Lausanne and Global Evangelicalism: Theological Distinctives and Missiological Impact

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This article appears as a chapter in the helpful Regnum Books volume ‘The Lausanne Movement: A Range of Perspectives (Oxford: Regnum Books, 2014)’, and is published here with permission. The author is writing in a personal capacity and the views do not necessarily represent those of the Lausanne Movement. Learn more about the book from Regnum.

The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE), known popularly as the Lausanne Movement, is a global evangelical Movement that emerged as a part of the International Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. This event was attended by about 2,700 delegates from over 150 countries in Lausanne. Organized by Billy Graham and John Stott, the Lausanne Movement is responsible for several strategic global consultations including the 1974 event in Lausanne, as well as major events in Manila (1989) and in Cape Town, South Africa (2010). The purpose of this chapter is to explore the key theological distinctives of the Lausanne Movement as well as its missiological impact. The chapter will begin with a discussion of the key theological distinctives, followed by an exploration of the larger missiological impact of the Movement as a whole.

Theological Distinctives of the Lausanne Covenant

One of the most enduring theological legacies of the Lausanne Movement has been the documents, the Lausanne Covenant, the Manila Manifesto and the Cape Town Commitment which sets forth the central theological distinctives of the Movement.[109] The Lausanne Covenant is widely regarded as one of the most important theological documents in the evangelical movement. In a moving ceremony at the end of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, Billy Graham, along with key leaders from the global church, signed the document which quickly spread around the world. Within a few years the document had become the guiding statement of faith of countless churches, new Christian movements, seminaries and mission organizations around the world.

The Lausanne Covenant contains fifteen Articles which set forth the central theological distinctives. Each of the central affirmations of the document will now be explored.

The Purpose of God (Article 1)

The first Article, entitled The Purpose of God, affirms that the Triune God is a missionary God who has called us to joyfully participate in His redemptive mission in the world. It seeks to clarify that mission is first and foremost about God and his redemptive purpose and initiative in the world, quite apart from any actions or tasks or strategies or initiatives which the church undertakes. To put it plainly, mission is more about God and who He is, than about us and what we do. In short, mission is not primarily a subset of the doctrine of the church which is seeking to grow and extend its reach and influence around the world. Rather, it is the story of God’s redemptive action in the world which precedes the life of the church. The document declares that: “God has been calling out from the world a people for himself, and sending his people back into the world to be his servants and his witnesses, for the extension of his kingdom, the building up of Christ’s body, and the glory of his name.” Of course, we recognize that God has called his church to fully participate in his mission in specific acts of obedience, proclamation and service in the world, but this must arise within the larger frame of God’s mission. This enables the church to avoid triumphalism and keeps our witness God-centered.

The Authority and Power of the Bible (Article 2)

The second Article highlights another major theological distinctive of the Lausanne Movement; namely, the central role of Scripture in world evangelization. The Lausanne Movement affirms the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the Word of God, “without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”[110] The beauty of this affirmation is that it avoids two potential problems which have sometimes negatively influenced how the church has understood Scripture. On the one hand, the Lausanne Movement stands firmly within the great stream of historic Christian faith in affirming the power and efficacy of God’s word. The failure to remain firm on the authority of Scripture is the root cause of much of the decline in many branches of the church. On the other hand, it is important to recognize that the power of Scripture is ultimately rooted in God himself. This does not erode the fact that God’s Word as we have received it is without error and is propositionally true. But, we also must remember that we read and proclaim the Scripture in the presence of the risen Christ himself and in continuity with the living church through the ages. The Scriptures are ‘God-breathed’ and therefore always flow forth from his divine authority as the Lord of the world and of the church, which is his body.

The Uniqueness and Universality of Christ (Article 3)

The third major theological distinctive of the Lausanne Movement is the centrality of Jesus Christ who is the ‘only ransom for sinners’, and is the ‘only mediator between God and people’. Lausanne affirms the uniqueness of Jesus Christ who alone has died for our sins.[111] The Lausanne Covenant rejects the notion that God speaks equally through all religions or that other religions can extend salvation anonymously through Christ. Rather, the church is called to proclaim to the entire human race the power of Christ, and call all men and women to repent of their sins and explicitly place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The Lausanne Movement, therefore, rejects both traditional universalism as well as various Christocentric forms of universalism (such as inclusivism) by insisting not only on the supremacy of Jesus Christ, but also the importance of the call to explicit repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.

