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Hermeneutic of Worship Language
Understanding Communion with the Whole of God

Chapter 2    Sounds of Consonance and Dissonance



Sounds of Consonance

Sound in the Ear of the Hearer

Sounds of Dissonance

Changing Our Sound







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Table of Contents

Scripture Index




Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?

Who may live on your holy mountain?

Those whose walk is blameless and who do what is righteous,

Who speak the truth from their hearts.

                                                                                                            Psalm 15:1-2, TNIV


Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tents,

one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.

                                                                                                            Mark 9:5


            Most Christians are aware that our heart is essential in worship to make relational connection with God. It is necessary, however, to go beyond a view of the heart that is limited to feelings/emotions (though these are important), in order to become the whole worshipers the Father seeks (Jn 4:23-24). Our worship language must communicate to God persons whose hearts are open and vulnerable with what is within (e.g. love, desires, fear, anger, weakness, inadequacies, including sins) because only such a person distinguishes who is significant and honest and therefore presented whole-ly from inner out. This is the qualitative function of the heart of the whole person who presents nothing less and no substitutes, that is, instead of the secondary matters of what one does or has. The qualitative function of the heart integrates the person from inner out for the person to be whole to worship “in spirit and truth.” The beautiful truth (not in propositional form) about the heart’s qualitative function is that this is how we are created in the qualitative image of God!

            The OT deepens our understanding about the heart, as the following discussion illuminates for us:

In Hebrew terminology, the center of the person is the heart (leb); …the “inner person” (nepes) God “breathed” of himself into the human person (cf. Ecc 3:11b) is signified by the heart (leb)…“the wellspring” (starting point, tosa‘ot) of the ongoing function of the human person (Prov 4:23)…[that which] gives definition to the person (Prov 27:19); and, when not reduced or fragmented (“at peace”), as giving life to “the body” (basar, referring to the outer aspect of the person, Prov 14:30), which describes the integrating function for the whole person (inner and outer). This suggests [that] the function of the heart signifying the “inner person”—which is then inclusive of the outer—involves both: (1) the qualitative integration of the whole person, and (2) the functional basis for relationship with the whole of God, specifically for experiencing the intimate relationship constituted in the Trinity. Both are realized, of course, only when the heart is not reduced and is necessarily transformed. The intellect may be able to provide quantitative unity (for example, by identifying the association of parts) for the human person. However, while this may be necessary and useful at times, it is never sufficient by itself to define the whole person nor to experience the relationships necessary to be whole, especially with God.[1]

With this fuller understanding, the heart and wholeness are inseparable and essential to worship in order to present the significance of our person. Hearts that are open and vulnerable to each other in the primacy of relationship are necessary to come together for the experience of intimate relational connection in relationships that are whole—which is integral to the “well-being” that composes the biblical sense of “peace” (šālôm). Accordingly, and this is critical for our practice, God does not have our whole person for relationship until it involves our heart. God gives primacy to our heart over all secondary outer-in aspects of our person (i.e. what we do and have), because it is only at the heart level that God and we can make significant relational connection together.

            Apart from the heart all other efforts for connection in relationships are indirect or generalized, which presupposes relational distance. Interrelated, consider our worship language, how indirect are our songs (in third person) and how generalized we speak about God (with sweeping or idealized terms), which only assume to be directed to God in the significance of relational connection. This assumption has no truthful basis apart from the heart. In contrast, the beautiful truth involved in the direct and relational-specific function of the heart is the experiential truth that this is how we are created for intimate relationships together in the very likeness of how the whole of God (the Trinity) engages in relationship (as Jesus with the Father in the garden, Lk 22:42-44, and on the cross, 27:46, cf. Heb 5:7).

            Moreover, our understanding about the heart and wholeness needs to deepen even further, especially its significance for worship of the whole and holy (whole-ly) God as his family. One of Jesus’ earliest disciples helps us here. The one disciple in the Gospels who clearly illuminates the open and vulnerable heart needed for intimate relationship with Jesus is Mary of Bethany. Mary, as noted in the previous chapter, refused to be constrained by cultural expectation so that she could be with Jesus in his relational context. She left behind the constraints on her person from the “old” (the influence of her human context) and stepped into the “new” to be whole in relational connection with Jesus in the relational imperative of discipleship (and got in trouble with her sister Martha for it, Lk 10:38-42). Her heart was further distinguished with Jesus when Lazarus died (noted below). In yet another key scene, Mary extended her person to Jesus in a beautiful response of worship (Jn 12:1-8), thereby involving her whole person in the primacy of relationship necessary for Jesus’ followers to function in the new creation family; her response illuminated the relational significance of the gospel and led the way for the ecclesiology of worship. The setting was table fellowship with Jesus.

