Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World
Taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth in obedience to the Great Commission, is an inescapable imperative. A definition of world evangelisation that has won assent from Christians of all stripes was memorably summarised in ‘The Lausanne Covenant’ - affirmed by the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation in 1974 - “Evangelisation requires the whole Church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world”.
The three wholes embodied in this ringing phrase had been part of Christian discourse long before John Stott drafted ‘The Lausanne Covenant’. Indeed, one might argue they go back to the Apostle Paul, if not to Abraham himself, but just to keep the conversation within living memory, a stirring statement by the Dutch theologian Willem Adolph Visser ’t Hooft in 1961 proves the point:
“The command to witness to Christ is given to every member of His Church. It is a commission given to the whole Church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world. When the Church recognises that it exists for the world, there arises a passionate concern that the blessings of the Gospel of Christ should be brought to every land and to every man and woman.”
The whole Gospel
The command to witness to Christ is given to every member of His Church. When the Church recognises that it exists for the world, there arises a passionate concern that the blessings of the Gospel of Christ should be brought to every land and to every man and woman. The whole Church means every member. The whole world means every man and woman. The whole Gospel means all the blessings of the Gospel.
That is surely better than some missionaries taking some blessings of the Gospel to some people in some parts of the world. The phrase ‘the whole Gospel’ suggests there may be some versions of the Gospel that are less than whole - that are partial, deficient, less than fully Biblical.
consider the entire bible
First, we must give full weight to the spiritual realities of sin and evil, and we must evangelistically proclaim the glories of God’s redemptive achievement in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
There would be no Gospel without the Cross. Indeed all blessings of the Gospel derive from it, from personal salvation through Christ’s death in our place to the reconciling of all creation. The Cross is at the heart of The Lausanne Movement, and the theme around which the Cape Town Congress revolves is “God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself”.
The whole Gospel must be drawn from the whole Bible. So we have to ask what contribution the social, economic, and political dimensions of the Old Testament make to Christian mission. For centuries the God of the Bible revealed His passionate concern for social issues: political tyranny, economic exploitation, judicial corruption, the suffering of the poor and oppressed, the evils of brutality and bloodshed.
So passionate, indeed, that the laws God gave and the prophets God sent addressed these very matters more than any other issue except idolatry (they regarded such things as idolatry’s tangible manifestations). Meanwhile the psalmists regularly cried out in songs of social protest and lament that we tend to screen out.
Unfortunately one can still detect a subtle (or occasionally, not subtle at all) sense that somewhere between Malachi and Matthew, all that changed. Is it possible that such things no longer claim God’s attention or spark God’s anger?
god of the old and the new
This is the same disdain for the Hebrew Scriptures that the Church condemned in the second-century heretic Marcion. It makes the alleged God of the New Testament almost unrecognisable as the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel.
This alleged God has shed the passionate priorities of the Mosaic Law, and has jettisoned all the burden for justice that He laid on His prophets. The implications for mission are equally dramatic. For if the pressing problems of human society are of no concern to God, they have no place in Christian mission - or at most a decidedly secondary one.
a complete message
God’s mission, in this view, is simply getting souls to Heaven, not addressing society on earth. I find such a view of God and of mission to be unBiblical and frankly unbelievable, if one takes the whole Bible as the trustworthy revelation of the identity, character and mission of the living God.
The Christ-centred, Cross-centred redemptive truths of the New Testament do not nullify - rather, they complete - all that the Old Testament had already revealed about God’s comprehensive commitment to the wholeness of human life. As well as God’s relentless opposition to all that oppresses, spoils and diminishes human well-being, and God’s ultimate mission of blessing the nations, destroying evil, and redeeming His whole creation, for God’s own supreme Glory in Christ.
The Gospel as a whole then shows us God’s heart for His broken, suffering, wicked world. For the last and the least (socially, culturally and economically) as well as the lost (spiritually) - not that these really can be separated, since human beings are whole persons. For those who are dying eternally in their sins, but also for the causes of their premature dying in this world of hunger, disease, and war, and brutality of every kind.
For those who are without Christ, without God and without hope in the world, but who also, in that desperate spiritual condition, suffer all kinds of other lacks: the landless and homeless, the love-less and limb-less, the family-less and stateless.
For the creation itself, frustrated in its supreme goal of giving glory to its Creator, and groaning under the onslaught of human greed and violence. As Gospel people we must believe, live and communicate all that makes the Gospel the staggeringly comprehensive good news that it is. I hope The Global Conversation will show multiple examples of this conviction in action.
The whole church
In a quantitative sense, the expression ‘the whole Church’ insists that mission is the task of all Christians, not just of the clergy or professional missionaries, and that in itself is a necessary reminder. Mission is far too important to be left only to missionaries.
