The International Congress on World Evangelization, known as Lausanne 74, brought together 4,000 people (participants, observers, guests, press) from all over the globe to concentrate on a single problem: how to implement the biblical mandate to evangelize the world.
Lausanne came at a turning point in twentieth-century Christianity. Not since the time of the Reformation has the Church been confronted with so many disparate opinions, torn by so many antithetical viewpoints.
Today there are two main movements in Protestant Christendom: the conciliar or ecumenical movement, represented by the World Council of Churches, and the evangelical movement, unstructured, composed of millions of believers in and out of the conciliar movement. Until recently, the wave of the future seemed to lie with the ecumenical movement, which openly or covertly supports a number of ideas that evangelicals cannot accept: syncretism, universalism, and unbiblical views of the mission of the Church, evangelism, and conversion. But within the last decade the evangelical movement, long amorphous, has begun to take shape and increase in force. Lausanne strengthened this considerably.
The World Congress on Evangelism, held in Berlin in 1966, raised the first banner in recent times around which evangelicals could rally. Berlin was followed by regional evangelism conferences in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America. And these, in turn, were a prelude to Lausanne 74.
At Berlin a biblical theology of evangelism emerged that boldly challenged the increasing theological deviations of the WCC. Although its findings had little influence on the conciliar movement, it had an important effect: it gave visibility to the evangelical movement and showed it to be a force that had to be taken into account. Thus when the Uppsala Assembly of the WCC convened in 1968 a body of people called “conservative evangelicals” participated in the proceedings.
Uppsala’s response to the theological signal generated at Berlin was decidedly negative. With a few minor exceptions Uppsala’s answer was further theological compromise, syncretistic concessions, universalistic presuppositions, a radically changed view of the mission of the Church, and a commitment to revolution to break down political structures and to bring in socialism by the overthrow of capitalism. In short, from an evangelical perspective Uppsala was a disaster.
In 1972 the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism met in Bangkok. Again the “conservative evangelicals” were represented. Evangelicals were desperately hoping that this missionary arm of the WCC would reverse Uppsala, that it would challenge the churches to a new missionary outreach aimed at persuading men to be reconciled to God by repentance and personal faith in the crucified Lord. They hoped in vain. The new leaders of the WCC and the CWME made it clear by what they said and failed to say that the WCC as it was constituted in Amsterdam in 1948 no longer existed.
Lausanne 74 was not intended to be a response to either Uppsala or Bangkok, but it has raised a challenge that cannot be ignored. The evangelical movement, unstructured, with no hierarchical base, no particular ecclesiastical endorsement or money, is now locked in combat with the ecumenical movement. No one who attended Uppsala, Bangkok, and Lausanne can fail to realize the true nature of the conflict. At its heart are two antithetical gospels. Whoever accepts one must repudiate the other.
A word should be said about the role of Billy Graham in this emerging evangelical movement. He dreamed of and supported the Berlin Congress in 1966. He was, in one way or another, involved in most of the regional congresses. And there would have been no Lausanne without Graham’s initiative. His ministry so commends itself to evangelicals that through his influence it was possible to raise the more than three million dollars required to underwrite the congress. Much of this went into congress scholarships. Hundreds of participants had everything except money to qualify them for the congress. That they were able to come was one of Graham’s significant contributions to Lausanne.
Lausanne dealt substantively with two questions: (1) What is it that evangelicals believe and are called upon to do? and (2) What strategies and methods can evangelicals, working together, use to complete the task God has called them to do?
Lausanne brought together many of the finest evangelical minds and the most devoted and committed servants of God. The excellence of the program, the wide range of small strategy and study groups, the mingling of men and women across racial, class, and denominational lines, and the free expression of differing opinions on some questions were hallmarks of the congress. The papers and the opinions expressed there will be published in October.
The congress was clear in its view of the Bible. This was reflected in the Lausanne Covenant. When the covenant’s statement on Scripture was first written, a number of participants thought it was not strong enough. It was then redrafted to reflect the historic evangelical viewpoint more clearly. The statement reads: “We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice” (my italics).
Susumu Uda, a seminary professor and pastor in Japan, said in his paper “Biblical Authority and Evangelism”: “The real issue before the entire Church and every individual Christian today is: What is to be our view of and attitude toward the Bible?” He concluded that “the Scripture possesses an authority so great that it cannot be broken. What the Scripture says will stand steadfast and cannot be annulled.” By contrast, said Uda, in the WCC “the Bible is viewed by many as merely a collection of fallible human witnesses to the experience of the so-called ‘authentic way of human existence’.… And correlative to this relativistic view of the Bible … is a strongly humanistic and socialistic view of the Church’s message and her mission.”
