My Top 3 Complaints About Cape Town 2010

Okay ladies and gentlemen, it's time to take the gloves off.

Really, I've been too nice and cuddly regarding Cape Town 2010, the historic 3rd Lausanne Congress. Even before the congress had begun, during the event itself, and certainly since it closed, I've been hearing a number of criticisms and complaints from delegates and observers.  Why, just yesterday, I sat for a while with a friend and heard him relay complaints that he had heard from others.  Well, so as not to be outdone, I've decided to join the fray.  No more warm and fuzzy.  Here it is, my top 3 biggest complaints about Cape Town 2010:

3. Advocating our causes by diminishing others

I have noticed (not only at Cape Town, but it stood out to me there) that there is a dangerous tendency that we missionary-types have.  That is, we have a tendency to speak about our particular callings and passions as if they were the only legitimate ones out there.  That is, someone who is passionate about the urban poor tends to diminish those working in rural Tibet.  The ministry focused on Muslims speaks as if those trying to reach Hindus are somehow less spiritual.  The person with a ministry dedicated to combating human trafficking can't understand those who are passionate about church planting.  And so on.  I will refrain from giving specific examples, but they were numerous.  May the Lord rescue us from thinking that every part of the body of Christ needs to be just like us - "if the whole body were a cross-cultural church planter working contextually among Hindus in diaspora, where would the body be?" (1 Cor. 12:19)

2. Lack of integrity regarding the Lausanne Covenant

Well, I hate to say this folks, but unfortunately, I saw evidence of a serious lack of integrity regarding the Lausanne Covenant at Cape Town 2010.  Now, I find this to be particularly serious because many of us who are in the trenches (some far more so than myself) came to this gathering hoping for two things (among others).  First, we were hoping for the great diversity of the global body of Christ to be represented.  But second, we were hoping that those who did come would share the core convictions of the faith as expressed by the Lausanne Covenant we were all required to affirm.  This unity around essentials and diversity in a wide range of other issues was to help create an atmosphere of unity in diversity, one fertile for collaboration.  Unfortunately, while I assume that every delegate indicated in the application process that they did indeed agree with the Lausanne Covenant, the reality was that some did not.

At the end of the day, I don't know the number.  However, I can see them falling into two major categories.  The first are those who signed the Lausanne Covenant and seem to essentially believe the statements therein, but nevertheless do not necessarily believe that an individual who likewise does so is actually a Christian.  That is, there is a failure to distinguish properly between essentials and non-essentials of the faith.  Members of one delegation in particular expressed this in their words and behaviors towards me.  One individual actually accused me of leading a cult.  When asked if they could acknowledge that since we have both signed the Lausanne Covenant, we actually share the same core and essential theological convictions and, upon that basis, may treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, some were unwilling.  I find this extremely sad.

The second category is much worse.  These are those individuals who signed the Lausanne Covenant but who simply didn't agree with it.  In particular, I met delegates who essentially rejected this statement from the covenant,

"Yet those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God." 

What makes this so sad is that such individuals have adopted a dishonest strategy for being selected as delegates for the congress.  Whatever commitment they may have towards Christ, it apparently doesn't require the kind of scrupulous honesty that Christ calls us to.  They may find this to be a very small price to pay in order to get their voice heard, but I find it simply sad.  Participation in the Lausanne Movement is voluntary, and I believe that those who choose to be involved ought to do so with the utmost integrity.

1. Complaints

Of course, my biggest complaint of all was simply the fact that people were complaining so much.  Now, don't misunderstand me. It wasn't the majority by any stretch.  There wasn't a spirit of bitterness hanging over the convention center.  But I happened to be in situations in which I heard a fair amount of what complaining was happening.  Some complained that they weren't fairly represented, some complained that the "whole church" wasn't really there, some complained over issues of gender, some over issues of content, some over race and ethnicity, some over theology, and on and on.  And I kept thinking . . . really?!?! Why? Let me give you one example.

One night, I was coming into the main auditorium for the evening plenary session.  I was looking for a place to sit and found a table at which a friend was sitting. I walked to that table and asked to sit there.  They all said sure but, "you may not want to, we're [John] Piper-bashing over here." My heart dropped into my stomach as I sat down.  I thought, maybe I don't want to sit here. It simply amazed me that a group of Christians (it wasn't the whole table) would be engaged in something that they could describe as the "bashing" of another Christian at such a time and place as the 3rd Lausanne Congress.  I felt a little angry actually.  Why can't we just set aside this one moment in our lives in which we'll refrain from "bashing" each other?  It doesn't matter what you think of what Piper preached, it really doesn't.  I didn't think every sermon and presentation was a home run either. But I chose to trust that everyone came and shared out of a love for Christ.  I chose to trust God to superintend the proceedings of the congress.

So, I felt saddened by this.  I heard after the congress that during the final Holy Communion service that one small group of delegates had considered starting a protest to voice their dissatisfaction with things.  When I heard that, I just thanked God that He didn't let it happen.  I was, at that service, having a very important moment with God -- a moment that I believe will resonate with me for the rest of my life.  I believe that thousands around the room were having a similar encounter with God.  Such a protest would have been so damaging to me at that time.  Perhaps these individuals considered that and refrained for that reason.