            Not long before his crucifixion, Jesus and the disciples were having dinner with Martha, Mary and Lazarus (a family whom Jesus loved, Jn 11:5), when Mary came and poured very expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair (cf. a similar action from an ex-prostitute, Lk 7:37-38; Matthew and Mark’s Gospels say “a woman came…and poured the ointment on his head,” Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9). Other disciples who were present chastised Mary, calling her action wasteful because the perfume should have been sold and the money used to help poor people. In this moment their primary focus was on serving and ministry, not on the person of Jesus. Nevertheless, Mary had her heart set on loving her Lord in this act of worship, in which her whole person was openly and vulnerably involved with Jesus. Earlier when Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus had died and Jesus came to their village, Mary was told that Jesus was calling for her, and she quickly went to Jesus, knelt at his feet and poured her heart out to him, weeping, whereby Jesus’ heart was “deeply moved” (Jn 11:28-35). She didn’t stay at a comfortable distance relationally, in contrast with Martha’s more restrained interaction with Jesus at a noticeably different level of affect for both Martha and Jesus (vv.20-27). Mary is mentioned only a few times in the Gospels, but each instance shows Mary’s freedom to be vulnerable and direct with Jesus that none of the other disciples demonstrated (cf. Mk 6:52; 8:14-17; Jn 4:27,31-33). She could be confident with Jesus because she experienced his acceptance of and involvement with her whole person. Yet her confidence wasn’t akin, for example,  to Peter’s relative openness (from outer in) because Mary’s response emerged as relational trust in Jesus’ whole person, while Peter’s misguided behavior came from how he defined both himself and Jesus by the outer-in criteria of what they did and had, such as culturally-defined roles of rabbi and student (cf. Jn 13:6-8).

            Mary illuminates the kind of disciple and thus worshiper that the Father seeks. She was a “true worshiper” (Jn 4:23) whose person functioned whole from inner out in “in spirit and truth.” Hers was the compatible and reciprocal response to Jesus and how Jesus is relationally involved with persons: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you” (Jn 15:9). Jesus’ relational involvement with persons embodies love (agapē), that is, God’s family love. God’s family love is never primarily about what to do—not even with sacrifice, such that the cross seen as only about sacrifice misses the most significant aspect to Jesus’ work in the incarnation—but about being deeply involved relationally with the other person for whole relationship together (cf. Jesus’ involvement with others while on the cross). Jesus’ relational work composed the integral basis for Mary’s reciprocal relational response. Mary’s relational connection with Jesus—like no other disciple’s—is the outcome of God’s relational involvement of family love to reconcile persons with him in the new creation family. This relational outcome is the good news that composes the ‘whole’ gospel of Christ (i.e. the gospel of peace, Eph 6:15). Her relational language epitomized ‘sounds of consonance’ in reciprocal response to Jesus’ whole person.

            And Jesus, highlighting the significance to him of Mary’s act of worship, makes the most remarkable statement about Mary:

I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her (Mk 14:8-9, NIV).

Ever since Jesus said, “Wherever the gospel is preached,” the gospel proclamation has spanned thousands of years and entered billions of ears, yet Mary’s name is rarely, if ever, attached to Jesus’ gospel. We must therefore ask ourselves this urgent question: What in fact and indeed is the gospel that gets preached? If the gospel we claim and proclaim doesn’t tell of Mary’s response—as compared to, say, Peter, James and John’s missional activities (even as important as these activities were), we have ignored Jesus’ own words. To have ignored these particular words in relational language from Jesus’ mouth can only be the result of selective “hearing” from our biased perceptual-interpretive framework and lens. I assert, however, that the omission of Mary’s relational significance to Jesus is less about androcentrism as some biblical feminists would claim (though gender is undoubtedly involved) than it is about the threat Mary’s person presents to those (both male and female) who are defined and determined by reductionism instead of by God’s relational grace and agapē. Furthermore, to have ignored Jesus’ words about Mary not only exposes the bias of the church’s interpretive lens but also the shift from God’s relational language to referential language.

