Visiting the Trends of Lausanne

The CTC as the “roadmap”1 for the Lausanne Movement

The Cape Town Commitment (CTC) is quickly becoming one of the most significant outcomes of the III Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, which was held in Cape Town in 2010. In my perception, it wasn’t clear that the CTC would be strongly and enthusiastically embraced by the participants of the event since when they left the Convention Centre the document was still in the making. It wasn’t clear, either, if the CTC would effectively become the new banner of the Lausanne Movement since the document had not been tested at the event itself.

The CTC has two parts. The first one, entitled “For the Lord we love: The Cape Town Confession of Faith”, was distributed to all the participants at the end of Cape Town 2010 (CT 2010), while the second part, “For the world we serve: The Cape Town Call to Action”, was still in the making.

While the first part of the document was produced ahead of the event and through a lengthy process with quite some listening around it, the task of bringing this second part about was enormous. It was built upon a long listening process which went on during three years at different regions of the world, identifying six major “challenges facing the Church”2 today. As the event came about a small and representative committee was doing its work day by day: listening to what was being said from the platform and around tables, discerning the touch of the Spirit as the event went on as well as trying to bring about a sense of connection and continuity in between voices, demands, opportunities and challenges. A task that came together after the event as a “Call to Action” embedded in the desire to have read well the signs of our times in terms of challenges and opportunities and having made a historic connection with a key trend of the Lausanne Movement, which is to be committed to what has been called “reflective evangelization”. A type of evangelization characterized by believing, obeying and sharing the whole Gospel to the whole world by the whole church3.

Not long after the CT 2010, the CTC was finalized, fine tuned and launched, aiming to be largely embraced and to become, in fact, the new face of the Lausanne Movement. A new face built upon the Lausanne Covenant and, in smaller degree, upon the Manila Manifesto. But also a face which had the clear intentionality to embrace the new, global and growing evangelical scenario in a world that was pointing to major challenges to the Christian faith and to the life of churches themselves.

Some features of this face at this time, as captured by the CTC, could be described as following:

  • The evangelical identity is affirmed again and afresh. At the heart of this identity is the commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, the authority of God’s word as God’s truth and the need to find the church engaged in mission always – a mission that is integral and wholistic. This affirmation of identity did not intent to bring anything new to the forefront besides saying that we are committed to that same gospel and the same call as our fathers and mothers already were.
  • A confession of faith expressed in a language of love, conveying a clear intention to portray a God of love who calls his followers to be the people of his love. The option for the language of love emanating from God himself is of enormous importance to the entire evangelical family and a touch that conveys a message of closeness and openness to the CTC itself. The evangelical community, which has often used a language of belligerence and competition, is now making an option to embrace a language of love, calling people to go beyond the language and move to an attitude that relates to God and to the other one out of the experience of being loved by God and of loving God.
  • Our “Confession of Faith” needs to become our “Call to Action”, as a reaffirmation that “belief and praxis” cannot be separated but must walk together. In a typical Lausanne way, it was said again that our faith moves into our action and our action points to our faith. Not merely as a matter of consequence but as a matter of nature and character.
  • Our commitment to an understanding and practice of mission that is wholistic and integral. What we say with our mouth must be seen in our lives and what God has in storage for us and for all needs to be seen in our mission practice. This practice needs to be at the service of the “whole gospel” and affect all dimensions of people’s life and the lives of all. While the earlier Lausanne Covenant already pointed to an understanding and practice of mission which was integral, it wasn’t able to overcome the tension between a more exclusive (soul saving) and a more inclusive (mission is everything the church is called to do/Stott) understanding and practice of mission, the CTC is built upon an understanding of mission that is wholistic and integral. Even going further, it tried to outline, as will be seen later, what such mission would mean to the churches and Christians today.
  • A new reading of our times and of our own reality. A reading done through the lenses of the imperative of mission and mission to all. A mission that needs to focus on churches as main players.  A mission that reflects the search and is an expression of the unity of the Church. A mission that carries with itself a commitment to humility, integrity and simplicity. A mission that takes into account “this enormous shift in world Christianity” at which “two thirds of all world’s Christian now live in the continents of the global south and east”.4

This mission takes place, as the CTC lays it out in broad lines, in a pluralistic and globalized world, in a broken and divided world and in a world where other religions, especially Islam, are actively growing and being missionary.

