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The Global Church Engaging the Nature of Sin

and the Human Condition

Reflecting, Reinforcing, Sustaining, or Transforming 

Section II   The Global Church Unfolding Transformed in Wholeness

 

Chapter 7        The Gathering Church for the Ages

 

Sections

 

Gatherers or Hunters

The Grassroots Dynamic and the Organizational Process

Family Base with Uncommon Interrelationships

Koinonia Base with Grassroots Interdependence

Accountability Base with Interdependent Synergism

Gathering Myths and Scattering Realities

The Myth of Charisma and the Reality of Scholarship

Other Myths and Realities

Uncommonness versus Commonization

 

  Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Ch 8

Ch 9

Ch 10

Printable pdf

of entire study

Table of Contents

Scripture Index

Bibliography

 

 

Thus says the LORD God, who gathers…I will gather others….

Isaiah 56:8

 

Whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Luke 11:23

 

 

            Two overlapping and interrelated questions that need to concern the global church are these: (1) In the global North (namely Europe and the U.S.), why are churches decreasing in membership and/or member involvement?; and (2) In the global South, what are churches being filled with as membership increases? Why churches are filled or not filled, and what fills churches are concerns that the global church shares together whether its specific region is experiencing that condition or not. What fills a church today (or in the past) may not be sustained tomorrow (or in the present); and this is not a sociological pattern or cycle but the experiential reality of church theology and practice that needs to be understood deeper than re-forms and to go beyond contextualization in different regions and cultures.

            If we are only concerned about filling up the church, then our understanding will not go deeper in church theology and practice than the Reformation, nor will church composition go beyond the sociocultural shaping from human contextualization.

            In Europe, church attendance has declined to the point where the church could easily be seen as dying or dead—though an infusion of Christian immigrants from the global South perhaps is sparking some life in these contexts. In the U.S., the adult population to 35 years of age (the millennial generation) is increasingly less Christian and identified as unaffiliated with organized religion; this status is consistent throughout the U.S., even in the Bible-belt states. In spite of general church attendance being higher in evangelical churches—which should not be confused with greater involvement in those churches—the underlying issue of what fills or doesn’t fill churches remains.

            The disaffection of millennials (or any generation) dropping out of church is not surprising, given what churches offer and what those persons need. What persons need requires listening deeper to persons than what they merely want, and listening to their (our) human condition and the influence of reductionism, for example, in this modern and post-Christian age. In an information-oversaturated context, they don’t need more information (even about God) and further associations, particularly those rendering them more as observing objects rather than participating subjects. Yet, participating as subjects should not be confused, for example, with contemporary worship where most participation is an end in itself without relational significance, particularly to God. What they need, if not always aware of wanting, are relationships with the significance of deeper connection and not mere association—that is, relationships with greater intimacy even though they may not want to make themselves vulnerable for such relational connections. Human persons were created with the primacy of these relationships, so that they would not function “to be apart” from wholeness together (Gen 2:18). Those avoiding or running from such vulnerable connection turn to substitutes such as social media; not surprisingly, church practice often provides this substitute for those many persons filling our churches. For those wanting more in their life, however, or who are at least open to their need for more, the church can be the only good news for their relational condition.

            If churches provided a non-fragmenting context and equal opportunities to grow as subject persons (in decreasing self-consciousness), growing more deeply involved in relationships of significance both with God and with those together in church, we would not see persons leaving (or staying distant within) the church but embracing the church for their wholeness as persons and in their relationships. We cannot give primacy to persons and relationships without this being the primary practice of the church. This is the challenge facing not only the U.S. church and the global North church, but also the global South church—the challenge of the global church as the family of Christ to address our sin as reductionism and to make whole our human condition.

            The church as the family of Christ is not an assumption that the global South should automatically make for what fills its churches. African churches have shifted from a Western lens to a lens from African culture, and thus have learned to see church members as belonging to family.[1] Yet, the question remains if their persons and relationships are distinguished by their primacy in the family of Christ, or do they just have the distinction of their culture? In Asia, the emphasis of relationships is rooted in the family and at home, which then is extended or transferred to the church. Thus, Simon Chan states the following about grassroots Asian ecclesiology:

If previously an individual’s self-identity was defined by his or her network of family relationships, as a Christian he or she is now defined primarily by relation to the ecclesial community. If previously self-understanding took place primarily in the home, as a Christian self-understanding takes place primarily in the church as the communion of saints. Christianity, by introducing a new eschatological community that claims one’s ultimate (though not exclusive) allegiance, relativizes all other social relationships, including marriage and home.[2]

Yet, aside from a grassroots Asian theology, if church practice of persons and relationships is not distinguished by the theological anthropology of whole ontology and function, then it merely reflects, reinforces and sustains the limits and constraints of Asian cultures—cultures in which persons and relationships have been shaped by reductionism. Whether in Asia or Africa, therefore, the main issue emerges once again about what fills churches; and the global church must not assume a best-case scenario because of a primary focus given to family and relationships.

 

 

Gatherers or Hunters

 

            When “the LORD God, who gathers,” said “I will gather others” (Isa 56:8), God distinguished himself as a gatherer. To gather (qabas) involves gathering persons from scattered locations (notably in exile) and bringing them together to a central point of convergence (namely belonging together as God’s people). Qabas is not a call to gather (as in qāhal), the assembly (qāhāl) of which is translated by the Septuagint with ekklesia. Rather qabas is the distinct act of gathering that distinguished God as the gatherer. Thus, David lifted up this psalm to the LORD: “Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations” (Ps 106:47; 1 Chr 16:35).

            God’s gathering response to “the outcasts of Israel” (Isa 56:8) demonstrated God’s relational response to the human condition of all persons, peoples and nations. “I will gather others” who are also apart from the relationships together in wholeness of God’s family. God’s relational response doesn’t merely extend a call to these persons but vulnerably acts to gather together persons who are apart in order to belong to God’s whole family. Furthermore, as the gatherer, God was neither hunting for others to claim for his family, nor gathering others merely to add to the family name or inhabit the family identity. Why God gathered others and how God gathered are indispensable for the church to understand because God’s gathering relational response was the antecedent for the church.[3] God’s distinguished response was embodied by Jesus, whose whole person vulnerably involved the whole of God as gatherer in order to bring together the family of Christ.

            When Jesus lamented over the condition of Jerusalem, he declared “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Mt 23:37). As the gatherer, Jesus didn’t hunt for followers or just gather any disciples after his name (e.g. Jn 6:25ff). Jesus pursued persons who were apart (like Levi and Zacchaeus) and gathered them together to belong to his family in the primacy of persons and relationships. There was no other relational purpose for embodying the relational response of the God who gathers; and this uncommon gathering—which was objected to by traditionalists—was the only relational outcome of what Jesus as gatherer saved to. To proclaim this gospel is to gather others, without which makes the gospel fragmentary and incomplete.

