Continuing our Evangelical Documents Study Series, let's examine the sixth segment of the Lausanne Covenant, promulgated in 1974 by the first International Congress on World Evangelization. The first portion of the document discussed the purposes of God; the second portion discussed the nature and authority of Scripture; the third portion discussed the uniqueness of Christ as the only source of salvation for the entire world; the fourth portion discussed the nature of evangelism; the fifth portion discussed Christian social responsibility; and now the sixth portion deals with the relationship between the Church and evangelism:
6. The Church and Evangelism
We affirm that Christ sends his redeemed people into the world as the Father sent him, and that this calls for a similar deep and costly penetration of the world. We need to break out of our ecclesiastical ghettos and permeate non-Christian society. In the Church's mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary. World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world. The Church is at the very centre of God's cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the gospel. But a church which preaches the cross must itself be marked by the cross. It becomes a stumbling block to evangelism when it betrays the gospel or lacks a living faith in God, a genuine love for people, or scrupulous honesty in all things including promotion and finance. The church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system, or human ideology.
Even in this fairly brief paragraph, there are a number of salient points. One of the most important ones, I think, is what the church is. The Church is a community of God's people. There are local churches - a particular gathering of God's people in an area - and then there's the Church universal, which is the community of all of God's people in all times and places. This understanding is part of the reason why Evangelicals must acknowledge that no denomination or institutionalized body is, in and of itself, the 'one true church' in any exclusive sense. The Church is simply the community of all Christians, and so all who are Christians are in some sense members of the Church, even if they neglect to participate fully in the Church's life, or even if they are expelled from the assembly for disciplinary reasons for a time, or even if they fail to realize Christ's prayer for Christian unity by rejecting harmony and promoting schisms or heresies. To deny that some person is in any sense a member of the Church is to deny that they are Christians at all; there can, by definition, be no Christians totally outside the Church, even if the fellowship of some Christians with the rest of the Church is marred in some manner. The Church is the people of God, who are the body politic of God's kingdom. The Lausanne Covenant stresses that evangelism is not a task given to only certain segments of the Church. Rather, the task of evangelism is given to the entire Church, because only 'the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world' will live up to Christ's commission to his followers. The Lausanne Covenant is also clear that the Church is indeed charged with presenting the whole gospel, not merely a hollowed-out gospel designed to be easy to swallow. To the extent that the Church or any part of the Church is not presenting the whole gospel or is not presenting it to the whole world, the Church - in whole or in part - is failing to fulfill its missional calling. And the cross is central to the gospel, just as is the resurrection; a crossless Christianity is no Christianity at all, and to the extent that any ecclesial body downplays the cross (both the cross of Christ and the cross we must also bear), it is betraying Christ. The Lausanne Covenant here also calls upon the Church to quit hiding in 'ecclesiastical ghettos' and instead to work itself throughout the world. There's a tendency for some Christians to withdraw from worldly engagement, to set up insular communities of Christians - but this is not the way. Christians are not of the world, but we are most definitely called to be in it; the separatist path is not our calling.