Paul’s missionary work consisted primarily of going to synagogues scattered across the Roman Empire, beginning in Asia Minor, and making clear to the Jewish and Gentile believers in those synagogues that the Messiah had come in Jesus Christ, the Son of God; that in Christ a final authority even greater than Moses existed; and that this made possible the winning of the Gentiles without forcing upon them any literal cultural adaptation to the ritual provisions of the Mosaic Law.
An outward novelty of Paul’s work was the development eventually of wholly new synagogues that were not only Christian, but Greek. Very few Christians, casually reading the New Testament, and with only the New Testament available to them, would surmise the degree to which there had been Jewish evangelists who went before Paul all over the Empire, people whom Jesus himself described as “traversing land and sea to make a single proselyte.”
Paul followed their path; he built on their efforts and went beyond them with the new gospel he preached, which allowed the Greeks to remain Greeks and not be circumcised and culturally assimilated into the Jewish way of life. *
There is amongst missional types an unspoken understanding of crossing into each other’s territories to proclaim the gospel. I’m not sure if it’s urban legend or not, but I’ve heard that HCJB and TWR, two world wide radio christian radio organizations got together and “divided” up the world so as not to overlap or build on the others work. Paul the Apostle had something to say about this:
“I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.” Romans 15:20 But, it’s clear from the earlier statement that Paul indeed built on the foundation of others, or at least laid a foundation over theirs.”
I want to be careful here. As a missionary, there are times when the flesh rears its ugly head and wonders why others come to build on the foundation of our work here in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest Region, or seek to cover our foundation with theirs. At the same time, I’m not overly hesitant when I discover a community that has been indoctrinated with a false gospel to begin laying foundations over theirs. When it comes to building something “ON” another’s foundation, I think the biblical criteria are a bit different. 1 Corinthians 3:10 A few questions:
Should mission minded folks be staking claims over territory?
Is it wrong to retrace someone else’s gospel steps?
What criteria should we use to determine when to build “ON” another’s foundation?