The Cape Town Commitment: The Inside Story

Early in 2009, Lindsay Brown, international director of The Lausanne Movement, proposed that there should be a statement from Cape Town 2010 that would comprise a clear statement of evangelical Christian faith, and a clear call to action from Lausanne and the gathering to the world Church. There followed some months of discussion with myself as chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group, and members of that group, which include representatives from the World Evangelical Alliance, reflecting on the shape and purpose of such a document.

The Beginnings of a Long Journey
In December 2009, Lindsay convened a conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, hosted at John Piper’s church (Bethlehem Baptist), to which a representative group of theologians was invited (eighteen women and men from each of Lausanne’s global regions). Each person was recommended by the Lausanne international deputy directors.

Preparation for the meeting included compiling and reading significant evangelical documents written since 1966, from Lausanne and wider, to remind ourselves of the recent heritage and tradition in which we stand. The meeting was chaired by Sinclair Ferguson, and I was appointed to be recording secretary.

Many of the Lausanne senior leaders were also present. There was extended discussion on the shape of the desired document and the thrust of its content. Some initial, but inconclusive drafting was done by a small committee of the larger group. As Cape Town 2010 came to a close, I was invited to prepare a draft document that would be circulated to the Minneapolis group for comment and revision. I accepted this responsibility with great trepidation, but with the warm encouragement by many in the group.

Hearing the Voice of God
So it was that I found myself early in January 2010 driving the five hours from London to The Hookses, John Stott’s writing retreat cottage in Wales, to spend a week alone working on the requested draft. As I drove, I prayed in some desperation, “Lord, how is this thing to be done? How should it be structured? What is the primary, fundamental message that it needs to carry?”

It was as if I heard a voice replying, “The first and greatest commandment is: ‘Love the Lord your God….’ and the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” Then a whole bundle of other “love” texts came tumbling into my mind like a waterfall. I thought, Could we frame a statement in the language of covenant love—love for God, for Jesus, for the Bible, for the world, for one another, for the gospel, for mission….?

As I drove, I sketched an outline in my mind, and when I arrived at Hookses, I phoned John Stott, shared what I was thinking, and asked if he thought it could work. He not only thought it could, but strongly encouraged me to follow the idea through. Somehow, it felt that an idea born in a moment of prayer, and then approved by John Stott, was perhaps on the right lines!

I spent that week in January creating a first draft, and then sent it back to the Lausanne leadership and the Minneapolis group of theologians for comment and refinement. There followed several months in which I got a lot of feedback and the document was extended and revised with their helpful comments and advice, including wider input from others, such as the Lausanne Theology Working Group.

At that point, a smaller group of eight was appointed to be the official Cape Town Statement Working Group, with myself as chair. had been present in Minneapolis, with one or two additions, and again, every continent was represented. When the Lausanne leadership met in Cape Town in May 2010 for the final preparations for the event, some of this group met with me, and we went through the document line by line. It was also at this time that two other key decisions were made.

  • The format of the Cape Town Commitment would be in two parts. Part I would be the document we had virtually finished—the Commitment of Faith, or our statement of core Christian belief. Part II would be generated at the Congress itself, out of all that would be said there, and would be our Call to Action.
  • There would be no formal adoption of the Commitment, or signing ceremony (as at Lausanne 1974) within the Cape Town program itself. However, participants would be given a draft of Part 1 at the Congress, and some of its key themes would be woven into the liturgy of the closing ceremony as an affirmation of it in the context of worship.

From July to September 2010, I asked all those who were due to speak in plenary sessions, or leading multiplexes, to send me as much advance materials as possible, particularly the outcomes they hoped for and the challenges they wanted to express. All of this was shared with our Statement Working Group, so that when we assembled in Cape Town, we had some sense of the scale of the task facing us.

A Daunting Task in Cape Town
Nothing, however, quite prepared us, as a Statement Working Group, for the sheer volume of “stuff” we had to deal with. We were told that we were not to think of ourselves as just reporters trying merely to record everything. We were tasked to discern what was significant, what the Congress as a whole was in some way agreeing on.

We sought to listen for the voice of the Lord coming through the deluge of voices in all the plenaries and groups. And “deluge” it was. It was like standing under the Niagara Falls trying to catch it in a bucket. Since there were eight of us, each day at the Congress we divided ourselves up so that there were usually two at each multiplex. We also selected as many of the dialogue sessions as we could.

For the plenary sessions, we met together in a room, and were provided with all facilities, including a monitor with a live feed of all the sessions. We formed our own table group and were able to discuss and respond to all that happened on stage. Each day, we tried to begin some writing of key themes and “calls to action” emerging from the day’s events. I tried not to go to bed until I had a preliminary idea of an outline for what we would eventually have to develop for that day’s input.

We had chosen to use the six Congress themes as the architecture for Part II of the Commitment, and to group all that seemed important to include within those broad themes. It had been my fond hope that we might have been able to have some draft statement ready by the final day of the Congress, but by Day 3 that hope had been blown out of the water. There was simply no time or space for the necessary crafting of words, sentences, and paragraphs within the constant pressure of the Congress itself.

By the end of the week, I had bulging folders in my laptop for each of the six days, full of all the original scripts from presenters, the input from the reflections of my team, and all the suggestions that had come from participants in emails. Alongside all these raw materials was some initial verbal scaffolding that we hoped would eventually enable an adequate building to arise. When people asked me how the Statement was progressing, all I could say by the end of the Congress was that it looked like a building site with tons of construction materials lying around, waiting for an architect and builders to do their work.

A Document Completed
In the weeks following the Congress, in the midst of a return to a heavy travel schedule and responsibilities with the Langham Partnership International, I worked whenever I could on each section, sharing the results with the group and getting feedback and editorial help.

By the end of November, I sent a first completed draft of Part 2 to the group and to the Lausanne senior leadership. This was followed by the detailed process of trimming it down to a more manageable size, with the help of Julia Cameron and her team of proofreaders. Eventually, we were able to release the full Cape Town Commitment, Parts 1 and 2, in January 2011.

It is the end of an amazing journey and an immensely demanding task for all of us involved in it. We can only pray that it will express something of the “voice of Cape Town,” but more importantly, something of what the Holy Spirit wanted to say through that event, and still wants his people to hear.

The full Cape Town Commitment can be viewed here:

Dr. Chris Wright, from Northern Ireland, taught in India and at All Nations Christian College, U.K., and then followed John Stott in leadership of the Langham Partnership International. His books include The Mission of God (IVP Academic, 2006) and The Mission of God’s People (Zondervan, 2010). Wright is chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group.