The Lausanne Covenant, substantially crafted by John Stott, includes the phrase, ‘evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world’.(1)
One might argue that the three wholes embodied in this ringing phrase are hardly new, and go back to the Apostle Paul, if not to the patriarch Abraham himself. Let us look at what each means.
The whole Church means all believers. The whole world means every man and woman. The whole gospel means all the blessings of the gospel. That is surely better than some missionaries taking some blessings of the gospel to some people in some parts of the world. But the three wholes also have more substantial, qualitative implications worthy of a Global Conversation.
‘The whole gospel’
The phrase suggests there may be some versions of the gospel that are less than whole—that are partial, deficient, less than fully biblical.
First, we must give full weight to the spiritual realities of sin and evil, and we must evangelistically proclaim the glories of God’s redemptive achievement in the death and resurrection of Jesus. There would be no gospel without the cross. Indeed all blessings of the gospel derive from it, from personal salvation through Christ’s death in our place to the reconciling of all creation. The cross is at the heart of the Lausanne Movement, and the theme around which the Cape Town Congress revolves is ‘God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’.
The whole gospel must be drawn from the whole Bible. So we also have to ask how the social, economic, and political dimensions of the Old Testament relate to Christian mission. For centuries God revealed his passion against political tyranny, economic exploitation, judicial corruption, the suffering of the poor and oppressed, brutality and bloodshed. The laws God gave and the prophets God sent addressed these very matters more than any other issue except idolatry (they regarded such things as idolatry’s manifestations). Meanwhile the psalmists regularly cried out in songs of social protest and lament that we tend to screen out of our Christian worship.
Unfortunately one can still detect a subtle sense that somewhere between Malachi and Matthew, all that changed. As if such things no longer spark God’s anger. This makes the alleged God of the New Testament unrecognisable as the LORD God, the Holy One of Israel. He has shed the priorities of the Mosaic Law, and the burden for justice that he laid on his prophets, at such cost to them.
I find such a view of God and of mission to be unbiblical and unbelievable, if the whole Bible is the trustworthy revelation of the identity, character, and mission of the living God.
The great Christ-centred, cross-centred redemptive truths do not nullify—rather, they complete—all that the Old Testament revealed about God’s commitment to the wholeness of human life and redeeming his whole creation, for God’s own glory in Christ.
As gospel people we must believe, live, and communicate all that makes the gospel the staggeringly comprehensive good news that it is. I hope The Global Conversation will show multiple examples of this in action.
The whole church
In a quantitative sense, the expression ‘the whole church’ insists that mission is the task of all Christians, not just of the clergy or missionaries. The Lausanne Covenant talks of our being ‘called out’ to be ‘sent out’. The whole gospel is fully expressed only when the Church, Christ’s body on earth, faithfully fulfils the three roles Christ himself fulfilled on earth and for which he empowers us through his Spirit. We are called to a priestly role in worship and in prayer; to a prophetic role in declaring God’s message and priorities to his world; and to a servant role. When these are practised together we truly reflect God’s redeeming love for the world. Let’s look at dimensions of wholeness that will need to be included in the conversation.
Missional church. What other kind of church is there, than the one that God created for mission? As someone said, ‘It’s not that God has a mission for his church in the world; but that God has a church for his mission in the world.’
Scandalous lack of wholeness. The church is not just the delivery mechanism of the gospel. It is itself the product of the gospel, and is to be the living, visible, proof of the ethically transforming power of the gospel. The failures and abuses in the worldwide evangelical community are, in the literal New Testament sense of the word, a massive scandal—a stumbling block to the gospel being seen, heard, and accepted. For that the only answer is repentance and reformation.
The global Christian community. We need the whole world church to work with much greater levels of mutual cooperation and partnership. There is a lot of listening to do, a lot of learning and un-learning. Our task across borders and boundaries is to do better, in Paul’s words, at accepting one another, counting others better than ourselves, and looking to their interests more than our own. A Global Conversation is a good place to start, though not to end.
The whole world
We can take the phrase ‘the whole world’ in a purely geographical sense. Nowhere is not the mission field, including our own country. There are still many unreached peoples, many languages that have no Scripture, many places where the name of Christ has never been heard. All these are urgent priorities for evangelistic mission. The ends of the earth are still waiting. And today the ends of the earth may also be our next-door neighbour or the migrant in our midst. But we need to go deeper and consider other dimensions of our whole world:
The world story. If our Bibles begin at Genesis 3 and end at Revelation 20, we are in danger of missing the whole point of God’s great story of the redemption of all creation. We will think only of saving sinners from the final judgment, not about living in the present creation as those who already bring the transforming values and prophetic truth of the new creation into the here and now.
The world of worldviews, philosophies, and faiths. What are the gods that surround us, and what is the Christlike and neighbour-loving response to those who worship them? We must not confine this to thinking only about world faiths. There are whole ideologies of secularism and atheism that need to be engaged, along with the idols of patriotism and hedonism, that are happily thriving on the worship of those who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
The world of creation, and our responsibility to the world which God has reconciled to himself through the cross (Colossians 1:20). If the planet was created by Christ, sustained by Christ, and belongs to Christ as his inheritance, the least we can do is to look after it. Biblical stewardship of the earth should have been an evangelical theme long before the threat of climate change turned it into a matter of self-preservation.
The world of globalization, and the public square. What kind of missional engagement should take place in relation to globalized economic trends and forces, massive migration, the cyber-world of the Internet and new technologies, and all that goes on in the marketplace and public square, in business, politics, education, media, journalism, medicine, and the whole world of human work?
The world of violence, war, and terrorism. Apart from addressing the appalling scale of death and destruction that these idols produce, do we not have a responsibility also to challenge and expose their falsehood and to ask what gospel reality is implied by Jesus when he said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’?
The world of human need and suffering. If the gospel is good news in relation to all that sin has turned into bad news, then it must be big enough, and our mission wide enough, to include the transforming power of God in relation to disease, hunger, brutality, human trafficking, and all forms of ethnic hatreds and oppression.
I close by returning to the Congress theme verse in its rich and profound context. The Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 18-19 are a wonderful summary of the theme of this article. ‘All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ . . .’
The reconciling, redemptive ministry of Jesus sends out those whom he has called out. And we are sent out to bring the whole gospel of God to the whole of God’s world. None of us can engage in every area. That is why God created the church with a multiplicity of gifts and callings, so that we as a whole church can bear witness to the whole gospel in the whole world.
I invite you to join The Global Conversation now at www.lausanne.org. May it generate more intelligent understanding and more focused action, as we work with God in his global mission.
Chris Wright is International Director of the Langham Partnership International, and Chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group.
This article was a part of a special series called ‘The Global Conversation’ jointly published by Christianity Today International and the Lausanne Movement in the months leading up to Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to help prepare the global church for the issues to be addressed at the Congress. Each lead article had several commissioned responses, and was published by dozens of publications around the world. (View all Articles)