The Nature of Evangelism / Church and Evangelism (Articles 4 and 6)

The Lausanne Movement is fundamentally a network of Christians committed to world evangelization. This does not mean that we expect every person in the world to respond to the Gospel, but that it is our sacred duty to make sure that every people group in the world has the opportunity to hear the Gospel and to see the living witness of the Gospel lived out through the witness of the church. While the fourth Article focuses on evangelism, the sixth Article makes it clear that the task of world evangelization is church-centered. Indeed, the document proclaims that “the church is at the very center of God’s cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the gospel”. Sometimes the church is seen as having only an instrumental purpose in the world, i.e. the work of proclaiming the Gospel. However, the Lausanne Movement envisions that the church has a deeper ontological purpose and is integrally related to the final consummation of the Kingdom.[112] In other words, it is not merely that the church is the instrument through which God proclaims the Gospel; rather, the church is what God is building in the world. The church is not to be equated with the Kingdom, but the Kingdom is not consummated in isolation from the redeemed people of God who have been called out of a life of sin into the joyful fellowship of the church, the company of the redeemed. The church does not only proclaim the power of the cross, it is called to be itself ‘marked by the cross’. The Gospel is not merely an independent message of words, it is a message which is actually embodied in a living community of faith around the world. Thus, the church is not merely the aggregate collection of redeemed individuals or, even less, the sum of all the various church institutions around the world, but is, more fundamentally, ‘the community of God’s people’ which transcends all cultures, social or political systems and ideologies.

Christian Social Responsibility / Freedom and Persecution

(Articles 5 and 13)

The Lausanne Movement led the global evangelical movement in listening to the voices of many Christians around the world who felt that the church had not demonstrated sufficient solidarity with those who have been denied justice and have been marginalized in various ways. Thus, the Lausanne Movement affirms God’s concern for justice and liberation from all forms of oppression. The church has sometimes had difficulty articulating the relationship of evangelism to social action in the world. The commitment to proclaim the Gospel has sometimes been reduced to evangelistic campaigns without a concomitant concern for the poor, the homeless and the disenfranchised. The church has recognized the vibrant witness of both Billy Graham and Mother Teresa, for example, but has not always known how the two witnesses relate one to another. Some evangelicals see social action as a bridge to evangelism. Others conceptualize it as a natural consequence of evangelism. Still others try to see the two as complementary partners.[113]

There are three key features of the Lausanne Movement which deserve to be highlighted. First, it properly places social action in a theological context, linking it to the doctrines of God, reconciliation, righteousness and the fact that all men and women are created in the image of God. Second, the statement affirms that evangelism and social action are not ‘mutually exclusive’, thereby laying the groundwork for an integrated view of how the person and work of Christ are reflected in the life and witness of the church. Finally, at the heart of the Lausanne Covenant is an expression of metanoia, or repentance, for the church’s failure to live consistently with the biblical witness to social action and the struggle for justice on behalf of the oppressed.

The Lausanne Movement has also aligned itself theologically with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is important to recognize that social action is not only needed for the unbelieving world, but also for millions of Christians who are unjustly imprisoned and who are suffering persecution. The Lausanne Covenant affirms the importance of addressing both personal expressions of evil as well as structural evils which deny religious freedom for millions of people.

