Proclaim Christ Until He Comes

OPENING ADDRESS

Leighton Ford

Fifteen years ago this week, the First International Congress on World Evangelization convened in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Now we are gathered in sight of Manila Bay for Lausanne Ⅱ in Manila. “Why Lausanne Ⅱ?” some have asked “Why not the Manila Congress?”

Our son, Kevin, who is here as a participant, was born twenty-four years ago this September. There have been many exciting moments in his life since, but we have never forgotten that birthday. In a very real sense, Lausanne 1974 was a birthday—the birthday of a movement, and we never really forget birthdays.

The “spirit of Lausanne” emerged in July of 1974—the spirit of a new vision and cooperation in world evangelization. There we signed the Lausanne Covenant: to pray, to plan, and to work together to evangelize the world.

Out of that Congress grew the Lausanne movement—a fellowship of leaders from all parts of the world committed to further biblical evangelization. Out of the spirit of Lausanne, literally hundreds of evangelistic movements and organizations have been born. The movement has given birth to many other movements and this is why we stilt call it “Lausanne.” Our prayer is that July 1989 will also become one of God’s kairos moments and many other births will be traced back to “Manila 1989.”

Much is still the same in 1989 as it was in 1974—the need of a lost, broken, lonely world; the mandate of Christ; and the message of salvation. But much has also changed: Then, in 1974 we were looking back on twenty-five tremendous years of church growth worldwide. Now, in l989 we look forward to the incredible evangelistic opportunities of the last decade of this millennium.

Then, the world had just emerged from the traumas of the sixties. Now, we wait expectantly to see what the new openness and longing for freedom in our world—as shown in the spirit of glasnost and the events in China—will mean for the future of the gospel.

Then, a bloody conflict in Indochina had just ended. Now, we have pastors from Vietnam among us in Manila.

Then, youthful protestors raised their voices against injustice around the world. Now, some of those same protestors are here among us as followers of Christ seeking his kingdom of righteousness.

Then we became aware that God was raising up a group of outstanding leaders in the Third World such as Gottfried Osei-Mensah, Lausanne’s first executive secretary. Now, we see God raising up younger men and women who are moving into positions of leadership. Half of those are under forty-five. Some of you here are even too young to remember Lausanne 1974!

Then, there was only one participant from one Eastern European nation. Now, in the age of glasnost we are deeply moved to welcome scores of fellow believers from the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Romania, Cuba, Mozambique, and other socialist countries.

Then, the status of the church in China was shrouded in mystery. Now, we know the growth of the church there is one of the great miracles of our time. Until several weeks ago, we had hoped to have several hundred Chinese leaders among us. But the tragedy of Tiananmen Square has closed that door. The empty seat in this room is a silent reminder for us during these days to pray for them and a handful of believers of other nations who are not represented.

Then, in 1974 a layman said, in frustration, that he felt many church leaders expected laypeople to do no more than support the programs, pay the bills, and try not to change anything. Now, we are newly conscious that laity are on the cutting edge of world evangelism, that we are going through a second reformation in which God is putting his work into the hands of ordinary lay-Christians just as in the first reformation he put his Word into their hands.

Then, few women came as participants. Now, we are thankful for many gifted women among us (and we wish there were more) who have come not so much in the cause of feminism as for the cause of evangelism, ready to play their full role in Christ’s global cause.

Then, the fledgling Third World mission agencies were sending out some three thousand or more missionaries. New, the Third World churches are sending out twenty thousand cross-cultural missionaries.

Then, many denominational groups were calling on moratorium on missions. Now, we do not hear the word moratorium; many of these same historic churches are rethinking the need for aggressive missionary outreach, and some have called for the nineties to be a decade of evangelism.

Then, there was, sad to say, some mutual suspicion between charismatic and non-charismatic believers. Now, there is a new sense of respect and a desire for partnership in world evangelization.

Then, the concept of two and one-half billions of unreached people was new to many of us. Now, that ide has gripped missions around the world, and churches have been planted among hundreds of unreached people groups in the last fifteen years.

Then, social responsibility was clearly recognized as an integral part of the church’s mission, remembering that evangelism is primary. Now, in thousands of exciting instances, evangelistic and social ministries have become creative partners—albeit the injustices of our world still stir our consciences.

Then, there was no Lausanne Committee. The 1974 Congress was envisioned, organized, and financed largely by Billy Graham and his organization. I firmly believe that Congress and its result will be one of Dr. Graham’s great historic legacies. Now, Lausanne Ⅱ is sponsored by the Lausanne Committee. And, Lausanne Ⅱ in Manila has come together, not because of one organization, but because literally hundreds of churches, scores of organization, and hundreds of individuals on every continent have sacrificially provided the prayer, the staff, the fund, and the time to make this congress possible.