            This hermeneutical impasse is consequential for an ongoing reduced personhood in relationships without significant connection. To continue to ignore Mary’s relational significance for the gospel is to continue in a reshaped gospel in referential language, whereby our ecclesiology becomes fragmentary, which then extends to reshaping our worship. Therefore, we can no longer presume that the gospel we preach in our worship services is not “a different gospel” that Paul fought against in the churches for ecclesiology to be whole (cf. Gal 1:6). In the cacophony of proclamations, we must by necessity be able to distinguish the voices of consonance from dissonance.


Sounds of Consonance

            Wholeness of our person and relationships is not optional for God’s people. We must not, however, misunderstand from referential thinking what wholeness involves, for example, that the whole person is just a unity of mind, body and soul to counter dualism. While such thinking rightly points to a fragmented person, it tends not to lead to the wholeness embodied by Jesus in response to the human condition. Though the notion of holistic is increasing for Christian practice, this emphasis usually is disembodied from Jesus’ whole person and thus de-relationalizes what is primary to God’s life. Such a view often translates in Christian contexts to a missional focus on holistic ministry or social justice to respond to persons’ physical needs and circumstances in addition to their spiritual needs; yet this response is not whole if the person is still defined from outer in at the expense of the primacy of relationship (cf. the above disciples focused on the poor in contrast to Mary). Biblical wholeness is the qualitative function of the person from inner out (signified by the primacy of the heart) necessary in order to be compatible for relationship with the whole and holy God, and congruent in relationships together as the new creation family in likeness of the triune God. Only this wholeness composes šālôm and, accordingly, the gospel of wholeness that fulfills the relational involvement of God’s face to distinguish his family (Num 6:24-26; 2 Cor 4:6)..

            Scripture identifies being whole as “blameless” (tāmiym, Ps 15:2; anenklētos, 1 Cor 1:8). Psalm 15:1-2 connects the necessity of “blameless” to worshipers. The poet David asks “O Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” (v.1, NIV). The Hebrew word for “sanctuary” here is ’ōhel (tent, home denoting God’s dwelling), but sanctuary is rendered elsewhere as miqdāš (from the verb d, to set apart from common usage in service to the uncommon [holy] God) referring to holy places where God’ presence and glory were manifested (i.e. tabernacle and temple). To dwell/live in God’s sanctuary and on his holy hill means to remain in the holy God’s relational context. Who may remain in God’s relational context and be relationally involved with the holy (uncommon) God?

            David responds to his own question with honest humility yet confidently for himself. David knows from his own experience that the answer to his questions is only “He whose walk is blameless [tāmiym], and who does what is righteous [ṣedeq], who speaks the truth from his heart” (v.2). Tāmiym means “complete” or “whole” (other notable persons who were tāmiym in covenant relationship with God were Noah and Abraham; see Gen 6:9 and 17:1-2).[2] The tāmiym person speaks “truth from the heart”—that is, honestly as a person from inner out, for whom the open and vulnerable heart is indispensable to compose relational language for intimate relational connection. Only persons who are tāmiym and ‘speak truth from the heart’ can be deeply known and deeply know each other in intimate relational connection. These are the persons God seeks in covenant relationship, who sing in God’s relational language to be compatible—that is, with sounds of consonance—with the whole and holy God.

            In addition to tāmiym, David also says this person “does what is righteous [ṣedeq].” Ṣedeq is tied to righteousness (ṣĕdāqâh, Isa 28:17), which throughout Scripture refers to God’s relational commitment to the covenant terms, and signifies that we can count on God in this relationship to be fully who, what and how God says he is and thus keep his word to us. Reciprocally, the person who is righteous (ṣādaq, e.g. Ps 119:137) is the one whom righteous God can count on for compatible response in relationship on the covenant’s relational terms of nothing less and no substitutes. These are God’s distinguished relational dynamics which compose the whole of God’s uncommon (holy) relational process. Here we can begin to get a deeper sense of and the call to relational well-being and wholeness as persons who function in tāmiym and ṣĕdāqâh. Both tāmiym and ṣĕdāqâh assume the primacy of the qualitative and of relationship together in integral function in order to be distinguished as such. This is how corporate worship language must be distinguished from any conventional modes (i.e. from the common) of communication  in order to be relationally involved with the holy God just as the whole of God (the Trinity) is relationally involved with us—the relational significance of “Be holy for I am holy” in relational language, not referential language (cf. Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Pet 1:15-16).