Co-operation in Evangelism and Churches in Evangelistic Partnership (Articles 7 and 8)

One of the great hallmarks of the Lausanne Movement is its desire to transcend issues which have divided the church and find our deeper unity in the core Gospel message. The Lausanne Movement is simultaneously an evangelical movement as well as a profoundly ecumenical one. As part of the ecumenical movement, Lausanne stands in the tradition of the World Evangelical Alliance and the World Council of Churches, but Lausanne has flourished, in part, because it is a movement rather than an organization per se. There is no official Lausanne ‘headquarters’ and the network is sustained by a small paid staff, supported by dozens of volunteers scattered all over the world. The Lausanne Movement has provided a common platform for a stunning array of Christians from hundreds of cultures and languages, all sharing a common evangelical commitment to the evangelization of the world. Precisely because the Lausanne Movement is not an organization or an institution in the formal sense, it finds its deepest joy in helping to grow fruit on the trees of countless other Christian bodies. It boldly affirms that those “who share the same biblical faith should be closely united in fellowship, work and witness”. The Lausanne Movement has provided a global platform upon which often neglected Christian movements from around the world could meet together and form viable partnerships in global evangelization. The Movement, while church-centered, has also helped to link a host of para-church organizations committed to Bible translation, theological education, distribution of literature and evangelism, to name but a few.

The Urgency of the Evangelistic Task (Article 9)

The Lausanne Movement has fostered a greater realization of just how many people groups do not have sufficient access to the Gospel message or viable expressions of the church. Thus, the Lausanne Movement has helped to foster a whole wave of research in understanding the social, linguistic, cultural and caste barriers which often keep people from hearing the Gospel in a way which is understandable and culturally applicable. Different criteria have emerged in defining what exactly an ‘unreached people group’ is and exactly what percentage of a given group needs to be Christian before a group can be declared ‘reached’. This has led to various numbers ranging from 4,000 to over 6,000 distinct unreached groups.[114] However, the Lausanne Movement is known for its theological emphasis on the urgency of the task and the importance of the church making certain that every people group in the world has access to the Gospel. The Lausanne Covenant goes so far as to call Christians from more affluent countries to adopt simpler lifestyles and to contribute more generously to the work of global evangelism. It is also crucial that this work be seen not as a ‘West reaching the rest’ initiative, but rather a shared responsibility by all Christians on every continent to both send and receive missionaries and cross-cultural witnesses for the sake of Christ.

Evangelism and Culture (Article 10)

Another theological distinctive of the Lausanne Movement has been an affirmation of human culture. While every culture manifests evidence of the power of sin, it is also true that every culture is ‘rich in beauty and goodness’. The Lausanne Movement affirms that God is the source and sustainer of both physical and social culture. By virtue of his Triune reality, God is inherently relational, and human relationships, endowed by him at creation, represent a reflection of his presence in creation itself. The Christian belief that God is beyond all human cultures and yet has chosen to reveal himself within all the particularities of human cultures is a distinctive affirmation of Lausanne. God has chosen to reveal himself within the context of human cultures and therefore we must resist attitudes which presuppose that one culture is superior to another. The Gospel has the power to elevate every culture and all the realities of the in-breaking New Creation can be expressed in the full, multi-faceted particularities of every culture.

In communicating the Gospel, the church has a long history of contextualizing the message so that the unchanging truths of the Gospel can be understood and received. The historic deposit of the Gospel is unchanging, but contextualization acknowledges the need to ‘translate’ the message into forms which are “meaningful and applicable to peoples in their separate cultural settings such that the original message and impact of the Gospel is communicated”.[115] The commitment to appropriate contextualization protects the Gospel from being communicated only through a monocultural lens as well as an undue separation from real history. The truths of the Gospel are unchanging and not culturally determined, but those truths cannot be experienced, celebrated or communicated without being culturally embodied. All Gospel communication, including the New Testament itself, is a contextual event. Even a statement as simple as ‘Jesus is Lord’ must be communicated in a particular language to some particular cultural setting. Contextualization, therefore, assures that the objective and subjective dimensions of revelation are not allowed to drift apart.

Education and Leadership (Article 11)

The Lausanne Movement has led the way in helping the church to understand that evangelism cannot be theologically isolated to ‘decisions for Christ’ or any reductionistic view of salvation which is equated with the doctrine of justification. Instead, evangelism fundamentally includes the raising up of discipled believers and a whole new generation of theologically educated Christian leaders. The role of the church, seminaries and organizations committed to discipleship is crucial for the long-term growth and sustainability of the church in the world. Every nation and culture should also have access to theological education, and every Christian should be given opportunities to grow in discipleship and service. This does not mean exporting western forms of theological education around the world, but discovering a whole range of effective strategies for training the whole people of God, ordained and lay.

