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 9 The Uncommon Equality of the
Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Psalm 85:10, NIV
Righteousness and justice are the authority of your kingdom;
love and faithfulness go before you.
Psalm 89:14, NIV
All in Christ are the new-order family…who reconciled us to himself through Christ,
and has given us the relational work of reconciliation.
Let us then pursue what makes for uncommon peace
and for mutual up building of God’s family.
When the global church emerges distinguished and unfolds with the palpable Word as the gathering church for all the ages of persons, the diversity of all peoples and the differences of all nations, the global church composes the whole witness for the whole gospel. With this experiential reality of the experiential truth of the whole and uncommon God, the new-order church family of Christ is relationally involved vulnerably with the human context “just as I am and have been sent.” The relational outcome of this vulnerable involvement by its nature unfolds only from the uncommon relational process that distinguishes the uncommon relationships together of the new-order church family. Into this uncommon relational process, all persons, peoples and nations can converge in order to merge in uncommon relationships together, so that they will emerge distinguished in the experiential reality of their primacy in the wholeness of the new-order church family of the whole and uncommon God.
Anything less than the uncommon will not compose the relational process required for all persons, peoples and nations to converge and compose the relationships together needed for them to merge. Whatever results from such less-than-uncommon efforts will neither be whole nor distinguish God’s whole and uncommon new-order family. So, what is this uncommon relational process of the uncommon relationships together distinguished by only the new-order church family? How this is answered by the global church will determine whether the relational outcome of its witness in the pluralistic, globalizing world will have relational significance for the shared ontology and function of all persons, peoples and nations—shared beyond their human distinctions and deeper than their outer-in differences.
We begin our response to this question and related issues with the focus by necessity on the experiential truth of the whole and uncommon God.
When Paul engaged the pluralism in Athens at their public forum (Acts 17:16-34), he addressed the truth of God distinguished from what had become the common human shaping of God. The God embodied by Christ was too uncommon for many of those present, yet some responded to this uncommon God. The controversy centered on the uncommon God embodied by Christ continued to occupy the Church Fathers out of theological necessity in response to those who would reshape God in less than uncommon terms. What emerged from this contentious theological process formalized the experiential truth of God in Paul’s witness into theological orthodoxy. Since orthodoxy of the truth of God did not end the controversy completely, its doctrinal propositions became idolized for theology and practice—the varying results of which then served and became essentially indistinguishable from the idolization of God, that is, shaped by those referential terms constructed by well-meaning Christians. For the most part, this human shaping of the truth of God was distinct from the experiential truth of God in Paul’s whole witness, and thus would strain to be distinct from the idols of truth that Paul addressed.
The idolization of the Christian God seems to be a misnomer, an oxymoron that surely the truth would clarify and correct. Yes and no. No, if the truth has undergone human shaping, which is the significance of Pilate’s response to Jesus about what truth is. Yes, if the truth is the embodied Truth, who composed the whole Truth only as the experiential Truth, who cannot be reduced to referential terms and contained in doctrine and propositions and still be distinguished from the human shaping of God, however good the intentions are in a pluralistic world. The critical issue here is the subtle process that narrows down the epistemic field of the truth of God, the process which first emerged in the primordial garden and has evolved subtly since. When the epistemic field to know God has been narrowed down, what can be known about God has limits and constraints based on that epistemic field. Certainly, the knowledge of truth from this limited field reduces the margin for error (or heresy) but it has also immeasurably diminished its relational significance by its constraints on the experiential nature of the whole Truth. Rather than embrace the experiential Truth of the whole and uncommon God, as some responded to Paul’s witness, what emerges from a narrow epistemic field is a certainty of truth about God that is essentially idolized as the primary knowledge of God and its witness and ministry—as demonstrated by the church in Ephesus with its orthodoxy lacking the relational significance of the experiential Truth, having “forsaken your first love.” The truth of God idolized, however, is not the whole and uncommon God embodied by the whole and experiential Truth.
The idols (eidolon) that Paul pointed to in his witness were the common images and representations of gods shaped by persons, peoples and nations. The psalmist said “all the gods of the peoples are idols” (‘eliyl, Ps 96:5). Idols signify to be weak, deficient, and any such object idolized, at best, can only be a substitute for God. We have general perceptions of such idols today, perhaps not as distinct as those experienced by Paul. Yet, the critical issue about an idol is perceiving any god in a reduced ontology and function, or having an idol such as wealth and success as a substitute for God; and the crucial concern for the global church today is perceiving the Christian God with a reduced ontology and function. In whatever shape God is reduced, often subtly, from whole ontology and function, the truth and reality of the Christian God becomes an idol. Moreover, when God is narrowed down to simply doctrine and propositional truths, however orthodox, this God is reduced to the shape of our human terms—even if by theological necessity to clarify errors and correct heresies. Anything less and any substitutes for the whole and uncommon God are made into an ‘idol’ who is fragmented, deficient, and neither whole in ontology and function nor distinguished from the common images and representations shaped by Christian persons, peoples and churches. This constitutes the idolization of God that the global church needs to address in unison with Paul, in order for the church, its gospel and its witness to be whole.
Anything less and any substitutes shaping the whole and uncommon God render the response of these Christians as idolization. The reality in a pluralistic world is that all gods serve a purpose for human persons, peoples and nations. Humans idolize gods (even such as education) to try to fulfill whatever purpose a god has for them—some more actively and radically than others, yet all with a common desire and hope for their god. This is also true for many Christians, who idolize the Christian God to try to meet their purpose—contrary to or in conflict with the relational purpose God has and fulfills in the experiential truth and reality of reciprocal relationship together in whole relational terms. This idolization of the truth of God has evolved in history such that the shape of the Christian God increasingly and subtly conforms to serve common Christian purposes, desires and hopes, even as a civil religion for a nation such as the U.S.
The Church Fathers’ shaping of the truth of God evolved, unintentionally yet not surprisingly, into Constantine’s construction of Christendom, shaping the idolization of the Christ God to serve the purpose of the church-state and fulfill its assumed divine destiny in the world. This gave birth to Christian nationalism, which idolized the God that emerged from the further narrowed-down epistemic field of the state-church. Within a narrow epistemic field there is an expedient connection between the certainty of orthodoxy and the certitude of nationalism, between its conviction and its hubris, its dogmatism and its bigotry. In nationalism, the shape of God is idolized by civil religion, which increasingly shapes the idea (and ideology) of God rather than the truth of God. It is the ideology of God over the theology of God that has assumed primacy in American nationalism, and its idolization has become the basis for what is commonly known (notably by experience) as ‘American exceptionalism’.
American exceptionalism is known globally mainly through the experience of the certitude, hubris and hegemony of U.S. actions around the world. What has emerged in this unique form of nationalism has an expedient connection to Christian orthodoxy. Because of what became idolized in orthodoxy, the idolized basis for American exceptionalism is the counterpart that essentially emerged as a by-product of orthodoxy’s human shaping of the experiential truth of God to narrowed-down referential terms. This underlying connection helps us understand the ideology of God that is idolized in American exceptionalism in order to fulfill God’s sovereign purpose in the world.
Kurt Richardson makes the following comments on American exceptionalism:
There are numerous “exceptionalisms” in the world, and for many today the American version has become a shibboleth to determine who is a “true American.” American exceptionalism is a doctrine based on Christian sources in biblical prophecy, ecclesiology, messianism and “Christendom.” This ideology is now called “exceptionalism.” In this ideology, redeemer nation and visionary republic mark America as superior above all others. These Christian and biblical notions are then translated into civil religious discourse in order to create an ideology of an American “national character.” As such, American exceptionalism is not necessarily a partisan doctrine, although political partisanship has indeed led to a radical veering to the political right in its current incarnation. Exceptionalist ideology in the United States has nevertheless been embraced by both parties and can be seen in notions of Manifest Destiny and the myth of a reluctant empire covenantally bound to spread the rule of law and democracy around the globe. Indeed, this was one of the original implications of the ways that congregational polity and democratic polity became correlated.
Of course, the main global experience of American exceptionalism has been colonialism, along with its economic neocolonialism in the globalization process, both of which are currently chastened by other nations and global dynamics. Richardson comments on the misguided thinking of exceptionalism:
Although there is nothing particularly wrong with claiming a general providential advantage for Christian mission and service, it becomes apparent that a system moves into a new ethical realm when it claims for itself the kind of divine right, authorization or election that comes with special prophecy for a nation. The term exceptionalism signifies a divinely appointed existence for the nation. The idea of exceptionalism provides a guiding rationale and source of justification for the nation’s grandest domestic and foreign policies. But since many other “Christian” nations have claimed the same status, the American iteration is just one of many examples of the so-called exceptionalist fallacy. As the apostle states, there is “no distinction” among human beings before God since God is gracious toward all (Rom 10:12)—to think otherwise is fallacious, all the more of nations. Once a nation claims for itself a divinely ordained “exceptionalism” that arrogates to itself the duty to act in the sociopolitical realm, it implies the belief that there is an office or charisma that is above the law, exempt from natural justice or excepted from the demands of human obligation under certain self-defined circumstances.
‘Empire’ has been the classic term used for exceptionalism. The building of empire should not be confused with the kingdom of God but that’s how it has evolved. Originally, the kingdom of God was designed for all nations (Gen 17:4; 18:18), yet Israel didn’t want to be God’s kingdom ‘for all nations’, or even ‘over all nations’, but to be “like other nations” (1 Sam 8:4). Israel’s nationalism substituted for the kingdom of God and thereby lost the relational significance of God’s whole and uncommon family, which Paul clarified and corrected (Rom 9-11, cf. 14:27). The ambiguity, however, of the kingdom of God in early church theology and practice continued within narrowed-down terms, whereby such a kingdom evolved into becoming synonymous with the empire built by Constantine—the empire-kingdom of God not so much for all nations but over all nations, hence the exceptionalism of Rome. And accurately identified, America is the modern empire of Rome that continues to appropriate the truth of God with idolization to legitimate its purpose and fulfill its goals.
Yet, all of the above should not be surprising and even should be expected, when the truth of God has been narrowed down from whole relational terms to the limits and constraints of referential terms—terms that reduce the whole and uncommon God to common human shaping. The commonization of God referentializes the experiential truth of God into the truth of an idol; and the common idea and practice of an idolized truth have no relational significance, even as it claims to have the truth—making relevant Pilate’s skepticism of what truth is. We should not and cannot expect anything more than what’s common, when we idolize God in our theology and/or practice.
Further distinguishing God from idols, the psalmist proclaims that only the whole of God is worthy of our relational response (Ps 96:4). That is, this is the whole and uncommon God who alone is pala (marvelous, wonderful, distinguished) beyond comparison yet who is vulnerably present and intimately involved with us in the experiential truth of God’s experiential reality to make us whole in new relationship together (96:1-3)—as promised in God’s definitive blessing (Num 6:26) and fulfilled by the whole and uncommon God’s relational response embodied by the whole Way, the experiential Truth, and the ontology and function of Zoe. Yet, the experiential truth and reality of God become elusive or are lost when the epistemic field to know God has been narrowed down.
The commonization of the truth of God into an idol has been consequential for the global church and all the ages of its persons, the diversity of its people and the differences of its nations. Whether in orthodoxy, Christendom, empire, nationalism or exceptionalism, the idolization of anything less than and any substitutes for the experiential truth of the whole and uncommon God results in claiming a God of weakened ontology and deficient function; and claiming or proclaiming such a weakened, deficient God has the relational consequence of all human persons and relationships losing their primacy to a condition of reduced ontology and function in likeness of a narrowed-down God. The loss of primacy for persons and relationships leaves all persons, peoples, nations and their relations subject to the conforming limits and subjugating constraints of the templates of orthodoxy, nationalism and exceptionalism.
