In preparation for Lausanne 2010 in South Africa, the Lausanne Theology Working Group is focusing on the core ‘slogan’ of Lausanne. The Lausanne Covenant (1974) defined ‘evangelization’ as ‘the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world’. This has ensured that the explicit theology of mission within the Lausanne movement has been integral and holistic. However, while the slogan has a rich resonance and an obvious meaning and appeal, we cannot claim that we have fully explored the depth of what is entailed by each of the three phrases. In presenting this plan to the leadership of Lausanne, I added the following statement:
We also need to make sure we also use the whole Bible. For holistic theology and practice of mission require a holistic understanding and use of the Bible. The Bible shows us God’s priorities and passions. The Bible as a whole shows us God’s heart:
• For the last and the least (socially, culturally and economically) as well as the lost (spiritually)
• For those dying of hunger, AIDS, and war, as well as those who are dying in their sins
• For the landless, homeless, family-less and stateless as well as for those who are without Christ, without God and without hope in the world.
The God who commands us to disciple all nations also commands us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. We still struggle to ‘relate’ these things to one another when we ought never to have split them apart in the first place. But sadly we did. We have been guilty of putting asunder what God has joined together. Lausanne, in its commitment to holistic mission, believes in the integration of all these things because anything less is untrue to the Bible.
The Lausanne Covenant speaks of ‘the entirety’ of the Scriptures, and about ‘all that it affirms’. May God protect us from selective hermeneutics, from polarized priorities and from segmented perceptions of the gospel. My big concern is not just that the world church should become more evangelical, but that world evangelicals should become more biblical.
To be biblical is also to be prophetic. And most of what the prophets had to say was addressed, not to the world of outside nations (though they did have words for them), but to the people of God themselves. The prophets confronted Old Testament Israel and demanded that they change their ways, if they were to have any hope of fulfilling their mission of being a light to the nations and a blessing on the earth. The dominant prophetic call was to repentance among God’s people, so that God could get on with the job of blessing the world.
Just as much today we need repentance and renewal in the church, as well as renewed passion for world mission. Otherwise, the church may become, as the Lausanne Covenant puts it, “a stumbling block to evangelism when it betrays the Gospel”. Arguably, in some respects and in some places it has already become exactly that.
Indeed, my hope for Cape Town 2010 is that it would launch and foster nothing less than a 21st Century Reformation – among evangelicals, who need it as much as any other Christian bloc.
For there are scandals and abuses in the world-wide evangelical community that are reminiscent of the worst features of the pre-reformation medieval church in Europe.
• There are some mega leaders, like ancient prelates, wielding vast wealth, power and control – unaccountable, unattractive and unChristlike
• There are multitudes of ordinary Christians going to so-called evangelical churches, where they never hear the Bible preached or taught. They live in scandalous biblical ignorance.
• Instead they are offered, in the ‘prosperity gospel’ a form of 21st century indulgences, except that you pay your money not for release from pains after death, but for receipt of material ‘blessings’ here and now.
• And there are evangelicals parading ungodly alliances with secular power – political, economic and military – identifying themselves (and the gospel they claim to preach) with agendas and ideologies that reflect human empire not the kingdom of God in Christ.
Will we have the courage to identify and renounce such scandals and to seek a reformation of heart, mind and practice?
The 16th Century Reformation was criticized because it lacked missionary awareness and energy until much later. They were so obsessed with tackling abuses in the church that they neglected world mission. How ironic and tragic will it be if 21st Century evangelicals are so obsessed with world mission that we neglect abuses in the church, and remain wilfully blind to our own idolatries and syncretism?
• If reformation without mission was defective,
• then mission without reformation will be deluded, self-defeating and even dangerous.
The Lausanne Covenant, like the Bible itself, commits us to the integration of both. May God grant us the will and humility to respond with equal commitment.