Closing Address: We have a Gospel to Proclaim

Before this address, 2 Corinthians 4:1-7 was read to the Congress in Arabic, French and Spanish.[1]

The gospel of Jesus Christ is unique, wonderful, powerful and true. It is the greatest message in the history of the world and we want to share it with others. That is why we’ve been meeting together. It has been a memorable occasion. What do we hope will be the legacy of this Congress? What will we say when we return home?

Over the last year, Chris Wright and a team of theologians from around the world have been working on the first part of The Cape Town Commitment.[2] Its two-part structure is based on our attempt to respond to Jesus’ two commands: to love God and to love one another. It follows the style of Paul’s letters where he first outlines a series of doctrinal convictions and then spells out the implications of these beliefs for our lifestyle. In summarising our doctrinal convictions, we are not attempting to be doctrinaire. In our judgement it is important that each generation of believers should reflect on and restate in a fresh way what it believes. I hope you will read the Commitment carefully and digest it. Our prayer is that it will be a help to many mission agencies, churches and Christian organisations around the world.

In the preamble, the authors list the legacy of the first and second Lausanne Congresses. Among the major gifts to the world church of the first Congress in 1974, were (i) The Lausanne Covenant[3] , (ii) a new awareness of unreached people groups and (iii) a fresh discovery of the holistic nature of the biblical gospel and of Christian mission. The second Congress gave birth to The Manila Manifesto[4], and to more than 300 strategic partnerships between nations in all parts of the globe.

What will be the legacy of this Congress? Only God knows – we don’t, at this stage. But I can tell you the four-fold vision and the hope of the organisers.

Firstly and paramountly for a ringing re-affirmation of the uniqueness of Christ and the truth of the biblical gospel, and a crystal-clear statement on the mission of the church – all rooted in Scripture. We cannot engage in mission unless we are clear on what we believe.  Without a foundational commitment to truth, we have little to offer. The great missionary conference of Edinburgh 1910 set in motion huge missionary endeavour.[5] But it had one big flaw – the organisers sidelined doctrine. Recently John Stott told me he was ashamed that leaders in his own communion refused to discuss doctrinal issues for fear of division. As a result, the Congress launched a movement without biblical consensus. As Stott said ‘You cannot speak of the gospel of Christ and the mission of the church without reflecting on biblical truth.’ To do so is folly.

So we need to have clarity, especially on four things; (i) the exclusive claims of Christ; (ii) the meaning of Christ’s death; (iii) the necessity of conversion; (iv) the lostness of humankind. The Cape Town Commitment seeks to give this clarity. It is effectively a statement of what evangelicals believe. There is no need for us to be ashamed of this word ‘evangelical’. It simply means ‘people of the gospel’. It is not a new word; it is neither a Western word, nor a Reformation word. Nor is evangelicalism a sect. It has its roots in Scripture (euangelion) and was used amongst church leaders as early as the second century, for example Tertullian used it in his defence of biblical truth against the heresies of Marcion.[6] When we use the term, we are simply aspiring to articulate and communicate authentic and biblical Christianity. Lausanne is an unashamedly evangelical movement.

Did you hear this ringing affirmation, and do you agree with it?

Secondly
, our vision and our hope was to identify key issues which the church needs to address seriously in the coming decade. The mission statement for this Congress was ‘to seek to bring a fresh challenge to the global church to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching, in every part of the world – not only geographically, but in every sphere of society, and in the realm of ideas.’ The term ‘bearing witness’ is carefully chosen. In many ways I think it is better than ‘evangelization’. It is often translated from the Greek word martyria in the English Bible to imply both speech and behaviour. We must be committed to the lordship of Christ in every area of human activity. I love the words of Abraham Kuyper[7] , the Dutch theologian and prime minister, who once said ‘There is not one centimetre of human existence to which Christ, who is Lord of all, does not point and say “that is mine”.’

The evangelical church has rightly put an emphasis on reaching every nation and every people group with the gospel of Jesus Christ. That must not be diminished. We have, however, perhaps been a little weaker in our attempts to apply biblical principles to every area of society, for example to the media, business, government, public policy, the university…   Charles Malik, the Lebanese statesman who led the UN General Assembly and fashioned the UN Declaration on Human Rights asked ‘What does Jesus Christ think of the university?’ What a question!  He urged Christians to ‘try to recapture the university for Christ,’ for, he said ‘Change the university, and you change the world.’[8]

During this Congress, we have also been challenged to apply a Christian mind to ethical issues such as ethnicity, and creation care, amongst others. We need to engage deeply with human endeavour and with the ideas which shape it. As Sir Fred Catherwood once said, ‘To wash your hands of society is not love, but worldliness; to engage in society is not worldliness but love.’[9]

Many secularists have tried to persuade us to retain our faith only as a private matter and to keep it out of the public domain. This would imply that the Christian message is relevant only in our homes and churches, but not in society. That is not the teaching of the Bible. Our hope for this Congress is that we leave here (i) passionately committed to communicating the gospel to the ends of the earth and (ii) equally committed to demonstrating that the eternal truths of Scripture have application to the whole of life. For Christ is Lord over the whole of creation. Affirming the Lordship of Christ and attempting to develop a Christian mind will have three implications: it will (i) glorify our Creator, (ii) enrich our Christian lives and (iii) enhance our witness.

