by Warwick Olson
A look at Lausanne 74.
Meetings of Christian leaders from various parts of the world are nothing new. Increasingly, those who plan such gatherings and then produce books about them are being required to justify the great expense. Why, then, are plans being made for the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, from July 16-25? Was there not a World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin in 1966? Convenors of the Lausanne event believe that this is a new day, quite different from the era in which the Berlin meeting was held.
The Congress has been called by a group of more than 170 leading churchmen from all the continents. This, in itself, makes it different from the Berlin Congress. That Congress was the vision of an American magazine, Christianity Today. This convening group represents all cultures, many languages, and a variety of ecclesiastical backgrounds.
While American evangelist, Billy Graham, is honorary chairman, the executive chairman of the planning group is Bishop A. Jack Dain of Sydney, Australia. Director of the Congress staff is Donald Hoke, on leave as president of backgrounds. The planning committee has 31 members, representing all six continents.
One of the most noticeable differences between Lausanne ’74 and Berlin ’66 will be in the range of program personnel. No more than 10 per cent of the speakers and other program leaders who were at Berlin will be on the Lausanne platform There will be many new and younger faces. Nod only will they be younger in years, but they will also be representative of the younger churches to a great extent. I-half of the speakers wall be from the Third World nations an Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The messages will not come from just one hemisphere, neither will they come from one ecclesiastical tradition. Space does not allow me to name all the speakers and their subjects, but here are just a few: Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar from Latin America will speak on "Evangelism and the World" and "Evangelism and Man’s Search for Freedom, Justice and Fulfillment. " Two African clerics, Bishop Festo Kivengere and Gottfried Osei-Mensah, will speak on the subjects of "Personal Sacrifice in Evangelism" and "The Holy Spirit in Evangelism."
Defining the nature of salvation today will be Dr. Peter Beyerhaus of Germany, who will speak on the subject of "Evangelism and the Kingdom of God. " Dr. Francis Schaeffer will speak on "The Form and Function of the Church" and Henri Blocher from France will speak on "The Nature of Biblical Unity." Two well-known Englishmen, John Stott and Michael Green, will spew on "The Nature of Biblical Evangelism" and "Strategies in Evangelism." Dr. Billy Graham will speak on "The Urgency for World Evangelism before the Return of Christ."
The purpose of the Congress is to arouse the churches of the world to a new thrust in world evangelization. The planners of this Congress believe that never before have the opportunities been so great to proclaim the gospel, and that men and women are more open to consider spiritual realities. They believe the church stands on the threshold of a new era, and that new doors are opening which present Christians in our generation with a greater challenge than at any time in history.
But there is also a strong feeling that this should not be just a "talking" Congress, but a "working" Congress that will deal with practical issues and strategies, spelling out the what, the why, and the how of world evangelization.
The Congress will bring together 2,000 evangelical churchmen from around the world. The national quotas will embrace women, laymen, evangelists, missionaries, pastors, theological educators and communicators – indeed, every type of person engaged an evangelism. Those invited must be convinced evangelicals and influential in Christian activity in their country or denomination. Also, it is hoped to have some 300 representatives of press, radio and television in attendance, and 200 observers and visitors.
Participants are being invited as individuals and not as official representatives of any church or group. They are being selected by the Congress planning committee after consultation with regional and national advisory committees. This, it is hoped, will guarantee (as far as possible) representation at the Congress of evangelicals from the church worldwide.
From the start, this Congress has been viewed as part of a process rather than an event. What happens before and after the Congress will be of equal importance with what happens during the Congress. Those accepting the invitation to attend immediately commit themselves to active participation. Each one is being asked for program suggestions to guide the program committee. The Congress itself will emphasize individual participation and discussion and study groups, which will occupy 50 percent of the program time.
The major position papers will be provided to all participants in advance of the Congress. Before he leaves home, each participant will have the opportunity to read the documents and to submit to the authors his questions and comments. When those who have prepared the major papers get to Lausanne, they will use their time on the platform to respond to the comments they have received from around the world. They will not take up time orally delivering the messages that have already been published. This procedure allows each participant the opportunity to comment on major documents. This will be only one of many ways in which views and comments from around the earth will be incorporated into the program.
Following the major plenary sessions each morning, the Congress will be divided in a number of ways for other sessions on specialized topics. Language groups will meet daily. All who speak German, for instance, will gather and talk about evangelizing the areas of the world where German is spoken. Special sessions will concentrate on how to bring the gospel to particular groups of people in certain situations, whether they be in Texas, Tanzania or Taiwan. One group will consider urban dwellers, and another rural. Some will be concerned about reaching those involved with the occult, others about reaching those under the domination of governments antagonistic to the gospel. Specialized strategy groups will meet in another tame slot. Some will discuss the possibilities of evangelizing via television. Others will consider home Bible study as a means of sharing the Word, while still others will look at the distinctive challenges of working among university students.
For each specialized group a chairman is being appointed. He will prepare a survey of the field in advance and circulate it among those who will be in his group. Thus, participants will come to Lausanne with some information about what is going on worldwide in that particular field. They will also come with questions and comments based on study of the survey documents and their own experience. Every attempt will be made to follow up the Congress and to make the materials that come out of it available to the church worldwide. Participants will be helped and encouraged in every way to spread the message of the Congress as widely as possible on their return home. Materials are being developed that will aid them in doing this.
What happens in Lausanne next July may well change the course of the church’s involvement in world evangelization. This Congress could be the means of providing the church worldwide with an up-to-date awareness of opportunities for evangelism: practical information, guidelines, and tools to help get the job done. It should also provide a clearly enunciated biblical foundation for world evangelization declared not by East or West, but a cross-section of evangelical Christians. And, finally, it should pioneer a new sense of cooperation in planning to meet the opportunities and challenges facing the church at this time.
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