Then, there was no Lausanne movement. Now there exists the worldwide Lausanne movement, not a structured hierarchy, but a network of leaders linked together in a common commitment under the Lausanne Covenant to work with others in their areas of ministry to advance the gospel.

Then, the World Evangelical Fellowship was a historic long-standing, but struggling group. Now, our sister international movement, the WEF, has a clearly established identity, a growing role, and many affective national affiliates. We are grateful for the many cooperative conferences LCWE and WEF have held together.

But with all the cause for thanks, there are reasons to be sober.

Then, we did not have to live with the worldwide scandal of certain Christian leaders whose conduct has obscured the gospel. Now, we do.

Then, we were not so aware of the rise of aggressive missionary efforts by the non-Christian religions worldwide. Now, we are.

Then, we had not seen fully the devastating results of secularization on church, workplace, and family, or on morals and on meaning of life. Now, we are seeing that.

Then, our world was not quite so clearly aware of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland or of apartheid in South Africa where the gospel has been wrapped in the sectarian robes of race and power. Now we are aware and we stand with our brothers and sisters in those areas where they seek to live and speak faithfully for Christ.

Then, we were not so caught up, especially in the developed world, with comfortable lifestyles, and lavish buildings which have sometimes cut deeply into sacrificial support for evangelism, relief, and development. Now, we do face these issues—and many other challenges.

Then, we met with the theme: Let The Earth Hear His Voice. Now, we meet with the theme: Proclaim Christ Until He Comes, a biblical theme which calls us forward to the year 2000 and beyond, to the completion of the task, and to the return of the Lord.

Within that theme, I suggest three hopes and prayers for the next ten days.

First, in the theological dimension, I hope and pray that we will come to a convincing reaffirmation of the uniqueness, adequacy, and attractiveness of the Christ we proclaim as the only hope of our world and of eternal salvation.

Second, is the missiological terms, I hope and pray that we may receive fresh, sensitive, and compelling insights into the ways in which Christ is and must be made known in the various situations of our world in which people seek life abundant and eternal.

Third, in spiritual terms, I hope and pray that God would give us a renewed outpouring of His Holy Spirit which will enable all God’s people—especially laymen and laywomen, and the emerging younger leaders—to proclaim Christ with creativity and authority, with integrity and unity in the decades ahead.

Our sub-theme is: Calling the Whole Church to Take the Whole Gospel into the Whole World. And who calls? Not us, but Christ.

I wish that in these days we could relive that captivating scene where the risen Christ appeared to his first followers on the evening of the first day of the week. They had gathered in a house with doors locked, with fear of what was on the outside and with a sense of failure on the inside. Then Jesus walked through those walls, stood among them. And gave them three keys that opened the doors and sent them out to proclaim Christ.

He gave them the key of new peace: the call to proclaim Christ as he did.

Who is this Christ we are called to proclaim? He is the:

  • Word to be spoken
  • Truth to be told
  • Way to be walked
  • Light to be shown
  • Life to be lived
  • Joy to be shared

But here he shows himself as the peace to be given.

“Shalom”, he said, as the Jews did; or as an Arab would say, “Salaam.” It was common everyday greeting. But it was an uncommon gift that he was giving.  It was a deep peace he was bringing, peace with his Father, peace with themselves, and peace with the world. His peace was not the absence of problems, but the presence of himself. It was a peace that was costly. He showed them his hands and side as if to say, “Recognize me, and recognize at what cost this peace is given.”

“Christ,” says the Scriptures, “is our peace.” We proclaim not Christianity, but Christ—not ideology, but Christ; not our experience, but Christ; not even our faith, but Christ.

What will it mean to proclaim Christ’s peace to young men in Lagos and Soweto, who can find no work to support their families?

What will it mean to proclaim Christ’s peace to the harried businessman in Tokyo who knows karoshii—sudden death from overwork—is growing at an alarming rate?

What will it mean to proclaim Christ’s peace to the mother in Mozambique whose starving child is dying in her arms?

What will it mean to proclaim Christ’s peace to the youth of New Zealand with the highest suicide rate of the world?

What will it mean to proclaim Christ’s peace to parents in America, whether in affluent suburbs or the inner city, who hear that their child has died of an overdose of drugs?

What will it mean to proclaim Christ’s peace to our world, and what will it cost?

God will help us to learn from his Word and each other what this means. Jesus is like a beautiful diamond, cut with many facets. As the diamond turns in the light, different gleams of beauty shine forth. There is more to Christ’s beauty and power than any one of us can describe.  Indians see Christ’s peace in a way that Englishmen don’t. Brazilians see it in a way that Nigerians don’t.  Pacific islanders see it in a way that Germans don’t. But as we focus on these next ten days on Christ, we may learn to proclaim his peace as he did.

He also gave them the key of new purpose: the call to proclaim Christ in his way.

