Friday, November 5, 2010

Theological Fallout from the Lausanne Conference

The Third Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization was held in Cape Town last month. And while many reports coming from the conference are positive, there is one that is rather troubling. The Theology Working Group of the conference produced a statement that contains the following paragraph. Read it carefully.
We give thanks that the one Church that God has called into being in Christ is drawn from every nation, tribe, people and language, with the result that no single ethnic identity can any longer claim to be “God’s chosen people”. God’s election of Old Testament Israel was for the sake of the eventual creation of this multi-national community of God’s people, and the Old Testament itself envisages and anticipates it. We observed again how prominently 1 Peter applies terms and truths that were used in the Old Testament to describe Israel to the multi-ethnic community of those in Christ. It is vital that we strongly affirm, therefore, that while there are multiple ethnicities within the one church by God’s clear intention, no single ethnic group holds privileged place in God’s economy of salvation or God’s eschatological purpose. For this reason, we strongly believe that the separate and privileged place given to Jewish people today or to the modern Israeli state in certain forms of dispensationalism or Christian Zionism, should be challenged, inasmuch as they deny the essential oneness of the people of God in Christ.
The worldwide evangelistic enterprise of the past century took place, in large measure, through churches and parachurch organizations that held to a dispensational and premillennial perspective. And it was this theological perspective that motivated them to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Many in attendance at this Lausanne Conference continue to hold this theological position. In a document that is supposed to emphasize areas of commonality and unity among believers, it is troubling to find the writers calling on Christians to "challenge" those who see a future for the nation Israel in the eternal plan of God. Why did they choose to single out Israel, and those who support her? I believe it reveals the theological bias of those who composed the document.

But the statement not only divides evangelicals. It will be viewed as anti-Semitic by those within the Jewish community who view all Christians with suspicion. This document mirrors statements from the recent Roman Catholic synod on the Middle East that had clear anti-Semitic undertones. (See my blog, Are the Jews God's Chosen People?, from October 25.)

Finally, I'm concerned about the statement because it does a disservice to all the Old Testament promises to ethnic Israel--eternal promises that are based on the very character of God Himself. The framers of the document should heed Paul's words in Romans 9–11, which is the one New Testament passage that speaks directly to the relationship between ethnic Israel and the church in the overall outworking of God's plan of salvation. Paul's words are instructive. "But I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:25-26a). And when will ethnic Israel experience this redemption? When "the Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins" (vv. 26b-27). Paul looks toward the return of the Messiah and the fulfillment of God's New Covenant promises to "Jacob" (a clear reference to ethnic Israel) as the time when Israel will experience full national salvation.

It looks to me as if Paul is clearly teaching ethnic Israel will someday have "a privileged place in God's economy of salvation." I'll stick with Paul on this one!


  1. Amen & amen, Dr. Dyer! How do we help you spread this very well put blog post everywhere/to everyone in our circles? - Diane Velasco

  2. Charlie when I got this info I was in Colorado Springs at the Navigators Headquarters for a conference. I had Dr jerry White, Chairman of the board for Navs and a board member of Lausanne. He was not aware of this statement and told me he will check this out and get back with me. I will keep you posted. Wayne Belt