The following is an edited version of an interview the editors conducted with Leighton Ford on what has happened in world evangelization since and because of the Lausanne Congress.
Q. What do you think Lausanne accomplished?
A. One of the news magazines described the Lausanne Congress as the most representative gathering of Christians ever assembled. That may have been an overstatement, but from the standpoint of evangelical Christianity it may be true. That in itself was a major accomplishment. Out of the great diversity of national backgrounds, cultures, and theological positions, there was a remarkable sense of unity.
Second, Lausanne gave us an update on what God is doing—what congress director Don Hoke called “the big picture.” We learned that the church is growing remarkably throughout many parts of the world. In fact, this may be the period of greatest growth in church history. One missiologist I know estimates that more than 1,000 new churches are formed every week. It was particularly heartening to see the upsurge of outstanding theological and missionary leadership in the Third World churches. We also learned that nearly three billion people in our world have not yet been confronted with the Gospel.
The Congress raised a banner for a biblical theology of evangelization. The “Lausanne Covenant” symbolized this. It has been widely regarded as one of the most definitive evangelical statements in our generation and has been distributed to tens of thousands of people worldwide. Finally, I would say that Lausanne helped to initiate new efforts of evangelization, theological study, and Christian education.
Q. How was Lausanne organized?
A. Several years earlier Billy Graham convened a small group of leaders from around the world. They were asked whether they thought it was time to have another international congress. The word came back: “Yes, we need to move beyond what happened at the 1966 Berlin Congress.” Bishop Jack Dain of Sydney, Australia, was asked to chair a planning committee. This committee represented all the continents of the world. The leadership of the Berlin Congress was largely North American and European. Lausanne included a strong contingent of Third World leadership.
Q. Since Lausanne, there seems to be a new spirit ofinternational evangelical cooperation. Did this begin with Berlin?
A. Partially so. Berlin helped to begin a process of evangelical sharing, planning, and praying that focused on world evangelism. It also spawned a number of other congresses around the world—Bogotá, Singapore, Amsterdam, Minneapolis, Ottawa, and eventually Lausanne.
Q. Was this cooperation reflected in the “Lausanne Covenant?”
A. I believe so. The Covenant stressed many points on which we are agreed, such as the purpose of God and the authority of Scripture. It included a careful statement on the relationship between evangelism and social concern. It emphasized the ministry of the Holy Spirit in revival. At the same time it clearly indicated that we as Christians must not put the Gospel in a cultural straitjacket; God is not tied to any culture. Of course, one of the most frequently discussed aspects of the Covenant was the call for a simple lifestyle.
Q. Was that clause imposed on Westerners by people of the Third World? Do we really believe it? If so, why is it so hard to live more simply?
A. No, representatives of the Third World did not insist on that clause. Christians from the more affluent countries felt a responsibility here. Why is it so difficult to do? I think there are two reasons. One, Christians often have been caught up in a pattern of materialism that is hard to break. Second, a “simple lifestyle” is somewhat relative. What might be simple in the United States would not be so in India or Nigeria. Further, I think simplicity does not refer just to things. It often involves how a person uses his time. That is as big a problem with me as my attitude to material things. The essence of simplicity, it seems to me, is concentrating on the will of God. It doesn’t so much mean giving up things as it means seeking first the Kingdom of God. As Kierkegaard would say, simplicity does not mean forsaking lamps but focusing on the stars. When we focus on God and seek first his Kingdom the other things will take care of themselves. Of course, this must be reflected in our use of things. We need to look at the things we possess and ask ourselves, “Are these things tools for the Lord or have they become idols?”
Q. What did you mean when you said Lausanne was part of a process?
A. World evangelization is a process. It began when Christ gave the great commission, and it will continue until the Gospel is preached to all the world. Lausanne was part of that. But also Lausanne was planned to be more than an event. The participants had papers to study before the conference started. The program was planned so that people could devise a strategy for evangelization to use in their own countries.
