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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 8      The Whole Witness for the Whole Gospel

 

Sections

 

The Nature of Witness and the Significance of Witnessing

The Experiential Truth of the Witness

The Experiential Reality of Witnessing

The Challenge of the Gospel to Be Fulfilled

Witnessing to an Incomplete Gospel

The Whole Witness of Family and Koinonia

 

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

 

“The Spirit of truth …will testify about me.

And you also must testify, for you have been with me.”

John 15:26-27, NIV

 

“So that they may be one, as we are one…completely one,

so that the world may know that you have sent me.”

John 17:22-23

 

 

            In his theological reflections about postcolonial criticism, Vinoth Ramachandra highlights the following:

The “we” in Christian speech always arises out of local contexts, but it is disciplined by our belonging to the global body of Christ. The church is the only truly global community, and it is largely a church of the poor. More spectacular than the resurgence of Islam—or the spread of New Age spiritualities in the Western world and Hindu or Buddhist nationalisms in the Indian subcontinent—has been the growth of indigenous Christian movements in the postcolonial South.

He also illuminates the following:

 

It was in the decades following decolonization that Christianity outpaced Islam in Africa. As I. M. Lewis has noted, the “total effect of the pax colonica, as much involuntary as intended, was to promote an unprecedented expansion of Islam,” and that “in half a century of European colonization Islam progressed more widely and more profoundly than in the two centuries of precolonial history.” The main bearers of African Christianity seem to have been the young, women, the oppressed and others lacking monetary and organizational power. This is in striking contrast with the spread of Islam in Africa or Hindutva among the Indian middle-class diaspora.[1]

What Ramachandra points to is the grassroots witness that is instrumental in the central shift of Christianity to the global South, which is not apparent both to postcolonial critics and to those in the Western institutions interested in this shift. Yet, this grassroots witness does not answer the question of what those churches in the global South are filled with. Perhaps less apparent is what underlies the grassroots witness that integrally composes the witness necessary for the global church to have relational significance for the globalizing world.

            In her analysis of the fundamental nature of nationalism, Eloise Hiebert Meneses points to the temporal condition of every state and empire of the last two millennia and the enduring condition of the church advancing toward the culmination of the kingdom. With nationalism in the U.S. representing the Rome of our time, she raises the issue of Christian witness that does not fragment the gospel, and the need for an integral witness:

How are we to avoid syncretizing the gospel at the very place in which it is the most dangerous—the center of global power? Surely this will be possible only with the witness of Christian people from other places. It will be possible to remain truly faithful to Christ in America only by listening carefully to sisters and brothers from elsewhere and by receiving with humble acceptance a theology from the whole church.[2]

Yet, such an inclusive witness based on global theology does not necessarily either distinguish that witness as integral, or provide that witness with the significance needed to be whole in the prevailing fragmented human condition of the globalizing world. The whole theology and practice of Christian witness is not the quantitative sum of its parts, no matter how many global parts compose its witness.

            In the reality of the globalizing world, what exists is not always what meets the eye, that is, aside from a biased lens. That reality exists also for the global church, namely in what is filling the church today and what is the nature of its witness and the gospel to which it witnesses.

            If the church is to unfold as the gathering of the church family of Christ and not just some form of the body of Christ, the church by its nature must be distinguished by the gospel of wholeness: “My uncommon peace I give to you. I do not give to you anything less and any substitutes” (Jn 14:27). This peace as wholeness is the good news composed by Jesus in whole relational terms, which cannot be narrowed down to a referential peace or any other common terms. This whole gospel requires that its witness be congruent with its wholeness, which by its nature is the witness compatible with the whole and uncommon God embodied in Jesus and further involved in the palpable Word. What is this witness and why is it integral to the gospel?

 

 

The Nature of Witness and the Significance of Witnessing

 

            The reliability of a witness and the validity of their testimony are certainly critical in a court of law. This significance is the nature of witness in jurisprudence, but the process of justice often has not involved this reliability and validity. When the news is reported, the reliability of the reporter and the validity of their report are indispensable for journalism to have credibility. Yet, it is common for most persons to receive the news reported and merely assume the reliability and validity of its information rather than question its reality. Christian witness includes these issues, but it also involves going deeper for its nature of witness and its significance of witnessing. Reliability of a witness, for example, can vary, based on a range from honesty to even good intentions, which is insufficient for compatible Christian witness; and validity is usually based on the facts, which is important but inadequate for congruent Christian witnessing.

 

The Experiential Truth of the Witness

 

            When Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection (Lk 24:44-48), he illuminated the Word for them so they could put together all the parts of his life (like a puzzle) to have whole understanding (the process of syniemi, v.45) of the Word—not fragmentary information or selective knowledge. This whole understanding went beyond the sum of this information about Jesus and deeper than just knowing the important things about him. Their whole understanding involved vulnerably experiencing the truth of Jesus’ whole person in face-to-face relationship together. Then the whole Truth declared: “You are witnesses of my whole Truth” (v.48), “you will be my witnesses to the whole Truth in the global world” (Acts 1:8), because just as “the Spirit of my whole Truth…will testify about me,” “you also must testify concerning my whole person, for you have been with me, involved in reciprocal relationship together” (Jn 15:26-27, NIV).

            Along with the legal description of witness (martyrion, and to witness, martyreo), what is distinct of some witnesses (martys) is their participation in and thus experiential knowledge of something. The integrity of Christian witness is distinguished by the direct participation in and thus experiential knowledge of the life of Jesus’ whole person, the whole Truth, which will determine the reliability and validity of Christian witness. The truth of the early disciples’ witness had a two-fold basis: (1) they were eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus, and (2) they participated in and partook of Jesus’ life to experience his whole person, the primary basis of which composed the experiential truth of their witness (e.g. Jn 1:1-4). Since the Damascus road, Paul’s witness emerged from the experiential truth of direct involvement with the palpable Word in face-to-face relationship together—his whole witness based on his participating in and partaking of the whole and uncommon God, even though he wasn’t an eyewitness of the embodied Word. While our experience may not include the drama of Paul’s initial experience, it must involve the depth of his experience with the palpable Word in order to establish the experiential truth of our witness—the integrity distinguished by directly participating in and partaking of the whole of God in uncommon relationship together.

            Christian witness based on these whole relational terms has the clarity that gives account of the complete significance (as in syniemi above) of Jesus’ whole person, thus the whole Truth in relational response to the human condition for the primacy of persons and relationships in wholeness. The relational significance of this good news testified in referential terms (e.g. merely in factual or doctrinal certainty) is rendered in a fog that makes its significance elusive, if not insignificant or irrelevant, for persons and their relationships. The difference in terms is a vital distinction for the Truth of Christian witness, whose nature is irreducible and whose response is irreplaceable with anything less than and any substitutes for the whole Truth. In other words contrary to conventional perception, the facts of Jesus’ life are not just propositional truth.