            We will grow as this uncommon God’s uncommon people in tāmiym and ṣĕdāqâh only as we grow more deeply to relationally know God for who God is, what God is and how he is, namely by following Jesus’ whole person openly and vulnerably disclosed in relational progression together with him. God’s being (who), nature (what) and presence (how) have been illuminated in other related studies, which readers are encouraged to pursue for their own growth.[3] The following summary from Sanctified Christology is helpful for this study:

  God’s being (who) as the heart of God—not a mere part of God or some expression or conception of God but the very heart of God’s being—and nothing less, constituted in Jesus’ function with the primary importance of the heart signifying his whole person, with no substitutes.


  God’s nature (what) as intimately relational, signified by the consistency of Jesus’ ongoing intimate relationship with the Father and intimate relational involvement with others.


  God’s presence (how) as vulnerably involved, made evident by Jesus’ vulnerable disclosures of his person to others and willingness to be negatively affected by them, including by his disciples.


All of God’s being, nature and presence function for relationship together. That which is God’s glory is “his glory.” Who, what and how God is is who, what and how Jesus is (Jn 10:38b; 12:45; 14:9).[4]

             Integral to our growing in relationship with Jesus (Jesus’ priority for discipleship, inseparably also the “goal” of spirituality) are three major issues for our relational involvement (i.e. our practice) to be whole. These have been embodied vulnerably in Jesus’ earthly life, and should ongoingly challenge our assumptions about theological anthropology, and thus our language as we present ourselves to God in worship. They are as follows:

(1)  The significance of the person presented

(2)  The integrity and quality of one’s communication

(3)  The depth of relational involvement with others[5]

First issue: God in full disclosure came into our human context embodied in the person of the Son. Focusing on function and not doctrine, Jesus presented nothing less than and no substitutes for his whole person, who is inseparable from the Father and Spirit. What we witness in Jesus’ person is the whole of God embodied in vulnerable self-disclosure. And even though the whole of God embodied in the Son is not the entirety of transcendent God, who and what we experience is nothing less than and certainly no substitute for God. The significance of the person presented in Jesus is who, what and how God is—nothing less and no substitutes. Could the Father have sent someone other than the Son? Instead of sending the Son into the world, the Father might have continued sending his angels or some other intermediary to be a guide for us in this life, or hand someone a book of ready-made New Testament Scriptures, but he didn’t. During Moses’ life, the OT indicates that at one point God would have sent an angel in place of his own presence had Moses not argued for God’s own presence (see Ex 33:1-3,12-17). For Moses, a substitute was not good enough, was not acceptable to Moses, and God received Moses’ plea and responded with nothing less. In the historical arc of God’s thematic action to restore humanity and the rest of creation to wholeness, God made strategic and tactical shifts by sending the Son himself into the human context to meet us Face to face (2 Cor 4:6)—nothing less than the whole of God embodied in Christ, and no substitutes for his vulnerable presence and intimate involvement.[6] Jesus’ embodiment in vulnerable self-disclosure of the whole transcendent and holy God (the Trinity) to the world was improbable to most and intrusive to still more. Yet even now, even the most ardent of believers (both in church and the academy) fragment ‘the whole of God embodied.’ Our perception and reception of Emmanuel must include his life between the manger and the cross. If we continue to keep Jesus in the manger and then swoosh him up onto the cross, we have already fragmented the whole of God presented throughout the incarnation and reduced him to only his work on the cross, maintaining and proclaiming an incomplete view of Christ in an incomplete Christology. This reductionism has had long-range interrelated consequences—epistemological, theological and relational consequences which render us to a hermeneutical impasse. Understanding the whole of Jesus is the key to whole understanding of the heart of God, and to growing in our own person as we are created to be.[7] The relational process to this depth of understanding and relationally knowing Jesus is the significance of discipleship and spirituality, inseparably.