To fulfill this mission requires that the Church will recognize its failures, limitations and sinfulness. Therefore, the CTC voices a call to repentance, which was expressed at CP 2010 as a call “back to humility, integrity and simplicity”.

It was within the frame of this call that the CTC detected, recognized and denounced what it called the “prosperity gospel”. It identified in this “gospel” a serious threat to the churches of today as well as to the fulfillment of the task of world evangelization. The CTC said it in this way:

The widespread preaching and teaching of ‘prosperity gospel’ around the world raises significant concerns. We define prosperity gospel as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through financial or material gifts. Prosperity teaching is a phenomenon that cuts across many denominations in all continents.

We affirm the miraculous grace and power of God, and we welcome the growth of churches and ministries that lead people to exercise expectant faith in the living God and his supernatural power. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we deny that God’s miraculous power can be treated as automatic, or at the disposal of human techniques, or manipulated by human words, actions, gifts, objects, or rituals.

We affirm that there is a biblical vision of human prospering, and that the Bible includes material welfare (both health and wealth) within its teaching about the blessing of God. However, we deny as unbiblical the teaching that spiritual welfare can be measured in terms of material welfare, or that wealth is always a sign of God’s blessing. The Bible shows that wealth can often be obtained by oppression, deceit or corruption. We also deny that poverty, illness or early death are always a sign of God’s curse, or evidence of lack of faith, or the result of human curses, since the Bible rejects such simplistic explanations

We accept that it is good to exalt the power and victory of God. But we believe that the teachings of many who vigorously promote the prosperity gospel seriously distort the Bible; that their practices and lifestyle are often unethical and un-Christlike; that they commonly replace genuine evangelism with miracle-seeking, and replace the call to repentance with the call to give money to the preacher’s organization. We grieve that the impact of this teaching on many Churches is pastorally damaging and spiritually unhealthy. We gladly and strongly affirm every initiative in Christ’s name that seeks to bring healing to the sick, or lasting deliverance from poverty and suffering. The prosperity gospel offers no lasting solution to poverty, and can deflect people from the true message and means of eternal salvation. For these reasons it can be soberly described as a false gospel. We therefore reject the excesses of prosperity teaching as incompatible with balanced biblical Christianity.

A) We urgently encourage church and mission leaders in contexts where the prosperity gospel is popular to test its teaching with careful attention to the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Particularly, we all need to interpret and teach those Bible texts that are commonly used to support the prosperity gospel in their full biblical context and proper balance. Where prosperity teaching happens in the context of poverty, we must counter it with authentic compassion and action to bring justice and lasting transformation for the poor. Above all we must replace self-interest and greed with the biblical teaching on self-sacrifice and generous giving as the marks of true discipleship to Christ. We affirm Lausanne’s historic call for simpler lifestyles.5

The CTC facing “prosperity gospel” and asking for a different way to live in mission

As the agenda was established for the day after the congress, the leadership of the Movement went to the CTC and was reassured that the “Commitment” was substantial and relevant. It was worth to transform it in a roadmap for the entire movement. Besides that, the CTC was being embraced by different people and in different places, making it even easier to suggest to the Christian evangelical world to embrace it as a “study document” and to the worldwide Christian family as a conversational and partnering document. Therefore, the CTC was indeed established as a roadmap for the coming years for the entire movement.

In this way, and even going back to a good Lausanne tradition, it was said that the CTC should be studied further, and gather key people in many different consultations in order to go deeper into the issues the Commitment had identified as central. Therefore, as in the past the Movement had run a series of Consultations around the LC, now new issues and challenges were identified and a careful planning process took place in order to give those challenges and issues careful attention by establishing a platform where people from different evangelical traditions and regions of the world would gather to pray, study and try to pronounce a word of evangelical witness in regard to those issues. This is the reason why we are here today, aiming to look at the CTC again, pray and worship together and study hard in order to discern what the TP is proposing, why the CTC has identified it as a key challenge to our witness today, and pronounce a humble yet firm word about the way we understand our calling to follow Jesus Christ and witness to him today. And this we should do in a way that will glorify our God, being faithful to his word and pointing a way of “abundant life” to those who are walking on paths of loneliness, disappointment, suffering, and lostness.

Could we possibly say a word about how to do this?

