Have Evangelicals made any progress since Manila? David Williams investigates.
The first Lausanne congress in 1974 has been described as the place where evangelicals re-discovered their social conscience. The relationship between evangelism and social action was hotly debated, particularly as a result of the input of majority world theologians like Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar. Article Five of the covenant stated:
We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all men. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression. Because men and women are made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty.(1)
Alongside this commitment to social responsibility, the Lausanne covenant also affirmed in Article Six that ‘in the Church’s mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary.’(2) Article Five and Article Six beautifully encapsulate the tension behind the conversation at Lausanne 1974.
In the years following the first Lausanne conference, holistic or integral mission has become accepted orthodoxy for many evangelicals. Chris Wright, convenor of the Theology Working Group for Lausanne 2010, endorses the following quote in his book The Mission of God:
There is no longer a need to qualify mission as ‘holistic’, nor to distinguish between ‘mission’ and ‘holistic mission.’ Mission is, by definition, ‘holistic’ and therefore ‘holistic mission’ is, de facto, mission.(3)
Despite this assertion, it was clear at Cape Town that the debate over holistic mission is still alive and kicking. This was most evident in John Piper’s bible study on Ephesians 3.(4) Piper expounded the cosmic purpose of God, who makes known his wisdom to the demonic powers of the universe through the mystery of the gospel. Jews and Gentiles together are objects of God’s wrath. God’s abundant, overflowing love puts the Lord Jesus Christ between us and God’s wrath. This reality confronts us with two truths: first, when the gospel takes root in our souls, it compels us to share Christ’s love. Second, when the gospel takes root in our souls, it awakens us to the horror of eternal perishing and impels us to proclaim ‘flee the wrath to come.’ Piper sought to recapture the language of the primacy of evangelism from Article Six of the Lausanne covenant with the following proposition: ‘For Christ’s sake, Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.’
This emphasis was also apparent in Ajith Fernando’s exposition of Ephesians 1 and Vaughan Roberts’ exposition of Ephesians 4. Fernando stressed the vital importance of proclamation of God’s word, stating that ‘evangelism has never been popular, but people without Christ are lost for eternity.’ Roberts pointed to a famine of the Word of God today, arguing that there is no greater mission need than those who will minister God’s Word in the church and the world. Strikingly, the same theme was heard in a series of testimonies from majority world missionaries operating from contexts of poverty who have prioritised proclamation and disciple-making.
The Cape Town Commitment
The main output of the third Lausanne Congress is called the Cape Town Commitment.(5) Part One of the document was released on the last day of the conference. Part Two will be completed in December and will be a call to action arising out of the listening process of the conference. However, since Part One of the Cape Town Commitment was written before the conference started, the debate about the nature of mission that took place at the conference is not captured in this document.
This is especially significant because of the kind of document that the Cape Town Commitment purports to be. At?the conference the document was introduced to us as expressing the ‘core elements of our Biblical faith.’ This is a huge statement. If the document had been written as ‘a conversation about evangelical missiology’ it could provide a reference point for discussion and debate. But to present it in such creedal terms as a ‘declaration of belief’ means that it must bear very close scrutiny.
The Cape Town Commitment is framed in the language of love, structured around ten statements each beginning ‘We love …’. There is much that is good within these ten statements and a number of contemporary missiological issues are given attention. These include the fraudulent nature of prosperity teaching, the significance of Bible translation and the need to critique secular worldviews, to give just three examples. Creation care and environmental advocacy also feature at several points. However, the focus on God’s wrath and the reality of hell so powerfully articulated by Fernando and Piper is largely absent from the document.
However, it is not only conservatives who are unhappy. Blogging after the conference, Rene Padilla has written of his frustration that the pre-written conference statement was not debated and that there was no opportunity to change or develop the document. His particular concern, as in 1974, is that the language of primacy remains evident, when in his opinion it should be completely removed. So he argues that the distinction between ‘strengthening, inspiring and equipping the Church for the evangelisation of the world in our generation’, but only ‘exhorting Christians about their responsibility to participate in matters of public and social interest’ reflects an unhelpful and non-holistic balance.(6) He would prefer the language about social action to be as strong as the language about evangelism.
1974, 2010. What has changed?
David Williams is Director of Training and Equipping, CMS Australia, and leads the team at the CMS Australia Federal Training College, St Andrew’s Hall, Melbourne.
3. Wright, C. J. H. The Mission of God, IVP, 2007:323, quoting Jean-Paul Heldt, “Revisiting the Whole Gospel: Towards a Biblical Model of Holistic Mission in the 21st Century” Missiology?32 (2004): page 157.
6. http://www.kairos.org.ar/blog/?p=469. Thanks to Peter Blowes, CMS Australia, for explaining this Spanish-language blog.