Reflections of the Lausanne Theology Working Group
This is a condensed version of the full report of the three consultations of the TWG.
Read the Statement in full.
The Lausanne Theology Working Group (in co-operation with the WEA Theological Commission) hosted three consultations with a total of over 60 participants from all continents, 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 6 plenary papers and 15-20 case studies with maximum time devoted to interactive discussion. The paragraphs that follow reflect our attempt to bring together both quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the three phrases in the Lausanne slogan in the light of the biblical witness and our own context. They serve as part of the Theology Working Group’s contribution for the preparation of the Lausanne III Congress – Cape Town 2010.
The papers and some of the case studies have been published in three issues of Evangelical Review of Theology, 33.1 (2009); 34.1 (2010), 34.3 (2010).
Part I – The Whole Gospel
We began with “the whole gospel” because the church is itself the product and demonstration of the gospel – not merely its carrier. 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 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
However, we shaped our final report around six ways in which the Apostle Paul uses the word “gospel”.
A. The gospel tells the story of Jesus in light of the whole Bible
- The gospel is an account of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection in light of the Scriptures of the Old Testament. As Paul himself states,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).The gospel is 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 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 (“in accordance with the Scriptures”). Our understanding of ‘the whole gospel’, therefore, needs to include both. Drawing our understanding of the whole gospel from the whole Bible will protect us from reducing the gospel to a few formulae for ease of communication and ‘marketing’ and reminds us that it is ultimately God’s Spirit that draws people from all cultures and places into this story.
- The narrative nature of the gospel, based 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 more immediately meaningful in their cultural understanding, and they 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.
B. The gospel creates a new reconciled humanity in the one family of God
- God’s plan, announced to Abraham, had always been to bring blessing through Israel to all the nations of the world (Eph. 2:13-18). 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)
- 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.
- 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.
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 to all nations as the “word of truth” (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5, 23; 1 Thess. 2:13). 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. The message of the cross stands as good news against the grim background of destruction and death caused by human and satanic rebellion to every dimension of human life and culture and to God’s creation.
- 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. All the blessings of the gospel are the gift of God’s grace, received by us solely through faith in Christ.
- 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. Suffering is an essential dimension of bearing witness to the gospel – the New Testament stresses this repeatedly. 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.
D. The gospel produces ethical transformation
- Jesus said, “Repent and believe” (Mk. 1:15). Radical change of life goes along with faith in the good news – there cannot be a separation between them. The message of the gospel demands not mere mental assent, but obedience. 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) The ethical transformation that the gospel accomplishes as the work of God’s grace. It is God’s grace that both saves us and shapes us to live in the eschatological light of the second coming of Christ (Tit. 2:11-14), and enables us to obey, even when such faithful obedience to the gospel is sacrificial (2 Cor. 9:12-13).
- This understanding of the gospel as a matter of obedience not just belief, is shared by Peter (Acts 5:32; 1 Pet. 4:17), James (Jas. 2:14-26), John (1 Jn. 2:3; 3:21-24; 5:1-3) and 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.
E. The gospel declares truth and exposes evil before God’s judgment
- 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).
- The gospel stands against evil 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 is the cosmic power of God at work in history and creation
- For Paul, the gospel seemed to have life of its own, such that he could personify it as being at work, active, spreading and bearing fruit all over the world (Col. 1:6). 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). Not surprisingly, therefore, the gospel is being proclaimed “in all creation under heaven” (v. 23), since it is good news for all creation.
- The gospel is the power of God in Christ and through the Spirit. There is no 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.
Part II – The Whole Church
The second consultation studied the identity, role and functions of the whole church within the mission of God for the sake of the world. Mission, the church, and the world all belong to God. The church derives its identity and purpose from the God who called us and created us as a people for himself.
The discussions were framed around six broad themes:
- The whole church in the whole Bible
- The whole church as the 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
We arranged the findings of this consultation 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.”
- 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. The church is one in relation to Christ, for it includes all who are in Christ. The church is one throughout history, for it includes all whom God has called to himself in all ages, before and after the incarnation. The church is one in all the biblical pictures of it, for there is only one household of God, one bride of Christ, one priesthood and temple, only one body – the body of Christ.
- The church as “one” also speaks of integration. We long to move beyond the dichotomies that so often and sadly divide us – to move, rather, to an evangelical understanding of the church in which such dichotomies are seen as invalid in principle. Among such damaging false dichotomies are:word and deed. Both are essential parts of Christian life and witness. The church by its life and actions is the demonstration and credibility structure of the gospel. We will be heard because of our deeds as well as our words (1 Pet. 3).evangelism and social engagement. 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. The relation between them is intrinsic and organic. We therefore urge Lausanne to sustain its affirmation of an integral understanding of mission that inseparably includes both.
- 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 must be seen as 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. 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). 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.
- In 1 Peter (the strongest N.T. echo of the O.T. command to “be holy, for God is holy”), there is a very powerful emphasis on “doing good” or “doing right” (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 other words, holiness is integral to mission. Good evangelism happens when Christians do good things as the fruit of holiness. 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.
