Jesus walked among us at Cape Town!

24 January 2011

Guess what. Jesus showed up. That was hardly surprising. The One who promised to be in the midst of two or three who meet in his name could hardly stay away when some 5,000 members of his worldwide body came together in his name. But still, there is no doubt that those who gathered for the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, in October 2010, met with the Lord in remarkable way

Jesus showed up on the platform. He was most obviously present as seven men and women from all continents expounded the word of God daily from Ephesians, a letter that declares God’s mission of cosmic reconciliation and the integration of all creation in Christ and calls us to live every dimension of life in the light of that and in obedience to him. But Jesus was present too in the many other speakers, morning and evening, who challenged, informed, inspired, rebuked and amazed us all. Jesus was there as we rejoiced with those who rejoice in God’s mighty works around the world. Jesus was there as we wept (for we often did) with those who weep under the suffocating weight of persecution, the devastating loss of loved ones in the service of Christ, and the heart-breaking brutality endured by God’s little people – children and women in slavery, the diseased, the disabled, the displaced… Yes, Jesus was there in our midst, speaking unforgettably through the many voices that addressed us.

Jesus showed up at the tables. Imagine all those people sat in groups of five or six around 750 tables in the vast auditorium – the same people meeting at the same table every day. It may never have been done before but it was a defining mark of the Congress for many, as the groups studied the Bible and prayed together, shared their lives, discussed every issue coming from the platform, grew in fellowship and love through the week –microcosms of the whole event. The presence of Jesus was almost tangible at times as the great ocean of table groups stood to pray, or sing, or repent, or embrace. Jesus is good at being with disciples round a table…

Jesus showed up among the issues. A great deal of thought, global consultation and prayer went into the choice of the six Congress Themes and all of them involved Christ in distinct ways. So he remained the focal point, even as the issues revolved around him:

  • Making the case for the truth of Christ in a pluralistic, globalized world
  • Building the peace of Christ in our divided and broken world
  • Bearing witness to the love of Christ with people of other faiths
  • Discerning the will of Christ for evangelization in our century
  • Calling the church of Christ back to humility, integrity and simplicity
  • Partnering in the body of Christ toward a new global equilibrium

And every afternoon Jesus met with dispersed groups of people in 24 different multiplex sessions and 160 different dialogue sessions, as we sought to discern the mind of Christ on the plethora of challenges that face the church in mission today. None of us has the capacity to grasp all of these issues by ourselves, but in submitting all of them to the Lordship of Christ

In our thinking, talking, planning and working, we trust that he will be pointing people down many different paths of action that ultimately lead to the accomplishment of his will in the whole of our life in God’s world.

One of the great effects of a Congress like this, as of previous Lausanne gatherings, is the number of new relationships and partnerships that are formed as people meet, share their interests, discover common resources, agree to work together, and make plans for the future in their mission journeys. Only God can put all these pieces together into a coherent strategy. Lausanne provides the forum, the space, the opportunity for such connections to happen. Only God can master-mind the outcomes for his sovereign purpose. But that’s OK. After all, it was Jesus who said, “I will build my church”, and “all authority in heaven and earth is given to me”. We are in safe hands when we hand over to him all our little steering wheels by which we strive to find our way through the maze of issues that world mission involves.

Jesus showed up in the flesh – that is, in the sheer physicality of so many people from so many nations and tribes and speaking so many languages from all over the earth. Of course, we all know in our heads (or should know) that the majority of the world’s Christians live in the majority world of the Global South and East. But knowing it and seeing-touching-feeling-hearing that reality are very different. The body of Christ was very real in its multi­cultural, multi-coloured human skin. But more than that, some of these sisters and brothers came from countries where Christians are a tiny, suffering minority, where they have to meet in small, hidden groups, or to keep a very low profile, with no public freedom to sing and proclaim the name of the Lord Jesus. For them, the experience of vibrant, free, worship and fellowship with multitudes of other believers from the great worldwide church must have been stupendously encouraging for their faith and endurance. That at least is part of my prayer for them, just as it was a focus of many of the prayers during the Congress itself.

Jesus showed up in the worship. Every day included worship, song, dance, alongside listening to the Scriptures. There was plenty of variety, morning and evening. But all of us who were present for the closing ceremony will never forget it. Everyone I meet who was there says something about it being the nearest they think they’ll get to heaven. That was partly the reality of worshipping with people from so many nations and cultures. But beyond that, it was a celebration of holy communion, using the liturgy of the Anglican Church of Kenya, with an expanded liturgy at the time of confession and renewed commitment that was based upon Part 1 of the Cape Town Commitment, and a musical setting that was, well, just heavenly. With massed choirs in African dress, a full orchestra, and Christ-exalting leadership, it simply soared above and around us and led us to the foot of the cross and the glory of the resurrection and ascension.