Q. There was a continuation committee set up, right?
A. That’s right. We didn’t do that after Berlin. But the Lausanne Planning Committee decided early that this question must be thoroughly considered. The participants were questioned about their feelings in the matter. There was a strong feeling against setting up another structure, another big organization. But at the same time the questionnaires indicated that 80 per cent wanted some form of followup. So a continuation committee was appointed. It is now called the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE) and includes forty-eight men, and women, and young people representing twenty-five countries in all the major regions of the world.
Q. There has been criticism that the Lausanne Committee is in competition with the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) and is duplicating their programs and those of similar regional groups around the world. Is this true?
A. As I said before, the Lausanne participants did not want another major world structure. We take this seriously. The Lausanne Committee is not in competition with the WEF. We see ourselves working as partners. The WEF has been in existence for over a century and we thank God for its strategic role and rejoice in its resurgence and growth over the past several years. Waldron Scott, WEF executive secretary, and others have given dynamic leadership. I should say that there has been regular communication between the leadership of the LCWE and the WEF to eliminate duplication and encourage cooperation. I think two major differences need to be recognized. WEF represents the concern of many evangelical churches worldwide in such areas as missions, theological education, and relief work. On the other hand, the LCWE focuses particularly on world evangelization. Our goal in one sense is more narrowly focused. Also, though the constituency overlaps somewhat, there are groups within the WEF that do not feel at home in the Lausanne movement. And Lausanne embraces some evangelicals who are not part of the World Evangelical Fellowship.
Each of us needs to ask: what is the priority in my life? Is it my family, my job, my church? Or is it the Kingdom of God?
Q. Have there been some problems with cooperation in various parts of the world?
A. This may have happened once or twice, but we have asked our regional groups to be sensitive to existing evangelical agencies and fellowships. It was inevitable that we have communication problems in the early stages. Lausanne and the WEF are hoping to co-sponsor a number of projects such as a consultation on the teaching of evangelism and missions and one on the simple lifestyle.
Q. What is the role of the LCWE?
A. At the first meeting of the continuation committee in Mexico City we stated our purpose—“to further the total biblical mission of the church, recognizing that in this mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary.” We also feel our priority target is the large bloc of unevangelized peoples in the world. Now the Lausanne Committee is not a program agency. We do not send missionaries or sponsor evangelistic programs. We see the committee as a catalyst. We bring evangelical leaders together to share information and to encourage cooperation in evangelization.
Q. How does the committee actually work?
A. Lausanne is more a movement than a structure. We have a small central office in Nairobi. Gottfried Osei-Mensah, a gifted young African leader, is our executive secretary. Most of our work is done through regional and working groups. In most parts of the world there is a regional committee representing many of those people who are committed to the goals of world evangelization. The full committee works with them to stimulate regional evangelistic initiatives. We also have four working groups—theology, intercession, strategy, and communications.
Q. What has actually happened as a result of Lausanne?
A. First of all, some wonderful evangelistic thrusts have occurred. For example, three leaders in the Pentecostal churches of Bolivia went back and formed a team that went to nineteen South American countries. They challenged churches in these countries to begin one new church a year, and for each Christian to win one person to Christ a year. Bruno Frigoli, a member of the Lausanne Committee, told me recently that more than two thousand new churches have been formed since 1975 through this program. After the Congress, the leaders in Kenya had a conference and felt a burden from God to evangelize the unreached peoples of Kenya. Nine tribes there had no contact with the Gospel. Bishop David Gitari located five of these in his own diocese. He has started what I call “camel-back” evangelization. Since these tribes are nomadic he is buying camels so that his evangelists can move with them. Just the other day I heard about a new effort to reach the 20,000 Turkish immigrants who live in Sydney, Australia. The Anglican diocese with the help of a Turkish Christian evangelist now has a small congregation of converted Muslims meeting every week. There are many such examples of the practical results of Lausanne.
There have also been new efforts to tie evangelism and social concern together. A new Youth for Christ program is just one example of social concern.
