Every morning before I walk to the conference center, I put several copies of The Peacemaker and dozens of “Peacemaking Principles” pamphlets into my backpack. I then pray that God will give me opportunities to give every one of them to a person he has prepared to embrace gospel-centered peacemaking and become an ambassador of reconciliation in his or her own land.
It has been a joy to experience God’s daily answer to that prayer. Each evening I return with an empty backpack and many new friends from other parts of the world. One of the ways this has happened is that people who have been receiving my reports back home are emailing friends who are at the conference, telling them I am here and urging them to contact me. Many of those people have gone to the registration desk, asked for my table number, and then visited with me during breaks. Thank you to those who have been arranging these other-side-of-the-world connections!
Many of these meetings have involved people whose lives are being turned upside down by conflict. One man who leads a large ministry in Africa sought me out to seek advice and prayer. Just a few days before the conference, he was notified by his board of directors that he must either resign or be fired. He has devoted 25 years of his life to this ministry and is grieving as he realizes that unresolved conflicts from the past have accumulated to this explosive level. We had a good talk and developed a plan on how he can confess his wrongs and appeal to his board to work with one of our conciliators so they can either restore their relationship or at least part in peace and maintain a positive witness to the thousands of people in Africa who are watching this conflict unfold. Please pray that his board will respond favorably to his confession and request.
Our first speaker was Calisto Odede, an eloquent pastor from Kenya. He pointed out that evangelism is often undermined because so many believers, including pastors, have made Christianity unpalatable to others by the way they live. Evangelical churches are too often plagued with lack of love, sexual immorality, church splits, and indifference to the poor and helpless. Such behavior belies our profession that we follow the God of love, and it destroys our witness for Christ. As Pastor Odede taught, the solution is to humble ourselves before God, confess our failures, and seek his grace to become the kind of true Christ-followers described in Ephesians 4-6.
Our next speaker was Chris Wright, a ministry leader from the UK. Chris built on Calista’s talk, pointing out that “idolatry is one of the biggest impediments to world evangelism.” He identified three primary idols in the church: (1) power and pride, (2) popularity and success, (3) wealth and greed.
|By the way … all of the messages I’m describing in these reports are available for free download from the Lausanne web site (www.Lausanne.org/cape-town-2010).
These are some of the most gifted Christian teachers in the world, so I encourage you to view their talks and share them with others close to you or in your church.
Chris gave several all-too-convicting examples of how these idols rule the hearts of so many believers, including the leaders of prominent churches and global ministries. These idols are often the spark and fuel of conflict among believers, which contributes to our diminished credibility in the world today. The solution is to confess and repent of our idols, and call out to God for grace to become people who are clearly HIS (marked with humility, integrity, and simplicity. Like most of the people in the room, I was deeply convicted of how often these idols rule in my heart and how much I still need to grow in humility, integrity, and simplicity. The time of personal and corporate confession that followed was one of the most moving experiences of the conference. I was so impressed with Chris’s insights that I purchased his new book, The Mission of God’s People, which I strongly recommend to you.
Femi Adeleye, a ministry leader from Nigeria, then provided a hard-hitting critique of “prosperity theology” (also known as “health and wealth” teaching) that is sweeping through the global south. He graciously but firmly showed how this teaching is utterly contrary to Scripture, sets people up for inevitable disillusionment, and ultimately undermines true evangelism. I noticed that many of the people sitting around me were not applauding with the rest of us, which seemed to indicate that they have embraced this doctrine and were unhappy with his critique. According to Femi, prosperity theology is one of the greatest heresies to hit the church in our time. It turns God into a heavenly ATM, sets up expectations that he never promised to fulfill, and promotes a lifestyle that is contrary to the simplicity, sacrifice, and suffering that our Lord taught and modeled.
This teaching is especially appealing to poor people, who are desperate and often turn over much or all of their possessions to a teacher in hopes of getting a hundred-fold return from God. When that does not come through, he has observed that they usually lose faith, fall away from the church, and are “immunized” from the true gospel. (When someone later shares the real gospel with them, all too often they say, “I’ve already tried Jesus, and he didn’t work.”) Please pray with me that God would open the eyes of those who preach this distorted concept and instead hold forth the real riches and treasures that are ours in Christ.
During lunch, I met with a pastor named Philbert who is leading a reconciliation ministry called REACH in Rwanda, which is still recovering from the after-effects of the 1994 genocide between Hutus and Tutsis. I was impressed with his understanding of the underlying causes of the violence and the steps that are need for healing. It was especially encouraging to hear his emphasis on the forgiveness we have received through Jesus’ atonement for our sins on the cross. I understand that some of the groups doing reconciliation work in Rwanda seem to be encouraging forgiveness primarily on the basis of self interest. (For instance, “Forgive those who abused you because it will release you from bitterness and anger.”)
While it is true that forgiveness does ultimately benefit us, self-interest is an insufficient motivation to forgive those who have hurt us deeply. (People often develop a perverse taste for hating those who hurt them, and think they will find more pleasure in hating their enemies than in forgiving them.) Only by focusing on the infinitely great love Jesus showed us and the infinitely great price he paid for us on the cross can we find sufficient inspiration and motivation to truly forgive our enemies. (Forgiveness was the theme of Peacemaker Ministries’ recent annual conference; you can download audio versions of outstanding 2010 keynotes on forgiveness here.)
Philbert is concerned that much of the forgiveness that has occurred in Rwanda is superficial and has not done away with the long-standing roots of ethnic hatred and bitterness. Like many others involved in ministry there, he fears that violence could break out again if the people are not deeply transformed by the love and grace of Christ. He asked for copies of our seminar and training materials, which he hopes to adapt for use in his reconciliation workshops. I look forward to developing this relationship more fully as God allows.
Later in the day I met with Mouneer Anis, the Anglican Bishop of North Africa. He is deeply concerned about the way interpersonal conflict between believers in churches, hospitals, orphanages, and other Christian ministries in his region continually undermines their witness of Christ. I will be speaking at a peacemaking conference he has planned in Egypt next May. Mouneer is one of the most respected conservative Bishops in the Anglican church, and he has cultivated close relationships throughout North Africa and the Middle East with Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical leaders, many of whom are being invited to this conference. I love interdenominational gatherings, not only because they spread our teaching more widely, but also because they model the very peace and unity we are encouraging believers to pursue.
By late afternoon, I was so tired that I returned to my room for a brief nap before the evening sessions. I was more weary than I realized and slept solidly for 10 hours. I was sorry to have missed the evening speakers, but was grateful to have caught up a bit on my sleep. This has one of been the most intense, information-packed, and fast-paced conferences I’ve ever attended, so it was good to get physically rejuvenated for the final day of worship, teaching, and interaction. Stay tuned for my final report.