Last week marked the beginning of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa. When I wrote my book that was released earlier this summer, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness, this was one of four major ecumenical gatherings that I had in mind when I wrote that this year "marks a number of important occasions in the life of the contemporary ecumenical movement."
I contrasted the mainline ecumenical groups, like the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation, with the evangelical ecumenical movement, including Lausanne. But interestingly enough, there is more than passing connection between the two. Indeed, Cape Town 2010 is now officially associated with the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), which is itself connected with the WCC.
It is also noteworthy that the WCC has been explicit in its outreach to evangelicals. One reason this might be the case is internal recognition of the stagnation of mainline ecumenical groups and their supporting denominations. The mainline ecumenical movement, it seems, is suffering from a lack of both intellectual and monetary resources (to say nothing of the spiritual).
I conclude Ecumenical Babel with a call for the mainline ecumenical movement to embrace some important "evangelical" themes, like stewardship, charity, and vocation. WCC head Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit recently addressed the Lausanne Congress and focused on the differences between the WCC's emphasis on "social justice" as compared with the evangelical emphasis on evangelism.
But as Stephen J. Grabill notes in his foreword to the book, many of the same temptations that have led the mainline ecumenical groups astray are in play among evangelical ecumenical groups. Thus he writes:
In the immediate aftermath of the First International Congress on World Evangelization, John Stott, in his 1975 Oxford lectures entitled Christian Mission in the Modern World, pinpointed the theological root cause of the problem. He discerned that evangelicals seemed unable to integrate satisfactorily the Great Commandment (Lev. 19:18) to “love your neighbor as yourself ” with the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) to “go and make disciples of all nations.” God’s mission, Stott urged in keeping with Matthew 5:13–16 “describes rather everything the church is sent into the world to do. [It] embraces the church’s double vocation of service to be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’” (pp. 30–31). The whole church has been sent into the world to accomplish this mission, but our capacity to successfully carry out this mission is diminished due to our disunity, disorganization, duplication of efforts, and tightfistedness.
Cape Town 2010 bears watching for a number of reasons, not least of which is the question of whether such a large and diverse ecumenical gathering can speak on anything, doctrinal or practical, with one voice. And it may well be the case that the evangelical ecumenical movement might well go more "mainline" rather than the reverse.