The Cape Town Commitment: Articulating our Christocentrism
A Christocentric communion should result in discernable corporate commitments of both belief and action. A lack of such commitment betrays a lack of true Christocentrism, for where Christ is present there must be transformation. Knowing this, the historic gatherings of the Lausanne Movement have always produced documents of profound significance in terms of both their theological affirmations as well as their practical, missional commitments. The Lausanne Covenanthas stood as the pinnacle of these documents since its writing in 1974, the crowning achievement of a gathering that has been said to have ‘saved the unity of evangelicalism’.[i]
Now, out of CT2010,a third great Lausanne document has been produced that stands in harmony with its predecessors, the Lausanne Covenant and Manila Manifesto, but which engages the burning questions and issues of a new generation. Furthermore, it builds and arguably improves upon the examples of those earlier documents in its representative nature as a truly corporate document, in its skill in marrying theological conviction to practical commitment, and in its value as a confessional and pastoral guide. TheCape Town Commitment is the new banner for Lausanne and models for the global Church what the literature of a movement should look like.
A Corporate Document
The Cape Town Commitment may be said to be a truly corporate document. It is presented in two parts. The first is entitled, ‘For the Lord We Love: Our Confession of Faith’. It consists of an articulation and affirmation of a number of key doctrines including the existence and triune nature of God, the deity and uniqueness of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture and more. The primary work on this section was initiated by a diverse group of theologians from around the world. The longer and second part of the Commitment, ‘For the World We Serve: Our Call to Action’, arose completely out of the content and proceedings of Cape Town 2010, the several hundred remote GlobalLink sites, the Lausanne Global Conversation, and other related sources. This has been called the ‘listening process’ of the Congress[ii] a process that has included a careful and tedious gathering and mining of data from presenters, delegates, observers, and others. The work was entrusted to a small international group of men and women, the Statement Working Group, led by Chris Wright.
Chris Wright, chair of the Lausanne LTWG, has served as the principle architect of the Commitment and has testified:
The Cape Town Commitment is not just the memorial of a moment—however significant that moment was, at Cape Town 2010. It is, I think, the conviction of a movement and the voice of a multitude - not only of those who were there at the Congress, but also of those who participated through the Global Link and in the Global Conversation. It distils a vast quantity of input and I am grateful to all who contributed - the team of theologians who began the process, the army of presenters at the Congress, the Cape Town Statement Working Group, and the many unknown friends who emailed helpful comments. We profoundly hope and pray, however, that in this statement we are hearing not just the voice of Cape Town 2010, but to some degree also the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ who walked among us there.[iii]
Literature that Facilitates Movement
Most statements of faith are merely that—statements. They are essentially static recitations of theological convictions. In my denomination, they play an important role at the incorporation of a new church into the broader association but are soon shuffled away into a new member’s orientation packet or posted to an infrequently visited ‘About us’ page on the church website. Even in churches where creeds are utilized regularly in the liturgy, they function only to affirm doctrine. They are, by definition, what we believe. They say very little, if anything, about what we should do. The Lausanne Movement has helped the global Church see its need for a different kind of creedal literature—literature that facilitates movement in Christ. The Cape Town Commitment has modeled this in three primary ways.
First, the commitment has married doctrinal affirmations with missional commitment through the covenant language of love. We do not simply believe in the Trinity; we love him. We do not simply believe the Bible; we love it. And loving leads to concrete action. So for example, the expression of our love for God the Son—his birth, sinless life, ministry and miracles, death on the cross, resurrection, ascension, and return—leads naturally to committing ‘ourselves afresh to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching in all the world, knowing that we can bear such witness only if we are living in obedience to his teaching ourselves’.[iv] This ‘love language’ facilitates movement by demonstrating that a biblically-based theological foundation that is loved is truly a springboard for gospel living.
Secondly, the Cape Town Commitment recognizes that movement in Christ requires a laying aside of ‘every weight and the sin which clings so closely’ (Heb. 12:1) and has thus made confession and repentance a vital part of the content of the document. Language of confession, lamentation, and repentance appears more than 25 times in the Commitmentand includes lamenting the ‘scandal of our shallowness and lack of discipleship’ and calling for ‘explicit repentance where Christians have participated in ethnic violence, injustice or oppression’.[v] Thus humbled before Christ, the forgiven and unentangled Church can move forward in its mission with freedom and grace.
Finally, the Commitment models for the Church the literature of Christocentric movement through its intentional instruction to Christian leaders. It is a kind of modern day, pastoral epistle in that it actually gives clear, specific direction to local church leaders. Pastors, in particular, are encouraged to ‘facilitate more open conversation about sexuality’, to ‘teach and preach the fullness of the biblical gospel’, to equip all Christians apologetically and evangelistically, to ‘teach biblical truth on ethnic diversity’, and more.[vi] Such clear instruction shows the way forward, providing a kind of roadmap for our movement in Christ.
The design of the Cape Town Commitment is worthy of prayerful study. I believe it stands as one of the great contributions of CT2010. Missiologist and Congress delegate Stanley Green was correct in saying that if embraced by the evangelical community, ‘the Commitment will reshape that community in ways that auger well for the health and unity of the church and for the advance of God’s mission in the world’.[vii]Together, the three historic Lausanne documents have shown us that statements of faith need not be mere static recitations of doctrinal beliefs divorced from action, commitment, worship, and discipleship. The Commitment may even have eclipsed the Lausanne Covenant in its ability to promote movement through theological affirmation and commitment, confession, and instruction.