The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation was held in Cape Town International Convention Centre from 17-24 October 2010. It had 4,000 invited participants from 198 nations, extended through GlobaLink sites to 90 countries. The theme was 'God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself' (2 Cor. 5:19).
Participants were chosen by selection committees at the national level to represent the whole evangelical church within each nation. The number of invitations allocated to each nation directly correlated to the evangelical Christians within its borders. Approximately 60% of participants were under 50 years of age, 35% were women, and no less than 10% work in secular professions. About 65% of the participants came from the majority world. There were 150 participants from India; it was a pleasant surprise to see that many of them were freshers, mostly youngsters. Some of the streams of evangelicals were, however, not well represented.
Among those selected were leaders from mission agencies, the Church, academia and the marketplace. Observers from other Christian traditions included the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and the World Council of Churches. This gathering was the most representative of Christian leadership and was the most united expression of God's love for mankind. The unity, diversity and vitality of the word-wide Church were on dramatic display in Cape Town. It was sad that the majority of the Chinese delegates could not attend the Congress. The participants knelt by their chairs to signify solidarity with the Chinese not able to participate.
Cape Town 2010 was a global Congress not only in participation, but also in funding. Substantial gifts came from each continent-much given sacrificially to support the travel and registration costs of participants, and the general costs of the Congress. Most of the volunteers and stewards, also drawn globally, covered their own costs and gave their time to enable the smooth running of the Congress behind the scenes. Simultaneous translation was available.
The Lausanne Movement began through the vision of Billy Graham, who convened the International Congress on World Evangelisation in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July 1974. The Lausanne Covenant, issued from that Congress, is widely regarded as one of the most significant documents in recent church history. The seed planted by Billy Graham at the 1974 Lausanne Congress led to the 1989 Congress in Manila and the 2010 Congress in Cape Town. The Third Lausanne Congress was held in collaboration with the World Evangelical Alliance.
Billy Graham, in his message, said: 'One of your tasks during Cape Town 2010 will be to analyse the changes, and to assess their impact on the mission to which God has called us in this generation. By obeying Christ's command to preach the Gospel, we will meet the deepest need of the human heart.' He hoped the Congress will increase the burden of the participants for the dying world.
The sessions covered core issues: Truth, Reconciliation, World Faiths, Priorities, Integrity, and Partnerships. In each session, a number of speakers addressed the topic from their ministry experience and cultural perspective. The sessions started every day with a powerful exposition from Ephesians. This was followed by Table Group discussions, a unique experience of learning in a global community.
Ajith Fernando, speaking from Ephesians 1, pointed out that we are adopted as God's children to be holy and to bring glory to God. The riches of God's glory are lavished on us. He said that the Gospel is cosmic in scope and evangelism is only the entry point. Discipleship is the real requirement of the Great Commission. Quite often we have surrendered to the culture, because that is what people can easily understand. It is necessary to realise that God has a plan for the universe and we should accept God as supreme. Os Guinness pointed out that at first sight, the Biblical view of truth is arrogant, exclusive, intolerant, divisive, judgemental, reactionary, and obscene to modern minds. On a deeper look, the Biblical view is profound, timely, and urgent for today, even for those who reject it. Regardless of what the world thinks, we worship and serve the God of truth, whose word is truth.
Ruth Padilla DeBorst reminded the audience that even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ. A community of Christ's followers has now become God's work of art, God's masterpiece; value and beauty are granted to us. As in the beginning, God again granted purpose to humankind. Our reign with Christ in the heavenly places is to be given concrete, historical expression in our ethical behaviour here and now. Good works are a mark of new life and faithful discipleship. We cannot but ask, do we envision ourselves as living stones that must fit together with others in order to compose God's living place?
The study was good and many felt that such studies should be introduced in all congregations. Though the components of Inductive Bible Study were mentioned in the very first session, the usefulness of the method was not demonstrated. A multiplex on Inductive Bible Study would have been very helpful for the participants from the different countries to continue the study using this simple method in their settings.