Several new nationwide evangelistic efforts have begun. In France it’s IMPACT 78 and in Germany it’s a four-phase national program slated to begin in 1979. Lausanne also spawned numerous regional or national congresses on evangelism, which in turn have served as catalysts. Meetings have been held in Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Taiwan, and India. These conferences have done more than inspire the people who attended them. Some specific steps have been taken. For example, the India Congress committed itself to such projects as coordinating indigenous efforts to reach 98 per cent of the Indian people who are not Christians, and the formation of the Indian Missionary Association.
Q. What has the Committee itself actually done?
A. First, we have emphasized prayer. We send out a regular prayer bulletin to those who were at Lausanne. We are promoting the observance of Pentecost Sunday as an annual day of prayer for world evangelization. Two hundred fifty years ago the Moravians in Germany began a prayer meeting for world missions and the unity of Christians that lasted for nearly one hundred years. Twenty-four men and twenty-four women committed themselves to pray for one hour each day. When one of them grew too old to continue, or died, someone else would take his or her place. We would like to see this kind of renewed prayer emphasis take place.
Q. What about communications?
A. We emphasize news of what God is doing in the world and news of what needs to be done. The regional and national congresses are one source of communication. Gottfried Osei-Mensah has traveled to different parts of the world to share with pastors and leaders news of what is happening. Several times a year we publish the World Evangelization Information Bulletin, which goes to a few thousand leaders throughout the world. We also send out a monthly information service to periodicals throughout the world on news of evangelization. Anyone who wants to get either the bulletin or the news service can do so by writing to the Lausanne Committee, P.O. Box 1100, Wheaton, Illinois 60187.
Q. Then you also have a group working in theology?
A. Yes. John R. W. Stott of London is the chairman of this group. We want to continue to raise the banner for biblical evangelization and to defend it against distortion. The theology group wants to provide a platform on which evangelicals can meet and discuss some key issues. For example, last spring the Lausanne theology group sponsored a consultation on Donald McGavran’s “Homogeneous Unit Principle” of church growth. This widely discussed and debated principle says that people want to become Christians without having to cross class, race, or cultural barriers. The church growth people believe that God has allowed the variety of cultural groupings for a reason, and that these cultural distinctives are actually bridges to God. Opponents argue that this principle militates against the unity of God’s people. This consultation was a good example of what has been called “the spirit of Lausanne,” a frank and candid discussion in a spirit of Christian charity. I recommend that people interested in this issue read the final statement of the meeting.
The theology group is also co-sponsoring two other consultations. In January a meeting on the “Gospel and culture” will discuss the problems of preaching the Gospel cross-culturally. The other consultation will be the relationship between evangelization and theological education. We want to encourage and aid Christian education institutions around the world to make teaching missions and evangelism integral to their whole program.
Q. What’s happening in the area of strategy? This was a key word at Lausanne, wasn’t it?
A. Yes, it was, but I think we have to be careful at this point. It is not our task as Christians to develop one overall strategy. Rather, I think we should seek to discover what God is doing in the world. With that in mind our strategy group, chaired by Peter Wagner, professor of missions at the Fuller School of World Missions in California, wants to find ways of developing effective strategies of evangelization. A major concern is the unreached peoples of the world. By “unreached” they mean any area where fewer than 20 per cent of the people are practicing Christians. This would include many groups in the North Atlantic as well as in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The Strategy Group, in collaboration with MARC (Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center, a division of World Vision) is working to identify these people. Then they are testing ways to approach them. Finally, they want to share their findings with decision-makers in churches, missions, and evangelistic agencies throughout the world.
Q. What’s being done to get Lausanne’s message to the United States?
A. A North American Lausanne Committee has been appointed and has already sponsored several conferences. A committee has been appointed to explore the possibility of a major U.S. congress or festival on evangelization for 1979.
Q. You have been using two words—evangelism and evangelization. Aren’t they synonyms?
A. It may be an academic distinction, but at Lausanne we used “evangelism” to refer to the winning of people to Christ within one’s own culture. “Evangelization” means discipling all nations.