In his paper entitled “Form and Freedom in the Church” Francis A. Schaeffer, author and the leader of L’Abri Fellowship, said: “The first half of Genesis is history, space-time history, the Fall is a space-time Fall, or we have no knowledge of what Jesus came to die for.… Our whole answer to evil rests upon the historic, space-time Fall.” This note sounded by Uda and Schaeffer and by Billy Graham in his first address was endorsed by the congress. And this view of the Bible is quite antithetical to that held by the leaders and many others within the conciliar movement.
Lausanne spoke plainly and unequivocally about the Gospel. John R. W. Stott said:
The good news (the Gospel) is Jesus, and the good news about Jesus which we announce is that he died for our sins and was raised from death by the Father, according to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and that on the basis of his death and resurrection he offers forgiveness of sins.
German university professor Peter Beyerhaus spoke of “the vicarious death of the Messiah.” “To evangelize” said the congress in its covenant, “is to spread the good news” of the “historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God.” In other words, the Gospel has specific content and is meant to be proclaimed, promising men forgiveness of sins when they repent and turn to Christ in faith.
At Lausanne the Gospel was tied to the mission of the Church, and that mission was defined as the evangelization of the world. So the covenant said that “in the church’s mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary” (my italics). The urgency of the task was stressed: men are really lost and will perish if they do not hear and respond to the Gospel, and 2,700 million people, “more than two-thirds of mankind,” are “yet to be evangelized.” The spirit of sacrifice required to do this job was emphasized, and covenant signers were called upon to cultivate “a simple lifestyle in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism.”
At Lausanne, social action was not put on the same plane with the proclamation of the Gospel, nor was it given standing as a substitute for the Gospel. But it surfaced again and again, and Christians were called to work for justice for all mankind. Francis Schaeffer drew attention to the fact that God made all people in his own image, and Christians must treat all with dignity. He argued that racism has arisen precisely because men have denied the authority of Scripture and made taboos apart from and contrary to the Word of God.
In a paper entitled “Evangelism and Man’s Search for Freedom, Justice and Fulfillment,” Samuel Escobar, a Latin American who is the secretary of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Canada, was highly critical of North America and more specifically of certain aspects of the American way of life, which has had a pervasive influence around the world. Escobar criticized “American imperialism,” under which, he said, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. He said that out of every hundred people in the world’s population, only seven are North Americans, but these seven “spend one-half of all the money, eat one-seventh of all the food and use one-half of all the bathtubs. These seven people would have ten times more doctors than the other ninety-three. Meanwhile the seven would continue to get more and more and the ninety-three less and less.” (This was written before the Arab oil crisis and the changes this set in motion in the Western world’s economic situation.) Escobar stressed the relation between evangelism and social evils and said that the Christian calling compels Christ’s followers to become involved in the fight for social change, in the overturning of the status quo. (Absent from Escobar’s catalogue of social evils were some solidly entrenched ones that cause untold physical and spiritual debasement: alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and pornography.)
René Padilla, associate general secretary of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Buenos Aires, spoke strongly about “culture Christianity” as expressed by the “American way of life.” He finds this “no less harmful to the cause of the Gospel than ‘secular Christianity.’ ” Padilla went on to criticize an other-worldly gospel that stresses man’s vertical relation to God but ignores man’s horizontal relation to man, a salvation that does not issue in works to heal the sick, bind up the wounds of those who have been assaulted, feed those who are hungry, and clothe those who are naked. In its report on the congress Time magazine (August 5 issue) quoted Padilla to emphasize the point that Lausanne took social action seriously but not in the way that the ecumenical movement does; Lausanne did so without detracting from the priority of gospel proclamation.
Carl F. H. Henry, lecturer-at-large of World Vision and first editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, offered the most persuasive arguments for Christian involvement in social action in his seminar paper “Evangelism and Personal and Social Ethics.” He said that Christian participation in political life is a biblical mandate. Henry covered the gamut of personal and social ethical problems, showing how the Christian ought to be involved in fighting various social evils. Whereas Escobar seemed to be saying that socialism is preferable to capitalism and that many Latin Americans espouse Marxism because of its emphasis on justice, Henry banged hard against the idea that socialism is a panacea or Marxism a viable option. “Christians,” he said, “must indict the moral wrongs of human destitution, suffering, affliction, and oppression.” But he went on to say:
Christians must contrast socialist uncertainty about the identity of the ideal man and the express nature of the new society with Christian certainty about the Second Adam and the regenerate society as a beachhead for the coming Kingdom. Christians must emphasize that Marxist proposals for utopia do not really, as claimed, overcome human alienation, but in fact perpetuate the alienation by substituting one preferred class for another, and deepen it by ignoring man’s fundamental spiritual relationship to the living God.