Drinking from its own tradition:Identifying some of the marks of Lausanne

Lausanne has a short history of 40 years. However, these are enough to detect some marks that helped guide the Movement and should help guide us in this Consultation. This is not to say that the Movement has a linear story and a clear and consistent journey. On the contrary, there were ups and downs, and they carried signs of contradiction to its own platform. Throughout these years Lausanne has had mostly difficulties of leadership, focus and finances, but it has had enough capital, so to say, to come strongly alive again in the process towards CP 2010, only to experience some further leadership and finance difficulties of which it is coming about again. And coming about as strong as it has seldom been.

The most significant capital is the Lausanne Covenant to which now the CTC is added, embedded in the hope that it will point directions to the Movement for the coming years. Those documents, however, don’t stay alive alone. They were and need to be surrounded by leaders and platforms at which there is opportunity for people to get to know each other, express their positions in line with their vocation, and provide an agenda significant and relevant enough for people to embrace and spread out. In fact, we could mention three marks of the Movement that are the medium for the message but also embody the message that is spread out.

The first mark is identity. An identity that is affirmed and reaffirmed as being in line with an evangelical confession of faith freshly stated, as will be outlined later. The second mark is relationship: a relationship that builds friendships, networks and a climate in which people sense they belong to each other. Even leadership in Lausanne is quite relational, without wanting to say that everyone has the same position and is free of any smell of power and ambition. There is a climate of friendship in the Lausanne family. The third mark is the insistence in building an open platform where people can talk to each other, share their thoughts, build partnerships and even be helped financially to come and go. This open platform has been very important for providing space for young leaders as well as leaders from the poorer countries of our world to sense that they belong to the Movement and have something significant to contribute to the cause of world evangelization, which was always Lausanne’s cause.

Those marks, understood in interrelationship, are important as we look into our positioning in relation to PT. They carry and are, by using Marshall McLuhan’s phrase, the medium that is the message. It’s a medium that says loudly who we try to be, what we stand for and how we live in relation to the other one. At an organizational level, they are the relation between life-values and life-style, faith and action. The fact that life-style (or in this case organizational dynamics) reveals or denounces the nature of the underlying faith is not mere coincidence but a statement, and it stands in the prophetic tradition within the Scriptures.

Let us develop the marks of identity a little more, with special look at the LC and the CTC. They say clearly and foundationally what Lausanne stands for, within the understanding that what is said there is attempted to be lived out throughout an operational agenda, principles of action, relational skills, lifestyle and even the organizational structure of the Movement. This is to say that Lausanne never wanted to become a centralized organization and always affirmed its desire to be a movement to motivate, challenge and empower others. It never intended to be a powerhouse; instead, it should be a nurturing center where obedience to God’s call could be given birth, friendship nourished and partnerships established.

Let us proceed a little further by continuing to point to some other marks within Lausanne. Marks that we consider important when engaging in a special look at the TP.

Moving towards a Trinitarian frame

While the LC starts by affirming the belief in the one eternal God, and Lord of the world, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it does not bring a Trinitarian understanding of the Christian life and mission to the forefront. Only in the process of further outlining the Covenant through several consultations this understanding came to be developed and embraced. In fact, it was in the Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility, which took place in Grand Rapids (USA) June 82, that came the affirmation that both the call to world evangelization as well as to social responsibility are rooted in the Trinity. There it was affirmed: “God, the Father is simultaneously the missionary and the just and merciful God. Jesus Christ, the Son is simultaneously the one who was sent and who sent his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, as well as the compassionate one. The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit and a spirit of love that ‘gives his people a tender social conscience’.”6

When it comes to the CTC, however, we see that a significant part of the Confession of Faith is used to express love for God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit within the understanding that the living God is a missionary God. Besides that, every missionary effort by the Church needs to be at the service of, and reflect, this Trinitarian reality of the God we serve and worship.

This movement of Lausanne towards a Trinitarian foundation to world evangelization is of key importance when it comes to the understanding and practice of mission, including the way in which we see ourselves as being part of the world and relate to it. In the language of the CTC, the love of the Trinitarian God will determine and shape our love to the world, our engagement in it and the way we relate to it.

God’s word is always and freshly God’s word

It is part of our historical journey to affirm the authority and the centrality of God’s word. This was done at the LC, reflecting the language and tensions of that time; and it was done much more extensively at the CTC, reflecting the fact that the entire “Confession of Faith” was nurtured with a language of love and God’s word was affirmed as such: We love God’s word. Concluding with the significant note that our affirmation of God’s word has to be seen in our lives. We are charged to behave in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel of Christ (18), making it a clear statement that if Lausanne understands itself committed to the “whole Gospel” this needs to be seen in our own lives.