In Inductive Bible study, Bible is used as the primary source. As we observe what the text says, interpret its meaning in context and understand it in the light of other Scripture portions, and apply the meaning of the text in our lives, transformation is bound to take place. Quite often, we use Bible texts, taken out of context, to prove a point; this should not be so. Individuals and congregations should be encouraged to undertake inductive Bible studies, interactively in small groups. When the world sees transformation in the lives of Christians, when they observe our new life-style, problems that we face internally and externally in the churches will tend to disappear. The concerns that we try to address separately will cease to exist. Then we will live as living stones fitting together with others.
Joseph Dísouza pointed out that at this time in history, racism and discrimination are more prevalent than ever. Very few people realise that there is more slavery today in our world than there was at the time of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He pointed out that 250 million people are outcasts of Indian society. Of the 27 million slaves in the world today, the vast majority are in India. In 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went public before a watching world and said, 'Yes, we have a problem and millions suffer discrimination. The only comparison to what we are facing is the apartheid system in South Africa.' D'souza also quoted Rahul Gandhi, 'Caste-ism is worse than racism.' This is the challenge that the Church in India and the Church around the world face.
He pointed out that 25% of India's population, or 250 million people, have no rights, are segregated, and experiencing apartheid in India. We hang our heads with shame because this problem includes Christianity. On September 13, 2010, the BBC telecast pictures of a church graveyard in India. On the left side was the place for upper caste Christians. On the right side, the other Christians were buried. A wall divides them. The caste system continues even in death.
But they have cried out to the Church, to the world, and their requests are for specific things. The first was 'free our children.' Currently, there are 15 million children in bondage across the nation. The second cry of the Dalits was 'free our women.' The third cry was 'be aware.' The last cry is to 'bring an alternate society,' which Jesus Christ promised the Church. Wherever the Gospel has flourished, it has done so when Christians have done the right thing, the morally courageous thing, and challenged caste, racism, slavery and the division of human society. Nothing but the concerted action of the global Church will bring down human civilisation's longest lasting slave system.
During the plenary session on integrity, it was emphasised that we cannot build the Kingdom of God, the God of truth, on the foundations of dishonesty. Telling lies about our success, or accepting what we know to be questionable statistics in order to get or to grant funding for our projects is nothing short of bowing down to the idolatry of manipulated success. Many Christian leaders simply cannot resist the temptations of elevated status, manipulated success, and selfish greed. "There are self-appointed super apostles and mighty elevated leaders, unaccountable to anybody else, unconcerned for the weak or poor, showing none of the marks of the Apostle Paul and no resemblance to crucified Christ. They succeed only in enriching themselves in a life-style in the idolatry of greed. So many churches live in ignorance of the Bible with Pastors who neither know it themselves, nor willing to preach it or teach it to the people. Reformation is once again the desperate need of the hour."
Calisto Odede said: "If we as the Church do not have integrity, we are just a bunch of vuvuzela blowers who are blowing, but not actively playing in the field." It was stressed that the prosperity gospel is perverse and it only helps the proponents to prosper materially. It focusses primarily on material possessions, physical well-being and success in this life, which mostly includes abundant financial resources, good health, clothes, housing, cars, promotion in business, as well as other endeavours of life. The extent of material acquisition is often equated with God's approval. Bible passages are misquoted or quoted out of context and misinterpreted. The prosperity gospel is nothing less than a seduction into false delusion.
Some years back, poverty gospel came into vogue: the teaching was that Christians should be poor, sell all their possessions, do not send children to school , for the Lord is returning soon. But, for obvious reasons, it did not become popular. Prosperity gospel is attractive. Who does not want to have enough money in his pocket? We should realise that this is not a new phenomenon. Such gospels have plagued the church all along. Paul talks about "infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Eph.4:14). Jude deals with "godless men, who change the grace of our God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ" (Jude 4). The solution lies in studying the Word of God and knowing the right teaching to identify the counterfeits. In other words, teach the people to mine the truths.
Multiplexes And Dialogues
During the 22 multiplexes and dialogue sessions, participants were able to interact on the issues, ask questions and voice their opinion. It was emphasised that most of our problems and challenges in the task of world evangelisation, at their root, are spiritual. The greed that has infected so many of our leaders and the desire for unbridled power are spiritual problems.
'The problem with evangelism is not that we lack information; it is that we have failed to be ourselves,' said Rebecca M. Pippert. She pleaded for a return to the foundational principle of evangelism-loving relationships among Christians as a reflection of the Triune God.
