accomplish. For that we must wait until we join with people from every tribe and language and nation around the throne of God. Then we will see the total accomplishment of the gospel of Christ in the redeemed people of God from every human culture inhabiting the redeemed creation of God, freed from curse and frustration.
Part Two – The Whole Church
The second consultation considered the identity, role and functions of the church within the mission of God for the sake of the world. We did not attempt to provide an exhaustive systematic ecclesiology, but examined instead the many dimensions of what it means to be the whole church and what the church needs to be if it is to serve as God’s witness in the world.
Six themes, with papers and case-studies on each, shaped the consultation:
- The whole church in the whole Bible
- The whole church as a transformed and transforming society
- The whole church as a people committed to wholeness in the midst of a divided world
- The whole church called to be a blessing to all nations, especially in contexts of exile and migration
- The whole church and mission strategies
- The whole church in its bewildering diversity
The plenary papers and some of the case-studies have been published in a special edition of Evangelical Review of Theology. The results of our meetings are summarised here.
“Salvation belongs to our God.”
“You will be my people.”
“The earth is the Lord’s.”
The starting point for our ecclesiology must be the same as for our theology of mission and for our understanding of the world. Salvation, the church, and the world all belong to God
The concept of missio Dei reminds us that our mission flows from the mission of God, for salvation belongs to God. Similarly, the concept of ecclesia Dei reminds us that the church derives its identity and purpose from the God who called us and created us as a people for himself.
Mission belongs to God. The church belongs to God. The world belongs to God.
Our doctrine of God, in all its Trinitarian richness, must govern our ecclesiology. The opening of 1 Peter reminds us of our identity in relation to the work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The rest of the epistle makes it clear that what we do as a church flows integrally and inseparably from who we are as church. Being and doing cannot be torn apart. We are called to be who we are, and to live out what we are.
We found it encouraging that a recent statement of faith includes mission strongly in its effort to define the nature and purpose of the church.
The church stands in continuity with God’s people in the Old Testament, called through Abraham to be a light to the nations, shaped and taught through the law and the prophets to be a community of holiness, compassion and justice, and redeemed through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church exists to worship and glorify God for all eternity and is commissioned by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to participate in the transforming mission of God within history.
(from the new Tear Fund Statement of Faith, adopted in 2007).
We found it helpful to arrange our findings around the four great terms used to describe the church in the Nicene Creed, since it became clear that each one of them has strong missional significance:
“We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”
- We give thanks that the one church is God’s church and not our own, and hence finds its identity and purpose in the one God and King who called it into being and reigns over it as Lord. Biblically, the church is one in relation to the one living God (for he alone is its creator, redeemer and Lord, sustaining, sanctifying and indwelling it by his one Spirit); one in relation to Christ (for it includes all who are in Christ); one throughout history (for it includes all whom God has called to himself in all ages, before and after the incarnation); and one in all the biblical pictures of it (there is, e.g., only one household of God; only one bride of Christ; only one vine; only one priesthood and temple; only one flock; only one body – the body of Christ).
- Yet we confess that often we understand church according to our own limited perspectives. We easily approve of the congregation or tradition in which we participate, but fail to recognise the wider reality of God’s church in many different cultures and forms, including those that are strange and even disturbing to us. We repent of this and seek to cultivate the spirit of Barnabas who, when confronted in Antioch with a new and cosmopolitan manifestation of following Jesus, “when he saw the grace of God, he was glad” (Acts 11:23). We urge Lausanne to go on being a forum where all kinds and ways of being the church in mission can be recognized, embraced and affirmed, not without mutual critique and accountability, but certainly without instant rejection and condemnation of what is unfamiliar. We have most to learn from those who are most different from ourselves.
- We confess that ethnocentrism still manifests itself in the global church, tempting us to consider our own cultural, national, or tribal identity as superior to others. This fundamentally denies the oneness of the church in Christ, and should be challenged with renunciation and repentance, since it is the root of so much conflict even among Christians.
- We rejoice in the phenomenal growth of the church in the majority world of the global south, and for that reason we understand the intention of the statement that the “centre of gravity” of world Christianity has shifted to the south. However, we strongly discourage the further use of this term, for two reasons. First, Christianity has no centre but Jesus Christ. We are defined by no geographical centre, but only by our allegiance to the Lordship of Christ, and he is Lord of all the earth. The “centre”, therefore, is wherever he is worshipped and obeyed. Secondly, any talk of a centre (other than Christ) undermines the fact that Christianity, even since the book of Acts, has always been fundamentally polycentric. Anywhere on earth can be a centre, and any centre can rapidly become peripheral. The global nature of the church as “one throughout the whole wide world” subverts the language of a centre – whether geographical, numerical, or missionary. Mission is from everywhere to everywhere.
- The church as “one” also speaks of integration. Repeatedly in our consultation we found ourselves longing to move beyond the dichotomies that so often and sadly divide us. Or rather, in most cases, to move back behind them to an evangelical understanding of the church in which such dichotomies are seen as invalid in principle. These are some dichotomies we need to recognize as fundamentally false and damaging, or at best questionable. There are doubtless more.
- being and doing. The Bible calls us to live out who we are.
- word and deed. Both are essential parts of Christian life and witness, as our study of 1 Peter repeatedly showed (especially 1 Pet. 3). As Newbigin put it, the church by its life and actions is to be the hermeneutic, or the plausibility structure of the gospel. We will be heard because of our deeds as well as our words.