The key in this whole process, and therefore at the heart of its solution, is the ontology and function of God. God’s ontology and function are the basis necessary for the theological anthropology of persons and relationships with the ontology and function in likeness of God, rather than God in likeness of their anthropology. This irreducible truth and nonnegotiable reality are, respectively, the experiential truth of God’s whole ontology and function and the experiential reality of human ontology and function transformed to wholeness in likeness of God. The experiential reality of this relational outcome is contingent on the ongoing experiential truth of the whole and uncommon God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement, which is distinguished only by whole ontology and function in reciprocal relationship together.
Based on nothing less than and no substitutes of the whole ontology and function of God, the global church has the urgent and pivotal opportunity to respond to the question involving what is the uncommon relational process of the uncommon relationships together unfolding distinguished only in the transforming relational outcome composing God’s new-order church family. But we must maintain an ongoing qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness that anything less and any substitutes for God’s whole ontology and function fall into idolization in one form or another, because this has become the default mode of persons, relationships and churches in practice whenever their theological anthropology is not whole.
As we proceed, you should also understand that you may become uncomfortable with what follows, if you’ve not already been discomforted. Uncommonness has this effect on persons, peoples and nations, as Paul witnessed with the Areopagus. When we start to get “comfortable,” we fall into our default mode. That is, we become relationally distant from outer in, less sensitive to the qualitative and less aware of the relational, and thus we become engaged in ontological simulation of the reality and epistemological illusion of the truth facing us. The ‘comfort’ composed by God’s whole relational terms, which is available to us with the palpable Word, is to feel more free to be who and whose we are—not necessarily relaxed situationally as “comfortable” implies. What follows requires us to be increasingly free to be in the primacy of who we are in whole ontology and function in the likeness just of whose we are—without being rendered secondary and thus fragmentary by the limits and constraints of commonization.
In the beauty of poetic structure, the psalmist illuminated the whole and uncommon God’s integral presence and involvement with us in the human context (Ps 85:10-13). We need to sing his poetic truth because God’s wholeness and uncommonness compose the truth of the gospel and distinguishes its relational outcome, by which we are fulfilled and we together witness in the pluralistic, fragmented world that “waits with eager longing for the whole witness of the new-order church family of God” (Rom 8:19).
When the psalmist points to the reality of God’s salvation, God’s glory (signifying God’s qualitative being, relational nature and vulnerable presence) will emerge to be relationally involved in our context (85:9). This is how God’s presence and involvement unfold before us: “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other… righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps” (85:10,13, NIV). What takes away the significance of this intimate poetic dance is when a referential lens views each key term as an attribute of God rather than the whole relational terms of God’s involvement with and response to us for our salvation in relationship together in wholeness. Attributes do not compose this good news no matter how true those attributes are. Likewise, the attributes of God don’t fulfill us by the gospel—only God’s involvement and response fulfill in whole relational terms.
God’s love and faithfulness are relationally interrelated (“meet together”) because God’s relational involvement (love) is consistently reliable in responding (faithfulness) no matter what, in order to compose the integral relational process necessary to respond to us in the relational significance for our salvation. Furthermore, these are not merely propositional truths of God’s promise and response, just information about God, and parts of what God does. God’s love and faithfulness can be counted on throughout this relational process to be consistently involved with the whole of God for the whole relational outcome, because God’s righteousness and peace are functionally inseparable (“kiss each other”). That is, the whole of who, what and how God is (righteousness) enacts this relational process with nothing less and no substitutes, and therefore can be counted on as the response of God’s wholeness (peace). Righteousness is the key relational antecedent for God’s integrity (“goes before him”), which defines the experiential truth of his vulnerable presence and purpose and determines the experiential reality of his relational involvement and response (“prepares the way for his steps”). And the wholeness of God’s relational response has the relational outcome promised in this gospel to be fulfilled in wholeness.
The experiential truth of God unfolds only in the integral relational process of God’s love and faithfulness being relationally interrelated, with God’s righteousness and peace being functionally inseparable; and the convergence of the whole of God in this uncommon relational process composes the whole relational terms of the experiential truth of the gospel. Indeed, in the poetic truth of the gospel, “God’s faithfulness springs forth from the human context of God’s vulnerable relational involvement of family love and God’s righteousness looks down from the source of God’s relational involvement with nothing less than God’s wholeness” (85:11).
On the basis of this uncommon relational process composing the good news, there unfolds further uncommonness of the truth of God that the global church needs to understand and embrace, and thus to further sing the poetic truth with the psalmist. As “love and faithfulness go before you,” in wholeness “righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Ps 89:14, NIV, cf. Ps 97:2). Once again, God’s righteousness is not static (a foundation) in whole relational terms but unfolds in the relational dynamic with wholeness for the relational work of justice (mishpat). Mishpat signifies all the functions (such as a judicial process and government) necessary to integrate persons together in a collective order that serves their well-being according to prescribed terms (namely laws), to which all (including groups, organizations, systems and structures) in that collective order are accountable. God’s justice could be compatible with common justice but is also beyond human justice because the mishpat of God is distinguished by the whole of who, what and how God is, and enacted only in wholeness and for the relational outcome of wholeness according to nothing less than God’s whole relational terms. The latter involve not merely the laws of God commonly narrowed down to ethical and moral terms for conformity, but include those in addition to God’s irreducible and nonnegotiable terms for the primacy of persons and relationships together in wholeness—which also go further than just human rights.
God’s righteousness is the authoritative relational basis indispensable for mishpat. That is, ‘mishpat without righteousness’ is not God’s justice because it does not distinguish who, what and how God is in wholeness, and thus such justice is not enacted in wholeness. Without the authoritative relational basis of God’s righteousness, any justice cannot be counted on both to be reliable and to have the validity of wholeness. God’s uncommon justice enacts the substantive function required to integrate all persons and relationships (not some or a select few) in their primacy together in wholeness for the new-order family (the kingdom of his throne) of the whole and uncommon God. In this uncommon relational process, God does not sit on his throne to dispense justice as the ultimate judge. In contrast, and even in conflict, God’s “love and faithfulness go before you” makes the whole of who, what and how God is relationally vulnerable to be directly involved in relational response for the uncommon mishpat that integrally brings persons and relationships together face to face in the uncommon relationships of wholeness, distinguished just in the whole and uncommon God’s family.
With the convergence in the integral relational process of nothing less than and no substitutes for God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness, wholeness and justice, the experiential truth of the whole and uncommon God unfolds in whole relational terms vulnerably both in response to us and in ongoing reciprocal relationship with us. What unfolds in this uncommon relational process is not merely to set the precedent for what unfolds from us, notably with justice. This uncommon relational process is not about principles of how to live and what to do, especially just in ethical and moral terms, all of which would reinforce and sustain us in reduced ontology and function. Who unfolds in this uncommon relational process is for only the relational purpose of reciprocal relationship together in wholeness.
The whole ontology and function of God unfolded ultimately in the incarnation with nothing less and no substitutes. Yet, the relational significance of who came and what has come in wholeness continue to be narrowed down and thus fragmented in our theology and practice, therefore elusive in our experience. The global church needs to have whole understanding (syniemi, putting the pieces together for the whole) of all the implications of narrowing down the truth of God who unfolded whole-ly and in uncommonness, and then the church must urgently address all the ramifications of fragmentation in its theology and practice. As Jesus assured his disciples of the further unfolding of the palpable Word, he clarified unequivocally: “Wholeness I leave with you; my wholeness I give to you. Be assured and distinguished in your theology and practice that I do not give to you the common peace as the world gives” (Jn 14:25-27). When Jesus wept over the social context of God’s people, he openly expressed his feelings: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you wholeness—but now it eludes your perceptual-interpretive lens” (Lk 19:41-42, NIV). His feelings continue to be expressed today with the palpable Word and are directed at the global church and its persons, relationships and churches.
The experiential truth of the whole Word and his gospel of wholeness have unfolded in whole relational terms. And the experiential truth of who continues to unfold is the experiential reality that the whole and uncommon God does not direct us from his throne to rule over us, as is common for a king (cf. Lk 22:24-26). Rather the experiential reality of God is vulnerably present and intimately involved to lead and guide us in compatible reciprocal relationships together in whole ontology and function, in order that our response to each other in God’s family and to others in the world will be congruent in love, faithfulness, righteousness, wholeness and justice with God’s. Anything less and any substitutes will not have the relational significance distinguished only in God’s whole ontology and function, nor will it distinguish the relational significance of our ontology and function transformed in wholeness.
Either the palpable Word is not involved to “teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26) and to “guide you into the whole truth” (Jn 16:13), as Jesus promised, or we are not paying primary attention and listening in relational terms to the palpable Word in order to determine the measure we use in our theology and practice.
When Paul clarified the theology and corrected the practice of the church, he declared: “For the kingdom-church family of God is not composed by such secondary matter of eating and drinking according to purity laws but of righteousness, peace and joy in reciprocal relationship with the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17, NIV). Paul clearly sings here the poetic truth of the psalmist, though he also adds the experiential truth that unfolds in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit (in the palpable Word). What Paul addressed here is a specific issue in the church that had primary consequences on persons and relationships. This relational process unfolds with any specific issue since it involves the church’s basic theology and practice, which he clarified and corrected. Thus, we cannot overlook its relevance for the contemporary church and importance for its theology and practice.
First, Paul makes definitive the truth that the church family of God is not composed of secondary matter. The relational significance of this truth becomes obscured by realities in a church that relegate Paul’s words to ideal truth, which then makes it not a definitive truth but an impractical truth, perhaps an inconvenient truth. Certainly, organizing persons and coordinating relationships in a church require time and attention, and these commonly become (pre)occupied with secondary issues that invariably emerge as a fact of life in the church. What does a church do with these realities?
Paul’s next definitive truth would answer by implication that the church needs to redefine how it is composed and determine its composition on the primary basis of righteousness, peace and the Spirit of experiential truth. With the Spirit, the righteousness of who, what and how God is in whole ontology and function challenges (if not threatens) the ontology and function of those in the church, at the heart of who, what and how they are, whereby their righteousness can be determined in wholeness in order to determine who, what and how the church is in its primacy instead of by secondary matter. Yet, the primacy of who, what and how the church and its persons and relationships are is only composed by the uncommon peace as wholeness. There is a critical differential Paul makes that unfolds from the gospel of wholeness composed by the wholeness of God, which is integral for the church composed in its primacy of righteousness. Paul did not prescribe a common peace here that involved primarily the absence of conflict. Differentiated from a common peace is the uncommon peace distinguished only by God’s peace, which is distinguished not by the absence of conflict but by the presence of wholeness. This is the wholeness innermost of the uncommon God’s ontology and function (Phil 4:7) that constitutes the uncommon peace embodied and given by the whole Word to his church family. The wholeness of God is the uncommon peace that Paul makes the only determinant for composing the church (Col 3:15; 2 Cor 13:11; 1 Thes 5:23).
Conflict certainly is a reality in the church, not to mention the increasing conflicts throughout the world, which Paul had to face also. In these situations, is not the absence of conflict a positive condition? Yes, indeed, and Paul had to address such situations at times with only the absence of conflict (e.g. 1 Cor 7:15; 14:33; Rom 12:18; Ti 3:2; 1 Tim 2:2). Nevertheless, the absence of conflict cannot substitute for wholeness, nor is it ever sufficient to determine the church family of Christ. So, Paul doesn’t advocate for a hybrid between uncommon peace and common peace, because the latter would compromise the integrity of wholeness and invariably fragment persons, relationships and churches in the primacy of their ontology and function—that is, in the righteousness involving the whole of who, what and how they are, also indispensable to integrally compose the church family (2 Tim 2:22). The absence of conflict may in fact compose who, what and how the church and its persons and relationships are in secondary terms, and commonly does for those trying to be irenic; but this must not be accepted as composing who, what and how they are in their primacy. Their primacy in the innermost of their ontology and function is the primacy of wholeness, which, by its nature, can be and is only composed by the uncommon peace of the whole and uncommon God—just as the peace of Christ embodied in himself and embodied his church family in wholeness together (Eph 2:14-22, discussed below).