Spiritual Conflict (Article 12)

One of the most important theological distinctives which arises out of placing missions within the larger work of God’s mission in the world is the recognition that the advance of the church is ultimately not a logistical or institutional task, but is rooted in a cosmic spiritual conflict which must be faced by prayer and the recognition of the nature of spiritual warfare. The church is not simply fighting forces of liberal theology or dangerous ideologies or non-Christian religious expressions. Ultimately, we are engaged in spiritual warfare against principalities and powers of evil which seek to thwart the church and to impede the progress of world evangelization. Thus, the Lausanne Movement has embraced the importance of calling for purity in the church, faithfulness in prayer and the recognition of the spiritual forces arrayed against us. Ultimately, Jesus Christ, the Word of God and a faithful, prayerful church are the most important features of world evangelization.

The Power of the Holy Spirit (Article 14)

Some expressions of the church have been thoroughly Christocentric, but have not always embraced the centrality of the Triune God in the larger work of evangelism and world evangelization. The Lausanne Movement affirms that the Father is the great initiator, sender and goal of all missions. The Son is the redemptive embodiment of God’s mission. The Holy Spirit is the empowering presence of God in his unfolding mission in the world. Without the power and witness of the Holy Spirit then no one will be convicted of sin, be enabled to place their faith in Christ, or grow in the Christian faith. It is the Spirit who renews the church and empowers and enables us to be his effective witnesses in the world. The Spirit also enables the church to manifest all the realities of the New Creation in the midst of a world in bondage to sin and death. The gifts and fruits of the Spirit are essential to the life and witness of the church.

The Return of Christ (Article 15)

Finally, the Lausanne Covenant embraces a strong Christian view of history which is framed by an eschatological perspective where the glorious and visible return of Jesus Christ will bring an end to human history, consummate his salvific plan, judge the world and consummate his eternal kingdom. Thus, the mission of the church has been framed by God as occurring between the ascension and the return of Christ. Lausanne does not envision the emergence of a global utopia or that the Kingdom of God will become fully consummated apart from his final intervention at the end of time. Ultimately, the full manifestation of righteousness and peace will be the result of God’s final initiative and action. This is a constant reminder that all our actions and acts of obedience in the world must finally be framed within his initiative to initiate the plan of redemption as well as to bring it to its final consummation. Indeed, our effective ministry in the world cannot be fully comprehended apart from this larger theological frame in which the church serves and obeys.

It was at the end of the 1974 Congress that Ralph Winter, a noted missiologist, explained publicly for the first time how, even if the entire church was engaged in effective evangelism, it would only lead to approximately one billion new Christians. There would still remain an additional two billion who were out of reach of the Gospel without an intentional cross-cultural witness.[116] This led, as will be explored later, to a far greater effort to cross cultural boundaries with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Theological Distinctives of the Manila Manifesto and Cape Town Commitment

The Manila Manifesto

The second International Congress on World Evangelization took place in Manila, Philippines in 1989. It is sometimes called ‘Lausanne II’. Over 4,000 Christian leaders gathered from all over the world to discuss the progress of world evangelization and to reflect on how the world and context of missions had changed since the 1974 Congress. Like the first Congress, the Manila gathering culminated in the release of what has become known as the Manila Manifesto. It is important to understand that both the Manila Manifesto in 1989 as well as the Cape Town Commitment in 2010 were not conceptualized as replacing the Lausanne Covenant or initiating major changes in the historic theological distinctives of the Lausanne Movement. Rather, the purpose of these documents is to build on the foundation of the Lausanne Covenant and to highlight new challenges which the church was facing, or theological themes which required greater clarification based on further reflection on the Lausanne Covenant.

