The Lausanne Movement

Evangelicals in general, and evangelical leaders in particular, know far too little about the Lausanne Movement. This movement for global evangelization begin in the 1960s through the vision of Dr. Billy Graham. As Graham began to preach internationally, he developed a passion to “unite all evangelicals in the common task of the total evangelization of the world.”

In 1966 the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in partnership with America’s Christianity Today magazine, sponsored the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin. I still possess and use the two large blue-bound books that contain the papers and counsel from this congress. This gathering drew 1,200 delegates from over 100 countries, and inspired further conferences in Singapore (1968), Minneapolis and Bogotá (1969), and Australia (1971). Shortly afterwards, Billy Graham perceived the need for a larger, more diverse congress to re-frame Christian mission in a world of social, political, economic, and religious upheaval. The Church, he believed, had to apply the gospel to the contemporary world. To do this would require work to understand the ideas and values behind rapid changes in society. He shared his thinking with 100 Christian leaders, drawn from all continents, and they affirmed the need for this effort. This proved to be a timely gathering and led to the first Lausanne Congress, where 2,700 participants gathered from over 150 nations in Lausanne, Switzerland. (This is where the name obviously arose.) TIME magazine described this event, at the time, as “a formidable forum, possibly the widest ranging meeting of Christians ever held.”

From this beginning in July of 1974 the Lausanne Movement has grown. This growth has led to several more global meetings as well as regional and national Lausanne movements. The Lausanne Movement in the U.S. is called Mission America. I am a part of both Mission America and Lausanne as an evangelical minister and leader.

images-1Dr. Douglas Birdsall: Former Executive Director of Lausanne

I’ll say much more about the new pope and what his selection means to the Lausanne Movement but I bring Lausanne into my reflections on the selection of Pope Francis because of an email exchange with my friend Dr. Douglas Birdsall, the former Executive Director of Lausanne who just stepped down from the leadership of Lausanne on March 1. (Doug is now the president of the American Bible Society in New York.) He wrote an email to some of his Lausanne friends late last week. In this email Doug reflected upon the selection of this new pope.

For those of you who were at our Lausanne global leadership meetings in Buenos Aires in June of 2008, you will remember that our Bible expositor on Thursday morning was Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis. He spoke from John 21:15-19, Jesus’ encounter with Peter, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”  At the time, I remember thinking to myself what a godly, brilliant and humble servant of Christ this man was.

The year before, when I was visiting Argentina in the summer of 2007, Norberto Saracco, our Lausanne International Deputy Director, took me to the Archbishop’s office to meet with him privately.  We had a wonderful meeting as we talked about the church and the priority of evangelism on a continent where the Catholic Church had experienced significant losses in the number of members and active worshippers.  He impressed me as a Latin American and Catholic counterpart to John R. W. Stott. He is brilliant, prayerful and pastoral. He was also living a simple lifestyle in a modest office and apartment. As we talked, we also spoke about the history of interaction between Catholics and Protestants. In the course of our conversation he said, “Fifty years ago, I would have thought of you as an adversary.  Today, I welcome you as my brothers.”

These words made my heart soar. And the last sentence underscores the same point I made earlier about what has happened in the last fifty years.

Doug Birdsall went on to add:

It is a great honor to have had the new pope present with us as a humble Bible teacher at our meeting five years ago. Now, I would encourage each of us to be mindful to pray for him. He has quickly become the most visible Christian leader in the world. He takes the office at a time of great challenge and at a time when many in the western world are treating the church and the papacy with contempt. The way in which he conducts himself, and the way in which he is perceived will have implications for global Christianity in the years to come. He is aware of the great challenge to re-evangelize Europe. He also is aware of the great impact Pentecostalism has had on Catholicism in both South America and in North America. There are fresh winds blowing in the Catholic Church and there is a new pope who I believe represents great promise for the witness of the gospel and the mission of the church in the 21st century. Certainly there are issues that are of concern to us as evangelicals with respect to matters of theological differences. However, I believe that at this time in history when we deal with the challenges of secularism, pluralism and hedonism, our common lot as Trinitarian Christians should provide the occasion for us to pray for this man who came and shared God’s word and who came to enjoy fellowship with us in Buenos Aires. Let us also pray for Christian leaders everywhere and for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the church around the world. May we experience a greater measure of what it means to respond to God’s call to the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.

One evangelical leader responded negatively to Doug’s letter, reminding us of the debate about Cardinal Bergoglio’s response to the period in Argentina’s history when many were being labeled communists and by this means they were tortured and even killed. Did the future leader of Argentina’s Catholic Church do enough to save lives? Was he faithful and courageous? I’ll say more about the so-called “Dirty War” tomorrow.