- evangelism and social action (or any form of Christian “action”). We believe that the struggle to articulate the relationship between these two was made necessary in the second half of the 20th century because of the mistaken separation of them that had taken place in the first half. That is why we say we need to go back behind this dichotomy. In our view, they are both integral to biblical mission – in the sense that while they may be conceptually distinguished, they cannot be separated. The relation between them is intrinsic and organic, as much as the relationship, say, between breathing and drinking in the human body. It makes little sense to speak of either having priority or primacy. Both are integral parts of what it means to be alive! Without either, there is death. We therefore urge Lausanne to affirm an integral understanding of mission that inseparably includes both, rather than continuing chicken-and-egg debates about how they relate.
- church and para-church: We wonder if there is more argument about this distinction among mission agencies and church bodies than exists in the mind of God, or in biblical concepts. While recognizing that there are valid pragmatic or functional distinctions that may be made for the sake of good order and administration, we need to affirm the biblical truth that “where two or three are gathered” in the name of Christ, he is there, and the church is there – one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
- The oneness of the church must also be seen as an integral part of the plan of God for the whole creation. It has a prophetic and eschatological dimension. Paul sees the oneness of the church as the prophetic sign of that reconciled unity that will one day be true for all humanity and all creation in Christ (Eph. 1:10, 22-23; Col. 1:15-20). Our concern for the unity of the church (and all the practical, ethical, ecumenical etc. implications of that), must therefore be seen as also intrinsic to our understanding of what we mean by “the whole church” in its mission. It is significant that Peter includes the command to “live in harmony with one another” (1 Pet. 3:8) within a chapter that refers to positive witness to unbelievers.
- The holiness of God’s people is both a fact and a duty. It is a given and a task. It is a status and a responsibility. It is ontological and ethical. The church is the community of those whom God has set apart for himself, and “made holy” (Lev. 22:32; 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:2) . But it is also the community called to “be holy”, in every aspect of life on earth (Lev. 18:3-5; 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). Sanctification (like salvation), thus has a past, present and future tense. Once again we affirm the integration of being and doing. We are to live what we are. In this respect, holiness is also essentially missional, for it describes an identity and a life that is grounded in the character and mission of God.
- So, we give thanks that God has called us, redeemed us and sanctified us to be holy in his sight. We observed in our study of 1 Peter (where we find the strongest N.T. echo of the O.T. command to “be holy, for God is holy”), that there is a very powerful emphasis on “doing good” (“doing good” or “doing right” occurs 10 times in this one letter). And this manifestation of practical holiness – even by suffering believers, or believers in oppressive contexts (such as slaves or wives of unbelieving masters or husbands) – was expected to be evangelistically fruitful. Holy living, through doing good, is integrated with “giving an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason of the hope that you have”. In 1 Pet. 4:8-11, speaking the word of God is integrated with serving, loving, offering hospitality, and all as a ministry of God’s grace, in God’s strength, for God’s glory. In other words, holiness is integral to mission. Good evangelism happens when Christians do good things as the fruit of holiness. The integration of word and deed is powerfully visible in this scripture.
- Yet we confess our failure in manifesting such missional holiness in at least the following ways:
- We have failed to include the fact and the demand of holiness as an integral part of our missional outreach, when we put exclusive emphasis on evangelism and give insufficient attention to making disciples. Repeatedly “the Great Commission” is understood only as an evangelistic mandate, when the explicit command is to “make disciples”, and the primary means is by “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” – i.e. practical obedience to the teaching of Jesus.
- We tolerate within the church a whole range of unholy, ungodly, unChristlike behaviours, without recognizing that they pollute our ecclesiology and undermine our mission. There are many varieties of such unholiness across different cultures, but they need to be recognized and addressed in humility.
- We give thanks that God’s work of sanctification applies to every area of life, including (for example) our care of creation, use of money, gender relationships, our ethnic identity and political choices. Yet we confess that we have allowed ourselves to be captivated by idolatries and ideologies that militate against biblical holiness (which demands distinctiveness from the world around). Among these (but not exhaustively), we identified the following forms of idolatry that evangelical Christians often participate in, or find ways of condoning:
- consumerism or materialistic greed (when we exalt prosperity over generosity);
- nationalism or patriotism (when we prioritize our own nation”s interests and agenda above the seeking first the kingdom of God);
- violence (when we forget Jesus” warnings about the sword and his commendation of peace-making);
- ethnic pride (when we let the blood of ethnic identity be thicker than the water of baptism in Christ);
- selfishness (when we ignore international and structural injustice that creates and perpetuates poverty, or put short term convenience above the needs of future generations);
- gender injustice (when we privilege male over female, and ignore the oppression of women within and outside the church).
In all such matters, we see the need for the church itself to seek repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, and to pray for a more prophetic and missional holiness of life and witness.
- To speak of the holiness of the church is to speak of the eternal purpose for which God has created it – namely to be his people, for his glory, for all eternity in the new creation; and also it is to speak of the historical purpose of the church, which is called to participate as God’s holy (distinct) people in God’s mission within history for the redemption of humanity and creation.However we confess that we often reduce that teleological understanding of the church (that the church exists for the eternal and historical purposes of God for his whole creation), into an instrumental understanding of the church, as if churches only exist to serve an agenda that is all too often imposed upon them by other agencies.
Of course every church ought to understand and live out its essentially missional identity as God’s holy people in the world. But we want to stress that the church exists for God, and should not be used as a convenient local franchise for the delivery of external strategies, objectives and targets.