Second issue: All the words Jesus uttered were congruent with the person he vulnerably presented, for the integrity and quality of all his communication. Although we often find that much of what he said is downright baffling, our failure to understand him reveals more about us and the inadequacy of our quantitative perceptual-interpretive framework to interpret Jesus’ language. God doesn’t speak in a secret language that only “elite” Christians (e.g. mystics, scholars) can understand, nor does he speak only in theophanies (see Num 12:6-8). The problem for us is that we can never adequately understand Jesus’ language by using a referential language lens at a relational distance because his language is only qualitative and relational.

            Communication theory helps us recognize some features about ourselves and, indeed, about God, such as the following: (1) one cannot not communicate; (2) “Any communication implies a commitment and thereby defines the relationship;”[8] and (3) “Every communication has a content aspect and a relationship aspect such that the latter classifies the former.”[9] This third feature, the relational content of any communication, is conveyed as relational messages as follows:

(1) what one is saying about him- or herself

(2) how the speaker feels about the other person being addressed

(3) how the speaker feels about their shared relationship.[10]

These are relational messages from the speaker to the hearer, which characterize language’s function to make relational connection. In God’s communicative acts to us throughout Scripture, God ongoingly conveys relational messages to us: (1) what he says about himself (e.g. Ex 34:6-7), (2) how he feels about us (e.g. Dt 7:7-8,12-13; Jn 3:16), (3) and what he says about our relationship together (Jn 17). Thus, to treat God’s Word as a topic of study (notably in the academy) is to de-relationalize God by separating him from his relational messages to us; de-relationalizing God’s self-disclosures keeps us at a relational distance (e.g. ‘in front of the text’ paralleling ‘in front of the curtain’). In the academy this is the predominant approach to biblical studies, theology, and spirituality. Many seminarians are aware of and dissatisfied with the incongruence of academic exercises with God’s Word. Similarly, in order for our own worship language to become relational language, then, critically, what becomes primary is neither acquiring nor proclaiming referential words, but first relationally understanding and receiving God’s relational messages to us—which likely will require a new hermeneutic.

            Jesus as the embodied Word of God vulnerably communicated the whole of God (the Trinity) in self-disclosure to us, not as information to know about God, but only for the primacy of intimate relational connection. The integrity of who and the quality of what Jesus communicated, and the Spirit extends, is nothing less and no substitutes—openly and whole-ly present from inner out and vulnerably involved for relationship together. This is how Jesus embodied the first and second issues for practice, the significance of his person presented (e.g. to the Father, to the Samaritan woman, to his disciples, to the crowds), whose language they could count on for who, what and how God is. We can therefore count on all of his communication to be relationally specific to us and whole-ly reliable, worthy of our relational trust. Imperative for our growth to wholeness is to be transformed in our perceptual-interpretive framework (Rom 8:5-6, 12:2) from our old lens that sees and hears referential words about God to the new that receives relational messages from God’s very own heart to ours.

Third issue: Jesus’ presence and involvement with persons was open and vulnerable for heart-to-heart relational connection in order to make them whole in face-to-face relationship together. His vulnerability was evident throughout his earthly life as he experienced the range of responses from humans, from open reception (e.g. Jn 1:12-13), to relational distance (e.g. the disciples, Jn 14:9a), to rejection (Jn 1:11, 6:66). Moreover, he was always exposed to human sin (notably as reductionism), and deeply affected by it (e.g. Lk 19:41-47). This is how Jesus vulnerably embodied God’s relational grace and family love (agapē) to human persons. As it emerged and unfolded, Jesus’ table fellowship becomes for us the definitive expression of the depth of his involvement with persons, which is discussed more fully in the next chapter.

            These three issues for our own practice gain clarity in Jesus’ person and are necessary for us to understand. If our worship language is to have significance to God, it must be consonant with Jesus’ person, communication, and the depth of his relational involvement: nothing less and no substitutes for our whole person presented from inner out, in open and direct communication to God to be vulnerably involved in reciprocal relationship together to the depth level of intimacy. Our language to God requires change in order to be this person and to compose the reciprocal response of our relational trust and commitment to God. Referential language does not engage our whole person in this level of relationship; it is not designed for this purpose and outcome. Moreover, reciprocal relationship is incongruent with any notion of unilateral relationship, and precludes our living as passive objects, for example, who expect God to do all the relational work (or the converse). A passive posture is dissonant with covenant relationship with God both because God cannot be other than relational and because God doesn’t engage in relationship together unilaterally.

