by Byang Kato
It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for one person to give a thorough coverage of the International Congress on World Evangelization which met in beautiful Lausanne, Switzerland, July 16-25, 1974.
It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for one person to give a thorough coverage of the International Congress on World Evangelization which met in beautiful Lausanne, Switzerland, July 16-25, 1974. It is ever more difficult for a person like myself, who was so much involved not only with the congress with its various facets but in other meetings also. Nevertheless, let me make some general personal comments that may prove helpful to the reader.
The participants represented virtually every conceivable denomination in the world. There were even participants from some of the independent movements in Africa. One participant told me that 80 percent of those present from his country were from the Christian Council of the nation. He went further to explain that Christians in his country are ready to receive both the evangelicals’ viewpoint and the liberals’ position. The president of the All-Africa Conference of Churches and a few other people involved in liberal ecumenism were participants at the congress.
While it is true that many of these participants were evangelicals despite their conciliar involvement, it would not be very accurate to claim that all participants were committed evangelicals. However, non-evangelical elements were not evident at the congress.
One salutary thing that cannot be gainsaid is that the total leadership of the congress were committed evangelicals. The speakers might have had various methods of presentation, but none of them gave any sign of compromising the evangelical gospel.
It is possible sometimes to be so mechanical that the spiritual aspect of a conference is lost. Personally, I felt blessed and challenged at thus congress probably more than in any other conference I have attended. The staff and the stewards were cheerful and helpful from morning till evening. The participants were so appreciative of all that was done for them. To have 4,000 people rubbing shoulders day and night with hardly any bitterness towards one another was a blessing to me. In some group discussions there were heated debates leading to a loss of patience, but the atmosphere was drought under control by the well-prepared chairmen. A participant rightly remarked, "This is the closest to heaven we can ever be."
Christian concerns for justice and imbalance of wealth were skillfully articulated in a number of the major papers. Rene Padilla challenged the congress to be societal conscious. He warned, "The lack of appreciation of the wider dimensions of the gospel leads inevitably to a misunderstanding of the mission of the church. The result is an evangelism that regards the individual as a self-contained unit – a Robinson Crusoe to whom God’s call is addressed as on an island – whose salvation takes place exclusively in terms of a relationship to God. It is not seen that the individual does not exist in isolation, and consequently that it is not possible to speak of salvation with no reference to the world of which he is a part."
Dr. Francis Schaeffer called for compassion and sacrifice on the part of the affluent members of the body of Christ. Since the word love has been so much demoted, Schaeffer chose to express the dire need of love in terms of orthodoxies. He called one an orthodoxy of doctrine, which underlined the need of delineating and affirming the basic fundamental doctrines dear to evangelical Christianity. But mere dry orthodoxy without practicing Christian compassion in the community of the saved is a contradiction of what the early church was. Schaeffer illustrated his point with the church of Antioch ( Acts 13 ) which demonstrated the spirit of a true Christian community.
With all these repeated emphases on social action, there was no confusing of biblical salvation with social concerns. The primary goal of evangelism is to bring the message of salvation to the individual with the view to persuade him to accept Christ. The end result is eternal life. The person who is saved naturally should have a concern for the physical need of his neighbor. The love of Christ flows through him to the world with its varied needs.
Evangelicals were concerned to do more than mere talking about social concerns. A collection was taken to help the famine-stricken part of sub-Saharan Africa. A day of prayer and voluntary fasting was set aside for the suffering Christians behind the Iron Curtain. Probably more than a third of the congress abstained from lunch to pray for the persecuted Christians. Although there was much concern for human problems, the leadership of the congress refused to be dragged into making political pronouncements. But prayers were honestly offered for many of these problems.
It is hard to measure the achievements of the congress. Its organizers did not have a set of objectives which they had hoped to achieve. The basic concept behind the congress was that it be seen as a process rather than an event. They did not want it to be a big happening once, and be done with. Rather, it was to be a progressive happening that will keep the fire of evangelism burning for months and years ahead. Its success, therefore, should be measured in a few years to come, not now.
However, there are some evident achievements that may be pointed out now. The fellowship was a tremendous blessing to the participants. It was pointed out that there were some Christians who came to the congress only a few weeks after they were released from jail. They had been imprisoned on account of their faith. Some participants had never travelled out of their homeland. A delegate from Rhodesia saw a black man with a doctorate degree for the first time. It was certainly heartening to see so many fellow members of the body of Christ.
The big rally in Lausanne stadium on a Sunday afternoon was a great demonstration for the cause of Christ. Besides the 4,000 congress members, there were at least 20,000 people in the stadium. It is estimated that over 500 people signed decision cards for salvation. This must have been a tremendous encouragement to the Christians in Lausanne and elsewhere in Europe.
