John Stott on Evangelism and Social Justice

Lausanne Occasional Paper 21

LOP 21: Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment

A Joint Publication of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and the World Evangelical Fellowship

Pictured: John R.W. Stott
Prefatory Note

This Report, Evangelism and Social Responsibility, was written during the International Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility, held at Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 19-25, 1982. It was drafted by members of the Consultation, the Drafting Committee being under the chairmanship of the Rev. John Stott, who was also responsible for the final editing. The Consultation was sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and the World Evangelical Fellowship. In arranging for the publication of this Report and encouraging the study of it, neither the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization nor the World Evangelical Fellowship necessarily endorses every opinion expressed in it.


Evangelicals and evangelism have always been bracketed. So much so that the adjectives 'evangelical' and 'evangelistic' have often been identified in the popular mind. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that whenever evangelicals have become concerned about social issues, some eyebrows have been raised, and questions have been asked whether the cause of the gospel is not about to be betrayed.

The history of the ecumenical movement has unfortunately strengthened evangelical suspicions of social involvement. Modern ecumenism was born in the missionary enthusiasm - even euphoria - of the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. John Mott, its chairman, described as a 'longstanding reproach' to the church the fact that there were still millions of people who had never heard of Christ. The church must develop a strategic plan, he urged, 'for the evangelization of the whole of this multitude'. From this high point of commitment to world evangelism, however, there seems to have been a steady decline. The convening by evangelicals of the two Congresses on World Evangelization at Berlin in 1966 and at Lausanne in 1974 must unfortunately be understood, at least in part, as a loss of confidence in the World Council of Churches. But then leaders of the World Council have also been justly critical of many of us evangelicals for our lack of social concern.

This polarisation became particularly visible in 1980 when the conference Your Kingdom Come (sponsored by the WCC's Commission on World Mission and Evangelism) was held in Melbourne in May, and the following month the consultation How Shall They Hear? (sponsored by the Lausanne Committee) took place at Pattaya, Thailand. Neither group had intended that these meetings should be juxtaposed in this way, although perhaps it served to highlight the continuing tension. A number of evangelicals attended both conferences and found reasons for hope in both. For a perusal of the documents makes it plain that there was much common ground between them. Nevertheless, the emphasis was different. At Melbourne the necessity of proclamation was clearly recognized, but the cries of the poor, the hungry and the oppressed predominated. At Pattaya also the cries of the needy were heard (one mini-consultation focused on refugees, and another on the urban poor), but the call to proclaim the gospel to the unevangelized predominated.

This, then, was the historical run-up to the Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility held at Grand Rapids in June 1982. The planning group took great pains to ensure a balanced representation among participants between geographical regions, denominational backgrounds and evangelical viewpoints. It also defined clearly the goals of the Consultation. It expressed its resolve to study 'Scripture, history, theology and the contemporary church, and the interaction among them', and its hope and prayer for God's blessing in the following ways:

1. that we shall come to understand each other better and to appreciate each other's points of view more fully.

2. that we shall reach a greater unity of mind on the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility, not by a superficial semantic consensus but by a real theological agreement according to Scripture.

3. that we shall commit ourselves, and encourage other believers to commit themselves, to a yet more active fulfilment of our evangelistic and social responsibilities.

In spite of these declared goals, I confess that I arrived in Grand Rapids with a considerable degree of apprehension. The papers and responses, circulated in advance, had not only been critical of each other's positions but even in some cases sharply so. How then could we possibly expect to reach accord? Yet underneath our natural fears there was a confidence that God could unite us, if we humbled ourselves under the authority of his Word. And so it proved. For me it was another and dramatic demonstration of the value of international conferences. When we remain apart from one another, and our only contact with one another is the lobbing of hand grenades across a demilitarized zone, our attitudes inevitably harden and our mental images of each other become stereotyped. But when we meet face to face (or, as our American friends vividly express it, 'eyeball to eyeball'), and listen not only to each other's arguments but also to the cherished convictions which lie behind the arguments, then we develop towards one another a new understanding, respect and love. This is not to say that we agree about everything (as our Report makes plain), but that our agreements are far greater than our residual differences.

The group entrusted with the task of drafting the Report consisted of Gottfried Osei-Mensah from Africa and Bong Rin Ro from Asia (co-chairmen of the Consultation), David Wells (USA), Samuel Olson (Latin America) and myself (Europe). Early drafts were approved by the group, and then submitted to plenary sessions throughout the Friday and the Saturday morning of the Consultation. The revised draft, incorporating a large number of requested amendments, was re-submitted to participants by mail. A very few minor adjustments have subsequently been made to the text.