The experiential truth of God’s peace is wholeness, nothing less. The experiential reality of God’s peace is uncommonness, no substitutes. This is the experiential truth and reality of the whole and uncommon God who unfolds in the gospel of wholeness in order to be relationally involved to gather together persons and relationships and integrate them intimately to belong to God’s family in wholeness and uncommonness. Common peace cannot have this whole relational outcome, since by the fact of its definition it is incomplete and thus cannot go beyond the limits and constraints prevailing in the common context for persons and relationships. Therefore, common peace does not have the relational significance to engage the uncommon relational process integral for these uncommon relationships together. Only uncommon peace has the relational significance to be relationally involved in this uncommon relational process needed for this relational outcome of uncommon relationships together in wholeness. Even with good intentions, at best common peace is only a substitute for uncommon peace and should not be our focus and goal, perhaps idolized in what has become common practice.
This urgently raises the question, then, why is the global church, and any of its churches, persons and relationships, engaged in the practice of common peace as if it were primary? Common peace neither composes the church nor fulfills its persons and relationships and their witness in the world. Jesus weeps over the common practice that does not “make for wholeness,” including the church practice which emerges from a narrow perceptual-interpretive lens that does not differentiate uncommon peace from common peace (Lk 19:41-42). Paul adds a “therefore” to what is definitive for the church: “Let us then [oun, therefore] pursue what makes for wholeness and for mutual upbuilding of God’s whole and uncommon family” (Rom 14:19). Paul was well aware of how misleading, even seductive, common peace can be (1 Thes 5:3, cf. Ezek 13:10). For Paul, the uncommon “wholeness of Christ” is irreducible for determining the innermost ontology and function (“rule in your hearts”) of the church and its persons and relationships in their primacy of wholeness (“members of one family”), and thus is nonnegotiable for their theology and practice (“called to wholeness,” Col 3:15, NIV).
Common peace is also misguiding. As a substitute for uncommon peace, common peace cannot provide righteousness with the whole basis and relational significance of who, what and how to be. This lack or absence misguides churches and its persons and relationships into the practice with something less of who, what and how they are. In other words, the integrity of righteousness is compromised without the whole of who, what and how they are, and therefore cannot be counted on to be valid and reliable whether in relationship with God, in the church or in the world. Without righteousness in wholeness, what gathers in the church does not compose the church family but scatters it. While the absence of conflict among them may be encouraging, it is misleading because this common peace is misguiding their practice away from what’s primary into occupation with the secondary in its life together, ministry and witness.
The call to peace historically in peace movements essentially promoted only common peace. Peace ministries emerging from it for the most part engage only common peace, which do not involve the relational significance to help, cultivate and fulfill persons and relationships in their primacy. Some common peace efforts may include a truncated soteriology to point persons to what they can be saved from but lack what they can be saved to. Reconciliation does not necessarily address this lack, and it will not if such reconciliation does not establish persons and relationships in their primacy to be transformed in wholeness. Only the redemptive reconciliation of uncommon peace is adequate for this complete relational outcome. Thus, common peace misguides churches and its persons and relationships with engaging in something less and with settling for (or being resigned to) results of some substitute. This is not the call to peace that Paul made the only determinant for the church family of Christ.
Moreover, not only does common peace mislead and misguide, it is also incompatible with the justice integral for the truth of God who unfolds in whole relational terms to compose the church family of God. When Paul made definitive that God’s church family is not composed by secondary matter, implied in the presenting issue of “eating and drinking” is the church’s function to integrate all its persons in family together to serve their fulfillment according to God’s prescribed whole relational terms— signified in God’s initial laws and commands, which go beyond conforming to ethics and morality (cf. Mt 5:21-48). This function is the justice of God necessary to integrate all persons, peoples and nations of God’s family. While God’s justice is compatible with some functions of common justice, it is also beyond human justice since God’s justice is distinguished by God’s righteousness. The whole of who, what and how God is is constituted with God’s peace, as the psalmist sings, and only on this basis enacts justice in wholeness for the relational outcome of wholeness just on God’s whole relational terms, nothing less. This relational process of wholeness integral to justice makes common peace incompatible with God’s justice since common peace cannot provide the wholeness to constitute God’s righteousness—which is necessary for the authoritative relational basis to distinguish God’s justice to function reliably and validly in wholeness. Without wholeness, the only justice that emerges with common peace is ‘justice without righteousness’.
These interrelated dynamics are indispensable for the global church. Common peace is compatible with common justice but it cannot function with the church’s justice both for the church’s composition and for its whole witness in the world. At most, common peace serves just the common good, but this good is only without wholeness since common peace is incomplete to be whole and thus unable to make whole. At best, common peace can only simulate and give the illusion of uncommon peace, and thus presume that it enacts more than justice without righteousness; this includes justice for human rights. The common justice of common peace then cannot be counted on to be reliable and to have the validity of wholeness, the lack of which must be resolved to serve the primacy of persons and relationships. Therefore, this is the reality facing us: When we try to present the church’s justice with common peace, we reduce God’s justice to the limits and constraints of human justice—subject to its fragmentation and its lack of significance for persons and relationships in their primacy, though it may serve them in secondary matter; when the church operates with common peace for common justice, it can only be occupied in the secondary; it doesn’t have the relational significance to address, attend to, respond and care for, as well as fulfill what’s primary for the church’s own persons and relationships, and for those in the world.
As with peace, justice narrowed down from whole relational terms to referential terms is incomplete and fragmentary. God’s justice is rooted in righteousness, which is constituted by uncommon peace. The integrity of justice depends on this righteousness—which is the basis that Jesus highlighted for the terms for justice to be enacted (Mt 5:20ff). Integrally connected to righteousness for its authoritative relational basis to be reliable and to have the validity of wholeness, justice involves the primacy of who, what and how persons and relationships are. Human justice does not involve their primacy but only their secondary parts.
The experiential truth of God is that this primacy is the only way that God functions. God’s righteousness then cannot be understood without the wholeness of uncommon peace—they “kiss each other”—and this convergence “prepares the way for his steps” (Ps 85:13, NIV) in the relationally interrelated involvement of “love and faithfulness,” which “go before you” (Ps 89:14) to determine how God functions in justice. The experiential reality of God becomes elusive without this understanding because righteousness foremost defines the uncommon God’s vulnerable presence and determines the whole God’s relational involvement of love faithfully with the primacy of the whole and uncommon God’s trinitarian persons and relationship together. We can count on experiencing the reality of God’s presence and involvement with nothing less and no substitutes—without the righteousness of which God becomes elusive, unreliable, lacking relational significance for our primacy. Therefore, how God functions in righteousness determines God’s justice by only the wholeness of persons and relationships in their primacy, with only the relational involvement of love and faithfulness. And the inconvenient truth and uncomfortable reality facing us are that justice without righteousness is justice without wholeness, which emerges from love without the faithful involvement of whole persons in whole relationships. Where is the global church in this integral relational dynamic unfolding from God in order for this indispensable relational dynamic to unfold in the church and its persons and relationships?
The work of justice by the church must, by the nature of God’s family and not out of duty or obligation, unfold from God’s justice in the primacy of the church family. If not, the church’s justice work is merely justice without righteousness; even though this may be good in common terms it is still without wholeness, notably without the significance of involvement by the church’s persons and relationships in the primacy of their ontology and function from inner out—the primacy in the “just as I am and have been sent” likeness of the whole and uncommon God’s ontology and function. We cannot avoid the reality that all justice is not equal, nor can we revise the reality that justice by itself (i.e. without righteousness) promotes at best the common good without wholeness. We can argue that this would be an improvement over having no justice; but that would only provide a common basis both inconsistent with the church’s purpose and inadequate for the church’s mission.
When justice is enacted in pursuit of peace, the latter qualifies the former. Conventional peace, specifically, is the common peace that is still composed by the limits and constraints of the human context, the influence of which compromises the integrity of justice for an unequal justice that reinforces and sustains inequality. Such justice qualified by such peace can neither distinguish nor complete the church’s purpose and mission. Only when justice is enacted in conjoint function with the wholeness of uncommon peace does the church’s purpose and mission emerge distinguished— differentiated clearly from what commonly exists. And only on the basis of uncommon peace’s whole relational terms is the church’s function complete both within itself and in the world.
The justice of uncommon peace is what is truly ‘good with wholeness’ for the church and for the human condition. The global church, therefore, must not assume or resign itself to anything less or any substitutes, or else its theology and practice reflect selectivity of the Word, and its ontology and function for persons and relationships become fragmentary, thereby essentially engaging the church in promoting ‘sin without reductionism’ and thus in complicity with sin as reductionism—even reinforcing or sustaining the human condition. In the experiential truth of the whole Word, justice is unequivocally a relational term that distinguishes God’s irreducible and nonnegotiable terms for relationship, which cannot be narrowed down to just ethical and moral terms. The relational significance of God’s terms—as Jesus differentiated clearly from narrowed down terms (Mt 5:20-48)—can only be composed by righteousness and the involvement in their primacy is determined only by righteousness. Therefore, since this is how the whole and uncommon God functions with us, this is “just as” how God expects us to function in wholeness and uncommonness ongoingly in reciprocal relationship together both with the palpable Word and with each other.
Based on this crucial functional experience from God and what our prevailing experience is, it should be apparent that the righteousness and its peace we use will be the justice we get, because the integrity of justice is contingent on righteousness. The implications for the global church of the justice it gets are far-reaching. Notably, ‘justice without righteousness’ serving ‘the common good without wholeness’ has prevailed in the globalizing world and has become the norm for the global church. What have been the results both in the global North and South? Not all justice is equal and is equally enacted and serves for the equality of all persons, peoples and nations. Should we belonging to the global church be accountable for more amongst ourselves, and witness to more in the globalizing yet fragmenting world?
For this reason and purpose, the whole and uncommon God states clearly to his people: “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line” (Isa 28:17, NIV, cf. 2 Kg 21:13; Amos 7:7-8). How the whole and uncommon God measures the life of his family is only with God’s justice and righteousness and thus only by justice with righteousness constituted only in the wholeness of God’s uncommon peace. What God measures does not focus on the secondary state of his family’s situations (as critical as they may be) but measures the primary condition of his family’s uncommonness in theology and practice and their wholeness in ontology and function. The truth and reality of God’s family’s condition reveals what composes God’s people in the pluralistic world, and determines how they live in the globalizing human context. Are the what and how ‘justice with righteousness in uncommon peace’ or ‘justice without righteousness in common peace’?
God’s measuring line and plumb line need to have in God’s church family today the clarity of Amos’ lens noted above. For example, the parameters of a prominent model (Mic 6:8) used by the church may not measure true and plumb for how they often have been perceived and constructed. As God’s people deliberated on how to regain God’s favor (6:6-7), what it revealed was how they determined their persons and relationships with a reduced theological anthropology for an ontology and function from outer in—as if that would have had significance to God’s ontology and function from inner out. This issue of theological anthropology is likely not even considered today in the perception of what follows, and thus the same theological anthropology used by God’s people above usually has constructed the parameters today of “what does the LORD require of you?” We need to examine “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” also with our theological anthropology.
First, “to do justice,” that is, asah, to do, make, work, accomplish, even create, used here for what is simply the significance of justice. Yet, God’s justice involves having the relational significance that will have the relational outcome for persons and relationships in their primacy of wholeness. How then does this relational outcome emerge from those who merely asah justice? When the focus is on doing, making, working and accomplishing justice, the primacy of those persons and their relationships shifts from inner out to the outer-in secondary focus of doing justice—which pervades most calls for justice today. That is, what is revealed in this is how they determine their persons and relationships with a reduced theological anthropology that defines them by their participation in doing justice—in other words, a theological anthropology with a narrowed-down ontology and function from outer in. Without the primacy of their own persons and relationships from inner out, what significance will their doing justice have for other persons and relationships beyond their secondary situations, even with good intentions, dedication and enduring service? When we work from a reduced theological anthropology, we are subject to reductionism that shapes our doing justice without addressing sin as reductionism and subtly by engaging in good without wholeness.
