The Lausanne Covenant is the product of a gathering of Christian leaders in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July 1974, to discuss issues related to missions. Participants from 150 nations gathered to hear from Billy Graham, John Stott, Francis Schaeffer, Ralph Winter, Carl Henry, and others at the first International Congress on World Evangelization. The purpose of congress was “to re-frame Christian mission in a world of political, economic, intellectual, and religious upheaval” (from the official website). The Lausanne Covenant has exerted a broad influence on missions and evangelicalism.
Since its founding in 1974, the Lausanne Movement has held global conferences in 1989 and 2010, as well as many regional meetings and youth gatherings. The purpose of the Lausanne Movement is to further the global Christian mission. Their vision is “the gospel for every person, an evangelical church for every people, Christ-like leaders for every church, and kingdom impact in every sphere of society” (from their website). The Lausanne Covenant, the foundational statement of the Lausanne Movement, details the motive, basis, nature, and urgency of world evangelism. For this reason the Lausanne Covenant is often viewed as an encapsulation of the beliefs of modern evangelicalism. Other documents to emerge from the Lausanne Movement include the Manilla Manifesto (1989) and the Cape Town Commitment (2010).
The Lausanne Covenant, written primarily by John Stott, has included and prioritized many essential teachings on evangelism. It is a “covenant” in that it binds the signatories in a promise to God and to fellow believers. The Lausanne Covenant lays out fifteen specific categories of belief: the purpose of God, the authority and power of the Bible, the uniqueness and universality of Christ, the nature of evangelism, Christian social responsibility, the church and evangelism, cooperation in evangelism, churches in evangelistic partnership, the urgency of the evangelistic task, evangelism and culture, education and leadership, spiritual conflict, freedom and persecution, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the return of Christ. The resulting doctrinal covenants are biblical and well thought out. They are orthodox and help define the Christian mission given by Christ to fulfill the church’s purpose. The Lausanne Covenant affirms that only through faith in Jesus Christ may a person be saved. It affirms social responsibility to help the oppressed yet states that social efforts cannot substitute for the preaching of the gospel to every person.
The Lausanne Movement emphasizes the need to contextualize the gospel. The faithful evangelical church should tenaciously fulfill the mandate of evangelism (Matthew 28:18–20). It should simultaneously be flexible in adapting its methods to various cultures. The apostle Paul changed his approach—not his message—to various cities and regions he visited on his missionary journeys. “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
At times, the church has struggled to maintain a balance between pure evangelism and social action. Some people viewed the presentation of the gospel as all that was necessary, ignoring physical needs; others focused on the “social gospel,” striving to feed and clothe the populace but failing to mention the need for Christ. The Lausanne Covenant presents evangelism and social action as necessary and contingent upon each other: “We affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. . . . The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead” (The Lausanne Covenant, part 5).
The Lausanne Covenant is a call back to the Great Commission, offering a conservation of critical biblical values. In a time when church attendance is in decline, many are looking for other ways to fulfill the mandate of the church. This document, among others, sets an anchor to what the church’s biblical function is. In its evangelism, the church should address cultural change, be relevant, and remain true to the gospel.
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (see Romans 1:16). In that the Lausanne Covenant stresses the importance of the gospel, challenges believers to cooperate in sharing the gospel, and acknowledges the need for every person to be born again through faith in Christ, it is a good and helpful document. Like any doctrinal statement, of course, the Lausanne Covenant is man-made and only reflects imperfectly what God has perfectly encapsulated in Scripture.