The Lausanne Covenant talks of our being ‘called out’ in order to be ‘sent out’. The whole Gospel of Jesus Christ is fully expressed only when the Church, Christ’s Body on earth, is faithfully fulfilling the three roles Christ Himself fulfilled on earth and for which He empowers us through His Spirit.
We are called to a priestly role in worship and in prayer; to a prophetic role in declaring God’s message and priorities to His world; and to a servant role. Only when these are practised together will we truly reflect God’s redeeming love for the world.
A Missional church
As we have seen, mission is integral to the existence of God’s people who are ‘called out’ for a purpose. What other kind of Church is there, than the one that God created for mission? A friend said to me recently, “Missional Church sounds to me like female women. If it’s not missional, it’s not Church.” As someone else said, “It’s not that God has a mission for His Church in the world; but that God has a Church for His mission in the world.”
the proof of the gospel
Secondly, we need to contrast the ideal of a ‘whole’ Church with the rampant lack of wholeness that fractures the Church everywhere. How can we bring the wholeness of the Gospel to our broken world unless we are demonstrating some level of its healing power in ourselves? Yet the Church is often rent with division and conflict over race, caste, tribe, gender, material goods, and so many other areas. The Church is not just the delivery mechanism of the Gospel. It is itself the product of the Gospel, and is to be the living, visible, proof of the ethically transforming power of the Gospel.
So the failures and abuses in the worldwide Evangelical community are, in the literal New Testament sense of the word, a massive scandal - a stumbling block to the Gospel being seen, heard and accepted. For that the only answer is repentance and reformation.
reaching the world
That very repentance will require invoking a third sense of ‘the whole Church’. We need the whole world Church, working with greater levels of mutual co-operation and partnership, North to South and East to West. There is a lot of listening to do, a lot of learning and un-learning. Our task across borders and boundaries is to do better, in Paul’s words, at accepting one another, counting others better than ourselves, and looking to their interests more than our own. A Global Conversation is indeed a good place to start, though not to end.
We can take the phrase ‘the whole world’ in a purely geographical sense, meaning every corner of the planet. Nowhere is not the mission field, including our own country. There are still very many unreached peoples in the world, many places where the name of Christ has never been heard.
All these are still urgent priorities for Christian evangelistic mission. The ends of the earth are still waiting. And today the ends of the earth may also be our next-door neighbour, or the migrant in our midst.
According to Paul, we are not going to be saved out of the created world, but along with it. But if our Bibles begin at Genesis 3 and end at Revelation 20, we are in danger of missing the whole point of God’s great story of the redemption of all creation.
We will think only of saving fallen sinners from final judgement, not about living in the present creation as those who, by being in Christ, bring the transforming values and prophetic truth of the new creation into the here and now.
What are the gods that surround us, and what is the Christ-like neighbour-loving response to those who worship them? We must not confine this to thinking only about the great ‘world faiths’. There are whole ideologies of secularism and atheism that need to be engaged, along with the idols of consumerism, patriotism, and hedonism that are happily thriving on the worship of those who claim to be disciples of Jesus.
Our responsibility is to the earth God entrusted to us, which God has reconciled to Himself through the Cross (Col1:20). If the planet was created by Christ, sustained by Christ and belongs to Christ as His inheritance, the least that we can do is to look after it properly.
Biblical stewardship of the earth should have been an Evangelical theme long before the threat of climate change turned it into a matter of self-preservation.
problems of The world
What kind of missional engagement should take place in relation to globalised economic trends and forces, massive migration, the Internet and new technologies, and all that goes on in the marketplace and public square, in business, politics, education, media, journalism, medicine, and the whole world of human work?
We are surrounded by myths and counter-myths that generate violence and justify violence in return. Apart from addressing the appalling scale of death and destruction that these idols produce, do we not have a responsibility to challenge and expose their falsehood and to ask what Gospel reality is implied by Jesus when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers”?
The list under this heading would be endless. But if the Gospel is good news in relation to all that sin has turned into bad news, then the Gospel must be big enough, and our mission must be wide enough, to include the transforming power of God in relation to disease, hunger, brutality, human trafficking, slavery, gender violence, poverty, injustice, ethnic cleansing, and all forms of tribal, caste and ethnic hatreds and oppression.
Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 are a wonderful summary of the theme of this article. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ...” .
The reconciling, redemptive ministry of Jesus sends out those whom He has called out. And we are sent out to bring the whole Gospel of God to the whole of God’s world. No single one of us can engage in everything such a holistic mission demands.
The same thought doubtless occurred to God, which is why He created the church with a multiplicity of gifts and callings, so that we can, as a whole Church bear witness to the whole Gospel in the whole world.
May this global conversation generate understanding and focused action, as we participate with God in His global mission.