In addition, and this is a key issue, what we do falls into a comparative process that measures us by the work we have determined. This means subtler engagement in self-determination, which, for example, may even influence our doing justice by trying to “create” justice in order to be successful in doing justice. This process is unavoidable when we reduce our ontology and function to outer in. So, what God requires of us is “to live justice from inner out by the primacy of our person in whole ontology and function,” which doing justice from outer in by a reduced ontology and function cannot fulfill. And “to live justice with the righteousness” of the whole of who, what and how we are also necessitates the integral involvement of what God requires next.
Second, “to love kindness,” hesed, denoting an act of love, mercy or kindness. The act of hesed is usually demonstrated for family members and close friends but can be demonstrated in any relationship. What is the key to perceive in an act of hesed is that it presupposes the existence of a relationship between those involved. Where no relationship existed, the person acting in hesed treats the other on the basis of a relationship existing. In other words, the act of hesed is only a relational process composed in relational terms, and thus its relational significance is directly contingent on the relational involvement of the person sharing love. Mercy or kindness is not merely a good act that one does to benefit others; it is only the relational involvement of the person sharing for the relational connection with the primacy of another person (not just their need) in the primacy of relationship together. This relational involvement cannot be fulfilled by maintaining relational distance and by not making our person vulnerable to others. Nor can this relational involvement be simulated with an abundance of kindness or mercy. Hesed cannot be narrowed down from the relational terms that compose the love God not only expects from us but also from God himself.
Hesed expresses the whole and uncommon God in relational response to us with the vulnerable relational involvement to have relationship with the primacy of our persons. Hesed then is at the heart of God’s presence and involvement, and this primacy is the presence and involvement of our persons that God wants us to have a strong desire, delight, love, passion (ahabah) for in how we function from the heart of our person. “To love hesed,” therefore, vulnerably involves our ontology and function from inner out and unfolds vulnerably in the primacy of our persons and relationships in wholeness and for the primacy of others for their wholeness. Just as “hesed and faithfulness go before you, God,” our faithful relational involvement of love needs to go before us to distinguish the relational significance necessary for justice with righteousness to have the relational outcome of wholeness for persons and relationships in their primacy.
The primacy of persons and relationships in whole ontology and function is nonnegotiable for God’s family, yet this primacy has ongoingly been subjected to reductionism from the beginning. Making persons and relationships secondary and thus reducing their ontology and function have prevailed in the human context and pervades the global church today—with relational distance, detachment and separation its most significant relational consequences, which keeps persons and relationships from being vulnerable in their ontology and function. Ever since the primordial garden, sin without reductionism and good without wholeness have influenced and shaped God’s family and its persons and relationships, and now so the church family. The most prominent and yet subtle shape of reduced ontology and function is self-determination. This pervasive effort in the church has constructed ongoing subtle justification for itself (starting with “to make one wise”) in order to be sustained in the theology and practice of the church family. Perhaps the most subtle of this engagement is in the practice of love, and likely doing justice ranks high on this list also. What God integrally requires and expects from his family directly address this self-determination in its depth, getting to the heart of its subtlety in our practice.
Third, “to walk humbly with your God” underlies the other requirements from God, and it is likely more problematic than it appears. If we assume for ourselves a reduced theological anthropology, we also have to assume responsibility for the implications and consequences of reduced ontology and function. “To walk humbly” means to be accountable for all this “with your God.” The path our life will take can vary widely in common terms, yet in uncommon terms it comes together with the distinguished relational path that Jesus embodied for his disciples to follow (Mt 7:13-14, cf. Lk 13:24-27). What path our life will follow and how we walk on it will determine their evaluation measured by either common terms or uncommon terms. God’s uncommon terms use justice as the measuring line and righteousness as the plumb line on the relational basis of wholeness. For the whole and uncommon God, righteousness is the integral antecedent that “prepares the way for his steps”; likewise, who, what and how we are will reveal what path we take and will determine how we walk on it.
In common terms, our life follows a path of reduced theological anthropology, and how we walk on it is with narrowed-down ontology and function. The immediate implication for how we live is to shift from inner out to outer in, and the immediate consequence on our persons is to be defined by the secondary parts of what we do and have rather than the primacy of our whole person. The further implication is to measure our self accordingly, with the further consequence to measure others and to be measured by others on this fragmentary basis. What this composes is a comparative process that measures our self and others on a scale of more-less. With the desire to be better rather than less (or inferior), how we function opens the door to determining our self as best we can. In other words, to follow a path of reduced theological anthropology inevitably requires self-determination, even if we’ve been saved by faith over works and proclaim a gospel of grace. The functional issue is who, what and how we are today and the righteousness that is antecedent for determining the way for our steps.
If we are responding to our theological anthropology shaped by common terms that requires self-determination, how can we respond to God, who requires us “to walk” according to God’s uncommon terms? If we are engaged in self-determination, however subtly or unknowingly, how can we “walk humbly” when we’re trying to determine our self to be better rather than less? If the whole of who, what and how we are no longer composes the primacy of our person and our relationships, then on what basis can our involvement be significant to “walk humbly with your God in relationship together?”
In God’s whole relational terms, how can we respond with relational significance until we make our whole person vulnerable at the innermost of our ontology and function? In other words, “to walk humbly with your God” is “to walk vulnerably with the whole of who, what and how we are in the primacy of relationship together with your God.” This vulnerable walk was problematic for some of God’s chosen people, whom Jesus measured by justice and righteousness to reveal their reduced ontology and function from outer in, and to expose their self-determination that made secondary the primacy of their persons and relationships in the involvement of hesed (Lk 11:37-42).
The reality for all of us is that to respond vulnerably to what God requires is problematic with a reduced theological anthropology. There is no basis for relational significance until the whole of who, what and how we are composes our relational involvement with the vulnerable reality of our ontology and function from inner out—without embellishment, simulation or illusion. The competing reality countering our persons and relationships in the church from being vulnerable is self-determination. When who, what and how we are become vulnerable, our righteousness kisses uncommon peace to be whole rather than embracing common peace to try to make us better. What emerges is the primacy of our persons (not our determined self) in the depth of hesed’s relational involvement for the primacy of relationships together. What unfolds from the primacy of persons and relationships in the wholeness of uncommon peace is the faithful relational involvement of love that leads to the ongoing relational outcome “to live justice with righteousness from the innermost of who, what and how we are in the primacy of our persons in whole ontology and function for the primacy of relationships together in uncommon peace” both in the global church and in the globalizing yet fragmenting world.
The whole and uncommon God’s measuring line and plumb line require and hold us accountable for nothing less and no substitutes. When the global church’s theology and practice are true and plumb, what emerges and unfolds from the church and its persons and relationships will flow in uncommon peace.
When the model of Micah 6:8 is used by the church based on a reduced theological anthropology, the church becomes composed by the righteousness of who, what and how its persons and relationships are in the terms of common peace. Common peace is not the peace that Paul made imperative to solely determine the church from inner out (Col 3:15). Only the uncommon peace of Christ distinguishes the church family of Christ (Jn 14:27, cf. 16:33) and composes the church family to be differentiated acutely from common peace (clean-cut by Christ’s sword, Mt 10:34-38). Moreover, his uncommon peace exposes the simulation and illusion basic to common peace and causes its division for its real fragmentary condition of persons and relationships to be revealed in its existing reality (Lk 12:51-53). Contrary to common peace, uncommon peace is not a comfort zone or a place of convenience for the church family to practice its faith, because the wholeness of uncommon peace conjointly fights for the whole gospel and fights against its reduction to anything less and any substitutes, even if the latter is doctrinally correct. As embodied by Christ, this conjoint fight is for the primacy of persons and relationships in their wholeness of ontology and function and against their fragmentation, often subtle, to anything less and any substitutes in reduced ontology and function.
Only uncommon peace kisses righteousness in order for who, what and how the church and its persons and relationships are to be in their primacy of wholeness, and thus “to live their primacy integrally with justice” by the faithful relational involvement of family love—singing with the psalmist and dancing with Jesus and Paul. Therefore, the church family of Christ emerges and unfolds only in the relational significance of uncommon peace, with its uncommon relational process composed by its whole relational purpose for its uncommon relational outcome distinguishing persons and relationships together in wholeness as the whole and uncommon God’s church family.
In Paul’s conjoint fight of Christ’s uncommon peace, he illuminated the relational significance of uncommon peace and its relational purpose, process and outcome definitive for the church and its persons and relationships to be whole together—without fragmentation and any relational distance, detachment or separation. This uncommon peace needs to compose the church’s theology and practice today both in the fight for this primacy of persons and relationships and against their reduction in any way, the subtle reductions of which have eluded our understanding and fogged our perception. Without uncommon peace, the experiential truth and reality of the church family of Christ does not emerge and unfold, even though simulations of the church body of Christ may exist today or in the past.
Jesus’ own disciples argued among themselves about “which of them would be the greatest” (Lk 9:46, NIV). “Be” is expressed in the Greek optative mood that expresses only a possibility or a wish rather than a probability, and comes with a high degree of uncertainty or contingency. The contingency becomes apparent as the disciples continued to debate about “which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Lk 22:24). To be considered (dokeo) the greatest—or at least better than the others—is not a self-ascribed label but what emerges from a comparative process that measures persons on a common scale based on the parts of what persons do and have. The achievements and resources a disciple has, then, will determine one’s position on the scale, and only the disciple in the highest position will meet the contingency to be regarded as the greatest (or at least better than the others) in this comparative system.
The comparative relations demonstrated by the disciples are composed from a reduced theological anthropology that defines persons by the outer-in parts of what they do and have. The fragmentation into parts signifies persons in reduced ontology and function, which underlies the basis for comparative relations and its composition—under which lies the critical determination our theological anthropology has. From the beginning, persons in reduced ontology and function were engaged in comparative relations: “you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” and they compared each other “and they knew that they were naked” and thus different. When persons are rendered to their parts for their ontology and function, distinctions are made about them and the comparison of those distinctions both defines those persons as better or less and determines the relations between them. The relations between them based on their distinctions, regarded as better or less, require comparable distinctions; that is, this means that stratified relations (formalized into systems of inequality) have to be constructed to be compatible with the comparative process of those distinctions. This evolves only from human construction because God “made no distinctions,” diakrino, to separate, treat differently and thus to discriminate (Acts 15:9).
Jesus understood the dynamics of the comparative process engaged by the disciples and the relational consequences of comparative relations; note also the comparative relations of the temple leaders and the relational consequence on those they considered less, and how Jesus responded to them (Mt 21:15-16). So, his first response to his disciples was to interject a little child for their comparison—who surely couldn’t measure up to the stature of the disciples—and then on this incompatible basis he decomposed comparative relations: “Whoever welcomes [dechomai, receives and accepts with respect] this little person in my terms welcomes, receives and accepts me on the same basis…for the least among all of you in comparative terms is the greatest in whole relational terms” (Lk 9:47-48). The relational significance of Jesus’ response is clear:
The comparative process is incongruent with the church family of Christ, and human distinctions have no standing of better or less for the persons belonging to the church family, nor do such distinctions differentiate some persons to be higher in the church and others lower to not be distinguished; therefore, comparative relations (however stratified) are incompatible for the church’s relationships composed by persons in their primacy of wholeness, the primacy of which is incongruent with any narrowing down of their ontology and function.
The reality Jesus illuminates for his followers is that anything less and any substitutes narrow down the church and its persons and relationships from their primacy of wholeness to a fragmented condition from outer in of reduced ontology and function—all of which emerge from a reduced theological anthropology (as the disciples had) that has been shaped by the limits and constraints common to the human context, composing the human condition.
