Two weeks ago the Cape Town Congress on World Evangelization concluded and I arrived back home in Richmond, Va. Jet lag finally faded and I returned to the world of home and work. It is the right time to ask myself what I learned in Cape Town and what I think is significant about the Lausanne III Congress. But how do you summarize eight days, 4,200 participants from 198 nations and amazing testimonies of grace, hardship, faithfulness, and persecution?
My young friend, Allen Yeh, religion professor at Biola University, has declared that Lausanne III lacked the prophetic and groundbreaking voices of 1974 — like those of Ralph Winter, John Stott, and Rene Padilla. True. On the other hand, I can say that this Congress truly was a “representationally” global event unlike Manila 1989 or Lausanne 1974. The Manila Congress was held in the global south but lacked the breadth and diversity of this conference (where 65% of participants were from the non-western world and were under age 50).
In 1974 missiologist Ralph Winter articulated the notion of unreached peoples — peoples hidden from evangelistic focus and lying beyond the concern of the church. At Cape Town the concern for “Unreached People Groups” was the centerpiece of a plenary presentation by Jesus Film pioneer, Paul Eshelman. But the presentation was too brief and the attempt by the Lausanne Congress to enlist the participants to commit to efforts to reach these unreached people groups in the world — namely to “adopt” a people group, was presented much too quickly with too little information or time to think and pray about it.
Allen Yeh’s cogent conclusions about what was missing in Cape Town also includes: South Koreans (though they serve the worldwide church with a huge missionary force — second only to the U.S., there was not a single Korean platform speaker); Pentecostals (they are 80% of the Latin American evangelical church, comprise one of the fastest-growing segments of evangelicalism worldwide, but there were few represented on the platform or in the Congress leadership); Creation Care or the stewardship of the earth’s resources as an aspect of missionary concern was mostly missing (though it was briefly mentioned by Latin American statesman Rene Padilla). Apartheid (in the land of South Africa) was not mentioned in any major address although the Congress met practically in the shadow of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela endured much of his 27-year exile.
Before the Congress concluded a group did circulate a “Statement of Lament for Evangelicals and the Legacy of Apartheid.” It appeared a little late and remained unofficial but it did capture the right spirit of reconciliation, a major theme of the Congress.
African Christianity was well represented, which was appropriate since South Africa hosted the Congress. Africa is a giant continent, however, and one must be cautious painting conclusions with broad brush strokes. East Africa is very different from West Africa and sub-Saharan Africa (predominantly Christian) is worlds apart from Muslim North Africa. It is striking to realize that the largest Anglican communions in the world are African and that they are evangelical too.
The role of women in ministry and in leadership was a contested matter that mostly stayed in the background. Plenary Bible study speaker John Piper has well known convictions about women being restricted to “complementarian” roles. Bible study leader Ruth Padilla De Borst was the most prominent female platform speaker who might be seen as representing the “egalitarian” perspective. The evangelical world, obviously, has divergent views on this important topic. The Cape Town planners deserve credit for including both camps in the gathering and seating Piper and De Borst at the same speaker’s table.
Two documents will come forth from the Cape Town gathering and will be titled the Cape Town Commitment. Part one, “A Declaration of Belief” is the work of an editorial team headed by biblical scholar Chris Wright. Part One consists of ten affirmations that describe God’s people as committed to loving: the Triune God, God’s Word, God’s World, God’s Gospel, God’s People, and God’s Mission. It was distributed to participants on the next to last day.
A second document, A Call to Action, will include specific calls and resolutions generated by the Congress and its GlobalLink participants. It is expected to be available by the end of this year.
What about the future? The Lausanne Movement has held three Lausanne Congresses — one in Europe, one in Asia, and one in Africa — not to mention the precursor Berlin Conference in 1966 and several smaller regional gatherings. One might expect the next Congress would be in the Americas; maybe selecting Latin America will correct the oversight of Edinburgh 1910, which excluded Latin America from consideration both in delegates and as a target mission field.
Another possibility would be to dream a dream that China would be ready to host a Lausanne Congress in 2030. A handful of Chinese church leaders have had to represent a growing Christian movement in East Asia; there were very few Chinese participants in 1910, 1974, 1989, and 2010. Perhaps the full complement of Chinese delegates will be present and be serving in leadership should the gathering ever take place in Beijing.
RICHARD HANEY is interim pastor of Fairfield Church in Mechanicsville, Va.