01 July 2010
Working together for the Lord we love
In the run-up to a historic evangelical event, Doug Birdsall challenges the global Church to roll up its sleeves and get to work...
The Lausanne Covenant is widely regarded as one of the most significant documents in modern Church history. It emerged from the first Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation in 1974, and evangelical Christians are being encouraged to read it again in preparation for the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town this October.
We are living at a vital time for the Church and for the world, and we invite Christians to join remotely in the Congress, which will gather leaders representing the demographic, theological and cultural realities of the global evangelical Church. This includes Christian professionals in mission and ministry, as well as in business, government, education, medicine and the media - some of the most creative and courageous men and women the Church has to offer.
At a time when the Church is threatened both from outside and from internal dissension, we need to talk, consider, plan and seek God with humility. We must unite around the great central truths of the Gospel, working together to proclaim Christ in every sphere of influence and to all peoples of the world. We need to be like the people of Issachar who understood the times and knew what needed to be done (1 Chronicles 12.32).
The relevant past
Why is it important for Christians to give time to a study a document that was composed 36 years ago? To view the past as irrelevant is a recent Western mindset. To understand our times, we must grasp how we arrived in them. Learning our history is a critical part of this. To engage with the forces behind the advance of Islam, or the disintegration of the West, we must first equip ourselves with the knowledge and wisdom of our past.
The Lausanne Covenant has been a great rallying call to the evangelical Church around the world. It is a covenant with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and with God Himself. The form was chosen deliberately as a solemn and public declaration to the world of the relationship between our faith and our lives. Chris Wright, chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group, says it brings "a wholesome balance of biblical truth and mission imperatives". He writes:
This is one reason why it is so appropriately called a covenant, since that is precisely true of the biblical covenants. The Lausanne Covenant makes many ringing declarations, strong affirmative statements of what the Bible teaches and what we joyfully raise our voices to confess. Yet it never lets us rest content with signing a mere statement of faith. Again and again it calls for commitments to be undertaken, for choices to be made, for promises to be kept, for sacrifice to be endured, for words to be spoken and actions to be taken. I hope that the study of the Lausanne Covenant will not only strengthen your faith and understanding, but lead to some clear lines of obedience and practical outworking in the responsibilities and opportunities the Lord has entrusted to you personally.
As with many biblical occasions of covenant-making, there is an emphasis on humility, repentance, self-examination and shamed acceptance of so many areas of our individual and collective failure. In signing this covenant we are willing to accept the possibility that our lives may be a "stumbling block to evangelism", and that the Church "betrays the Gospel, or lacks a living faith in God, a genuine love for people, or scrupulous honesty in all things".
The Covenant thus pours whatever responsive commitment we may make into the strong mould of God's grace. We participate in God's mission, but we do so as sinners and failures, knowing that we need the forgiving grace of God every bit as much as those to whom we bring the good news of its reality in Christ.
The Covenant has been published with a study guide titled For the Lord We Serve. As we work through it with John Stott's brief commentary, we may want to ask ourselves whether we could sign each statement. We must take time to read the Scriptures that shaped each section before moving on to the discussion questions. If studying as a group, we could add further questions from our own local context.
The Covenant's genius is that it came out of a gathering of evangelicals from 150 nations focusing on biblical and primary issues while avoiding controversial secondary issues. This is how it has managed to bring evangelicals together and become so widely used as a foundation for partnerships across the world. The need to work together has never been more critical if we are to see Christ's Gospel made known in this generation and beyond.
- To join the Lausanne Global Conversation or host a Globalink site in October, visit: lausanne.org
- For the Lord We Love by John Stott (Didasko Files series) is available at £2.50, with reductions for bulk purchase, from: www.10ofthose.com
Doug Birdsall is executive chairman of the Lausanne Movement