            Just as Jesus was relationally involved to “gather others,” the church as the family of Christ emerges and unfolds as the gatherer. The gathering church, however, is distinguished from the church as hunter—that is, to go after, claim, collect, accumulate, possess members to fill the church and its needs and goals. The distinction between gatherer and hunter is critical for what fills or doesn’t fill our churches. The gathering church is distinguished with the palpable Word as gatherer to be relationally significant for the ages of all persons, the diversity of all peoples, and the differences of all nations, the significance of which should not be confused with being relevant for what they want instead of what they need. When the church’s relational connection to the palpable Word is lacking, the church’s identity becomes ambiguous and shallow. That is, the persons of the church become ambiguous and the church’s relationships become shallow, no longer in likeness of the primacy of persons and relationship together in the whole and uncommon God. Without the primacy of persons and relationships together, the church lacks relational significance for others, who may be unaware of their need in their pursuit of what they want. This lack renders the church to be hunters to fill the church, often by accommodating others by giving them what they want over what they need. Yet, whatever results in filling the church is distinct from the relational significance of gathering others together just as Jesus was relationally involved, and therefore such results cannot be distinguished as the family of Christ—even though it is assumed in name as the body of Christ.

            The reciprocal relational involvement with the palpable Word is irreplaceable for the church to function as the gatherer and not the hunter. The embodied Word was unequivocal in distinguishing the gatherer: “Whoever is not relationally involved with me is contrary to me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Mt 12:30). That is to say, persons and churches who aren’t relationally involved with the palpable Word don’t gather but scatter. How so, and what is the significance of this for what fills or doesn’t fill the church?

            When Jesus illuminated casting out demons just as “by the Spirit of God,” he declared that “the kingdom of God has come to you” (Mt 12:28). Jesus distinguished his family that the whole of God has come to gather together, those who were in a fragmented condition apart from wholeness in their persons and relationships. Persons and churches who are involved relationally with the palpable Word function also with those others just as the Word in order to “gather with me.” Yet, why do persons and churches who aren’t involved just as the Word “gathers others,” why do their efforts “scatter”? To scatter (skorpizo) means to dissipate, waste, that is, fragment the whole. For Jesus, if we are not involved with him in the relational purpose and process of gathering together persons who are apart from wholeness, then we are engaged on a different path from his relational path. Jesus made it imperative that “whoever serves me must follow me on my relational path and be involved relationally where I am” (Jn 12:26). Being his disciple and serving to make disciples of others cannot emerge from a different path— even with the best of intentions and the purpose to do what’s good for the church. That different path would include anything less than or any substitute of how Jesus is involved to gather others for their wholeness. Anything less and any substitutes mean essentially to function contrary to his relational purpose and process of gathering, and thereby to skorpizo by reinforcing or sustaining the fragmentation of persons and relationship in God’s whole family—scattering with the intention to fill the church.

            The distinction between gathering and scattering can be ambiguous in the church, and their lack of clarity would have immeasurable consequences for churches, persons and relationships. Skorpizo is obvious when persons leave the church as a result of church practice. The subtle condition of skorpizo, however, exists among persons who still remain in the church because or regardless of the same church practice. It is ironic, yet not surprising, that churches can be composed by a ‘scattered filling’. The Word laments “How often I have desired to gather my family together!” and weeps “If you, even you the church, had only known at this time what would bring you wholeness,” yet still “Listen! I am standing at the church door, knocking to come in and gather together my family.” Quite simply, if the church does not respond to the Word’s relational response in whole relational terms, the church scatters.

            To gather, lead together and take in (signifying synago) involves a distinguished relational dynamic that redefines the ontology of ekklesia and determines its function in likeness of the gathering God—the whole and uncommon God who is vulnerably involved only in whole relational terms in the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love. The global church emerges as gatherer with the palpable Word, just as the embodied Word “saw the others, he had compassion for them, because they were needy and helpless, as persons without the full relational significance of family” (Mt 9:36). Based on this relational lens, the Word communicated to his family: “The harvest of persons, peoples and nations is plentiful, but the gatherers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out gatherers (not hunters) into his harvest to take them into his family” (9:37). In reciprocal relational response with the involvement of family love, the global church unfolds as his family of interdependent gatherers, who grow, cultivate and gather together—neither independently nor separated from each other as hunters—the family of Christ only on God’s whole relational terms, nothing less and no substitutes (as Paul illuminated for the global church, 1 Cor 3:5-14). The relational outcome is the gathering church for the ages, all ages of all persons, for the diversity of all peoples, and for the differences of all nations.

 

 

The Grassroots Dynamic and the Organizational Process

 

            As Paul illuminated above, the global church as gatherer is not an individual (person or church) or freelance enterprise by local and regional churches that could contribute to the whole church. The gathering church functions from a base that all who belong in the family of Christ share together in, and thus are accountable to each other for. How this ecclesial base is perceived and constructed will determine the kind of church that unfolds.

            There are three main ingredients that are integral for the church’s base. Each ingredient is indispensable for having a complete base, the whole of which makes them inseparable and thus makes each of them insufficient by itself to form the church’s base. Keep this in focus as we discuss the main ingredients that integrally compose the complete base necessary for the church to be, live and make whole: (1) family, (2) koinonia, and (3) accountability. Each of them has been discussed and emphasized in various ways, usually in static and structural terms, in the church’s history. This history makes evident that how they are perceived and constructed for any ecclesial base will determine the church that unfolds—“the base you use will be the church you get.”

 

Family Base with Uncommon Interrelationships

 

            When the church’s base is rooted in family, there are various perceptions of family that have to be challenged. We cannot continue to base the church on our assumptions of family. In the global North, the family has undergone fragmentation—from extended family to nuclear family to an association of individuals—which renders the perception of family to practical insignificance, even though the idea of family may have ideal significance. The reality is that all Western families are interrelated, nevertheless they don’t all have interrelations. In the global South, the family (as noted above) has a primary focus, which takes families beyond merely being interrelated to engagement in interrelations. Yet, the perception of interrelations within the family varies between cultures. What is common among these cultures is the lack or absence of primacy for the persons and relationships in the family, thereby rendering them without much if any significance. In other words, global South families have interrelations but that doesn’t necessarily involve having interrelationships. The lack of interrelationships is both insufficient for the church family base and also contrary to what’s integral for the church as family. Most importantly, the interrelationships necessary to distinguish the church’s family base emerge from uncommon relationships that are distinctly distinguished from the common relationships prevailing in all human contexts, South and North.

            Based on global perceptions of the family, the church’s family base would be constructed accordingly, with the church mirroring those limits and constraints. With uncommon interrelationships, however, the church’s family base is distinguished from common interrelationships (where they exist), and connects beyond merely being interrelated and deeper than just having interrelations. On what basis can the church develop its family base with uncommon interrelationships?

            When Jesus composed his church family on the cross by connecting Mary and John beyond being interrelated and deeper than their interrelations, he connected them in interrelationship to be vulnerably involved and intimately belong to each other as family. Yet, Jesus didn’t merely construct another family in the prevailing perception of family. Rather, and this is vital for the church’s base, he reordered the common family in order to raise up the new family required for the wholeness of the church, the family of Christ. This new-order family emerged before the cross when Jesus reordered his human-family of origin (or biological family). In that collectivist context the family was primary, and to bring shame on the family was a major sin—even unforgiveable in many contexts, as witnessed explicitly and implicitly today. That shame concerned Jesus’ family at a key point in his ministry, so they went to control him, likely to preserve their honor (Mk 3:21). Jesus’ pivotal response to them simply reordered his family (3:31-34). What transpired in this narrative is the unmistakable emergence of the new family of Christ. Beyond referential information about Jesus—which many Christians and churches may selectively ignore—this new-order family both challenges our assumptions about family and reorders our existing practice of family.

