Major evangelism event brings the world to Cape Town
In 1974, some 2,700 Christians from more than 150 nations gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland, for 10 days of discussion, fellowship, worship, and prayer, in what TIME Magazine called “possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held.” As a result of the congress, John Stott chaired a committee to draft The Lausanne Covenant, which continues to serve as a basis for unity and a call to global evangelization. Since then, dozens of Lausanne-related conferences have convened. A second major congress held in Manila, Philippines, in 1989 produced The Manila Manifesto and catalyzed partnerships and new initiatives in the developing world. Cape Town 2010 was the third major congress.—Eds.
Cape Town, South Africa, is a 12-hour flight from London, England. It’s a long, long way from Canada. Nevertheless, nearly 100 Canadians travelled that distance to take part in the Oct. 17–25 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. I was one of them, part of a group of 50 official Canadian “participants.” The rest were there in various capacities as guests, organizers, or volunteers at this monumental event.
Each of us was there to lend our voice to the blend in a truly global gathering of mission-minded Christians, which involved some 4,200 participants from 198 countries. This was a very diverse group indeed. What we had in common was a deep commitment to the Christian faith and a desire to see God’s work advance throughout the world.
So…what were so many people from all over the world doing over there? There are almost as many answers to that question as there were people attending. Most basically, however, we came to study the Bible and pray together. We heard top-notch expositors unpack the book of Ephesians, and we meditated on Scripture in communal table groups.
With that as our underpinning, we came to learn from the experience of others and pool our wisdom as we reflected on some of the great challenges hindering the work of God in our world. We talked and listened at length about truth, reconciliation, and other religions. We discussed priorities in evangelization. We cast about for new and more effective ways to work cooperatively together.
We also considered the fact of failure among us, and heard a strong call for the church to be characterized by humility, integrity, and simplicity. “The greatest problem for God in his redemptive mission for the world is his people,” said Chris Wright, international director of Langham Partnership and chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group.
“Idolatry is the single biggest obstacle to world mission,” said Wright. “There are many false gods in this world, but three especially stand out. They are the idols of power and pride, the idols of popularity and success, and the idols of wealth and greed.”
Wright, who has worked many years with John Stott, led the team that produced the seminal document from the gathering. “The Cape Town Commitment: A Declaration of Belief and a Call to Action” is a clarification of beliefs that are foundational to Christian mission. “We wanted to issue a prophetic statement,” said Wright. “We didn’t want the congress to be a jamboree of evangelical triumphalism.” A second document featuring action steps generated by participants at the congress will be released later this year.
Heart in the stories
Sitting under the tutelage of expositors like Wright, Ajith Fernando, John Piper, and others was satisfying (or provocative) on an intellectual level. But much of the passion of the congress radiated out of the inspiring stories told by people from all over the world.
A young woman from North Korea told a moving testimony of loss and commitment. “I want to bring the love of God to North Korea,” she said. Libby Little, the widow of an eye doctor murdered in Afghanistan in August, shared transcripts of her husband’s last phone calls and challenged listeners with a brave example of a Christian witness eager to help needy people in even the most remote and dangerous areas, regardless of their religious beliefs.
“There are no places closed to the gospel,” said U.K. apologist Michael Ramsden. “There are only places we’re not prepared to pay the cost to go.”
So…what about South Africa? What difference will it make to mission in Canada? A lot of the Canadians there were taking good notes, meeting new people, and forging new networks. Many were planning to let their ideas percolate and mature for a few weeks before meeting again to discuss specific strategy. Some of this reflection found a forum at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Nov. 16–18 Hinge conference.
For Canadians, freedom to share the gospel is not the issue. Finding a mission-minded way through the thickets of indifference, secularity, and narcissism is a greater challenge. Or as Turkish researcher Ziya Meral put it to the entire congress: “We need to raise the cross in a way that this generation can understand so that the gospel can do its work.”
Read moreChristianWeek reports from Cape Town at: www.christianweek.org/stories.php?cat=capetown2