On thursday, July 25, at noon, one of the most significant assemblies in modern mission history closed: the International Congress On World Evangelization (ICOWE), held in Lausanne, Switzerland. Only a quarter of an hour later a small panel was on the air to attempt a first evaluation of the Lausanne meeting. Involved were Emilio Castro, director of the World Council of Churches’ Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (the WCC headquarters are in Geneva, less than forty miles from Lausanne), two ecumenical journalists, a YMCA worker, and I. The main question presented to us was: How far has the ICOWE widened or closed the gap between the two competitive Protestant movements of world missions, the ecumenical and the evangelical?

Our ecumenical partners pleaded that the gap had been closed considerably. This was not surprising. Today one of the main concerns of WCC leaders is to show a generous attitude toward their conservative evangelical brethren. The ecumenical fellowship is considered wide enough to include evangelical concerns as well as those of other groups in world Christianity.

The evangelical side has the unpleasant duty of expressing reservations. They cannot accept an inclusiveness that is built on the fallacious assumption of theological and ideological pluralism. Biblical truth cannot coexist with humanistic ideologies.

In the radio discussion, Dr. Castro spoke of his pleasure at the friendly spirit in which he, an official observer from Geneva, was received by the evangelical participants. In fact, at a press conference Billy Graham and Bishop Jack Dain, the two chairmen of the congress, had expressed similar feelings in regard to their personal relations with individual representatives of the WCC. But on the following day the chairmen went on to voice their strong reservations about the ecumenical concepts of salvation and evangelism.

Our partners in the panel, however, argued that here, too, the two positions had met in Lausanne. They mentioned three points at which the ICOWE had taken up major concerns of the World Missionary Conference, held in Bangkok last year: (1) the dialogue with men of other religions, (2) the connection between evangelism and socio-political action, and (3) the moratorium call. But a close examination of the Lausanne Covenant makes it clear that the evangelical understanding of these issues takes us far away from the spirit of Bangkok.

1. What is meant by “dialogue”? Stanley Samartha, director of Geneva’s “Programme of Dialogue with Men Living Faiths and Secular Ideologies,” defines its task like this: “to become sensitive to the working of the Holy Spirit in the whole world, and that, to be sure, not only within religions but also within secular beliefs and ideologies.” As Christ is believed to work savingly in them and to speak to us through them, their adherents are regarded as our brothers and sisters with whom we are to strive for a coming world community borne of a common spirituality.

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This unbiblical idea is clearly refuted in the Lausanne Covenant: “We reject as derogatory to Christ and the Gospel every kind of syncretism and dialogue which implies that Christ speaks equally through all religions and ideologies.” Dialogue is seen as merely a prelude to the proper task of evangelization. Its purpose is “to listen sensitively in order to understand. But evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord.…”

2. The social and political concern for the exploited and oppressed was indeed articulated at Lausanne with an unusual passion. The forceful lectures of the two Latin American main speakers, Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar, resound in the section on “Christian Social Responsibility,” which is the longest in the covenant. My ecumenical radio partners were really pleased. But here I could point out to them that socio-political concern as such is no new evangelical discovery at Lausanne. The Minneapolis Congress of October, 1969, and the Chicago Declaration of November, 1973, had struck a similar note.

Still the basic difference between ecumenical and evangelical involvement in politics remains. Bangkok had attributed a direct soteriological significance to it: “Salvation is the peace of the people in Viet Nam, independence in Angolia, justice and reconciliation in Ireland, and release from the captivity of power in the North Atlantic community.” Lausanne regarded evangelism and social action as “both part of our Christian duty,” but, the covenant went on to say: “Reconciliation with man is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation.”

3. What about the demand to withdraw Western funds and personnel from Latfricasian churches? In his opening speech Billy Graham reaped roaring applause when he denounced the moratorium idea as unacceptable in view of the 2.7 billion people who still have not heard the saving Gospel. Yet, curiously enough, John Gatu, the champion of the moratorium idea at Bangkok and Lusaka, was present as a convenor at the Lausanne congress, and he advocated moratorium in the African strategy section. The participants agreed with him in the demand for African church leadership. But in view of the unfinished evangelistic task they rejected the idea of a complete withdrawal of foreign missionary personnel.

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The covenant gives credit to both concerns. After calling all churches “to send missionaries to other parts of the world” it states:

A reduction of foreign missionaries and money in an evangelized country may sometimes be necessary to facilitate the national church’s growth in self-reliance and to release resources for unevangelized areas.

This is a far cry from the Bangkok version of the moratorium. There it was suggested that the funds saved by a missionary moratorium be reallocated to combatant liberation movements!

These three examples prove that the seeming similarities between Bangkok and Lausanne hide a vast gulf of disagreement. While Lausanne reaffirmed “the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures” as “the only infallible rule of faith and practice,” Bangkok in its Bible studies handled scriptural authority rather loosely, and the experiences of contemporary man in his historic movements, his religions and ideologies were treated as other expressions of divine revelation. Here the Lausanne Covenant voices its severest warning:

We detect the activity of our enemy, not only in false ideologies outside the church, but also inside it in false gospels that twist Scripture and put man in the place of God. We need both watchfulness and discernment to safeguard the biblical gospel.

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