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Cape Town Document 2001




In 1997 the 23rd General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) invited its member churches and the other ecumenical communions to embark on a process of recognition, education, confession and action regarding economic globalization. The process was named "Covenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth".

Consequently, WARC has embarked on a quest to find the theological centre of the social and environmental problem of economic globalization. The destruction of the environment and the exclusion of millions from the global market became the focal points.

The WARC Executive Committee (Bangalore, 2000) mandated the Department of Cooperation and Witness to organize a theological consultation to help member churches and the wider ecumenical family to understand the theological basis of the process. In order to fulfil the mandate, a small consultation was held from 26 to 31 March 2001 in Cape Town, South Africa, involving mainly theologians from churches with confessing experiences. This document is a summary of the results of the consultation. In addition to clarifying the theological basis of the process, it also suggests how member churches could be engaged in the covenanting movement with respect to economic injustice and ecological destruction.

The full report is available at the WARC offices in Geneva, Switzerland.


We recognize that the global economic system justifies itself and seeks to replace God's sovereignty over life. It does this through six separate but integrated actions: economic exclusion, economic speculation, political erosion, military protectionism, cultural control and domination for profit.

• Economic Exclusion

The phenomenon of exclusion is already seen in the desperation that people feel in the face of economic globalization. God's gift of the "fullness of life" in Jesus Christ (John 10.10) is threatened everywhere in the world. "The lethal combination of pervasive poverty and unemployment has resulted in the exclusion of 1.3 billion people from active participation in the economic, political, social and cultural life of their communities and countries. The phenomenon of exclusion has contributed to the disintegration of society" (Leonor M. Briones at the 23rd General Council).

The exclusion of people from the global economy is taking place at a time when the accumulated global wealth is larger than ever before in the history of humankind. Exclusion is a double-edged sword: it impacts humanity as well as nature. Capital growth for a few owners of property and finances has become more important than life.

• Economic Speculation

The Bible claims that God has graciously bestowed the earth and its people with enough resources that all may have life. The present economy is based on economic speculation that moves money to markets where it could grow fastest neglecting the humanitarian and ecological cost. Money is used to speculate in order to grow profits without any regard for the humanitarian economic mandate. Many people have warned that the market has been turned into a casino by unscrupulous professionals. All elements of life have been turned into commodities for speculation. A few get extremely rich while the majority suffer hunger, poverty related illnesses, despair, violence, death and destruction. Money takes the form of Mammon and claims the sovereignty that belongs to God.

• Political Erosion

In order to ensure that money continues to move free from intervention, politics are dominated by the rich countries and generally lead by the USA. They use undemocratic international institutions like the G8-summits, IMF, World Bank and the WTO to weaken the political control of the nation-states over national economies. These instruments of the money market demand extending deregulation, the liberalization of markets, the reduction of taxes, reduction in public, social security and health spending by governments. The democratic sovereignty of people is eroded as the global market forces weaken the nation-state politically.

• Military Protectionism

The military receives a new mandate, which is to protect the interests of the moneyed classes instead of its initial calling to preserve justice and peace for the people. In God's sovereignty God has provided the power of the sword so that a government could fulfil its role as the deacon in society (Romans 13). Military protectionism for the free movement of money has sacrificed the biblical responsibility of the state for its own peoples - especially in poorer countries.

• Cultural Control

The Media plays a crucial role in the unabated march of economic globalization throughout the world. It creates a certain spirituality that claims the hearts and minds of people in the glorification of money. The hearts and minds are then directed towards a consumer mentality, individual success, competition with others and measuring life in terms of money. People, therefore, come under Cultural control. Such control contradicts God's sovereignty, which enhances life, calls for solidarity, and measures life by love and fullness rather than accumulation.

• Domination for Profit

The unlimited growth of money in the industrial economy depletes natural resources and threatens the environment. The engineering of genes and food serves the maximization of profits rather than the needs of the poor and exploited.