The program of the congress was structured in such a way that participants were actively involved in areas of their respective interest. Although some of the discussion tended to be theoretical rather than practical, successful effort was made by the various groups to come out with practical conclusions. The compendium will incorporate all of these major ideas.
The national groups had the opportunity to thresh out issues together. There were some frank and realistic approaches to problems. One example is the matter of moratorium. Moratorium had been understood to be the proposal attributed to Rev. John Gatu, the current chairman of the All-Africa Conference of Churches, an ecumenical movement. Moratorium was a suggestion that all missionaries and resources from the western world should be withdrawn for five years and leave the church in Africa alone. The churches will then decide after five years if they want the missionaries to come back. Participants from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya strongly objected to the suggestion. Some participants described the concept of moratorium as blasphemous and unscriptural. After a lengthy battle of words, Rev. Gatu then "explained" that the matter had not been discussed by the churches in Africa. Some participants accepted this "explanation." It was stressed, however, that there is a great need of developing the potential leadership there is in Africa. While it was expressed that it was wrong to call for all missionaries to withdraw, it was strongly advocated that mission organizations working in Africa should speed up the process of indigenization.
The East African group also analyzed the areas that are responsive and need greater attention in evangelism today. A strategy was drawn up for active participation by all the evangelical churches in East Africa for reaching people with the gospel.
Quite a number of national groups started right at Lausanne to plan national evangelistic campaigns in their countries. India is planning for a congress in 1976. Nigeria is planning a similar congress in 1975.
Evangelism is one aspect of the Christian ministry that should draw Christians together. It surely does so. But on the other hand, evangelism is also a piece of cake of which even a Simon Magus (Acts 8) would like to have a share. Towards the end of the congress, there was so much talk of the "Lausanne Spirit." What that spirit was did not mean the same thing to everyone. One participant proudly reported that in their national group they destroyed the wall that separated their Evangelical Fellowship and the Christian Council. He claimed that they were now returning home as one body. But when I asked another participant from that country, he denied the report. All they agreed to do was to communicate between the two national bodies when they get home.
One thing that should be pointed out is that very few persons of the leadership role in Christian Councils were at Lausanne. Furthermore, the staunch liberals in ecumenism were not at Lausanne to be influenced in any way to effect significant change.
I have heard some key leaders warn against "the hardening of lines between liberals and evangelicals," and this we can appreciate. But can we realistically wipe out the line without compromising the evangelical faith if the liberals stick to their theological stance and practice?
Lausanne has been a tremendous blessing to thousands of Christians around the world. It could lead on to a phenomenal revival throughout the world within this decade. But unless evangelicals are on their guard and are willing as defenders of the faith to face ridicule, the International Congress on World Evangelization could become a tool for ecumenical success towards their unification of the world.
Much hope for the future results of Lausanne lies in the Continuing Committee, which will consist of 25 people appointed as follows: East Asia, 3; West Asia, 3; Africa, 3; South America, 3; North America, 6; Europe, 5; Oceania, 1; Middle East, 1. The Continuing Committee will determine the follow-up of Lausanne. We heard that the names submitted so far are all those of committed evangelicals.
The Lausanne Covenant, understandably, was not signed by all the participants. The drafting committee was ready to listen to criticisms. Some amendments were made in the original document and some significant corrections and changes were inserted. One major one is the question of the "inerrancy" of the Scriptures, which was missing in the original draft but inserted in the final copy as "without error in all that it affirms." The covenant should generally satisfy the traditional evangelical position.
It has been estimated that $3,300,000 was spent on the congress. The question in the minds of many people is whether it was a good stewardship of the Lord’s money.
When I first heard of the congress, I seriously questioned the wisdom of spending so much money on a conferences I still feel that $3,300,000 would have produced greater dividends if it were used in the training of men and women in the Third World for evangelism and theological development. However, such a huge amount was not all available in one coffer to be used. It was a matter of getting it from individuals and foundations.
Another point on the credit side is that the congress challenged many servants of God regarding world needs. It may help generate more funds for the Lord’s work. Furthermore, participants met with others of their interested groups for various projects. For example, the leaders of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar (REAM) were able to have a series of meetings that would have cost the AEAM hundreds of dollars to bring delegates together. The Planning Committee for the congress deliberately allowed some free time for other meetings of fraternal groups. The allotted free time was profitably utilized for the promotion of the Lord’s work.
A population clock was installed in the congress building, the Palais de Beaulieu. According to the clock there was a population growth of 1,852,837 during the ten days of the congress. Since the Berlin Congress in 1966, the world has increased its population by 590,193,067. It is my prayer that the international Congress on World Evangelization would constantly remind us of the fast rate of increase of sinners in the world. May all the participants of Lausanne and other Christians get involved in evangelism and "Let The Earth Hear His Voice."
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