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by Shandel Slaten
The Lausanne Covenant
The Lausanne Covenant is a document drafted by participants in the International Congress on World Evangelization at Lausanne in 1974. The Lausanne Covenant was signed by 2,300 representatives from over 150 nations of all branches of the Christian church. The gathering at Lausanne was the result of the great evangelist Billy Graham’s recognition of the need for a “diverse congress to re-frame Christian mission in a world of social, political, economic, and religious upheaval. The Church, he believed, had to apply the gospel to the contemporary world, and to work to understand the ideas and values behind rapid changes in society.”
Eight years earlier, in 1966, the World Congress of Evangelism had met in Berlin. Fifteen years after the meeting at Lausanne, Lausanne II was held in Manila in 1989. The third gathering of the International Congress on World Evangelization took place in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010.
The main purpose of the Lausanne Covenant was to broaden the world-view of evangelicals and facilitate partnership and unity among the body of Christ for the purpose of world evangelization. What is unique about this covenant is that, unlike many of the other creeds and confessions in this series, the main aim of the Lausanne Covenant was to clarify how the church ought to “be the church” in the world.
In particular, the Lausanne covenant was concerned with addressing seven issues:
1. The relationship between evangelism and social concern
2. How to achieve unity and cooperation among diverse Christians
3. The uniqueness of Christ in relation to religious tolerance
4. The validity of missions
5. The work of the Holy Spirit in evangelism
6. The need for religious liberty and human rights
7. The relationship between the gospel and culture
In answering these pertinent issues, a fifteen-point covenant was constructed. Importantly, the document affirms that knowledge of Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. Yet, it also affirms the global diversity of expressions of faith in Jesus. Social responsibility—even to those outside of the household of faith—is emphasized as a corollary to and entailment of the gospel of salvation. As the church sets out to faithfully proclam the gospel, it must also not ignore the physical needs of those in the world. To do so would be similar to advocating for social change while ignoring the spiritual needs of the lost. Both cases are examples of a divergence from Christian mission.
Moreover, because two-thirds of the world’s population remains unevangelized, the Lausanne Covenant humbly confesses the church’s failure to properly execute its mission, and it presses for united partnership and cooperation in fulfilling the Great Commission. The Covenant acknowledges the prevalence of spiritual warfare among the people of God, but it locates the spiritual victory in God’s work, not ours. The Covenant expresses the Holy Spirit’s work in the process of evangelism and affirms that he speaks through the Holy Scriptures today.
All cultures express some elements of beauty and are yet at the same time influenced by the destructive effects of sin.
Finally, the covenant beautifully expresses the nuances of the relationship between the gospel and culture, with particular reference to evangelism. To share the good news of Christ’s work is not to be equated with cultural imperialism. Rather, all cultures express some elements of beauty and are yet at the same time influenced by the destructive effects of sin.
The Lausanne Covenant is particularly relevant to the church at-large insofar as it cuts straight to the heart of the Christian mission. It is impossible to ignore the importance of the Lausanne Covenant. Its vision for a church engaged in the global pursuit of evangelism is admirable—not to mention biblically necessary.
The covenant acknowledges the failure of many contemporary churches caught up in the prosperity gospel and in bondage to culture rather than Scripture. It is for these reasons that the church today can greatly benefit from the Lausanne Covenant.