            The embodied Truth cannot be reduced to a proposition, or the whole Truth is fragmented. But in fact the Truth embodied in whole relational terms the experiential truth of Jesus’ whole person for the only relational purpose and outcome of relationship together in wholeness. Only this experiential truth is the primary basis for the good news, and the factual information (notably in propositional and doctrinal terms) is only secondary (not necessarily unimportant) to this news—which in referential terms would be rendered unimportant due to a lack of relational significance (cf. Jn 2:23-25). Therefore, the witness integral for this whole gospel relationally involves both the reliable experiential truth of direct compatible participation in Jesus’ life with the palpable Word, and the valid experiential truth of intimate congruent partaking of his person in the palpable Word. This whole witness can only be composed by nothing less than this integral experiential truth; and the integrity of this whole witness cannot be based on anything less or maintained by any substitutes. Anything less is a secondhand witness lacking experiential truth. Any substitutes construct a dubious witness lacking reliability and validity.

            The experiential Truth of Christian witness has challenged the church’s witness throughout church history. The early church in Ephesus, for example, shifted the basis for its witness from the experiential Truth in whole relational terms to truth in fragmentary referential terms, whereby their witness was based on doctrinal purity at the expense of “forsaking the primacy of relational involvement with your first love” (Rev 2:4). Out of theological necessity, various issues of doctrinal purity occupied the Church Fathers as their primary focus, which apparently rendered their witness to the limits and constraints of the secondary and thereby reduced the whole Truth to their fragmentary witness lacking experiential truth. This narrowed-down referential condition and witness allowed for the emergence of Christendom and the construction of a church-state that subtly shifted Christian witness from doctrinal purity to the church institution. The integrity of the church’s witness suffered immeasurably as persons were reduced essentially to conforming objects and relationships fragmented to relative insignificance by the primacy of the institution. This dubious witness became intolerable and precipitated the Reformation. The magisterial Reformers essentially returned the church’s witness to its doctrinal basis, without necessarily restoring the primary relational significance of the whole Truth and the primacy of the experiential truth of the embodied Word in relationship together. Without the relational significance of the whole Truth, this newly re-formed doctrinal witness had no substantive testimony to challenge the emerging modernist framework. Instead, its witness was challenged by modernism. Two main reactions to modernism’s rationalized challenge emerged: (1) fundamentalists retreated from it and reduced their witness in the world to terms limited to their narrowed-down context, which lacked the experiential truth of the whole Truth in relational response to the spectrum of the human condition in its sin as reductionism; and (2) evangelicals took up the challenge and shifted their witness to the primary focus of doctrinal certainty, which by the mid-twentieth century had reduced their witness to revolve around the reasoning of narrowed-down referential terms at the unintended expense of the primacy of the whole Truth, and thus at the unexpected loss of the experiential truth of the whole gospel and the whole witness required for it.

            Christian apologetics has compromised the integrity of Christian witness more than it has challenged modernism. With essentially the same assumptions, this modern Christian witness has rightfully been challenged by postmodern practices. Yet, while the witness of postmodern theology and practice may have basis in experience on the local level, it lacks the experiential truth of the whole Word because its embodied Truth is not whole but fragmentary—lacking the reliability and validity to be of significance for persons and their relationships. Consequently, the modern witness is insufficient and the postmodern witness is incomplete, both lacking the integrity of the whole witness necessary to be integral for the whole gospel. This whole witness neither eliminates apologetics nor denies the diversity of local experience, but rather puts them into whole perspective secondary to the priority of the following: (1) the primacy of the experiential truth of the whole gospel, not a narrowed down, partial or selective gospel, and (2) the relational significance required for persons in the primacy of their wholeness, not limited by their reason or surrounding context, in order to have the reliability and validity of their whole witness to the whole gospel and its experiential reality for all persons and their relationships to be whole.

            The whole witness of the experiential Truth indeed challenges the church’s witness of anything less and any substitutes. Beyond being an eyewitness, John illuminated their primary witness based on the experiential truth of compatibly participating in and congruent partaking of the palpable Word in reciprocal relationship together in order to be the reliable witness and to have the valid testimony of the good news of the whole of God’s relational response to the human condition (1 Jn 4:13-14). And the palpable Word vulnerably present and intimately involved today wants to know “Where are you?” and “What are you doing here?” So, then, how would you define your witness to him who says “you also must testify to the whole Truth,” and what would you say is the basis of your witness?

 

The Experiential Reality of Witnessing

 

            If truth is not something we can experience, then that truth has no relational significance for persons and their relationships. Certainly, what some persons claim to experience as truth has no basis outside of their experience, thus that so-called truth has no significance for all persons; this is part of the issue with postmodern experience. If the whole Truth is not someone we experience, then the truth we claim has no relational significance for our persons and relationships; this is part of the issue with the primary focus of doctrinal purity, certainty and apologetics. The witness of such truth has lost its experiential nature—not to be confused with subjectivity, for example, as found in Schleiermacher—and no longer involves directly participating in and partaking of the truth, thereby rendering the nature of witness to the limits of observation and the function of witnessing to the constraints of observing. This would be sufficient for science and adequate in legal courts but insufficient and inadequate for the truth of the gospel. Such a narrowed-down process operates for science because it testifies to limited fragments of facts, from which the whole or greater reality can only be theorized. But it does not work for testifying to the full significance of the whole Truth, who cannot be reduced in his vulnerably disclosed ontology and function in whole relational terms to a mere Object in referential terms. Observers of the Truth, no matter how rigorous and scholarly, were not the witnesses whom Jesus declared “must testify about me because you have been relationally involved with me.”

            The reality even in this modern world is that the testimony of observers does not have the integrity of whole witness that is required for witnessing for the Truth (cf. Jn 19:34-35). Many observed the extraordinary ministry of Jesus and testified to what Jesus did (notably miracles) but were never relationally involved with him to experience the truth of being his followers. Obviously, those were not the witnesses that Jesus counted on to witness to the whole Truth in the world. Yet, much of Christian witness is reduced to the limits of observation, and its function of witnessing narrowed down by the constraints of observing—that is, at a relational distance without the direct involvement of participating in and partaking of the palpable Word in face-to-face relationship together. With only the facts to report, albeit the facts or information about the embodied Truth, Christian witnessing has subtly lost its relational significance and struggles in its lack to be reliable and valid for witnessing to the whole Truth—the Truth who relationally responds in whole relational terms to the primacy of persons and relationships for their wholeness. What this essentially amounts to is what Paul declared with astonishment: those “turning to a different gospel” that has no relational significance to be good news (Gal 1:6).

            Jesus told his disciples that when the Spirit of truth comes “he will testify about me as my relational replacement” (Jn 15:26, NIV), and “he will guide [lead, hodegeo] you in the whole truth” (pas, Jn 16:13). As Jesus’ relational replacement, the Spirit of truth does not testify in referential terms about propositional truth—which neoevangelicals either did not pay attention to or ignored with their modernist lens; rather the Spirit of truth witnesses to the further presence and involvement of the whole Truth in relational terms. In other words, the Spirit of truth is unequivocally ‘the Spirit of experiential truth’. The relational outcome of the Spirit’s witness, as the whole palpable Word, fulfills the experiential truth of Jesus’ promise to his followers that they will not be left as relational orphans (Jn 14:18). This experiential truth composed in relational terms by the Spirit’s whole witness becomes the experiential reality for those involved with the Spirit’s witnessing, the relational significance of which will lead them in the relational involvement with the whole Truth—not instruct them in propositional truth.

