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For Mission or For Church? – A Question about the Future of the Lausanne Movement

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the church’s participation in the Lausanne Movement. At the event, there were about 4,000 participants from 198 nations. The goal was to have the participants represent the demographic of global church leaders. Although women, as a percentage of the global church, were underrepresented, the ethnic representation was quite diverse. I was impressed by the constant possibility to listen, to encourage and to build relationships across broad swaths of the church.

However, Andy Crouch noticed that another particular group was underrepresented. In his article for Christianity Today entitled ‘Unrepresented at Cape Town’, Crouch observed that of the four thousand delegates participating at the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, the prominent figures from evangelical churches in the U.S. were underrepresented. Crouch speculates that their absence is due to these “important” leaders’ decision to use their power and time elsewhere. From his observation, Crouch extrapolates implications on power, influence, innovation and the future of global evangelical movements. While I would agree with some of Crouch’s analysis, I think that the absence of “western” Church leaders is not simply a matter of their deciding how they use with their influence and their limited time; rather, it points to a deeper problem inherent in the Lausanne Movement. It reveals a division in the Lausanne Movement between traditional “sending” countries and traditional “receiving” countries, and it indicates a misguided division between church and mission.

The West and the Rest

The inception and development of the Lausanne Movement has had the primary goal of engaging those outside the church through mission and evangelism. Many of the signatories and proponents of the Lausanne Covenant were churches interested in global mission, missionary agencies and para-church organizations.

However, as missionaries and evangelists established churches in these “unreached” locations, many of the new churches adopted the Lausanne Covenant as a statement of faith. The Lausanne Covenant was an intrinsic part of their make-up. Moreover, as churches networked, evangelical alliances and federations used the Lausanne Covenant as a basis for their organizations.

The result from these historical developments is that churches from the so-called “west” view the Lausanne Movement as relevant for outreach and primarily for cross-cultural mission while the rest of the global evangelical church understands the Lausanne Movement as a central statement of faith and a basis for ongoing church development.

So, I don’t think “western” evangelical church leaders were absent because they were not interested or because the Cape Town Congress was trumped by other priorities. Rather, I suspect that “western” church leaders do not view Lausanne as relevant to their church ministry. If my suspicion is true, a sad corollary is the cloaked patronization that our “western” churches, perhaps unwittingly, communicate: “We think that the Lausanne Movement is good for you, but we don’t need it.”

This, I think, is the real issue regarding the use of power – and not merely the access to the public platform, as Crouch supposes. The power of the “western” churches is the ability to do it alone. The “western” churches can afford to have their own individualized statements of faith and to choose whether or not they develop local partnerships. While these choices and individualistic stances are simply wrongheaded, in places where churches are a minority or where they have few resources, they are also luxuries. What is worse is that this use of power divides rather than unites the global church.

Church and Mission

Recognizing that the traditional “missionary-sending” churches appeal to the Lausanne Movement for its “missionary” activity but not for its “church” activity helps to identify an underlying theological problem. Namely, there is a rift between “church” and “mission”. Thinking that there is “mission” for those outside of the church and “church” for those inside the church is a mistake. Mission is the action of God through the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit to be the Father’s witnesses in the world. The church is missional, and mission is ecclesial.

Of course, this division between “church” and “mission” has been identified by many like Brunner, Newbigin and Bosch. What we see today in the lack of participation by “western” church pastors in the Lausanne Movement is a very concrete social manifestation of this theological error.

Unity through the Lausanne Movement

Although the divisions between the traditional “sending” churches and the traditional “receiving” churches and between conceptions of church and mission pose problems for the Lausanne Movement, the Lausanne Movement is in a unique position to ameliorate these divisions.

Lausanne can begin by naming these divisions as a problem.  Lausanne can continue bringing churches together, including traditional “receiving” churches but especially traditional “sending” churches. Lausanne can help the “western” churches learn from the missional churches in the “non-west” to develop missional perspectives and activities in their local church contexts. They can also help the “western” churches understand that the Lausanne Movement is not simply a mission movement but a church movement, and they can build relationships between local churches in the “west” and local churches throughout the world.