- The word “catholic” in the creed speaks of the universal church, or the church “as a whole”. It is an appropriate word to have in mind when we use the Lausanne expression “The whole church”, for “wholeness” is intrinsic to catholicity.We rejoice to affirm the biblical truths that the church of God is universal in its membership (for it is open to people from any and every nation); universal in its extent (for it knows no geographical boundary); universal in time and eternity (for it includes all God’s people drawn from all generations of human history who will populate the new creation); and universal in the eyes of God (for the Lord knows those who are his, whether they are visible to us or not).
- We give thanks for the rich diversity that God has built into the whole church. Such diversity frequently stretches us beyond our relatively narrow experience or understanding of church, but it is a vital biblical part of the church’s catholicity.Yet we confess that often we fail to recognise the full contribution that is brought to the church by all those whom God has called to belong to it. In our consultation we particularly considered the following, whose contribution may be undervalued, diminished, overlooked, or even prevented:
- persons with disabilities (or “differently-abled”);
- indigenous or primal cultures;
- “insider movements”.
When such groups are allowed (or forced) to remain voiceless or invisible, then we lose the wholeness of God’s church.
In so many ways, we fail to appreciate the catholicity of the church by intentionally or unwittingly excluding from our consciousness those whom God himself has included within his church. To this extent, our failure to appreciate and act upon the full catholicity of the church damages and diminishes the effectiveness of our mission.
- We rejoice in the biblical teaching that God has given a great variety of differing gifts and callings and ministries to his universal church, for the benefit of all and for the equipping of God’s people for ministry and mission (1 Pet. 4:10-11). We need to embrace this teaching more positively and avoid our tendency to elevate one form of gifting above another, or to relegate some forms of calling or ministry to secondary levels of importance – whether to God, or to God’s mission through the church.Since the Spirit of God, the one who gives and empowers all gifts and ministries within the church, has been poured out on God’s servants, “both men and women” (Acts 2:18), we affirm that ministry gifting and calling are not defined by gender, or by ethnicity, wealth, or social status. Since the whole church is called to mission, the whole church is gifted for mission – though in many diverse ways under the sovereign distribution of God’s Spirit.
- We give thanks for the many outstanding and very visible leaders God has given to the church, in our generation as in the past. Yet we confess that we may be guilty of so honouring them that we have failed to recognise the full contribution of the multitudes of those servants of God who remain unknown and uncelebrated on earth. In this we need to repent of our seduction by the idolatry of secular celebrity culture. We must not fall into the temptation of equating the church with its most vocal and visible leaders. Such a mindset is very dangerous for those who are elevated and celebrated in that way, and very disabling for the rest of God’s people. Commitment to catholicity includes commitment to the priesthood of all believers, and priesthood is fundamentally missional, since it involves bringing God to the world and bringing the world to God. And that is a task for the whole church (1 Pet. 2:9-12)We also need to remind ourselves constantly that the biblical prescription and pattern for leaders within God’s people is not one of power and prominence, but of Christlike servanthood and humility (this point is most strongly emphasized in 1 Pet. 5:1-4). The Bible in both testaments warns us that leaders who wield or seek power and wealth radically undermine and pervert the mission of the church. Evangelical leaders are not at all immune to this temptation; many in fact fall into it, bring the church into disrepute, and disgrace to the name of Christ.
- We speak and write as evangelicals within that historic tradition and its particular manifestation in the Lausanne movement. However, in affirming the catholicity of the church, we gladly recognize that God’s people include many followers of the Lord Jesus Christ within other traditions. For that reason, we pray for the renewal of older historic branches of the world church, particularly Roman Catholic and Orthodox, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, and through the reforming and missional power of the Bible at work within them.
- We rejoice in the apostolic nature of the church, and affirm the biblical meaning of this: a) that the church is founded on the historic apostles of Jesus Christ, whose authorized witness to Christ, in word, deed and in the writings of the New Testament, along with their acceptance of the authority of the Old Testament scriptures, constitute the primary authoritative and final source of our ecclesiology; b) that we are called to be faithful to the teaching of the apostles, by our submission to the authority of Scripture; and c) that we are to carry forward the mission of the apostles in bearing witness to God’s saving work in Christ. The word “apostolic”, therefore, can variously refer to
- our historical roots,
- our doctrinal faithfulness, and
- our missional mandate.
The apostolic nature of the church is thus once again an integration of being and doing, of identity and mission. The church exists as the community of faith in fellowship with the apostles; and we are called to live as those who are “sent” in mission as the apostles were sent by the risen Christ.
- To define the church as “apostolic” is another way of saying that the church is missional by definition. It cannot be otherwise and be church. Mission is not something we add to our concept of church, but is intrinsic to it. For this reason, while we appreciate the desire that lies behind the growing use of the phrase “missional church”, the phrase is essentially tautologous. What else can the church be but missional without ceasing to be church? Indeed, history (including contemporary history in some parts of the world, including Europe) would suggest that churches that are not missional will eventually cease to exist.
- We rejoice in the zeal of many different strategies of evangelism that have arisen within God’s church – not least under the umbrella of the Lausanne movement. We affirm and admire the commitment and energy of those who call the church’s attention to those peoples and places where the name of Jesus Christ has never been heard yet, and who seek to mobilize effective ways of reaching them with the gospel. Such motivation and effort is wholly in tune with the church’s apostolicity, for it reflects the heart of the apostle Paul himself, and it takes seriously the purpose of God that people of “every tribe and language and nation”, “to the ends of the earth”, will one day be gathered as God’s people, worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ, in the new creation. The apostolic church has to be the evangelizing church.