Persons, peoples and nations create human distinctions, not God, and they construct the stratified relations and systems necessary to maintain those distinctions in their comparative inequality—not an inherent inequality, though some make that assumption to justify discrimination. Like the disciples, the church and its persons and relationships have intentionally or inadvertently reflected, reinforced and sustained the comparative relations prevailing in all human contexts. This existing reality has not been understood by the church as the unalterable norm of human contextualization, and thus the church has shaped the gospel increasingly according to the limits and constraints of that particular contextualization. The shaping reality for all human persons and relationships is that to be regarded as ‘better’ (or best, greatest) is enviable but to be considered as ‘less’ is a burden. Those ‘less’ must bear the limits and constraints of being measured by a “higher” template of standards for conformity imposed by those ‘better’, which composes a deficit model that subjects those ‘less’ to a deficit condition unable to regain ‘more’, much less to be cancelled.
A deficit model is an inescapable burden for those different, for example, when the standard of measurement is based on the color white or the gender male. How do persons, peoples and nations of color change their distinction and overcome their deficit condition in comparative relations with whites? How do females, even among those persons, peoples and nations of color, change their humanly perceived distinction and overcome their deficit condition in comparative relations with males? Moreover, it is crucial to understand that the condition of those who employ a deficit model are also rendered to a deficit condition, since this comparative process is engaged and enacted by those in reduced ontology and function—a deficit not merely from outer in (intrinsic to a deficit model) but in the critical condition of inner out.
The disciples didn’t learn from Jesus’ first response to them. So, they continued to engage the comparative process in their relations, notably imposing a deficit model on Mary (Martha’s sister) when she responded to Jesus’ whole person with deep relational involvement (Mt 26:6-13). Since the disciples still operated primarily from outer in without the primacy of persons and relationships, they considered Mary’s action insignificant on their comparative scale and thereby less. Whether gender influenced their distinction of Mary is not apparent but their fragmentation of persons (including Jesus) into secondary parts (even engaging justice for the poor) over the primacy of persons and relationships in wholeness is unmistakable. On this fragmentary basis, they also reduced the whole gospel of its relational significance, which, in contrast, Jesus said that Mary highlights “wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world.” Thus, Jesus not only affirmed Mary’s person without distinctions, he also confirmed the relational significance of the gospel in the uncommon peace of wholeness and justice only with righteousness to distinguish unequivocally his family with the primacy of persons and relationships in whole ontology and function.
If bearing a deficit condition cannot be overcome in the process of comparative relations, it will either have to be changed or redeemed. One common recourse for changing this condition is to shift to power relations. Power relations, however, is also the means used by those in upper positions on the comparative scale to maintain a superior distinction over those considered inferior. Colonialism, for example, unfolded with power relations in order to impose a deficit model on persons, peoples and nations of different distinction to render them less and keep them in a deficit condition. Those less could use power relations to change their position or to even reverse positions with those regarded as superior, as witnessed in South Africa. Yet, what is common to both sides using power relations is that they incorporate a conflict model with the deficit model, therefore which doesn’t change comparative relations but only changes its stratified arrangement. A conflict model assumes a dialectic that theorizes a synthesis for ideal equalized relations, but this has not materialized in its use. Power relations could be used to facilitate the conflict needed for change—which should not be confused with Jesus’ sword and his redeeming process—but the resulting change at best can only bring a common peace lacking wholeness, which then at most only rearranges comparative relations with distinctions in a deficit condition still existing. In other words, inequality remains, although the form may have changed.
This has been a common consequence of the conflicts from communist power relations in the global South or with the expansion of the Soviet Union and subsequent Balkanization, and that emerged from the conflicts by the power relations of postcolonial nations such as India. The conflict from the power relations of American exceptionalism in building empire has consistently imposed a deficit model of democracy on global contexts for their conformity to American superiority; and similar power relations are used in its homeland to maintain its stratified system with a deficit condition for many of its own citizens in this presumed democracy. Race relations, for example, in the U.S. have grown in conflict during this recent period, reflecting a deficit condition of inequality still existing. The growing conflict could be and is engaged increasingly with power relations, since historically justice without righteousness and common peace without wholeness have not had the relational significance to bring the depth of change necessary for the relational outcome of the primacy of persons with equality without being rendered to secondary distinctions. Moreover, gender inequality has been further surfacing in business and academic contexts in the U.S., notably in terms of opportunity, income and stature. This still-existing inequality reflects the unyielding stratification and power of its comparative relations, in spite of the feminist movement that has yet to render gender distinction secondary—which ironically, yet not surprisingly, remains also among African Americans in the civil rights movement.
What emerges from all this is the fact that power relations have not resulted in the change needed to remove the primacy given to human distinctions and for overcoming deficit conditions in comparative relations. The use of a conflict model has been a false hope and its related theory has been a false outcome that lacks the primacy of persons and relationships in wholeness. The shift to power relations only exacerbates comparative relations and further embeds persons in a reduced ontology and relations in fragmented function, yet power relations remain as the prevailing means for change—or to prevent change and enforce conformity. Clearly, Jesus understood these dynamics and their consequences for his disciples and such practice in his family. And he saw this pattern developing in his disciples and anticipated this emerging in the church and its persons and relationships, notably starting with church leaders.
When Jesus responded to his disciples’ continued debate of having the greatest distinction, he added to his first response the use of power relations (Lk 22:25-30). Jesus highlighted leaders who “lord it over them; and those in authority and power over them are called benefactors.” Power relations are obvious when they “lord it over” persons but subtle when exercised as benefaction because of its implied quid pro quo; and this becomes even subtler when paternalism is used, for example, to help others. Jesus was critical of Greco-Roman benefactors who used their resources to gain power over (exousiazo) persons, presumably under the guise to do good (without wholeness). In whatever way power relations are exercised and commonly exist, Jesus made it unequivocal that they are contrary to the uncommon relational nature of his kingdom-family, and are in conflict with the uncommon relational significance of how he functions without the distinctions warranted for his superior position—the pivotal issue between him and Peter that emerged at his footwashing. And those who follow him on his whole relational terms must be vulnerably involved without such distinctions “so that you may participate in and partake of my uncommon family and function just as I function to be relationally involved in justice with righteousness—not from relational distance on a throne—for the uncommon peace of God’s whole and uncommon family” (v.30).
Jesus’ response anticipated what would compose the church today. He directed his response in particular to church leaders, their discipleship and their theological anthropology underlying their theology and practice, in order for their ontology and function to be whole. The uncommon peace of his church family cannot be composed with comparative relations or subtly by power relations. The pattern of such relations must be paid attention to by the contemporary church and its persons and relationships in order to reciprocally respond to Jesus for the irreducible and nonnegotiable primacy of persons and relationships in the wholeness of their ontology and function as the church family of Christ, without the fragmentation of distinctions. Only relations in whole relational terms can address what underlies human distinctions and their deficit condition. The issue is less about change and more importantly requires redemption. Human relations need to be redeemed from the ontology and function fragmented by distinctions imposed on them, so that they can emerge with the following: ontology and function that have been transformed from inner out for the transformed relationships together both vulnerably intimate without distinctions and thus equalized without ‘better or less’, without stratified relationships and free from a deficit condition. Therefore, only these whole-ly, noncomparative and unstratified, relationships differentiate the church family of Christ in the uncommon peace of all its persons in all its relationships together with their primacy in wholeness.
Just as Jesus used his sword of uncommon peace and also cleaned out his house of commonization, the uncommon peace of his church family redeems persons and relationships from their fragmentation in reduced ontology and function to the uncommon wholeness of the whole and uncommon God. And nothing less and no substitutes for whole-ly (i.e. whole plus holy) relationships have the relational significance to be involved in the uncommon relational process necessary to compose the uncommon relationships together that have the whole and uncommon relational outcome distinguished only by the new-order church family of the whole and uncommon God—none of which and whom can be narrowed down to common terms. It is imperative, then, for the church to be cleaned out and redeemed from its distinctions, comparative and power relations, because these fragment its persons and relationships and subject them to the binding limits and enslaving constraints of reduced ontology and function. This redemptive change is required for the uncommon peace of Christ to be the only determinant for the heart of the church—the primacy of its persons and relationships together in wholeness (as Paul made imperative for the church, Col 3:15).
The whole-ly relationships of uncommon peace are not an ideal to hope for. Nor are they an unrealistic goal too impractical to work for. The experiential reality inescapably facing all of us is that the only solution significant for the comparative relations of human distinctions, and inevitable power relations and deficit condition, is their redemption. The experiential truth undeniably facing all of us in the global church is that only the church distinguished by the whole-ly relationships of uncommon peace has the relational significance to be the redeeming good news for persons and relationships fragmented in reduced ontology and function. Until the church embodies this experiential truth in its own persons and relationships, the church has no basis to be of relational significance for this experiential reality in the human condition needing redemption—regardless if its service and resources are the greatest.
In anticipation of the church needing first and foremost to clean out its own house so that it will unfold in the whole-ly relationships of uncommon peace for all persons, peoples and nations, Jesus established this priority for his family:
Before “you address the fragmentation in others” you need to “address the fragmentation in your own theology and practice. How can you say to others, ‘Let me help you out of your reductionism,’ while reductionism continues in you own life? Don’t be a role-player [hypokrites], first redeem the reductionism of your own life, and then you will be clearly distinguished to help redeem the reductionism from others’ lives” (Mt 7:3-5).
Only the whole and uncommon relational basis of the whole-ly relationships of uncommon peace composes the church and its persons and relationships in whole relational terms. The whole relational terms of uncommon peace have been embodied by Christ and unfolded with the palpable Word to distinguish the relational significance and the relational outcome of the new-order church family. What distinguishes its relational significance and outcome?
The whole relational terms of uncommon peace are always subjected to a narrowed-down lens of reduced terms that both referentialize the truth and fragment the reality of the significance of what the church is and the outcome of how the church is. The latter terms shift uncommon peace to common peace, which is no longer compatible with the relational significance of the peace of Christ nor congruent with the relational outcome of his peace.
When Jesus, as the palpable Word, transformed (not converted) the divisive Jew Paul, his purpose was not for common peace to negate the conflict of Paul’s power relations against the church—which Jesus received personally, “why do you persecute me?” Jesus’ complete purpose in whole relational terms was for Paul’s redemptive reconciliation from his fragmentation as a member of God’s people to his wholeness as a person-child belonging to God’s whole and uncommon family. And on the relational basis of this experiential truth Paul’s whole witness would help unfold with the palpable Word the experiential reality of the new-order church family (Acts 26:14-18; Rom 5:10-11). This relational significance and outcome of the uncommon peace of Christ is what Paul illuminated definitively for the experiential reality of the church to be whole. The global church needs to take into its heart what Paul unfolded with the palpable Word (1 Cor 2:10-16).
The prominent human distinction among God’s people, which fragmented them and stratified relations, was between Jew and Gentile, with the former better and the latter less. Paul made unequivocal that “Christ is our uncommon peace” and illuminated its relational significance for the church family composed by his uncommon peace (Eph 2:14-18). Peter, as we discussed, struggled with uncommon peace both in his theology and practice, and he maintained a common peace until he could not deny the experiential truth and avoid the experiential reality that “God has made no distinction between them and us” (Acts 15:9). The truth and reality of human distinctions facing us today are that all such distinctions emerge from human construction, the constructs of which we can neither ascribe to God nor have legitimated by God. Paul was instrumental in Peter’s transformation to uncommon peace, just as he needs to be for the church’s transformation today for the redemptive reconciliation of human distinctions pervading the church and shaping its persons and relationships.
