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Reflections on the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town

In October of last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town. It truly was an historic event. Organizers tried to gather a proportionate representation of the global evangelical church. 4,000 participants from 198 nations participated in the Congress.

The focus of the Lausanne movement is: the Whole Church taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World. Sadly, for much of those involved in the movement, the “whole church” has only meant “evangelical church,” the “whole gospel” has predominantly meant “personal salvation,” and the “whole world” has primarily meant “individuals.” This Congress in Cape Town seemed to address these issues and took steps in correcting the direction of the movement.

Although women were underrepresented as a proportion of the global church membership, the 30% present probably represents the ratio of those in formal leadership in evangelical churches. The organizers also did a good job in gathering participants from the Majority World. In 2004 I participated on a Lausanne forum in Pattaya, Thailand in which a disproportionate number of the “representatives” were white, western male. The diversity that was sought for this Congress in Cape Town was obvious.

But the Congress did not only seek gender and ethnic diversity. There was also a wide range of theological convictions. Although the differences sometimes seemed to clash as they competed for the dominant agenda (like “unreached peoples” or “children”), it is a testimony to the Lausanne movement as well as to the participants that they could come together to worship, to pray, and to discuss the church’s vocation in the world. I was also impressed that the organizers invited non-evangelical Christians to participate as “observers.” There was a delegation from the Vatican and representatives from the Orthodox and Coptic Churches. In my conversations with some of these observers, their feedback was predominantly positive.

Personally, I felt unworthy to be in a place with so many amazing people. I sat around the table with a woman leader from Egypt, a pastor from Sudan, a professor from Brazil, a township worker from South Africa, a pastor from Mozambique, and a youth leader from India. I was also able to meet authors that I had read and respected, like Ron Sider, Rene Padilla, Dewi Hughes and Peter Kuzmic. I felt unworthy to be in the same place as these.

The themes of the Congress that were presented each day were: Truth, Reconciliation, World Faiths, Priorities, Integrity and Partnership. I will post some of these presentations in future blog posts.

The theological focus group also presented the Cape Town Commitments. At the first Lausanne Congress in 1974, they produced the Lausanne Covenant. At the second Congress in 1989, they produced the Manila Manifesto. Both of these documents focused on the Great Commission: Go into all the world making disciples of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. The Cape Town Commitments takes its starting point from the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God will all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. It is a necessary compliment to the earlier statements of faith and a beautiful document.

One evening Rene Padilla was given a few minutes to address the Congress. He succinctly identified three points in which the evangelical church has been neglectful and that it must address: confronted by mass conversion and mega-church growth, Padilla called for radical discipleship; in the face of globalization and poverty, he called for a gospel that addressed the physical and psychological as well as spiritual needs; and in the face of ecological destruction, Padilla called on the church to care for creation. Although brief, Padilla’s astute vision gives necessary direction to the future of the Lausanne movement.

Let me tell you what some of the highlights were for me. Just being part of the global conversation was a gift. To be able to hear the perspectives, concerns and challenges of sisters and brothers from across the globe was something I don’t think I would have received had I not been there. In the middle of the week, participants had a day off. I was able to participate in a Peace Pilgrimage in which we were led through Cape Town by Peter Storey, a pastor who worked with Desmond Tutu in resisting Apartheid. It was inspiring to see the church’s resistance from within the oppression and to listen to Pastor Storey weep as he told of God’s protection and guidance through those years. Sadly, the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town failed to address the reality the church’s complicity with and resistance towards Apartheid, but a statement was eventually produced and circulated amongst the participants for their signatures. On the final evening of the Congress, there was no plenary speaker but simply a beautiful liturgy, which culminated with communion. I was fortunate to receive the blessing, the broken bread and the wine from Rene Padilla’s hand. This spoke more than anyone’s words could.

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About Fragments & Reflections

David Chronic

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