We Have a Gospel to Proclaim: Cape Town 2010 Concludes

Lindsay Brown  addresses participants at
the conclusion of Cape Town 2010.

(Editor’s note: This is an abbreviated version of Lindsay Brown’s closing address at Lausanne III: Cape Town 2010. For the whole address, go to www.lausanne.org/conversation, where you will find other presentations, and be invited to contribute your comments.)

The gospel of Jesus Christ is unique, wonderful, powerful, and true. It is the greatest message in the history of the world. That is why we've met together. What will be the legacy of this Congress? Only God knows—we don’t, at this stage. But I can tell you our four-fold vision and hope.

Firstly, for a ringing re-affirmation of the uniqueness of Christ and the truth of the biblical gospel, and a crystal clear statement on the mission of the Church—all rooted in scripture. We cannot engage in mission unless we know what we believe. The historic missionary conference of Edinburgh 1910 set in motion great missionary endeavour. But it had a flaw—the organisers sidelined doctrine.

So they aimed to launch a missionary movement without biblical consensus. That’s folly. We need to have clarity, especially on four things: (1) the exclusive claims of Christ; (2) the meaning of Christ’s death; (3) the necessity of conversion; and (4) the lostness of humankind. The Cape Town Commitment (www.lausanne.org/ctcommitment) seeks to give this clarity.

Secondly, to identify key issues which the Church needs to address in the coming decade. The mission statement for this Congress was that “…we would seek to bring a fresh challenge to the global Church to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching, in every part of the world—not only geographically, but in every sphere of society, and in the realm of ideas.” I love the words of Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian and prime minister, who said, “There is not one centimetre of human existence to which Christ, who is Lord of all, does not point and say, ‘That is mine.’”

Thirdly, to facilitate many fruitful friendships and partnerships. That's why great care was taken in forming the small groups [at the Congress]. In a needy and broken world we cannot be driven by a spirit of competition; such a spirit must give way to a spirit of partnership where, under Christ, men and women, and people of different ethnicities, join hands to bring the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth.

We need a new generation of evangelical leaders who are driven by their commitment to the cause of Christ, and genuinely rejoice, like Paul in Philippians 1, when the gospel goes out, no matter who is leading the charge. Our prayer has been that many would leave with a fresh commitment to partnership with like-minded believers.

Fourthly, for many new initiatives. We maintain too much, and pioneer too little. In 1974, there was a great surge of interest in unreached people groups. From this Congress, we may see new initiatives in reaching oral learners, young people, diaspora, or the cities. Or fresh energy in communicating biblical truth in the public domain through the media, the arts, business, the university, and government. These arenas all shape the value systems in nations and require bold, clear, and coherent Christian testimony.

Mission Is Christocentric
We see in our reading [2 Corinthians 4] that mission is Christocentric. A journalist here this week asked me, “Bishop Stephen Neill says that when mission is everything, mission is nothing. What is not the mission of the Church?” My answer: “Mission is driven by a desire to proclaim the deity, incarnation, death, resurrection, and lordship of Christ. Anything without this at its core is not mission.” Look at Paul’s emphasis on Christ in this chapter:

  • v4: the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God
  • v5: preaching Christ Jesus as Lord
  • v6: the glory of God in the face of Christ

There is no substitute for testifying verbally to his lordship. It is amazing how creative the early evangelists were in this. They spoke in local synagogues, but they also spoke on neutral territory—think of Paul on Mars Hill. Some of us will be called to the public arena, to engage in dialogue with the thinkers and influencers, and to bring that clear and coherent testimony to the truth in Christ in the public sphere.

Our communion meal this evening focuses around John the Baptist’s ecstatic claim when he saw Jesus and called him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” When I was a student in Oxford University, I studied in the same college where John Wesley had been a professor 250 years previously. I took the opportunity to read through his journals, which he recorded every day during his itinerant ministry.

One phrase struck me, which he repeated day after day—“I offered Christ to the people…today I offered Christ to the people.” That is our primary calling—to offer Christ to the peoples of the world.

The Need for Integrity
The Apostle Paul exhorts us to retain a distinctive lifestyle. We are to watch our walk! Our words must come from godly lives. We are not called to bear witness to Christ in an arrogant way. We do so as fallen, fragile people, or as earthen vessels (v. 7). We need to be careful not to rely on technique, or clever approaches; the gospel should be shared by setting forth the truth plainly (v. 2), out of our weakness (v. 7), focusing on the power of God.

We dare not think we will succeed because we have the money and the technology. We depend only upon the greatness of the gospel, the power of God, the help and power of the Holy Spirit, and the power of the word of God. As we go out, let us focus on the truth of the gospel (v. 2), the gospel of the glory of Christ (v. 4), the lordship of Christ (v. 5), and the glory of God in the face of Christ (v. 6). And may this word of truth be backed up by authentic, transformed, joyful lives.

John Stott said in his last published sermon that the greatest hindrance to the advance of the gospel worldwide is the failure of God's people to live like God's people. We are to demonstrate godly lives before a watching world—in compassion by caring for the underprivileged, the poor, those affected by pandemics, the brokenhearted. Jesus’ approach was very simple. He spoke to the five thousand and he fed them. So should we.

A Call to Perseverance
Finally, the apostle exhorts us not to lose heart (v. 1). Many of us will return to difficult circumstances. Then we are to remember our calling to persevere to the end and not to lose heart or to give up.

I remember talking with the only person from Somalia at the last Lausanne Congress in 1989. He was employed by the United Nations to work in Mogadishu. He was the only Somali elder in the only evangelical church in the capital, made up of seventy believers. He had received an invitation to go and work with the UN in New York, but turned it down so he could work among his own people.

As a consequence, he lost his life in 1990. Gospel service is costly, but we are to continue because of the glory of the gospel and the commission of our Lord.

Samuel Escobar, one of the grandfathers of The Lausanne Movement, has said the only thing twentieth-century man discovered was speed. Christian ministry is rarely quick. We thank God for rapid growth, but often the word of God takes root slowly. We are to adopt a long view.

Let me illustrate this. Professor Jerry Gana, a senior politician in Nigeria, has served five consecutive presidents, Muslim and Christian. Jerry is known for remaining free of corruption. I asked him how he had managed to retain his reputation for integrity and fairness. This was his answer. He learned as a student what it meant to abide in Christ and keep short accounts. We need to teach that, too. He chose his colleagues and partners slowly because he said even some Christian politicians make foolish mistakes. For if it all goes wrong, you have to face the consequences, and it can damage your testimony.

He realized the importance of legacy. He said,

God has given me the privilege of serving in public life for thirty years. I hope I can continue for another twenty-five. I'd like to mentor and develop a generation of young evangelical politicians in Nigeria who will multiply that influence. My prayer is that God will impact the political life of this nation through evangelical Christian politicians over a 60-year period.

That is a tremendous long-term vision and aspiration! “Therefore, beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Let me leave you with the words of John Wesley. As you seek to bear witness to Christ–and with God’s help:

Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
to all the people you can,
as long as ever you can.

Until Christ returns or calls us home, let us all press on to the end in serving Christ, our King. God bless you.