What unfolds from Christ as the church’s uncommon peace is the relational significance of persons redeemed from their distinctions, and relationships together freed from the relational barriers keeping them in relational distance, detachment or separation. However comparative relations may be structured, Paul declares in unmistakable relational terms: “Christ has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of fragmenting differences” (Eph 2:14, NIV). The relational significance of this uncommon peace is not for the future but for its experiential reality to unfold now in the church. This is the pivotal breakthrough in human relations that will transform the church to the new creation of persons redeemed and relationships reconciled in the new order uncommon for all persons, peoples, nations and their relations since ‘from the beginning’. “Christ’s relational purpose was to create in his wholeness one new humanity out of their fragmentation, thus making them whole in uncommon peace” (v.15). When this becomes the experiential reality for the persons and relationships of the church, they can claim salvation from sin as reductionism and salvation to wholeness together; and just on this experiential reality, they can proclaim and whole-ly witness to the experiential truth of this good news for human relations.
Furthermore, and most important, this pivotal breakthrough in relationships also includes and directly involves relationship with the whole and uncommon God. “In their wholeness together to reconcile all of them having distinctions to God through the salvific work of the cross, by which he redeemed their fragmenting differences” (v.16). It is indispensable for us to understand what Paul unfolds for the church here is that reconciliation is inseparable from redemption. Redemption is integral for reconciliation in order for relationships (including with God) to come together at the heart of persons in their ontology and function from inner out, which then requires persons redeemed from outer-in distinctions that prevent this relational connection. We cannot maintain distinctions among us and have this breakthrough in relationships for their reconciliation. All discussion about reconciliation must include this reality or there will be no redemptive change in our relationships. Therefore, the relational significance of ‘redemptive reconciliation’ is for the heart of persons now to be vulnerable to each other (including God) and come together in intimate relationships. Intimate relationships are the relational outcome distinguished by the redemptive reconciliation of uncommon peace. With God, intimate relationship involves going beyond conventional spirituality and a spiritual relationship to the following: the experiential reality of the whole person vulnerably involved ongoingly with “God in boldness and confidence” (Eph 3:12), rooted in the experiential truth of being redeemed from human distinctions, from their fragmentation and the deficit condition of reduced ontology and function, and then reconciled in wholeness together belonging in God’s family—“the intimate dwelling in which the whole of God lives by his Spirit” (Eph 2:22, NIV cf. Jn 14:23). Accordingly and indispensably, to have this relational outcome with God and with each other requires existing relations to be transformed to intimate relationships composed by the redemptive reconciliation of uncommon peace.
The relational significance of intimacy in church relationships should not be idealized, or even spiritualized, because this indeed uncommon relational outcome is at the heart of what Christ saves us to (integrally with what he saves us from). There is no good news unless the church is being transformed to intimate relationships together. This was the only relational purpose for Jesus when he cleaned out his house for all persons, peoples and nations to have relational access to God, for which the church is accountable to clean out its own house in order to “gather with me and not scatter.” Completing his only relational purpose for his house, on the cross Jesus also deconstructed his house by tearing away the prominent curtain to open direct relational access face to face with the whole and uncommon God (Heb 10:19-22). This irreversible breakthrough in relationship with God included removing the veil to transform relationships both with God and with each other to intimate relationships together (2 Cor 3:16-18). The church and its persons and relationships are accountable for tearing down any existing curtain that allows them to maintain practice with relational distance as if in front of the curtain torn away by Jesus; and we also are accountable for removing any existing veil over our face in order to be vulnerably involved face to face in the intimate relationships together that Christ saved us to today and not for the future.
Moreover, implied in what Paul already illuminated and now continued to make explicit (Eph 2:19-22), there is one other involvement necessary to complete the relational outcome of transformed relationships together. Common peace allows (even affirms) human distinctions to operate as long as there is no conflict or disharmony in relations. Uncommon peace, however, negates those distinctions, removes their significance and does not accept their fragmenting presence in God’s family. “Consequently, you are no long defined and determined by distinctions like foreigners and aliens but are whole persons as full citizens with God’s people and whole members of God’s family.” The experiential truth of this relational outcome is not referential or just doctrinal, but composed in whole relational terms for the experiential reality of transformed relationships together to also involve equalized relationships integrally with intimate relationships.
God’s family has become the vulnerable dwelling of the whole and uncommon God (as Jesus also made clear, Jn 14:23), yet this relational outcome has no relational significance as long as the curtain and veil are still present. God is vulnerably present and relationally involved for intimate relationship together. While we cannot be equal with God (perhaps the purpose for some in the practice of deification), we have to be equalized to participate in and partake of God’s life in his family together. That is, we cannot be intimately involved with God from the basis of any of our outer-in distinctions. Those distinctions have to be redeemed so that we can be equalized from inner out and thereby reconciled in intimate relationship together; and this equalization is necessary to be transformed in relationships together as God’s whole and uncommon family. The transformed relationships that distinguish the church family must then be both equalized and intimate. There can be no complete intimate involvement together as long as the veil of distinctions exists. Distinctions focus our lens on and engage our practice from outer in, unavoidably in comparative relations, which is incompatible with intimate relationships and incongruent with equalized relationships. Therefore, the experiential truth and reality of the redemptive reconciliation of uncommon peace involve the church in the integral transformed relationships together of equalized persons in equalized relationships, who are vulnerably involved in intimate relationships face to face, heart to heart as God’s whole and uncommon family.
Indeed, based on the uncommon peace of Christ, nothing less than equalized relationships and no substitutes for intimate relationships compose the new-order church family of Christ, whose wholeness distinguishes the church’s persons and relationships in their primacy of whole ontology and function. What emerges from the church’s uncommon peace is the experiential truth of uncommon equality, which is the good news transforming the fragmentation and inequality of all persons, peoples, nations and their human relations. The experiential reality of this uncommon equality unfolds from the church family as it is ongoingly involved in equalizing all persons, peoples, nations and their relationships—equalizing in whole relational terms composed by the redemptive reconciliation of uncommon peace.
Equality and equalizing may raise questions and concerns that this makes being equal the top priority for the church and the highest purpose for the gospel. My short response is yes and no. No, it doesn’t if we are talking about ‘common equality’, which emerges from common peace and from social justice without righteousness that don’t account for sin as reductionism and an underlying theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function. Yes, it does because we are only focused on uncommon equality, which unmistakably and undeniably emerges from the uncommon peace of Christ and his justice with righteousness—“He has abolished the inequitable practice of the law with its commandments and ordinances” (Eph 2:15)—in order to save us from sin as reductionism and save us to his family composed by transformed relationships together both equalized and intimate, so that persons and relationships are distinguished in their primacy of whole ontology and function and thereby belonging to the new relational order of God’s whole and uncommon family. Yes, the church in uncommon equality fulfills the relational significance of its ontology (who and whose it is), and the equalizing church fulfills the relational purpose of its function (what and how it is)—fulfills by its uncommon peace of whole ontology and function. Do you have a better gospel and a greater function for the church?
Various conversations have taken place in the church and academy about wholeness and being whole. Yet, I am not aware of deeper understanding in theology and practice emerging from this conversation. Paul and his witness to “the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15) gives substance to wholeness for the church and holds the church and its persons and relationships accountable to be whole, just as he did with Peter. If we don’t want to hear Jesus weeping over us and saying “If you, even you, only knew today what would bring you wholeness” (Lk 19:42, NIV), then we need to pay full attention to the person Jesus transformed to witness to his uncommon peace and to help unfold his equalizing church in his uncommon equality for his gospel of uncommon equality. As we pay full attention, Paul takes us further and deeper with the palpable Word—likely “immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).
What uncommon equality, uncommon relationships and the uncommon church family share together with uncommon peace is the innermost of life centered on the very heart of persons and relationships in whole ontology and function—in likeness of the whole ontology and function of the whole and uncommon God (Eph 4:24; 2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10). What all persons, peoples, nations and all their relations have in common is reduced ontology and function. What all anthropology, whatever its variation, have at its core is this shared ontology and function. Thus the global church needs to keep this central in its theology and practice in order to respond to the heart of such concerns as Goethe’s Faust inquired, “What holds the world together in its innermost?”
With its inquiry, science has been regarded as the key to unlocking the mysteries of life and what holds the universe together in the innermost. The confirming discovery of the Higgs boson this past year to explain why physical bodies exist at all has spurred physics to get to the core of dark matter in the universe. Yet, this heuristic process has not gained deeper understanding of the innermost of human life, perhaps even going in the opposite direction. Moreover, as useful as neuroscience’s findings from the human brain are, they don’t get to the heart of persons and relationships. By definition, theological anthropology should provide understanding for the innermost of life centered on the heart of persons and relationships. Unfortunately, our theological anthropology commonly tends to reflect, reinforce and sustain the shared ontology and function existing in all of the above—with Jesus crying over our theological anthropology for not knowing what composes the wholeness at the very heart of persons and relationships.
Paul illuminated the good news, “the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15, cf. Isa 52:7), for the innermost of all human life (encompassing the universe) that gets to the very heart of persons and relationships, and that cosmologically “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17). The wholeness of Christ is the definitive key to understanding the dark matter and fragmentation of human life, and the only solution to make whole the very heart of their ontology and function in the innermost of life together in wholeness (Col 1:19-20). What emerges from this gospel of wholeness is the good news of human equality, yet not the common equality composed still with the innermost fragmented and still of reduced ontology and function—a critical issue for those working for equality. The equality emerging from the gospel of wholeness is uncommon because (1) it involves the innermost of the fragmented human condition and (2) it restores that innermost condition at the heart of all persons and relationships to their new shared primacy in whole ontology and function.
The experiential reality of what emerges from the experiential truth of the whole gospel is only the uncommon equality composed by the uncommon peace of Christ in nothing less than wholeness of ontology and function. Anything less than wholeness is no longer whole at its heart but reduced, or remains reduced, in ontology and function. And what is contrary to and in conflict with this wholeness of uncommon equality are human distinctions. Directly addressing this defining issue is the basis, reason and purpose for Paul making definitive without equivocation the following in his conjoint fight for the whole gospel and against its reduction:
“For in the uncommon peace of Christ Jesus you are all in your innermost together the family of God…transformed from inner out at the heart of your ontology and functions to the wholeness of Christ. At the heart of your whole ontology and function, there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are whole together in your innermost in the wholeness of Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28)—whole-ly new persons and relationships together “being re-newed and made whole [anakainoo] on the basis of experiential knowledge specifically [epignosis] in likeness of the whole ontology and function of its Creator. In that new and whole condition there is no longer Greek or Jew, and any other human distinction, but the wholeness of Christ determines all persons and relationships together in all whole ontology and function (Col 3:10-11, cf. Eph 1:23).
Human distinctions are a fact of human life, the prevailing reality of which has fragmented persons, peoples, nations and their relations from the very beginning. The reality of this fact, however, is that this fragmenting fact has emerged only because of the human construction of distinctions shaping the course of human history. Human distinctions are not a formative fact of the shared ontology and function in all humanity—that is, basic to that shared ontology and function that was already fragmented. Human distinctions have emerged from this common human ontology and function, and the global church must account for this in its theology and practice.
I like to ask Christians what color they think they will be in heaven. Assuming our resurrected bodies will be the same as our earthly bodies, except they will be whole like Jesus, my opinion is we will have our earthly color as given or allowed by God (evolution notwithstanding). That means also that we will certainly not all be white because there is no valid basis to think that white is whole like Jesus. OK, assuming our color, then my next question is what race or ethnicity do you think you will be in heaven? If you also said what you currently are now, that would be incorrect. Existing race, ethnicity, and other such distinctions are human constructs, which, as discussed, have been ascribed a distinct value (including for gender) measured by a comparative scale—that should not be confused with God’s measuring line and plumb line. God neither makes such distinctions nor allows us to use them to define and determine our ontology and function, as Peter and the early church learned and had to change. Therefore, no such distinctions or their value attached to color and gender will exist in heaven, nor are they compatible for God’s earthly family (cf. 2 Cor 10:12). Accordingly, irreducibly and nonnegotiably, the church and its persons and relationship cannot continue to reinforce, sustain and work to continue to maintain distinctions—even with good intentions for affirming diversity and supporting differences—and expect to compose God’s whole and uncommon family on the basis of reduced ontology and function.
