In February 2010 the Lausanne Theology Working Group (LTWG) met in Beirut, Lebanon, for its third and final pre-Cape Town 2010 consultation. The topic, “The Whole World,” was the third in a series of consultations on the theological significance of the three phrases of the Lausanne Covenant, “The whole Church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” The first consultation on “The Whole Gospel” was held in February 2008 in Chiang Mai; the second on “The Whole Church” took place January 2009 in Panama.
In Lebanon, twenty-three people from fourteen countries convened and worked together around four plenary papers and sixteen case studies on what is meant by “the world.” The group met in facilities provided by the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, and in collaboration with the WEA-Theological Commission.
The findings of the Beirut consultation will be published and offered to the greater Lausanne Movement and others as part of the contribution of the LTWG to the preparation for The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization: Cape Town 2010.
Each morning participants studied Colossians together, since in it Paul makes clear the cosmic significance of Jesus Christ in creating, sustaining, and reconciling the whole world to God—and the correspondingly vast relevance of the gospel to the whole world at every level. The biblical themes that arose from the daily Bible study informed and infused the group’s reflection on papers and case studies.
The consultation was framed around six major themes:
- The World in the Bible
- The World of God’s Creation
- The World of Religions
- The World of the Globalized Public Square
- The World of Violence
- The World of Poverty and Injustice
Prior to the meetings the participants received four plenary papers offered by Chris Wright (“The World in the Bible”), Vinoth Ramachandra (“The Global Public Square”), Tan Kang-San (“Multi-Religious Belonging”), and Peter Harris (“From a Theology to a Missiology of Caring for Creation”), and many case studies on topics as varied as “The Threat of Nuclear Disaster,” “The World of HIV-AIDS,” “Israel and the Challenge of Christian Zionism,” and “The Violence of the World of Drugs and Human Trafficking.”
To ensure a more thorough analysis and engagement of the case studies, the participants were divided into two smaller groups; each was responsible for looking at half of the case studies and providing summary reports to the whole group. These reports, along with the results of the discussions of the plenary papers and the study of Colossians, resulted in the production of the Consultation Findings, which will be made available in the coming months.
During the discussions it was evident that there are many ways in which these themes are interrelated. The issues are complex and they shape the ways in which we live in the world, yet they are also being redeemed in Christ. We are participants in this as we seek to be faithful witnesses to the gospel of Jesus.
Highlights of the consultation included:
- A commitment to proclaiming in word and deed that care for creation is a gospel issue. If Christians around the globe understand it as such, the witness of the Church will be more faithful and will open itself up to sharing the good news of the gospel in new and transformative ways.
- A new awareness of consumerism as an idolatry, especially in the Western world, where it rarely goes unchecked by individual Christians or the Church. There is, therefore, the need for confession and repentance.
- A commitment to share and participate in grassroots efforts of peace and reconciliation in a world of so many types of violence, because evangelism is also the church proclaiming and living gospel life to the world of violence and death.
- An understanding that poverty is not the result of a lack of resources, but a product of personal and institutionalized injustice and greed, ethnic prejudice, and consumerism. In God’s grace, followers of Christ are being shaped into a community with mutual concern and responsibility for the well-being of the whole world and particularly for the most vulnerable. This calling demands critical consumption, creative production, prophetic denunciation, and advocacy for and mobilization of the victims of world injustice.
The consultation ended with a renewed commitment to understand that, as Christians, we are called to live out our discipleship in a world of brokenness. We must further confess that we have been complicit in the brokenness, but also empowered by God’s Spirit to participate in its redemption. Such participation includes saying no to consumerism as an idolatrous way of life, being present to and with those who suffer, and relearning the limits of creation so that our lives, churches, and communities reflect the powerful way in which God has reconciled the world to himself in Jesus Christ.