A Spirit of Christian Collaboration

E.D. Burns 25 Apr 2024

In the world of Lausanne, we have the opportunity and privilege to collaborate with evangelicals of many diverse cultures who share a similar passion for accelerating global mission by connecting influencers and ideas, marked by a spirit of humility, friendship, prayer, study, partnership, and hope. The nature of our partnership revolves around a like-minded commitment to world evangelization. Lausanne was never intended to be a denominational or even a ministry organization. It is simply a movement, decentralized by a commitment to serve the global church wherever and however in the Great Commission.

In each country’s armed forces, there is usually more than one military branch. In more developed militaries, there are branches that focus specifically on air, water, and land. Each operates with a common loyalty to its country, people, and national identity. Each service member would die for their country, faithful to the vows they took to defend her to the death. Each branch is divided by diverse philosophies of how they operate, whom they protect, and what they do. Within each branch, some officers might debate over which tactics are best, what determines the success of an operation, and what priorities are most strategic. Others may decide for themselves how they will spend their off-duty time, whether they will attend certain optional trainings, how frequently they will clean and inspect their firearms, and how many years they will devote to the service.

Christian Unity

Similarly, in Lausanne, we have a common mission and common values. That we are a network of influencers united around a mission and not a confession means we have strong opinions about doctrine and ministry philosophy that are not equally shared by everyone. In a denominational ministry, that would be simply problematic. But for Lausanne, it means we are better together. This is what generous Christian unity looks like. It’s different from church unity, which requires members of a local church and denomination to adhere to finer points of doctrine, biblical interpretive methods, and ministry philosophy. It’s also different from cultural affinity, where we enjoy and prefer the same forms of worship and ministry, which usually depends on a shared experience, demographic, personality, or temperament. Christian unity is that spirit of cooperation and optimism that we can broadly help one another without compromising our local boots-on-the-ground convictions, visions, and strategies. 

Christian unity is that spirit of cooperation and optimism that we can broadly help one another without compromising our local boots-on-the-ground convictions, visions, and strategies.

My good friend and colleague at Western Seminary, Dr Gerry Breshears, has taught me how to have a glass-is-half-full positive approach to Christian unity. Dr Breshears and I wouldn’t agree on a few important points of doctrine and ministry philosophy (though he’s probably right because he’s smarter and wiser than me), but he’s a dear brother and we are heartily devoted to the same gospel and Christ’s commission. Dr Breshears has shown me how to not make straw-men arguments of perspectives I dislike—creating a caricature of the weakest views and knocking them down. He’s modeled how to create steel-men arguments instead. This requires diligence to treat one another as we would want to be treated, bearing with one another, and honoring one another above ourselves. Creating a steel-man argument means representing the best view of someone with whom you disagree in a way that they could agree with and be thankful for the good representation. It means trying to find those points of commonality and highlighting them before making much of those points of disagreement.

Dr Breshears is famous for championing the ‘Four Ds’ of Christian doctrine, which he admits he learned from another friend many years ago. Anyone who has been around Dr Breshears for a while would likely know the Four Ds as follows: Die for, Divide for, Debate for, and Decide for. For the purposes of Lausanne, I have adapted the Four Ds for global Christian collaboration:

Die for

Issues in this category are more than mere convictions. These are truths we would be burned at the stake for. They take a stand against innovative teachings that give way to heresies, cults, false brethren, other religions, and unbelievers in general. These are essential doctrines of the Christian faith, that to deny or dilute would entail grave eternal consequences. As members of the body of Christ, we must contend and never back down when these doctrines are on the line. These are those creeds and confessions that the universal church has found to accurately represent the teachings of Scripture. These are those transcultural and transgenerational teachings that the Holy Spirit has consistently illumined since the ancient church to the present day. Lausanne firmly stands within the gospel doctrines as declared throughout the ages, which the ancient church articulated, the dissenters of the medieval church carried, the Reformers rediscovered, and the evangelicals have contended for around the world.

Divide for

Issues in this category are not essential doctrines in that they don’t determine whether someone is a partaker of Christ. But they are distinct enough that they fundamentally affect worship, fellowship, and ministry. For instance, a healthy division exists between those who believe in infant baptism and its corresponding theological system and those who believe in believers’ baptism and its particular system of doctrine. Other examples of division might include doctrines of soteriology, ministry philosophy, spiritual gifts, men and women in leadership, and other issues related to biblical interpretation. 
If mature in love, divided groups should pray for one another, speak well of one another, show deference to one another, and even network together when possible. Where fundamental disagreement affects systems of biblical interpretation and consistent application in church life, a charitable parting of ways and a gentle division can be a blessing, preventing unnecessary strife and friction. Lausanne acknowledges that within its movement, Christian leaders freely divide up between these distinct doctrines according to their consciences. Lausanne respects and recognizes those different convictions and asks those influencers within the movement to find points of commonality and play to the strengths of where we have evangelical unity. Lausanne does not take a strong stand one way or another.

If mature in love, divided groups should pray for one another, speak well of one another, show deference to one another, and even network together when possible.

Debate for

Issues of debate change with time and culture. Within a church or a ministry, some may debate Christian convictions without disfellowshipping. The leaders of such ministries, churches, or organizations should usually be like minded on these issues, however, so that their teachings are consistent and not confusing. But underneath the leadership structure, others are free to debate and even have spirited disagreements. In generations past, convictions related to the return of Christ were divide-for issues, but in recent years, this has increasingly become a debate-for issue. Lausanne realizes there are many debatable topics that its strong-minded influencers hold to dearly. These should not be threats to the Christian unity of Lausanne. Within the movement, influencers have the opportunity to collaborate on those things that can benefit everyone without slipping into debates that are necessary for other areas of ministry or church life. If some influencers find it disagreeable to partner closely with others because of debatable issues that operate as core convictions, that’s okay. Lausanne just asks that its influencers speak well of one another and kindly help one another when needed.

Decide for

Of all the four Ds, this one is likely most representative of Lausanne. We are all so different, hailing from diverse cultures, speaking various languages, of all ages, trained in different schools of thought, and yet, we find commonality in a desire to collaborate for the sake of Christ’s commission to the universal Church. We all decide for ourselves what churches we attend, what Bible translations we use, what kind of Christian worship music we prefer, how we pray, how we preach, how we steward God’s money for the kingdom, and so many other non-essential but very important issues. Some of us are from cultures where prayer is quiet and pensive, while others are much more expressive and emotional. Some of us have a matriarchal disposition, while others are patriarchal. Some of us have personalities that are tender and soft-spoken, and we gravitate to ministries of mercy and hospitality. While others of us have giftings and talents that are bold and intellectual, and we operate best in ministries of apologetics and leadership. 

Lausanne honors the ministries of influencers in all these areas where we decide for ourselves how to serve God faithfully. Lausanne understands and supports those who agree to disagree and even divide between fellowships. Lausanne is the place where global Christian influencers should go to collaborate and build up their ideas and resources for global mission. Lausanne is the place where global Christian influencers can go to work together in a spirit of humility and friendship in Christ. In Christian unity upholding the essentials of the gospel for the sake of the nations, together is better.