Jesus showed up, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We thanked Jesus for the great leaders of yesterday, whom he lifted up and used so powerfully for his mission in their generation, including the founding of the Lausanne Movement itself. We received greetings from, and watched videos about, Billy Graham and John Stott, under the text: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7). But from their yesterday, God has multiplied leaders of churches and world mission all over the globe, women and men who worked together to bring the Cape Town Congress to reality, out of their love for Jesus and his people, and for those who don’t yet know him. And then, from their today, God is raising up the leaders of tomorrow, younger leaders who made up a high percentage of the participants. One of those responsible for leading the Younger Leaders movement within Lausanne, Michael Oh, wrote this afterwards:

I think one of the most significant future-impacting dynamics was the decision to have such a significant percentage of the delegates be under the age of 40 years old and just want to personally thank the board for being so committed to that happening. That ensured that the vital lessons and networks that are emerging from Cape Town will be carried on both globally and generationally for easily the next 3 or4 decades by those who were there.

Those who will be MOST impacted by the issues that we discussed and prayed over in Cape Town are my generation. These things will impact OUR world more than any other generation represented at Lausanne III.

During the reception for Younger Leaders where we had close to 1000 in attendance I mentioned that many had been asking about the future of Lausanne and the future of the global church. So I asked the young people gathered there to look around the room and into each other’s eyes. And I said to them, “Welcome to the future.”

Jesus showed up with a message. My job at the Congress, which nobody envied but everybody was keen to encourage, was to chair the Statement Working Group. We were tasked to listen for the voice of the Lord coming through the deluge of voices in all the plenaries and groups. Deluge it was. It was like standing under the Niagara Falls trying to catch it in a bucket. We hope to release the full Cape Town Commitment, Parts 1 and 2, in January. But what struck me suddenly towards the end was how often we had heard two themes coming through again and again. For me, it was the ultimate confirmation that Jesus was indeed among us. Why? Because it was the same voice, saying the same things, as he had so forcefully impressed on his disciples before his death and after his resurrection. And I thought to myself, “Two thousand years ago an Ethiopian met Jesus and brought him to the top end of Africa, through the scroll of Isaiah interpreted by Philip. How wonderful that two thousand years later he is meeting us at the bottom end of Africa, and giving us the same fundamental twin message: “Make disciples” (don’t just count decisions), and “Love one another” (and stop chopping up my body among you with your brands and labels, your ignorance and arrogance).

So the Cape Town Commitment will include these challenges in its conclusion:

God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. God was in Cape Town, calling the church of Christ to be ambassadors of God’s reconciling love for the world. God kept the promise of his word as his people met together in his name, for the Lord Jesus Christ himself dwelt among us there, walked among us and renewed his promise to be with us to the end of the age and to the ends of the earth.[Lev. 26:11-12; Matt. 18:20; 28:20]

We sought to listen to the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ. And in his mercy, through his Holy Spirit, Christ spoke to his listening people. Through the many voices of Bible exposition, plenary addresses, and group discussion, two repeated themes were heard in a wide variety of formats:

  • The need for radical obedient discipleship, leading to maturity, to growth in depth as well as growth in numbers,
  • The need for radical cross-centred reconciliation, leading to unity, to growth in love as well as growth in faith and hope.

Both discipleship and reconciliation are indispensable to our mission. By contrast, we lament the scandal of the shallowness of so much Christian profession worldwide, and the scandal of our dividedness and lack of love. We acknowledge that both are seriously damaging to our witness to the gospel.

Few things can be more important for the mission of the church of Jesus Christ than that those who claim his name should be like him, by taking up their cross, denying themselves, and following him in the paths of humility, love, integrity, generosity, and servanthood. To the extent that we fail in discipleship and disciple-making, we fail at the most fundamental level of our mission. The call of Christ to his church comes to us afresh from the pages of the Gospels: “Come and follow me”; “Go and make disciples”.

The command of Christ (“Love one another”) and prayer of Christ (“may they be one”), sounded again at Cape Town. We heard them in repeated laments over the scandal of our fragmentation, and frustration over competition and duplication. We heard them in our shame over the bitterness in our theological disagreements and the loveless language in which we conduct them. We heard them in our embarrassment over our denominational pride and prejudice.

The call of Christ and his apostles comes to us afresh: “Love one another”; “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” [Eph. 4:1-6; Col. 3:12-14; 1 Thess. 4:9-10; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Jn. 3:11-14; 4:7-21] It is for the sake of God’s mission that we renew our commitment to obey this “message we heard from the beginning.” [1 John 3:11] For it is when Christians live in the reconciled unity of love by the power of the Holy Spirit that the world will come to know Jesus, whose disciples we are, and come to know the Father who sent him.


Christopher J. H. Wright is Chair of Lausanne Theology Working Group, and Cape Town 2010 Statement Working Group.

NOTE: This reflection was first published in, The Living Church magazine and is used here with permission kindly granted.

* Full Cape Town Commitment available now at http://www.lausanne.org/ctcommitment