The Lausanne Conference, held late last month in Cape Town, South Africa, was accounted a great success — despite internet problems, one government’s opposition and some controversy. It has been touted by its organizers as “perhaps the widest and most diverse gathering of Christians ever held in the history of the church.” lausanne.org/cape-town-2010
The event had one central purpose: to give a global boost to the ‘Great Commission‘ – the resurrected Christ’s command that his followers make disciples of “all nations.” Canadian participation in the congress was significant.
According to Lausanne.org, Cape Town 2010 “drew 4,000 selected participants from 198 nations.” Additionally, “the Congress extended to an estimated audience around the world of a further 100,000 people through its GlobaLink sites… and drew 100,000 unique visits to its website from 185 countries.”
The Lausanne Movement originated in 1974, with a gathering of some 2,700 Christians in Lausanne, Switzerland. The event was convened by evangelist Billy Graham. The second Congress took place in the Philippines in 1989. The October 16-25 Cape Town gathering was the third such event – and, because of technological advances, had an immediate worldwide impact.
In addition to assessing the current state of the Great Commission, Lausanne III emphasized the importance of planning for new initiatives. This was exemplified by the ‘Cape Town Commitment‘ — a major, detailed statement on the future of worldwide evangelism.
In an interview prior to the event, Lausanne Movement international director Lindsay Brown outlined the complex process which shaped the Cape Town 2010 agenda. “We hosted about 15 or 20 consultations, covering every major region,” he said. “We asked them to consider the major spurs and impediments to evangelization in their region… We had enormous feedback. Three broad categories of concerns emerged – the gospel, the world we live in, and the work of the church. From these we identified six key issues.”
The themes of the conference thus became: Reconciliation; World Faiths; Priorities; Integrity; Partnership; and Truth. Regarding the latter, Brown highlighted the importance of “the truth of the Christian message and the uniqueness of Christ — and how the church can declare and defend the gospel in a pluralistic and relativistic world.”
Each of the event’s six days was planned to begin with a focus on one Bible book, according to Congress director Blair Carson: “We will be studying Ephesians as a global community. We want it to be a grounding for a whole new movement of communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Admonitions in advance
One notable Canadian evangelical leader made a key contribution to laying the groundwork for dialogue among Lausanne participants. David Wells, general superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, co-authored an Advance Paper entitled ‘Global Gospel, Global Era: Christian discipleship and mission in the age of globalization.’ Co- written by noted author Os Guinness, some of the paper’s exhortations stirred some controversy prior to the 2010 congress.
The paper featured a stern admonition: “Whenever individual Christians and local churches have become worldly through falling captive to their surrounding culture and especially to the spirit and systems of the modern world, they represent a ‘plausibility crisis’ for the gospel at best, and ‘hypocrisy’ at worst.”
The authors also cautioned believers to be wary of an over-reliance on technology. “Among common features of the age of communication are many severe handicaps to mission — for example, the dominance of the entertainment mode, the sound bite style, the sensationalist claims, the common appeal to feelings alone, the widespread ‘inattention’ of a world in which ‘everyone is talking and no one is listening,’ the ‘inflation’ of ideas and sources so that everything is ‘words, words, words.'”
They also decried “the general reliance on mediated communication, rather than on face-to-face communication that is patterned on the Incarnation [of Jesus]. To the extent that Christians use modern media uncritically, to that extent they reduce the gospel to being one more sales pitch among many.”
Wells and Guinness warned of “the lethal effect of secularization,” citing Christ’s famous response to Satan during the temptation in the desert. “‘Man does not live by bread alone,’ Jesus said, but thanks to the brilliance and power of modern insights and techniques, no generation has come closer to the illusion of being able to do so — including the ability to grow churches and conduct effective outreach on the strength of human ingenuity alone, and without any genuine need for God at all.”
Finally, they cautioned against the “Midas touch of consumerism,” stating: “In a world in which consumerism is the popular face of the dominant capitalist economy, marketing and ‘branding’ are essential to economic growth, and everything can be bought and sold as a ‘commodity,’ the gospel can easily be distorted when it is presented or perceived as a ‘product’ — and the stress on marketing can end up making ‘the audience’ sovereign over the message. At best, the result is shallow evangelism and a deficient discipleship. At worst, it is unfaithfulness to the gospel, and confusion and scandal to those we are trying to reach.”
A ‘curmudgeon’ responds
One blogger, who identifies himself only as ‘Watcher’s Lamp,’ took the authors to task for one statement.
In the Advance Paper, he maintained, “Christians who recognize globalism as an end times sign are cast as pit-fallen curmudgeons who apparently hold a distorted view of Christianity. Ironically, the authors reference the need for ‘accuracy and humility’ — yet exercise neither, as they marginalize believers.”
The blogger cited the following Wells/Guinness statement as offensive: “Needless to say, globalization poses a sharp challenge to both accuracy and humility, and we need to start by avoiding the two equal and opposite pitfalls into which so many fall: the excessive ‘Wow!’ attitudes of the cheerleaders and the excessive ‘gloom and doom’ of the curmudgeons (who in their Christian form view globalization as the precursor to ‘the end times’).”
Watcher’s Lamp responded: “The authors cast an aberrant shadow on these ‘curmudgeons’ by intimating that these Christians hold a distorted view of Christianity because ‘they’ associate globalism with end times prophecy. Really?
“The end times framing of globalism is not a figment of ‘the curmudgeons’ imaginations. The authors err in crediting these ‘curmudgeons’ with the origination of this ‘Christian form.’ The real credit belongs to the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation. These books reveal the rise of the Fourth Kingdom. These books define a one- world government to be ruled by the Anti-Christ, who makes war with the saints.”