            Jesus also further challenged our assumptions and reordered our practice, with relational words that usually have been selectively ignored. As we listen to his words, we should be clear that Jesus didn’t eliminate the importance of our family of origin. In sociocultural terms, however, he did reorder our family practice and also reprioritized its influence on how Christians and churches function. Jesus clearly declared that the top priority for our involvement in relationships together is not with our biological family but with him in his family (Mt 10:37; Lk 14:26, cf. Mk 10:29-30; Lk 9:59-62). In reality, by reprioritizing family involvement and reordering its relationships, Jesus deepens that involvement in those relationships by restoring persons and relationships to their primacy in wholeness. The experiential reality of God’s family love becomes the transforming basis for the depth of involvement in other relationships, whether with family or even with enemies (Jn 15:9-12, cf. Mt 5:44). As Jesus emphasized, of course, sometimes those enemies emerge within one’s own biological family when attempts to reorder one’s family are made (Mt 10:36). The depth of this relational process will certainly expose any fragmentation in the family and the existing reduced ontology and function of persons and relationships composing the family. This is the relational significance of Jesus’ critical purpose “to bring a sword,” which appears to fracture the family when in reality it cuts open and exposes the reductionism in sociocultural families in order to make them whole (Mt 10:34-36, cf. Heb 4:12). Contrary to the limits and constraints of common practice, Jesus’ words and response are the uncommon wholeness of Christ that Paul makes imperative for the church family to be whole (Col 3:15).

            Family dynamics shape all human persons and, in most persons, become the primary influence determining how persons function in their relationships. These are the persons and relationships that fill the church and form its base, that is, until their assumptions about family are challenged and their practice of family is reordered by God’s family love. Churches in the global North and South urgently need to face this determining condition and embrace the experiential truth of how their persons, relationships and church base can be changed from existing old-order family practices to the experiential reality of the new-order church family of Christ.

            Only the new-order family distinguishes the family of Christ. This is the only family that integrates persons into the face-to-face interrelationships necessary for their primacy in wholeness (Col 3:10-14). In the ongoing relational process of God’s family love, this new-order family with the palpable Word unavoidably challenges our assumptions about family and reorders our existing practice of family, both in the church and at home (1 Cor 3:16-23). As this new-order family becomes the church’s base, persons and relationships will emerge belonging to the church with relational significance and thereby unfold transformed in wholeness in the primacy of the family of Christ (Eph 2:11-22).

            Yet, the experiential reality of the church as the family of Christ does not unfold just by the church having this new-order family base with uncommon interrelationships. Two other ingredients are integral for this relational outcome.

 

Koinonia Base with Grassroots Interdependence

 

            When the primacy of persons and relationships is rooted in the new-order church family, at the heart of this integral process is the everyday unfolding of those persons and their relationships together. This infrastructure of the church family is the reciprocal relational process involving a grassroots dynamic, as opposed to an organizational process that structures church interrelations (not interrelationships) by the limits and constraints of the church as organization (e.g. its goals, plans, programs). The organizational process mainly emerges from church leadership (usually subordinating and even excluding others in the church) and operates from an infrastructure that is primarily quantitative and centered on its objectives—making persons and relationships secondary to the organization. Accordingly, the organizational process lacks qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness; and this gap operating in the church would inevitably narrow down church theology and practice with limits and constraints, which can only reflect the church’s reduced ontology and function and thus reinforce and sustain that reductionism in its persons (including leaders) and relationships.

            In contrast and often in conflict, the grassroots dynamic flows from the primacy of the church’s persons and relationships (including its leadership), which does not necessarily start out with qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness but is directly exposed to the qualitative and relational of life to grow and develop in their sensitivity and awareness. This relational outcome cannot be programmed, even with the best of intentions for what’s good for the church. It only emerges from direct engagement that makes the church vulnerable in a reciprocal relational process with all the persons and relationships in the church; this vulnerableness then unavoidably threatens persons maintaining the status quo. Moreover, the grassroots dynamic may not meet desired goals or go neatly as planned. It may even cause a mess at times, but it will not make the primary secondary and will get to the heart of who and what composes the life of the church. Thus, the grassroots dynamic may sacrifice secondary matters—which would have primary value to a church organization—but it does not sacrifice the primacy of persons and their interrelationships together.

            When the church wants to complete its base, it must engage the grassroots dynamic that integrally involves both the new-order family with uncommon interrelationships and the koinonia of the church’s persons and relationships together. Like family, koinonia has been discussed and emphasized without much if any relational significance. Perhaps even more than family, koinonia is widely perceived and broadly assumed in church practice, such that it likely has simply been taken for granted in how the church is. This would not be unexpected in an organization structure and process. But when we engage the grassroots dynamic, koinonia is illuminated with perhaps more relational significance than most churches would want to have for its base—particularly in the global North, though the global South church is challenged in its base also.

            The koinonia of the church that emerged from Pentecost involved the primacy of persons in uncommon relationships. What was uncommon was not the large numbers filling the church (Acts 2:41,47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1,7) but how they were gathered together in the new-order church family. Certainly “wonder and signs” were instrumental in gathering persons (2:43), yet what is illuminated here is the relational involvement of the palpable Word over just highlighting the power of the Spirit. Most important for the gathering church, in reciprocal relationship with the palpable Word, was how all persons were taken into the church family with the grassroots dynamic and relationally connected to each other in interrelationships at an uncommon depth (2:42). Their depth of involvement face to face distinguished their interrelationships in the reciprocal relational process such that the primacy of every person was gathered together and shared together in the primacy of relationship with everything they had (including every secondary thing, 2:44-47; 4:32-35). This uncommon involvement went deeper than communal living and beyond having a common purse, which certainly existed in the ancient Mediterranean world. These uncommon interrelationships composed the koinonia for the church that needs to redefine our perception of fellowship: by taking in each person with the grassroots dynamic, to participate and partake (koinoneo, the base word for koinonia) and, on this relational basis, established all persons as partners and partakers (koinonos, the noun of koinoneo) of their shared life together as family—the koinonia of the church, the only koinonia with the relational significance to distinguish the family of Christ.

            To share together with everything they had, however, was not an end in itself that served as a template for their conformity. The involvement in their interrelationships at this uncommon depth defined their family love for each other and unfolded with the intimacy such that “If one member suffers, all suffer together with that person; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with the person” (1 Cor 12:26). This primary depth of involvement by all persons in their interrelationships together fulfills the relational purpose of koinonia to integrally connect and grow the interdependence necessary for the church family to be whole at the very grassroots of its persons and relationships. The relational outcome of grassroots interdependence is that the church koinonia shared, gave and provided for “all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45), so that “There was not a needy person among them” (4:34). Koinonia based on ‘sharing together with everything persons have’ includes both caring for persons in their secondary needs as well as their primary relational needs as whole persons. The depth of this koinonia, however, should not be confused with the ideology of socialism, though some practice may have similarity.