The Lausanne Covenant said, “Evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty,” which includes “judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist.” At the same time it carefully noted that “social action is not evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation.”
The seminar on universalism dealt in depth with two major questions: Will all men be saved, and is there salvation for those who die without the knowledge of Christ, particularly those who embrace other religions or are syncretistic? The seminar and the Lausanne Covenant made plain the evangelical theological commitment of the participants at this point. The covenant proclaimed that “those who reject Christ … condemn themselves to eternal separation from God.” “To proclaim Jesus as ‘the Saviour of the world’ is not to affirm that all men are either automatically or ultimately saved, still less to affirm that all religions offer salvation in Christ.” Moreover, the seminar on universalism denied the possibility that any man can die without having had a chance, since every person has at least the light of conscience written in his heart even if he does not have the light of the law or the light of the Gospel. Lausanne responded to the conciliar movement’s Bangkok challenge by forthrightly repudiating both universalism and syncretism.
The evangelization of the world was Lausanne’s chief concern. Since the Berlin congress in 1966 the world’s population had increased by 590,193,076 persons. During the ten days at Lausanne it increased by 1,852,837. But the emphasis on world evangelization was not simply academic. Participants were leading unbelievers in Lausanne to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. On the one Sunday of the congress Billy Graham held a mass meeting, and the stadium was packed with a crowd estimated at between 25 and 40 thousand. Hundreds of people came forward at the invitation to register their decisions for Jesus Christ. It was an impressive illustration of mass evangelism and a moving demonstration of how the Spirit works when the Gospel is preached in all its simplicity and richness.
The conciliar movement and the Marxists both sound the note of a forthcoming man-made utopia. The eschatology of Lausanne left no room for such farfetched and unrealistic dreams. Rather, there was the warning of the coming of false christs and false prophets before the advent of the Antichrist. “God will perfect his kingdom,” and utopia will dawn when there is “the new heaven and earth.” The covenant was plain: “We reject as a proud, self-confident dream the notion that man can ever build a utopia on earth.”
Malcolm Muggeridge in his address and I in mine sounded the apocalyptic note of impending judgment and of the cataclysm to come (Muggeridge’s address appeared in the August 16 issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY). Men and nations without God are everywhere engaged in the serious business of committing suicide. In its multifaceted forms this tendency can be observed by all who care to see. Muggeridge said:
We see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power. On every hand intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts that encompass them, and the very weaponry at their disposal so monstrous in its destructiveness as to be unusable except to blow our very earth and all its creatures to smithereens.… Man has decided to abolish himself … himself blowing the trumpet that brings the walls of his own city tumbling down.
Billy Graham’s closing address, “The King Is Coming,” struck a triumphant note. Reinforcing what Harold John Ockenga has long preached at Park Street Church and at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, Graham drew attention to the fact that God is at work redeeming lost men even while Satan moves them to suicide. The Bible speaks of the “latter rain”: at the end of the age large numbers of people will be saved and the people of God will be revived and refreshed. The stream of unbelief is offset by the stream of redemption. God’s kingdom, now just a beachhead on a hostile shore, will prevail.
Lausanne enjoyed a spiritual unity unknown to the ecumenical movement even in its heyday. This unity was expressed visibly when more than three thousand people sat down at the Lord’s table to eat and drink in remembrance of his death and in anticipation of his coming. Never has the World Council of Churches been able to express a unity like this, a gathering at one table of believers from many diverse denominations. This observance followed a very moving sermon by Anglican bishop Festo Kivengere on the Cross of Jesus Christ. On the previous evening Edward Hill, a black Baptist pastor from Los Angeles, had spoken on the power of God—a power that gives unity. This power was very evident at the communion table on the closing day.
Religion reporter Richard Ostling and religion editor Mayo Mohs of Time magazine caught the fuller meaning of Lausanne. The Time report described Lausanne as a challenge to the World Council of Churches, and the Continuing Committee as the beginning of a new movement away from the ecumenical point of view.
The Lausanne Covenant, signed by more than two thousand people—and more signatures are coming in all the time—makes it plain that God is doing a new thing. He is cutting across the old channels and breaking open a new channel for the evangelization of the world.
By and large, the participants at Lausanne want a fellowship of true believers created as an instrument for world evangelization. But they do not want an ecclesiastical machine or hierarchical structures. Their most recent experiences of these have soured them on the idea.
Lausanne reached a new high in evangelical cooperation. Whether this spirit will last depends upon the continuing fellowship yet to be created and upon the willingness of evangelicals around the world to rally around the flag that Lausanne raised. If God is in it, as most of the participants believed, it will not fail. The Gospel may yet be preached to all the world for a witness in this generation—and then the King will come!
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