If the Spirit of truth only testifies to propositional truth, the experiential truth of not being relational orphans will not emerge as the relational outcome. Furthermore, with such limits the Spirit’s fragmentary witnessing will not lead to the relational involvement necessary with the whole Truth for relationship together in wholeness to be the experiential reality. Along with rendering persons to just be observers of the truth, the relational consequence of such witnessing is to be left as relational orphans, without the relational connection needed to participate in and partake of the whole Truth. These are the relational orphans commonly filling churches today, along with the observers of the truth witnessing on behalf of the embodied Truth reduced or fragmented from the whole Truth.

            The relational significance of the Spirit of experiential truth witnessing to the whole Truth is both fulfilling and challenging. Since the experiential truth of the Spirit’s witness fulfills Jesus’ promise to his followers of not being relational orphans, this experiential truth must also be an experiential reality, or truth becomes only propositional without relational significance. Accordingly, in his determining family prayer Jesus prayed for the Father to “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (Jn 17:17). Moments before his prayer, Jesus told his disciples that “you have already been cleansed by the word I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you” (Jn 15:3-4). The Word of God, the embodied Word, and the palpable Word together converge to compose the whole Truth only in whole relational terms and cannot be reduced to narrowed-down propositions in fragmentary referential terms; this integral convergence illuminates the experiential truth and reality of the whole of God, the Trinity. What distinguishes (sanctifies, cleans) Jesus’ followers from any commonization is the experiential reality of relationship together with the Word, the whole Truth, by whom and in which “the Spirit of experiential truth will lead you in the relational significance of the whole Truth.” And their uncommon relationship together establishes their relational significance necessary for Jesus to “have sent them into the world” (17:18) on the relational basis of the experiential reality of their directly involved participation in and partaking of the whole Word; that is, in order for their witnessing to be “just as the Father sent me” (17:18, cf. 1:1), and therefore to have the same relational significance just as the Spirit of experiential truth witnesses to the whole Truth.

            The uncommonness distinguished from commonization (as discussed in chap. 7) is neither a referential condition nor the condition fulfilled by propositional truth. Uncommonness is the relational condition that emerges only from the whole Truth who is composed by the whole Word—by whom Jesus prayed for his followers to be sanctified. The relational outcome is the experiential reality of the Trinity, who continues to be vulnerably present and relationally involved in and by the palpable Word for the experiential reality of our ongoing relational involvement in and partaking of the whole of uncommon relationship together with the whole and uncommon God in God’s whole and uncommon family. The relational significance of this unfolding relational outcome, led by the Spirit of experiential truth, distinguishes us in the experiential truth and reality of who we are and whose we are in wholeness together. This relational outcome alone fulfills Jesus’ promise and prayer, and thereby solely fulfills the relational significance required for the experiential truth of our whole witness and the experiential reality of our witnessing in, by and to the whole Truth.

            The only purpose and significance of the Spirit’s presence and involvement is the experiential truth of his whole witness that testifies to the experiential reality of the whole Truth composed by the whole Word—none of which is fulfilled by referential terms with the primary focus on propositions and doctrines. The reality of the Spirit witnessing for the whole Word is palpable only in whole relational terms; and this reality is neither palpable in narrowed-down referential terms nor experienced by observing propositional truths. Based on the relational significance of the Spirit witnessing for the whole Word, our witnessing only has relational significance in the experiential reality of direct relational involvement with the whole Word, and not merely engaging parts of the Word in devotions or observing a referentialized Word in study and research. When this direct relational involvement is our experiential reality with the whole Word, then the relational significance of who we are emerges for witnessing to the experiential truth of whose we are with the whole Word as family together—no longer relational orphans, whose reality commonly existing in churches today is without the relational significance of direct relational involvement with the whole Word and, therefore, without the experience of belonging to the whole and uncommon Word’s family.

            When we witness to the truth of the gospel yet can testify only about being saved from sin, that truth becomes just propositional and thus an incomplete gospel lacking its experiential significance. Moreover, that truth is both misleading and misguided—contrary to the Spirit of experiential truth leading and guiding in the whole Truth—because it fails to testify to the full nature of sin we are saved from. That is, it fails to include being saved from sin as reductionism. This truth of salvation is grossly misleading, because without being saved from reductionism we are essentially not saved from the primary nature of sin. This not only misguides our witnessing but, more consequential, it misleads those who claim this fragmentary gospel and misguides their practice and fulfillment with only a truncated salvation. If our truth of the gospel includes being saved from sin as reductionism, then this must be, by the nature of sin, both the experiential truth and the experiential reality of having our persons and relationships redeemed from reductionism. The truth and reality of this experience, however, must by the nature of salvation then also include what the whole gospel integrally saves both from and to: from reductionism and to wholeness, since if we are no longer reduced in a fragmentary condition, the condition that has to emerge is the wholeness of persons and relationships together in God’s whole and uncommon family.

            Reductionism does not exist where there is wholeness and, conversely, wholeness does not exist where there is reductionism. They certainly do coexist in the human context but are mutually exclusive, which encompasses the pivotal issue between uncommonness and commonization. Therefore they cannot be combined in a hybrid condition. However, reductionism subtly misleads and misguides with epistemological illusions of truth and good news as well as ontological simulations of salvation and wholeness—an issue, influence and consequence that have yet to be either fully addressed or simply understood by the global church. Accordingly, we cannot witness to being saved from reductionism without the relational significance of being saved to wholeness, that is, the wholeness in likeness of the whole Truth, the whole Word, which the palpable Word leads and guides to completion in spite of the ongoing contention of reductionism. Certainly, the relational significance of witnessing can only emerge from the experiential reality of the wholeness of our persons and relationships—not the referential information or even propositional fact of this wholeness—which only unfolds from the experiential truth of the gospel of wholeness in relational response from the whole Word with the ongoing relational involvement of the palpable Word. Nothing less than this experiential truth can distinguish our witness and no substitutes for this experiential reality can compose the relational significance of our witnessing. Yet, the reality of reductionism’s presence and involvement also coexists with the gospel of wholeness in ongoing contention in order to mislead and misguide with illusions of the truth of the gospel and with simulations of its salvation and the significance of its fulfillment for persons and relationships.

            In contrast and conflict with the oft-subtle relational consequence of reductionism, the truth and reality of the relational outcome of wholeness fulfill the needed, if not longed-for experience of persons, relationships and churches to be whole—the fulfillment to be whole also needed in the shared ontology and function of all persons, peoples and nations. Whether the relational significance of the Spirit of experiential truth—witnessing to the whole Truth and for the whole Word—is fulfilling or yet to be, it is also challenging to our witnessing. Where then is the state of our witnessing today? What is its level of experience and to what extent does it have relational significance?