Are you committed to bearing witness to Christ in every area of life?

Thirdly our vision and our hope was that many fruitful partnerships will issue from this Congress; to this end great care was taken in the formation of the small groups, so many fresh friendships and partnerships would come into existence. In a needy and broken world we cannot afford to be driven by a spirit of competition; such a spirit must give way to a spirit of partnership where both men and women, and people of different ethnicities, join hands under Christ to communicate the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth.

Such partnerships must transcend denominational and organisational divides. Our prayer is that after the Congress, like-minded mission agencies working in the same field will partner together to avoid duplication, competition and wastage. We need a new generation of evangelical statesmen and women who are driven by their commitment to the cause of Christ above all, and who genuinely rejoice, like Paul in Philippians1, when the gospel goes forth, no matter who is leading the charge.

Are you thinking of fresh partnerships into which you can enter after this Congress?

Fourthly, our vision and hope has been that many new initiatives will issue out of this Congress. We maintain too much, and pioneer too little. How can we rest when millions have never heard the gospel?  In 1974, there was a great surge of interest in unreached people groups. What will come from this Congress? Perhaps fresh initiatives in reaching oral learners, young people, diaspora or the cities. Who knows what new ministries the Congress will spawn? Will we see fresh energy in communicating biblical truth in the public domain, in the media, in the world of the arts, in the university and government? These all shape the value systems in nations and require bold, clear and coherent Christian testimony.

What fresh initiatives will you take, coming out of this Congress?

Whatever God is pleased to do, I believe the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:1-7 gives us three principles to take away. These principles have been rehearsed throughout the Congress.

1. Mission is Christocentric

Our ministry, or calling, at its core, is to present the deity, incarnation, death, resurrection and lordship of Jesus Christ.

At the press conference today a journalist asked me: ‘Bishop Stephen Neill says that when mission is everything, mission is nothing. What is not the mission of the church?’ My answer was this: ‘When the church proclaims a message without the deity, incarnation, death, resurrection and lordship of Christ at its centre, that is not mission.’

Look at the way Paul highlights the following:

  • v4 – the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God
  • v5 – preaching Christ Jesus as Lord
  • v6 – the glory of God in the face of Christ

Our message is unashamedly Christocentric. When Sadhu Sundar Singh, the great Indian leader, was once asked what was so special about the Christian faith, is reply was ‘Only Christ’.[10] I once asked a Christian woman in north India, where the vast majority are Hindus and Muslims, ‘Why are you a Christian?’ She responded, ‘It is only through Christ that I can know God as my Father; only through Christ can I know my sins forgiven; and only through Christ can I have the hope of eternal life.’ He is not just a Saviour – but the unique Saviour of the world. He is not just one among many, but the only Lord and Saviour. He does not bear comparison with any other religious leaders. He is incomparable. Our calling is by all means to communicate this message to the world. Some will do it by preaching and by proclamation, but all are called, according to the New Testament, to bear witness to him.

Some of us may engage in dialogue in the public sphere. It is amazing how creative the early evangelists were, speaking in local synagogues, and in neutral territory, as did Paul on Mars Hill. There is no substitute for engaging in Christ’s commission to testify verbally to his lordship.

Our communion meal this evening focuses around John the Baptist’s ecstatic claim when he saw Jesus and called him ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’[11] When I was a student in Oxford University in the 1970s, I studied in the same college where John Wesley had been a professor 250 years previously. It was a wonderful place to read the letters and sermons of Wesley. I took the opportunity to read through his journals in which he wrote every day during his itinerant ministry. One phrase struck me, repeated day after day in his journals, ‘I offered Christ to the people…today I offered Christ to the people’. That is our primary calling, to offer Christ to the peoples of the world.

2. The need for integrity

We are to watch our walk! Our words must come from godly lives. We are called to bear witness to Christ as fallen, fragile people, or as ‘earthen vessels’ (v7). We should be careful about over-focusing on technique, or on clever approaches (v2); the gospel should be shared not by craftiness or by adulterating the word of God, but out of our weakness, (v7), focusing on the power of God.
There is no room for over-confidence or triumphalism. We dare not say we will accomplish this task because we have the money and the technology. Rather, the mission of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth will be accomplished only because of the greatness of the gospel, the power of God, the unique message of the saving Christ and the help and power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. As we go out, we are to focus on the truth of the gospel (v2), the gospel of the glory of God (v4), the lordship of Christ (v5), the glory of God in the face of Christ (v6). But this word of truth is to be backed up by authentic, transformed, joyful lives.