- However, as part of our reflection on the meaning of “the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world”, we are concerned that it is possible to be driven by strategies of evangelism that lack adequate biblical ecclesiology, or that have implied but unexpressed ecclesiologies that are biblically defective. It is a criticism often levelled at evangelicals that we lack clear and robust ecclesiology, and it is not without justification.Examples of such defective ecclesiologies could be described as:
- Container church: If the governing objective of evangelism is thought to be getting the maximum number of people into heaven, then the church becomes the container where converts are stored until they get there. The glorious nature and purpose of the church in itself, in God’s plans, gets little attention.
- Harvest church: If the governing objective of evangelism is to get the maximum number of sheaves into the barn before the harvest ends, then haste is of the essence. This sometimes goes along with reading the Great Commission as an “unfinished task” to which we can bring closure if only we work harder and faster to “achieve” it.
- Lifeboat church: If the governing objective is to save souls from a sinking world heading for imminent obliteration, then the church becomes a lifeboat, and there is no rationale, motivation (or time) for engagement with the world itself – culturally, socially or ecologically.
These are caricatures, no doubt, but once again history shows us that haste breeds shallowness. We all readily lament the fact of widespread contemporary nominalism in churches evangelized generations ago and the need for re-evangelism. To the extent that this may be due to a failure of in-depth discipling (which is in fact simple disobedience to the Great Commission), we should be prepared to anticipate that haste-driven evangelism in the present without rigorous discipling will generate repeated nominalism in future generations. A robust biblical ecclesiology is essential to healthy and effective mission with long-lasting results. By contrast, to try to be apostolic in missionary zeal without commitment to holy discipleship, is to tear asunder two of the most essential marks of the church.
- Massive migration of many peoples, for all kinds of reasons, is one of the most notable features of our contemporary world. We recognize that God is using such migrations of peoples around the globe as the agents and means of his mission. We recognize (in line with Jeremiah 29, where the exiles of Judah were told to seek the welfare of Babylon and pray for it – i.e. to carry on their Abrahamic mandate of being a blessing), that migration may be a form of “sending” – which, whether voluntary or enforced, may be one way in which God in his providence constitutes the apostolicity of the church. But we do not underestimate the profound suffering that such migration entails.And we confess that the church”s attitude to such immigrant populations has not always been characterised by love, and that we have failed to recognise the way in which God is using these movements to achieve his purposes. We need to see biblical patterns at work in the way such migration movements, and the opportunities they present for the gospel, represent mission from the margins, mission out of weakness, and a radical subverting of the whole concept of “centre” and “periphery”.
- From our study of 1 Peter, we realized that the issue of persecution and suffering of the church called for much more attention than we were able to give it. Biblically there is no doubt that it is an essential element of the church standing in the tradition of the apostles.
We concluded that every word in the classic creedal definition of the church has intrinsic missional significance: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. To speak of the “whole church” is a lot more challenging than thinking merely of “all Christians”, but demands that we reflect on the church’s identity and calling, its very reason for existence – in history and for eternity. And as we do so, we quickly discern those places where the church is far from “whole” and we call for recognition, repentance and reformation – beginning with ourselves as those entrusted with theological leadership in the church of today. At the same time, we would not wish to give the impression that only a perfect church can participate in God’s mission. If that were so, there would have been no mission throughout the whole history of God’s people – Old and New Testament and beyond! We are “jars of clay”, in Paul’s imagery (2 Cor. 4:7), and many of us are very cracked pots indeed. Yet God chooses to use us in the service of his glorious gospel. We commit ourselves to seek wholeness where we see brokenness, but at the same time to urge the church as a whole to live out the missional identity for which it has been created and redeemed.
Part Three – The Whole World
The third and final consultation built upon what had been learned in the previous years and examined more closely what is meant by “the whole world”. We studied Colossians together, since in it Paul makes crystal clear the cosmic significance of Jesus Christ – in creating, sustaining and reconciling the whole world to God – and the correspondingly vast relevance of the gospel to the whole world at every level.
Six major themes, with plenary papers and case-studies in each, shaped our consultation:
- The World in the Bible
- The World of God’s Creation
- The World of Religions
- The World of the Globalised Public Square
- The World of Violence
- The World of Poverty and Injustice
The papers and some of the case studies have been published in Evangelical Review of Theology.
A. The World in the Bible
- There is in the Bible a fundamental ambivalence about “the world”. On the one hand it is God’s good creation, loved by him and to be redeemed by him; on the other hand it is the place of human and satanic rebellion and opposition to God. We have to bear both of these in mind, in creative tension, in all our missional reflection and engagement in the world. In evangelical circles there is a tendency to think of “the world” primarily in the second negative sense, and we need to be willing to appreciate the other dimensions, for example in terms of what we can learn from all cultures of human beings made in the image of God.
- The Bible has a rich vocabulary to describe “the world” – including: the earth; the world; the heaven and the earth; all things [in heaven and earth]; the fullness of the earth; the creation; the cosmos; all the nations; all flesh; the inhabited world. In all this variety, the Bible seems to speak of “the world” in at least five major ways.
- as the physical creation (the world of nature in which we live);
- as the whole human race, (the world of nations, languages and cultures and all that goes with them, including religions);
- as the place of rebellion and opposition to God (the world of sin and judgement);
- as the object of God’s love and the arena of God’s redemptive mission in history (the world that God so loved that he gave his Son for its salvation)
- as the new creation (the world being made anew in Christ).
All of these are important dimensions that should be included in missiological reflection. The final section of this report combines the last three of those dimensions under the heading “The World of Sin and Redemption.”