The blogger concluded: “Though the authors encourage a biblical worldview, they fail to point the reader to the scriptures to discern today’s realities and the signs of the times. Instead, the case is made for the authors’ form of Christianity to undergird globalism and how to serve the world — a form of Christianity void of the prophetic portions of scripture that warn of the very threat the authors are petitioning other Christians to embrace.”
Guinness’ presentation at the congress also generated some disagreement (which will be highlighted in part 2 of this article).
Unity and prayer
For the most part, however, Cape Town 2010 was an exemplar of Christian unity. Part of the opening ceremony included greetings from two of the evangelical world’s stalwarts – both of whom said they would be praying for the event.
Billy Graham sent a brief letter noting the many ways the world is constantly changing, and stated: “One of your tasks during Cape Town 2010 will be to analyze those changes, and to assess their impact on the mission to which God has called us in this generation.” Anglican John Stott, one of the main authors of the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, sent a message noting the significance of Africa as the 2010 venue. “I pray that you will be able to share richly in the blessing God has poured out on the church in that continent, as well as sharing in the pain and suffering of his people there.”
The spirited opening to the event was captured by British blogger Krish Kandiah, executive director of Churches in Mission.
“The lights were dimmed and a hush fell on the 4,200 guests who were gathered around tables with six international guests each. On my table, I sat with a young pentecostal student from southern Sudan, the head of the Bible society in Jamaica, the leader of an ecumenical mission agency in Norway and a young Indian entrepreneur.
“The five huge screens show the panoramic views of the African landscapes, with jumping impala, galloping giraffes and smiling children — while flag carriers and drummers and a choir sing welcome to the gathered thousands. It’s an impressive visual feast. ‘Welcome to Africa’ is the take home message.”
As the Congress progressed, another blogger noted a significant phenomenon, or rather, a lack thereof. Writing for Christianity Today, Andy Crouch opined:
“One group is notably underrepresented: prominent figures associated with evangelical Christianity in the United States, especially pastors of large churches. Rather than name names, let me put it this way: pick a celebrated American evangelical church leader, especially one who founded his current congregation, and I will give you 5-1 odds that he… is not here, at least not as part of the official US delegation. For better and for worse, these absences tell us a lot about power, influence, innovation, and the future of global movements like evangelical Christianity.”
One key reason for this, Crouch noted, was the time factor. “For megapastors, platform time is the price of participation. Entrepreneurial pastors live to speak. Or perhaps more accurately and fairly, they live to influence, and they exercise much of their public influence by speaking. If they are not given a speaking slot, they are likely to conclude that their time can be better spent elsewhere.”
Further, he observed: “Innovation happens today in small distributed networks, not in large centralized meetings. Much of the most creative and innovative work being done in mission — both practice and theology — is happening in ad hoc networks made easier by inexpensive air travel and widespread internet access… Small networks are much more able to generate and disseminate genuinely novel ideas and practices, and one of the paradoxical geniuses of the megapastors is their ability to stay connected with small innovative networks even as they oversee large organizations.”
A more troubling absence had a palpable effect on those in attendance. The Chinese government refused to allow more than 200 invited Christian leaders to leave their home country for the event. The Lausanne website noted that the same thing had happened to the Chinese Christians who had hoped to attend the 1989 gathering in Manila.
The thwarting of the Chinese initiative was greeted with eloquent sorrow by Ugandan archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, honorary chair of the African Host Committee, who stated: “Our African leadership was looking forward to developing closer ties, friendship and mutual understanding with our Chinese brothers and sisters in a spirit of love, humility, fraternity and support. Not having them here is like not having Brazil at the World Cup — it is unimaginable. We want them to know that this community reflecting the worldwide body of Christ stands with them as they gather in spirit with us here.”
According to Lausanne.org, the Chinese still managed to participate, after a fashion.
“The leader of the Chinese group… sent a note, confirming they had accepted their government’s decision restricting travel to the Congress — quietly and with hope. He thanked those in attendance for their prayers, and assured prayers from their group for the meetings. In addition, the note contained scripture passages from brothers and sisters in China, which an East Asian woman read from the platform.
“These included Philippians 1:29, ‘For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also suffer for his sake.’ Others focused on enduring hardships sorrowfully, but with rejoicing; being slow to anger; and experiencing comfort in the midst of pain, knowing they have not been denied the truth found in the word of God.”
Further, the Chinese had provided a song, ‘The Lord’s Love for China.’ They had hoped to perform it in Cape Town; instead, the song was sung by all of those in attendance.
Lausanne.org concluded: “As in 1989 when Chinese invitees were disallowed from attending the Second Lausanne Congress in Manila, three East Asian leaders then led in special prayers for their Chinese brothers and sisters, as attendees rose and stood behind their empty chairs, symbolically gesturing that there are places at the table for each of them – and many more.”
One other sour note was sounded at Cape Town, because of technological interference.
On October 20, organizers declared that hackers had succeeded in disrupting their internet connection to the outside world.
As Lausanne.org reported, this affected a huge audience. “‘We have 700 GlobaLink sites in 95 countries, extending the Congress to 100,000 people’, said Victor Nakah, GlobaLink chair for the Congress. The sophisticated computer network developed for sharing Congress content with the world was compromised for the first two days of the Congress.
“‘We have tracked malicious attacks by millions of external hits coming from several locations’, said Joseph Vijayam, IT Chair of The Lausanne Movement, sponsor of the gathering. ‘Added to this was a virus brought into the centre on a mobile phone.’
“Asked if he could confirm where the hacking came from, he replied, ‘We have a pretty strong indication, but one can never be absolutely certain, so we prefer not to share our suspicions.'”
After two days of uncertainty, communication was restored.
Read the second part of this report…