Global evangelical movement gathers in Cape Town

Global evangelical movement gathers in Cape Town

At the urging of evangelical leaders worldwide, the Lausanne Movement, with the participation of the World Evangelical Alliance, is currently hosting the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, from 16-25 October 2010.

The Lausanne Movement goes back to 1974, when, in a historic global meeting, evangelicals from different traditions embraced social action alongside the communication of the Gospel message as a core components of the Christian vocation in the world. The outcome was the Lausanne Covenant.

The words 'evangelical' and 'evangelism' produce distinctly queasy feelings among some people, Christian and otherwise. In the media, they are often wrongly used interchangably. The former refers to a tradition in Christianity which emphasises the Bible as its supreme authority; while evangelism means 'sharing Good News', and is the responsibility of all Christians.

The problem arises from the fact that some evangelicals appear extremely conservative and dogmatic in their religious (and often political) views. At one end of the spectrum is what gets called fundamentalism. But there are also 'moderate', 'conciliar', 'progressive' 'left', 'ecumenical', 'radical', 'emergent' and 'open' evangelicals - who in different ways see the biblical message as pointing towards what theologian Brian McLaren calls "a generous orthodoxy", and in the case of Sojourners and others, tends towards a radical peace and justice message. Many modern Mennonites in the US and elsewhere can be seen as in this framework.

In other words, 'evangelicalism' is far from a monolithic reality - and its automatic and lazy equation with hardline conservatism or fundamentalism is unfair as well as inaccurate for a significant number in the movement.

Lausanne 1974 represented a major gain for a 'broad' evangelicalism, but in recent years the narrower versions have often been at the forefront, with the sexuality debate forcing some who are progressive in other ways into what is seen as the conservative camp. Meanwhile, 'Red Letter Christians' are those who emphasise the message and work of Jesus, and are broadly in the evangelical or post-evangelical arena, but who believe the word itself is virtually beyond redemption. (Ekklesia has defined itself in relation to this spectrum here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/about/faqs/23 ).

For all these reasons, it will be interesting to see what comes out of Cape Town 2010, a gathering which provides a global forum – before, during and after the Congress – in which leaders from around the world can explore issues facing the Church and the world.

The organisers have said that it is their wish that "God’s name may be honoured" in an era where many abuses are committed in the name of religion, and being evangelicals, they also hope that "many more men, women and young people will be able to hear and respond to the message of Christ presented in a relevant and culturally appropriate manner."

Over 4,000 evangelical leaders from 200 countries are scheduled to attend Cape Town 2010. The Participant Selection Team, made up of leaders worldwide, established specific criteria to ensure that the Congress includes men and women from a broad spectrum of nationalities, ethnicities, ages, occupations and denominational or non-denominational affiliations.

Around 70 per cent of the participants are from the global South; some 40 per cent are 20-40 year-olds; 25 per cent are from the African continent. We will be reporting on some of the major developments of the Congress, as time and the flow of information allows.

More details can be found at www.lausanne.org

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(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He was formerly global mission secretary for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), the official ecumenical body. He also worked in world church education for the Anglican agency CMS from 1982-1987, and he has been a member of the world and British and Irish academic mission studies associations.

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