            Grassroots interdependence exposes the church to the everyday needs of persons and their relationships, which includes the spectrum of their and thus the church’s human condition. By making these needs accessible, the koinonia shared together provides the urgent and ongoing opportunities to respond in the uncommon depth of God’s family love. Without grassroots interdependence, koinonia lacks the depth for the interrelationships in the body of Christ to empathize and have the face-to-face involvement in reciprocal covariation with each other at their grassroots. Both in the suffering and the honor of church members, if the covarying response by the koinonia is lacking because involvement and responses are skewed or selective to some but not others, then how can the church’s koinonia be defined, much less distinguished, as participants and partakers of their shared life together as the family of Christ? What kind of church unfolds from a fragmentary koinonia?

            Paul extended the ‘koinonia with grassroots interdependence’ to the global church. The poorer Macedonian churches participated and the wealthy church at Corinth was challenged to further participate in this koinonia of interdependence by supporting the Jerusalem church in their grassroots needs. The relational basis for their response was that there would be an equitable (isotes) sharing together of resources in the global church (2 Cor 8:1-15). Interdependence was not a concept for Paul or an ideology, nor could it be composed by an organizational process. This depth of relational involvement was a serious issue for Paul since he fought conjointly for the wholeness of church as the family of Christ and against its reduced ontology and function, even just operating as the body of Christ (as in 1 Cor 10-13; Gal 2:11-14).

            Furthermore, koinonia with grassroots interdependence is not optional for the family of Christ, though alternative interdependence has been constructed for the body of Christ by an organizational process. The latter has appeal to those who intentionally or unknowingly put limits and constraints on church koinonia. There is an immeasurable difference, however, between the following: covariation between quantified parts or variables in the church organization, and covariation among persons in relationships of the church family. For the church to have the relational significance necessary in order to be distinguished as the family of Christ, the church’s base must by its new-order family nature be integrated also with the koinonia composed with grassroots interdependence. This raises the question for the contemporary church: To what extent do church family members share together in the primacy of relationship with everything they have?

            I am quite certain that the early church’s koinonia is of little to no interest in global North churches. Global South churches likely would have more interest in practical terms, yet have measured interest in relational terms. The issue involves the church’s theology and practice, but more importantly the issue revolves around the church’s ontology and function. What is the church? This goes further than identity of who the church is. Integrally related, How is the church? This goes deeper than what the church does. The further and deeper issues of what and how the church is get to the heart of the church’s ontology and function.

            Is the church the family of God or an organization (institution, if you wish) of God’s people? Is how the church functions in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity, or modeled after an organizational structure and process? If your answer affirms the former, then you have to return to the question raised above for the contemporary church. How would you respond based on being a participant and partaker in God’s family? Would you feel free (not obligated) to participate in and partake of everything about the family, or would you have measured or selective involvement? And would you feel free to share everything you have with the family, or would you say “OK, you can have this portion over here but the rest is mine”? This may not be a good comparison, especially in the global North, but how would your responses be interpreted and received if this were your biological family?

            Moreover, we need to ask ourselves (individually and as church) if it is fair (isotes, as Paul defined) for there to be disparity between persons participating in the church. That is, should some persons have an abundance while others struggle with little? Do we take responsibility for caring for each other as family in the church? As Paul illuminated for the global church, is the material wealth of global North churches OK to maintain while global South churches struggle in meeting their physical needs? Do we cultivate interdependence or reinforce and sustain our independence, notably under the guise of Christian freedom? These are unavoidable questions that conflate in God’s question of “What are you doing here?”

            The ontology and function of God’s family are whole and cannot be participated in and partaken of by persons in reduced ontology and function. Persons with reduced ontology and function are certainly taken into the family by the gathering church, but they must be transformed to whole ontology and function to belong to the family of Christ. Of course, belonging to an organization simulating the body of Christ does not require wholeness of persons and relationships. So, then, the question of how much do church family members share of what they have really involves and centers on this reality: What kind of person am I going to be, and how—a whole person whole-ly involved or a reduced person with fragmented involvement? If we choose to live as the latter person, then we don’t want the new-order family but to just belong to an organization, even with its limits and constraints. And there are certainly many churches that will accommodate such persons to add to their number and fill their attendance. For such persons, however, God continues to ask “Where are you?”

            Yet, you may still raise the question: Aren’t you going to give a practical answer to how much church family members share of what they have? Yes and no! No, because a practical answer narrows down the issue to secondary matter. The family of Christ is concerned foremost with the primacy of persons involved in uncommon interrelationships such that their depth of connection with each other integrates all of them in the grassroots interdependence of the whole of God’s whole and uncommon family. Yes, because the secondary (including the things we have as well as do) must all be integrated into this primary, otherwise that secondary becomes primary in our life and consequently assumes primacy over our persons and relationships. Is this not demonstrated in our consumer world and global economy, which have shaped Christians and churches, if not controlled or enslaved them?

            This is the relational consequence of choosing independence in church koinonia over interdependence, which was demonstrated by Ananias and Sapphira in the early church (Acts 5:1-11). The independence of such self-determination exists even in the collectivist contexts of the global South. Wherever present, it is contrary to the church family and koinonia base, and thus is in conflict with the church’s uncommon interrelationships and grassroots interdependence.

            Because the relational consequence of such practices on church family and koinonia directly affect the ontology and function of persons, relationships and churches, the church needs to be able to account for and hold accountable members’ engagement in such practice. This requires the third ingredient to complete the church’s whole base as the gathering church: accountability.

 

Accountability Base with Interdependent Synergism

 

            The gathering church takes in persons of all ages, the diversity of peoples and the differences of the nations. These all converge in the church, bringing with them the spectrum of the human condition to add to the specific practices discussed above. Therefore, for the church family and koinonia base to unfold to gather together all these persons in the interrelationships and interdependence of wholeness and not be rendered to fragmentation, the church base must integrate accountability also for the church base to be complete and thus whole.

            The early church and its leadership were not above making consequential errors. As the gathering church took in a diversity of persons different from them, they made mistakes in how different persons were integrated into the church’s interrelationships of their shared life together. Whereas earlier “There was not a needy person among them,” soon after in contrast to Hebrew church members “Hellenist widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1). Later, based on traditional distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, discrimination against Gentiles emerged in the regional church—enacted both individually (even by Peter) and systemically (in church polity with what amounted to its Rule of Faith)—which countered the uncommon depth of the interrelationships of church koinonia and conflicted with the grassroots composition of the new-order church family (Acts 15:1-5). Gentiles were second-class church members, who were considered less and treated accordingly in church practice even after the Jerusalem council of church leaders (led by Peter) corrected church theology (15:6-31). This extended discrimination in church practice was also indirectly led by Peter (Gal 2:11-13), in spite of Jesus having directly corrected his theology earlier (Acts 10:9-16).

