Recalling Lausanne Congress on Evangelism 1974

David Virtue commentary:

In less than a week, some 4000 participants from 190 nations of the world will descend on Cape Town, South Africa, your scribe among them, to strategize about how to reach the world for Jesus Christ.

It is a different world from 1974 when the first Congress erupted on the global stage. Thirty-six years ago world renown evangelist Billy Graham, Anglican preacher/teacher John Stott, evangelical culture guru Francis Schaeffer, curmudgeon journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and an Anglican Bishop from Sydney, Jack Dain, stood up and declared that Jesus was the only Savior and light of the world.

They urged proclamation and declaration, encouraged intellectual engagement with society’s cultured despisers and listened as a world-weary writer catalogued the numerous dead end political and social pathways that promised little hope of human fulfillment.

They met to declare that the Whole Church would take the Whole Gospel to the Whole World.

Prior to that in 1966, The World Congress on Evangelism met in Berlin, West Germany, when Billy Graham, Carl Henry and other American Protestant Evangelicals desired to provide a forum for the growing Evangelical Protestant movement worldwide.

The congress was intended as a spiritual successor of the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. At the meeting, many Evangelicals leaders were in touch with each other for the first time. The meeting was overwhelmingly American planned, led and financed, and was sponsored by “Christianity Today” magazine, with heavy support from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

The reports and papers at the congress helped to illustrate the shift of Christianity’s center of gravity from Europe and North America to Africa, Asia and Latin America. The 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, was a successor to this conference.

The first International Congress on World Evangelization was held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974. The gathering was called by a committee headed by Rev. Billy Graham and drew more than 2,300 evangelical leaders, from 150 countries.

With the theme, “Let The Earth Hear His Voice,” leaders participated in plenary sessions and Bible studies as well as discussions and debates over theology, strategy and methods of evangelism. The gathering produced The Lausanne Covenant, a declaration that was “intended to define the necessity, responsibilities, and goals of spreading the Gospel.” Since 1974, The Lausanne Covenant has challenged Christians to work together to make Jesus Christ known throughout the world. Also, hundreds of organizations use “The Lausanne Covenant” as their ministry Statement of Faith.

It meant that the gospel should be shared with all the people who live in every place on earth. We still face the fact that millions of the world’s inhabitants have never heard the name of Jesus Christ or the good news of the salvation that God accomplished through him. We affirm and pray for all those whose calling focuses primarily on the world of the unevangelized, including particularly the Lausanne Strategy Working Group along with other Working Groups and Special Interest Groups within the Lausanne Movement.

The gospel, they argued, proclaims the saving message of the cross and resurrection. At the core of that message stands the cross as God’s saving solution to the catastrophic effects on every dimension of life, and on creation itself, of human and satanic rebellion. Sin deserves God’s condemnation, which for the unrepentant means the punishment of eternal destruction and separation from the presence of God (2 Thess. 1:9). The effects of sin and the power of evil have corrupted every dimension of human personhood (spiritual, physical, intellectual and relational), and have permeated cultural, economic, social, political and religious life through all generations of history, bringing incalculable misery to the human race and damage to God’s creation.

It was a message heard in Lausanne and around the world. Evangelicals were coming together, galvanized by a single vision – to make Jesus known.

(A second International Congress on World Evangelization, often called “Lausanne II” or “Lausanne ’89” was held in Manila. This conference produced the Manila Manifesto, a renewed and expanded commitment to the Lausanne Covenant, an influential document in modern Evangelical Christianity. It was also here that Christian mission strategist Luis Bush first highlighted the need for a major focus of evangelism in the “Resistant Belt,” covering the middle of the eastern hemisphere. Further research in mid-1990 led to the 10/40 Window concept, which contrasted the major needs and few resources devoted to this part of the world.)

For this young reporter, Lausanne was heady stuff. I had been instrumental in bringing Britain’s most distinguished journalist and Christian in the person of Malcolm Muggeridge to the event and I reveled in the moment.

Earlier, I had brought Muggeridge and Francis Schaeffer together at an Anglican retreat center – Ashburnham Place in Sussex – in the hope of finding how two very different minds could meet and find common ground over the faith. As it turned out, the event proved disastrous. Muggeridge forgave me.

Muggs, as he was affectionately known, was my idol both as a journalist and a Christian. During this time, I befriended Dr. Os Guinness at L’Abri Fellowship, whom I came to see was one of the most brilliant Christian minds of our time. An early disciple of Schaeffer, he later struck out on his own as a Christian sociologist, apologist, world-renowned speaker and author of some 25 books. Few understand the relationship between culture and faith as he does. He built on the shoulders of Schaeffer surpassing all his disciples.

Now, 36 years later in Cape Town, he is a plenary speaker who will address the heady topic of “globalization.” He will leave his imprint on this gathering as few will.

Even as a new generation of evangelicals reaches around the world, the old guard is moving on.

Schaeffer has passed away. Paul Little, IVF evangelist and author, was killed in a car crash in Canada. Muggeridge too, is gone. Billy Graham and John Stott are in the final stages of their journey home, their mission accomplished.

Their legacies will live on in their spiritual sons and daughters.

There may be no more crusades. Those days are gone, but Leighton Ford, who served the Billy Graham organization as an evangelist for thirty years and is Graham’s brother-in-law, has spent his later years focusing on raising up younger leaders to spread the message of Christ worldwide.

If I make any claims to a personal legacy, it is to old Muggs. Without him, I would not be where I am today. No journalist in the 20th Century wrote like him. I live in his shadow.

Graham and Ford have trained new generations of evangelists. Stott has left an incalculable legacy in future generations of Bible preachers and teachers, theologians and seminarians who will serve the church long after he has gone. His personal ministry and his books will last for generations.

It is quietly said that if England ever recovers the gospel, it will be through the legacy of John R.W. Stott, not any Archbishop of Canterbury, certainly not the present incumbent.

Now the torch is being passed on from the Global North to the Global South. Even as Christianity fades and the light of the gospel slowly dies in the West; Africa, Asia and Latin America are coming alive with millions (many of them Anglicans) of men, women and children discovering the Good News about Jesus for themselves. Is it any wonder that a tall, handsome Ugandan Anglican Archbishop in the person of Henry Luke Orombi is chairing this major event?

Truly, it is a happy yet sad moment. I am watching my world slowly die, the forces of greed, consumerism, pansexuality and cultural submission eating away at the vitals of a once powerful church. We are in the twilight zone. The darkness is descending all too rapidly.

In the Global South, the church is coming alive, millions are being borne anew and Cape Town will be a witness to this historic moment. I can but stand and watch. I will probably shed a tear for a time that has gone, but rejoice in what God is doing now and how His plan is unfolding as the gospel goes to the ends of the earth.

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