Likewise, Lausanne can facilitate the “non-western” churches in working with “western” churches to send missionaries not only into the local communities, cities and villages but also into trans-geographic contexts.

The Lausanne Movement can also facilitate the development of a more robust theology of missional churches and ecclesial mission.

By recognizing and mediating these divisions, the Lausanne Movement can support not only the church’s engagement in the world but also mediate healing and development within the global church. The church’s power can serve to bring us together. The church’s resources can be shared more effectively. The global church can become more united. And, at the end of the day, the Lausanne Movement itself will be a more credible representation of the global church.

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Negotiating Citizenship

A country always calls its people to be good citizens. This commitment to citizenship trumps all other allegiances.

We see this in American Christians who do not differentiate between being a Christian and American but rather equate being Christian with being American. We fly American flags in our sanctuaries, support our troops, and encourage Christians to support the Constitution and to obey the laws.

The fact that the commitment to one’s nation is the paramount obligation is even more evident in the national discourse on American Muslims. At every turn, Muslims are asked to prove that they are “good” Americans, which they do by affirming the Constitution, their belief in freedom and democracy, their participation in and sacrifice for the military, and their fidelity in paying taxes. But the burden of proving their American-ness is constantly on their shoulders – and the shoulders of other non-White and non-Christian citizens.

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, citizenship was even more a privilege than it is in our democratic countries, and just a small portion of the population was citizens. Only males qualified for citizenship. You could not be a slave. Most were land owners. The Greco-Roman society was structured around its citizens, who were the Pater Familias, around whom other family members, servants, slaves and beneficiaries had their livelihoods and status.

Although cities were allowed to have their own civic religions, the emperor demanded utmost allegiance to himself. A good citizen was loyal to the king. Interestingly, one of the purposes of Josephus’s history of the Jews is to demonstrate that Jews are good Roman citizens.

In the early Church, there are also Christian claims to being good citizens. For instance, some speculate that Luke’s description of the Jerusalem church in Acts 2 and 4 depicts the ideal Greek notion of society.

However, most Christians were not citizens but rather, as Peter says, “strangers and aliens.” The early Church spoke about having their citizenship in heaven. Although they were not given citizenship in the kingdoms of this world, early Christians asserted their citizenship in the heavenly city. Today, I often hear interpretations of heavenly citizenship as being one’s passport to heaven. But for the early Church, heavenly citizenship was not so much about one’s eternal destination as it was a different basis for living in the present world. This citizenship shaped one’s convictions and actions. This citizenry was a place of belonging and social identity for the excluded and oppressed, particularly, for women, slaves, and non-property owners.

When the Church is later accepted and authorized by the Roman Empire, the distinction between Roman citizenship and heavenly citizenship is diluted. How did the Church respond? Many of the Church Fathers defended Christians as “good” citizens but still challenged the claims of the empire. Others renounced the privileges of the empire and lived in solitude or in small communities on the fringes of the empire, committing themselves to celibacy, poverty and other ascetic disciplines.

Usually, the ascetic commitments to celibacy, poverty and obedience are viewed as a reaction to the world’s dominant temptations of sex, wealth and power. While this is true, this view usually fails to see the social implications. Patlagean points out that these ascetic commitments redefined citizenship. The ascetic commitments challenged the foundations that shaped traditional identity: marriage, family and property. To be a “good” citizen in this new vision of society meant to choose poverty, celibacy, and ascetic generosity. This meant that relationships were based on freedom rather than power, on chastity and equality rather than progeny and misogyny, and on generosity rather than competition.

When I look at the vision of the early Church for a new society and its citizenry, I am challenged to renegotiate the places in which I commit to country and the places where I must resist its demands. I am challenged to re-evaluate my commitments to the state in light of my ultimate allegiance to my citizenship in heaven.

Living Mission

Last year I had the opportunity to contribute a chapter to the book Living Mission. It describes an approach to ministry among the poor, marked by incarnation, mission, devotion and community.

If you do read it or have read it, I would love to hear your feedback either on this blog or on the amazon reviews.

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