The Manila Manifesto is organized round 21 opening Affirmations which largely reaffirm the substance of the Lausanne Covenant. This is followed by twelve Articles and a final conclusion which go into more depth concerning particular theological, cultural and ecclesiastical challenges which impede global evangelization. In the opening Affirmations there are two distinctives which were not explicitly present in the Lausanne Covenant. First, there is the Affirmation that the Jesus of history is the same as the Christ of glory (Affirmation 5). This statement deepens Lausanne’s concern about various theological attempts to separate the saving work of Christ from his historical manifestation in the Incarnation as revealed in history. The idea that Christ can be experienced implicitly through other religions or through various cultural movements is not embraced by the Lausanne Movement. This point is further expounded in Article 3 which explicitly renounces the view that the Jewish people can be saved through a separate covenant apart from their personal response to Jesus Christ. By implication, this would clearly apply also to Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist, among others.

The second theological distinctive of the Manila Manifesto, found in Affirmation 18, is the call to invest more time in studying society to better understand its ‘structures, values and needs’ as a part of the larger work of developing mission strategy. This Affirmation implies a more robust embrace of the work of cultural and social anthropology in helping the church to better fulfil its mission.

Further theological distinctives that arose out of the Manila Manifesto included an explicit Affirmation of the role of apologetics in world evangelization. The congress was more conscious of a rising tide of intellectual challenges to the Christian Gospel which require a more concerted evangelical response. The declaration also built upon the Lausanne Covenant’s affirmation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by explicitly affirming the importance of standing up for religious freedom throughout the world. Finally, in Article 8 the Manila Manifesto devotes far more attention to the importance of training, equipping and empowering the laity for world evangelization.

While it does not appear in the Manila Manifesto, it was at the 1989 Congress that Luis Bush introduced the concept which in 1990 was described as the ‘10/40 window’. This refers to the area of the world 10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator where two thirds of the world lives and which is marked by the highest levels of poverty and the least access to the Gospel. This has resulted in dozens of mission agencies and churches targeting missionary work in that particular region of the world which represents the heart of the Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist world.

The Cape Town Commitment

In 2010 the third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization was held in Cape Town, South Africa. Over 4,200 evangelical leaders from 198 countries gathered to reflect on the progress of world evangelization. The Congress was preceded by three years of study and listening to the global church in order to discern what were the key theological and cultural issues which needed to be addressed by the global church. The resulting document, the Cape Town Commitment represents, on the one hand, a clear affirmation of all the theological distinctives of the Lausanne Covenant while, on the other hand, offering a complete reframing of how the Gospel might be more effectively proclaimed to the world. Rather than issue new theological distinctives, the Cape Town Commitment seeks to reframe the discussion in a way which can be carried out and applied in a myriad of new global contexts. The meeting in Cape Town was the first congress which was attended by more ‘Majority World’ Christians than Christians from the western world. It was undoubtedly one of the most diverse gathering of Christians ever held in the history of the world.

The Cape Town Commitment reorganized the basic affirmations of the Lausanne Covenant and the Manila Manifesto round the theme of the love of God. Without taking away from the monumental achievement of the Lausanne Covenant to set forth the central theological distinctives of the Movement, the love of God was only mentioned once in the entire document. It became increasingly clear that the truths of the Lausanne Covenant needed to be retained, but released within the larger context of the love of God. The Cape Town Commitment reframes the entire theological work of the Movement round the love of God. The document is divided into two main parts. The first portion is organized round ten central themes such as ‘We love because God first loved us’ which is a new presentation of Article 1 of the Lausanne Covenant. The document follows with Articles affirming that we “love the living God, we love the Father, we love the Son, we love the Holy Spirit, we love God’s Word, we love God’s world, we love the gospel of God, we love the people of God and, finally, we love the mission of God”. This is the most important theological distinctive of the Cape Town Commitment.

The second part of the document identifies six key themes which, again, restate many of the classic themes of the Lausanne Movement. Several new features were emphasized in the Cape Town Commitment, including caring for creation (Part II, II,5) and a strong critique of the idolatry of the prosperity gospel (Part V, 4). The document is a clarion call for the church to remain faithful even in the midst of a broken world which is increasingly hostile to the Gospel. The document is also more consciously aware of the growing diversity of the church and the need for even greater levels of collaboration and true partnership which will enable the church to fulfil the original theme of the Lausanne Congress in Lausanne; namely ‘the Whole Church, bringing the Whole Gospel, to the Whole World’.

