It will take some time for everyone to get some perspective on what happened in Cape Town, South Africa, this past week when 4,200 Christian leaders from 198 countries gathered to talk about the mission of the church today. As Lindsay Brown, the International Director of the Lausanne Movement said in his closing address Sunday night, only God knows what will come of the hundreds of presentations and (perhaps more importantly) tens of thousands of interactions among leaders over the nine days of the congress. This is a good perspective. If we ever think we know the full significance of a work of God unfolding, then we think we’re smarter than we are. Perspective requires a certain distance, and time, and grace.
The tweets and blog posts that many of us have put out during the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization do not give perspective. They are at best quick peeks at memorable sights and statements. And even then, some of the most important insights have gone without comment for the moment.
Patrick Fung, General Director of OMF, for instance, offered a liberating perspective when he asserted that there is no region of the world that is “the center” of the Christian movement. That no one ought to lay on Asia, for instance, the role of being the leading region of the world. The mission must always be Christians from everywhere going everywhere. He offered up a view of partnership–North with South, East with West–that keeps the pressure on everyone to do everything possible to deepen and widen witness.
Lindsay Brown’s stirring final message appealed to the crowd to be faithful in ministry, like those who go to the very end of their lives, not having seen the fruit that a later generation would. He reminded everyone that there should be no hesitation in using the word “evangelical” because its roots go back to the New Testament itself and was used in the earliest Christian literature to describe gospel-centered faith. “We’re called to bear witness to Jesus Christ with all that we are, in every area of the world geographically, to the ends of the globe, as well as to every sphere of society…. We must recommit ourselves therefore to the lordship of Christ in every area of human activity.”
Christopher Wright’s message was nothing less than prophetic (in the true biblical sense, using the words of the prophets themselves) as he surgically defined three idolatries–power, success, and greed–which are undermining Christian witness today. The same temptations that were laid on Jesus are now brought to us in the smooth lingo of today’s winning ways.
At the beginning of the congress I was talking to a leader from the Philippines who told me he was going to be looking for one key missiological concept that would be the highlight of the congress. I don’t know if he found what he was looking for. I don’t know whether he was expecting the congress to have one main point.
Some people’s perspectives on Cape Town 2010 will focus on flaws and failures. A cultural blunder here, an unbalanced statement there. Tensions between new and old, a little chaos, a neglected theme. One can focus on flaws–but that is a decision. Perspective means choosing what you look at.
Here is one compelling reality I will take away from Cape Town 2010. It seemed very obvious that, at the center of Christian witness in the world today, is life itself–the vitality of the life of Christ in believers. (Is that a “missiological concept,” or just spiritual reality? Does it matter?) Where that vitality exists in the world, evangelism is happening like waves, and where life and rhetoric do not line up, evangelism is limp and lifeless. In the congress you could see the power of spiritual vitality in the six-person groups that were formed as small communities through these days, in the animated conversations in the hallways in groups of two, three and four, in the intense study of Ephesians every morning, in the seminar rooms packed to overflowing, and in the worship.
It is not just that worship can have vitality; it its truest form worship is vitality.
I will never forget the two-hour worship service that closed the congress. I expected strong praise and comparisons to “what it will be like in heaven,” but the reality went much further. 5,000 voices alternating from classics like “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” to the new “In Christ Alone” shook the room. The adapted Kenyan communion liturgy was profound. The message was penetrating. I have been in large rooms with thousands of people in enthusiastic praise before, but this was different–to scan 360 degrees around and to see nearby the faces of dozens of nationalities. To see the worship leaders in the clothing of India, Africa, and Europe, high church and low church, young and old, women and men. All different, all the same. Many probably thinking, as was I: How did all this happen? Where is this thing going?
It is a picture that forces your vision to back up and take in a wider scope. Not just a perspective across the boundaries of nations, but a vision that attempts to take in the seen and unseen, the earthly and the cosmic. And often the vitality is not in the roaring praise of thousands, but in the quiet words of a motherless and fatherless 18-year-old North Korean girl whose real life began with a vision of Jesus. The vitality is in the halting words of a widow holding in her hand the blood-stained sermon notes that was found on her husband’s bullet-ridden body.
Perspective–real, incisive, and global–is what we need. And it will take time, and grace, to get it.
Mel Lawrenz | THE BROOK NETWORK