John Stott said in his last published sermon that the greatest hindrance to the advance of the gospel worldwide is the failure of God’s people to live like God’s people.

The teaching of the whole of Scripture is that we are to demonstrate godly lives before a watching world: lives which issue not just in pious statements, but in compassion in a needy and broken world by caring for the underprivileged, the poor, those affected by pandemics, the broken-hearted.  It is intriguing to remember the words of Adolph Harnack, the Lutheran writer and great German church historian, who said that the two reasons the primitive church grew were that they out-argued the pagans (articulating and defending Christian truth in public) and they out-lived them. These two things must come together. Jesus himself brought them together in the feeding of the five thousand. So should we.

Our calling is to be morally distinct without being socially segregated. For those who are very word-centred, with a strong commitment to verbal communication of the gospel, our challenge is to balance this with empathy and care for the needy and broken. We must be careful to avoid the failings of the disciples who wanted Jesus only to speak to the 5,000 and then send them away. He would not allow that; neither should we.

For those committed to ministries of compassion, empathy and care, our challenge may be to ensure that our expressions of compassion are supported by taking every opportunity – graciously, sensitively, compassionately and wisely – but also verbally – to communicate the gospel of Christ. J I Packer is right when he says ‘A dumb Christian is a disobedient Christian.’ So we must do both.

Earlier this week, Antoine Rutayisire from  Rwanda gave us a wonderful biblical framework for a ministry of reconciliation which brought these two things together. He did not have time to share his own experience ­­- how he saw his own father killed in front of him when he was six years old, or how, in his mid-thirties, he lost all his co-workers in the IFES-related student ministry, killed in the 1994 genocide because of their determination to stand against ethnic violence and demonstrate their unity in Christ across the ethnic divide. Soon afterwards he was taken to a refugee camp with his pregnant wife, where he spent several months. I wrote to him from my home in Wales, offering to pay for him to come out of the country for a year’s sabbatical to recover from the trauma. I’ll never forget his reply. I still have the letter. He wrote, ‘Thank you, Lindsay, for your kind invitation to come to Wales for a sabbatical. It is very attractive. However, when the way is open, I will return to Kigali. For if I do not share in my people’s pain, neither can I share with them the joy of the gospel.’[12]

A radical Christian lifestyle may require sacrificial commitment and service. Words may not be enough.

3. A call to perseverance

Finally, the Apostle exhorts us not to lose heart (v1). In 1 Corinthians 15.58 he said ‘Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your work is not in vain.’ Many of us will return to difficult circumstances, and may even entertain the idea of giving up because the work is so hard. Such temptations can come more strongly when we return from the mountain-top experience of a Congress like this. Then we are to remember our calling to persevere to the end and not to lose heart. I well remember talking with the only person from Somalia at the last Lausanne Congress, in 1989. He was employed by the United Nations, and working in the capital, Mogadishu. He was the only Somali elder in the only evangelical church in the city, made up of seventy believers. He had received an invitation to go and work with the UN in New York, but turned it down so he could serve among his own people. As a consequence, he lost his life in 1990, one year later. Indeed, Luis Palau had said at the Congress that if we were to gather in ten years time, some would be absent because they had lost their lives in the Lord’s service. That may well be true of some of us here. Gospel service is costly, but we are to continue because of the glory of the gospel and the commission of our Lord.

Samuel Escobar[13] , one of the grandfathers of The Lausanne Movement, has said the only thing 20th century man discovered was speed! We must have it and have it quick!  Christian ministry is rarely like that. We thank God for rapid growth when we see it, but often the Word of God takes root slowly. We are to take a long view, not give up, and fulfil the ministry which God has given us. We are called, as Eugene Petersen said, ‘to a long obedience in the same direction’. Before I close, let me give two illustrations of people who have done that.

One is Prof Jerry Gana, a senior politician in Nigeria who has served five consecutive presidents, Muslim and Christian.[14] Jerry has a reputation for remaining free of corruption. I once asked him how, in over 30 years of political life, he had managed to retain his reputation as a man of integrity and fairness. He said there were three factors:

1. He learned as a young student what it meant to abide in Christ and keep short accounts. We need to teach that too.

2. He chose his colleagues and partners slowly because, he said, even some Christian politicians make foolish mistakes. When you identify with a particular policy and individual, if it all goes wrong, you have to face the consequences and it can damage your testimony.

3. He realised from early on the importance of legacy. He said, ‘God has given me the privilege of serving in public life for thirty years. I hope I will be able to continue for another twenty-five. During that time, I’d like to mentor and develop a generation of young evangelical politicians in Nigeria. My hope and prayer is that they will go on and multiply that influence in their own generation; and that God will impact the political life of this nation through evangelical Christian politicians over a 60-year period.’ That is a tremendous long-term vision and aspiration!