Missiological Impact

The second part of this chapter seeks to explore the wider missiological impact of the Lausanne Movement. This will be explored under five themes.

The Reclaiming of Trinitarian Missiology and the ‘Missio Dei’:

The God of Mission and the Church of Missions

As noted in Articles 1 and 14 of the Lausanne Covenant and made even more explicit in the subsequent documents, Lausanne has brought the evangelical global mission movement into a more fully Trinitarian frame. It is not enough to simply proclaim Christ. Our central proclamation must be reconceptualized within the larger frame of God’s mission (missio Dei) and with the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. This defining phrase, missio Dei (the mission of God) as a way of conceptualizing mission was originally coined by German missiologist Karl Hartenstein in 1934. Later, in 1952, at a major conference sponsored by the International Missionary Council held in Willingen, Germany, the theological emphasis that God’s redemptive action precedes the church was set forth, even though they did not explicitly use the phrase missio Dei. The phrase was later popularized by Georg Vicedom as a key concept in missions with the publication of his 1963 landmark book, The Mission of God: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Vicedom insightfully conceptualized mission as our participation in the Father’s mission of ‘sending the Son’. Vicedom declared that “the missionary movement of which we are a part has its source in the Triune God Himself”.[117] However, the application of this concept increasingly disconnected the church from the mission of God. The result was a focus on the world as the stage of God’s redemptive activity which marginalized the church and her redemptive proclamation. The church’s role, at best, was merely to point out where society was struggling for humanization or where God’s shalom was emerging in the world.

There was a significant period where evangelical Christians avoided the phrase missioDei because it became associated with the separation of God’s work from the life and witness of the church. The Lausanne Movement helped to reintroduce the concept of missio dei and to re‑connect the theology of missio dei with the clear understanding that the church is central to how God’s mission is unfolded in the world and, indeed, that the church is God’s redemptive goal. To be fair, this re‑connection of missio dei to ecclesiology was probably not intended by the Lausanne leaders, but it became the logical result of hundreds of church leaders gathering together regularly to discuss missions in the regional meetings and issue-based consultations which have been the backbone of the Lausanne Movement.

The Emphasis on Access to the Gospel:

From People Groups to Global Immigration Patterns

The most important missiological breakthrough of the twentieth century was the awareness that the Great Commission texts were about discipling entire nations and bringing the Gospel to every people group on the earth. The word ‘nations’ in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek word ethne meaning ‘people groups’ or ‘ethnic groups.’ The work of Ralph Winter in pioneering the concept of an unreached people’s group and Luis Bush with the 10/40 window are two vital insights which were widely embraced by churches within the Lausanne Movement and thereby helped to make these emphases a part of the legacy of Lausanne.

This has resulted, not merely in a deeper theological basis for global missions, but has translated into millions of new Christians and tens of thousands of new churches in people groups who heretofore had no viable access to the Christian Gospel. At the turn of the twentieth century, only 10% of the world’s Protestants were located outside the west, and the vast majority of all Christians were located in the west. Today, the church of Jesus Christ is the most diverse movement in the history of the world. More people in more countries using more languages confess the name of Jesus than at any time in history. The Lausanne Movement played an important role in unleashing so many new church-planting movements around the world, including new ones in the west, many of which use the Lausanne Covenant as their statement of faith.

The remarkable work of the Joshua Project, the Adopt-a-People initiative, AD 2000 & Beyond, the extensive research of the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptists, the World Christian Database, among others, would not be where they are today without the work of Lausanne.

As someone who has followed Lausanne from the beginning of the Movement, it is probably fair to observe that Lausanne has become more focused on the praxis of missions, sometimes to the detriment of good theological and missiological reflection. In the formative period, John Stott and Billy Graham represented a unique partnership of theological clarity and ministry praxis. Both deeply understood the important role each played in the success and sustainability of the wider movement. As time progressed, the Lausanne Movement became more globalized, more diverse, and less centralized. Indeed, it is only in the last ten years that Lausanne could really claim to be a globally representative Movement. Yet, in the process, the focus has increasingly been on the practice of mission and the general value of building cross-cultural relationships in the global Christian movement. However, if Lausanne is to continue as a vibrant force, the theological foundations of the Movement and the call for deeper missiological reflection must remain at the forefront.