As we look back on our Grand Rapids experience, we are profoundly grateful to God for the common mind and heart which he gave us. We commend our Report to the study of individual Christians and of local churches. And we pray that our verbal commitment to the evangelistic and social responsibilities which God has laid upon us will express itself in increasingly practical and dedicated action.

John R. W. Stott
Chairman, Drafting Committee


A. The Context of the Consultation

Jesus Christ calls all his followers to witness to him in word and deed, that is, to share his Good News with others and to serve them according to their needs.

In the Lausanne Covenant, which was adopted at the end of the International Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, Paragraph 4 is entitled "The Nature of Evangelism" and Paragraph 5 "Christian Social Responsibility". But the Covenant leaves these two duties side by side without spelling out their relationship to each other, except to say in Paragraph 6 that "in the church's mission of sacrificial service, evangelism is primary".

As the years have passed, it has become increasingly necessary to complete Lausanne's unfinished business and to define more clearly what is included in "social responsibility", whose responsibility it is, and how it relates to evangelism. For many fear that the more we evangelicals are committed to the one, the less we shall be committed to the other; that if we commit ourselves to both, one is bound to suffer; and in particular that a preoccupation with social responsibility will be sure to blunt our evangelistic zeal.

So, in the conviction that evangelical Christians, who seek to live under the lordship of Christ and the authority of Scripture, and who pray to be guided by the Holy Spirit, should not be divided on an issue of such importance, it was decided to call an international consultation to study the matter. Jointly sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and the World Evangelical Fellowship, the Consultation would focus on Scripture, church history, modern theologies and the contemporary church, in order to help participants understand each other better, reach a greater unity of mind, and commit themselves to a yet more active fulfilment of their evangelistic and social responsibilities. We have not been disappointed. Fifty evangelical leaders from 27 different countries have spent a week together at Grand Rapids, Michigan. Each day began with Bible study and prayer. Eight papers, and the responses to them, have been presented to us. The issues raised by them we have discussed in both small groups and plenary sessions, and we have been encouraged by case studies from several different cultures. Throughout the week, through patient listening to one another, we have grown in mutual understanding and respect. Although our agreement is not total, it is substantial, and we have been given grace to face our disagreements with charity.

This statement is a summary of the consensus which has emerged, but it makes no attempt to conceal our differences. Although participants have not been asked to endorse it individually, they thoroughly scrutinized its first draft and amended it. We now publish it with the desire to share with others the fruits of our discussion and in the hope that they will be stimulated, as we have been, to more conscientious evangelism and social responsibility.

B. Scripture and Culture

The stated goals of the Consultation indicated that we would focus first and foremost on Holy Scripture. We have been determined, therefore, to let our minds be formed not by any human ideology but by the Word of God.

We have found it a struggle, however. For all of us are to some extent conditioned by the cultural environment in which we live, by our ideological settings and theological traditions, and this tends to determine what we are able to "see" in Scripture. It is not that God's Word is unclear in itself, nor that its meaning is captive to any culture. The problem lies rather within our minds as we read. The assumptions we bring with us, which are often insufficiently examined and corrected in the light of God's Word, distort our understanding of it. "Now we see in a mirror dimly" (1 Cor. 13:12).

How else can we explain some of the painful anomalies that soon came to light in our discussion? To give a few examples: we heard of some Christians in a Confucian culture who, because of its assumption of the ultimate harmony of all things, have surrendered their belief in the uniqueness of Christ as Saviour. Under the pressure of religious pluralism, others have fallen into universalism. In some parts of the United States there are churches which still close their doors to blacks, and remain oblivious to the indignities to which discrimination has brought them, while at the same time proclaiming the love of God. In South Africa, social policy and legislation are built on the theory of the inviolable diversity of the races. Many churches, whose members are sincere Christian people, nevertheless share this view of racial irreconcilability, while continuing to preach the Good News of reconciliation. In Europe and North America, secularism--which is a child of the Enlightenment--has even invaded the lives of Christians and effectively banished the reality of God from much of what they do.

It is easy to censure fellow believers in distant parts, however, and to occupy ourselves with removing splinters from their eyes while failing to perceive the logs in our own. It has become apparent during our Consultation that those of us who live in affluence do not feel the pain and humiliation of poverty as readily as do those who live among the poor. To the former, social responsibility may remain a topic for academic debate; to the latter, it is a self-evident Christian obligation. Yet moral blindspots are not peculiar to white or black, affluent or poor, north or south. They are a symptom of that Fall in which we have all participated. It is our sin, as it comes to expression in our various cultural assumptions and tries to find justification in them, which often blinds our eyes to what God wants us to see in his Word. An acknowledgment of this tragic fact at the beginning of our Consultation challenged us to listen all the more attentively to one another and to God's Word.

SOURCE: The Lausanne Movement
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