In October I had the opportunity to attend the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa. This Congress, perhaps the widest and most diverse gathering of Christian leaders ever held in the history of the church, drew over 4,000 selected participants from 198 nations. The Congress produced The Cape Town Commitment that was to be a “call to action that will stand in the historic tradition of The Lausanne Covenant.” (see official website atwww.lausanne.org/cape-town-2010) Issued at the original 1974 Congress in Lausanne, Switzerland, The Lausanne Covenant became widely regarded as one of the most significant documents in recent church history.
Wanting to cover the gap between the first congress and third congress, I took as my nineteen-hour in-flight companion a recent book by the great historiographer, Mark Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity, in which Noll outlines some of the seismic shifts within the Christian world during the last 100 years:
• More Christians worship in China today than in all of Europe, a remarkable development since no legally functioning churches existed a mere forty years ago.
• More Presbyterians worship in Ghana than in Scotland, the former home of Presbyterianism.
• The largest churches in England and France are primarily black congregations.
• The startling reverse flow of missionaries from Asia and Africa to formerly missionary-sending nations.
In short, the growth and vibrancy of the church in the southern hemisphere is impressive, and it was into this milieu I was greeted in Cape Town. In many ways the Congress was an overwhelming experience: seven days of plenary sessions and dozens of breakout sessions (of which Tim Keller addressed the assembly twice), and a myriad of challenges and opportunities facing Christians today—all sessions are available for view on the website noted above. Like many who attended, I am still processing the experience, but here are my key reflections:
The response to increasing global poverty and injustice.
Will the church awaken and respond to the 2.4 billion who live on less than $2 a day or the 1 billion on the threshold of starvation or the 27 million living in slavery or the 50 million orphans in Africa? As a citizen of one of the wealthiest nations in the world, I was humbled by these facts and the faces they represent, and I was gripped by statements like, “Doesn’t the gospel make demands on your wealth?” and “How can the gospel you preach have power to change the world when you are not generous with your resources?” Despite the call of the newer evangelicalism to minister in both word and deed, the Christian community still struggles to address the sobering reality of global poverty. Hearing this wakeup call in an economically divided South Africa cultivated within me a call to simplicity and humility.
The importance of reaching cities as a mission priority.
In 1974 at the first Lausanne Congress, the key discovery was the realization that, despite the growth of the Christian church, hundreds of millions were still sealed off from hearing the gospel because of cultural and linguistic barriers. The result was a focus on the unreached people groups of the world. This breakthrough proved to be the most significant world missions milestone of the last 100 years.
Since the world’s population, however, is now over 50 percent urban—and migration to cities outpaces the growth of urban churches—a renewed focus on cities is important. I was left to wonder if cities will become the new unreached category and whether the Christian church will focus on cities with the same vision and resources it expended on the unreached people groups of the last few decades.