The eight days at Lausanne 3 touched me intensely. It was a profound spiritual experience with a multitude of information and deep emotional fellowship. However, this will be a superficial answer. It was more.
Lausanne 3 epitomized a new era. We are in a ‘post’- time. In South Africa we are in a post-apartheid era. When the Berlin wall came down on 9-11-1989, it was more than just a wall that came down. Post 9/11 introduced Americans to the real world. It is also a post-triumphalism time. Super-hero’s, super-preachers and super-theologians who know it all are simply no longer for sale.
We were in a conference centre with 4200 people from 198 countries listening in 28 languages while 600 centres worldwide were simultaneously attending! One experiences the reality of the information era and globalization. Google Lausanne 3 and you will see! In the meantime Chinese hackers were trying to congest the bandwidth and the organizers had a hard time in getting it open again. The reality of a ‘post’ era was no longer a futuristic game… We were requested not to take photos of attendees with blue stickers on their name tags nor use their names in internet messages. Their lives were at stake.
This new era is acutely influencing the church and theology. As a South African I first experienced it intuitively. The contrast between, for instance, Lausanne 3 and the 1982 DRC General Synod meeting came to my mind. Lausanne was constructed bottom-up, listening to many voices, with openness in my mind. The 1982 Synod was top down in communication style and trying to manipulate and keep in line. The contrast was even clearer by comparing it with how the stage was used at Lausanne – it reflected diversity. Contrasting pictures came to my mind of a very confident preacher telling the silent subdued congregation what was sinful and what was not. The pulpit had an embroidered cloth… “Thus sayeth the Lord”. This was not the case at Lausanne – even when some tried the take that gap!
There were a few grey-heads who thought they knew it all. However, they were the exceptions and, on the positive side, they helped one to see the contrast. Many voices from many places shared, told stories; women and men. Nobody tried to manipulate the audience. The typical rational academic theology was largely overshadowed by the authenticity of those who shared from the heart and experience. The testimonies of the power of the Bible and Spirit to sustain the faithful in the most trying of circumstances gripped everybody every day. The perseverance of the saints was suddenly stories of real people. Tears were real too. The injustice suffered by so many of our brothers and sisters is heartbreaking. Suddenly evangelism was portrayed not as a method but as a lifestyle in which the cross was clearly visible.
The way the conference was structured exemplified? the new era. For table discussion we were seated six diverse people to a table, 700 tables in total. Morning sessions were in the big conference centre with its astonishing technology. The first 1¾ hour was “Celebrating the Bible.” Ephesians was our text, divided into six themes that flowed from the text: truth, reconciliation, world faiths, priority, integrity and partnership. We dwelled in the Word, gave feedback of our table discussion and views, listened to testimonies and presentations, looked at video’s and performing art presentations. By 13h00 we reported back again. During the afternoon session one could attend one of four presentations / discussions related to the theme of the day, and that was followed, after tea, by small group dialogue sessions, regional gatherings or special interest group sessions. Music, song and prayer meetings were always available. The evening sessions were all labelled “God at work in the world through his church”, followed by a late night film session.
The fellowship we had at our table was to me the most precious of the meeting: Bethany was from Washington DC (with her baby) working for a justice mission. Philippa from London working for the Tearfund, Farri came from Iran. His family lost 17 members since the 1979 revolution. He is at the head of about 3500 growing house churches. Jack, from Jerusalem, converted Palestinian Muslim, pastoring a congregation of ex-Muslim Palestinians. Having been imprisoned by the Israelis seven times, he put violence aside after discovering the gospel. The third Arab was Fouad from Cairo, Egypt. Businessman, electronic engineer who learned to discern what want God wants him to do and is now involved in a wide range of Christian ministries. Six perspectives on Ephesians, six views on what was happening in the world and, for me, a learning experience about the Arab world and the Muslim religion.
The reality of the missio Dei was overwhelming. God is at work, in many places all over the world. It happens “bottom up”. We have listened to testimonies of the mighty deeds of the triune God taking place at the fringes of societies. Humility, integrity and simplicity are becoming the marks of a true church. I heard “mission” more often than “evangelism”. Honest introspection was done; there was brokenness over the disunity in the church, false motives and the prosperity cult. The economic and political systems and powers that lead to poverty, misery and injustice was a reality. The key role of women was acknowledged and the gender issue handled with integrity. Dogmatic fights were avoided. The time of missionaries going from the “developed” world to wherever is phasing out. Mission is from everywhere to everywhere. The church is no longer linked to buildings and institutions or theology to an academic world. The true church is moving across boundaries, it is where there is injustice and pain, where “the other” needs a neighbour. I think the cross is again becoming centre stage in many arenas around the world. It is a sign of pain and struggle, but it brings peace and is announced and discovered as being the gospel, good news!
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