René Padilla Reflects on Lausanne III Congress

René Padilla is one of the veterans of the Lausanne Movement and one of the architects of the holistic turn in Evangelical theology.

His presence, with Samuel Escobar, another Lausanne veteran, on the scene of the congress in Cape Town, reflecting on Lausanne from 1974 to 2010 was one of the highlights of the event (you may watch HERE a video recording of this conversation).

René has published recently some reflections on the latest Lausanne event. here are a few excerpts:

Doug Birdsall, Executive Chair of the Lausanne Movement, is probably right in claiming that Cape Town 2010 was “the most globally representative assembly of evangelicals in history.” Beyond doubt, this accomplishment was to a large extent the result of his long-stretched efforts to make it happen.

One of the most positive aspects of the program was the inductive study of the passage for the day in table groups of six, which provided the members of each group an opportunity to learn from and to pray for one another, to develop new friendships, and to build partnerships for the future.  The group Bible study was followed by an exposition of the passage of Ephesians selected for the day. Without minimizing the importance of music, drama, visual art, story and multimedia presentations, a very high percentage of the participants felt that the time allowed for “Celebrating the arts” could have been considerably reduced in order to allow more time for “Celebrating the Bible”, an activity that they appreciated very highly.

Special mention should be made of several of the testimonies given in morning plenary sessions by people whose life experience clearly illustrated the topic of the day. Who that was there can forget, for instance, the Palestinian young lady and the Israelite young man who spoke together about the meaning of reconciliation in Christ across racial barriers? Or the young North Korean girl whose father died in prison for confessing  Christ but who still intends to follow in her father’s footsteps?  Or the North American missionary lady who spoke on witnessing to the love of Christ with people of other faiths and told how several Christians, including her husband (an MD), were assassinated by Muslims as they were returning from an isolated town where they had been rendering compassionate service in Afghanistan?

The practical implications of the morning Bible study and theological reflection were explored in depth in the daily elective multiplexes (seminars) and dialogue sessions in the afternoon.

Of the twenty-two multiplexes that were offered during the Congress, there were specially three that could be regarded as dealing with the most critical issues affecting life in the global South: globalization, the environmental crisis, and wealth and poverty. These three factors are closely interconnected and, because of their big impact on millions of people in the Majority World, they deserve far more attention than they have received so far from Evangelical Christians.

According to the official definition of its mission, the Lausanne Movement exists “to strengthen, inspire and equip the Church for world evangelization in our generation, and to exhort Christians in their duty to engage in issues of public and social concern.” Close analysis of this wording reflects the dichotomy that influences a large segment of evangelicalism especially in the West: the dichotomy between evangelism and social responsibility. Because of that dichotomy, closely connected with the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, the Lausanne Movement intends “to strengthen, inspire and equip the Church” with regards to the former, but only “to exhort Christians” with regards to the latter. The implicit assumption is that the primary mission of the church is world evangelization conceived in terms of the oral delivery of the Gospel, while engagement in issues of public and social concern — the good works through which Christians fulfil their vocation as “light of the world” to the glory of God (Mathew 5:16) — are a secondary duty for which Christians do not need to be strengthened, inspired or equipped but only exhorted.

The Bible reading based on Ephesians 3 on the following day threw into relief the urgent need that there is in the Lausanne Movement to clarify theologically the content of the mission of God’s people. In contrast with what had been said on the previous day, the Bible expositor assigned for that day stated that, although the church is concerned about every form of human suffering, she is especially concerned about eternal suffering and consequently is called to give priority to the evangelization of the lost.

A serious flaw of Lausanne III was not to allow time for serious theological reflection on the commitment that God expects from his people in relation to his mission. Sadly, no time at all was allowed to discuss the rich theological content of Part I of the Cape Town Commitment, on which a group of senior evangelicals led by Christopher Wright had diligently worked for several months with the intention of circulating it right at the beginning of the Congress.

The negative posture taken by the organizers with regard to a recommendation by senior participants that intended to insure the ownership of the document by all the participants is not only inimical to the common ownership of this particular document. It is also a sign that the Lausanne Movement is still very far from attaining the sort of partnership without which it can hardly claim to be a global movement.  In all fairness, however, it must be added here that the liturgy for the Closing Ceremony on Sunday night was based on Part I of the Cape Town Commitment, with the intention that the overall message be endorsed and appropriated in the context of worship.

In contrast with the treatment that the Cape Town Commitment received, a whole plenary session was dedicated on Wednesday to the strategy for the evangelization of the world in this generation (made in USA) on the basis of a chart of so-called unreached people groups prepared by the Lausanne Strategy Working Group. Their strategy chart reflected the obsession with numbers typical of the market mentality that characterizes a sector of evangelicalism in the United States. Besides, according to many of the people participating in the Congress who have firsthand knowledge of the evangelistic needs in their respective countries, the chart of unreached groups failed to do justice to their situation. Curiously enough, no unreached groups were listed in relation to the United States!

Another flaw of Lausanne III was that, as the Lausanne Interest Group on Reconciliation pointed out near the end of the Congress, no official mention was ever made that this Congress was taking place in a country that not long ago was under the grip of apartheid and is still deeply affected by socioeconomic injustice. …the Congress organizers ignored the invitation made by the Group of Reconciliation to have Cape Town 2010 officially “reject the theological heresies which undergirded apartheid” and to “lament the socioeconomic suffering which is apartheid’s on-going legacy.” One wonders how serious are the leaders of the Lausanne Movement in their commitment to the Lausanne Covenant, according to which “The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist” (paragraph 5).

That in the last few decades the centre of gravity of Christianity has moved from the North and West to the South and East is a fact frequently acknowledged today by people interested in the life and mission of the church on a global scale. In spite of that fact, all too frequently Christian leaders in the North and West, especially in the United States, continue to assume that they are in charge of designing the strategy for the evangelization of the whole world. As is stated in Day Six – Partnership in the 125-page book with the full description of the Cape Town program given out to all the Congress participants, “the locus of organizational leadership, control of financial resources and strategic decision-making tends to remain with the north and the west.” Sad to say, the biggest obstacle to implementing true partnership is the affluence of the North and West – the affluence that Jonathan J. Bonk in his insightful work on Missions and Money has described as “a Western missionary problem”. If that is the case, and if the Lausanne Movement is to contribute in a meaningful way toward the fulfilment of the mission of God through his people, it is high time for the missionary force connected with this movement, including its strategists, to renounce to money power and to make the incarnation, the earthly ministry, and the cross of Jesus the model for missionary life.

You may read the whole of this interesting reflection on Micah Network website.

I welcome any comments and discussions on the important matters for the future of Evangelicalism.




Author: DanutM

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

4 thoughts on “René Padilla Reflects on Lausanne III Congress”

  1. Thank you very much for this. Wish I had seen it earlier.

    Is the English text above a translation by you of Padilla’s original in Spanish? Do you have links or papers where Rene has cared to publish in greater detail and force in English?


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