            Furthermore, and equally important, we need to pay attention to and take responsibility for the relational messages we communicate to God in worship: what we’re saying about ourselves, about how we see God, and feel about our relationship. That is, everything that takes place in corporate and individual worship says something relationally from us directly to God (intentionally or unknowingly); and these three issues for practice help form a qualitative relational lens for us to grow in our awareness of what is taking place relationally, and thereby to make any needed hermeneutical correction. Only with this qualitative lens can we transpose all the dynamics in corporate worship into a key for the ecclesiology of worship such that our ‘singing’ has relational consonance to God. In other words:

‘Singing’ is the integral relational dynamic of life that clearly distinguishes God’s family in the tune of the new song composed in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God, the song of which worship is the chorus. And, worship is the integrating focus and the integral relational convergence of our (both individual and corporate) reciprocal relational response and vulnerable involvement in relationship together with God—the ongoing primacy of which is the sound of consonance significant to God’s ear.

I like portraying as ‘singing’ this qualitative-relational focus and function in wholeness because it is distinguished from discursive referential language and function taking place from a relational distance—the latter being worship in front of the curtain. God’s language is only this ‘singing’!

            Wholeness is essential for God’s new creation family—connecting John 14:27 to Ephesians 2:14-18 for Colossians 3:15-16—to grow as the worshipers who “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23). In biblical wholeness, all aspects of life as God’s people are inseparable—worship, spirituality, discipleship, and theological understandings (e.g. Christology, soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, eschatology). Conjointly, in order to deeply understand and grow in the integrated whole, it is equally necessary to grasp that which diminishes this whole, which is reductionism, the major barrier to growing in our whole person and persons together in wholeness in the primacy of relationship with God on his relational terms. The following sections examine the process of reductionism and its counter-relational work against wholeness. For worship, reductionism replaces God’s relational language to ‘sing the new song’ with referential worship language from outer in that churches participate in and, even unknowingly, promote, for example, with general terms like “relational” and “holistic” and with indirect words in new songs and styles.

            It is sad, though not surprising, when Christians experience relational distance from God’s heart (and from each other) in worship. This is the experience of not feeling connected with God other than in fleeting palpable moments during a worship service, from Sunday to Sunday, if even that much. Whenever we sense that something is missing, this is a relational consequence that we need to start paying attention to; and the cause of which we need to understand. Distance in relationships (especially with God) is the key indicator of distance we have from our own hearts. Relational distance reduces all persons (ourselves and how we view God) and our relationships to less than whole, because the heart and its qualitative function become detached (fragmented) from the whole person, who thereby becomes de-relationalized. This reduction of the whole person (reduced ontology and function) keeps us relationally distant from God because our heart is not available for relational connection, therefore in dissonant function countering God’s relational desires and purpose for us. One of the purposes of this study is to expose reductionism plainly, so that we can fight against it in order to grow in tāmiym and ṣĕdāqâh as those who may worship God in his presence, like the poet David, in intimate relational connection involving our open and vulnerable heart, like Mary.


Sound in the Ear of the Hearer

            Given the above discussion about wholeness distinguished in relationships, we can now discuss how the whole gets reduced to something less than whole, that is, becomes fragmented. This discussion must start with something we all have and use: our perceptual-interpretive framework and its lens—that which determines what we pay attention to and likewise ignore. Our perceptual-interpretive framework is shaped by our human contexts (family, sociocultural) telling us the extent or limits of what to pay attention to and what to ignore. This forms the lens we use to perceive (notably by hearing and seeing) and which forms our biases and mindset to interpret everything around us. Ever since the primordial garden, the predominant perceptual-interpretive framework and lens focuses on and ‘defines’ the human person by outer-in quantitative aspects of what persons have or do. ‘What I do’ includes my job, education, and roles I perform such as in worship (worship leader, singer, or instrumentalist); and ‘what I have’ entails my possessions and attributes (e.g. abilities, resources, and even spiritual gifts). Such a definition works both ways, for what I do or don’t do, what I have or don’t have, to measure our identity in a comparative process with others.