The Emergence of a New Ecumenism: The Changing Face of Global Christianity and the Collapse of the “West Reaches the Rest Paradigm”

As late as the year 1990 when Christian History magazine listed the one hundred most significant events in the history of Christianity, there was not a single reference to any event taking place in the Majority World or initiated by Majority World Christians. We sometimes forget from today’s vantage-point how slow the church has been in recognizing the dramatic global developments in the Christian church throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America. Missions practice remained largely framed within a paradigm which assumed a vital western church being mobilized to reach the non-western world with the Gospel. It was the Lausanne Movement which gave voice and, quite literally, the platform to dozens of new voices in world Christianity. The Lausanne Movement has sponsored several major conferences dedicated to identifying emerging global leaders. It was at the 2004 consultation in Pattaya, Thailand, which brought together 1,500 leaders from around the world that Lausanne really began to become more intentionally global in terms of its leadership, representation at meetings, and serious grappling with many of the structural, linguistic and cultural challenges which seeks to keep the Movement from being fully globalized.[118]

The growth of independent, indigenous Christian movements from only eight million at the turn of the twentieth century to 423 million by the close of the century was finally being recognized as one of the most significant demographic shifts in Christian affiliation in history. The writings of Philip Jenkins in such books as The Next Christendom, the New Faces of Christianity and God’s Continent popularized what had become a reality in the Lausanne Movement. In a relatively short period of time, the western church finally began to recognize that it was situated in a newly emerging mission field, and that many of the most vibrant and growing Christian movements in the world were located in places which for centuries had been regarded as the mission field. Today it is unthinkable that the evangelization of the world is even possible without the full collaboration of the ‘Whole Church bringing the Whole Gospel to the Whole World’.

The Rediscovery of a Larger Gospel:

A Holistic Gospel for the Whole World

The evangelical movement in the opening decades of the twentieth century was dangerously isolated from recognizing our broader commitment to serve the poor, to fight against injustices, and to address the larger structural evils which trap and disenfranchise people. A more holistic Gospel was, of course, always the legacy of evangelicalism and few were as committed to it as those in the missionary movement. However, the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries tended to polarize evangelism from social action in ways which were historically alien to the life of the church. Broadly speaking, fundamentalism tended to truncate the Gospel, reducing it to a message of personal salvation. In contrast, the modernist tended to equate the Gospel with our broader, corporate, social witness with less of an emphasis on personal repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. The Gospel, of course, involves both. It was the Lausanne Movement which helped to shape and galvanize the church around a broader redemptive mission. The 1982 Lausanne consultation on the relationship between evangelism and social action was one of several events which helped to reframe this issue for the church. Today, millions of Christians who have been shaped by the Lausanne Movement are addressing issues from human trafficking, to poverty, to creation care. In fact, the Lausanne Movement has sponsored dozens of consultations throughout the years on hundreds of issues which have allowed Christians to think better about issues which were the rightful legacy of Christian witness.

Deeper Collaboration with the Whole Church:

A New Understanding of Partnership

One of the themes which unite all the major Lausanne documents explored earlier is the call to deeper collaboration with the global church, especially in bringing together the broader ‘evangelical family’ of the global church. The Lausanne Movement, especially in the early decades of the Movement, tended to avoid collaboration with large conciliar bodies of Christians. However, as time progressed, the Lausanne Movement opened up meaningful points of dialogue between Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and mainline Protestant churches, especially when it became clear that these movements contained many vibrant Christians who shared Lausanne’s core commitment to world evangelization. Lausanne has also struggled to keep itself as a ‘movement’ rather than an ‘organization’. As a movement, it provides a unique platform for a wide variety of groups to meet and collaborate around a common commitment to world evangelization. As an organization, Lausanne can create confusion vis à vis other longstanding organizations such as the World Evangelical Alliance. Lausanne must work hard to remain a ‘platform’ for a host of other organizations, Christian sodalities and church movements.

