THIS year holds the 40th anniversary of the International
Congress on World Evangelisation, usually referred to as the
Lausanne Congress. The event itself and the ripples it caused are
so remarkable that important lessons can still be learned from
The Congress was the vision of Billy Graham, with others such as
the British Evangelical leader John Stott. The distinctive and most
remarkable hallmark of the congress, however, was that 4000 people
attended, from 150 countries.
It was a working congress; papers had been distributed
beforehand, and groups were formed all over the world to discuss
them, and give feedback. The result was a remarkable document, the
Lausanne Covenant. This was not just a list of traditional
Evangelical beliefs, but a comprehensive statement that grappled
with some of the most difficult issues facing Christians of all
persuasions and cultures.
The Lausanne movement came at a time, in the late 20th century,
of unprecedented missionary growth and the rise of the United
States as the prime instigator of missionary activity. There was,
however, a great deal of criticism of what the Two-Thirds World saw
as the hidden agenda of colonialism in much missionary
Challenges from brilliant theologians and evangelists from the
Two-Thirds World meant that the belief that Western Christianity
encapsulated the essentials of the faith could no longer be
THE congress took cross-cultural issues seriously, and
emphasised co-operation rather than exclusivism. Many who had had a
culturally and theologically narrow view of what Christianity
entailed found themselves challenged by Christian leaders from
other parts of the world.
Speakers such as the Ugandan Bishop Festo Kivengere - once
called "the Billy Graham of Africa" - emphasised the need for
justice for poor and oppressed peoples. The philosopher Francis
Schaeffer spoke about the challenge of relativism to Christian
belief and witness.
The journalist Malcolm Muggeridge talked powerfully about the
decline of Western civilisation and the compromise that Christians
had made with middle-class values.
The Latin American theologian Samuel Escobar, in talking of the
need for a thorough theological basis for world mission, argued
fora mature balance between self-criticism and a continued passion
for world mission.
This was exemplified in the introduction to the covenant, when
it says: "We are deeply stirred by what God is doing in our day,
moved to penitence by our failures, and challenged by the
unfinished task of evangelisation."
The covenant also drew attention to a debate which continues in
one form or another in every generation: that of the relationship
between evangelism and social action.
The covenant says on this: "We express penitence both for our
neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social
concern as mutually exclusive. . . Both are necessary expressions
of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbor and our
obedience to Jesus Christ.
LAUSANNE was followed up by regional meetings all over the
world, and then by a second congress in Manila, in 1989, attended
by 4300 people from 173 countries. By now, the Lausanne movement
was seen as truly global, drawing its leadership and its subject
matter from all over the world.
In 2010, the movement met in Capetown, in what become another
remarkable gathering, attended by 4200 leaders from 198 countries.
Thousands more met around the world, in 600 groups, to respond
through a live link. The capacity of the movement to bring together
Christian leaders from so many different countries meant that it
was unrivalled in its cross-cultural emphasis.
The "Capetown Commitment" not only made strong statements about
the uniqueness of Christ, the authority of scripture, the
Trinitarian nature of God, and the urgency of Christian mission: it
also called Evangelicals to live lives of "humility, integrity, and
Whereas the Lausanne Covenant was couched in the language of
belief, the Capetown Commitment used the language of love. It has
been published in 30 languages, and will be published in another 20
THERE are many reasons why some would shy away from the Lausanne
process. Its confident assertion of the need for world
evangelisation is not shared by some Christians, who would go no
further than dialogue. Others would baulk at its commitment to
sharing the Christian message with people of other faiths.
Some might characterise it as yet another conference issuing a
statement that gathers dust on the shelf.
Yet there are distinctives about Lausanne that are worth
remembering. It is a truly global movement. Stott once called its
commitment to listening to those from a range of cultures "an
exchange of gifts". It is also committed to integral or holistic
mission, which includes social and political action, as well as
It affirms the need for creative partnerships, and the
importance of co-operation rather than the suspicion and
competition that can overtake Christians who are not listening to
It has its weaknesses, and is not as powerful in this country
as, perhaps, it is in the Two-Thirds World or Eastern Europe.
Listening to some Christian leaders bickering and posturing, or
building their empires, you could be forgiven for thinking that the
lessons learned at Lausanne have been forgotten.
Nevertheless, if someone is looking for an expression of what
contemporary Evangelicals are about, then the Lausanne process -
and, in particular, the Capetown Commitment - has a claim to be the
unique global expression of that vision.
Roy McCloughry is National Disability Adviser for the Church