            From the Lausanne Movement’s last gathering in Cape Town (2010), its theological manifesto was expressed in “The Cape Town Commitment” to spell out what it means for the practice of ministry and mission. In Part II, it initially focused on “Bearing Witness to the truth of Christ in a pluralistic, globalized world,” which included the following statement: “Because Jesus is the truth, truth in Christ is (i) personal as well as propositional; (ii) universal as well as contextual; (iii) ultimate as well as present.”[3] This is followed by a call to be people of truth, who must jointly live and proclaim the truth. If we can assume that this reflects the prominent state of witnessing by the global church today, we get an illuminating picture of its level of experience and the extent of its relational significance. Other than to say “personal as well as propositional,” there is no indication or even sense that the embodied Truth is experiential truth, much less the whole Truth. This lack or gap in their perception of the personal truth of Christ leaves the embodied Truth without the relational significance of the Truth’s only defining purpose to constitute anew the primacy of relationship together in wholeness. Without the experiential truth to fulfill the whole Truth’s defining purpose, the primacy of relationship together in wholeness eludes us for the experiential reality of participating in and partaking of the whole Truth—what needs to involve Cape Town’s statement “must live the truth.” The relational consequence of this lack of experiential reality leaves our witnessing without its relational significance to live fulfilled in wholeness and to help others to experience the truth and reality of this wholeness in a pluralistic, globalized world—what needs to distinguish Cape Town’s “must proclaim the truth.”

            Witnessing that is disconnected in relational distance from the experiential truth of the whole Truth, and thus without the experiential reality of relationship together with the whole Word, is of no relational significance to the person of those witnessing and to the persons of those witnessed to—not to even mention its insignificance to the whole and uncommon God. We must never simply assume the reality of this relational connection, nor assume the ongoing involvement of our person and take for granted that our relationship together has relational significance. In terms of the state of our witnessing, perhaps there is secondary significance for those witnessing to the referentialization of the Word with the proclamation of propositional truths or related information, or even for those proclaiming the signs and wonders of the Spirit’s power at the expense of the Spirit’s person in his primary relational purpose and significance. Such secondary significance, however, is contrary to if not in conflict with the experiential truth of the gospel of wholeness and the experiential reality of what we are integrally saved both from and to—the whole salvation that the Spirit of experiential truth will lead and guide us to completion, just as the embodied Word promised.

            Only the relational significance of the whole gospel’s relational outcome distinguishes the whole and uncommon God’s relational response of family love to the human condition and its full spectrum in the globalizing world, including to the full spectrum of our condition in the global church. When the full relational significance of the depth of God’s relational response is integrally the experiential truth of our witness of whose we are and the experiential reality of our witnessing to who we are, then, and not until then, the persons, relationships and churches of the global church unfold transformed to be whole together, to live this wholeness together in their human contexts, and to make whole the human condition in the world, while ongoingly making whole our human condition in the church. With this qualitative-relational depth level of experiential truth and this increasingly whole breadth of relational significance, Jesus affirms that “you also are to testify concerning the whole Word because you have been relationally involved with the palpable Word—just as the Spirit of experiential truth testifies regarding the whole Truth…and leads you in ongoing involvement with the whole Truth.”

            Witnessing in the relational significance of the Spirit of experiential truth indeed challenges our witnessing today, both in what and who we witness to and how we witness. Yet, the challenge is inseparable from the fulfillment that the Spirit completes in our persons and relationships to compose churches in their primacy of wholeness. Any lack of this experiential reality has immeasurable consequence on the quality of our lives, which until fulfilled finds longing, shelter or escape along the spectrum of our human condition in the church—including in ministry and mission. Therefore, antecedent to the challenge of our witnessing is the challenge by the palpable Word to be fulfilled indeed with what we are saved to. This whole gospel converges initially with the whole relational terms of Jesus’ determining prayer for his family to integrally compose the experiential truth of the whole and uncommon God and the experiential reality of God’s whole and uncommon family (Jn 17:20-26). This prayer magnifies the experiential truth and reality of the whole gospel that needs to be fulfilled in the persons and relationships belonging to the church in order to distinguish their relational significance that will also be fulfilling to those in the world.

 

 

The Challenge of the Gospel to Be Fulfilled

 

            The Word from God is communicated and composed in human contextualization only in whole relational terms. The communication of the Word both illuminated the whole Word in the beginning and highlighted in the beginning the primacy of relationship together central to the whole of God, by which human persons and relationships were created in likeness. The primacy of this uncommon relationship and its whole relational terms are what the Word embodied to compose the experiential truth of the gospel (Jn 1:1-5,10-14,18)—the whole gospel composed in human contextualization but which cannot be composed by human contextualization in whatever diversity or the gospel is fragmented. While many persons neither acknowledge nor embrace these propositional truths, even many who do still live in a fog without the illumination from the light in the experiential truth of the whole Word. These are persons who claim the gospel yet still are not fulfilled by the experiential reality of the primacy of relationship together embodied by the whole Word only in whole relational terms. The experiential truth of the gospel challenges those persons in particular, and all persons in all contexts, to be fulfilled in this experiential reality, so that their persons and relationships will directly experience (not just observe or be informed of) their primacy in wholeness—the uncommon whole central to the whole and uncommon God.

            The fulfillment from the gospel is a unique experience, incomparable to other human experience; and its uncommonness is distinguished from commonization and incompatible with common practices for persons and relationships. This immediately challenges the anthropology of persons and relationships, as well as raises contingencies for their fulfillment. That is, this experience emerges only from the whole gospel that has not been reduced or fragmented.

            There are different views of anthropology in a pluralistic world, yet a common perception promoted by the global economy prevails that centers on a consumer person reduced to a quantitative life of secondary things. This perception prevails only because of an existing anthropology shared by essentially all persons, peoples and nations of the world. Regardless of differing views of anthropology that shape persons and relationships with different emphases and practices, there is at the core of all anthropology a shared ontology and function of persons and relationships that defines who and what they are, even though how they are may be expressed slightly differently. All human contexts involve persons at the center of their existence, as well as revolve around the interconnection of persons. This does not mean that persons and relationships always have primary priority in those contexts, or that their primacy is valued. Nevertheless, for human contexts the composition of all anthropology includes a shared ontology and function. The key question is, what is the nature and significance of the ontology and function of persons and relationships that is shared?

            The global church is accountable to answer this question for its plurality, but not by promoting pluralism for its persons and relationships. That is, the global church needs to go deeper than any plurality defines and get down to its innermost—at the heart of what’s primary. While anthropology shares an ontology and function, theological anthropology defines what the nature and significance of this ontology and function are that all persons and relationships share, need and have to fulfill at the heart of their persons and the depth of their relationships. Now the critical question for the global church is: What is the church’s theological anthropology that defines the ontology and function of its persons and relationships, and how significant is this theology and its practice for the experiential reality of the primacy of persons and relationships in wholeness?

            The whole gospel challenges the theological anthropology of persons, relationships and churches. When the whole Truth also revealed to his disciples that “I am the life” (Jn 14:6), the Life (zoe) distinguished his whole life from his innermost to his outer physical body in primary qualitative terms in contrast to the various parts, aspects and situations of his life (bios) from outer in in quantitative terms—yet Life not at the exclusion of his physical body, as some theological heresies promoted in the early church. The whole Life extended eternal zoe to those relationally involved with him for the qualitative relational outcome “that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent,” which is not the quantitative longevity of bios commonly associated with eternal life (Jn 17:3). The good news composed in whole relational terms by the whole Truth and Life unmistakably centered only on “I came for the relational purpose that they may have zoe, and have it abundantly” (perissos, over and above, Jn 10:10); yet perissos should not be confused with comparative terms of bios but understood as the quality of life ‘over and above’ the quantity of bios. The quality of life in zoe from inner out is the heart of the whole gospel, and this uncommon life cannot be reduced to the quantity of bios from outer in (however prosperous and eternal) without fragmenting the gospel and thereby losing its significance for persons and relationships to be fulfilled in their primacy of wholeness.