            Given such consequential errors made by the early church and its leadership, the church (local, regional, global) could unfold transformed in wholeness only by being held accountable with God’s family love and being given the opportunity to change with the palpable Word. This process involves by necessity that the church pay close attention to sin as reductionism, be aware fully of the spectrum of the human condition, and listen carefully to persons in self-consciousness. While this includes ethical and moral issues, it must go beyond conventional ethics and morality to encompass our reduced ontology and function and related fragmentary theology and practice. This is the breadth and depth affecting the church that need to be held accountable and changed. Therefore, it is indispensable for the church to complete its base with the irreplaceable relational process of accountability, so that the church has the ongoing opportunity to unfold whole.

            The accountability defined here—which may differ in some aspects from the accountability practiced in the early church to further unfold the church—is not a program conducted by an organizational process. Nor is the means of accountability vested in leadership alone, who otherwise can insulate themselves from being accountable. In the grassroots dynamic, accountability is not controlled by the authority of church leaders. Accountability includes a process of authority constituted by the Word communicated from God, embodied in relational terms, and transitioned into the palpable Word. But church accountability is not structured by any authority other than “Christ is the head” (Col 1:18; Eph 1:22). On the basis of this relational process of authority, church accountability holds the whole church accountable with the Word, to the Word and for the Word. Accordingly and integrally, church accountability is irreplaceable by any other alternatives, because this indispensable accountability with the palpable Word integrates the reciprocal relational process that vulnerably involves the grassroots of all the persons and relationships belonging to the church. All are accountable in the church and reciprocally all have the responsibility to hold each other accountable (including leaders), in order to be directly involved in the interdependence of church koinonia so that all will experience the uncommon interrelationships of the new-order church family.

            With its authority in the Word, the reciprocal process of accountability has no limits and constraints, that is, except for its defining involvement determined by God’s family love—just as Jesus and the Father have loved us. Love certainly has been subject to abuse without grassroots accountability, and also inconsistently applied by subjective interpretation (e.g. demonstrated in situation ethics). These issues converge in the Word in order to determine ‘the measure we use’ necessary for the accountability process’ whole relational outcome. There are certainly hermeneutical issues when it involves the Word, yet the primary issue about clarity of the Word is the Word’s whole relational terms in relational language over fragmentary referential terms in referential language, and thus letting God speak for himself rather than our speaking for God. On this relational basis and with this hermeneutical lens, accountability’s reciprocal relational process has to be vulnerable and intimate, including equalized, in order to have relational significance for all persons and relationships in the church. This vulnerably inclusive process can unfold formally or informally, scheduled or unscheduled, directly or by other means of connection, but preferably face to face unless that is not possible. If, however, we avoid face to face in the accountability process, it reveals either not being involved by God’s family love or not being involved in interrelationships with the relational purpose of church interdependence.

            In addition, and this is vital to the reciprocal relational process of accountability, integral to accountability is the underlying purpose for interdependence. As the church gathers together persons of all ages, the diversity of peoples and the differences of nations, it has in its midst all these persons (including of a homogeneous church context) making up different parts of the body of Christ. For these different parts to be unified into one church body without fragmentation, it must involve the grassroots dynamic of interdependence—not simply engage an organic process. And for these different parts to be whole together as the church family of Christ, their interdependence must go beyond just the sum of these different parts because the whole is greater than their sum. This integral outcome is known as synergism. The underlying purpose of interdependence is the synergism of all the different persons the church has gathered—not a collection of parts that don’t add up complete—so that together the church unfolds distinguished as the whole and uncommon church family of their whole and uncommon God.

            Therefore, by the nature of its reciprocal relational process, church accountability must neither be arbitrary and engaged randomly, nor be self-centered, that is, engaged for the benefit of an individual in self-determination, or engaged at the expense of an individual either to shape their conformity or simply as an end in itself.

            Interdependent synergism is the relational significance, the relational importance and the relational need of accountability in the church. The church does not unfold distinguished whole unless the church is being transformed to whole ontology and function. This process to wholeness requires the church and all its persons and relationships to be accountable and hold each other accountable for their reduced ontology and function, their fragmentary theology and practice. Thus, accountability in the church must be inescapable, and the relational involvement with God’s family love will vulnerably pursue each other (including pursuing leaders) to make this an experiential reality in the church.

 

            How ‘church accountability with interdependent synergism’ is structured in the church can vary. But it will only emerge with this relational purpose and outcome by the grassroots dynamic and should not be expected from any organizational structure and process. Certainly, the church is organized, yet that should not be confused with being an organization or institution; the church also has order, yet that must not assume an old order to substitute for the new order. Uncommon interrelationships distinguish the church family and grassroots interdependence determines church koinonia, and anything less and any substitutes must answer to the interdependent synergism of church accountability. When this reciprocal relational process integrally composes the church’s base with the palpable Word, the gathering church unfolds and will continue to unfold transformed in wholeness in likeness of the whole and uncommon God—nothing less and no substitutes.

 

 

Gathering Myths and Scattering Realities

 

            The reality that the Christian majority has shifted to the global South is still being processed by the global North, and not without difficulty. The experiential reality facing the regional church, North and South, involves whether it has been gathering or scattering persons of all ages, the diversity of all peoples and the differences of all nations. With the shift to the global South, perhaps the experiential truth facing the global church and all Christians (not just the majority) involves, besides gathering and scattering, whether the current shift only reflects a cycle of the Christian population in history—a cycle that has no correlated significance to the church’s function of gathering, yet which reflects a cycle reinforced and sustained by the church that in reality scatters. Both this experiential reality and truth must be addressed by the church because there are gathering myths to account for and scattering realities that need to be held accountable in the church local, regional and global.

            To review our discussion about ‘gather’ (qabas and synago), the church is distinguished as a gatherer in likeness of God, who gathers persons scattered apart from wholeness, the whole of God’s family. Those scattered apart are in a reduced and/or fragmented condition—including but also beyond just ethically and morally—that renders persons and relationships without wholeness in their ontology and function. To scatter (skorpizo) means to diminish and thus fragment the whole, whereby persons and relationships are reinforced or sustained in reduced ontology and function; and this reality can exist subtly in the simulation or illusion of gathering. These are the gathering myths and scattering realities that face the contemporary church and require the depth of our response in God’s family love with the palpable Word.

 

            The gifts (charisma) of the Spirit are distributed throughout the whole church among all gathered, an experiential truth which often eludes the experiential reality in the church body (1 Cor 12:1-11). Though these gifts are not evenly or equally distributed, all persons gathered in the church have charisma. The only purpose for charisma in the church is for interdependent synergism, in which all persons use their charism to gather the church family in uncommon interrelationships together to have koinonia with grassroots interdependence of the ages of all persons, the diversity of all peoples and the differences of all nations. The urgent issue for the church is not which of these persons have gifts—an existing tension between the global North church and global South church—but most important how are these gifts used: to gather or to scatter.

            Skorpizo is more deeply rendered to fragment, which expands our lens of scattering to encompass any and all that (and who) fragment. Thus, those who fragment persons and relationships in reality scatter persons and relationships, even as they are gathered in the church. Therefore, the church urgently needs to expose those who use their charisma in the church under the guise of gathering and hold them accountable for the reality of scattering, even as the church may be filling up. In other words, there is an existing ‘gathering myth of charisma’ and ‘scattering reality of scholarship’ that shape the church (local, regional, global), which the church must no longer reinforce and sustain but redeem and transform to wholeness for the family of Christ to unfold—just as Jesus cleaned out the ‘scattering’ temple of its reductionism and fragmentation.

