It is easy to dismiss the Big Meeting in a day when connectivity is cheap, frequent, and easy.
It may well be that the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town 2010 ambition will have proven to be a mere spasm of spiritual and communal ecstasy, unrelated to the ongoing task and shared life of what can now accurately be called the global church.
But that seems unlikely.
The sheer galvanizing effect of coming together was not lost on Lausanne heavy lifters of an earlier generation like John Stott and Billy Graham, with all the caveats that those men’s pre-Internet environment requires. They were practical visionaries who sensed the potency of, well, coming together itself. It can be argued that a global evangelical identity was born through the ‘Lausanne’ conferences that Stott and Graham catalyzed.
On this penultimate day of Cape Town 2010, every appearance suggests that the event bears out Lausanne’s big idea in a different day and a new world.
Even those Bible readers who cannot properly name the names feel in their bones the compelling prophetic vision that came to be refined and unleashed in Jesus’ life and prayers, in the teaching of Paul of Tarsus, and via the imagination of a seer named John. The prophets and those who found important reservoirs of inspiration in their words glimpsed the nations flowing in exquisite equity towards a new Jerusalem. The programmatic New Testament description of an annual Feast of Pentecost transformed in a moment into a cosmic celebration of a global family of Jesus’ followers feels, on a Saturday evening in Cape Town, as though it has echoed in this southern African city on this ordinary, extraordinary week two milennia hence.
Delegates from nearly every nation—the Chinese government seems to have stumbled all by itself by forbidding its delegation to fly to South Africa, a clumsiness that is no doubt already regretted in Beijing—jostle with a mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion in Cape Town’s cavernous International Conference Center.
The usual conflicts, differences, and private ambitions are on display. Yet they are vastly, unstoppably overshadowed by an evangelical consensus of global proportions. Monoculture, here as elsewhere, is a much debated phenomenon, often derided and occasionally—by one of those opposing rip tides that is almost globalization’s signature—appreciated.
It is manifest beyond doubt, here in Cape Town, that we evangelicals recognize each other in ways that make monoculture an ambiguous phenomenon, one that cannot be altogether consigned to the Things-to-be-Decried file. We find ourselves caught up here in a kind of group hug that manages to allude to that caricature without the sneer that normally attaches itself to the image. We worship as one, yet as many and distinct. We sit gratefully under the teaching of Scripture as it comes to us in the voice of expositors who are almost universally esteemed for being what they are no matter their language or accent. We gripe that not enough sessions have been translated into French, then get on with things.
We evangelicals sometimes consider ourselves ‘post-evangelical’ in order to distance ourselves from the awkward extremes of the movement and those of its ill-tempered older brother, Fundamentalism.
But not here. Not in Cape Town.
Here we recognize each other as family, name the same Name, rejoice for a moment in a unity that is the product of no human strategy but for once appears to have descended, like a new Jerusalem, as gift from heaven.
There is a weighty, intangible thing in the air. It will fade a bit with the scent early next week of jet fuel.
Yet Lausanne’s third big thing seems to have aligned itself with the first two. Perhaps the skeptics were not this time among the wise.
Perhaps a robust, chastened, self-aware, worldly-wise, justice-hungry evangelical movement will properly be fueled by the vigor that flows from Cape Town back to the nations, Zion’s gift to the peoples that in the biblical vision beautify and adorn her.
Then again, maybe not. Maybe it’s all a cheap, globalized thrill.
My bets are on the first option.