The Reformation of the 16th century was a revolution of mythic proportions. Scholars and pastors with fresh scriptural insights took advantage of revolutionary changes in the arts, science, humanities, politics, travel, and commerce to turn the Western world upside down. It marked both a return to biblical roots and a leap into the future. In the 21st century, what major changes in the church should Christians be hoping and working for? In the final installment of the Global Conversation, four key leaders from four continents reveal their hopes.
Reformation is a work of God so broad, deep, and historic that it is beyond my scope and probably that of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. I opt for something more modest: a "reformation of manners" (to borrow a phrase from William Wilberforce and others). The phrase originally meant widespread social renewal, but we might aim more modestly at reforming our treatment of others, with courtesy as believers in the way we relate to one another, with respect as evangelists toward those we seek to win.
Three eminent "fathers" of the Lausanne Movement—Billy Graham, John Stott, and Jack Dain—exemplified for me this spirit of truth and grace, of deep conviction about the gospel and humility toward one's self and others. The world, suggests historian Martin Marty, might be a different place if Graham had been a "mean person." A Chinese Ph.D. student, herself not a believer, told me that she is writing about how Graham approached other nations with civility, "not with a closed fist but with an open hand."
When so many regard Christians (especially evangelists and missionaries) as intolerant and arrogant, it could be a worthwhile advance if from Cape Town 2010 emerges a church proclaiming and practicing a generous evangelism, reflecting the generosity of the Lord Jesus.
Our theme for Cape Town 2010 is from Paul's words: "God in Christ reconciling the world to himself." What an amazing privilege he then cites: that we are "Christ's ambassadors … as though God were making his appeal through us" (2 Cor. 5).
Or, as one paraphrase puts it, "God has changed us from enemies into friends and given us the task of making others his friends also."
Is that how pre-Christians see evangelists? As friends? Or do they see us as belligerents, heavy-handed and fighting even with each other?
How then should we ambassadors represent this good news? "We put no stumbling block in anyone's path," Paul continues. "Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves." How? Not only through enduring reproaches for the gospel, but also through purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God (2 Cor. 6:3-7).
So we are to weave together the heart and truth of the gospel message with the beauty and grace of gospel ministry.
The spirit of Lausanne has been one of living out this attitude. God grant that Cape Town 2010 be a place where evangelical believers come together, listen to one another with respect, learn together in humility, and work and pray together in love.
If Cape Town 2010 can help us become more generous evangelists, reflecting the generosity of Jesus, making the gospel attractive in word, act, and spirit, that can be a large step toward reformation, or transformation, or—pray God—both.
Leighton Ford is president of Leighton Ford Ministries and honorary lifetime chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.
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