Sunday, September 27, 2009

Paradigm Shifts

Paradigm shifts are not an easy thing to make.

When it was first discovered that the earth is spherical in shape, not flat, it came as a complete shock to most people. They could not accept it. Their eyes told them otherwise. It took a long time for many people to embrace that. Some refused to accept it no matter what scientific evidence was presented to them. Even up till today, there are those who refuse to accept it. They formed a society called the “Flat Earth Society”.

Another example was when Jesus was crucified and resurrected. His disciples went through a paradigm shift. Their idea of their Messiah was that he would lead them to overcome the Roman empire and establish His rule on earth. They were totally devastated when Jesus did not defend himself but needlessly surrendered and died at the hands of Roman soldiers. They had to go through a paradigm shift. When Jesus came back to life, they went through yet another paradigm shift about their Messiah and his mission. Eventually after their experience of Pentecost they went through yet another paradigm shift of their own identity and mission.

Did you know that despite having been commissioned by Jesus to go to all the world, the apostles remained in Jerusalem even though everyone else had scattered and went around sharing the gospel? (see Acts8:1-4). So in Acts 9 Jesus starts work on Paul to send him instead. But in Acts 10 and 11, I see God knocking Peter on his head with an open vision followed immediately with the Cornelius household experience, giving Peter and the apostles one final chance. But despite the fact that they finally recognized that the gospel was not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles, yet they still remained in Jerusalem for the next 20 years!

Why were they stuck in Jerusalem? Quite obviously it was because the old Jewish idea that Jerusalem was to be the center of worship was stick stuck in their minds. Paul goes on his first missionary journey (about 2 years) and returns, and they are still in Jerusalem. Paul goes on his second missionary journey (at least 3 years) and they are still stuck in Jerusalem!! Amazing! After Acts 12, except for the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15, there is no further mention of the original apostles. From then on, it is about Paul taking the gospel to all the world. We know from history that the apostles were finally forced out of Jerusalem and scattered to different parts when the Romans ransacked Jerusalem in AD70.

God’s Purposes Advance through Paradigm Shifts

Paradigm shifts require a death to long held (even sacrosanct) ideas first, before we are ready to embrace new ideas that contradict our old long-held ideas. The Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ days refused to do that. Jesus said new wine cannot be put into old wineskins. You need new wineskins for new wine. It is not easy for people to give up long-held ideas. Jesus also said that those who have drunk the old wine don’t want the new. They will say the old is better.

Such is our human nature. We are naturally resistant to change. It is therefore not surprising that there are numerous examples of paradigm shifts in the Bible. Each key person that was instrumental in God’s agenda, had to go through radical paradigm shifts before God’s purposes could advance through him/her : Job, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Mary the mother of Jesus, Peter and all the disciples, Paul, etc.

It is very evident as history unfolds, that for God’s purposes to take place, each step, each advance, required a paradigm shift of His people. We may think we have already understood God’s ways and His plans and purposes, but guess what? They are always far bigger and greater than our narrow minds can comprehend.

I believe the church needs a paradigm shift in its understanding of the gospel that will lead us to a paradigm shift in our understanding of our role, of God’s mission for us, in this world. When that happens, it would definitely also lead us to a paradigm shift in the way we “do” church and missions. Everything begins with our understanding of the gospel. When that changes, then church, ministry and missions will also change. Are you ready for a paradigm shift? I would like to invite you to read my other posts "What is the Gospel?" and "What is Church?"

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