1. Background - Lausanne Movement

Lausanne Movement
Green, Jay D. 1999. In E. Fahlbusch and G.W. Bromiley (eds), The encyclopedia of
Christianity, vol. 3:204-208. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Lausanne Congress and Covenant
The Lausanne movement is an international, transdenominational movement of
evangelicals associated with the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and
dedicated to the study, promotion, and fulfillment of cooperative evangelism
worldwide. The movement derives its name and spirit from the International
Congress on World Evangelization, held at Lausanne, Switzerland, in July 1974.
1. Background
The history of the Lausanne movement must be understood in the context of
attempts to build a global strategy for evangelism before 1974. Since World War II
the only remotely unified voice of international Christian action among Protestants
had come from mainline moderates and liberals in the ecumenical or conciliar
movement embodied in the World Council of Churches (WCC). From an evangelical
perspective, the WCC is often perceived as upholding interchurch and interfaith unity
at the expense of doctrine, social ministry to the detriment of the individual and
spiritual claims of the gospel, and universalism over the exclusive demands of
Christ. The disorganized and scattered voices of evangelicalism, however, could
hardly muster a coherent perspective, let alone a strategy, for promoting their
understanding of global Christianity and the practice of evangelism (Evangelical;
Evangelical Movement).
The 1966 Berlin World Congress on Evangelism began to turn the tide for
evangelicals. With the international recognition, financial support, and organizational
acumen of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, congress participants joined
the worldwide conversations about the nature and prospect of global evangelism. In
an era of rapid cultural change, the cold war, and mass communications (Mass
Media), evangelicals put forth a strong effort at Berlin to strike a confident note on
behalf of biblical evangelism in a manner that seemed to take seriously at least some
of what conciliar Christians had long argued about unity and even social ministry.
The commitments of the Berlin congress, however, did not go far enough. In 1967
Carl F. H. Henry commented that the Berlin Congress had “brought the evangelical
movement to a brink of decision over three major concerns that impinge upon its
evangelistic task in the world … theological, socio-political and ecumenical” (p. 1).
The 1974 Lausanne Congress clearly pushed evangelicals beyond this brink.
Lausanne Movement
2. Lausanne Congress and Covenant
The Lausanne Congress drew roughly 2,700 participants (nearly 4,000 total,
including guests, observers, and media) from 150 countries and 135 Protestant
denominations who met to network, mutually encourage, pray, and plan a unified
strategy for global evangelism. Appropriate in light of the congress theme, “Let the
Earth Hear His Voice,” the gathering was heralded as the most globally distributed
and representative conference on evangelism ever held to date.
The greatest single legacy of this ten-day event is the Lausanne Covenant. This
2,700-word, 15-point document asserts clearly that salvation is personal and only
through faith in Jesus Christ. Unlike previous evangelical affirmations, however, the
covenant carefully balances an uncompromising commitment to biblical authority and
doctrinal orthodoxy with recognition of the need for interfaith dialogue, ecumenical
cooperation, non-Western participation, and sociopolitical action on a global scale. It
addresses honestly, and with genuine evangelical conviction, the cultural moment.
The covenant, which contains a pledge of commitment to the task of world
evangelization, was signed by a large majority of congress participants. It has been
translated into many different languages and remains an indispensable guide for the
movement nearly 30 years later. In several important respects, the Lausanne
Congress and its covenant mark an important turning point for modern
evangelicalism’s sense of Christian mission.
First, the Lausanne Congress broadened traditional evangelical ideas about
evangelism to include a wider range of concerns than just “soul winning.” The
opening paragraph of the covenant speaks of being “moved to penitence by our
failures,” a reference to the general lack of social concern and responsibility
emblematic of traditional evangelical notions of Christian mission. Past evangelical
preaching that emphasized only spiritual aspects of salvation and that neglected
social and political concerns were roundly criticized at the congress, especially by its
non-Western participants. The Lausanne Covenant, in the words of René Padilla,
shows that “biblical evangelism is inseparable from social responsibility, Christian
discipleship, and church renewal” (p. 11). While the covenant did not reduce
evangelism to social ministry, it questioned any suggestions that evangelists could
effectively express the gospel without attending to social, economic, and political
needs (par. 5).
Second, though organized and largely dominated by American and British
evangelicals (notably Billy Graham and John Stott), the 1974 congress was attended
by hundreds of Christian leaders from the Third World (nearly one-third of the
participants), whose concerns were heard and heeded to an unprecedented degree.
The Third World began to emerge less exclusively as objects of evangelism and
much more as partners in ministry. Coming near the end of the age of decolonization
(Colonialism and Mission), Lausanne importantly acknowledged the legitimacy and
dignity of indigenous cultures and churches, giving credence to Third World Christian
leaders. By affirming Third World Christians and acknowledging past failures,
evangelicals at Lausanne opened the door to a kind of cross-cultural dialogue that
Lausanne Movement
would later attune Western ears to rethinking aspects of the gospel when seen in
light of non-Western cultures.
Third and closely related, the congress affirmed what might be legitimately described
as a thick sense of culture, taking seriously at least some insights of modern-day
cultural anthropology. A humble, even penitent, tone characterizes the Lausanne
Covenant on the question of culture. “Missions have all too frequently exported with
the Gospel an alien culture, and churches have sometimes been in bondage to
culture rather than to the Scripture” (par. 10). The covenant declares that “a new
missionary era has dawned,” conceding that “the dominant role of western missions
is fast disappearing” (par. 8). Prior conferences had generally taken the Westernoriented definition of Christian mission for granted. Lausanne would signal a new day
for evangelicals, who would thereafter pursue strategies for evangelization that
endeavored to speak the gospel in ways that were both transcultural and sensitive to
local contexts (Evangelical Missions).
Finally, the congress affirmed that Christian unity and cooperation across
denominational and (within some limits) theological boundaries would be imperative
for world evangelization. The covenant went as far as to call on all Christians to
“break out of our ecclesiastical ghettos and permeate non-Christian society” (par. 6).
It went on to proclaim “unity” as a necessary virtue rather than something to fear,
admitting that past expressions of disunity ultimately weakened the church’s witness
(par. 7). Lausanne boldly answered any lingering question about whether
mainstream evangelicals were moving to shed the separatism of their fundamentalist
3. Results
Missiologist Peter Beyerhaus has argued that the real significance of the Lausanne
Congress has not been the concepts and strategies it endorsed but rather the
energy it spawned and the missionary consciousness it raised. As he saw it, “Small
rivers, some of which had been rather unnoted before [Lausanne,] became
confluent, and by their union formed one mighty stream, which was deep enough to
carry a fleet of evangelistic fisherboats, and which had water enough spiritually to
fertilize the dried soil of latter 20th century christendom” (p. 170). In the months
following Lausanne, this “stream” began to take shape as a group of 50 men and
women — the Lausanne Continuation Committee for World Evangelizaion —
convened to organize an assortment of conferences, symposia, and consultations.
The group’s name was later changed to the Lausanne Committee on World
Evangelization (LCWE). Their charge was simple: to preserve the spirit of Lausanne
by supporting all international and regional efforts consistent with the covenant. From
these meetings and other less formal developments, the Lausanne movement was
Significantly, leaders of the Lausanne movement determined to maintain a
decentralized, even nonlocalized, focus so as avoid becoming too closely tied to any
Lausanne Movement
particular culture or national identity (a feature of the WCC that some have
criticized). The LCWE resisted a merger with the World Evangelical Fellowship
(World Evangelical Alliance) for this reason, and the suggestion of building a center
for world evangelization was also dismissed on similar grounds. As a result, the
movement has been able to shape a wide-ranging, multidimensional ministry.
Lausanne had a hand, directly or indirectly, in nearly every formal evangelistic
initiative undertaken around the world during the last quarter of the 20th century,
apart from those associated with the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostalism
(Pentecostal Churches), or the WCC. LCWE has acted as an umbrella agency,
sounding board, and resource for countless churches, denominations, mission
societies, theological seminaries, colleges, and parachurch organizations in support
of many different tasks and issues related to evangelism.
Global missionary strategy has remained the central concern and area of expertise
for the LCWE. In conjunction with the Mission Advanced Research and
Communication Center, the Strategy Working Group of the LCWE annually
publishes World Christianity, a presentation of social statistics on unreached or
newly evangelized people groups as a way of tracking the growth of Christianity in
countries around the world. LCWE has been especially sensitive to the ways that
unique cultures and worldviews receive the gospel and how Christians might be
more sensitive to working with these groups. At the Lausanne-sponsored
Consultation on World Evangelization held at Pattaya, Thailand, in June 1980,
participants identified 17,000 population groups with no indigenous core of Christian
believers. At this consultation 17 miniconsultations also worked to develop
evangelism strategies relevant to particular groups, including Marxists, Jews,
Muslims, secularized peoples, Hindus, Buddhists, the urban poor, and Chinese.
In 1989 a second Lausanne congress convened in Manila, involving 3,500 people
from 170 countries. Lausanne II sparked the AD 2000 Movement, which developed a
series of specific strategies for completing world evangelization in Africa, Asia, and
Latin America, plus several major initiatives in the areas of prayer (esp. in what has
been called spiritual warfare), social concern, and Bible translation. The Lausanne
Women’s International Network was formed soon after Lausanne II as a way to
address the needs and problems faced by women around the world.
The congress produced the Manila Manifesto, a document similar to the Lausanne
Covenant in tone and content, with a few exceptions. For instance, it addresses with
greater bluntness “the failures in Christian consistency which we see in both
Christians and churches” (§7), and it admits that non-Christian religions “sometimes
contain elements of truth and beauty,” even while rejecting any sense that they might
somehow constitute “alternative gospels” (§3). A third major world congress is being
planned for the fall of 2004 in Thailand.
Since Lausanne has always been considered an idea-oriented movement, strategy
has never been limited to mere tactical concerns. The Theological Committee of the
LCWE, led for many years by John Stott, has consistently spoken to theological
issues and problems in contemporary global ministry in an effort to maintain its
Lausanne Movement
doctrinal integrity, to address newly emergent issues, and to educate those serving.
One matter the Theological Committee has faced, though not satisfactorily clarified,
has been the doctrine of the church, an issue on which Lausanne 1974 and its
covenant has been consistently criticized for being too vague and even undermining
the authority of the institutional church. Furthermore, during the 1990s alone, LCWE
sponsored international consultations on numerous theological matters, issuing
substantial statements on topics ranging from Christian nominalism to the role of
Scripture, spiritual warfare to the unique theological challenges of Jewish evangelism
(Jewish Mission).
Finally, the LCWE has been active in aiding, financing, and encouraging national
churches in the Third World, as well as Third World missionaries, whose numbers
have grown more than 15-fold since 1974. While the Lausanne Covenant had taken
important steps toward dealing with the knotty questions of Christianity and culture,
much further work needed to be done. A theological consultation, “Gospel and
Culture,” held at Willowbank, Bermuda, in January 1978 drew together dozens of the
world’s leading missiologists, anthropologists, church leaders, and theologians to
think more carefully and deliberatively about the transmission of the gospel and the
relationship between faith and culture.
One of the most substantial and concentrated efforts in this vein has been the
Chinese Coordination Center of World Evangelization (CCCWE), an initiative begun
in 1976 and devoted to organizing Chinese Christians around the world as a way of
aiding the evangelization of China. In the summer of 2001 CCCWE sponsored a
congress on evangelization in Malaysia where 1,600 Chinese delegates from around
the world identified practical problems in China and strategies for more effective
transmission of the gospel.
The Lausanne Movement has not lacked for critics. From the Left, it is no surprise
that mainline Protestants (esp. those associated with the WCC) have found
Lausanne’s theologically conservative sense of mission too narrow, and its refusal to
conflate evangelism with social concern, inadequate and unholistic (see H. Berkhof).
Criticisms from the Right have been perhaps even more pointed. In 1978 evangelical
missiologist Arthur Johnston argued that the Lausanne vision for world
evangelization was theologically soft, overly concerned with social and political
issues, and fraught with compromise in the name of cooperation. What others
recognized as long-overdue changes for the better, Johnston feared as an
evangelical forfeiting of the essence of the Great Commission (pp. 358–60). While
ultimately more affirming, Peter Beyerhaus has voiced other concerns about
Lausanne. He has criticized the Lausanne movement for its lack of developed
theologies of non-Christian religions. Like Johnston, he has also warned that the
Lausanne vision can easily lapse into a new form of social gospel. Finally,
Beyerhaus wonders if Lausanne’s continual projections of a progressive, almost
unstoppable movement toward world evangelization represents a dangerously naive
optimism. Rather than emphasizing only confidence, he cautions that the path of
gospel obedience will inevitably provoke resistance, hatred, and persecution (pp.
Lausanne Movement
While hardly perfect, the Lausanne movement has been providing a guiding light for
millions on countless issues that have arisen in the course of pursuing world
evangelization. It would be difficult to overstate the significance of the Lausanne
movement for setting a global agenda for evangelical Christian ministry during the
last quarter of the 20th century. One would be hard pressed to locate an evangelical
seminary curriculum, a Christian world relief organization, a denominational missions
agency, or even an inner-city ministry that has been untouched by the vision,
instruction, or far-reaching spirit of Lausanne. Well into the 21st century, it seems,
the Lausanne movement will continue to play a defining role in the endeavors of
global Christianity.
Ecumenism, Ecumenical Movement; Missionary Conferences 3
Bibliography: H. Berkhof, “Berlin versus Geneva: Our Relationship with the
‘Evangelicals,’” ER 28 (1976) 80–86 ∙ P. Beyerhaus, “Evangelicals, Evangelism, and
Theology: A Missiological Assessment of the Lausanne Movement,” ERT 11 (1987)
169–85 ∙ K. Bockmuehl, Evangelicals and Social Ethics: A Commentary on Article 5
of the Lausanne Covenant (trans. D. T. Priestley; Downers Grove, Ill., 1975) ∙ R. T.
Coote and J. Stott, eds., Down to Earth: Studies in Christianity and Culture. The
Papers of the Lausanne Consultation on Gospel and Culture (Grand Rapids, 1980) ∙
J. D. Douglas, ed., Let the Earth Hear His Voice: International Congress on World
Evangelization, Lausanne, Switzerland (Minneapolis, 1975) ∙ C. F. H. Henry,
Evangelicals at the Brink of Crisis: Significance of the World Congress on
Evangelism (Waco, Tex., 1967) ∙ A. P. Johnston, The Battle for World Evangelism
(Wheaton, Ill., 1978) ∙ A. Kirk, The Good News of the Kingdom Coming: The
Marriage of Evangelism and Social Concern (Downers Grove, Ill., 1983) ∙ “Lausanne
’74-an Overview,” EMQ 10 (1974) 259–320 ∙ J. Matthey, “Milestones in Ecumenical
Missionary Thinking from the 1970s to the 1990s,” IRM 88 (1999) 291–303 ∙ C. R.
Padilla, The New Face of Evangelicalism: An International Symposium on the
Lausanne Covenant (Downers Grove, Ill., 1976) ∙ J. Stott, “The Significance of
Lausanne,” IRM 64 (1975) 288–94; idem, “Twenty Years after Lausanne: Some
Personal Reflections,” IBMR 19 (1995) 50–55; idem, ed., Making Christ Known:
Historic Mission Documents from the Lausanne Movement, 1974–1989 (Grand
Rapids, 1997) ∙ E. S. Utuk, “From Wheaton to Lausanne: The Road to Modification
of Contemporary Evangelical Mission Theology,” Miss. 14 (1986) 205–20.