A 21st Century Reformation? A Modest Plea

Reformation is a large concept, a work of God so broad, deep and historic that it is beyond my scope, and probably that of The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. I opt for something more modest: a ’reformation of manners’ (to borrow a phrase from Jonathan Edwards and others). By this was meant a widespread social renewal, but we might aim more modestly at reforming our treatment of others, with courtesy as believers in the way we relate to one another, with respect as evangelists toward those we seek to win.

Three of the eminent ’fathers’ of the Lausanne Movement – Billy Graham, John Stott and Jack Dain – exemplified for me this spirit of truth and grace, of deep conviction about the gospel and humility toward one’s self and others. The world, suggests historian Martin Marty, might be a different place if Billy Graham had been a ’mean person.’ A Chinese Ph.D. student, not herself a believer, told me she is writing about how Graham approached other nations with civility, ’Not with a closed fist but with an open hand.’

When so many regard Christians (and especially evangelists and missionaries) as intolerant and arrogant, it could be a worthwhile advance if from Cape Town 2010 emerges a church proclaiming and practicing a generous evangelism, reflecting the generosity of the Lord Jesus.

Our theme for Cape Town 2010 is from Paul’s words: ’God in Christ reconciling the world to himself.’ What an amazing privilege he then cites: that we are ’ambassadors for Christ … God making his appeal through us.’

Or, as one paraphrase puts it, ’God has changed us from enemies into friends and given us the task of making others his friends also.’

Is that how pre-Christians see evangelists: as friends? Or as belligerents, heavy-handed, even fighting with each other?

How then should we be ambassadors, representing this good news? ’We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path,’ Paul continues. ’As servants of God we commend ourselves.’ How? Not only through enduring reproaches for the gospel, but by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God (2 Corinthians 6:3-7).

So we are to weave together the heart and truth of the gospel message with the beauty and grace of gospel ministry.

The ’spirit of Lausanne’ has been one of living out this attitude. God grant that Cape Town 2010 will be a place where evangelical believers come together, listen to one another with respect, learn together in humility, work and pray together in love.

If Cape Town 2010 can help us to become more generous evangelists, reflecting the generosity of Jesus, making the gospel attractive in word, act, and spirit, that can be a very large step toward reformation, or transformation, or, pray God, both.

Leighton Ford is president of Leighton Ford Ministries and honorary lifetime chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.

This article was a part of a special series called ‘The Global Conversation’ jointly published by Christianity Today International and the Lausanne Movement in the months leading up to Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to help prepare the global church for the issues to be addressed at the Congress. Each lead article had several commissioned responses, and was published by dozens of publications around the world. (View all Articles)

Date: 01 Sep 2010


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