The second is Adoniram Judson, one of the early American missionaries. You may remember that he arrived in Burma, or Myanmar, in 1812, and died there 38 years later in 1850. During that time, he suffered much for the cause of the gospel. He lost his first wife, Ann, to whom he was devoted, as well as several children. He was imprisoned, tortured and kept in shackles. Statistics are unclear, but there were only somewhere between 12-25 professing Christians in the country when he died; there were no churches to speak of, but he had completed the translation of the Bible just before he died.

Paul Borthwick spoke at the 150th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into the Burmese language. Just before he got up to speak, he noticed in small print on the first page the words ‘Translated by Rev A. Judson.’ So he turned to his interpreter Matthew Hla Win and asked him ‘Matthew, what do you know of this man?’ Matthew began to weep. ‘We know him – we know how he loved the Burmese people, how he suffered for the gospel because of us, out of love for us. He died a pauper, but left the Bible for us. When he died, there were few believers, but today there are over 600,000 of us and every single one of us traces our spiritual heritage to one man – the Rev Adoniram Judson’. But he never saw it!

And that will be the case for some of us gathered here. We may be called to invest our lives in ministries for which we do not see much immediate fruit, trusting that the God of all grace who oversees our work will ensure that our labour is not in vain.

‘Therefore, beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.’ (1Corinthians 15.58)

Let me leave you with the words of John Wesley. As you seek to bear witness to Christ – ‘With God’s help:  Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can’ until Christ returns or calls us home. Let us all press on to the end in serving Christ, our King. God bless you.

Watch this the video of this address online.

Lindsay Brown, former International General Secretary of IFES, is International Director of the Lausanne Movement, and IFES Evangelist-at-Large. www.lausanne.org www.ifesworld.org

Following the address, the Congress sang the hymn Facing a Task Unfinished.

The closing ceremony took the form of a special musical setting of the Kenyan service of Holy Communion. This was presided over by The Right Revd Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda and Honorary Chair of the Cape Town 2010 Africa Host Committee. The bread and wine were served around the hall using communion sets borrowed from a hundred local churches around the world, symbolizing the remembering of Christ’s death in many nations.

[1] This address was given in the context of the Closing Ceremony, and followed by a service of holy communion with a liturgy written by the Church in Kenya. The Ceremony may be viewed at www.lausanne.org in the “Content Library”.

[2] The first meeting of what was then called The Cape Town 2010 Statement Working Group, made up of leading evangelical theologians, pastors and missiologists from around the world, was hosted by John Piper in Bethlehem Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sinclair B. Ferguson was in the Chair. Chris Wright was invited to draft the first part of the statement, The Cape Town Confession of Faith, which was distributed at the Congress. The second part, The Cape Town Call to Action issued out of discussions at the Congress, and was published early in 2011 in eight Congress languages. It has subsequently been translated into many more languages.

[3] John Stott wrote a study guide to The Lausanne Covenant, published in 1975, available now from Hendrickson Publishers in the Didasko Files series.

[4] Available on www.lausanne.org

[5] See ppXXXX Will there be an essay in this volume on Edinburgh 1910?

[6] Marcion was a second century teacher; Tertullion straddled the second and third centuries. Tertullion’s firm refutation of Marcion’s teaching is easily found online.

[7] Kuyper (1837-1920) served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901-1905.

[8] See Malik’s Pascal lectures A Christian Critique of the University (Waterloo University, 1981).

[9] British industrialist; author of inter alia the then groundbreaking A Christian in Industrial Society (IVP, 1964) and Light, Salt and the World of Business (Hendrickson/Lausanne Didasko Files series, 2009). He chaired the National Economic Development Council (1963-71) and served as Vice Chairman of the European Parliament (1989-92).

[10] Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-c1929), born into a Hindu family. Author of eight books, written in Urdu and published in translation. Indian Christian history cannot be grasped without studying Sadhu Sundar Singh.

[11] See John 1:29,36

[12] For more of Antoine Rutayisire’sstory, see Chapter 6, Shining Like Stars : The power of the gospel in the world’s universities by Lindsay Brown (IVP, 2006).

[13] With fellow Latin American René Padilla, Samuel Escobar made a significant contribution to the International Congress on World Evangelization (Lausanne, 1974). This was to urge the church to understand what is now known as ‘Integral mission’, ie the seeking of social justice as being part of our Christian mandate. Through The Lausanne Covenant, this view took root as responsible evangelical thinking about society.

[14] For more on Prof Jerry Gana, and for further inspiring examples of Christians in public service, see Chapter 5 of Shining like Stars : The power of the gospel in the world’s universities by Lindsay Brown (IVP, 2006).

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