 

The Myth of Charisma and the Reality of Scholarship

 

            Two notable areas that the church, by its relational nature, must address with family love involve the leadership by those perceived with charisma and ascribed as scholars. Whatever the extent of popularity a charismatic leader has or the degree of stature a scholar has, these leaders have filled churches and directly or indirectly have shaped how the church gathers. What fills the church and how the church is gathered need to be examined to account for any gathering myth of charisma and scattering reality of scholarship. Certainly, these two areas don’t account for all the gathering myths and scattering realities existing in the church, yet they are representative of who, what and how in the church are responsible for reducing and/or fragmenting churches and their persons and relationships.

            When Paul addressed the fragmentation of the church at Corinth, two of the persons at the center of this fragmentation were Peter and Apollos (1 Cor 1:10-12). Apollos “was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24, NIV), who would be the counterpart to a modern scholar in biblical studies. Though not intentional on Apollos’ part, based on the high degree of stature he had in the church, Paul highlighted Apollos’ stature as a central reason for the church’s fragmentation (1 Cor 3:5-7). Persons gathered at the church centered on his esteemed stature as a scholar, which in reality scattered-fragmented the church. By the authority of the Word, Paul exposed this ‘scattering reality of scholarship’ and held the church accountable for the relational consequences both of reducing the basis for defining the ontology of persons and of fragmenting their function in interrelationships together (4:6-7, cf. 2 Cor 10:12). Perhaps Paul summarized best the scattering reality of scholarship with his declaration that “Knowledge puffs up the individual,” directly implying “at the expense of the whole of persons gathered together in interrelationships”—in contrast and conflict with “family love builds up others in interrelationships together” (1 Cor 8:1).

            Scholars today typically assume that the knowledge they have is critical for the church, though much of that knowledge is often extra-biblical information. Even if biblical, what characterizes their knowledge is its narrowed-down epistemology in referential terms, which emerged from a narrowed-down epistemic field of the Word that excluded its relational language and terms. This narrow process imposed limits and constraints on the Word that reduced, fragmented or removed the Word from its relational context and process, the significance of which is for the only purpose of having relationship together.

            This is the pivotal issue about the relational nature of God’s communication in self-disclosure, the revelation which “the wise and learned” are unable to understand with their reduced interpretive lens in narrow referential terms; however, child-persons fully receive and understand with their open lens (without learned biases) in the primacy of whole relational terms—as Jesus made unequivocal about the Word (Lk 10:21, cf. Jn 5:37-40). Child-persons function vulnerably in the primacy of relationship while most scholars maintain relational distance and embrace the referentialization of the Word. Many today, however, will argue that critical interpretation of the Bible yields a more valid level of knowledge for the Christian faith, which warrants esteem and response from the church. The hermeneutical thinking is that the church should not return to the ‘first naiveté’ of premodern interpretation: a faith in what the text literally says.[4] Yet, what is lacking in this knowledge are the words from God in whole relational terms that provide the experiential truth for whole understanding of God (as in Paul’s synesis, Col 2:2-4)—the only boast of relational significance (Jer 9:23-24). And referential information about God neither serves this relational purpose nor has this relational outcome, thus warrants no esteem or response from the church.

            This dilemma existed even when Jesus taught with such depth that others were amazed. The skeptical response was “How does this man have such scholarship when he has never studied in the academy?” (Jn 7:14-15). Jesus distinguished his own teaching from the referential information of scholars, and clearly illuminated that his primary function in teaching emerged unequivocally from simply echoing the relational words from the Father—relational words communicated in relational language by relational terms rather than the referential terms used by scholars in the referential language of scholarship (7:16-18). Nevertheless, and we have to give account of this reality, a referentialized Word prevails in the academy and thus with what church leaders have been trained—contrary to what distinguishes Jesus’ own teaching. On the basis of this prevailing condition and these pervasive referential terms, fragmentary referential information about God has the perception of being authoritative—especially when enhanced by modern scholarship—such that it would be valuable to possess in this Information Age, regardless if it has little significance for the heart of the whole person and their relationships, or has no experiential truth of God in whole relational terms.

            This then renders scholars to be ‘accumulators’ of knowledge in fragmentary referential terms, thus the more accumulated the better to try to cover the subject. This engagement becomes their primary function that then becomes preoccupied with the secondary. Such function by scholars, however esteemed and valued, is contrary to and in conflict with (1) Jesus’ primary function in teaching and thereby on a different theological trajectory, and (2) being gatherers of the family of Christ—in whole relational terms for the primacy of persons and their interrelationships together—and thus on a different relational path. Yet, these accumulators also accumulate (directly or indirectly) persons in church gatherings, which in reality only reduces those persons (in ontology and function) and fragments relationships (both with God and each other) that quite simply scatter the church. Persons who fall into this function, regardless of their accumulation of persons, are then also accountable for scattering—just as Jesus made unequivocal and imperative for us to address. Those who are taken in by accumulators—even for their own desire to accumulate information about God—also reinforce and sustain not being gatherers of the family of Christ, and thus are equally accountable for scattering.

            As Paul illuminated for the church today, churches gathered by the knowledge of scholars (or similar leaders) are filled with individuals (including the scholar) defined in a comparative process by reduced ontology, whose function fragments relationships—even with the good intention of doing what’s good for the church, that is, good without wholeness. This exposes an underlying reduced theological anthropology lacking wholeness and related weak view of sin without reductionism, both of which conjointly mislead persons in the significance of their gifts and misguide them in the use of their gifts. This misuse of the Spirit’s gifts is in conflict with the Spirit’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement with each of them (manifestation, phanerosis) for the relational purpose to bring them together in synergism for their relational outcome as the family of Christ (the whole good of sympheron, 1 Cor 12:7). Even with acknowledgement of the Spirit’s work for the body of Christ, to disregard the relational purpose of the Spirit is to stop short of the Spirit’s relational work only for the family of Christ. Therefore, the reality for such church gatherings is that their persons and relationships are fragmented and the church is being scattered. Whole ontology and function of persons, relationships and churches cannot emerge from reduced-fragmented ontology and function, and nothing more should be expected (even hoped) to unfold. This is the experiential truth facing the scattering reality of the misplaced value given to scholarship and misguided scholars.

            Christians and churches must not continue to be misled. Gifted leaders come in various forms, yet some are perceived as having “more” charisma and evoke a broader response. So-called charismatic leaders have always been esteemed and have created followings, and this has engendered gathering myths in the church. The word of the LORD alerted Ezekiel to such gathering myths based on his esteemed charisma: “they talk about you everywhere to everyone, ‘Come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD’. They come to you…gather before you…hear your words…. To them, you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; they hear what you say, but they will not respond any deeper” (Eze 33:31-32). Jesus also attracted such a following but he exposed the gathering myth of such followers: “Very truly, I tell you, you followed me, not because you saw signs from God, but because you ate your fill of what you wanted” (Jn 6:26). Peter also enacted signs and wonders with the palpable Word that initiated the valid unfolding of the gathering church (Acts 2:43-44; 5:12). Yet, as Paul exposed, Peter’s charisma was also a source of fragmentation in the church.

