Our Evangelical Documents Study Series - a series of posts presenting some important documents pertaining to Evangelicalism - is getting a big start with a subseries dealing with the Lausanne Covenant. In the year 1974, the first International Congress on World Evangelization met in Lausanne, Switzerland, to discuss the difficulties presented by evangelism/evangelization and missions work in the contemporary world. One of the fruits of that first congress was the production of a document called the Lausanne Covenant, whereby the attendees agreed to certain principles and commitments. We'll begin with two pieces: the introductory covenant resolution and the statement about the purpose of God.
We, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, from more than 150 nations, participants in the International Congress on World Evangelization at Lausanne, praise God for his great salvation and rejoice in the fellowship he has given us with himself and with each other. We are deeply stirred by what God is doing in our day, moved to penitence by our failures and challenged by the unfinished task of evangelization. We believe the Gospel is God's good news for the whole world, and we are determined by his grace to obey Christ's commission to proclaim it to all mankind and to make disciples of every nation. We desire, therefore, to affirm our faith and our resolve, and to make public our covenant.
1. The Purpose of God
We affirm our belief in the one eternal God, Creator and Lord of the world, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who governs all things according to the purpose of his will. He 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. We confess with shame that we have often denied our calling and failed in our mission, by becoming conformed to the world or by withdrawing from it. Yet we rejoice that even when borne by earthen vessels the gospel is still a precious treasure. To the task of making that treasure known in the power of the Holy Spirit we desire to dedicate ourselves anew.
There are so many things here I feel as though I could highlight. The authors are acting specifically in their capacity as members of Christ's own church and as representatives of that church from 150 different nations throughout the world. This is the global church in action. They open, note, with praises directed to God for the opportunity to gather together; if there's one thing that marks Evangelicalism at its best, it's maintaining a truly theocentric focus and a sense of joy in God. The authors make note that God is not silent, nor does he sleep, but he is truly active in our own day and age. The authors note that they are profoundly affected by God's action, but that we as Christians have not kept up with it as we should have. They are not afraid to publicly confess this, nor are they afraid to state precisely the ways in which the church has at times erred. These include a failure to not put more of our energy into spreading God's wonderfully good news to those who haven't yet caught wind of it; and these also include the errors of both liberal tendencies (that is, conforming to the world) and fundamentalist tendencies (that is, withdrawing from the world). They announce that there is no one whom the gospel isn't for; it isn't limited to just one people, but is for everyone, and that this must be first and foremost on our minds.
The authors of this document confess their belief in only one God whose identity we know as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit - in short, they affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, of one God in three persons. They also confess a belief that this God is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting, and that God is both the creator of the whole cosmos and the lord of the whole cosmos, who is sovereign over it all and whose will is being worked out in some way in it. The authors also pinpoint the way in which the church is both a called people and a sent people - we're chosen and selected by God to not be a part of the world, and yet we're sent throughout the world as agent's of God's election, to serve him and bear testimony that he alone is God and that he alone rules as rightful king of the kingdom. There are three reasons it mentions why God has sent us. We are to extend his kingdom (I take this to involve at least living like citizens of the kingdom, proclaiming loyalty to its king, and encouraging others to likewise come to terms with his rule); we are to build up Christ's body; and we are to bring glory to God's name. Although the authors must acknowledge that Christians have often failed in these tasks, they must affirm that it doesn't invalidate their gospel message, which is the treasure stored in earthen vessels; and it is to sharing this treasure that we hereby recommit ourselves.