And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18)
Have you ever said to yourself, I am just too tired to go to church today? Then you went anyway and God met you and blessed you like never before. Well, that is what happened to me. Though I was richly honored by the invitation to represent our country and our seminary at Cape Town 2010, at first I was not looking forward to it. I was tired from a lot of traveling. And I knew that I had preaching trips and seminary business trips immediately following Lausanne and three books to write.
I was visiting with a friend of mine in Canada at the end of the summer and I told him of my reluctance. Roger asked me, “Mike, what is your vision for this seminary?” I told him that I believed that God had raised up our great seminaries in the West to be agents to encourage renewal in Old Christendom, to be ambassadors to equip for revival in the New Christendom, and to be witnesses to unleash reformation in the Next Christendom.
In short, I told him that I hoped RTS, with other sister seminaries, would be prepared to serve the Church in the Global South and Global East, to strengthen their arm to reach their own people, to plant churches and seminaries in order to take the Gospel from Africa and Asia on through the old Silk Trail into the Middle East and on to Jerusalem. He looked at me and said, “Mike, you have no alternative. You must go to Cape Town.” I shook my head. I had convinced myself. My wife and I agreed.
I can’t tell you how deeply thankful I am that I went. Cape Town 2010 was transformative in my life as a pastor and as a servant of this seminary, but most of all as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ in the 21st century. Let me tell you why.
It was transformative in that I got to meet the rocks on which Jesus is building his church.
Peter’s confession is understood to be the confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord, on which he would build His church. But the truth is also that Peter was a man. On Peter and his confession, which is on men with confessions like Peter, Jesus would build His church. One thinks of Peter’s own understanding of what it is to be a rock:
You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5 ESV).
Well, I got to meet those living stones. To meet them, to see Christ alive in them and to see how He is fitting us all together was a transformative experience.
There are several things I want to say about the people that are building Christ’s church, these living stones, that I met at Cape Town:
1. The living stones of Cape Town 2010 were overwhelmingly peoples of the global south and east. This was by design. But it was good to see African Anglicans—who were in predominance—along with Asian Presbyterians—and Middle Eastern ancient churches, with all of their traditional clergy attire, their colors, their languages and their ways of sitting and eating and praying. So it was a cultural experience, but more so, because they had transcended their own culture, though retaining the beauty of it, to enter into one culture that was undeniable: the culture of devoted disciples to Jesus Christ, the culture of the global Church. In my small group was an Anglican from the Sudan, an Anglican from Wales, a Presbyterian from Brazil, and myself. We grew to be great friends. And through our time of listening to sermons by various preachers from around the world, working through the book of Ephesians, the book we studied both before and during the Congress, applying it to our own country and situation, listening to each other and asking questions about how God was at work, our lives were enriched, but even more, our faith was encouraged by each other. We got to see that God was at work in the secular West, as well as in South America and in war torn areas of Africa. We heard also from Christians in the Middle East tell of their struggles: to live faithfully as a believer and to share His love with their fellow Persians or Iraqis. Yet, the Church has grown more in 30 years in Iran, we were told, than in the past 300 years.
We heard about the fastest growing people group in the world: migrant peoples. Displaced, without a home, they are wandering across the face of the earth, looking for water, looking for a place to settle. They are refugees. Yet there are Christians who are now reaching these people. I met and had dinner with an RTS grad, a man of Indian descent, a Tamil, who once was one of these people. For the past eleven years, while living in Germany he has walked through the refugee camps of Gypsies and Africans and Islamic peoples who are there to escape the despotic rule in the Middle East, and to minister Christ to them.
2. The living stones of Cape Town 2010 are being added through the bold, strategic, and powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ like never before in human history. The Church is growing a record rates. We must remember this in the face of discouraging stories of Islamic expansion and of increasing secularism here. How are these stones expanding?
a. Through the blood of the martyrs of Colonial missionaries. Each country has a history of faithful witnesses who did not live to see the fruit of their labors in Christ. Yet, as we heard from Archbishop Orombi, the faith of Uganda is linked to an Anglican missionary murdered by their grandfathers, but not before the Word of God was preached. These living stones are connected to those who went before them. There was not a sense of chronological arrogance, but a gratitude for missionaries who went before them. That spirit was evident in each presentation from each region of the world.
b. Through the suffering and persecution of the saints by earthly powers, particularly by Islam. In our secular, Western relativistic country, we are slow to say that Islam is a religion of violence. While I personally know of moderate Muslims, for instance in Albania, the overwhelming testimonies are of persecution against Africans and in the Middle East by Islamic Fundamentalists. As the Communists killed Christians in the 20th century, Satan has filled the hearts of angry Islamic clerics and their followers to persecute the saints in our century. Yet I heard stories that sounded very similar. The preachers would preach God’s love and grace and Islamic people would be saved. The clerics and their thugs would then target the minister. One Bishop told of how these thugs encircled his house, broke in and did unspeakable things to his wife before his eyes, and then told him he would be shot. He asked for permission to pray. He began to cry out for forgiveness for his enemies and ask God to heal his wife, and to protect his children. Suddenly someone tapped him on the shoulder. It was his son.
