Recently The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization was in Cape Town, South Africa with 4,000 participants representing almost 200 countries across the globe. One of the speakers at this event was Chris Wright, the international director of Langham Partnership International (John Stott Ministries) and the author of The Mission of God. Dr. Horton spoke with Mr. Wright recently about some of his comments at Lausanne calling the evangelical church to a “second reformation.”
Dr. Horton’s interview with Mr. Wright will be broadcast on a future episode of White Horse Inn, but we hope that you enjoy this audio and transcript of a portion of the interview as it relates to our mission calling upon the church for a “Modern Reformation.”
[Note: The Lausanne Congress held twelve panel discussions around the U.S. in the months leading up to the World Congress in Cape Town. Dr. Horton was able to participate in two of these events that were held in Southern California. The August 22, 2010 broadcast of the WHI contained a portion of the discussion from the event held at Saddleback Church. You can get more resources and listen to the program A Conversation on Global Evangelism.]
Interview with Chris Wright
Mike: It is a pleasure to have you with us Mr. Wright.
Chris: Thank you very much Mike, yes it’s good to be with you as well.
I’ve drawn on many of the insights from your marvelous book, The Mission of God, so it’s a real privilege to be able to explore some of these themes for our listeners. But before we dig in to that, I wanted to ask you on the heels here of the Lausanne Congress—a momentous event—if you would give us a first-hand report of what happened in Cape Town?
Well, Cape Town was a marvelous event Mike, yes, there were between four and five thousand people there from about 200 countries all around the world and even that in itself is a remark able thing, just the sheer physical presence of people of almost every nation, language, tribe and tongue gathered in one place praising the Lord Jesus Christ. There’s a certain sense of biblical fulfillment about that and that was very wonderful. I think it was also enormously encouraging to a lot of the people who’ve come from countries where Christians are very few and evangelical Christians are in a tiny minority and persecuted, and so for people from them to meet with others; to be encouraged; to worship together; have freedom to talk and share; I think that was good. I also think that the whole balance of the Congress was positive; they were looking at not just issues of evangelism and evangelistic strategy—which, of course, is important—but also other problems in the world of illness, of brokenness, of violence, of war, of other religions; all kinds of issues that the church has to face in its mission, so I think it was a tremendous menu of workshops and dialogue sessions and plenary sessions; a great deal of information for people who want to have an enormous sense of fellowship and of worship and a closing ceremony which was a communion service led by an African bishop with an African liturgy. It went on for about three hours and yet it didn’t feel like that at all; it was a marvelous musical, worshipful, inspiring event. So yeah, we came home exhausted but very encouraged.
Your paper, a widely-reported a plenary address there, called for a second reformation and you, according to the reports, received quite a warm response to that from the delegates. What was the basic point that you were arguing for there?
The basic point was that in the midst of all the things that we had to look at at Lausanne in terms of what the church needs to do in order to bring the gospel to the world is the fact that the church always also needs to look at itself. The point that I was making was that as you read the Bible you see that God has a greater problem with his own people than he does with the nations of the world; at least if you read the prophets. There’s far more that the prophets say against Israel, the people of God, than they ever do against the nations, and what the prophets say is that the people of God need to return to God, to repent of idolatry, and to be shaped again to be able to be a light to the nations and a blessing to the nations. So, the point I was trying to make was that the world evangelical community shouldn’t simply indulge in a kind of triumphalism or a jamboree spirit in which we go out and say, ‘We’ve got the answer to everybody else’s problems!’ but we need to also recognize that there’s a great deal about ourselves which is ugly, which is divided, which is filled with greed and consumerism, and a great deal of pride and where these things are true, then we need to repent and come back to God before we go out to the world.
The language of ‘reformation’ came to me—I don’t know whether you want to hear this story—but it was from Latin American friend who had done his Ph.D. with John Stott Ministries here in the States, and then returned to his home country in Latin America. He said that over a period of about six months, he and his wife attended ten different churches that were claiming to be evangelical; they were named as evangelical churches, but he said in not one of them did he hear the Bible being preached. In all of them there was a very powerful, single male minister who was extraordinarily wealthy and powerful, but ordinary people were not being taught the Bible. They weren’t actually looking really for salvation; they were looking for miracles, and they were being sold a version of the prosperity gospel which offered them all kinds of benefits in this life if they would give their money. And I suddenly thought to myself, ‘That sounds exactly like the pre-Reformation church in Europe where there were very powerful, wealthy, patrons and bishops lording it over the population, where people were not hearing or understanding the Bible because it wasn’t in their language, where people were being offered indulgences for blessings in the next life for payment of money in this life’. And I certainly thought, ‘It’s the evangelicals today who need a Reformation—we actually need to realize that these are deformities in the church, and to be rid of them, to reform ourselves of them.’ So that’s where the language came from; it kind of caught on, and I thought, ‘Well, perhaps we do need to talk that kind of language today, and be serious enough to use it.’