Barred Chinese leaders send greetings to Lausanne Congress

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – In an emotional evening, participants of the Lausanne Congress heard the song that Chinese leaders barred from travelling had planned to sing and the Scripture verses that they picked out for their presentation.

Doug Birdsall, executive chair of The Lausanne Movement, expressed disappointment that China – which has the second largest evangelical population in the world behind Africa – was not well-represented at the Congress. China and Africa were scheduled to engage in a much-anticipated dialogue on Monday evening that was cancelled after members of the house church were prevented from leaving the country to attend Lausanne III.

In their greeting, the house church leaders chose verses from Philippians 1:29, about suffering for Christ, and James 1:29, about being slow to anger. They also sent the translated lyrics to the Chinese song, “Lord’s Love for China”, which they had planned to sing that night.

“Lord’s love in China lights up the hope for eternity. Lord’s love in China revives the soul of the faithful and blessed,” reads the chorus of the song.

The Chinese government blocked Chinese house church leaders from traveling abroad and catching their flights in the weeks leading up to the Congress.

House church leaders’ passports were confiscated at airports and at least one leader was detained after trying to fly out of the country from Beijing International Airport.

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda, the honorary chair of the African Host Committee of Lausanne III, commented that holding a world mission conference without China was like the World Cup taking place without Brazil at the World Cup.

“It is unimaginable,” he told reporters on Monday.

When asked if the leadership of Lausanne III could have done a better job of handling the Chinese invitation. Birdsall responded that conference organisers had consulted with Chinese leaders and allowed them to handle the invitation. He emphasised that although the China situation was regrettable, any “what if” question would only be speculative at this point.

“The selection criteria and process used by indigenous leaders in China was the same used by other national and regional selection teams around the world,” said Birdsall in a statement.

“We very much regret that our intentions and the decentralised invitation process to our Chinese brothers and sisters have been wrongly perceived,” he said.

He added that Lausanne did not intend to challenge the Chinese government’s principle of “independent, autonomous and self-governed churches”.

The Chinese government was offended that the state church leaders of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council (TSPM/CCC) were not formally invited to represent China’s Christians when house church leaders were.

TSPM/CCC leaders requested to attend Lausanne, which organisers agreed to. But the TSPM/CCC could not affirm The Lausanne Covenant and commit to Lausanne’s vision, which is required of all participants.

Chinese state-churches adhere to the government’s rule that only approves of evangelism in state-approved religious venues and private settings. Public evangelism is prohibited. Also, TSPM/CCC places submission to state’s authority on the same level, if not above submission to Christ’s authority.

Because TSPM/CCC leaders were unable to affirm The Lausanne Covenant and vision, they were invited to be observers rather than participants. Representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox churches are also participating in the conference as observers. The TSPM/CCC leaders, however, rejected the invitation to be Lausanne observers.

While most media coverage has criticised the Chinese government for prohibiting house church leaders from attending the historic conference, reporters at the press conference on Monday grilled Lausanne leaders for not being more sensitive to the church-state dynamics in China.

The Lausanne Movement began in 1974 when evangelist Billy Graham convened the first Lausanne Congress in Lausanne, Switzerland. Lausanne conferences have focused on how the Christian body, across denominational lines, can unite in world evangelization. The program for Lausanne III in Cape Town began October 17 and will conclude October 24.