Christian Social Responsibility as described in the Lausanne Covenant

Lausanne Movement

I think the Lausanne statement on Christian Social Responsibility is a helpful framework for our response to the brokenhearted of the world, and I commend it to you, along with the commentary by John Stott produced below.  Medical missions is an expression of our beliefs about God and man.  We must not just care for those in need, but do it out of the right motivation — a sound biblical framework. The Lausanne Movement helps us, and helps those we serve.

Lausanne Covenant Section 5. Christian Social Responsibility

We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all people. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression. Because men and women are made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. 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 (Acts 17:26,31; Gen. 18:25; Isa. 1:17; Psa. 45:7; Gen. 1:26,27; Jas. 3:9; Lev. 19:18; Luke 6:27,35; Jas. 2:14-26; Joh. 3:3,5; Matt. 5:20; 6:33; II Cor. 3:18; Jas. 2:20)

In the past, especially perhaps in nineteenth century Britain, evangelical Christians had an outstanding record of social action. In this century, however—partly because of our reaction against the “social gospel” of liberal optimism—we have tended to divorce evangelism from social concern. and to concentrate almost exclusively on the former. It may be helpful, therefore, to begin this exposition of section 5 with a reference to two sentences, one of confession and the other of affirmation, which occur about halfway through it.

First, we express penitence both for our neglect of our Christian social responsibility and for our naive polarization in having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. This confession is mildly worded. A large group at Lausanne, concerned to develop a radical Christian discipleship, expressed themselves more strongly, “We must repudiate as demonic the attempt to drive a wedge between evangelism and social action.” Secondly, and positively, we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. More will be said about this phrase later.

Christian duty arises from Christian doctrine. So this section is not content merely to assert that Christians have social responsibilities: it goes on to outline the four main doctrines out of which our Christian social duty springs, namely the doctrines of God, man, salvation and the kingdom.

A. The Doctrine of God

It is significant that a paragraph which relates entirely to “Christian social responsibility” should open with an affirmation about God. This is right. For our theology must always govern our conduct. We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all men. Thus the creation and the judgment, the beginning and the end of time, are brought together (cf., Acts 17:26,31). Both concern all men, for God is not just interested in the church but in the world. He created all men, and all men will have to give an account to him on the day of judgment. Therefore (notice the deduction which is drawn from the universality of creation and judgment) we who claim to be God’s people should share the breadth of God’s concerns. In particular, we should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men from every kind of oppression (see Amos 1 and 2). Justice, reconciliation and freedom—these are more and more the object of human quest in today’s world. But they were God’s will for society long before they became man’s quest. For God loves the good and hates the evil wherever these are found (Psa. 7:9,11; 11:4-7; 33:5). It is written of his King in the Old Testament and applied to the Lord Jesus in the New, “You love righteousness and hate wickedness” (Psa. 45 :7; Heb. 1 :9). The same should be true of us all. “Cease to do evil, ” God says, “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:16,17).

B. The Doctrine of Man

Social responsibility and evangelism are together part of our Christian duty, for both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man. Particular reference is made to the great biblical affirmation that mankind is made in the image of God (Gen. I :26,27). It is for this reason that man is unique on earth. There is a similarity between men and animals in that both are God’s living creatures dependent on him for their being, but a vast dissimilarity in that man alone is a godlike being with such godlike capacities as rationality, conscience, dominion and love. It is the divine image in man which gives him an intrinsic dignity or worth, a worth which belongs to all human beings by creation, regardless of race, religion, color, culture, class sex or age. Because of every person’s inherent dignity as a godlike being, he should be respected and served, and indeed loved (Lev. 19:18; Luke 6:27,35), not exploited. Only when we grasp this foundational biblical doctrine shall we begin to see the evils, for example, of racial discrimination and social prejudice. They are an offense to human dignity and therefore to the God in whose image man is made. It is not exaggerated to say that to insult man in these ways is to blaspheme God (Jas. 3:9,10). Similarly, the reason why murder is such a terrible crime is that “God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:5,6).

C. The Doctrine of Salvation

Salvation for many people today is a prohibited word: some are embarrassed by it, others say it is meaningless. Certainly it needs to be interpreted for modern men. So there was a good expectation that the Assembly of the World Council of Churches’ Commission on World Mission and Evangelism at Bangkok in January 1973 entitled Salvation Today would produce a fresh definition, faithful to Scripture and relevant to today. But Bangkok disappointed us. Although it included some references to personal salvation, its emphasis was to equate salvation with political and economic liberation. The Lausanne Covenant rejects this, for it is not biblical. Reconciliation with man is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation. Nevertheless, it is our duty to be involved in socio-political action; that is, both in social action (caring for society’s casualties) and in political action (concerned for the structures of society itself). For both active evangelistic and social involvement are necessary expressions not only of our doctrines of God and man (as we have seen) but also of our love for our neighbor and our obedience to Jesus Christ. Further, although salvation is not to be equated with political liberation, yet the message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination. Salvation is deliverance from evil, and implicit in God’s desire to save people from evil is his judgment on the evil from which he saves them. Moreover, this evil is both individual and social. Since God hates evil and injustice, we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist.

D. The Doctrine of the Kingdom

Section five ends with a challenge to our personal Christian commitment. Christians claim to have received Christ. But do we always remember that when people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom (John I: 12,13, 3:3,5)? To be a citizen of God’s kingdom is to be submissive to his righteous rule. As such, we are under obligation to exhibit the righteous standards of the kingdom in our own lives. For Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that members of his kingdom must “hunger and thirst for righteousness” and exhibit a righteousness which exceeds the shallow, formal righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:6,20). He also said that we must “seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33); that is, we must set these things before us as the supreme good to which we devote our lives. We must seek not only the spread of the kingdom itself, nor only to exhibit its righteousness ourselves, but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. How else can we be “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:14)?

The last sentences of this section revert to the terminology of salvation, but we must remember that Jesus drew no distinction between salvation and the kingdom of God (e.g., Mark 10:23-27 and cf., Isa. 52:7). The salvation we claim (and Christians do humbly claim to have been saved) should be transforming us. “Be transformed,” Paul commanded the Romans. “We are being transformed,” he declared to the Corinthians, using the same Greek verb (Rom. 12:2; II Cor. 3:18). And this transformation, if genuine, should touch every part of us, indeed the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. If not, how can we claim to be saved? For faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:20).

Questions for study:

The Covenant relates duty to doctrine. Take the biblical doctrine of either God or man, and think out what effect it should have on our social responsibilities.
If your local church takes its social responsibility seriously, how will this affect its program?
“We should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice…” Discuss the implications of this statement.
What has salvation got to do with social action?

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pauljhudson

Doctor, epidemiologist, husband, father, Christian missionary physician

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