- 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 have allowed ourselves to be captivated by idolatries and ideologies that militate against biblical holiness, which demands distinctiveness from the world around us. We identified some of the following forms of idolatry that evangelical Christians often participate in, or find ways of condoning:
- consumerism or materialistic greed
- nationalism or patriotism
- ethnic pride
- gender injustice
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.
- The word “catholic” in the creed speaks of the universal church – which is another meaning of “the whole church”. The church of God is universal in its membership, for it is open to people from any and every nation. It is universal in its extent, for it knows no geographical boundary. It is universal in time and eternity, for it includes all God’s people drawn from all generations of human history. And it is universal in the eyes of God, for the Lord knows those who are his.
- 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:
When such groups are allowed (or forced) to remain voiceless or invisible, then we lose the wholeness of God’s 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.
- God has given a great variety of differing gifts and callings and ministries to his universal church, for the benefit of all members and for the equipping of all 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. 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.
- The apostolic nature of the church has three biblical meanings:
a) Historical: that the church is founded on the historic apostles of Jesus Christ. Their 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) Doctrinal: that we are called to be faithful to the teaching of the apostles, by our submission to the authority of Scripture; and
c) Missional: that we are to carry forward the mission of the apostles in bearing witness to God’s saving work in Christ.
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 speak of 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 the identity and role of the 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 (4).
- We rejoice in the zeal of many different strategies of evangelism that have arisen within God’s church. 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, and who seek ways of reaching them with the gospel. Such motivation and effort reflects the heart of the apostle Paul himself. The apostolic church has to be the evangelizing church.
- However, it is possible to be driven by urgent strategies of evangelism that lack adequate biblical ecclesiology, or that have implied ecclesiologies that are biblically defective, such as:
- Container church: where evangelism is understood as getting the maximum number of people into heaven, the church becomes the container where converts are stored until they get there.
- Harvest church: where evangelism is to get the maximum number of sheaves into the barn before the harvest ends, then haste is of the essence.
- Lifeboat church: where the church’s objective is to save souls from a sinking world, then the church becomes a lifeboat, and there is no rationale, motivation, or time for engagement with the world itself culturally, socially or ecologically
- Evangelistic haste produces shallow discipleship. 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.
Part III – The Whole World
The final consultation addressed the theme of “the whole world” and the meetings were framed around six major themes:
- The World in the Bible
- The World of God’s Creation
- The World of Religions
- The World of the Globalized Public Square
- The World of Violence
- The World of Poverty and Injustice
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.
- The Bible has a rich vocabulary to describe “the world”. In all this variety, Scripture speaks of “the world” in at least five major ways. “The world” can mean:
- the physical creation
- the whole human race, including nations, languages and religions
- the place of rebellion and opposition to God
- the object of God’s love and the arena of God’s redemptive mission in history
- the new creation
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”. Human beings as creatures share in all of those relationships between God and the world. Though every dimension of those relationships is fractured and resisted by sin, it remains true that, along with the rest of creation, all human beings belong to God, live under God’s sovereignty, have some knowledge of God, are accountable to God, are loved by God (however much we reject his love, or ignore the daily proofs of it, or indeed treat God as the enemy), and cannot escape God. Wherever we go in the world, we never go to where God is not present and active in sovereign revelation and grace.
B. THE WORLD OF GOD’S CREATION
- “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps. 24:1). To the non-Christian world we bear witness that “the earth is the Lord’s”. 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. 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. We care for the earth, quite simply, because it belongs to the one whom we call Lord.
- 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 all 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.
- 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. If Jesus is Lord of all the earth, we cannot separate our submission to his Lordship from how we act in relation to the earth, for Christ’s Lordship embraces all creation. To proclaim the gospel that says Jesus is Lord is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth. Creation care is a gospel issue.
- The biggest threat to creation in our world today is the 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.
- 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. Caring for creation is an act of fidelity to the whole biblical gospel and the mission that flows from it. It is noteworthy that those who engage in such creation care as their personal 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
- 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. All religions exist within cultures, permeating and shaping them. For that reason religions also share in the radical ambiguity of all human cultures.
- 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, all religions can include elements of God’s truth, can be massively sin-laden, and can be systems of satanic bondage and idolatry.
- 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. 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 people in other cultures, previously unconnected with established Christianity, who are now following Jesus 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 centred around Jesus and the Bible. At the same time they live their lives socially and culturally within their birth communities.
- All phenomena of following Jesus within diverse religio-cultural traditions, whether Western or non-Western, need careful biblical, theological and missiological evaluation. The dangers of syncretism are worldwide, and so are the complexities of careful, biblically faithful contextualization. We are called to careful discernment as to what elements of any religious culture are marks of God’s common grace and providence and what are idolatrous.
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
- 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
- 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.
Our missional 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.
- 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 and resurrection); 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.
- 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.
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 whole gospel will have accomplished through Christ, for then we will see the redemption of countless millions of human lives, the purging and transformation of every human culture, 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).