Lausanne is at its best when it helps to facilitate partnerships in the practical working out of missions at the grassroots level around the world. The Lausanne Movement facilitated key discussions which focused specifically on new understandings of partnership. For example, at the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization held in Pattaya, Thailand, more than 1,500 global leaders gathered to discuss 31 issues which had been identified as roadblocks to evangelism. One of the most important issues discussed in Pattaya was the issue of healthy partnerships. It became clear that much of what was being described as partnership still retained unhealthy relationships due to power differentials which inevitably arise when power and money are involved. Candid and open conversations took place which had a significant impact on the actual practice of missions throughout the world. It was finally recognized that those churches found in the poorest regions of the world bring substantial assets to the global church which cannot be quantified in financial ways.


The Lausanne Movement remains a strong and vibrant force contributing to world evangelization. The original convenors of Lausanne back in 1974 could scarcely have imagined the remarkable global movement which they were unleashing. The theological legacy of Lausanne has been one of its most enduring contributions to the global church. Undoubtedly, the historic Christian faith which so clearly sounds forth from the Lausanne Movement is, in fact, the very basis of its equally powerful missiological impact. Thus, the theological distinctives and the missiological impact are not two separate things, but one thing understood from two perspectives. It is clear that all glory and honour goes to God for calling such a movement forth which, despite its many shortcomings, has nevertheless given untold blessings to millions of new Christians around the world. It is difficult to imagine that the global church could meet in such remarkable venues for worship and discussion, and collaborate on so many global initiatives with such remarkable fruit, without the Lausanne platform. In the end, Lausanne is not about documents or global gatherings. Lausanne is about Christians working and praying together in a shared commitment that we might live to see, in our generation, ‘the whole Gospel brought by the whole church to the whole world’.[119]


[109]The three foundational documents of the Lausanne Movement can be found online. All quotations in this chapter are from the three documents, the Lausanne Covenant, Manila Manifesto and Cape Town Commitment unless otherwise noted.

[110] For more on an evangelical understanding of the authority of the Bible, see John R. W. Stott, The Authority of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 1999). The Lausanne Movement has embraced both those who understand “without error” as inerrancy in every detail as well as those who affirm a limited inerrancy which acknowledges that the Bible is wholly trustworthy even if the writers were not always technically accurate on certain minor historical or scientific facts, or when different details or broad summary statements emerge from multiple witnesses to the same event.

[111] See John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, study edition (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 2010).

[112] For more discussion on the relationship between ecclesiology and the nature of evangelism see Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP, 2006).

[113] For a more detailed discussion of the evangelical discussions around the relationship between evangelism and social action see Timothy C. Tennent, Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the 21st Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2009), 387-406.

[114] There are different criteria which are used by mission organizations in defining a ‘people group’ and then determining whether it has been ‘reached’ or ‘unreached’ with the Gospel. The three most important public databases (all using different criteria) can be found at and and For a full discussion of the Lausanne role in the discussion about unreached people groups and how this theme has undergone development over the last forty years, see Timothy C. Tennent, Invitation to World Missions, 354-386.

[115]Bruce J. Nicholls and David Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, 143, 144.

[116] The entire text of Ralph Winter’s address, including the paper sent to all the delegates in advance of the 1974 Congress, as well as the actual address given by Winter at Lausanne, is available at

[117] Georg Vicedom, The Mission of God: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission; translated by Gilbert A. Thiele and Dennis Hilgendorf (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1965), 5. Vicedom is quoting Hans Hartenstein.

[118] All the papers from the working groups which met in Pattaya have been published in three volumes. See David Claydon (ed), A New Vision, A New Heart, A Renewed Call (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2005). Many of these papers are also available at

[119] The well-known Lausanne phrase, ‘the Whole Church, Taking the Whole Gospel, to the Whole World’ refers to the great missiological mandate of the global church. This mandate cannot be achieved only by those who are connected with the Lausanne Movement, or any denomination, organization or movement. Rather, this is a visionary phrase pointing to that great corporate goal of the people of God from all times and ages which will only be fully consummated at the return of Christ.