Together these six actions of economic globalization create specific mechanisms of control to exercise its global power and dominance. Unprecedented suffering, socio-economic exclusion and destruction of the earth results from the enactment of such free-floating power.


The churches always carefully scrutinized the combination of money and power. This caused Christians and their churches to judge the slave trade as against the will of God and Apartheid as a contradiction of the gospel. We come to this realization as we learn from the voices of excluded people. We hear that the current global economic power does not aim at the preservation of life, the restoration of human dignity, the building of the common good or stewardship of creation. We have been learning about the life centredness of the economy, its biblical mandate, and the security of people as we continue to learn more with our partners.

• Learning about a life-centred economy

"We are challenged by the cry of the people who suffer and by the groaning of creation." (Debrecen Proceedings, p.198).

In listening to the cries of the people, in critically analysing the present system and looking for resistance and alternatives we can build on the rich heritage of the Bible. Here we see the vision of the manna economy (Ex 16) which is also a community economy: God provides enough for the life of God's people every day. Nobody shall gather more than they need.

Besides the prophetic critique in Israel (1 Kings 21, Isa 5.8) we find attempts to socially and legally regulate the economy, for example in the Covenant Code (Ex 21-23). The fundamental teaching of Leviticus 25 is that God owns the land as means of production and also the people. Therefore no human being shall have absolute ownership and commodify the land, or should enslave a brother or sister. No interest could be taken on loans. Goods pawned by the poor should be given back when life is endangered. The Sabbath was given to protect the workers and the land from exploitation. To avoid economic tragedies slaves must be released, debts forgiven and the land redistributed periodically (Sabbath year and Jubilee).

• Learning about human security

The Bible understands God's laws, and particularly those relating to economy, as geared towards life ("…let them live with you" Lev 25.36). "You shall observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely" (25.18). This also shows that life is not only dependent on food, but on human security.

Human security must not be equated with military might.

When a system gets totalitarian, outright resistance is required (Dan 3). Jesus himself attacks the economic centre of the temple exploiting the people through the sacrifice system, by direct symbolic action (Mk 11).

• Learning about the mandate of the economy

The vision of the economy of a caring God, prophetic critique, social and legal regulation of the economy, and resistance are various forms of the basic biblical view: the economy's mandate is life in fullness for all people and communities. Where this is not followed we can expect suffering, dehumanization and death.

• Learning in partnership

We accept this challenge in deep humility and in continuity with our own Reformed tradition. However, we accept this challenge also in attentiveness to other traditions. Our learning comes from our partnerships with many, secular movements as well as religious bodies of different faiths. Within Christianity, the Catholic Bishops' Pastoral Letter on Economy, issued in the United States of America already in the 80s and positions of other world ecumenical bodies, such as the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches, CEC, AIPRAL, CCA, AACC, remind us that our vocations belong together as we ecumenically covenant for economic justice in the economy and the earth.


The Debrecen call to speak out on economic justice comes from the Spirit, is guided by Scripture and informed by the Reformed heritage. We therefore learn also from John Calvin, the Barmen Declaration (Germany) and the Confession of Belhar (South Africa).

• Learning from John Calvin

John Calvin was intimately involved with the policy and practice of the political economy. In his teachings, Calvin attends to the role of money (now manifested in the financial market), the place of interest (now manifested in the unlimited quest for higher returns on investment), distributive justice and care for the poor. He didn't draw on a particular philosophical moral theory. Instead, he founded his engagement of economic issues in the theological idea of God's sovereignty and the imperative to follow the will of God in all matters, including the economy.

The Reformed tradition has four pertinent points of departure:

  • recognition of the sovereignty of God;
  • the commitment to faithful Christian life;
  • affirmation of the regulation of personal and social life according to God's will
  • the lordship of Christ and the freedom to transform the world
Calvin had no time for the idea of a value-free economy, for God wills justice and liberates the exploited. In his Institutes, Calvin openly argued that "The rich and powerful exploiting of their material edge to increase the poverty of the poor was equivalent to brigandage . Where and when evil is more rampant, Christians are called to seek more "potent remedy".