            The zoe of the gospel challenges the ontology and function of persons and relationships. Persons in reduced ontology and function are defined in primarily outer-in quantitative terms, who are focused on the parts, aspects and situations of what they do and have, including achievements and successes. Is zoe good news for them ‘over and above’ the abundance of bios? All persons share an ontology and function that need to be whole in order to fulfill the heart of their person and the depth of their relationships. Zoe offers them the quality necessary to fulfill their primacy of wholeness, yet they have to want more than bios and be willing to make their bios secondary to zoe and thus be vulnerable with their ontology and function to the primary changes that zoe will make in the quality of their persons and relationships. Just as the whole Zoe made himself vulnerable to be intimately involved with the primacy of his person in relationship with us to give us zoe, we need to reciprocate compatibly in relational likeness to receive the quality of zoe to be fulfilled in wholeness—‘over and above’ the quantity of bios, its related reduced ontology and function, and what commonly prevails for persons and relationships in the pluralistic, globalizing contexts of the world. If the gospel we claim and proclaim does not challenge the ontology and function of our persons and relationships, then that gospel is neither composed with zoe nor whole, therefore without the significance for persons and relationships to be fulfilled in their primacy of wholeness.

            The whole gospel, then, is not only challenging but indeed threatening to persons, relationships and churches in reduced ontology and function with a focus from outer in. There is both overt and subtle resistance to convert from an ontology and function based on the parts of what persons do and have, because when the identity and self-worth of persons (individually and collectively) are dependent on these outer-in measures there is great amount of investment made in bios—all of which would be lost by turning to zoe. The solution to this dilemma is to claim an incomplete gospel that fragments its wholeness and reconstructs its significance. The most common witness of such a gospel has been the testimony of a truncated salvation limited to only being saved from sin. Yet, as we discussed previously, the salvation from sin of this narrowed-down gospel is misleading because it witnesses to sin without reductionism that does not fulfill the need for wholeness in the shared ontology and function of all anthropology. This misleading limited gospel was instrumental for others to construct a social gospel to witness to the common good in order to fulfill the need of the human condition. The social gospel, however, is misguided because it commonly witnesses to good without wholeness, which then is also misleading since its witness neither addresses sin as reductionism nor saves from it in the good news it claims for the common good that is without wholeness.

            Both of these alternatives (and others such as a prosperity gospel) to the whole gospel fragment its wholeness and reconstruct its significance, thereby witnessing more to what persons want or even desire without necessarily addressing what they need to be whole. The unintended consequence allows reduced ontology and function to be reinforced and sustained, while witnessing without either challenging this human condition (beyond ethical and moral terms) or fulfilling it at its heart. Certainly, therefore, this also removes the threat to our human condition of reduced ontology and function in the church and allows us to continue in fragmentary theology and practice, under the guise even of serving and glorifying Christ. 

            The spectrum of this condition existing in the global church needs to be accountable to the whole gospel and to claim its challenge, or else we will be witnessing to an incomplete gospel that is narrowed-down to be compatible to our preferences and to support our practices.

 

 

Witnessing to an Incomplete Gospel

 

            Jesus cleaned out the temple so that his house would belong to his family of all persons, peoples and nations, to which the evangelist bears witness in the first part of the Gospel of John. The significance of the placement of his witness should not be lost on us—as happens in the synoptic Gospels, whose chronological accounts near the end of Jesus’ life often get filed away as referential event—because the evangelist was witnessing to the experiential reality of the gospel’s experiential truth introduced in the beginning of John. This composed the heart of the whole gospel that unfolds in the entirety of John’s Gospel.

            The heart of the whole gospel converges with and unfolds in Jesus’ determining family prayer, recorded only in John’s Gospel to witness to the fulfillment of the whole gospel in the experiential reality of the church family of Christ (Jn 17). The only good news for the church in Jesus’ prayer is the experiential truth of his relational words “that they may all be one; as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (v.21). The relational significance of this good news (good only with wholeness) for his family is that it both transforms the ontology of persons from outer in to inner out in likeness as the whole of God, and reorders their function in relationships in the same likeness of the whole and uncommon God. That is to say, again in relational terms and not referential terms, the experiential truth of the whole ontology and function of God becomes in irreducible and non-fragmented likeness the experiential reality of whole ontology and function for the persons and relationship belonging to his new-order church family. This relational outcome is the ontology and function emerging in wholeness from Jesus’ cleaning out of the temple to transform his family dwelling; Jesus’ assertive action in the temple represented the extent of redemptive change needed to counter reduced ontology and function and not to allow its practice to continue in his house, so that his family would be whole. In other words, therefore, the whole gospel fulfills the ontology and function of persons and relationships in their primacy of wholeness, and on the basis of the whole gospel’s significance it must challenge the ontology and function of anything less and any substitutes. The gospel’s challenge necessarily includes challenging the condition of our ontology and function in the church, likely also threatening our theological anthropology and its practice.

            When our ontology and function in the church is based on a reduced theological anthropology rather than the whole gospel, what defines persons and determines relationships in the church become rooted in secondary outer-in parts and aspects of bios. These defining and determining parts and aspects are vested in what persons do and have. The comfortable news in this narrowed-down process is that it does not include the whole person and their relationships from inner out, for which this process is designed not to have primary concern. The bad news of this process is that the parts and aspects of persons are always measured in a comparative process, which limits persons to those comparative secondary terms and fragments their relationships to the constraints of a stratified order resulting from the comparative process. Not only does this limit persons and relationships to reduced ontology and function but it readily constrains them in this reduced condition. This is the relational consequence, for example, of colonial theology and practice, both for those colonized and those colonizing—the ontology and function of which the whole gospel challenges and threatens. Postcolonial theology and practice must understand the significance of their gospel, or their ontology and function could also merely reflect, reinforce and still sustain this reductionism.

            Reduced ontology and function in the church is expressed in explicit and subtle ways, as has been discussed in the course of this study. Many of these ways appear legitimate and thus pervade the church without the challenge and threat of the whole gospel (e.g. as seen in the early churches and their counterparts, Rev 2-3). When Jesus comforted his disciples with the good news, the whole Truth and Zoe also assured them as the Way. Thomas did not hear good news because he focused on referential truth and bios: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5) With good intentions Thomas tried to specify the way from multiple possibilities. Given his focus, however, Thomas actually opened the door to fragment the whole Way into many other ways. Jesus had already clarified for them that the Way can only be defined in relational terms with whole ontology and function and cannot be opened up to include anything less and any substitutes (Mt 7:13-14). The whole Way is composed only by the experiential Truth and the ontology and function of Zoe.

            The pivotal issue for persons, relationships and churches is summarized to this:

Either live in the ontology and function compatible with the challenge of the whole gospel and therefore congruent with its fulfillment, or claim an incomplete gospel that allows your ontology and function both to remain incompatible with the experiential truth of the whole gospel’s challenge, and to sustain a witness incongruent with the experiential reality of the whole gospel’s fulfillment.