- The Bible tells us that God owns the world, rules the world, reveals himself through the world, watches all that happens in the world, and loves the world of “all he has made”. God’s relationship with the world he created is profound and dynamic. Therefore, human beings as creatures share in all of those relationships between God and the world. This must impact what it means to think about “the whole world”. All humanity, every person, has these things in common, along with all creation.
- They belong to God, however much they have surrendered that ownership to other lords.
- They live under God’s sovereignty, however much they resist it. History is governed by God, as is all creation.
- They know God to some degree simply by living in the world that reveals him, however much they have suppressed that knowledge in darkness and perversion.
- They are created to glorify God and give him thanks and praise, thought they fail to do so.
- They are accountable to God, who watches all they do and understands not only the actions but also the motives of every human being.
- They are loved by God, however much they reject his love, or ignore the daily proofs of it, or indeed treat God as the enemy.
- Wherever we go in the world, we never go to where God is not present and active in sovereign revelation and grace.
- While the term “the world” easily speaks to us of great magnitudes (the planet, all the nations), we must learn to see the world “from the bottom up”. God is concerned also about persons in families, in villages and neighbourhoods. It is noteworthy that the earliest form of the promise of God to Abraham speaks of “all the households/clans of the world will be blessed through you”.
- We must learn to see the world as God sees it and as the Bible describes it. We do not see the world as Toyota or McDonald”s do (as a vast marketplace for unlimited expansion); nor as atheist biologists (as an intricate but purposeless product of evolution); nor with the extremes of sentimentality on the one hand or ruthless exploitation on the other.
B. The World of God’s Creation
- We human beings ought never to forget that we are part of God’s creation – we are of the earth: Adam from ’adamah. As such, we take our part in the worship of God that is the proper function of all creation. We do so in uniquely human ways, of course, as the one creature made in God’s image. But the goal of bringing glory to God in worship is intrinsic to creation as a whole.
- “Most important among the Bible’s ways of placing us among the creatures, not over them, is the theme of creation’s worship of God portrayed in the Psalms (Pss 19:1-3, 97:6; 98:7-9 and especially 148) and, with Christological and eschatological character, in the New Testament (Phil 2:10; Rev 5:13). All creatures, animate and inanimate, worship God. This is not, as modern biblical interpreters so readily suppose, merely a poetic fancy or some kind of primitive animism. The creation worships God just by being itself, as God made it, existing for God’s glory. Only humans desist from worshipping God; other creatures, without thinking about it, worship God all the time. There is no indication in the Bible of the notion that the other creatures need us to voice their praise for them.”3
- “The earth is the Lord’s”. To the non-Christian world we bear witness that “the earth is the Lord’s” – It has an owner to whom humanity is accountable. The earth is neither ours to do with what we like because we are the most dominant species, nor does it belong to nobody because we are only one species among others. But in Christian circles we need to proclaim strongly that “The earth is the Lord’s” – and not just the people on it: that all creation is God’s property. The earth is the property of the God we claim to love and obey. Creation care is therefore an inescapable part of our responsibility and love towards God for what belongs to our Father and is the inheritance of the Son. We care for the earth, quite simply, because it belongs to the one whom we call Lord.
- Taking the whole gospel to the whole world means that we must take full account of the whole story of the whole Bible for the whole world – i.e. for the world in all the dimensions the Bible portrays it. Many Christians’ understanding of the gospel seems to start with Genesis 3 (“We’ve got a sin problem”), to end with Rev. 20 (“There is a day of judgment coming”), and then present Jesus as the means to solve the first and escape the second. There is no doubt that this great reality of personal salvation from sin through the cross of Christ is at the heart of the gospel, as Paul makes clear in 1 Cor. 15:1-3. But it is not the whole of the gospel, for it does not tell the whole biblical story.
- The Bible begins with creation (Gen. 1-2), ends with a new creation (Rev. 21-22), and presents Jesus as the one through whom God has reconciled all things in heaven and earth to himself through the blood of his cross (Col. 1:15-23). The gospel is good news for creation, for the reason that the gospel is the good news of what God has done in Christ to undo all the effects of human sin and satanic evil and to redeem his whole creation.
- There are many possible reasons and valid motivations (secular and Christian) for caring for creation. In Christian mission the combined proclamation of the kingdom of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ constitutes sufficient foundation for the urgently needed integration of the care of creation into our missional thinking. This foundation provides a solid basis for determined action in word and deed. We care for the earth, not just for the earth’s sake, or according to the motives or rationale of the secular world, but for the Lord’s sake. If Jesus is Lord of all the earth, we cannot escape our relationship to Christ in how we act in relation to the earth, or separate the first from the second. To proclaim the gospel that says Jesus is Lord is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth, for Christ’s Lordship embraces all creation. Creation care is a gospel issue.
- Trinitarian theology teaches us the fundamentally relational nature of all created reality. A gospel for individuals disconnected from society and / or from creation is not only unbiblical, but implausible and damaging. Such damage is inflicted not only on creation itself, but also on Christian witness and the credibility of the gospel. A partial gospel is not just a pity; it is toxic.To state it in environmental terms, the DNA of consumerist and individualistic society has so penetrated our message as to genetically modify it, giving us a GM (genetically modified) gospel.
- Just as the biggest theological justification for creation care is our worship of God and submission to the Lordship of Christ, so the biggest threat to creation in our world today is the alternative idolatry of consumerism and materialism. The gospel lays an axe at the root of consumerism. Confronting this dominant idolatry, including through creation care and environmental advocacy, is to engage in spiritual warfare in which only the power of prayer and the gospel are decisive.
