by Jim Reapsome
Lausanne 74-the International Congress on World Evangelizationlast July convened 2,430 participants and 570 observers for ten days of intensive study, discussion and fellowship around the church’s evangelistic and missionary mandate.
Lausanne 74— the International Congress on World Evangelizationlast July convened 2,430 participants and 570 observers for ten days of intensive study, discussion and fellowship around the church’s evangelistic and missionary mandate.
Invitations were extended to participants on the basis of seven for every one million Protestants in the country, plus two for every tin million unreached people in the country. This meant, in the case of India, for example, seventy invitations in the first category and 150 in the second.
It also meant that the United States had by far and away the largest representation, more than 500, plus innumerable American missionaries who came representing countries in which they are serving.
Each country had its own national advisory committee that chose participants, but their selections were in turn approved by the Congress Planning Committee, a group of 28 men and one woman from 17 countries (ten of them from the U.S.). The Right Rev. A. Jack Dain of Australia, Assistant Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Sydney, was executive chairman. The Congress Convening Committee included 168 men and five women from 70 countries.
(Twenty-five "official visitors" were also invited. They included some Roman Catholic priests and some administrators from the World Council of Churches. There were also 410 news people, 361 wives, and 280 "stewards," or helpers, included in the final registration figure of 4,051.)
The congress operated on a $3.3 million budget. Half of the participants paid their own way; half were subsidized by gifts from individuals, churches and foundations.
From the outset, some participants wondered if the congress would simply turn out to be a huge cover for the development of an evangelical counterpart of the World Council of Churches. The press eagerly looked for crumbs of information that would indicate what American Evangelist Billy Graham had in mind when he put has prestige, influence and organization behind the congress. It seemed difficult for them to accept the idea that so many church leaders from 150 countries would come together simply to find out how to work together to fulfill the Great Commission. In the end, a poll of participants revealed that 86 percent of the 1,140 who responded wanted some kind of post-congress fellowship, and 79 percent favored the appointment of a "’continuation committee" of 25 people. The Congress Planning Committee will choose this group from nominations made at the congress.
By and large, however, the participants seemed more concerned about what they could learn at the congress that would help them get on with the job of evangelism in their own countries, and how national churches could indeed be instruments in the hand of God for world evangelization, working together with missionaries from the traditional "sending" countries.
Apart from the specific content of lectures and discussions, the congress provided a powerful catalyst in Christian fellowship and interaction between fellow members of the body of Christ. Many national church leaders said it took Lausanne 74 to provide the impetus and the setting for them to fellowship, plan, pray and think together. The first item of business on their return would be the establishment of continuing relationships in their own countries, as well as plans for nation-wide evangelism.
The program was demanding intellectually, spiritually and physically. Involvement in daily sessions required 12 hours, including, of course, time out for coffee and meals, which were served to the entire congress in the same building where plenary sessions and small-group sessions were held.
Participation in the congress began months before the actual convening of it. Eleven major papers were circulated in advance and comments solicited. At the congress itself those who gave these papers responded to these comments in their presentations. This was a significant step toward participant involvement and toward identifying the crucial points of each subject.
Personal involvement was further heightened by the small-group program, which came under four major divisions: national strategy groups (50), demonstrations of evangelistic methods ( 33 P, specialized evangelistic strategy groups (325, and theology of evangelization study groups (26). The latter two divisions began with opening position papers assigned in advance, but each group was urged to come up with specific steps for action as a result of its deliberations. Likewise, the national strategy groups prepared written summaries of their conclusions.
Throughout plenary and small-group sessions there was unusual openness and freedom. There was no "party line" forced on anyone. Consequently, the depth of Christian unity experienced permitted participants to share freely, even when there were differences of opinion.
Unity did not push tension points under the table, but instead allowed them to be explored more fully. Some of the debates centered on crucial issues indeed: social action and the struggle for justice among the oppressed; church growth technology; full self-hood among the younger churches; and the message of the gospel itself in terms of theological, cultural and political considerations.
Congress planners strove mightily to achieve balance nationally, racially, and theologically, and they succeeded to a large degree. Some participants felt women and youth should have had a larger role. However, taken as a whole, there were major contributions from every sector of the globe and from a variety of ecclesiastical perspectives. This contributed to wholesome cross-pollenization.
There was also good balance between theory and action, between academics and practice, between creed and conduct. The major biblical premises of world missions were presented. Evangelization was not considered out of the context of both world and church problems.
At the same time, there was a healthy contrast between great victories being won for Christ and the appalling needs of the world and the millions without hope. Both aspects were given attention. Participants were encouraged by reports of new breakthroughs for the gospel, but they were constantly occupied with the burden of doing better in the future.
The congress did not adopt an official declaration. Rather, participants were invited to consider signing a "Lausanne Covenant" some 3,000 words long. By adjournment 2,200 had signed it. The document appeared in draft form early in the congress and participants were free to turn in their comments. There were hundreds of submissions, by individuals as well as delegations, so the final draft was a recognizable revision.
The covenant is a "commitment that leads to action." It thoroughly commits signers to the "urgency of the evangelistic task" as well as to "Christian social responsibility." It will possibly become a major statement of evangelical convictions in the history of the church and missions. Its significance as a study document should be matched by new advances for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, if the spirit of participants is an accurate barometer.
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