Gordon Preece teases out some of the tensions inherent in the Lausanne Movement.
Lausanne III in Cape Town was a fabulous smorgasbord of global Evangelicalism. But like any smorgasbord there were some dishes or flavours in tension with each other—you can have a bit too much of too many good things. These tensions go back to the origins of the Lausanne movement and Covenant in 1974, especially Articles Five and Six and their wrestling with the relationship between evangelism and social concern which I’ll quickly trace into the contemporary context.
Different flavours of the Lausanne Covenant and global and local evangelicalism
Article Five robustly affirms God as creator of all, in his image. It is concerned not to confuse political liberation with salvation but also not to lose sight of the totally transformative, reconciling effects of the Gospel on individuals and society against all forms of oppression. This synthesised much evangelical thinking on mission since the 1960s and represented ‘a big step forward’.(1)
However, ‘the tension already present in the Lausanne Covenant between the above balanced statement from Article Five and the prioritized statement of Article Six that ‘in the church’s mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary’ remained unresolved. This was despite several consultations of the Lausanne Theology Group and the eirenic efforts of its chair John Stott to encourage biblical balance and global understanding.
The conflict over various relative prioritisations of proclamation and social concern was evident in the Australian context in the infamously divisive Melbourne EFAC meeting in 1982. My then Sydney Anglican Rector returned from exile to tell his disbelieving humble curate (me) that John Stott was ‘a dangerous man’. Stott had spoken from Luke 4 about Jesus’ message of holistic, integral salvation for individuals and societies, arousing much reaction. This was reinforced by Melbourne Evangelicals affirming women’s ordination, over against the oppression of women in society and church. Stott did not return to these shores for 20 years.
Soon after, Lausanne’s Grand Rapids Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Concern saw Stott seek to judiciously reconcile Articles Five and Six of the Lausanne Covenant. It describes three views of social action in relation to evangelism.
1. Christian social action is a consequence of evangelism since those involved in it are Christians … saved ‘for good works’ … one of the purposes of evangelism.
2. Social action is a bridge to evangelism since it expresses God’s love and … eliminates prejudices and opens the way for the proclamation of the gospel.
3. Social action is a partner of evangelism and is related to it in Christian mission like a husband and a wife in a marriage, two blades of a pair of scissors or the two wings of a bird.
However, the document still saw evangelism as having ‘limited’, ‘conceptual’ primacy: logically (or is it chronologically?) because it is by Christians who have been evangelised and discipled; and theologically since ‘evangelism relates to people’s eternal destiny and in bringing them good news of salvation Christians are doing what nobody else can do’.(2) Although allegedly theoretical, this still implied a subordinationist marriage between ‘male’ evangelism and ‘female’ social concern.
There was dissatisfaction with Grand Rapids’ albeit limited prioritisation of evangelism from missiologists from the Global South like Andrew Kirk and David Bosch (South America and Africa respectively) and the World Evangelical Fellowship’s Wheaton 1983 statement ‘Transformation: The Church in Response to Human Need’. The latter recognises that evangelism is essential: ‘only by spreading the gospel can the most basic need of human beings be met: to have fellowship with God’.(3) Seeing God’s Kingdom as ‘the goal of transformation’, this document provides in Rene Padilla’s view, ‘the strongest affirmation of commitment to integral mission in the last quarter of the twentieth century. It clearly affirms that ‘evil is not only in the human heart but also in social structures. The mission of the church includes proclamation of the gospel and its demonstration [or to use Sydney Anglican, John Dickson’s helpful phrase, Promoting the Gospel]. We must therefore evangelize, respond to immediate human needs, and press for social transformation’.(4)
Sadly, the latter emphasis was not sufficiently incorporated into Lausanne II in Manila which stressed the isolation of evangelism from social responsibility, but gave social justice a belated guernsey for a ten minute plenary at the end, although the Manila Manifesto still ratified the Lausanne Covenant commitment to socio-political involvement as an essential aspect of mission.