- Lausanne 1974 was a landmark for 20th century evangelicals in binding together the personal and the social dimension of the gospel in our understanding of holistic mission in relation to human need. Cape Town 2010 must call evangelicals to recognise afresh the biblical affirmation of God’s redemptive purpose for creation itself. Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out, the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people.
- Christians who are working in environmental biology and creation care have a valid missional calling which needs to be recognised, encouraged and resourced by the church, for they model how to integrate the care of creation into what it means to proclaim Jesus as Lord.
- We urge Lausanne to ensure that Cape Town 2010 is a “green” congress, as far as is possible, by taking a range of practical steps that have been established and tested by A Rocha for similar events. We urge this, not merely as a conscientious gesture to the watching world, but as a matter of profound theological conviction. We would not choose to run a Christian congress in a way that exploited human beings; we cannot choose to run it in a way that exploits and damages God’s creation.
- Most of the riches of the earth”s bio-diversity are concentrated in about 2% of the surface of the earth. Such places have been mapped as bio-diversity hot-spots, many of them under severe threat. Further mapping has revealed that it is frequently the case that the majority of people who live on that 2% are Christians. Even secular organisations have now expressed concern that Christian indifference to creation could be an environmental disaster.
- Caring for creation is an act of fidelity to the whole biblical gospel and the mission that flows from it. It needs no pragmatic justification, for faithful obedience to God’s command is intrinsically right. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that those who engage in such creation care as their missional vocation joyfully bear witness to its evangelistic fruitfulness as well. This is not seen as a prior motivation or a hidden intention of their work, but as a natural and unsurprising result of fidelity to God’s will.
C. The World of Cultures and Religions
- We are committed to bearing witness to Christ in the whole world, which means among all people on the planet. The world of humanity exists, by God’s clear intention, in nations, tribes, and languages – in other words, in cultures. Human cultures are religious in varying forms and degrees. The distinction between religion and culture is far less clear than often portrayed. For all religions exist within cultures, permeating and shaping them. For that reason religions also share in the radical ambiguity of all human cultures.
- We recognise that cultures and religions are neither monolithic nor static. Both change and vary throughout history and therefore should not be counted as “given” or absolute. The church also changes, is influenced by, and influences the cultures within which it is birthed and grows. The process of discernment within the local church is fundamental if Christians are to understand the ways (positive and negative) in which the cultures around them shape their witness and their calling.
- If religions are fundamentally human cultural constructions and if cultures are also part of the created order, then we can be sure that at least three elements are intertwined within religions as cultural phenomena. First, because all human beings are made in God’s image and receive God’s general revelation, there will be some evidence of God’s revelatory work within the religious elements of any culture. But second, because all human beings are sinners, such revelation will also be distorted and darkened by our wilful disobedience, and that too will take religious forms. And third, because Satan is also at work in the world, there will be elements of satanic deception and evil in all culturally embedded religions. In short, religions can include elements of God’s truth, can be massively sin-laden, and can be systems of satanic bondage and idolatry.
- We recognize that all followers of Christ experience the challenge of dual-belonging: we are Christians who belong to Jesus, and we find ourselves within some culture to which we belong by birth or circumstance (and such cultural belonging may be static or it can be fluid and changing through life). The challenge is that while we cannot escape the fact of such dual-belonging, we are called to single covenantal loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. Western Christians face the “dual-belonging” challenge of being disciples of Jesus while living within cultures of consumerism and militarism. They need to be aware of the idolatrous and quasi-religious power of those dominant forces in their culture and the extent to which believers can be subverted by unconscious syncretism and cultural idolatry. There are some groups of people in other cultures, previously unconnected with established Christianity, who are now following Jesus Christ while living within their original religio-cultural traditions. As they seek faithfully to follow Jesus, they meet together with other followers of Jesus in small groups for fellowship, teaching, worship and prayer centered around Jesus and the Bible. At the same time they live their lives socially and culturally within their birth communities. This phenomenon of following Jesus within diverse religio-cultural traditions needs careful biblical, theological and missiological evaluation. We are well aware that it is a complex phenomenon drawing conflicting evaluative responses, and we do not seek to take a position on it here. Our point merely is that it is a challenge that affects not only those who become followers of Jesus in the context of what are commonly called “other faiths”. The dangers of syncretism are worldwide, and so are the complexities of careful, biblically faithful contextualization. We commend the work of other groups who are studying the latter in depth, but we would urge Lausanne to sponsor a more thorough biblical theology of religions within cultures and what following Jesus means in such contexts.
- We are called therefore to careful discernment as to what elements of any religious culture are marks of God’s common grace and providence (which we should welcome, bring under the Lordship of Christ, and be willing to learn from), and what are idolatrous (and to be renounced and rejected). We need to repent of approaches to people of other faiths that reject or denounce their existing religion as wholly evil or satanic, with no effort to understand, critique and learn, and to discern through genuine encounter, friendship and patient dialogue where there may be bridges for the gospel.
- Such discernment is primarily the responsibility of Christian believers in their own religio-cultural context, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, as the gospel takes root in their lived discipleship. It is not something to be decided for them or imposed upon them by outside experts. At the same time, the global body of Christ must be engaged in collective discernment and mutual correction in such areas. We need the eyes of others to see what is defective, dangerous or compromised in the ways we have related our faith in Christ to the culture in which we live. The challenging question is how can we avoid hegemonic outsider imposition, and yet have healthy dialogue with the outside world?
