The last few days I’ve written about the Lausanne Movement and the recent Mission America Coalition meeting in Orlando, April 4-6. The Lausanne Movement held its third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, October 16-25, 2010. This historic gathering included 4,200 evangelical leaders from 198 countries and was extended to hundreds of thousands more who participated through online meetings around the globe. Perhaps the only noticeable absence at this gathering occurred because the Chinese government refused to allow delegates from China to attend. This third Lausanne Congress included far more non-North Americans, thus far more people from countries where the church is rapidly growing; e.g. the so-called two-thirds world. The Congress also included a significant number of women and younger delegates. These goals were set intentionally and this has moved Lausanne from being a Western, white, male movement to a genuinely global, church-wide movement.
The purpose of the Cape Town meeting was to bring a fresh challenge to the global church to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching – in every nation, in every sphere of society, and in the realm of ideas. I believe this was accomplished in significant ways.
The lasting testimony to this gathering is the document called The Cape Town Commitment, an eighty-page booklet available online and in a nicely printed booklet that I was given at Orlando. I have read this document and am amazed by what I read. I find it both inspiring and profoundly insightful for the future of mission globally. This is contemporary missiology at its best!
The Cape Town Commitment builds on The Lausanne Covenant and The Manila Manifesto, major documents from the first two global Lausanne meetings. This one has two parts. First, there are the biblical convictions of the Congress. The second sounds a call to action. Part 1 was first drafted in December of 2009 by 18 invited theologians who met in Minneapolis. Later a smaller group, led by Christopher J. H. Wright, prepared the final document that was presented to the Congress. Part 2 was shaped quite differently. Through an extensive listening process that began three years before the Cape Town Congress the deputy directors of the Lausanne Movement arranged consultations in their various regions where leaders were asked to identify major challenges facing the church. Six key issues emerged. These issues shaped the program of the Cape Town Congress and formed the framework for the call to action. You can read the six issues, which are the chapters or divisions of Part 2, in the document itself.
Some of my American friends have told me that the first part of the document is superb, rich, deep and well written. I agree. But I believe the second, which is intentionally dated, is even more important at our present time in history. Theology has far too often been done by academics who wrote precise and careful statements read by other theologians. This is good, so far as it goes, but it also limits how the church hears God in the present moment. One of the unique things about Cape Town was that 4,200 people, including 400 business leaders, sought to really hear God speak to the global church in a large conversation. This very process is different than most such gatherings that have been so deeply influenced by Western ways of listening and writing. The idea of the Lausanne Committee was to draft a statement that would act “as a roadmap for The Lausanne Movement over the next ten years.” I think they marvelously succeeded by giving us a prophetic call that draws churches, mission agencies, seminaries, Christians in the workplace and student fellowships on campus into the outworking of a thoughtful and prayerfully written vision statement. I will use this statement again and again in the years to come.
In the Foreword Douglas Birdsall, the executive chairman, and Lindsay Brown, the international Lausanne director, write:
Many doctrinal statements affirm what the Church believes. We wished to go further and to link belief with praxis. Our model was that of the Apostle Paul, whose theological teaching was fleshed out in practical instruction. For example, in Colossians his profound and wonderful portrayal of the supremacy of Christ issues in down-to-earth teaching on what it means to be rooted in Christ (The Cape Town Commitment (5).
This document follows the same pattern that I argue for in my book, Your Church Is Too Small. There are primary theological issues, which are at the very heart of the Christian gospel, and there are secondary issues where Christians can and do disagree in their interpretations of what the Bible teaches or requires. The idea was is to follow the model of Lausanne’s principle of “breadth within boundaries.” Part 1 defines these boundaries and Part 2 works out the praxis in a way that is, quite frankly, thrilling. The potential of Part 2 is to stoke the kind of conversations and teaching that could light a new fire for the kingdom of Christ by equipping leaders for unity in mission.
Tomorrow: How Missional-Ecumenism Became Praxis at Cape Town.