Calvin proclaimed: "God wills that there be proportion and equality among us, that is, each one is to provide for the needy according to the extent of one's means, so that no one has too much and no one has too little" (Quoted by Ronald H Stone, 38).

Calvin affirmed the vocation of Christians to struggle so that the "crying difference between rich and poor" ceases. Christians from the Reformed tradition have seen this vocation expressed in the biblical claim that God is the "helper of the helpless", the "father of the orphaned" and the "God of the widow". The Church has to follow God in this. This calls us to stand up against the power of Mammon as we seek to affirm the sovereignty of God.

Accepting God's sovereignty over our lives, we proclaim gladly that "We belong - body and soul, in life and in death - not to ourselves but to our faithful saviour Jesus Christ."(Declaration of Debrecen, Debrecen Proceedings, p.244).

• Learning from the Barmen Declaration, Germany

In recent memory the Reformed Community heard this Gospel again in a powerful, inspiring and challenging way through the words of the Barmen Theological Declaration (Thesis 2), originated in the context of the German Church Struggle:

"Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (1 Cor 1.30)

Just as Jesus Christ is God's assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God's mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords-areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

• Learning from the Confession of Belhar, South Africa

Standing within this tradition and in line with the historic decisions of WARC on Apartheid in Ottawa 1982, the Belhar Confession (1986) professed our beliefs concerning the unity of the church, the message of reconciliation and the justice of God. However, it is here, for the first time in recent Reformed history, that economic justice is expressed in terms of a formal confession of faith with the same standing as the Belgic Confession (Belhar Article 4):

We believe that God has revealed himself as the One who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among men; that in a world full of injustice and enmity He is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged and the He calls his church to follow Him in this; that he brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry; [...]

The Belhar Confession therefore concludes:

that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the Church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice [...]

that the Church as the possession of God must stand where He stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the Church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

• Learning from Debrecen

The General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches at Debrecen has taken up the cry of the victims and the vocation presented by the Reformed tradition. It called on WARC and its member churches: " to work towards the formulation of a confession of their beliefs about economic life which would express justice in the whole household of God and reflect priority for the poor, and support an ecologically sustainable future." (Debrecen)


A lot of work must still be done before the contents of a confession on economic globalization can be formulated. A confession should express the Word of God in context and its biblical basis must be clear for all to see. A confession should also be an expression of the faith that lives on the streets of or different contexts and in the hearts of Christians. Confessions arise out of a certain condition that requires a clear rejection of the false doctrine and practices. A confession brings institutional challenges because it has to be embodied by the Christian community.

• Rejecting Economic Exclusion

We believe and affirm that God's love embraces all living creatures, and the whole creation. God's promise of life is indeed cosmic (Gen 9). There can be no exclusion of any living creature from God's grace and love. In Christ there can be no barriers of separation and exclusion by the wealth, by the power, by the gender, by nationality, by culture and ethnic identity, by race, by ideology and religion or by any demarcation (Gal 3). The dispensation of the Holy Spirit permeates all peoples (the whole humanity), the whole of life, and the whole creation (Rom 8).

• Rejecting Ecological Destruction

We believe and affirm that "the God who creates, sustains, judges, reconciles and redeems is also the God who rests. In the Sabbath, creation is celebrated as God's companion. Creation needs rest. Land, air, forests and water need their renewal, regeneration and replenishment that comes from the biblical vision of the Sabbath day, the Sabbatical year and the Year of Jubilee. Sabbath celebrates God's intention that all creation be set free from exploitation. It is a vision of sufficiency, denying the right of a privileged few to exhaust the earth's finite resources. All are called to such a style of life in the spirit of Sabbath" (Debrecen).