            Charisma, as commonly perceived, is misleading and rarely gives us a complete picture of that person. This lends itself to generating idealistic and unrealistic images, even constructing brands, that people esteem, the following of which engenders gathering myths. This apparently was the result of Peter’s charism, along with Apollos’ gift. We have a more complete picture of Peter’s person, as we’ve discussed through the course of this study.

            The innermost of Peter’s person was defined by Jesus as “you of little faith” (Mt 14:31). Jesus also described him as an extension of Satan, who was shaped by human terms and thus preoccupied with secondary things that tried to reduce Jesus from the primary (Mt 16:23). Peter also presented himself as unworthy before Jesus’ whole person (Lk 5:8), which was more self-effacing and consequently not willing to make his person vulnerable to Jesus and thereby kept his relational distance (Jn 13:6-8). Typical of charismatic leaders, Peter should not be confused with being humble. He was boastful, and his boast exceeded and contradicted his practice (Jn 13:37-38), as well as was misguided (Jn 18:10-11) even though Jesus corrected his narrow views earlier (Mt 16:23). His track record raises questions, namely about the depth of his relational involvement of love with Jesus in the primacy of relationship together to define his discipleship, which still seemed preoccupied with the secondary (Jn 21:15-22). Then, at the height of his church leadership, his charisma was qualified with his relational consequence of fragmenting the church and its persons and relationships, when Paul exposed his hypokrisis (i.e. the function of role-playing) that revealed his self-conscious inconsistency and the undeniable contradiction of Peter’s theology by his own practice—consequential also in leading others in like hypokrisis (Gal 2:11-14).

            What we need to learn from this picture of Peter is that charisma is not what we commonly think it is, and that following charismatic leaders is a misplaced faith that involves more myth than truth. The subtlety of this process is consequential for promoting illusions and simulation of the church body of Christ, which have no substantive relational significance for growing the church family of Christ. These gathering myths are not exposed apart from ongoing involvement in reciprocal relationship with the palpable Word, who gives us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:10-16). This relational process is indispensable and its relational outcome is irreplaceable in order to understand the difference between gathering with Christ and scattering contrary to Christ—additionally, to discern respectively their myths and realities in the church, just as exposed in churches (counterparts to existing churches today) by the palpable Word (Rev 2-3, discussed previously).

            Moreover, every person needs to learn that esteeming charisma and responding to charismatic leaders are not embracing the gifts of the Spirit with the palpable Word, who distributes charisma to every person for the synergism of the family of Christ. No matter what power, signs and wonders are performed by a few, the person of the Spirit grieves when our involvement is not in reciprocal relationship by the primacy of all persons connected in the uncommon interrelationships of the new-order church family, composed by their koinonia with grassroots interdependence (Eph 4:20-30).

            The Spirit understandably grieves because what’s at stake here is “the gospel of wholeness” (Eph 6:15) that Christ whole-ly embodied for the complete salvation of what he integrally saved us from and to (Eph 2:14-22). The dynamics of gathering and scattering are not reflexive in a cycling of persons—which discounts any cycle of the Christian majority to the global South yet leaves unanswered what fills the church—but rather the dynamics are antagonistic in ongoing competition for persons, engaged in the conflict between wholeness and reductionism. Therefore, what raises the stakes in all this is the theological anthropology of the church: the primacy of persons and relationships together in whole ontology and function, or the fragmentation of persons and relationships in reduced ontology and function. “The theological anthropology the church uses will be the church it and its persons and relationships get.”

Accordingly, the compelling issue facing the global church is not the filling or non-filling of churches in the global South and North, respectively. Rather what needs to compel the church (local, regional and global) is resolving the issue of what fills the church, whereby gathering myths and scattering realities are exposed and held accountable with God’s family love in order to fulfill the interdependent synergism necessary for the church to unfold transformed in wholeness as the family of Christ. Anything less and any substitutes filling the church are scattering its persons and relationships.

 

Other Myths and Realities

 

            Charisma and scholarship represent only the more prominent gathering myths and scattering realities in the church. Others can be identified and need to be accounted for in the church.

            The emergence of Christendom (4th century) established the institutional church, which structured the church in a systemic-template of conformity. The institutional model gathers the church with the limits and constraints that reflect, reinforce and sustain those composing the human condition. To the extent that this operates, the relational consequence is a gathering myth. The scattering reality of the institutional model today is a growing concern, yet the concern must not be limited to what doesn’t fill the church (i.e. who left) but more importantly what fills the church. This issue is endemic to the institutional church in its existing forms.

            From the Reformation emerged the organizational church as an alternative to and yet as a variation of the institutional church. The church organization was initially modeled after a voluntary association—associations that existed in human contexts throughout church history from the first century—and then increasingly also used models from formal organizations and business as they developed. The organizational structure and process are more efficient than any other structure and process the church has used. But, this efficiency requires preoccupation with secondary matters, which inevitably comes at the expense of the primacy of persons and relationships. Based on this focus and such priorities, how would you define church gatherings and what would determine what fills the church? Related, what would be the church organization’s theological anthropology? The subtlety of gathering myths and scattering realities is difficult to account for when we (individually and collectively) are invested in the church organization and our investment is contingent on the church’s success measured in secondary terms.

            The organizational model was enhanced by the church growth movement with the principle of the homogeneous unit. Such church composition was not only more efficient but more convenient; and their conjoint function provided more calculated church growth, especially in a modern world where convenience prevails. Homogeneous church composition is a pervasive structure for churches that include gatherings based on culture, race, ethnicity, tribe, caste, ideology and so forth. With this as the norm, how uncommon are those interrelationships and how grassroots is their interdependence? These are different issues necessary to face, along with other issues involved in favoring a homogeneous church—whether the issues are structural, systemic, contextual, interpersonal or personal—particularly if persons are from a minority culture or race who have experienced discrimination or have been marginalized.

            Homogeneous gatherings, on the one hand, avoid these fragmented relationships, whereby persons don’t have to be vulnerable to their or others’ disadvantage or threatened in their advantage. On the other hand, homogeneous gatherings cultivate the illusion and simulation of their relationships, such that they don’t have to be vulnerable to grow further and deeper as whole persons in the primacy of whole relationships together. This conveniently allows persons and relationships to legitimize the limits and constraints that prevent them from being vulnerable both to other persons as well as their own person. The relational consequence for a homogeneous unit of whatever variation is a gathering myth disguising a scattering reality that reinforces and sustains the fragmentation of persons and relationships, even under the guise of promoting what’s good for the church. How does the church unfold transformed in wholeness under this structure and process?

             More specifically, for example, if a post-colonial church in the global South uses any of these models and their gifts are used in the manner discussed above, how will the post-colonial church be any different from the fragmenting colonial church, such that it will unfold transformed—beyond what prevails in the human context and condition? Relatedly, how will the grassroots church be any different from the Western church, such that it will unfold whole—beyond the sum of its parts?

