Henk Medema

Lausanne: A New Conversation

1974-2014 - LET THE EARTH HEAR!
‘Let the earth hear my voice… ascribe greatness to our God!’ (Deuteronomy 32:1,3)
Ever heard or seen someone having a conversation with a music script? Your first reaction is probably to say: no. Which is understandable. Yet at least you have seen the result of it: a pianist, or a hoboïst, or a drummer performing a beautiful piece of music. He or she has wrestled with it, tried to understand and interpret it, given a response in various ways. Then the performance was, perhaps, put on CD. Maybe the publisher added on the cover, proudly: ‘he Definitive Performance of…’! Not true, of course. But he just meant to say that this was an outstanding job. Actually this only increases the challenge to do it even better.

Forty years ago, 1974, was the start of what turned out to be the Lausanne Movement, with its first International Congress on World Evangelization. ‘Let the earth hear!’ was called out by its initiators. The expression called to mind the well-known classic hymn: ‘To God be the glory’ with its refrain: ‘Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice!’
It was ‘a strategic moment in history’, as Billy Graham and Jack Dain said in their welcome letter. This sounded a bit bold, but the statement of Billy Graham after the congress was something most of the attendants must have felt: ‘I believe that God did a new thing at Lausanne… it was more than an event’. Yes. It was the starting of a movement.
Last week saw the Lausanne International Leadership Meeting and 40th Anniversary Celebration in the Institut Emmaüs in St.-Legier, close to Vevey, Switzerland, and not far from Lausanne. Forty years ago I did not attend ‘Lausanne’, but as a member of the Dutch Lausanne Comittee I was privileged to attend this celebration. What has happened to the movement in 40 years?
Three global congresses further down the road - after Lausanne 1974 there was Manila 1989, and CapeTown 2010 - and with a lot of activities world wide still going on, has the agenda of Lausanne significantly changed? The first impression is that is still true to its original principles, with an emphasis on the truth of the Word of God, an ongoing challenge to bring the whole Gospel to the whole world by the whole Church, and an open attitude between Christians of various denominations. Increased involvement of participants from the majority world and a new perspective on integral mission could be mentioned as upcoming trends.
The Vevey gathering, naturally, was a lot smaller than Lausanne, Manila and Cape Town. The format, closely followed the CapeTown 2010 format, emphasized the Scripture, each day starting with worship and Bible study in small groups and in plenary sessions. Christ, the Truth (John 1:1-18), Disciples of Truth (John 8:31-47), Body of Truth (1John 3:11-24) were the three topics. And then the ‘multiplexes’, smaller group sessions, made clear that Truth and Evangelism were still central, combining evangelism with Authentic Discipleship,  with Economics and the New Poor, with Migration and People of Other Faiths, with Childeren and Youth Amidst Demographic Changes, with Proclamation and Theological Training, with Politics and the Media, with Gender Issues, and lastly with Church Planting.
In his plenary lecture Chris Wright, director of Langham Partnership, said some essential things about humility and truth. He was pleading for a humble attitude, adding: ‘We reject the arrogance of modernity, and we should reject the arrogance of Christendom with the imperial certainties that preceded it.  But does humility mean we know nothing, and can know nothing? No. We have a truth to share  - with the humility that is constitutive of the function of a witness.’ And he spoke about truth in three ways. It is about truth that can be known. Truth that can be trusted. Truth that can be seen.
As I was participating in the discussions in Vevey, one intriguing element came up time and again. While the first Lausanne Congress was held under the motto ‘Let the earth hear!’ - implementing that ‘we’ were in the possession of a corpus of well-defined truth which we could speak in the name of God, the discussions this week frequently came back on the question: could we just be a little bit more humble, please? Though, it must be admitted, other attendants brought in more strong, positive opinions, about ethics, politics, theology. But back came those who insisted that we should do a thorough job of listening. Listening to the voices in the earth, the world of mankind where so many things are being said that need close attention. Listening to the Word of God, not just as a collection of propositions, but as a captivating narrative of which Christ is the center, and which we continue to wrestle with, trying to enter it. And listening to one another.
This blog commenced with the small metaphor of a conversation: a music interpreter with his audience, with his or her colleagues perhaps, but also with the music script itself. It is from the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), in his ‘Truth and Method’.
We should be aware that truth that can be witnessed is a person: Jesus Christ, and that it is different from the outcome of a mathematical formula.
The Lausanne movement seems to be maturing. We are becoming more and more conscious of our need for humility. Yes, ‘let the earth hear!’ But also: let us listen to one another, and to a world in pain and in distress, with no simple solutions. We should humbly learn to interpret the music of our Master. We should dance if the flute is being played, and mourne if a dirge is being song.
Did I learn something at this conference? Yes. That we as Christians are in need of a new discourse, a new conversation.

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