Worldwide Conference Important Step for Grace Brethren Movement
By Dave Guiles
Standing in the middle of the Cape Town International Convention Center, I absorbed the scene unfolding before me. As far as I could see, 4,000 men and women were clustered around tables engaged in passionate discussions about issues that really matter. Representing evangelical churches from 198 countries, we had come to South Africa to explore how to mobilize the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.
When my invitation to Lausanne III arrived more than a year ago, it sat in my inbox, together with a host of other letters demanding my attention. For one who spends his life traveling, the idea of one more international trip was not appealing. Who needs another conference? I thought. It only required a passing comment to the GBIM board of directors to realize how the simple invitation represented a great honor, a great opportunity, and a great responsibility.
I was involved in a doctoral course on “Contemporary Theological Issues in Missions.” Our professor walked us through the history of the “Great Ecumenical Movement,” beginning with the great Missionary Conference in Edinburg (1910). Arising from a commitment to unity at the expense of doctrine, it is easy to trace the decline of missionary zeal in mainline churches during the past century.
In contrast to that downward spiral, evangelical leaders of deep doctrinal convictions and missionary passion gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. Under the banner, Let the Earth Hear His Voice, they reaffirmed their commitment to the authority of Scripture, the “lostness” of man apart from Jesus Christ, salvation in Jesus Christ alone, the conviction that our witness must be by both word and deed, and the necessity of evangelism for the salvation of souls.
This First Congress produced “The Lausanne Covenant,” a historic document establishing standards for doctrinally-sound cooperation. It also moved the evangelical world into the era of partnerships. The harsh reality of billions of people who have never heard the name of Christ created a new sense of urgency and helped many evangelical leaders lift their eyes beyond minor differences that traditionally separate.
In the history of Lausanne I discovered a wealth of resources. Representing the best of cooperative evangelical scholarship, they deal with many of the same big issues we face at Grace Brethren International Missions (GBIM). Yet for reasons I don’t fully understand, our movement of churches was absent from these discussions. I felt as though the train left the station and we were still standing on the platform. Clearly the time had come to take steps toward engaging with the global body of Christ for the fulfillment of the Great Commission in our generation.
I’ve spent the last ten years traveling among the 35 countries where the Grace Brethren movement is at work. It’s been a long time since I’ve marveled at a strange language or a different style of worship. But nothing could have prepared me for Cape Town 2010. Leaders from Latvia, Namibia, Lesotho, and Nepal represent only four on the list of 37 countries whose leaders I engaged in conversations.
Will Lausanne III be remembered as a “great evangelical fireworks display?” Or will it ignite thousands of small fires destined to make an impact on our world for Jesus Christ? Only time will tell. For me, participation in Lausanne is one more important step in an ongoing commitment embraced by GBIM in the late 1990s. That’s when we began to dream of:
A global movement of reproducing churches faithful to the Brethren heritage who are aware of the significance of the times and thrust out into the mainstream of the movement of the Spirit of God in the fulfillment of their mission.
Editor’s Note— Dave Guiles has been executive director of Grace Brethren International Missions since 2000. Previously, he and his wife, Sue, served as missionaries in Argentina.