The evening sessions dealt with matters of social justice. Issues included religious freedom, human trafficking, mega cities and youth. It was pointed out that there are more mobile phones in India than people who have access to toilets. "Around half the population in India has a mobile phone, but only about one-third has access to modern sanitation."
Lindsay Brown in his closing address reminded: "We dare not say we will accomplish the task because we have the money and the technology. It will be accomplished only because of the greatness of the Gospel, and the power of God. We are to focus on the truth of the Gospel, the Lordship of Christ, and the glory of God, with authentic, transformed lives." He ended his passionate message with the words of John Wesley: "As you seek to bear witness to Christ and with God's help: Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can."
The Congress closed with the celebration of Holy Communion. Doug Birdsall, Chairman of The Lausanne Movement, outlined the plans for the Movement's future: 'First: to stay light on its feet, remaining agile in its ability to respond to new challenges and opportunities. Second, to be strong theologically, firmly rooted in Scripture and nourished by the best reflection on how we take the Word to the world. Third, to provide a reliable and credible contribution to Christian discussions and mission. Fourth, to focus on identifying and developing younger leaders. And Fifth, to be strategic in gathering the right people at the right times in the right places.
Malicious hits from multiple locations crashed the system of internet communication to the outside world. 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. 'Added to this was a virus brought into the Centre on a mobile phone.'
Two cousins from Bangalore had largely been responsible for solving this difficulty, due to their unique expertise in the exact problems the Congress was experiencing. Vijay Kumar, an employee of Unisys Global Services and Daniel Singh, a Pastor with a doctorate in computational biology, came forward to help when they learned of the situation. They had come to the Congress as Volunteers to help hook up printers and other basic IT tasks. We are thankful to God that these two Indian brothers came to the rescue of the organisers. Praise be to Him!
The Congress engaged the pressing issues of the day through the prism of 'God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.' The Congress was global in scope, yet distinctly African in flavour. The organisation was phenomenal under the leadership of S. Doug Birdsall and Blair T. Carlson, and dealt efficiently with all the nitty gritty details including accommodation, transportation and food.
The video presentation, during the Opening Ceremony, of the development of Christianity from Pentecost till the 20th century, was very informative. There was too much music, leaving not enough time for the speakers to develop the topics and the participants to discuss. The Congress provided a very good opportunity to interact with like-minded people involved in the same work. The participants from the Western world were generally appreciative of the eagerness of the Indian participants to interact. Some, however, felt that it was intended to solicit support. Some felt that many leaders, who should have been at the Congress, could not come. It was also pointed out that information is provided on the problems in evangelisation, without suggesting solutions. In other words, the sickness is identified, but there's no remedy or cure.
Many participants emphasised that Lausanne 2010 was the most interactive conference they have attended. Discussions at the Table of Six helped the stimulation of ideas. By inviting a good number of women for the Conference, the organisers recognised the vital role of women in the Church. A serious dialogue should take place in the different countries as a follow-up to find out what can be done locally. This will make Lausanne 2010 more fruitful.
Discipleship was mentioned several times in the sessions; however, it did not receive the deserving emphasis. This has been the great omission in our mission enterprises to implement the Great Commission: "Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them... and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt.28:19-20). With the Indian tradition of Guru-Shishya Parampara (Teacher-Disciple Tradition), we are in a unique position to practise and preach this to the nations. (Please see the order in Acts 1:1). Do we need another Stanley Jones to teach us this essential ingredient in missions? One of the plenary sessions should have been devoted to Discipleship.
The Congress demonstrated that the centre of Christianity has moved and that there is an unfinished task entrusted to the Church by the Lord. Concern was expressed whether we are deviating from evangelism to social concerns; there is need for balancing the two. Discipleship should be more in focus. A session on prayer should have been included.
It is time (if not late) we realise that in 2000 years we have reached only about 1% (50%(?) of 2.5%) of the 1.2 billion people in our country, and turn to the original Mandate of our Master. A united effort, cutting across all denominational and organisational barriers, forsaking all petty squabbles, to evangelisation and discipleship by teaching the Word, is the need of the hour, so that every believer grows to maturity as envisaged by our Lord and Apostle Paul.