This pivotal choice for the whole Way is irreducible from the whole relational terms composing God’s relational response for the experiential truth and reality of the gospel; and the choice is also nonnegotiable to any human terms shaping our reciprocal relational response to the primacy of persons and relationships together fulfilled by this whole gospel.

            The whole Way gave this pivotal choice to Peter when he refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Given the intensity of Peter’s discipleship, his report card probably put him at the top of his class of Jesus’ disciples. So, in referential terms it is odd to hear Jesus tell Peter that “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (Jn 13:8). The key to Jesus’ response is whole relational terms over referential terms, and the key to Peter’s reaction is bios over zoe. Peter’s reaction exposed his practice from outer in shaped by his tradition and sociocultural context, which sustained his involvement with Jesus in the limits and constraints of reduced ontology and function. This prevented the primacy of his person and Jesus’ person and their relationship together to be whole. Jesus’ response in relational terms, then indeed, challenged Peter’s condition, which was incompatible with Jesus’ whole ontology and function and only simulated Peter’s involvement in their relationship together. In reality, Peter’s discipleship wasn’t vulnerably involved by his ontology and function from inner out and thus he had “no share with me”—that is, he didn’t participate in and partake of Jesus’ whole person in the primacy of relationship together in wholeness. Therefore, Peter’s fragmented practice in reduced ontology and function was challenged by the whole Way of the gospel, with the pivotal choice to be fulfilled in the primacy of his person and relationships and thereby to live in whole ontology and function.

            Peter could not reduce the whole relational terms composing the Way of God’s relational response for the whole gospel, nor could he renegotiate the whole relational terms of the Way for his reciprocal relational response to the good news of the primacy of all persons and relationships together belonging to the family of Christ. Yet, Peter struggled with his choice of the Way until he made his ontology and function vulnerable from inner out to the challenge of the whole gospel in order to be fulfilled in wholeness. The global church today struggles with its choice of the Way, still often claiming an incomplete gospel that allows the shared ontology and function among the diversity of its persons and relationships to conjointly (1) remain incompatible to the experiential truth of the whole gospel’s challenge, and (2) sustain a witness incongruent with the experiential reality of the whole gospel’s fulfillment in the wholeness of persons and relationships.

Certainly, like Peter, the global church is influenced in various alternative ways of practice by diverse traditions and sociocultural contexts. The pivotal issue again is not the reality of existing diversity but most significantly the reality of existing reduced ontology and function; and its resolution goes beyond the common notion of being counter-cultural or of multiculturalism. The subtle spectrum of reduced ontology and function prevails in human contextualization and thus pervades the plurality of traditions and sociocultural contexts. Contextualization of the gospel easily sustains this reduced ontology and function unless we can distinguish zoe’s ontology and function of the whole gospel from this reduction. And we cannot distinguish the experiential truth of this whole ontology and function until our persons and relationships are distinguished by the experiential reality of our ontology and function in wholeness.

            From the beginning, human ontology and function have been shaped by self-determination. Even with a gospel of salvation by grace (faith not works), many of the ways of the church today continue to be shaped by self-determination—a subtle result of a reduced theological anthropology. Compounding this process is the modern development of convenience that promotes narrowing down our ontology and function. The reality of this convenience in the church has this consequence: It increasingly constructs a gospel tailored to the convenience of persons and relationships and, accordingly, has shaped more and more ways of the church—all of which unavoidably reinforce and sustain reduced ontology and function in the church and its persons and relationships, whereby the wholeness of the gospel is fragmented and its relational significance is scattered.

            What also fragments the gospel of wholeness and scatters its relational significance are the homogenous ways of the global church. This includes the homogeneous composition of churches according to race, ethnicity, tribe, culture, class or caste, and age, even gender—or, relatedly, having a perceptual-interpretive framework and lens based on nationalism, the use of which enforces conformity to its template. Language may require a homogeneous composition as an initial practical necessity but this composition should not remain for the sake of convenience, particularly for succeeding generations. Discrimination, of course, forced homogeneous church gatherings out of necessity, for example, as experienced by African Americans during slavery and for years following, and also experienced by blacks in South Africa. Yet, even in such contexts, to remain homogeneous is to continue in their fragmentation of the shared ontology and function of all persons, peoples and nations, in addition to sustaining persons and relationships in their likeness of reduced ontology and function.

            This consequence emerges from whatever the homogeneous composition is based on. The reality facing these contexts in their homogeneous ways is critical yet subtle: on the one hand, it becomes (or is designed to be) a convenient context too comfortable to integrate, but, on the other hand, it prevents their persons and relationships to be fulfilled in wholeness and actually scatters them without relational significance rather than gathers them in the relational significance of the whole gospel. A homogeneous church does not witness to the relational significance of the whole gospel and cannot witness in its persons and relationships the fulfillment of the gospel of wholeness. Therefore, those in the Lausanne Movement, among others (particularly in the academy), need whole understanding (synesis from syniemi) to address the reality that the global church in its homogeneous ways is not and cannot be “bearing witness to the whole truth of Christ in a pluralistic, globalized world.”

            The whole Way continues to challenge the diverse yet fragmentary ways of the global church, which are engaged in reduced ontology and function unknowingly or not. Again, the challenge should not be considered as emerging from the notion of counter-cultural or multiculturalism. When we examine church practice today, what is the ontological and functional basis for that practice? When we examine church ministry, what is the ontology and function of persons and relationships that you see the most? When you look at the church’s witness, what is the significance of the ontology and function that is highlighted and how it is presented? When we focus on the gospel presented by our church, how compatible is it to the experiential truth of the whole gospel’s challenge and how congruent is it with the experiential reality of the whole gospel’s fulfillment in the wholeness of persons and relationships? When we honestly ask ourselves what we personally get out of church, how fulfilling is it for our persons and relationships and their primacy? Of course, answering these questions assumes we are not biased by the limits and constraints of reduced ontology and function. In this sense, a hermeneutic of suspicion is a helpful practice to ongoingly exercise in family love.

            Reduced ontology and function cannot distinguish the whole gospel or distinguish the new-order church family of Christ—distinguished by the primacy of persons and relationships together in wholeness. So, we cannot witness to this whole gospel, its challenge and its fulfillment until its relational outcome is the experiential reality of the persons and relationships belonging to the church family; and its lack or absence signifies a contrary reality that keeps persons, relationships and churches constrained in an incomplete gospel unable to be fulfilled. Inescapably then, we cannot avoid the shared ontology and function in all the persons, peoples and nations composing the church, nor preclude their presence in the church. That means unavoidably, we must (1) address the redemptive change necessary where diversity promotes and sustains reduced ontology and function, and (2) attend to the shared ontology and function of all persons and relationships in order to integrate them into the whole of their ontology and function in likeness of the whole ontology and function of their whole and uncommon God. The unmistakable experiential truth and reality are that reductionism and wholeness cannot be combined and that commonization and uncommonness cannot be blended.

            When we define persons by what they do and have from outer in, we fragment the shared ontology and function of all persons and relationships. When we make distinctions in persons according to their diversity, we further fragment this shared ontology and function. When we determine relationships based on persons’ achievement, resources, possessions and distinctions, we extensively fragment our shared ontology and function in a scattered condition without relational significance, such that we cannot claim the experiential truth and be fulfilled in the experiential reality for our ontology and function of “all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you.”