Is it weird, am I so strange to choose to take a position of trust?  Is it naive and unchristian for me to assume that the Lausanne leadership really and truly wanted to honor Christ in the congress?  That God cared so much about the event that He was really involved in everything?  Because that is the position I took from the beginning to the end.  That doesn't mean that I wasn't exercising discernment throughout.  I was.  I was thinking critically about everything.  Not everything was great.  Some things were flawed.  The fingerprints of sinful humanity were on everything.  But so was the Spirit.  And so I wonder, why weren't people able to just put a moratorium on bitterness for those few days in Cape Town?

I suppose that someone might say that I'm saying this from my cozy position as a white, male Westerner -- a privileged one.  Maybe so.  But I will say that the vast majority of the complaining I have heard has come from my fellow white, male Westerners.  Sometimes they even complain "on behalf" of their non-white, non-Western friends.  How nice of them! But then I wonder if that simply represents a new kind of Western paternalism.


Okay, my complaints have been lodged.  I hope you realize that while I do feel strongly about the things I've mentioned, my overall feeling about Cape Town 2010 was one of tremendous satisfaction.  I believe God worked in remarkable ways through the leadership and delegates to accomplish something truly historic and life-changing.  Also, please note that my "top 3" are not really complaints about the program of Cape Town 2010.  On the contrary, these are really disturbing observations that I believe God allowed me to make while interacting with the body of Christ in general in Cape Town.



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  2. "The fingerprints of sinful humanity were on everything. But so was the Spirit." - really struck by that. This could be a good perspective on all ministry, on all work of the Church, perhaps on all of life. We know that 'the fingerprints of sinful humanity' touch everything but we can rejoice the Spirit works in spite of us. And even in and through us if we lay our sin aside to allow room for the Spirit to work. Seems like you were able to experience a lot of the Spirit's work there in spite of the sin. And I'm sure most of the participants did too. Perhaps some others missed out a bit! I think if we can spend more time focusing on the Spirit's work (instead of all the other sinful stuff that so easily entangles) we'll find that we have much more to rejoice about than we ever knew. Thanks for sharing Cody.

  3. Anonymous12:20 AM

    Thanks for this, I also was able to see the good, the bad and wanted to set aside our many agendas for the moment.

    I also knew of the ugly. I also heard about the dissidents and their plans for the last session and wondered how they could share communion with the body of Christ and then plan to usurp the service.

    I loved the last session and wept when the elements were danced down the aisles and as everyone walked up to receive communion, but also wept with grief over the Church and how we inflict pain on each other willingly & strategically. I was never more in awe with the Church and willing to walk away from it all.

  4. I must say, coming from my background, the communion service was by far one of the best I've attended, because it was different and because my encounter with God that night was amazing. I mentioned to one of my table group members that this was the most elaborate communion service I've ever attended and he replied, quite appropriately, that "it's definitely something worth celebrating."

  5. Thanks you Wai and "Anonymous" for your comments. Hearing from you makes me even more grateful that the would-be protesters restrained themselves. I'm grateful for their willingness to give grace.

    I also want to say that it isn't that I don't feel there are legitimate complaints to be made. However, I feel that a considerable amount of more grace ought to be given. I currently pastor a church in which race (actually caste) is a very, very sensitive topic. It is a small congregation but even so, I know how challenging it can be to try to represent everyone equally. I can imagine that this difficulty is increased exponentially when you are trying to represent so many nations, people groups, passions and callings, viewpoints, theological perspectives, etc.

    Yes, there will be oversights in that process. It is sad when it happens. It is sad for me because I really don't want anyone left out. But, so many people responded to not being represented from the stage with tremendous grace. Some didn't even notice. It isn't about representing us, they might say.

    Do people fail to recognize that we are a work in progress?

    I just find it very difficult to believe that the Lausanne Movement leadership intentionally sought out to silence anyone. But what do I know?

  6. Thank you for your comments which were more of a criticism of the participants than of the leaders of the movement. I live in and am a citizen of Brazil. Our own delegates felt very left out, both in themes, as well as in a number of other ways. However, there is a group that felt that this was indeed a moment of great encouragement. The leaders of the event were more than gracious in recognizing any and all shortcomings, both culturally and logistically. Their efforts should be seen as an example of christian grace under fire.

    There is always room for complaints. But before an undertaking of this magnitude, who could possibly please all the participants.

    Those who signed without conviction are accountable to the Lord for their words. However, the church continues flawed and we must be very aware of it. In doing so, we must look upon them with grace also.

    As for the last service. I was deeply moved and certainly will never forget what for me was a very small glimpse of the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The communion service was more than beautiful; it was deeply moving and a powerful witness to the centrality of the cross.

    God Bless Doug, his counsel, his staff and all the volunteers. May God have mercy on the "sharp kids" that would cut up a speaker of Piper's stature and make little of the herculian efforts of the Lausanne comittee. God help us all, there is still so much growing to do.

  7. Thank you, Bishop, for your great comments. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Well said.

  8. Thanks cody. Your first complaint hit home with me. I used to think that God only called christians to church and missionary positions. anybody else that said he was calling them to some other profession wasn't really depending on jesus. I was humbled the other day when a friend said that she knew God was leading her to a fashion career. Who knows what God has in store for her and how he'll use her to impact the kingdom? Thanks for putting my thoughts into words. God bless.

  9. Third complaint. My bad. First one written.

  10. I walked into a Piper-bashing session the other day. As soon as I realized what it was, I said, as if progressing the conversation into its next logical phase, "Guys, who do you think is, like, the STUPIDEST Christian in the world?" Thankfully, they were gracious enough with me to both laugh at my statement as well as hear its critique, and we changed the subject to something else. :)