Application to workplace mission
Let’s see how this tension played out in practice in my own speciality, workplace mission. Lausanne II affirmed the role of the laity in the workplace, as part of the Great Commandment and its overflow into social concern, but only as a means to evangelism. There was no articulation of the intrinsic worthwhileness of what most Christians do with most of their lives as an expression of the creation commission to rule over the earth in Genesis 1:26–28 or as an act of holistic sacrificial worship with body and mind (Romans 12:1–2). This gospel utilitarianism leads to a sacred, clericalised view of Christian mission and ministry as a privatised, residential and recreational activity. It devalues the secular and public arenas of work and life and restricts the reach of the Gospel. The latter has empirical verification in Mark Russell’s The Missional Entrepreneur, a study of businesses set up by Christians in Thailand. Those set up as an excuse to evangelise, not only failed as businesses, in one case going bankrupt, but also evangelistically. The businesses that had an integrated approach with integrity, seeking to reflect the rule of God’s kingdom in their practices, were five times more effective in making disciples.
This Sacred-Secular Divide is addressed by Mark Greene in his latest booklet. Greene’s London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, set up by Stott, is a leading advocate for workplace ministry as crucial to churches expressing integral mission. It has had profound effects on the church in England through its re-imagining of church life in terms of whole-life discipleship.
In our workplace multiplex for about 800 delegates in Capetown I reaffirmed the creedal trinitarian framework of three Commissions or mandates I’d stressed as theologian for the Marketplace Ministry stream in Pattaya in 2004. I asked: ‘If Lausanne I gave us the Great Commission (of the Son) and Lausanne II gave us the Great Commandment (of the Spirit), would Lausanne III give us the Creation Commission (Genesis 1:26–28) of the Father and Creator?’ (though all three cooperate in each other’s leading work). Another way of putting this is to ask if the 10/40 window(5) of Lausanne II will be complemented by equal emphasis on the 9 to 5 window of workplaces of all types.
Evangelicalism’s constant quibbling over evangelism versus social concern can only be solved by going back to the trinitarian creeds beyond the modern Enlightenment and its Evangelical child’s internalisation of the Kingdom to the soul, not the body,(6) and privatisation of religion to bedroom but not also boardroom and ballot-box ethics. We need to have a balanced view of Christian and human life and work in the light of the divine Trinity’s life and work. The upside down pyramid that sees the laity serving the clergy or professional priestly and missional class needs to be turned right side up, for the clergy’s sake as much as the laity’s. Clergy, or better, paid church workers (representing Sunday or church gathered) serve or equip the laity (Ephesians 4:12 ff) (the people of God scattered on Monday) in the world—of work(s) (paid or unpaid) that we have been predestined and saved for (Ephesians 2:10). These ideas were incorporated in the Lausanne Draft Commitments taken down by Chris Wright, Stott’s successor as chair of the Lausanne Theology group. They will be released in December. Lindsay Brown, the director of Lausanne summed it up well: “Lausanne III seeks to reach all people groups and all spheres of society, for as Abraham Kuyper said—‘there is not one square inch of the universe over which Jesus does not say ‘This is mine’.”
Gordon Preece is Director of Ethos: Evangelical Alliance Centre for Christianity and Society and Senior Minister at Yarraville Anglican Church. A complete version of this article appears in EA’s Faith and Life.
1. Rene Padilla, ‘From Lausanne I to Lausanne III’, Journal of Latin American Theology, vol. 5, no. 2, 2010, pages 19–20.
2. John Stott, Making Christ Known (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1996), 182–3.
3. Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden, The Church in Response to Human Need (Oxford: Regnum, 1987), page 260.
4. Ibid, page 254.
5. The 10/40 window is a term coined by missionary strategist Luis Bush for those regions of the eastern hemisphere located between 10 and 40 longitudes, particularly Islamic, Hindu and Chinese groups.
6. Padilla (pages 40, 30) critiques the NIV Study Bible’s commentary on its poor translation of Luke 17:12 ‘the kingdom of God is within you’ [as opposed to ‘amongst you’ i.e. in Jesus] probably indicating that the kingdom is spiritual and internal (Matthew 23:26) rather than physical and external (cf John 18:36)’. But how could Jesus say the kingdom of God was within the Pharisees? N. T. Wright elsewhere describes such translations and comments as ‘retrojections into the first century of a 19th century Romantic ideal of religion in which outward things are bad and inward things good’ (Jesus and the Victory of God [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996], page 290).