 

 

            If we cannot account for gathering myths and scattering realities in the church, then we have already been reinforcing and sustaining them, and consequently are bound to keep extending them invariably in the global church. The experiential truth facing the church, for which it is accountable, is the following experiential reality: The relational outcome of the new-order church family requires uncommon interrelationships, the uncommonness of which is ongoingly subjected to their commonization.

 

 

Uncommonness versus Commonization

 

            The shared life together in uncommon interrelationships of God’s family involves intimately participating in and whole-ly partaking of each other’s lives. This also includes participating in and partaking of the life of God, in the primacy of the trinitarian persons and their relationship together. Intimately participating in and whole-ly partaking of God’s life is problematic—as demonstrated by Peter when Jesus tried to wash his feet— which is not resolved simply in enhanced participation by our spirituality. The experiential truth of the whole of God is that God is both whole and holy; and the problem is the incongruity between the uncommon God and our common humanity—as witnessed in Peter’s life shaped by his human terms and tradition. This immeasurable gap remained until the uncommon God was embodied for us to directly participate in and partake of the whole of God in face-to-face relationship together. The incarnation, however, did not resolve the problem by establishing a hybrid of the uncommon and the common—which is how Peter initially enacted his discipleship. The gap remains until common persons participate in and partake of the uncommon God’s embodied relational response to redeem their condition and transform their persons and relationships to the uncommon condition in likeness of the whole and uncommon God.

            This uncommonness is only this relational outcome and is irreducible to anything less (e.g. an attribute) and nonnegotiable to any substitutes (e.g. legalism). Otherwise our condition remains in the common and the gap continues to prevent intimately participating in and whole-ly partaking of God in shared life together. Therefore, until this uncommonness is our experiential reality, there is no gathering of, in and by the new-order church family of the whole and uncommon God.

            Peter eventually was transformed whole-ly so that he emerged in whole theology and practice. He then understood in relational terms—beyond his previous referential terms shaped by his human tradition—that the church is “a holy ethnos,” people belonging and living together in God’s own family (1 Pet 2:9). The gathering of the church for Peter was now “holy” (hagios), that is, separate from the common condition and thus belonging to the holy God. So, just as Peter came to understand in whole relational terms that “he who called you and me is separate from the common condition,” it was vital in his new condition that all of us also “be separate from the common condition yourselves” (1 Pet 1:15). As illuminated from a more complete picture of Peter’s person, the process of being transformed from the common prevailing in his life, and the commonization pervading his theology and practice, to the uncommonness of Jesus’ person and the uncommon relationship of following Jesus, was indeed a struggle for Peter. Yet, Peter opened his person (i.e. his innermost “of little faith”) to vulnerably receive God’s family love (1:3), and the relational outcome made him vulnerable to the uncommon interrelationships of the whole and uncommon new-order church family of the whole and uncommon God.

            We need to understand what unfolds from Peter and learn further from him how it unfolded. His redemptive change (old dying and new rising) from common to uncommonness whole-ly established Peter as a gatherer without myths, who used his charisma in ongoing reciprocal relationship with the palpable Word and not just in situations and circumstances. With his uncommon lens, Peter also saw the whole of Paul’s person and the whole in his theology, thereby understanding Paul’s uncommonness that a common condition could not (2 Pet 3:15-16). And don’t forget, this picture of Peter emerged after Paul lovingly confronted Peter face to face and held him accountable for his hypokrisis. How crucial is accountability to the church’s base for the interdependent synergism of the family of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:21-23)?

            What we vitally learn and need to embrace from this further picture of Peter’s whole person is that commonization is pervasive, persistent and consequential in the innermost of persons and their relationships. Yet, hagios is not merely some spiritual condition that is an ideal attribute for us to have like God. To be separate from the common condition encompasses the prevailing condition in human contextualization—which includes but goes beyond being separate from the common condition ethically and morally—thus what prevails in all human contexts and the human condition with its full spectrum. Yet, to be separate from this common condition does not mean to be separate from those persons in this condition. This common condition also exists, pervades or prevails in the context of the church. Hagios involves not being defined and determined by this prevailing condition, and commonization includes being defined and/or determined by any and all aspects of this prevailing condition. In other words, to be uncommon is vulnerably exclusive—which should not be confused with being superior (as in exceptionalism)—and to be common is conveniently inclusive; and this means that the whole of uncommonness cannot be compromised by the reductionism in commonization or it loses its integrity. The distinction between them, however, easily becomes blurred both by alternatives of convenience and when we shy away from being vulnerable. Therefore, we cannot underestimate the influence and effects that commonization has on the church. To do so will reinforce and sustain its subtle fragmentary and counter-relational workings in persons, relationships and churches, even after their theology has been corrected (Peter would say ‘Amen!’).

            Here again, the subtlety of reductionism must be exposed. This requires, as discussed in earlier chapters, listening to sin as reductionism, listening to the spectrum of the human condition, and listening to the person in self-consciousness, so that the breadth and depth of commonization existing in churches and its persons and relationships can be held accountable. Human contextualization and tradition shaped Peter’s person, discipleship and ministry until uncommonness separated him from his common condition. For Peter, therefore, it is nonnegotiable for the uncommon church family to be separate from the common condition in its koinonia, its ministry and its witness in the common contexts of the world. Without this uncommonness, churches and their persons and relationships cannot be distinguished from the common, and thus they do not have the relational significance to witness to the experiential truth of the gospel of wholeness and the experiential reality of what they are saved to.

 

So, now the contemporary church is urgently faced with the vulnerable Peter in whole relational terms, the uncommon basis of which not only warrants our response but compels our involvement from the innermost, and thereby to be gathered together as family with uncommon interrelationships, composed in koinonia with grassroots interdependence, and relationally involved with each other for accountability with interdependent synergism (as Paul loved Peter).

            Certainly then, uncommonness is neither a concept nor a doctrine merely to have as reference for who, what and how we are as persons, relationships and churches. The experiential truth is that Jesus calls his family “out of” the common in order to be whole, as Jesus prayed (Jn 17:14-16). To be separate from the common condition is to address the grassroots of our human condition and to make whole the ontology and function of persons and relationships fragmented in the human condition ‘to be apart’ from wholeness. Their uncommonness is the experiential truth needing to be the experiential reality in the church local, regional and global. The further experiential truth is that Jesus calls his family “out of the common” to be whole, so that he can send them “into the common” to make whole “just as I am and have been sent.”   This is the truth and reality of the new creation, the uncommon condition of the church unfolding transformed in wholeness beyond just the body of Christ to integrally distinguish the family of Christ.

In this uncommon condition, the new-order church family unfolds as the gathering church for all the ages of persons, for the diversity of all peoples, and for the differences of all nations. Nothing less and no substitutes are uncommon, and, therefore, in reality anything less and any substitutes, even with good intentions, are persons, relationships and churches “who do not gather with me.”

 


 


[1] Discussed in Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 128-141.

[2] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 157.

[3] Walter Brueggemann uses Second Isaiah (Isa 40-55) and Third Isaiah (Isa 56-66) to challenge the contemporary church to step out of its conventional tribalism and be countercultural, in Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 49-71).

[4] See Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 693.

 

 

 

 

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