“Dad, your prayers have run off the men.” This African Anglican bishop went on to tell how the Lord brought physical healing to his wife. He then declared, “I am not afraid of suffering or death if it means to see my people come to Christ. I am more ready to die for Jesus than ever before!” That is the bishop. You can imagine, then, how that, like old Archbishop’s Cranmer’s final confession before he was burned which lit a fire in England, is lighting holy fires in the sermons and services of his ministers all over his diocese! I met them. I know. And for one stone, colder than I would like to admit, to be touched by a stone on fire, is to be transformed by that stone.
c. Through targeting of our very gathering. Many of you have heard that there was controversy there, which was picked up by news agencies all over the world. The Chinese house Christians were not allowed to come to the Congress. While some Hong Kong Christians were there, and the state licensed Church in China had some representatives, we were denied the joy of having representatives from the fastest growing part of the Church of Jesus in our day. Yet, through emissaries, we heard reports from them, special greetings sent to us declaring that they are joyful to suffer for Christ in this way. Also absent were believers in countries in the Middle East where to be a believer means certain death. Yet some, through clandestine ways, and long journeys, came to us with reports of the Church, which is on the verge of great growth. But back to my point. Cape Town 2010 was to be broadcast live around the world through the amazing technology team at Lausanne, as well as through local, organized gatherings.
But on day two, the Lausanne Congress’ technology received multiple cyber attacks. It was determined that the attacks, which shut down our technical ability to broadcast the Congress around the world, originated from China and from several nations and points in the Middle East. Security was heightened. There was a sense that the enemy and his agents, whom we prayed for, were gaining the upper hand. Doug Birdsall, the Chairman of Lausanne, called us to prayer. The next day it was reported that God had provided two Indian believers in the group, with PhDs from Oxford in computer engineering, to help restore our systems and block the attacks. The system went back up. There was a sense that God was with us. This gave many of us hope and a sense that the Lord loves China and the Middle East and will not let anything stop our focus on reaching them with the Gospel.
3. The living stones of Cape Town 2010 are not all experiencing revival on a mass level like China and India, but are “plowing in concrete” much like we are. I learned that the entire notion of what constitutes suffering and opposition to the Gospel of Christ is a system of demonic power and strongholds. They may be secularism here or in Western Europe or they may be ancient customs that are anti Christian in Japan or in Pacific islands, or brutal state control in other places, but they are in a sense just nuances of the same opposition. We do not see witch doctors and Islamic fundamentalist going house to house to kill us, but we see secularism and godlessness in materialism and in hedonism and pornography and other evidences of a wicked, unbridled sensate culture invading the homes of our people.
Yet in the midst of these challenges in the UK, in Europe as well as in Iran, I learned that ministry is going forward. We know that here. But I sat for the 15-hour trip from Amsterdam to Cape Town with believers from Norway who run a seminary and a ministry that goes into state universities to teach a Christian worldview (at the expense of the government I might add). They are seeing young people dissatisfied with secularism being able to answer the deep, existential questions of life. This L’Abri-like movement, these Norwegian Francis Schaeffer-like believers, small in comparison to the materialism of Norway, are never-the-less, seeing converts who, as we prayed together, would one day rise up, in true revival as in China and Africa to reclaim their nation for Christ. Indeed, many of the young people studying philosophy at this center are leaving university with prestigious degrees to go and witness as lay people or to go into the ministry in the state Lutheran Church to pastor churches long ago frozen over with dead religion.
After 15 hours of flight time with them I was tired, but hopeful and excited that God has not abandoned the old places where the Reformation started. I must confess that I needed that. It has been something burning on my heart, that we would not only be able to serve the new Christendom of the earth, but also to see Christ repair the ruins of our old Christendom through the giving of His Spirit to a new generation. I have seen that at Cape Town. This too was transformative for me.
