October 18, 2010
Lausanne Congress Day 1: History &Humility
The opening of Cape Town 2010 looks back at history and forward to heaven.
The Third Lausanne Congress was officially opened on Sunday night in Cape Town, South Africa. The evening was dominated by history and context. Letters were read from Billy Graham and John Stott, the two leaders most responsible for the first congress in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. And a brief history of the Lausanne Movement was shared.
A beautiful video was shown tracing church and mission history from Pentecost through the 1910 missions conference in Edinburgh. Much was made of the Edinburgh conference. Many view that gathering 100 years ago in Scotland as the beginning of the modern missionary movement. Of course Edinburgh was dominated by European and North American church leaders with only a tiny number from other parts of the world.
A lot has changed.
After the video all 5,000 delegates stood to sing "Crown Him with Many Crowns"--the same hymn that opened the Edinburgh conference a century ago. And the amazing diversity at Cape Town 2010 was a moving testimony to how effective the 20th century missions movement was. Standing beside me was an African woman, an Australian man, an Asian couple, and a student from Latin America. I have never been in a more international gathering in my life. As I scanned the room I didn't see groups of white, black, or brown. The room was integrated, for lack of a better term--God's people from around the globe worshipping together. It was incredibly moving.
I had the sense that we were the fulfillment of the 1910 Edinburgh conference. Certainly those missionary leaders from 100 years ago, now among the "great cloud of witnesses" surrounding us, were smiling. Christ had indeed built his church.
But the gathering did more than look back, it also helped me look forward. Doug Birdsall, executive chairman of Lausanne, reminded us that this Lausanne Congress is the "most representative and diverse gathering of church leaders in 2000 years." And he hoped that "we find here in Cape Town a sense of being home." If he meant a sense of our heavenly home, I certainly did. It is quite possible that what we saw is as close to Rev 2:7 as any of us will ever experience this side of eternity. It was powerful.
Amid all the celebrating, the evening also contained some sobering thoughts. Before the opening session, Os Guinness spoke to a group of us during dinner. He also referred to the 1910 Edinburgh conference. The western church leaders in Edinburgh sparked incredibly effective missions to Asia, Africa, and Latin America, Guinness said. But during the same century Christianity took root in these continents, it has slipped away in Europe and North America.
Guinness reminded us that the church must be self-critical and ready to repent where necessary. The western church's capitulation to modernity over the last century, he said, means Asian, African, and Latin American churches are more likely to learn from the western church what NOT to do rather than what to do. He encouraged us to recapture the missionary zeal of Edinburgh 1910, but to ask God for the humility that the church in the west lacked in the 20th century.