• Breaking the Chains of Injustice

We believe and affirm that "the biblical meaning of Sabbath teaches us to practice the Sabbath as a witness to God's justice. In the full biblical picture humanity is an integral part of creation. Our work to break the chains of injustice is rooted in a vision of God's Sabbath, where all peoples, all cultures and life-forms can share in the celebration" (Debrecen Proceedings, p. 195).

• Affirming Life

We believe and affirm God's gift of abundant life remembering that Christ said: "I have come that they may have life in fullness" (Jn 10.10).


A confession cannot stand in abstraction. It must be given hands and feet so that the excluded peoples gratefully will see the many great works that God is doing in this world. Therefore, WARC will not only accompany the churches in coming to confession. It will also facilitate the covenanting process among them to heighten the effectiveness of the witness. As a covenanting movement member churches will commit themselves to resist economic injustice and ecological destruction, Struggle for transformation and give account of the hope that we have in Christ

In response to the experience of exclusion we can do no other than commit ourselves to the Gospel of life and ministry of embracing love. This embracing love is rooted in the very nature of the Trinity itself. God is a God who embraces God self within Gods very being. This embrace is acted out in the embrace of the cosmos, the earth, and all humanity. This is the theological grounding of the covenant with all the earth in Genesis 9, in which life is affirmed. We are able to embrace in love, because the God of life has first embraced us ourselves.

  • However, we are not alone in covenanting for justice in the economy and the earth. We stand in united action with all that share the same concern for life. There are many partnership organizations in the Social Forum, the ecumenical movement and in other faiths. Reformed people bring their own identity to bear on this partnership. The General Council in Debrecen declared: "We consider this affirmation of life, commitment to resistance, and struggle for transformation to be an integral part of Reformed faith and confession today" (Debrecen Proceedings, p.198).
  • Out of this embracing covenant we commit ourselves to:

1) Resist economic injustice and ecological destruction,

Listening to the call of the Triune God who, in a world full of injustice and enmity is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged (Ps 146; Lk. 6.20), and who calls the Church to follow in this, we commit ourselves to follow Christ in witnessing against any economic system which excludes, exploits, dehumanizes and endangers life.

We commit ourselves to resist social, political, economic and ecological practices, institutions and systems that cause exclusion and suffering in the one household of God and to seek the co-operation of others within the Ecumenical Community as well as peoples of other commitments and faiths to further justice, unity and reconciliation.

2) Struggle for transformation,

As members of the Reformed Tradition we again emphasize the need for constant reformation and renewal of ourselves, the church and the social structures of society (semper reformanda). We, therefore, commit ourselves to seeking alternatives to the current global economic reality. Debrecen has thus clearly confirmed "Our challenge is to redirect our economies under the sovereignty of our Lord, in the expectation of and preparation for God's coming". (Debrecen Proceedings, p.194).

3) Give account of the hope that we have in Christ

We are urged by the life-threatening suffering of people and the groaning of the earth and God's call to give account of the hope we have (1 Pet 3.15). We commit ourselves to a life driven by the conviction that humanity and nature form an undivided whole. In a world in which exclusionary practices threaten this very unity and lead to brokenness, suffering and death, in a world in which life in just and sustainable communities is endangered, we commit ourselves to confess in word and deed towards a solid unity, characterized by justice and reconciliation. Our hope is Jesus Christ, who promised life and fullness to all (Jn 10.10).


The first fruits of the Cape Town Consultation is now available to member churches and all the partners to consider its contents and ask with us:

  1. Do you share the viewpoint that the fragmenting and exclusive forces of economic globalization threaten also the churches' identity as a community, a body of Christ?
  2. How far do we share this process of recognition, learning, confession and covenanting for economic justice?
  3. How does the theological inquiry of the member church itself contribute to the deepening of the theological framework?
  4. How can we account for the hope of Christ in the context of economic globalization?
  5. Which notions, biblical witnesses and language would be suitable for a confession of this nature?


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