The journey to Cape Town 2010

Some 4,000 Christian leaders from 250 countries are meeting in Cape Town to discuss the most pressing challenges facing the global church today.

You could be forgiven for thinking this is just another conference but Cape Town 2010 is just one step in a process that began nearly 40 years ago.

In 1966, legendary evangelist Billy Graham brought 1,200 Christians from around the world together for the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin.

It was the first time in many decades that so many Christians had come together to discuss the Great Commission but the sense was that the input of even more Christians would be needed if the worldwide body was to have an accurate sense of where it stood in the face of new social, political, economic and religious challenges.

In 1974, around 2,700 Christians from 150 countries met for 10 days in the Swiss town of Lausanne to pray, worship and discuss evangelism in a radically changed world. Delegates included some of the most renowned Christian thinkers of the day – John Stott, Samuel Escobar, Francis Schaeffer and Carl Henry among others.

Such was the diversity of nationalities, ethnicities, ages, occupations and church affiliations that TIME magazine described it as “a formidable forum, possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held”.

Yet Lausanne I was historic for other reasons. It was during these 10 days that the great missiologist, the late Ralph Winter, introduced the term ‘unreached people groups’ to the world church and that one of the most important documents in modern church history was crafted – the Lausanne Covenant.

Its chief architect was John Stott, who was determined that the document should be a Covenant – denoting action – rather than simply a declaration – pledging commitment.

He famously told delegates not to rush for their pens but take their time to think and pray about what the Covenant was asking of them before they signed it.

The document, which can be read in full here, is a Covenant with God and with each other that binds them to a number of Christian tenets, among them the principles that salvation is through Christ alone and that spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ is something every Christian is called to.

Yet Lausanne I was just the beginning of a story that has yet to reach its end. John Stott once reflected: “Many a conference has resembled a fireworks display. It has made a loud noise and illuminated the night sky for a few brief brilliant seconds. What is exciting about Lausanne is that its fire continues to spark off other fires.”

A conference ended but The Lausanne Movement was born. The ‘spirit of Lausanne’, as Billy Graham put it, has given rise to an ever growing international fellowship and network of volunteers seeking to reclaim the world for Christ in the church, the world of business, the voluntary sector and the mission field.

The last major gathering was Lausanne II, held in Manila in 1989, a Congress which gave rise to over 300 partnerships and new initiatives, many of which continue to exert a wide influence on the work of the church around the world today.

So why another Congress? A quick glance at the programme of Cape Town 2010 answers that question. The task of presenting the Gospel in a credible way remains but the context has radically changed. Secularism, atheism and Islamic extremism are just some of the trends shaping the environment in which Christians must proclaim the risen Christ.

But there are internal factors too. In the words of the chief organisers:

“The goal of Cape Town 2010 is to re-stimulate the spirit of Lausanne, as represented in The Lausanne Covenant, and so to promote unity, humility in service too, and a call to active global evangelisation.”

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