The movement from a more “strict and cold” affirmation of Scriptures to a more relational one, in which “love” is the category of mediation between Scriptures and mission, is of key importance to the way in which mission is understood and the way it is lived out as well. In a summary it could be said that Lausanne is affirming the “whole word” as a word for all people and for all of life. In this understanding, word and life need to go together.

Our life is mission oriented!

The whole Lausanne movement is about mission, even though within its history there has been an important and tense conversation about the nature and the scope of it. The LC is a necessary product of the second half of last century, reflecting the struggle around the understanding of mission, as already indicated earlier. While the LC clearly affirms that mission is at the heart of the Gospel, it struggles with its understanding and insists in remarking that in the church’s mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary (LC 6). Therefore while the LC still reflects the tension about a narrower and a broader understanding of mission, the CTC neither nurtures nor endorses that tension, and affirms that We commit ourselves to the integral and dynamic exercise to all dimensions of mission to which God calls his Church”. It then outlines such understanding:

  • God commands us to make known to all nations the truth of God’s revelation and the gospel of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, calling all people to repentance, faith, baptism and obedient discipleship.
  • God commands us to reflect his own character though compassionate care for the needy, and to demonstrate the values and the power of the kingdom of God in striving for justice and peace and in caring for God’s creation.(I10B)

Some tension around the movement to an integral understanding and practice of mission still persists, as the plenary sessions of Lausanne III made clear. However, the present tension within Lausanne is much lighter in light of a much easier environment in regard to the affirmation of mission as being integral. It also needs to be remarked that as mission initiatives are more and more embraced by Southern churches, the need for a fuller understanding of the Gospel and an integral practice of mission is much more demanding. In fact, in light of the social and economic demands of many of the Southern contexts a wholistic understanding and practice of mission is a must and an issue of Gospel obedience.

Sacrifice and suffering

The LC is aware that it is impossible to get involved in the task of world evangelization without the necessary willingness to sacrifice (LC 9) and recognizes those suffering for their testimony to the Lord Jesus (LC 13). The tone, however, is still one of demand as if in control: It is the God-appointed duty of every government to secure conditions of peace, justice and liberty in which the Church may obey God, serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and preach the gospel without interference. The climate of Christendom still seems to be present; this, however, will not last long as we move towards the end of the century. As we come to the CTC the environment has changed significantly and there is a recognition that the love of God calls us to suffer and sometimes die for the Gospel, with the understanding that suffering and persecution may not only be necessary in mission life but must as well be endured in obedience (IIC2). This the program of Lausanne III made overwhelmingly true through some of the witnesses brought to the platform. The world has changed and a new reality was recognized, not only of life among people of other faiths but also of the creation of an environment, in many places, where the church lives in a minority and might be living under enormous pressure due to their faith.

Servanthood and simplicity

The Lausanne Movement has had a historic claim to both servanthood and simplicity. Every church, the LC says, should have local leaders who manifest a Christian style of leadership in terms not of domination but of service (LC 11). And calls those who live in a more affluent environment to develop a simple life-style in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism (LC 9).

There are two expressions that, somehow, go hand and hand at the LC: We affirm and We confess. This is a clear evidence that there is a perception that we need each other in living out our mission calling, that we need to do it in humility, which has not always been the case, being aware that our life needs to embody what we try to convey to others and that we have to embody it with an attitude of service and simplicity.

When it comes to the CTC a whole section was dedicated to this call – a call to repentance and a call to humility, integrity and simplicity. In fact, an acronym came out of this call, so HIS (humility, integrity and simplicity) became one of the hallmarks of Lausanne III and we certainly need to integrate it at our conversation in this Consultation. In fact, we would recommend that a litany of confession might be a good way to frame this Consultation.

Environmental awareness

As a product of the seventies, the LC is not much aware of an environmental crisis and or duty. While it affirms God as the creator it focuses on the need for justice and reconciliation among human beings. The CTC, however, is a product of another time. A time in which it is impossible to confess our faith on God, the creator without affirming creation and without calling us to take good care of it. The CTC does both. It affirms creation as an act of a caring God while calling us to take good care of that creation and repent where we haven’t done it. In fact, the CTC does more. Its Call to Action asks for Christ’s peace for his suffering creation and urges us to adopt responsible lifestyles, press governments for just causes and support Christians who are called in different ways to take care of God’s creation (CTC IIB,6).