4. Finally, the living stones of Cape Town 2010 are, at once old, with stories of how God has brought revival, and they are young, very young, with dreams of what could be. One of those young people who spoke was a North Korean girl, now quite famous, I imagine. I wrote about her and others did as well. Those of us who heard her read her carefully prepared statement, who saw her standing before the more than four thousand delegates on that night in her boarding school uniform will never forget her. She was, in a way, a vision from the Lord to speak to our hearts and encourage us about His plans for the future. She told of how in North Korea her father had served the notorious dictator. Yet there are Christians in North Korea. And worshipping underground, and witnessing as they can, they are slowly getting the Gospel out. They presented Christ to this girl’s father. He repented and turned to the Lord. He knew he had to escape and leave. During this time, the girl told us, her mother died in childbirth. So she and her father escaped into China and went to live with a Christian pastor and his wife. They were discipled in the faith. They worshipped. They grew in Christ. The father was called by God to be an evangelist and to return to North Korea to openly preach Jesus. He left his daughter with the Chinese pastor. He was, of course, arrested and jailed for 9 years. Upon release he was kicked out and he went back to China to be reunited with his daughter. Yet she told us that their reunion was only for a short time. Her father returned to North Korea to share the love of God in Christ. He was again detained and it is believed he was shot. She was adopted by the Chinese pastor and his family. She is in a girls’ school now in South Korea. At this moment her voice began to break, tears began to form in her eyes and she told us, “I want to go to university and study political science. I want to become a diplomat and I want to go to North Korea. Then I want to imitate my father and share the love of Jesus with my people.” At that she broke down crying. A South Korean pastor, who had been standing near her, embraced her and led her away.
The entire Congress stood, many with tears in their eyes, many with gestures of praise to God, and applauded, not only I felt for the brave girl, but for the obvious movement of the Spirit in our midst. The applause would not die down until she was led back to the microphone. She did not speak, but with characteristic Oriental humility bowed before us and then with great poise, turned and walked away. As I watched the scene, I turned to my Welsh friend at my table and said, “We have heard that China has grown 100 fold since the last Lausanne Congress; I believe that we will hear of how North Korea will have grown in the next twenty years. For there are thousands just like that girl. They cannot withstand the Gospel. North Korea is headed to becoming Christian.”
The service ended on Sunday night with Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi conducting the closing service. It was a Book of Common Prayer basic service modified to include readings in various languages of the world. It included beautiful music reflecting the global participants, and yet our hymns were old Wesley and Watts hymns, almost as if the emerging churches of the global south and east were saying thank you to the West for the gifts we have left them. I will never forget singing, All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name in that setting. Nor will I forget the processional at the beginning of the service with an African child holding up a roughly constructed cross from a native tree. Behind him were 200 choir members, clergy from all over the world and from every denomination, and Zulu warriors who had been converted to Christ yet beating their drums now to the strains of a Christian hymn. The sermon of the Welsh Bible teacher, Dr. Lindsay Brown, focused on our work to be done:
We’re called to bear witness to Jesus Christ with all that we are, in every area of the world geographically, to the ends of the globe, as well as to every sphere of society.
“We must recommit ourselves therefore to the lordship of Christ in every area of human activity.”
Yet before the Archbishop of Uganda concluded the Communion service, he called us down from a mountain to go and live the faithful life of a believer every day:
“He ended his address with a call to Christians to persevere in their service towards the Great Commission, even where there was a chance that the fruits of their labor would not be borne in their lifetime.”
“The Word of God takes root slowly. We have to take the long view and not give up, and fulfill the ministry God has given us,” he said.
I returned to the States and hit the ground running with little time to reflect. I was facing another 10 days of preaching and ministry. One of those places where I was preaching was at a mission conference at Northern New England. I was still carrying my experiences of Cape Town in my heart and spirit as I preached. As I met with the church planters, pastors and church leaders there I heard their plans:
“The ministry is hard here. It can be discouraging. Christians in the 19th century in New England became cultural Christians only. The frozen over secularism and decline in the Church’s witness is a result of that. So we are here to bring the Gospel back to New England where Edwards once preached. Our vision here is to plant 100 churches in 100 years.” I looked at them. “You mean that you will never see the vision yourself?” “That’s right. We are only links in the chain that God is building.”
Orombi’s closing charge came back to me and I thought about the work before us here in the United States and how we must not become discouraged. Their work reflected his charge:
“The Word of God takes root slowly. We have to take the long view and not give up, and fulfill the ministry God has given us.”
I wrote eight lessons that I learned from Cape Town 2010. But this is the final great lesson I learned, and the one I leave with you. I pray that you will commit yourself to Christ and His Kingdom and will ask God to use you to reach the world, some part of it, for Jesus Christ. I ask you to join the Korean girl, the African bishop and the New England church planters. I challenge you to surrender your life as a living stone to Jesus Christ who is building His Church in our generation.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 See the online article in Christianity Today at http://www.christiantoday.com/article/lausanne.congress.closes.with.fresh.call.to.take.gospel.to.the.whole.world/26958.htm (accessed on November 15, 2010).