The International Congress on World Evangelization laid the groundwork for a great Christian offensive.

There is no doubt that evangelicals have the tools and resources to mount such a movement. Never has there been such opportunity. Never so much potential. Never so many means. The only questions that remain are whether enough motivation will be generated to complete the task of world evangelization, and whether there will be adequate leadership and enough of a spirit of cooperation. The ten-day congress held last month in Lausanne, Switzerland, took two long steps toward resolving those questions.

One was the formulation of what was called the Lausanne Covenant, a fifteen-point statement that commits signers “to pray, to plan, and to work together for the evangelization of the world.” The covenant aids in the accomplishment of the task by expressing in contemporary language the basic tenets of biblical faith. It represents a major attempt at an evangelical consensus transcending ecclesiastic and political boundaries (for the complete text see the August 16 issue, page 22), one that stems from collective recognition of mankind’s great spiritual need. As George Beverly Shea said at Lausanne, “The wheat was so high you could not see the fences.”

The other big step was the decision to name a “continuation committee” which will, it is hoped, oversee creation of a more tangible world-wide evangelical fellowship. Participants at the congress indicated overwhelmingly that they wanted such a fellowship; with the emphasis upon regional and functional cooperation.

There was little desire to set up a power structure to compete with the World Council of Churches, but some kind of organization will obviously be necessary. As executive chairman Jack Dain put it, “You have to be honest: when we say we don’t want structure, nothing is going to happen unless somebody does something and someone has a desk somewhere.” At the very least a global network of information needs to be established so that evangelicals can readily communicate with one another.

Billy Graham has provided admirable leadership in bringing evangelicals together in recent years, but they now should increasingly curtail their dependence upon his charisma. Graham told newsmen in Lausanne, “These congresses have come largely as a result of the Billy Graham association, and I want to move away from that.”

There are no plans for a future congress. Evangelical togetherness is dependent for the time being on the covenant and the Continuation Committee, the selection process for which has yet to be concluded. The urgency of the task demands that the committee begin work quickly to develop some concrete plans. Many ideas surfaced at the congress that should help evangelicals to cooperate in theological education, mass communications, and social action, among other things.

It speaks well of the growing maturity of the worldwide evangelical constituency that there was nothing resembling a party line at the congress except the common allegiance to the Word of God. Within that framework, widely varying opinions were expressed. The two main strains that were most obvious were the data-oriented church-growth school and the discipleship-demanding compassion and justice group. Neither, unfortunately, showed enough sensitivity to the kind of evangelism that permeates society across a broad spectrum embracing the arts and, in fact, all vocational pursuits. Evangelism is always going to be excessively difficult until Christians are moved to express their faith in ways that penetrate the workaday world.

One key aspect in which this kind of concern did manifest itself is found in a sentence in the covenant that will probably be one of the hardest of all to live up to: “Those of us who live in affluent circumstances accept our duty to develop a simple life-style in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism.”

Evangelicals tend to be more individualistic than other people, and so their getting together is a greater achievement. It now remains to be seen to what extent they submerge private causes for the larger good. Some of those who were in Switzerland may have found a good lesson in the differences between the various regions of that small, very beautiful country. Several languages are spoken, and there is a very discernible competitive spirit. The people of Lausanne and those in Geneva, just forty miles away, can’t even agree on the name of the big lake they share. Yet in things that matter the most the Swiss are as one.

Maybe the Reformation had something to do with that.

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