Unpacking Cape Town 2010

by Gary Corwin

Corwin offers his impressions of Lausanne Congress 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Only time will tell what is most important and lasting out of the recent Lausanne Congress in Cape Town. Any serious critique offered at this stage must be tentative at best. As I returned home and unpacked my bags, however, I also unpacked some impressions of what I had just experienced.

Unmitigated joy.  For me, this had several sources. Foremost among these was the incredible diversity of this gathering reflecting the multi-faceted beauty of the Church of Jesus Christ—described by many as the most representative gathering of Christians in the history of the Church. Having over 4,000 delegates, plus another 350 stewards, from 198 nations together under one roof was, I am sure, the closest I will ever come this side of heaven to the throne-surrounding vision of Revelation 5:9.

Also a source of great joy was the prominence of church and mission leaders of the Majority World in the planning and execution of the Congress. Finally, the gracious and efficient hospitality displayed by the Africa hosting committee left this Africa-lover both pleased and proud of his adopted continent.

Uncompromised priorities. For me, this was the most pleasant surprise of the Congress, probably because I harbored significant concerns about how certain issues would be handled. The two issues about which I was most concerned were: (1) truth—both in terms of its absolute nature and its know-ability—and (2) maintaining a focus on reaching the least reached. Thankfully, both of these issues received strong advocacy as priorities by multiple speakers from many parts of the world. Two of the day themes related directly to these issues: “Making the Case for the Truth of Christ in a Pluralistic, Globalized World” and “Discerning the Will of Christ for 21st Century World Evangelization.”

Unleashed arts. Throughout the eight days of the Congress, the intermingling of very effective theme-based artistic performances between plenary speakers was an effective enhancement that helped keep things fresh. These included drama, dance, mime, and diverse music in many languages from nearly every continent. In addition, video presentations on various subjects and moving testimonies of God’s grace and work around the world made the various plenary sessions much more reality-based than they would have been otherwise.

The downside to all this was the abbreviated time given to the speakers, generally not exceeding twenty minutes and never more than twenty-eight. Beyond these things, the Africa welcome in the opening session and the closing ceremony that featured a new musical setting of the Kenyan Service of Holy Communion were outstanding beyond description.

Unresolved tensions. One of the bigger and less welcome surprises for me was the level of tension that still seems to exist over the dual mandates of evangelism and social concern. I had thought, perhaps naively, that we had moved beyond this one. After all, the same Jesus who said, “Make disciples of all nations,” also said, “Love your neighbors as yourself.”

Be that as it may, it was apparent in some plenary sessions, and in a more pronounced way in some casual conversations, that there are at least some regions and circles where earlier battles are being refought, whether or not the need for them actually exists. Another area of tension that was less surprising, if no less pronounced, concerned the level of contextualization that is biblically permissible in ministry engaging the world religions, particularly Islam. The surprise here was in the degree of hurt felt by North African and Middle Eastern believers (of both Muslim and Christian background) because of how neglected their concerns have been regarding the more radical approaches to contextualization known commonly as Insider Movements or C5.

Underworked Congress. Notwithstanding the fine interactional opportunities available through the “Global Conversation” on the Internet, the Congress itself struck me as much more informational than interactive, at least at the level of decision making. It is true that there were opportunities for discussion around the tables of six and during the afternoon breakout groups, but there was not the kind of debate and interaction in plenary sessions, or voting on document drafts, that were much more a part of earlier Lausanne Congresses. Yet to be determined is the effectiveness of Part 1 (distributed the last day of the Congress) of the Cape Town Commitment, or of Part 2, still not available as of December 15, 2010. This to me has been the unfortunate major failing of the Congress, and will, despite a team of very capable men and women working on it, diminish the potential credibility and impact of the document that we were told, “will include specific calls and resolutions generated by the Congress and its GlobaLink participants.”

Undoubted benefits. There is little question in my mind that the passing of time will reveal significant benefits to the global task of evangelization and kingdom penetration. This will be visible in the partnerships, relationships, and networks that were established or strengthened as a result of the days spent together. It will hopefully be seen through the levels of reconciliation that flow in areas as diverse as discerning best methods in ministry to Muslims, to balancing the dual mandates of “making disciples of all peoples” and “loving our neighbors as ourselves,” and maybe even to healing within and between nations.


Gary Corwin  is associate editor of EMQ and staff missiologist with the international office of Serving in Mission (SIM).

EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 8-9. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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