Today I was honoured to speak on Rhema FM on Craig’s Stephens program called “New Expressions”.
One of the things we were talking about either on or off air was “why transitioning into new paradigms was so difficult for most people”!
In a follow up I was finishing a book I’ve been reading by Ed Silvoso called “Ekklesia” which I’ve found brilliant and came across this excerpt from the last chapter in his book.
I thought to share it with you!
5 Dynamics of the evolution of movements
The five dynamics at work in the path from birth to death in every movement, including the Church:
New churches are often planted out of a healthy dissatisfaction connected to a feeling that “there has to be something more.” This dissatisfaction leads to a convergence with others who are feeling the same way, and everybody begins working hard to produce expansion. Such expansion creates the need for more organization—policies and procedures, staff, buildings, boards, etc., which in turn ushers in institutionalization, and at that moment the operational focus shifts. Administrators who “protect and steward what has been accomplished” become more welcomed than visionaries who are always pursuing next horizons. Dichotomizing those two important roles is the slip that leads to death, since the impetus that gave birth to the expansion becomes lost in the demands required to maintain what institutionalization has created. Death can be avoided, however, by reinserting the dissatisfaction phase halfway through the institutionalization phase. That produces a relaunch of the cycle, and as long as that relaunching keeps happening, the movement will not die. This lesson has tremendous value to us in transitioning to the Ekklesia.
The Perils of Tradition
In Acts 8: 1 we read, “And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (emphasis added). Why were the apostles, the leaders of the Ekklesia in Jerusalem, permitted to stay, while their followers had to flee for their lives? It does not make sense because the persecution was against the movement they led. And why did Antioch, a merchant city, become the point from where Christianity eventually reached the ends of the earth, instead of Jerusalem, as originally outlined by Jesus in Acts 1: 8? The statement that the apostles were not impacted by the persecution hints at the reason for this. I wish to offer this hypothesis: The apostles were able to stay because they justified the coexistence between the Old and the New Covenants—a tragic accommodation. They did this by maintaining Old Covenant practices as “necessary” in the New Covenant. This unhealthy addition came into evidence when Peter, while visiting Antioch, felt intimidated by a recently arrived group from Jerusalem whom Paul describes as “the party of the circumcision” (Galatians 2: 12; see also verses 13–21). Apparently, this was a very influential group who reported directly to James, the acknowledged leader in Jerusalem. As a result of this group’s influence, the Jewish believers in Antioch, including Barnabas, became confused, and Paul called the visitors hypocrites. He put his finger on this unhealthy adherence to tradition when he confronted Peter and warned the Galatians about having been bewitched, apparently by emissaries from Jerusalem (see Galatians 2: 11–13; 3: 1–4). I submit to you that tradition in Jerusalem trumped the vision Jesus spelled out in Acts 1: 8. How did that come about? During the Ekklesia’s infancy in Jerusalem, the Temple and the priestly order were still in operation, something that did not come to an end until AD 70. This presented the Ekklesia leadership with a monumental challenge by pitting Jewish ethnocentrism, rooted in the Old Covenant, against the New Covenant—the devastating consequences of which the epistle to the Hebrews describes when it issues a compelling warning against the former order (see Hebrews 8: 13; 9: 15; 10: 23–31). In a nation that made the Temple and its rituals the very heartbeat of its existence, it is not hard to imagine these inexperienced elders of the recently established Ekklesia being intimidated. With the Temple’s long shadow still looming in the background, they certainly were challenged by “a great many” of the priests becoming obedient to the Christian faith, while still being dependent on their Temple stipend for their daily substance (Acts 6: 7). How were these priests to support themselves if they left their ministry in the Temple? I submit that this was a key factor in the decision not to break completely with the Old Covenant. Succumbing to these theological and social pressures is, in my opinion, what prevented them from taking the Gospel of the New Covenant beyond Samaria; that is, to culturally non-Jewish peoples. As a result, the privilege to take the Gospel “to the ends of the earth” fell on Antioch. What had begun so well ended up so poorly because tradition trumped the vision that Jesus had outlined for them in Acts 1: 8. Their ethnocentrism blinded them at the worst possible moment. This is what often happens in Church circles between the old and new generations when they clash over the new way versus the old way. There is a hope for us, however, because Paul fared quite differently.
Tradition as “Paul’s” Propeller Paul’s initial ministry focus was on the synagogues, where he saw many people come to Christ (see Acts 13–17). Basically, he and his associates were preaching once a week to God-fearing people in religious settings. But while doing this, Paul did not see a city, much less a region, transformed. That did not happen until he moved his base of operations from the synagogue to the marketplace, first in Corinth, and then definitively in Ephesus. For this shift to happen, Saul—a Jewish rabbi, a Hebrew of Hebrews and by tradition a Pharisee, as he described himself in Philippians 3: 5—had to go through a significant metamorphosis. This led him to a public shift toward the Roman culture, marked by a name change. 2 Let me elaborate. When Saul and Barnabas left Antioch on their first missionary trip, Paul’s name is recorded as Saul, as it had been in the preceding chapters of the book of Acts (see Acts 13: 1–2). Barnabas was the leader, as implied by the order in which their names are reported. Something changed in Cyprus, however, where now Saul is listed for the first time with a Roman name. Such a name change marked a shift away from his Jewish roots and toward the Hellenistic culture. Saul, as he was known then, was also a Roman citizen well known around his native Tarsus, making it safe for him to travel in an adjacent region. But a trip to Cyprus, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, definitely would have been risky because he did not have a Roman name. In a day where there were no passports, his Roman citizenship would only be considered valid if fellow citizens in the cities that he visited welcomed him as one of them. Otherwise, he could easily have been sold into slavery. Barnabas was originally from Cyprus, where at the time of their missionary trip Sergius Paulus was an influential Roman citizen who was serving as consul. His family, the Paulii family, was very prominent in the Roman Senate. After Saul ministered to him, Sergius Paulus bestowed on him his family name, Paulus, which was a well-known name in Asia Minor. 3 (Notice that the root for his new name is the consul’s family name: Paul-Paulii.) Paul became the team leader from that moment on, as indicated by his name preceding Barnabas in the narrative from then on. It is also important to highlight that Paul planted Ekklesias primarily in Roman colonies: Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Galatia, Pisidia, Thessalonica and so on. This change in Paul’s public identity was the result of his choice to openly embrace the Gentile world over his traditional ethnicity, in order to reach it without any ethnocentric blockage. Nevertheless, he was always able to draw from the divine deposits of his rich cultural and religious heritage as a baseline from which to take the Gospel to cultures shaped by other religions. Unlike the leaders in Jerusalem, he succeeded at it. In this journey to rediscover the Ekklesia, this is an essential lesson we must learn. And when we do, like Paul, we will find immense and unexpected favor with unsaved leaders in cultures other than our own. This is why tradition must become a propeller, and not an anchor, in order to enable us to transition successfully from the old to the new.
Ed Silvoso (Ekklesia “Rediscovering Gods instrument for global transformations)
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