We have to understand the often subtle reality that human distinctions are substitutes for the innermost of humanity, substitutes which fragment human life at the heart of persons and relationships in their ontology and function. These substitutes also serve as subtle simulations and illusions of ontology and function assumed in their primary condition, when in fact and experiential reality they only compose in secondary terms the reduced ontology and function for persons and relationships. Race-ethnic relations, for example, cannot be expected to be resolved beyond a simulation or illusion from common peace, as long as those distinctions are maintained preventing getting to the heart of the problem. The consequences of human distinctions, as discussed above, emerge along the spectrum of the human condition in its shared ontology and function, with inequality the defining consequence for all persons and relationships—whether individual, collective, institutional, structural or systemic. Inequality in race-ethnic relations exists because of these distinctions, thus equality cannot be achieved with these distinctions. The solution is not to be colorblind but to address what such distinctions signify, define and determine for human life.
What underlies all human distinctions and their consequences of inequality at all levels, which they all have in common in the innermost, is the inescapable fragmentary condition of reduced ontology and function. There is no substitute, simulation or illusion that can alter this condition and therefore resolve the existing inequality of persons, peoples, nations and their relations. And we have been recently witnessing, if not experiencing, the increasing relational consequences of inequality around the globe (mainly from macroaggressions), and notably in recent days between U.S. college students (primarily with microaggressions). Yet, the global church must not be misled in its understanding and misguided in its response. What precipitates conflict relations is comparative relations composed by human distinctions. Whether these distinctions are self-imposed or imposed on others, or both, a deficit condition results, which may require power relations to maintain conformity or to try to change. At the center of all this fragmentation of persons and relationships is the defining practice of human distinctions; and at the heart of human distinctions are fragmented persons and relationships in reduced ontology and function needing redemptive reconciliation for transformed relationships together—the relationships composed only by both persons being equalized without distinctions and thus vulnerably involved intimately from the heart of the whole person. We should not be misguided to work for equality while distinctions are still used, which at best can only result in a common equality that lacks wholeness at the heart of persons and relationships.
The good news from uncommon peace is that the pivotal breakthrough in the human relations composing the human condition, our human condition, has emerged with the gospel of uncommon equality in order for the heart of all persons and relationships to be transformed (not simply reformed) together in their primacy of nothing less than whole ontology and function. As Paul called forth the new-order church family to proclaim ‘the gospel of uncommon equality from uncommon peace’, the equalizing church must itself be determined by the experiential reality of uncommon equality; this specifically involved transformed relationships both equalized and intimate, so that the church family can whole-ly witness to the experiential truth of this whole and uncommon gospel (Eph 6:15). Furthermore, as the context of Paul calling forth the equalizing church indicates (6:10-18), the equalizing church will not be equalizing unless it also fights against any and all reductionism: first, against anything less and any substitutes for ‘the gospel of uncommon equality from uncommon peace’, and next, against the inequality inherent in human distinctions that fragment persons and relationships at the heart of their ontology and function. The integral fight both for the wholeness of the gospel and against all reductionism is not optional for the equalizing church, because the relational outcome of wholeness for its own persons and relationships and for all persons, peoples, nations and their relations depends on it. The good news is not that we have been saved from ‘sin without reductionism’ and saved to ‘good without wholeness’.
One qualifying note should be added to clarify the equalizing church. As the new-order church family of Christ, the equalizing church is still the body of Christ. That is, the functional order that Paul outlined for the church to compose its interdependent synergism is still vital (1 Cor 12:12-31). The uncommon equality of the equalizing church does not mean that all its persons do the same thing and equally have the same resources, nor does everyone engage their practice (including worship) in the same manner. The new-order church is neither a homogeneous unit nor a monotonic composition. Diversity in what persons do and the resources they have are basic to the body of Christ. The key issue is not differences but distinctions associated with differences that limit and constrain persons and fragment the relational order of the church family from wholeness together. Having this diversity in the church is important for the church’s interdependent synergism, but each difference is secondary and must be integrated into the primary of the whole church, that is, the church in uncommon peace and uncommon equality (Eph 4:11-13,16, cf. Col 2:19). When differences become the primary focus, even inadvertently, they subtly are seen with distinctions that set into motion the comparative process with its relational consequences.
The line between diversity and distinctions has disappeared in most church theology and practice (including the academy’s) today, such that the consequences are not understood or recognized. In whatever way those consequences emerge in the church (local, regional, global), they all converge in inequality of the church’s relational order—if not explicitly then implicitly. This unequal relational order of distinctions is contrary to and in conflict with the uncommon peace of Christ. As Paul made definitive Jesus’ salvific work for the church, Jesus embodied the good news in order to compose the uncommon equality of his church family at the heart of its persons and relationships in whole ontology and function, and therefore unequivocally transformed them (1) to be redeemed from human distinctions and their deficit condition and (2) to be reconciled to the new relational order in uncommon transformed relationships together both equalized and intimate in their innermost.
Do you have a different gospel and function for the church than the peace of Christ: “he came and proclaimed peace to you in a deficit position and peace to those in a better position yet still deficit condition” (Eph 2:17)?
In June, 2015, nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, were murdered at church during their weekly Bible study together by a white young adult proclaiming racial superiority. This macroaggression shocked many Christians and churches in the U.S. and evoked renewed calls for racial justice. Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, responded in part: “Until our lives [including at Fuller] reflect a gospel powerful enough to eradicate roots of racism and violence, the faith we proclaim will be a marginalized impertinence.”
Indeed, the experiential truth of the whole gospel must first be the experiential reality of the church and its persons and relationships, including the academy and other Christian organizations. Yet, the issues of justice and reconciliation intrinsic to the gospel must go beyond ethical-moral terms and reach deep into the heart of persons and relationships in their ontology and function; and getting past the secondary into this primacy requires the redemptive change of our theological anthropology. If we want justice with righteousness, then the gospel of the uncommon peace of Christ and integrally its uncommon equality also require this experiential reality in the church: the new, uncommon and whole relational order for the church to be distinguished as the new creation family of Christ, whereby its gospel will have the relational significance for all persons, peoples, nations and their relations to be made whole in their innermost.
The gospel that Jesus vulnerably embodied only in whole relational terms centered on the innermost of the child-person, who differentiated the heart of the person from inner out and, thus, who lived neither by the bias of human distinctions nor by a naïve lack of discernment. Jesus declared with excitement that the key to receiving and understanding God’s revelation is the vulnerable openness of the child-person, who is not predisposed by the limits and constraints of the epistemic bias (or trained incapacity) of those regarded as “wise and learned” (Lk 10:21). Also, Jesus disclosed in these relational terms that those who compose his family are distinguished child-persons, who have been redeemed from distinctions and thus humbly live at the heart of who and what they are without embellishment (Mt 18:1-4). Jesus further differentiated that the heart of those child-persons compose the heart of worship and its relational significance, those with distinctions regarded as having better practice and knowledgeable resources (Mt 21:15-16). Then, Jesus addressed his disciples’ concern for distinctions and their need for redemptive change as church leaders—leadership differentiated clearly from the greatest distinctions only by the child-person signified “like the youngest” (neos, Lk 22:26).
By centering on the child-person, however, Jesus did not reverse the relational order of his church family, which servant discipleship and leadership commonly imply in narrow referential terms of what to do. In reality, Jesus composed the new (neos) relational order for his church family of those new persons redeemed from distinctions and re-newed (anakainoo) to the wholeness of Christ (Col 3:10-11). The new persons in wholeness are the only church leaders who can “equip [katartizo, restore, put in new order and make complete] the persons and relationships of the church in its relational purpose and function, for building up the family of Christ, until all of us come to the whole relationship together of our faith distinguished by the whole Word, to full maturity on the basis of the only measure of the fullness, completeness, wholeness [pleroma] of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). This uncommon relational process and outcome in whole relational terms cannot emerge and unfold with, from and by distinctions, notably the greatest.
Paul is clear about “those who commend themselves by the comparative process. But when they measure themselves by their distinctions, and compare themselves with one another based on their distinctions, they do not understand” (syniemi, 2 Cor 10:12). That is, those who use, reinforce and sustain distinctions do not put together all of the relational words of the Word to have the whole understanding (the process and outcome of syniemi) of the whole gospel and its relational outcome of wholeness for persons and relationships together from their innermost to their outermost. The syniemi that Paul helps us to have involves the unbridgeable gap between conforming to distinctions from outer in and being transformed from distinctions in the innermost to the outermost.
Child-persons re-newed without distinctions at the heart of their ontology and function, and their transformed relationships together in which they are integrally involved with both equality and intimacy, are who and what the new, uncommon, whole relational order of the church involves, and how it functions. By the experiential reality of this relational order of its persons and relationships, the church is distinguished as transformed in its innermost. Therefore, on only this relational basis and experiential reality, the church has the relational significance to proclaim the gospel of uncommon peace with uncommon equality for the fragmentation and inequality of all persons, peoples, nations and their relations in the pluralistic, globalizing world, and to call for justice with righteousness and work for the uncommon good with wholeness. This uncommon relational process of the distinguished relational order of uncommon relationships together is not the naïve ideal of a child but rather the experiential reality of child-persons—who are not defined and determined by the human context’s commonization—vulnerably living from their heart the experiential truth of Christ’s gospel of uncommon peace in the good news of uncommon equality.
The life of Jesus before the cross embodied in whole relational terms ‘Jesus as the equalizer’. The death and resurrection of Jesus embodied with the palpable Word the new creation of persons and relationships from inner out in order to embody in whole and uncommon relational terms ‘the church as equalizer’ for all the ages of persons, the diversity of all peoples and the differences of all nations, “just as I am and have been sent.” Along with Paul, the palpable Word inquires, “Where are you in your ontology and function?” and “What are you doing here to be the church as equalizer?”—or do you have a better gospel and a greater purpose and function for the church?
The measure of Christ we use will be the gospel we get. The gospel we then use will be the relational outcome for the church and its persons and relationships we get, and thereby the relational significance that the world gets. Anything less than the wholeness of Christ will yield an incomplete gospel that does not save us inclusively from sin as reductionism and save us exclusively to the wholeness of persons and relationships together in the whole and uncommon God’s family. Anything less than the complete gospel of the wholeness of Christ will substitute for its whole relational outcome for the church—with a substitute that does not transform the church’s persons and relationships together at the heart of their ontology and function from inner out to compose the new, uncommon, whole creation church family of Christ.
The trajectory that composed the experiential truth of God’s vulnerable presence in the human context and the path that composed the experiential reality of God’s relational involvement, and the relational outcome of God’s vulnerable trajectory and relational path, are at stake here. That is, God’s righteousness, which kissed uncommon peace to integrate justice with righteousness in wholeness, is at issue here—which also unavoidably includes our righteousness.
The global church is urgently faced with professing the whole and holy (uncommon) God, claiming the whole gospel and its uncommon relational outcome, and thereby proclaiming the experiential truth of God’s presence and involvement and the experiential reality of relationship together in wholeness. Or we of the church can profess something less of God to idolize, claim an incomplete gospel, and settle for its common result, whereby we can only proclaim the truth of God and the reality of our life together without the relational significance of their primacy in wholeness. If we profess the latter, there exists an inequality about God shaped by common terms; and therefore there is an existing inequality common to all of our persons and relationships that we have to accept, resign ourselves to, or simply have no significant basis to change. Is this what many segments of the global church are going through today, knowingly or unknowingly? Yet, the reality is that the global church cannot expect equality when its God exists in inequality.