- In some urban, affluent and individualistic societies we see secular cultures emerge, where adherence to traditional or structured religion seems to evaporate. This does not mean that the search for meaning-making ceases. But people in such societies are not likely to enter easily into institutional Christian settings as these do not fit well with their quest for individualized authenticity. In such settings traditional evangelical expectations about the act and process of conversion are challenged. Becoming followers of Jesus will normally not happen instantly, but implies a lengthy process of receiving and integrating Christian faith and spirituality in meaningful ways. This means that Christians must live missionally alongside such seekers in friendly, non-threatening ways in genuine service, dialogue and encounters.
- We affirm the gospel’s claim and power to transform any person, culture or religion and we recognise that such transformation is required also, or especially, in our own cultures. Conversion to Christ involves a radical new commitment to him and a break with the past, but in the New Testament that break is expressed in terms of, on the one hand, a turning away from idols (false gods), and on the other hand, ethical change (“you must no longer live as the Gentiles do”). In the latter sense, conversion is also a lifelong process of turning all of life (including its cultural forms) towards Christ, through the convicting and convincing work of the Holy Spirit.
- We recognise that culture is a complex reality like economics, politics, or religion. Yet we also affirm that these realities do not have a final grip on us. The question for Christians is: are we willing to cross the borders that divide us in the kingdom, joining the cloud of witnesses who have crossed over – are we willing to walk in the footsteps of Abraham, Ruth, Paul, and the Syro-Phoenecian woman?
D. The World of Sin and Redemption
- We live as broken and sinful people in a broken, sinful world. Our conference touched on several major areas where that brokenness intrudes:
- the negative effects of globalisation (alongside its acknowledged benefits);
- continuing global poverty and economic injustice;
- the challenges of population growth and the huge urban centres;
- the destruction of the natural environment and human-generated climate change that is already affecting the world’s poorest;
- the scourge of HIV-AIDS;
- the cultures of violence that pervade society from domestic to international levels;
- the threat of nuclear disaster;
- the dangers of terrorism and its underlying causes;
- the stoking of ethnic and religious dividedness.
Comments on some of these are included below – not as profound theological reflections, but simply to acknowledge that any theology of mission must take such global realities into account in discerning what it means to address the whole gospel to the whole world. When we talk about “the world”, we cannot only think numerically about “all the people who live in the world”. We must think contextually about all that is in the world that impacts the lives of individuals, the social structures that shape them, and the physical environment upon which they depend.
- Most non-Christians would acknowledge the brokenness described above, and many are involved in efforts to mend it – from secular NGOs to local neighbourhood associations. However, as Christians we bring two elements to our analyses and our solutions that are not there in all such efforts. On the one hand, we bring a radical biblical understanding of human sin and rebellion against God, in collusion with forces of spiritual and satanic powers. “The world” is an interlocking web of systems and structures that perpetuate the effects of our fallenness and sin. And on the other hand, we bring the gospel – the good news of redemption, accomplished by God through the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We have hope, not in the eventual success of what we can do to fix the world, but in the accomplished victory of God through Christ, guaranteeing the new creation in which all that is broken will be made anew.
- The church as the people of the creator and redeemer God, therefore, also lives with the ambiguity that we ourselves are fallen people who share in, and often contribute to, the brokenness of the world; and yet we are redeemed to live redemptively within the world. We bear witness to the accomplished fact of redemption (in the message of the cross); we bear witness to the ongoing redemptive power of God through his Spirit constantly at work in our own day; we bear witness to the hope of ultimate redemption of all creation.
- The church, therefore, does not become political when it enters the arena of what the world defines as “politics”. The church already is a political entity in the world. It stands as an alternative – as the gathered people of God – proclaiming and living gospel life to the world of violence and death in all its facets and dimensions. As such, the church challenges the powers that govern the many types of injustice, violence and poverty in our world, both seen and unseen. We highlight some of these:
Globalization – by “globalization” we refer to the intensified level of interconnection that we experience today. It brings with it both benefits and problems. On the one hand, there has been increased potential for job creation in many countries, increased communication and a greater possibility for understanding the rich diversity of cultures and peoples around the world. On the other hand, asymmetric relations of power undermine the promise of transcultural understanding. Powerful nations make decisions which affect less powerful nations who have no say in the decision-making process. Trans-national corporations (TNCs) “patent” nature, negatively impacting possibilities of subsistence at the local level, and damaging God’s creation in the process. While some of the world’s poor have benefited from globalization the poorest of the poor are now even more destitute.
The simple affirmation “Jesus is Lord” points to the idolatry of any one nation, trans-national corporation, school of thought, or church that presumes to speak or act on behalf of the whole world.
As faithful disciples of Jesus, we affirm the need for the church to be present among those who suffer, are exploited and oppressed. The presence of the people of God as peacemakers and truth-tellers, advocates and prophets is inherent to the church’s missiological calling.
The church is called to model a different kind of global community that emphasizes contentment and generosity, and is not driven by ongoing consumption. As Paul said to Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). Christians must confess our complicity in practices and attitudes of exploitation of other human beings and of nature, and we recognize the constant need for prayer and upbuilding one another in the spiritual battle against our tendency to be lords of others.
