CAPE TOWN, South Africa-When the Lausanne Congress opened in Switzerland in July 1974, it wasn't just Western secularists and the student protest movement that wanted to throw off convention and historically Christian norms; the church wanted to, as well.
The World Council of Churches had adopted the slogan, "The world must set the agenda for the church." And as apologist and social critic Os Guinness pointed out Monday, "You had a moratorium on mission, also from the World Council and others. Against that, the first Lausanne Congress was unashamed in picking up the cause of mission."
According to Guinness, two important things have changed in the last 36 years leading to this week's Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa: the resurgence of religion worldwide and the impact of globalization.
"[In 1974] religion was consigned to the past," said Guinness in his keynote address at the Congress. "It was confined to the private world by the notions of separation of church and state, and those who did look at it considered it a problem."
Since that time not only have evangelical churches taken off worldwide, particularly in the global south, but Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism have all seen concentrated-and often militant-resurgences.
The concept of the global village also has been transformed, said Guinness. At previous Lausanne Congresses there obviously was no internet, nor communication via Skype, Twitter, or phone texting-but the reality of globalization today can confuse more than highlight important issues affecting the church worldwide.
"Our notion of the global village is too cozy, unified, and simple," said Guinness. "A leader today deals with the entire world the entire time. It's overwhelming. And no sooner do you think you've got it down and it's changed." Guinness speaks from experience-at 69, he is one of few speakers here to have attended all previous Congresses: the 1974 inaugural event in Lausanne and the 1986 Congress in Manila. Guinness also attended the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin in 1966, which preceded all Lausanne gatherings.
Those were life-changing events for Guinness personally and for the church, which leads to one of his frustrations with the Cape Town event, and is indicative of broader evangelical culture: "I am troubled by the shift from proclamation to conversation, from solid substance to sound-biting, from truth to entertainment."
Others involved in planning and speaking here also have complained: Most speakers have been limited to 10 minutes at the podium; only Bible expositors Ajith Fernando, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, John Piper, Vaughan Roberts, and Calisto Odede were granted more time-but they have been held to 28 minutes each to speak on an entire chapter from the New Testament book of Ephesians. Sunday evening's opening ceremony more resembled the pageantry of an Olympics opening than the well-remembered preaching at previous Congresses, where Rene Padilla, John Stott, and others spoke for 40 minutes and more.
"We are losing the authoritative proclamation of the gospel," Guinness said. "Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables but taught his own disciples straightforwardly. Skits can be useful, but you shouldn't have to do that here."
The irony for the Cape Town Congress, too, is that despite efforts to project the proceedings to a global audience, this Lausanne event has been crippled by technical difficulties. A "global conversation" that was to involve more than 600 locations linked worldwide to watch the events via the internet has failed so far to commence. And basic video feeds and photos that were to be posted to the group's Lausanne.org site have remained unavailable, as technicians have battled internet breakdowns and server malfunctions.
"This is an unprecedented level of internet usage for the country of South Africa, even more than when the World Cup was here," Amy Donovan, Tech Squad manager for the Congress, explained to reporters. "We're taking video of every single session and will be broadcasting it to the world as soon as our technical problems are solved."
Ins and outs | At the Third Lausanne Congress, the global south delegates dominate-but the Chinese remain locked out | Mindy Belz