            The Greek word bios refers to these quantitative outer aspects of life—in contrast with qualitative depth of life, zōē, (e.g. Jn 10:10)—information about us that we document in biographies and display in résumés. With this focus on the outer person, that which gets ignored or hidden is the heart, the qualitative function of one’s person from inner out. Defining persons by outer aspects without the inner person (signified by the heart) fragments the whole person, reducing the ontology (being and nature) of the whole person to those fragments in the process of reductionism. Reductionism functions like a template (e.g. Facebook) which narrows down persons to only certain aspects or categories. We have all experienced this reduction of our whole person created in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God because reductionism (as sin) pervades all of human life, ever since the primordial garden. Secondary criteria from outer in have defined human person and determined human function, relegating the primacy of the whole person to a lesser place. In contrast, God illuminates a different hermeneutic in a definitive scene when he stopped the prophet Samuel from anointing the wrong man as Israel’s new king (overlooking David), “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7, NIV). Clearly focused on zoe over bios, God seeks the person from inner out for covenant relationship together—and the primacy of the heart cannot be negotiated with the God of heart (cf. Lk 16:15; Rev 2:19,23b).

            Fragmenting and reducing the person to secondary criteria from outer in also extends to shaping our view of God. God is reduced (not in reality but how we perceive God to be) because what gets taught and learned about God emerges from the mindset trained on secondary aspects and categories of what God does (e.g. saves, blesses, punishes) and has (e.g. attributes of God from the lens of Greek philosophy), thereby missing the quality and depth of the whole of God which was fully and vulnerably disclosed in the embodiment of Jesus’ whole person (Col 1:19; 2:9). Even Jesus was subject to this challenge to his whole person in relationship with the whole of God when tempted—unsuccessfully—by Satan in the desert (Mt 4:1-22; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13).[11] It is an important lesson for our own person in relationship with God to see the dynamics of Jesus’ temptations as challenge from reductionism to redefine his person and relationship with God to reductionist terms from a framework and lens that prevail today in our own human contexts, even in Christian contexts.

            In the OT, God uses commonplace terms for the perceptual-interpretive framework and lens: eyes-seeing, ears-hearing, hearts-understanding (e.g. Isa 6:9-10). Jesus also uses such words to address the disciples’ interpretive frameworks (e.g. Mk 4:9,24-25; 8:17-18; Lk 8:18). Paul refers to mindset and lens as phroneō and perceptual-interpretive framework as phronēma, distinguishing the phroneō and phronēma that are shaped from human construction from those shaped by the Spirit’s relational involvement with those who are ‘in Christ’ (Rom 8:5-6; cf. aisthētērion, organ or faculty of perception, Heb 5:14, discussed previously). John’s Gospel alludes to these in terms of darkness and light (Jn 1:5,9; 8:12), blindness and being made able to see (9:1-41). Like the expression ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, how we hear God’s relational language and perceive Jesus’ full embodiment of the whole of God is subject to our perceptual-interpretive framework, the ‘sound in the ear of the hearer’.

            The most critical issue is that in our reductionism, we shape God to be more like us. This shaping is composed with a decreased sensitivity to the qualitative and a diminished awareness of the relational, thereby, on the one hand, reflecting our human condition and, on the other hand, reducing who, what and how God is. This shaping also reinterprets tāmiym (to be whole) and ṣĕdāqâh (righteousness) without their assumptions of the primacy of the qualitative and relational, and replaces them with assumptions of reduced ontology and function. Whenever we diminish the primacy of relationship in likeness of God, for which the qualitative function of our hearts is irreplaceable, we fragment persons and reduce personhood to outer-in criteria of what we do and have. Primacy given to outer-in aspects of ourselves relegates the heart to secondary importance. In corporate worship, the regular failure to give this primacy to relationship together results in practice that ignores the heart’s qualitative significance for relational connection with God’s heart; paradoxically, but not surprisingly, such worship promotes and maintains relational distance with God and each other (even inadvertently). We need to understand the interrelated dynamic that failing to give primacy to relationship always means we give primacy to outer-in matters that are only secondary to God, which is essentially to reduce God’s relational priority communicated in his ‘singing’ down to referential language. The consequence is reduced worship from reduced persons to a reduced God (and perhaps an un-known God), all who speak in the referential language from our shaping, not God’s self-disclosed language composed for relational connection together. A reduced God emerges directly from how we define ourselves by secondary criteria from outer in, and on that basis do relationships—unfolding in a one-to-one correlation with how we see and treat God. That is, from assumptions of our reduced theological anthropology, we shape God in our own image—the image of which the ancient poet clearly distinguished in worship from the qualitative and relational God (Psalm 135:15-18):

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,

     the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but they do not speak;

     they have eyes, but they do not see;

They have ears, but they do not hear,

     and there is no breath in their mouths.