            Jesus’ family prayer determines our persons in the uncommon ontological identity distinguished from the common of whatever prevails for persons and relationships in their surrounding contexts—the irreplaceable relational outcome from the ek-eis dynamic of John 17:14-18—and determines our relationships in the uncommon relational function of the very whole and uncommon God. His family prayer has to be the good (with wholeness) news that determines who and what all persons are in the church and how all relationships function in the church. At the heart of the church’s infrastructure for all the functions and ways of the church is the whole and uncommon ontology and function in “just as” likeness of the whole and uncommon God. All the ways of the church must converge, if not collide, in the whole Way, so that the ontology and function that likewise emerged from the Way’s cleaning out reductionism in his house will extend into and unfold in wholeness by the whole Word’s determining family prayer.

            So, when you look at the contemporary church, is it witnessing to the whole gospel or an incomplete gospel? The whole gospel with its challenge raises contingencies for persons and relationships to be fulfilled. First, they have to be vulnerable in their ontology and function from inner out. Next, they have to be willing to change and convert from any reduced ontology and function, whatever its source and influence. With redemptive change (old dying and new rising), then they have to be directly involved with their whole person in the primacy of relationships together in the church family and in the world—just as Jesus is with them and was sent—in ongoing reciprocal relationship with the palpable Word. As this relational outcome unfolds and fulfills persons and relationships in their primacy of wholeness, they will witness without shallowness or ambiguity to the experiential truth and reality of the relational good news “so that the world may believe that you have sent me in relational response to their condition…so that the world may know that you have sent me to make them whole and have loved them with the depth of relational involvement even as you have loved me” (Jn 17:21,23).

            Of course, an incomplete gospel allows persons, relationship and churches to avoid these contingencies and not be threatened by the challenge of the whole gospel. At the same time, they could not be fulfilled in wholeness and thus their witness could never be whole. In response to them, the whole Way, Truth and Zoe would simply and sadly add, if not with frustration, “you have no share with me,” “and whoever does not gather with me in whole relational terms scatters,” because “the gospel you use will be the persons, relationships and churches you get.”

            Therefore, the pivotal choice is ours to make. And the relational outcome or relational consequence is determined by our choice, even if we avoid making it.

 

 

 

The Whole Witness of Family and Koinonia

 

            When Jesus shared in his Olivet discourse about the last days, he revealed to his disciples that before this unfolds, the human context will be seductive, deceiving, filled with conflict and fragmented, even among those in the faith, and “the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:4-12). That is to say in relational terms, the relational involvement of love will become relationally distant, detached, separated from one another to pervade and prevail in all persons, and in relationships of all peoples and nations. His followers’ ontology and function will be challenged and threatened, if not deceived or seduced, by this human context. Those who remain (hypomeno) relationally involved with the palpable Word in what they are saved to will still witness to the experiential truth and reality of the whole gospel: “this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all persons, peoples and nations” (24:13-14).

            The key issue of the human context, which challenges, threatens, deceives and seduces his followers in their ontology and function from inner out, is the relational consequence of the primacy of relational involvement being narrowed down to relational distance, reduced to relational detachment, and fragmented to relational separation from each other. This pervasive and prevailing influence has had and continues to have immeasurable relational consequence on the global church and its churches, persons and relationships. The pivotal issue further emerges for all churches, persons and relationships: Either be vulnerable to the threat and respond to the challenge of the whole gospel for their ontology and function to be whole, or receive the challenge and threat of the human context and be deceived or seduced in the primacy of their persons and relationships to have their ontology and function reduced—evidenced most distinctly by the distance, detachment or separation of their persons in the direct involvement in relationships together, and evidenced subtly by the virtual involvement prevailing in social media. Those who meet the challenge and threat of the whole gospel, distinguished from that received from the human context, continue (hypomeno) to be relationally involved in the primacy of their persons and relationships to experience the truth and reality of what they are saved to—the relational outcome of which composes their whole witness of the whole gospel. Yet, to remain and continue to be relationally involved goes beyond just enduring circumstances and situations (e.g. hardships, even persecutions) associated with hypomeno, which by itself does not compose the whole witness for the whole gospel (as evidenced by the early church in Ephesus, Rev 2:3-4).

            The witness of the gospel that Jesus defined to be proclaimed was the experiential truth and reality of “the gospel of the kingdom,” that is, God’s whole and uncommon family—which was contrary to the common prevailing messianic perceptions and expectations during Jesus’ time. Relational involvement with the palpable Word is the key to understanding the good news of the kingdom, and is integral for this witness to be the experiential reality of God’s family and not just a witness to its propositional truth and doctrinal certainty. As we learn from the church in Ephesus, the latter does not compose this whole witness, no matter how committed, dedicated and rigorous in referential terms. Moreover, as Paul clarified for the relational outcome of the whole gospel, it is inadequate for the church to be merely formed as family. It is also insufficient for the church to have merely a thriving fellowship with a popular witness to compose the primacy of persons and relationships needed for the experiential reality of the church’s witness to the complete good news of God’s whole and uncommon family, not just the fact of the kingdom. We learn from the early church in Sardis that a vibrant reputation and popular witness do not have the relational significance of wholeness (1) to claim with validity the experiential reality of ‘the gospel of God’s family’ and thus (2) validly to proclaim its experiential truth for persons and relationships to be fulfilled whole-ly (Rev 3:1-2).

            Paul illuminated further the most significant relational truth that Jesus, the whole Way, Truth and Zoe of the gospel, alerted his disciples to anticipate: the Spirit of experiential truth witnessing to the whole truth that will lead and guide them in the experiential reality of being his family—the whole gospel’s fulfillment of persons and relationships in the wholeness of the whole and uncommon God’s whole and uncommon family. What Paul further illuminated emerged from the palpable Word, with the significance of this relational truth unfolding with the Spirit of experiential truth, to which the global church needs to listen completely without referentializing it or being selective about it, and to whom its persons and relationships need to vulnerably give themselves over fully in their ontology and function from inner out.

            First, Paul clarified that the Spirit given to us does not compose a template for our conformity to measure up to, which would constrain if not enslave persons and relationships and cause fear of failure. Rather, the Spirit is directly involved in the primacy of persons and relationships as “the Spirit of adoption” to lead and guide them in God’s whole and uncommon family, in order that they will not be relational orphans in the family of Christ, as the whole Way, Truth and Zoe of the Word promised. When Paul distinguished the Spirit in whole relational terms, he magnified the relational significance of the experiential truth that the Spirit unfolds: “it is that very Spirit of adoption bearing witness with our spirit [whole person from inner out] that we are children of God,” not in referential terms of name only but belonging whole-ly in relational terms for the experiential reality by which “we cry, ‘Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:14-16) As Paul experienced as the reality in his own life, this relational outcome unfolds only from reciprocal relational involvement with the palpable Word to participate in and partake of the glory of God’s qualitative being (signified by heart), relational nature (intimately involved) and vulnerable presence with nothing less and no substitutes (v.17).

