Running Half Way Between Geneva and Lausanne

John Baxter-Brown,
WCC Consultant for Evangelism

On my run this morning I ran until it hurt, and ran some more. I ran until I cried, and ran some more. I ran until some of my frustration and pain leeched away in tears and sweat and then I ran some more. I ran until my thoughts took on a more coherent form and ran a bit more.

I live in a small town half way between Geneva and Lausanne. I find that this geographical location also doubles up as a theological metaphor. Both Geneva and Lausanne are just less than 1 marathon’s distance away. If I trained and worked at it, I could run to either place. But why should I? Both movements, the ecumenical and the evangelical, have unique gifts to offer the whole church but also both have weaknesses and inadequacies in their theological understandings and practice of mission and evangelism. Neither have all the answers but both have significant and valuable insights. I learn from both movements.

Here’s a source of pain. At Lausanne III in Cape Town we had a series of Bible studies on Ephesians. Some of them were extremely good. We heard again about how Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility, in context referring to the wall between Gentiles and Jews – the great mystery of how God included the Gentiles in his plan of salvation. I wonder, however, whether the application can include – should include – the great dividing wall that some still insist on building between Geneva and Lausanne. Old stereotypes were at times reinforced in Cape Town – these hurt. Usually it is a lonely place being both evangelical and ecumenical, rather than either or.

Here’s another source of pain. We will not be able to achieve the task of world evangelization – to use Mott’s quote, the evangelization of the world in this generation – until we realise that  each needs the other. The evangelicals cannot fulfill the task themselves, and neither can the ecumenicals. Together, there is a chance. Apart we have already failed. Why is this painful? At its best, it is because God wishes unity for the global church in the face of a broken and needy world. Personally, it’s because I have spent my entire working life trying to persuade people that there is a more majestic, godly, holistic vision for world evangelization, beyond the rhetoric of tribalism. And tribalism is still the dominant force. I feel like I have failed. That hurts.

And here’s the rub. I have enough arrogance to believe that training towards a marathon in either direction – making a choice to be one thing or the other – is theologically and strategically wrong. It is both Lausanne and Geneva that should move closer together. They will discover that a deep theological convergence is happening, that there is much more we agree about it terms of mission and evangelism than we disagree about. And that working together we may yet manage to glorify God in this generation by focusing all our efforts and energy and time into world evangelization.

There’s a saying in England, ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow.’ There’s a small town half way between Lausanne and Geneva called Gland. It’s French for acorn. It’s where I ran this morning, beyond hurt and tears and towards a place of hope.

(John Baxter-Brown’s original text can be found HERE. You may leave there your comments for John.)

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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