Consumerism – Consumerism is a core cultural expression within our world today, especially in the west, saturating every aspect of individual lives and the communities in which we live. It is a meaning-making ideology which locates meaning in self-absorbed gratification, making material “goods” objects of veneration and worship. Consumption is no longer linked to sustaining life but is itself the reason for living: supposedly the more one acquires the greater the quality of one’s life. It is meaning-making in the sense that personal identity is found in the act of consumption. Consumerism is the impulse of self-creation and therefore, it is the sin of the Garden of Eden and a rejection of our createdness. To consume is not bad in itself (we do so every time we eat); it becomes bad when it takes the form of a pervasive cultural idol. All other idols become subject to the comprehensive belief system of consumerism, which comes complete with obligations to acquisition, capitalism, religiosity and sacrifice.
We must name and unmask consumerism for the idolatry that it is – as Paul does twice in calling greed idolatry. It is critical for consumerism’s own success that it remain invisible as an idolatry with many features in common with religions. The secular world wants “religions” to look colourful in their robes and rituals, but there is a real but hidden power of consumerist “religion” underlying the destructive brutality of some forms of commercialism and exploitation – even if it would not be defined as “a religion” by accepted standards.
Consumerism has greatly affected our calling to be witnesses and has led us to think of people and creation in terms of consumable products or mere numbers. As Christians we confess our participation in the idolatry of consumerism and the enthronement of self at the centre of our human existence and social orders. With the biblical prophets we cry out against the oppression and the injustice caused by this idolatry and affirm that “human life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Violence – from domestic violence to the violence of wars, we confess our own complicity and failure to address the whole gospel to such brutal disorders. We affirm and lift up as models those persons and communities who are working for peace and bearing witness to the redemptive concreteness of God’s love amidst the evils of human trafficking, of the arms and drug trades, of the growing threat of nuclear disaster, of terrorism and its multiple roots and causes, and of intractable civil wars. Special attention should also be paid to the astronomical expense of military build-up, totaling $1.464 trillion USD in 2008 (http://www.sipri.org/yearbook/2009/05).
We also recognize the “violence” of disease, especially the pandemic of HIV-Aids, that ravages families, communities and entire nations. We repent of actions and attitudes of prejudice, apathy, lack of compassion, and double standards in relation to sexuality, recognizing the suffering of millions who are affected directly and indirectly by this disease, many through no fault of their own. But we also recognize that the spread of HIV-Aids is strongly (though not exclusively) correlated to forms of sexual activity that sadden our Creator, including multiple heterosexual partnerships. As part of our Christian witness to the world of HIV-Aids we affirm the necessity of advocacy and education at individual, communal and national levels. We further affirm the need for counseling and instruction for pastors and their congregations affected by the HIV-Aids pandemic, urging them to challenge male domination, to be courageous in making clear the Bible’s teaching on sexual behaviour and consistent in living by it themselves, to encourage gender justice and to stand firm in the Christian practices of love, patience and compassion.
Poverty – in God’s world of plenty and God-given human creativity, 20% of the world”s population consumes 80% of the world”s resources. Meanwhile 1/3 of the world”s population can barely feed and clothe itself adequately and 1/6 is daily on the verge of death. Poverty is not the result of lack of resources but a product of personal and institutionalized injustice and greed, ethnic prejudice and consumerism.
In God’s grace, the followers of Christ are being shaped into a community of mutual concern and responsibility for the well-being of the whole world and particularly for the most vulnerable. This calling demands more careful and critical consumption, creative production, prophetic denunciation, advocacy for and mobilization of the victims of world injustice. While we stand with the Micah Challenge in holding our governments accountable to their commitments to “make poverty history”, we also dedicate ourselves to “making greed history” in our own lives, churches, communities, countries and world. We must face up to the scandalous fact that the majority of the poorest of the world”s poor live in countries that are predominantly Christian. And the wealthiest of the world”s wealthy also live in a country that calls itself Christian. What does this say about horrendous inequality within the worldwide body of Christ?
While we have merely scratched the surface of some vast and complex issues, we trust it is clear that if the whole church is to take the whole gospel to the whole world it needs to think in more than merely quantitative terms. We conclude our theological reflections with 5 main commitments:
- a commitment to proclaim in word and deed that care for creation is a gospel issue. If Christians around the globe understand it as such the witness of the church will be more biblically faithful and fruitful.
- a commitment to open ourselves up to dialogue and friendship with those of other cultures, understanding evangelism as witness and discipleship and that in such friendships and mutual respect others will come to see Christ in us.
- a commitment to be aware of consumerism as an idolatry, especially in the Western world, where it rarely goes unchecked by individual Christians or the church and therefore the need for confession and repentance;
- a commitment to share and participate in grass-roots efforts of peace and reconciliation in a world of so many types of violence, because evangelism is also the church proclaiming and living gospel life in the world of violence and death.
- a commitment to be shaped into a community of mutual concern and responsibility for the well-being of the whole world and particularly for the most vulnerable.
As Christians called to live out our discipleship in a world of brokenness we confess that we have been complicit in that brokenness but also that we are empowered by God’s Spirit to participate in its redemption. Such participation includes saying “no” to consumerism as an idolatrous way of life, being present with those who suffer, and caring for God’s creation, so that our lives, churches and communities reflect the implications of our confession that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
As the Lausanne Theology Working Group, we offer these reflections, questions and challenges to all God’s people who wait, with us, to share in the wedding feast of the Lamb. Then the redeemed from every tribe, nation and language will join the angels in singing the praises of Jesus. Then will we see all that the gospel will have accomplished through Christ, for then we will see the purging and transformation of every human culture, the redemption of countless millions of human lives and the renewal of all creation. Then finally and fully we will join with “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne
and to the Lamb
be praise and honour and glory and power
for ever and ever!”” (Rev. 5:13).