Furthermore, the relational outcome of God’s whole and uncommon family is needed not only for the spectrum of the human condition but also “For the creation of the whole environment waits with eager longing for the revealing experiential reality of the children of God,” because all of creation has been subjected to reductionism also and is bound by its fragmentation and brokenness, waiting to be made whole (8:19-22). And only the witness of God’s whole and uncommon family has the validity for creation to be restored to wholeness. Thus, the church family’s response to the global environment is not optional but what emerges from the nature of who and whose it is.

            The whole witness of the church family, however, unfolds just in the relational process composed only on the experiential basis of God’s whole relational terms. The process of whole witness cannot be narrowed down to referential terms or the witness no longer has an experiential basis, thus it loses its relational significance to have validity witnessing both as the experiential reality and to the experiential truth of God’s whole and uncommon family. Therefore, what the Spirit of adoption leads the family of Christ in must also involve the vulnerable relational process of uncommon relationships together—which cannot be shaped by the diversity common to human contexts—because this relational outcome of family unfolds only from the primacy of uncommon reciprocal relational involvement with the palpable Word. This primacy of relational involvement is determined by the Spirit’s uncommon relational involvement, who then guides the church family of Christ into the depth of relational involvement together to incomparably distinguish (beyond all that prevails in the human context) the primacy of their uncommon interrelationships as family, in the direct relational likeness of the whole and uncommon God. This vulnerable relational process and depth of relational involvement are irreducible and nonnegotiable for the whole witness of the global church family, thus they cannot be shaped by the human terms of the church’s diversity or its witness is no longer whole to be of fulfilling significance for all of its own persons and relationships, for the spectrum of the human condition, and for all of creation.

            When the embodied Word shared his family love on the cross, the completion of his relational work for salvation tore open the curtain in the temple and reconstituted the house of his family to be directly and vulnerably involved in the primacy of relationships together without the veil of any relational distance existing between them. What the whole Way, Truth and Zoe of the Word dramatically composed is the undeniable relational process of what he saved us to. With the veil removed, there were no more limits and constraints on participating in and partaking of the whole and uncommon God with God’s whole and uncommon family (Eph 2:18; Heb 10:19-22). If Jesus’ relational work has been reduced to a referential event, then these limits and constraints remain imposed on our persons and relationships. For many, such referentialization is a convenient practice that removes the threat of going deeper in relationships with a vulnerable ontology and function.

Once again, the Spirit—that is, the embodied Word converging with the Spirit into the palpable Word—is the key to the relational outcome of being fulfilled by this whole gospel. Just as Paul illuminated the transformation of the family of Christ in likeness of the palpable Word: “When one turns to direct involvement with the palpable Word, the veil in relationships is removed…where the palpable Word is vulnerably present and intimately involved, there is freedom from the limits and constraints prevailing in relationships…seeing the glory of the palpable Word’s qualitative being, relational nature and vulnerable presence reflected in their persons and relationships together, as they are being transformed into the same qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole and uncommon God; for this relational outcome only comes from reciprocal relational involvement with the palpable Word” (2 Cor 3:16-18).

            This vulnerable relational process and depth of relational involvement in unfragmented and thus uncommon relationships together distinguishes the new-order church family of Christ, in order to (1) grow in the relational significance of their vulnerable interrelationships distinguished as God’s uncommon family (Eph 2:19-22), and (2) have the relational significance of their koinonia distinguished by their depth of relational involvement in grassroots interdependence as God’s whole family for which they are accountable with interdependent synergism (Eph 4:15-16). In Ephesians, what Paul made definitive for the church clarifies this experiential reality of the gospel’s experiential truth: the relational significance of both the interrelationships of God’s uncommon family and their koinonia’s grassroots interdependence of God’s whole family are inseparable and integrally required to fulfill the church and its persons and relationships in the gospel of wholeness (Eph 6:15), and on this relational basis alone to compose their whole witness with the validity of the relational outcome of what the whole gospel saves them to (cf. 4:22-25; 5:8-9).

            This experiential truth and reality of the new-order church family and koinonia continue to challenge, if not threaten, the global church. It can choose to be vulnerable to the threat and respond to the challenge of the whole gospel in order for its churches, persons and relationships to be fulfilled in the experiential reality that makes whole their ontology and function—what the whole Way, experiential Truth and ontology and function of Zoe saved them to only in whole relational terms, which and who cannot be reduced to referential terms and still be whole. Or the global church and its churches, persons and relationships can continue to receive the challenge and threat of the human context to shape their theological anthropology and practice, and thereby be deceived and seduced in the primacy of their persons and relationships to have their ontology and function reduced and their witness fragmented by an incomplete gospel. The relational consequence of the latter choice may or may not (depending on comfort level) leave churches, persons and relationships “with eager longing for the distinguished emergence of the children of God,” in order not to continue functioning as relational orphans without belonging and involved in the interrelationships of God’s uncommon family and in the koinonia’s grassroots interdependence of God’s whole family.

 

            The Spirit of adoption in the palpable Word continues to be vulnerably involved to free us from our limits and constraints, whereby we will be transformed to the new-order church family that fulfills our persons and relationships in the experiential reality of whole ontology and function, in the experiential truth of the qualitative image and relational likeness of our whole and uncommon God. This is the gospel of wholeness vulnerably witnessed to us by the whole palpable Word for the only relational outcome that will be relationally significant and have the validity to unmistakably distinguish our whole witness in and for the whole gospel—in the very relational outcome of the whole Word’s determining family prayer “so that the pluralistic, globalized world may believe that you sent me in relational response to their condition ‘to be apart’…so that the fragmented world may experience the truth and reality that you have sent me to be relationally involved with them in family love in order to belong to our whole and uncommon family.” The palpable Word witnesses to nothing less and no substitutes in order for this gospel to be whole so that it will make whole all persons, peoples and nations and all their relationships, including all of creation, in the whole and uncommon God’s whole and uncommon family.

            What is our response as the global church? And what do we claim and proclaim to define, determine and distinguish our witness? The palpable Word would like to know: “Where are you in your persons? How vulnerable do you make your ontology and function from inner out and keep your whole person primary?” and “What are you doing here in your relationships? How relationally involved are you and how much distance do you have in your relationships? Do you take my removing the veil seriously and keep it off in the primacy of relationships together?” This is the ongoing challenging and threatening involvement of the palpable Word in order to account for ‘the measure we use’ so that we will be accountable for ‘the gospel, the church and the witness we get’.

 

            Indeed, the Spirit of experiential truth and adoption in the whole palpable Word is ready to lead and guide us in the whole truth necessary for the experiential reality of the depth of our relational involvement in the vulnerable relational process to permanently belong to and ongoingly participate in and partake of the new-order global church family for all persons, peoples and nations. This whole and uncommon relational process unfolds only without the veil of their distinctions reducing the primacy of their persons in whole ontology and function, and the relational consequence of fragmenting their relationships together with relational distance, detachment and separation in the comparative process and homogenous condition of stratified relations.


 

 


[1] Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping Our World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 246-47.

[2] Eloise Hiebert Meneses, “Bearing Witness in Rome with Theology from the Whole Church,” in Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland, eds., Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 244.

[3] The Cape Town Commitment: Part II – For the World We Serve: The Cape Town Call to Action (posted 1/28/2011). Online at http://lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment, 11.

 

 

 

©2016 T. Dave Matsuo

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