The International Consultation on the Relationship Between Evangelism and Social Responsibility

Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Jesus Christ calls all his followers to witness to him in word and deed, that is, to share his Good News with others and to serve them according to their needs.

In the Lausanne Covenant, which was adopted at the end of the International Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, Paragraph 4 is entitled ‘The Nature of Evangelism’ and Paragraph 5 ‘Christian Social Responsibility’. But the Covenant leaves these two duties side by side without spelling out their relationship to each other, except to say in Paragraph 6 that ‘in the church’s mission of sacrificial service, evangelism is primary’.

As the years have passed, it has become increasingly necessary to complete Lausanne’s unfinished business and to define more clearly what is included in ‘social responsibility’, whose responsibility it is, and how it relates to evangelism. For many fear that the more we evangelicals are committed to the one, the less we shall be committed to the other; that if we commit ourselves to both, one is bound to suffer; and in particular that a preoccupation with social responsibility will be sure to blunt our evangelistic zeal.

(From the Introduction to LOP 21)

This polarisation [between evangelism and social responsibility among evangelicals] became particularly visible in 1980 when the conference Your Kingdom Come (sponsored by the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism) was held in Melbourne in May, and the following month the consultation How Shall They Hear? (sponsored by the Lausanne Committee) took place at Pattaya, Thailand. Neither group had intended that these meetings should be juxtaposed in this way, although perhaps it served to highlight the continuing tension. A number of evangelicals attended both conferences and found reasons for hope in both. For a perusal of the documents makes it plain that there was much common ground between them. Nevertheless, the emphasis was different. At Melbourne the necessity of proclamation was clearly recognized, but the cries of the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed predominated. At Pattaya also the cries of the needy were heard (one mini-consultation focused on refugees, and another on the urban poor), but the call to proclaim the gospel to the unevangelized predominated.

This, then, was the historical run-up to the Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility held at Grand Rapids in June 1982. The planning group took great pains to ensure a balanced representation among participants between geographical regions, denominational backgrounds, and evangelical viewpoints. It also defined clearly the goals of the Consultation. It expressed its resolve to study ‘Scripture, history, theology and the contemporary church, and the interaction among them’, and its hope and prayer for God’s blessing in the following ways:

  • that we shall come to understand each other better and to appreciate each other’s points of view more fully.
  • that we shall reach a greater unity of mind on the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility, not by a superficial semantic consensus but by a real theological agreement according to Scripture.
  • that we shall commit ourselves, and encourage other believers to commit themselves, to a yet more active fulfilment of our evangelistic and social responsibilities.

(From the Foreword by John R. W. Stott to LOP 21)

LOP 21

Read the Lausanne Occasional Paper that emerged from this gathering:
Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment