Without the constant renewal of Christ’s peace in our hearts, our emphasis on simple living may be purely a matter of economics and even politics.
John Stott was the inspirator of the Lausanne Congress of World Evangelisation of 1974 and the drafter of the now famous Lausanne Covenant adopted during that gathering.
Article 9 set introduced the theme of simple lifestyle, which would become a major issue in the years to follow. Here is the full text, which reflects the global situation at that time:
9. The urgency of the evangelistic task
More than 2,700 million people, which is more than two-thirds of all humanity, have yet to be evangelized. We are ashamed that so many have been neglected; it is a standing rebuke to us and to the whole Church.
There is now, however, in many parts of the world, an unprecedented receptivity to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are convinced that this is the time for churches and para-church agencies to pray earnestly for the salvation of the unreached and to launch new efforts to achieve world evangelization.
A reduction of foreign missionaries and money in an evangelized country may sometimes be necessary to facilitate the national church’s growth in self-reliance and to release resources for unevangelized areas.
Missionaries should flow ever more freely from and to all six continents in a spirit of humble service. The goal should be, by all available means and at the earliest possible time, that every person will have the opportunity to hear, to understand, and to receive the good news.
We cannot hope to attain this goal without sacrifice. All of us are shocked by the poverty of millions and disturbed by the injustices which cause it. Those of us who live in affluent circumstances accept our duty to develop a simple life-style in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism (our italics).
In 1980, the Lausanne Movement that came out of this congress, organised the International Consultation on Simple Lifestyle, which led to the publication of An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle. (Lausanne Occasional Paper nr.20, 1980.)
It was a response to the challenge put forward in the Lausanne Covenant Article 9. The opening phrases set the tone:
Jesus our Lord summons us to holiness, humility, simplicity and contentment. He also promises us his rest. We confess, however, that we have often allowed unholy desires to disturb our inner tranquility. So without the constant renewal of Christ’s peace in our hearts, our emphasis on simple living will be one-sided…
Our Christian obedience demands a simple life-style, irrespective of the needs of others. Nevertheless, the facts that 800 million people are destitute and that 10,000 die of starvation every day make any other life-style indefensible..
While some of us have been called to live among the poor, and others to open our homes to the needy, all of us are determined to develop a simpler life-style. We intend to re-examine our income and expenditure, in order to manage on less and give away more.
We lay down no rules or regulations, for either ourselves or others. Yet we resolve to renounce waste and oppose extravagance in personal living, clothing and housing, travel and church buildings.
We also accept the distinction between necessities and luxuries, creative hobbies and empty status symbols, modesty and vanity, occasional celebrations and normal routine, and between the service of God and slavery to fashion.
Where to draw the line requires conscientious thought and decision by us, together with members of our family. Those of us who belong to the West need the help of our Third World brothers and sisters in evaluating our standards of spending.
Those of us who live in the Third World acknowledge that we too are exposed to the temptation to covetousness. So we need each other’s understanding, encouragement and prayers.
The Consultation was conscious Christian simplicity embraces much more than our economic life-style. It describes an inner attitude of humble joy and peace, by reducing the covetousness which breeds worry and tension (Luke 12:15).
This means that without the constant renewal of Christ’s peace in our hearts, our emphasis on simple living may be purely a matter of economics and even politics, and so be one-sided.
Christian obedience demands a simple life-style, irrespective of the needs of others. But the Declaration adds that…
…at the same time, the facts that 800 million people are destitute in various countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and that about 10,000 die of starvation every day—appalling statistics which seldom hit the headlines or disturb the affluent but should weigh heavily on the Christian conscience, make any other life-style indefensible. For when the facts of destitution are known, ignorance can no longer be pleaded as an excuse. The cries of the poor can no more be suppressed.
The Declaration elaborates in some detail how we can develop a simpler lifestyle. There is not a one size fits all model, because Christians live in different contexts (among the poor, or in affluent cities, in the West or in the East or in the Global South).
We should also recognise a diversity of callings. If not, there is the danger of legalism and regimentation, and of becoming judgmental towards others.
But for all the variety and differentiation of individual situations, the life-style debate should not become just word and speech rather than actions (1 John 3:18). So it was resolved that generally speaking,
We should renounce waste and oppose extravagance in personal living (am I buying it for self-image or status reasons?), clothing (how many outfits do I need?) and housing (will the new setting help make my thinking and living more biblical?), travel (is the journey really necessary?) and church buildings (motives for construction and renovation need to be examined with ruthless honesty).
Evert Van de Poll is co-editor of Vista.
Vista is an online journal offering research-based information about mission in Europe. Founded in 2010, each themed edition covers a variety of perspectives on crucial issues for mission. Download the latest edition or read individual articles here. This article first appeared in the march 2023 edition of Vista Journal.