“Life” and “lifestyle” obviously belong together and cannot be separated. All Christians claim to have received a new life from Jesus Christ. What lifestyle, then, is appropriate for them? If the life is new, the lifestyle should be new also. But what are to be its characteristics? In particular, how is it to be distinguished from the lifestyle of those who make no Christian profession? And how should it reflect the challenges of the contemporary world—its alienation both from God and from the earth’s resources which he created for the enjoyment of all?
It was such questions as these which led the participants in the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (1974) to include in paragraph 9 of their Covenant these sentences: ‘All of us are shocked by the poverty of millions and disturbed by the injustices which cause it. Those of us who live in affluent circumstances accept our duty to develop a simple lifestyle in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism.’ These expressions have been much debated, and it became clear that their implications needed to be carefully examined.
So the Theology and Education Group of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and the Unit on Ethics and Society of the World Evangelical Fellowship’s Theological Commission agreed to co-sponsor a two-year process of study, culminating in an international gathering. Local groups met in 15 countries. Regional conferences were arranged in India, Ireland and the United States. Then from 17-21 March 1980, at High Leigh Conference Center (about 17 miles north of London, England) an International Consultation on Simple Lifestyle was convened. It brought together 85 evangelical leaders from 27 countries.
Our purpose was to study simple living in relation to evangelism, relief, and justice, since all three are mentioned in the Lausanne Covenant’s sentences on simple lifestyle. Our perspective was, on the one hand, the teaching of the Bible; and, on the other, the suffering world—that is, the billions of men, women, and children who, though made in his image and the objects of his love, are either unevangelized, oppressed, or both, being destitute of the gospel of salvation and of the basic necessities of human life.
During the four days of the Consultation we lived, worshipped, and prayed together; we studied the Scriptures together; we listened to background papers (to be published in a book) and heard some moving testimonies; we struggled to relate the theological and economic issues to one another; we debated these in both plenary sessions and small groups; we laughed, cried, repented, and made resolutions. Although at the beginning we sensed some tension between representatives of the First and Third Worlds, yet by the end the Holy Spirit of unity had brought us into a new solidarity of mutual respect and love.
Above all, we tried to expose ourselves with honesty to the challenges of both the Word of God and the world of need, in order to discern God’s will and seek his grace to do it. In this process our minds were stretched, our consciences pricked, our hearts stirred, and our wills strengthened.
From the Introduction to LOP 20: An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle by John Stott and Ronald J. Sider
Read the Lausanne Occasional Paper that emerged from this gathering: