This reflection is the first of several such documents that will explore the presentations and the impact of Cape Town 2010. It is my hope that they will prove to be informative, thought-provoking, and challenging for you, as an individual reader, and for the leadership of the Lausanne Movement as well. ~ James.
One question that any careful consideration of the Lausanne Movement raises is whether it has realized a shift in theological perspective in its history that spans more than three decades. Confessional documents created by each of its historic gatherings can offer a snapshot answer to that question. The First Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization – hereafter referred to as a “Congress” – in Lausanne, Switzerland (1974) produced “The Lausanne Covenant.” The second summit in Manila, Philippines (1989) offered the Manila Manifesto. The latest assembly in Cape Town, South Africa (2010) has shaped the first of two parts of its confessional statement entitled “The Cape Town Commitment.” A word study of the three documents, focusing on their use of three specific words, offers a glimpse of the theological persuasion of each of these gatherings.
The use of the word “Evangelism” is the first consideration of this study. It should be a word that is at the heart of any assemblage on the topic of world evangelization. It is obvious that such was the case for the first Congress in the fifteen occurrences of the word in its Covenant. Exemplary of their understanding of its importance is the statement “. . . evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God” (p.3). Similarly, the Manila Congress focused on the topic of evangelism, evidenced by the sixteen incidences of its usage in their Manifesto. Appreciation for the role of evangelism is demonstrated in their testimony, “Evangelism is primary because our chief concern is with the gospel, that all people may have the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour” (p.7). Conversely, the Cape Town Congress made use of the word only seven times (including four quotes from previous Congress documents, three of which were from the Lausanne Covenant). Their most definitive statement concerning the practice of evangelism reads “We renew the commitment that has inspired the Lausanne Movement from its beginning, to use every means possible to reach all peoples with the gospel” (p.8).
The second word considered by this study is the interchangeable use of the words “primary/primacy”, appearing only once in each document. The Lausanne Congress spoke of the importance of evangelism in its statement “In the Church’s mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary” (p.4). Affirmation of that stance is evident in the Manila Congress statement quoted in the previous paragraph. The only usage of the word, in any form, in the Cape Town document includes no reference to evangelism, “We affirm the primacy of God’s grace and we then respond to that grace by faith, demonstrated through the obedience of love” (p.3).
“Social” is the final word offered for consideration by this study. The Lausanne Congress made use of the word only four times in addressing social responsibility, social concern, social action, and social system in its document. Phrases such as social action, social implications, social reality, social discrimination, and social work encompass the usage of the word a total of six times in the Manila Congress statement. Seven occurrences of the word are found in the Cape Town document (including four quotes from previous Congress documents, one of which was from the Lausanne Covenant). Apart from its dependence upon previous documents, the uniqueness in the Cape Town statement is the obvious absence of the phrase “social action” and the single use of the term “social engagement” as a possible alternative. The only notable uses of the word “social” in any of the documents are those which contextually address the relationship between evangelism and social action found in the Lausanne and Manila statements.
Considering the details of this word study, it can be argued that the Lausanne Movement may be realizing a shift in theological perspective away from its evangelical heritage. The minimization of the use of the word “evangelism”, the absence of any reference to its primacy, and the dependence upon historical documents for the majority of references to it in the Cape Town document suggest a viability for the argument. Meanwhile, it gains credibility in consideration of the title of the documents for each Congress. Lausanne issued a Covenant (a solemn, binding agreement), Manila a Manifesto (a declaration of principles), and Cape Town a Commitment (a dedication to a cause).
For the sake of those whose life and ministry represents the heritage of this movement, for the sake of millions of Christians around the world it represents, may it be our prayer that the argument and analysis proposed by this reflection are premature.