The Cape Town Commitment’s Relevancy: A Danish Perspective

Yesterday it was time for the annual dust-off of my office. In the corner, I stumbled across a pile of memories that immediately struck a deep and sentimental chord in my heart: my papers from the Cape Town 2010 gathering.

Cape Town 2010 was an experience of a lifetime. But is it more? Is Cape Town 2010 something for today? And does it have an impact on our local region?

These are by far the most vital questions to ask in the aftermath of the congress. In our Danish delegation we initially did what many others did: created as much hype about the meeting as possible through interviews, articles, photo reports, etc. And it worked—for a month or so. But it soon slipped away in the stream of news. After all, who wants to hear tales and anecdotes from a past meeting? How do we transform the Cape Town 2010 “was” to an “is” with enduring impact on our country and congregations?

We believe The Cape Town Commitment to be the best answer. Through the gracious help of a translator and publisher, we have put the full text into Danish and published it in both a free e-version and as an inexpensive booklet. Church leaders from across our region are blogging through the Commitment bit by bit on our Cape Town blog. The feedback we’re getting from church leaders is amazement over the profoundness of this document.

But in what way is the Commitment able to address our country, churches, and ways of life?

Here is a mental picture which came to mind during Cape Town 2010: Imagine that the world is not round, but is instead a triangle with a horizontal baseline and long legs meeting in the skies. At the bottom you have the worst living conditions—endemic poverty, slavery, death by minor disease, etc. As you move to the top, all this fades away. Here (almost out of the triangle), you find the kind of living conditions I was born into in Denmark. I cannot even begin to imagine how unbelievably protected a life I am living as a white, middle-class, thoroughly churched and family-secured person.

This kind of life shapes my Christianity. It shapes my reading of the Bible.

The Commitment forces me to deal with my blind spots. It draws a picture of our beliefs from the entire Bible and a picture of our churches from the entire world. It is like a mirror that provides no safe haven for any of us, but instead strongly urges us into reformation of our heads, hearts, and hands on the basis of God’s love for us.

A Robust Gospel
The Commitment calls us to let go of a small and selective gospel and be embraced by the all-encompassing robust gospel Jesus taught us—the one that not only calls us to believe, but also to be, obey, share, and go (from the Commitment Preamble).

This emphasis is not new. It has been heard before and occasionally stirred some dust into the air. But for three reasons I think the Commitment will have a long-lasting impact:

  1. It has Christ at the centre. A robust gospel with strong emphases on the horizontal applications needs all the more to be thoroughly and squarely grounded on the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ’s death and resurrection is like a chorus throughout the Commitment.
  2. It has the full Bible as its base. The way in which the Commitment quotes and alludes to the grand story of the Bible from the Old Testament through the New Testament is amazing. The Commitment is intoxicated by the Bible—not with just a few verses here and there, but the full story.
  3. It looks reality in the eyes—that of the world as well as the church. Try and count the acute crises the Commitment mentions by name and you will find the list very long. The Commitment refuses to hide behind pious preaching and detached truths.

A New World Arising
This combination is exactly what is needed, not least in the West, which might very well be in the midst of one of the biggest turnarounds and downfalls in modern history. A new world is arising in which Europe will no longer be prosperous and protected beyond measure.

We who have been living in a protected glass house will soon face realities that have been familiar to the rest of the world and to history.

The question is as simple as it is all-encompassing: Will we—will our churches—step into the robust gospel of the Bible—the “both/and” gospel—the vertically-based and horizontally-applied gospel?

It is not the Commitment that gives us this call. It is the love of God.

Morten Hørning Jensen is associate professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Aarhus and part-time pastor in the church, Aarhus Valgmenighed.