CORVALLIS, Oregon – How can a church that is proud of its diversity be unified? Under what umbrella can Conservative Baptist churches join hands with like-minded, but non-C.B. churches? How can para-church organizations link arms with churches . . . without fear or compromise? And how can the resolutions, and more importantly, the spirit of major congresses on world evangelisation filter down to the church and better equip her to fulfill her purpose?
As I was struggling with these questions, and more, I accepted the invitation to attend Leadership ’88, a Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization-sponsored conference designed to help prepare and equip younger evangelical leaders to carry forward the vision to evangelize the world in the next generation. Little did I know when I arrived in Washington DC that I would be prompted to bring back to my church in Oregon a statement of doctrine, vision and strategy and then use that statement as a mechanism of vision and unity. That statement is the Lausanne Covenant.
When I studied missions at BIOLA University, I was taught that in 1974 delegates from more than 150 nations gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland to discuss issues pertaining to world evangelization. Several of my professors participated they came back saying it was a mountaintop experience for all who attended. We were assigned to read the Lausanne Covenant. I completed this assignment quickly.
But it wasn’t until, at Leadership ’88 when I smelled, for the first time, the fragrance of the Lausanne Movement, did I begin to understand the historic importance of the Lausanne Covenant. For Leadership ’88 was marked by both diversity and unity . . . diversity in that representatives from more than 300 Christian organizations (low churches and high churches, traditional organizations and avant garde ministries; charismatic and straight) . . . unity in that all were clearly united under the banner of the Gospel as delineated by the Lausanne Covenant.
What a wonderful thing unity is!
Upon returning to Oregon I decided to do everything I could to expose the people of my church to the heart and vision of the Lausanne Movement. I gave a few missions-oriented messages and then proceeded to devote all available Sunday evening services for the next several months for the study and discussion of all fifteen articles of the Lausanne Covenant.
We essentially studied one article each evening. After copies of the specific article were distributed (by the way, we printed these in large print so our seniors could easily participate) we read the article in unison. Then individuals from the congregation looked up and read each passage of Scripture listed with each article. Then I led the congregation in a phrase-by-phrase discussion of the article at hand. Questions and comments were welcomed at any time during the course of the hour.
Depending on the scope of the individual article our evening services were either uneventful or lively. Because the Lausanne Covenant provided us with the opportunity to talk about topics such as “election”, “lordship evangelism”, “abortion”, “pacifism”, “ecumenism”, “cooperative evangelism”, “hell”, “inerrancy”, “persecution and suffering”, “missions and culture”, “the unfinished task”, and even “tea-totaling” no one in the congregation complained about our discussions as being studies of “the same old thing”. Rather we enjoyed a host of insightful and courageous statements from our congregation. Many told me that they never thought they would have opportunities to express their views so freely in church. How I’m grateful for a congregation that is willing to think and think deeply. But were we willing to act?
While in Washington DC I paid a visit to both the National Archives and the Viet Nam Memorial. As I examined the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights I noticed that I was drawn to the names – names of people who felt so strongly about each statement that they wanted all to know where they stood. And as I walked up and down the pathway in front of the Viet Nam Memorial, again, I was stuck – no, overwhelmed – by the names. In fact, that’s what the monument is – name, after name, after name – each name representing one who died for a cause that he perceived to be greater than even his own life.
And then I thought of the Lausanne Covenant and of the names of the people of the First Baptist Church of Corvallis, Oregon. What do we stand for? How do we know? Does anyone else know? And how do we know that anyone else knows?
Where in our church have people had the opportunity to publicly and permanently sign their name to a statement of what they believed to be both true and urgent? I couldn’t think of one place.
Do we not sign our names when we promise to pay back a loan? Do we not sign our names when we certify that a statement we write is true? Do we not sign our names on other binding documents such as marriage licenses? Why? Simply because when we put our name on a document we are, in effect, promising to stand behind the content of that document.
So I asked one of our church members, a gifted artist, to design a large (4′ x 8′) rendition of the Lausanne Covenant (identical with the original document excepting for a brief preamble and closing statement of adoption). We permanently set aside a highly visible place for the display of the covenant and the signatures. Then beginning April 2 of 1989 we began providing the opportunity for members of our church to carefully and prayerfully put their name under the Lausanne Covenant. During the morning service we read together a solemn “covenant litany”. Then for the next five weeks members of our Board of Missions “manned” the document table both before and after each service.
Although we no longer formally “man” the table in front of the Lausanne Covenant we continue to give opportunity for people to sign it. Each month the list of names has grown longer. And it is our desire that the list will continue to lengthen until Jesus comes.
Is our diverse church now completely unified? Of course not. But we more united. Have we done all we can to evangelize the world? Absolutely not. But, for the first time ever, we did exceed our faith promise giving . . . and that on the first Sunday of the faith promise drive. Are we all resigning our jobs to go to the mission field? Don’t be silly. But this summer we have more short termers going out on projects than we can keep track of.
God has used the Lausanne Movement and the Lausanne Covenant to make a difference in our church. For this I am grateful.
This article was first published in Impact a publication of World Impact. He wrote it just before attending the Lausanne II gathering in Manila in 1989. At the time he was Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Corvallis, OR, a position he maintained until he founded Bridge Builders International in 1994.