Throughout their history, God’s people and church family have narrowed down the whole of God and shaped the uncommon God by commonization. The Word embodied nothing less than the experiential truth of the whole and uncommon God, who cannot be narrowed down and idolized in comparative terms. The whole Truth embodied no substitutes of the experiential reality of God’s vulnerable presence and face-to-face involvement composed only in whole and uncommon relational terms, which cannot be limited or constrained in a narrow epistemic field and referentialized. When we open our persons and relationships to be vulnerable to the whole and uncommon God, then the equality of God is distinguished (pala) beyond all human terms, distinctions and comparison. The relational significance of the equality of God is that God both created persons and relationships in his likeness of equality in their innermost, and now is the equalizer of persons and relationships who are no longer equal in his likeness.
In an expanding universe and a contracting world, the global church must examine its theology and practice to understand whether its cosmology goes beyond the dark matter of the universe (or even multiverse), and its anthropology goes deeper than the common function of the human brain found by neuroscience; and then examine if its practice gets beyond the common practices for persons and relationships prevailing in the human context. If our theology and practice do not get beyond these limits and constraints and go deeper, then they remain narrowed down in a narrow epistemic field with incomplete knowledge and understanding both of God and human life in their innermost.
The inequality of persons, people, nations and their relations is the prevailing condition, signifying the human condition for all persons, peoples and nations. And the efforts for equality, even by the church, have not made significant change in this condition. Social and racial justice, for example, have had good intentions but the fact is that inequality still prevails, and whatever good has resulted from these efforts still is good without wholeness. The reality we need to embrace is that all justice is not equal and is not equally enacted, nor is their relational outcome equality. More importantly, there are underlying issues that the church has not addressed, whether we have not recognized them or simply avoid them.
Foremost underlying is the issue of our theological anthropology and on what basis we define persons and determine relationships, as we have been discussing. As long as we use human distinctions, our theological anthropology remains narrowed down to the outer-in parts of persons and relationships without the heart of their primacy. As long as human distinctions remain prominent in the church (e.g. by roles, gifts and other resources) and compose its gathering (whether culturally, ethnically, racially), the church will not unfold transformed in wholeness. For example, even if our theology does not include distinctions as its basis yet our church is composed primarily on cultural, ethnic or racial terms, then our practice is incongruent with our theology. The experiential reality of our practice confirms the experiential truth of our theology, and we cannot and should not expect anything more to emerge and unfold from the church.
Consider this existing fact. When our practice does not address the innermost of human life and get to the heart of persons and relationships, then our practice becomes occupied-preoccupied with secondary matters (not necessarily unimportant yet still secondary) over relational involvement with their primacy. The reality then is that our practice reflects and thus reinforces or sustains fragmentary parts of persons and relationships, notably with the distinctions in comparative relations for the deficit condition of inequality. Underlying this dynamic is the issue of righteousness. For the presence and involvement of God to distinguish the whole and uncommon God, what is required is God’s righteousness. As the psalmist sang, God’s righteousness kisses wholeness and therefore “the whole of who, what and how God is goes before him and distinguishes his practice.” Just as for God, the integrity of our practice is contingent on our righteousness. Who, what and how we are goes before us and determines our practice—as the psalmist sang of God—including our faithfulness, the relational involvement of our love and the composition of our justice.
Who, what and how we are is the central concern that Jesus has for his followers, which is summarized in his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). Our righteousness must be differentiated from the practice of reductionists (5:20) to distinguish the whole of who, what and how we are—not parts or something less of who, what and how we are. Underlying the defining issue of righteousness is the matter of human will, which God endowed to all human persons equally. From the beginning in the primordial garden, human will was exercised to reshape the whole of God and redefine the uncommon God’s terms for relationship together, thereby composing sin as reductionism. This autonomy was exercised by God’s people to narrow down God’s whole and uncommon relational terms for covenant relationship. That’s the self-autonomy of reductionists that Jesus differentiated in their practice of who, what and how they were (5:21-48). What inevitably emerges from self-autonomy shaping God and narrowing down his relational terms is the practice of self-determination. Self-determination of who, what and how we are is the righteousness Jesus exposed (in chap. 6), which he said is incompatible for his followers’ practice and incongruent with their innermost because self-determination is contingent on a comparative process and relations that require inequality to determine “the greatest”—as the disciples needed to learn. In other words, Jesus makes unequivocal that our righteousness cannot be composed and established by self-determination—a critical issue that involves our theological anthropology. In conjoint function, the choice we make to determine who, what and how we are in practice will also require at some point justification for our practice and/or conforming others to our practice. This is the self-justification that Jesus integrated (7:1-6) to the free choice for self-determination. The engagement in this practice of who, what and how we have been, are and will be can be explicit or subtle, finding expression in the spectrum of anything less and any substitutes for the heart of our persons and relationships in their primacy of wholeness.
When we choose to maintain and promote distinctions—whether individual or collective distinctions—we are claiming the critical ingredients necessary to engage in self-determination for constructing our identity in who, what and how we are. Even if distinctions were imposed on us—for example, as the dalits in India, the natives and slaves in the U.S., the indigenous in South Africa—they could only be imposed on our situations and circumstances but we decide whether to consent to them in our innermost. To reject such distinctions is to claim the equality of who, what and how we are determined by God. To accept any distinctions is to claim our own determination of who, what and how we are on a narrowed-down comparative basis that composes inequality, the measure of which results in a deficit condition for all engaged—even for disciples regarded as “the greatest.”
The autonomy to construct our identity raises two specific issues that are consequential for the church and its persons and relationships. First, having the freedom of choice has been synonymous with democracy, which has been directly identified with Christian freedom. Yet, the freedom of Christ and democracy should not be conflated, because democracy (in theory at least) advocates for freedom of choice that also includes choosing reduced ontology and function that constrains being free; whereas freedom in Christ excludes such choices in order to be free (Jn 8:31-36; Gal 5:13; 1 Pet 2:16). Freedom of choice is not an end in itself, notably for oneself in self-determination (individually and collectively), which is the nature of democracy that composes persons and relationships unequally embedded (if not enslaved) in a common deficit condition. The fight for human rights has been mostly about having only this freedom of choice; and the church must differentiate its engagement in human rights or its efforts will only reinforce and sustain the reduced ontology and function constraining being free. Freedom in Christ opens the door to be involved in relationships together that are equalized at the heart of persons and relationships in likeness of the whole and uncommon God (2 Cor 3:16-18). This innermost identity in wholeness together emerges only from the freedom of Christ in ongoing choices of the relational involvement that, as Christ made definitive, composes his church family; and these choices to be freely involved in equalized relationships are neither synonymous with democracy nor the relational outcome of democracy.
This leads to the second issue about freedom of choice to compose the church, which could result in the body of Christ but would not be the family of Christ. The freedom to compose the church and determine its identity may be consistent with a democracy, but these are not options available to distinguish the church family of Christ. When a church chooses to construct its identity on the basis of distinctions (self-imposed or imposed by others), this autonomy claims its own determination of who, what and how the church and its persons and relationships are on a narrowed-down comparative basis that reinforces, sustains and composes them with the relational consequence of inequality and a deficit condition in their innermost. What does this say about a hierarchical model or organizational-business model used for the church that requires distinctions for persons and relationships? What does this mean for the race/ethnic-based and culturally constructed churches, whose distinction is the primary basis for their composition and identity?
To focus on only one example among others, the African American church has had a long history in its struggle from slavery to freedom in order to have the freedom of choice to determine its current composition and identity. What was at the heart of many slave-based churches, however, was their rejection of that contemptible distinction and deficit condition to determine who, what and how they were in their innermost, despite the enslaving limits and constraints of their situations and circumstances. In other words, in the freedom of Christ they freely claimed their uncommon equality in Christ while they survived in the common inequality of a democracy. Unfortunately, the African American church evolved more on the basis of surviving in common inequality than on claiming their uncommon equality. Yet, this should be expected because this church transitioned from a slave-based church that mainly rejected its distinction to a race-based church that accepted its distinction. By accepting its distinction, it also claimed its own determination of who, what and how they are, or at least hope to be, which required engaging the comparative relations that composed inequality and assuming its deficit condition. Generally speaking, the African American church can be described in its practice by its self-determination to climb from a deficit condition to a higher, better, greater condition in its pursuit of racial justice and equality. I’m sure that few, if any, in this church feel they have succeeded in their determination.
What is also apparent in the African American church, and others like it in the global North and South, is the lack of understanding (the syniemi Paul made apparent, 2 Cor 10:12) of the implications of accepting, maintaining and promoting distinctions in the church, and using such a distinction to compose the church and construct its identity. In God’s uncommon peace and justice, distinctions (diakrino in Acts 15:9) mean the reality to separate, treat differently and thus to discriminate; and this intentional or unintentional discrimination could likely be an inconvenient truth and uncomfortable reality for many Christians to embrace in their relations—just as Peter still experienced in his distinction until Paul confronted him. What cannot emerge from comparative relations is equality because by its nature it only composes inequality and only results in a deficit condition. As long as the African American church uses its race distinction, it will not experience the uncommon equality of Christ in the primacy of its persons and relationships from their innermost to their outermost. Moreover, whatever justice it has achieved is without righteousness and whatever good it has brought is without wholeness, because the church in its outermost lacks the relational significance of its innermost. Its own race prevents this church from going deeper in their innermost with the slave-based church and moving further in their outermost than their fore-parents could have imagined. Therefore, whenever we choose to maintain and promote some distinction about us, we claim what is critically needed for our self-determination in the comparative relations of all persons, peoples and nations, the irreversible condition of which is a deficit inequality in the heart of our ontology and function.
The freedom we use—either of democracy or of Christ—will be the equality we get. The equality we use—either common equality or uncommon equality—will be the who, what and how of persons and relationships we get. The righteousness we use will be the church we get—as Jesus made the experiential truth and reality for his followers.
The church as equalizer holds us accountable for our distinctions and confronts us in our self-determination because the choices for both imply and are consequential of the following:
1. They are incompatible with the uncommon peace and equality of Christ, who saved us from reduced ontology and function and saved us to wholeness together in the heart of our ontology and function.
2. They are incongruent with the new, uncommon, whole relational order of the transformed church family of Christ.
3. They are contrary to the good news for all the ages of persons, the diversity of all peoples, the differences of all nations, and all their relationships to experience wholeness in their primacy from inner out.
4. They are in conflict with the redemptive reconciliation needed for the transformed relationships together, both equalized and intimate, composing the relational outcome of this gospel of wholeness and uncommon equality.
Therefore, the church as equalizer by necessity confronts us and holds us accountable, because this is the relational outcome of the experiential truth of the uncommon God’s vulnerable trajectory and the experiential reality of the whole of God’s relational path to respond to us in whole and uncommon relational terms—which we do not have the freedom to reduce or renegotiate. Thus, Paul is emphatic about our choice for globalizing the church: “pursue [dioko, follow eagerly, endeavor earnestly to acquire] what makes for wholeness and for mutual upbuilding of the transformed global church family” (Rom 14:19).
The experiential truth of this uncommon equality of persons and relationships in their primacy, and the experiential reality of the equalizing church for its persons and relationships in wholeness both converge to embody the church as equalizer in likeness of Jesus as the equalizer. Equality distinguishes the innermost of the whole and uncommon God and is at the heart of God’s relational response to our human condition. The church as equalizer distinguishes the innermost of God’s likeness and extends the heart of God’s relational response to the fragmentary condition of all the persons, peoples and nations in this pluralistic, globalizing world—just as Jesus prayed for his church family.
As the global church emerges on the relational basis discussed above, by these whole and uncommon relational terms the global church and all its churches, persons and relationships unfold transformed in wholeness—nothing less and no substitutes.
 Kurt Anders Richardson, “American Exceptionalism as Prophetic Nationalism,” in Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: Global Awakenings in Theology and Praxis (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 121.
 Richardson, 129.
 Quoted from “Out of Anguish, We Commit to Change,” posted 6/22/2015, http://fuller.edu/offices/President/From-the-President/2015-Posts.
 This perception can be gained from Cornel West and Eddie S. Glaude Jr., eds., African American Religious Thought: An Anthology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003).
©2016 T. Dave Matsuo