Tradition - ballast for the voyage or an anchor?
From an article by Ed Silvoso
Ed Silvoso has recently written a book, 'Ekklesia: Rediscovering God’s Instrument for Global Transformation'. Here is an edited extract:
Breaking out of the mould of tradition is not easy because tradition is not evil in and of itself. It is the sum of our cultural and genetic heritage, both personal and collective. Our worldview is determined by it. Who we are and how we go about living out that identity is shaped by tradition.
In the case of Israel, a nation for whom the headwater of tradition consisted of God’s law and oracles, tradition was absolutely sacred and worthy of appreciation and respect. But this was also a nation called by God to be a light to other nations and not just unto itself (Gen. 18:18). Accordingly, Jesus’ command was to disciple all nations, something that required a bridge out of the mono-cultural past into a multicultural mosaic so vast as to include all cultures. And this is where tradition tends to become a major obstacle. How Barnabas and Saul went about their apostolic/missionary work shows how potent the inertia of tradition can be to the point of obscuring precise divine instructions, as shown by the first move they made after leaving Antioch.
We read that after they had been prayed for by the elders in Antioch, “…they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews” (Acts 13:4). It is worth noting that the Ekklesia in Antioch was not associated to a Synagogue, making more perplexing Paul and Barnabas’ choice of going to Synagogues.
For the next sixteen years, Paul remained determined to preach first in the Synagogues by going where God-fearing people gathered to pray on the Sabbath (Acts 16:12-13). But as long as Paul used this approach, he did not see a city (much less a region) transformed—that is, until something dramatic happened beyond the four walls of the Synagogue.
The point of entry that led to this major breakthrough is found in Acts chapter 18. Paul had arrived in Corinth following a rather disappointing evangelistic foray into Athens. Once in Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2-3) with whom he entered into a tent-making business partnership. It is here where he first exited the Synagogue and moved “next door to the house of Titius Justus” where we assume their tent-making operation was headquartered (as houses were also workplaces).
The unfriendly manner in which his departure (from the focus on Synagogues) took place (1 Cor. 18:8) forced a major change in strategy for Paul. Until then, the Synagogue (with its traditional respect for God, for the Scriptures, and for living righteously) had been a relatively “safe” base of operations, but the shift to set up a business venture in the marketplace put them in touch with unbelievers every day of the week. But it was precisely in that move that the Lord was redirecting His church—the Ekklesia—to its original purpose.
The preaching continuum highlighted here was plausible because house in the Bible encompassed not only the family, but also the workplace.
So Paul, Aquila and Priscilla turned their occupation into a pulpit in the marketplace, enabling the three of them to minister to a vastly greater audience, which in turn produced results far beyond what was ever expected. What a radical break from tradition.
The detonator was the conversion of Crispus and his household, creating something on the order of an evangelistic tsunami so powerful that many Corinthians “were believing and were being baptised” (Acts 18:8).
So phenomenal was the growth that God needed to encourage Paul “in the night by a vision” (Acts 18:9) to convey a reassuring directive: do not be afraid but go on proclaiming for He, the Lord, was with him right there, in the marketplace. Assurance was needed because of the numbers being converted and that was not happening in the religious setting that Paul was traditionally used to, but rather in an absolutely secular place.
Crispus was catalytic because he was prominent in the marketplace. Clearly, he was a man of influence, and so was his business (household) since awareness of their newfound faith is identified as the catalyst for it. We read that, “[Paul] settled there [in Corinth] a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). Because he was no longer welcome in the Synagogue, which would have been the traditional religious environment for teaching (similar to our modern day church gatherings), he had to do it in the marketplace and the spiritual harvest was extraordinary.
Paul then took his business partners, Aquila and Priscilla, as ministry associates to establish the Ekklesia in Ephesus (Acts 18:18,19). Strangely, the pull of tradition was still present in that again he went first to the Synagogue, but soon the obstinance of the religious community sent him back to the marketplace as his base of operations (Acts 19:8-10)—not necessarily the way we do most church planting today—but in just two years, Paul had all but worked himself out of a job.
There is something powerful here that should not be missed. Paul, by focusing on the marketplace, became surprisingly catalytic. From that point on, the gospel went “viral and sticky” and Paul, the late comer to the apostleship who did his ministry internship in a pagan merchant city (Antioch), was able to lay the foundation for a movement that quickly engulfed a vast region and set his eyes on a nation in what he most likely considered to be the end of the earth, Spain (Rom. 15:15-ff).
But this breakthrough did not occur until Paul turned the tradition rooted in the Temple and in the Synagogues into a launching pad instead of the landing strip, and converted an anchor of tradition into a propeller for expansion, something new and far more effective.
How does this apply today? Existing churches will come to a fork in the road. They will either become “Christian synagogues,” not unlike the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, who come together acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, receiving the Holy Spirit, and nurturing themselves with the “teaching of the Apostles,” but they will not break out of their traditions, at least not yet, to focus outside the four walls. Or, they will retool to intentionally redirect all that they do inside the “synagogue” to become a constant 24/7 influence over entire cities, regions and nations.
Generally speaking, today pastors are not taught how to start businesses, or disciple public workers, or do social entrepreneurship. The marketplace is not presented to them as important. But that is the place where they are called to minister as elders in the Ekklesia because that is where an outpouring will take place. His Spirit will be poured upon all flesh, of which what happened in Corinth and Ephesus are embryonic forerunners.
It is essential in this journey to rediscover the Ekklesia as Jesus designed it to be. And when we do, we will find immense and unexpected favour with unsaved leaders and ministry happening 24/7 in the marketplace and cities “filled with the doctrine of the Apostles” by an Ekklesia in which everybody is a minister and labour is worship.
The book, dvd and teaching materials can be ordered now here or from your local bookseller.
Let’s dig into the meaning for the word ‘Ekklesia’. The Roman meaning is a group of Roman citizens - people in the community, business men and women, educators, government officials, called out to go into a conquered region. Hasn't Jesus conquered? They would, in their jobs, teach the language of Rome, the culture of Rome, until everything walked, talked and acted like Rome. This puts the terms leaven and salt and light into context. They even had another term ‘Conventum’ – where 2 or 3 are gathered together, there is Rome.
Jesus could have said I will build my ‘Temple’ - one place in the world to come to worship God. He could have used ‘Synagogue’ – a local congregation of believers. No, he used Ekklesia – far more dynamic, 24x 7 and much more Kingdom focused.
From the book extract above, there are some challenging and searching questions for leaders around 'Christian synagogues', presence in the marketplace, etc. A lot to pray about.
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