The increase in the awareness towards environmental responsibility, however, serves not only as the inclusion of a new item to the agenda of wholistic mission. This dimension highlights the deeper understanding that not only action but lifestyle as well are not to be self-serving. While the LC calls to a simpler lifestyle in order to better direct resources towards mission, and while there is a constant call to self-denial, selflessness and sacrifice, it does not challenge the myth of western life-standards as a viable world-standard. The agenda of our times brings these realities together, and the environmental issue is emblematic of the fact that simpler life-style is a matter of justice, witness and love for the world God loves.

So we have been looking into some marks that might help us as a frame of dialogue with Theology of Prosperity. They are shared with the hope that as we come together in this Consultation and read God’s word, we may be guided by the Holy Spirit to discern the pain of the world and especially of the poor and vulnerable ones, while asking for opportunities to share the whole Gospel to the whole world.

Some of these marks have been a part of the Lausanne Movement throughout its history. Others have been almost forgotten. Thus, this might be a time for Lausanne to look back into its own journey in order to repent and recommit to dimensions of the mission of the church which need to be identified as a call to obedience.

Much aware that other marks will certainly be identified at this Consultation, we are eagerly praying, hoping and strongly engaging in mutual listening and sharing in order for us to fulfil the call that is set for us during these days.

Issues to look at

As we have gone through this exercise, a few issues have emerged as being important for us to consider. Some of them have been missing, while others need, in our view, more attention. Let us conclude by simply pointing to them:

  1. A keener perception of market idolatry. An idolatry that can be seen within the TP but must also be identified within the evangelical family. The way the mission enterprise has become expensive and the way in which technology is revered might be signs in this direction. The market idolatry with its emphasis on consumerism, experience and hedonism needs to be deconstructed and a sound perception of eschatological hope constructed anew.
  1. Suffering and persecution must get key attention in our days. Not only TP does not allow a place for these in its ideological approach to success but also those evangelicals who have drank from the ideology of progress and increasing wellbeing might be at the same platform. Meanwhile, an increasing number of churches and Christians are facing discrimination, persecution or even living within a narrowing environment of being a minority.
  1. Simplicity and sacrifice: The call towards a simple lifestyle has almost disappeared within the Lausanne Movement and we might need to recover it, not only because of its witness at the level of justice in relation to the other one but also as an act of justice in relation to creation. This call to simplicity might need to go hand and hand with sacrifice as a voluntary and community option.
  1. Pray for a deeper openness to the liberating and healing dimension of the Gospel. The evangelical world, within Lausanne, is still quite mainline and not very open to charismatic experiences of healing and liberation, while the Pentecostal world has much to teach and model to the evangelical world in general.
  1. Revisit an understanding of the world that embraces evil and oppression much beyond individual approaches and experiences. The prophetic dimension of mission needs a strong embrace.
  1. The need to move beyond an individualistic understanding of life and Gospel as well as of evil. This individualist dimension is easily seen at the TP but it is also seen at so many expressions of our own perception of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  1. An honest and critical view of personalism, which is strong at PT but is not absent from our evangelical journey either.
  1. A fresh experience with God’s love and grace. The radical experience of this grace will invite us to forget any law-binding perception of the Gospel and proclaim people free to love and serve God’s kingdom.

Let the conversation start! At this chapter we only pointed out to our journey within the Lausanne Movement and mostly abstained from further comments about and evaluation of the TP. But to do this is the task of this Consultation.

 

Endnotes

1At the Foreword of the CTC, Douglas Birdsall and Lindsay Brown say the following: “The Cape Town Commitment will act as a roadmap for the Lausanne Movement over the next ten years.” The Cape Town Commitment. The Didasko Files, 2011, 4.

2Foreword to the CTC, 4

3See Preamble, op cit 8.

4Preamble, 7

5CTC , 63-65.

6See CRESR report, 446-450, in Steuernagel, The Theology of Mission in its relation to Social Responsibility within the Lausanne Movement. A Dissertation Submitted to the LSTC, 1988, 206.

 

This is a paper presented by the author at the 2014 Lausanne Global Consultation on Prosperity Theology, Poverty, and the Gospel. You may find a video version of this paper in the Content Library. The views and opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the personal viewpoints of Lausanne Movement leaders or networks. For the official Lausanne Statement from this consultation, please see ‘The Atibaia Statement on Prosperity Theology‘.

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