“As the Father sent me, so I send you,” he said to those first followers. Here is the call to proclaim Christ, not only as he did it, but in his way.

He was saying to them as he is saying to us, “I want you to be a little ‘me’ in this world. He proclaimed at his Father’s command as One who was sent. Do we evangelize in that way? We are not the self-appointed saviors of the world. We are sinners sent by our Sovereign Lord.

He proclaimed to glorify the Father. Do we proclaim to glorify ourselves?

He did it with caring personal love. Even on the way to the Cross he had time to stop for one blind beggar.

He proclaimed not just with words, but with a life that attracted. We have many powerful means of communication at our disposal today, but we should remember that Paul could write to powerless slaves that they could “make the gospel attractive” by their lives.

And Jesus did it, not from a distance, but by drawing close. Is there any such thing, really, as long-distance evangelism? Evangelism in Jesus’ way meant touching people—life rubbing life. He didn’t tell us to do witnessing, but to be witnesses.

During these days we can learn from Joni Eareckson Tada how Christ touches the physically impaired, and from Caesar Molebatsi how Christ touches the youth of Soweto, and from Lucien Accad how Jesus touches the refugees of Lebanon.

Gottfried Osei-Mensah was the first executive Secretary on Lausanne. As a boy in Africa, he attended a school with an English headmaster. He was quite amazed that the headmaster knew and called him by his name. He was even more amazed when the headmaster invited him to the Bible class at his house. When Gottfried arrived, he saw there were no chairs left, and being shy, he began to leave. The headmaster called, “Here, Gottfried, I have a seat for you.” Then the headmaster put him in his own chair and sat on the floor while he taught. Gottfried was mortified and hardly remembered what was said. But that unconscious Christlike act of sitting on the floor touched him. Years later Gottfried reminded the headmaster about that moment and he didn’t even remember, but he proclaimed Christ in such a way that a life was forever changed.

The third key he gave them was new power: we are called to proclaim Christ not only as he did and in his way, but by his Spirit.

He “breathed” on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Can you imagine that little band of brothers and sisters, of men and women, when Jesus said, “As my Father sent me, I send you. You are going to be a little ‘me”‘ Can you imagine them looking around at each other and saying, “Who? Us?”

James and John had been arguing not long before about which one was important enough to sit by Jesus’ side. Thomas wouldn’t even believe in the Resurrection. Peter denied him three times. The women were looked upon as nothing in that day. How could they be “little Christs”?

So when he breathed on them, he was acting out a parable of the Pentecost that was to come. When he breathed, his breath was the wind, the Spirit of God. He was breathing himself to them.

Just as the Father showed himself in the Son, so the Son was reproducing himself in his followers.

This is the secret of world evangelism:

Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Christ in us, the peace of the world.

Christ in us, the bread of life.

Christ in us, the light of the world.

Of course, those first evangelists were failures. And so are all of us. We have all failed. As the great inventor, Charles Kettering, once said, “The only time you don’t fail is the last time is the last time you tried something and it works.

So during these days, we who have failed many times will listen to the call of Christ and pray for the breath of Christ. “Breathe on us, breath of God.” We will be fanning into flame the gift of God which is in us, knowing that he has not given us “a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.”

Is world evangelization possible by the year 2000? I want to believe it is. I am tempted to believe it is not. Is it possible for people like you and me to do it? I would like to think it is. But deep within, I fear it is not. But is it possible for Christ in us to do this through his Holy Spirit? I am sure that it is!

It is even possible that Jesus Christ may do this greatest work through some people that aren’t at this Congress and might never be invited. And it might be possible that he will work through some at this Congress that you and don’t agree with.

In the next ten days we will hear many ideas. We will agree with some and we will disagree with some. But we are here to hear Christ’s call and to learn from one another.

And as we focus on proclaiming Christ—as he did, in his way, and in his Spirit— may we find renewed among us that unifying passion which is “the spirit of Lausanne” and which is at the heart of all true world evangelization.

Several years ago one of the world’s leading newspapers was shut down because of labor/management strife. Finally an agreement was reached and a new publisher was appointed. The first day he went to work and found the front doors were chained, as they had been for months because of the violence. So he went in the back door and gathered the staff around him in the newsroom. No one had told him what to say or do. So on the spur of the moment he climbed on the desk and said, “Let’s open up those front doors!” There was silence. Then the whole crowd cheered. Grown men and women stood with tears flowing down their faces. It was a moment of new beginning.

May this be the prayer of each of us: that Lausanne Ⅱ in Manila will be a new beginning; that Jesus, the crucified, risen Christ, will walk within this Philippine International Convention Center, show us his hands and side, give us the keys of new peace, new purpose, new power, and say to us, “Let’s open up those front doors!”

And so, may we proclaim Christ as he did, in his way, and by his Spirit until he comes.

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