Q. What about evangelization in Communist countries?
A. Billy Graham has recently been to Hungary and the response there may well lead to further evangelistic work with Christians in Eastern Europe. A little over a year ago the Lausanne Executive Committee met privately with a group of leaders from Eastern Europe. As we reported what was happening around the world—the growth of the church in Korea and Africa, for example—their faces glowed. One of them said to us, “We want to share in evangelizing the world. We can’t send out missionaries yet, but we want to do that. Pray for us.” They told us that a decade ago in their country very few young people attended church, but that now there are frequent youth conferences with hundreds of thousands of young people in attendance. Last year in the Ukraine ninety new churches were formed. Persecution continues, though, and the Lausanne Committee has asked people to pray for leaders like Georgi Vins.
from the light switch
declares them redundant for seeing,
a poor yet expensive procedure
to scare off the dark.
But only a candle
can incense the air for our viewing,
can kindle it, color it, bend it,
for atmosphere blend a spare shadow or two,
can flicker and flare with a mood
for each moment and season,
prepare the bleak night of our winter
for mystery, magic-past-reason,
the suddenly shimmering vision
that brings us to birth.
J. BARRIE SHEPHERD
Q. What about the emerging role of national leadership in missions?
A. There are strong, able leaders in Asia, Africa, and Latin America—more than the average Christian in North America realizes. Many of these outstanding leaders surfaced at Lausanne. In the Third World there are now about 300 missionary agencies. This is exciting. We need to support these organizations not only with our prayers, but with our money. On the other hand, we still need to send missionaries from North America.
Q. What can lay people do to aid world evangelization?
A. First, I think each of us needs to ask: what is the priority in my life? Is it my family, or my job, or my church? Or is the Kingdom of God and the task of world evangelization really central? We need to determine by God’s grace to become a world Christian. Pray. Get information about an unevangelized people, study about them, and pray for them until they become Christians. Help increase the vision of missions through your local church. Promote a missions conference, encourage young people to go out for short-term service, bring national leaders to speak in your church. Aim at matching dollar for dollar how much you spend on your local congregation with how much you give to evangelism, missions, and overseas relief. People approaching retirement age could consider the possibility of early retirement to help in a short-term service overseas. Many businessmen could use their knowledge to help Christians in the Third World develop an economic base for missions. North America at present funds much of the world mission effort. I know of a company in the United States that has a number of Christians in its leadership. It gave a franchise to an African businessman. Because of monetary restrictions he could not send the profits back to this country. The executives suggested that he use them as a fund for evangelistic efforts in his own country.
Q. Is there going to be another Lausanne?
A. There are no plans now for another such congress. That could change. However, there will be a consultation on world evangelization sponsored by the Lausanne Committee in January, 1980. This will probably be held some place in the Third World. It will be relatively small and will bring together several hundred representative evangelicals. It will assess the progress in world evangelization since Lausanne. It will also set new directions and priorities for the 1980’s.
Q. Can world evangelization really be accomplished?
A. Wernher Von Braun, the father of space flights, was asked once what it would take to send a rocket to the moon. He replied simply, “The will to do it.” We know that world evangelization is the will of God. Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world and then the end will come.” That’s not a command but a prophecy that will be fulfilled. For a rocket to go to the moon, four things are needed: a great purpose, a propellent, a guidance system, and a communications network. They are also involved in world evangelization. The purpose is made clear in Scripture: to glorify God by preaching the Gospel to all nations and making disciples. The propellent is the power of the Holy Spirit, released through believing prayer. The guiding of the Holy Spirit must inform our strategy. God’s work must be shared with God’s people around the world. We don’t see the Lausanne Committee as “mission control” for world evangelization. Mission control is the throne of God. But we do seek to be a faithful, obedient group of God’s people who want to keep the vision of world evangelization central among Christians throughout the world.
D. Bruce Lockerbie is chairman of the Fine Arts department at The Stony Brook School, Stony Brook, New York. This article is taken from his 1976 lectures on Christian Life and Thought, delivered at Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.
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