Those who make them

     and all who trust them

     shall become like them.

This referential worship always relies on substitutes from secondary outer-in aspects about persons (God and human), and prevents the new wine (covenant) relational connection from emerging and flowing, such as Mary expressed in her worship.

            When we have thus shifted away from the primacy that God gives to relationship (for which the Spirit is here to deepen and complete), we are left on our own to determine what is significant to God. This process has become one of self-determination in relationship by our terms, and what we historically have come up with is to focus on the outer-in structure, forms, or styles of worship—for example, relying on church tradition, that Jesus challenges in the source of its construction (Mk 7:7-8)—to have significance to God. Liturgical ordos function as templates to follow, thus to ensure reading the entire Bible in a set amount of time, and ensure the inclusion of certain liturgical elements. Less time-honored but no less entrenched in much worship practice is the contemporary church’s reliance on the worship band, singers, and choir to help “mediate” connection with God. Or, for those of us who want to experience more than what church tradition (past and contemporary) has provided, we try to be innovative (cf. the emerging church). If, however, we seek innovation with a primary focus on ‘what to do’, we have just reduced the function of creativity from creative action that serves God’s relational whole to creativity only for affective experience or ‘effect’—even if that effect feels qualitative (e.g. using candles in a darkened chapel, baking bread in the sanctuary for its much-loved aroma). When tradition and innovation are separated from the primacy God gives to relationship as the new creation family, we are engaged in something less and some substitute shaped by the secondary. Our ears are unable to not pick up the sounds of dissonance that God hears.

            Whether a dependence on church tradition (past or contemporary) or experimenting with innovation, any primary focus on secondary aspects will yield an increasingly fragmentary church defined by increasing variation that we assign meaning to. By the nature of their hermeneutic, not intentionally by their design, these shapes of worship preclude response that has relational significance to God. Such worship and its language do not make relational connection with the whole and holy God on his terms. Our worship has thus largely become reduced to uttering insignificance in ontological simulation, no longer the uncommon relational response that distinguishes the celebration of life made new and whole as God’s new creation family, not as a gathering of our own creation.

            In worship or any other relationship, in the absence of deeper relational connection, what takes its place is a kind of “noisy silence.” Most of us don’t usually say nothing—we in fact always communicate something, as discussed earlier—but we talk from our outer person in the form of referential language, talk composed of the secondary, and indirect talk—all amplified with the noisy silence on the Internet. Our talk is preoccupied with what we and others do or have (or don’t do and don’t have), often in a comparative process. If the depth of our talking remains at this level, we do not make significant relational connection, and the effect is like silence keeping persons relationally distant and thus at an impasse or closed. In contrast to noisy silence is the open silence needed to listen to the other person—for example, the purposeful and relationally-attentive silence to listen to God speak, and open and vulnerable silence necessary to relationally receive what God has said to us in relational language. In this silence with the Spirit, relational connection takes place between God and us. The sound of this silence is in the ear of the hearer, that is, the qualitative heard at the depth level of involvement in relationship together. And this open silence includes by necessity the hearer listening to one’s own heart.

            Worship leaders often display discomfort with this open silence, and seem to prefer the sounds of noisy silence. This discomfort is evident when in corporate worship someone leads the congregation in a time of silent reflection or prayer—which can be opportune times for relational involvement with God, including sharing with God our discomfort about being face-to-face with him in those moments. Yet, there is nearly always a background instrumental going on. I suggest that this filling-in is for the purpose (though not consciously so) of shifting away from the discomfort of being face-to-face with God openly and vulnerably with who and what one truly is from inner out—an intentional distraction toward outer in. This is a way that music can create a hermeneutic impasse in worship (music in its relational function is discussed later in the study).

            Noisy silence determines what we pay attention to and ignore, and thus keeps us in control within our comfort zones. We up the volume of the noise by enhancing our talk: talking at great length, with a loud voice or even eloquence, with embellished stories, giving the illusion of depth of our involvement with the other person. Yet, the mere appearance of making connection does not fool the heart, for the heart knows (whether our mind is aware or not) when deeper connection is or isn’t being made. In these scenarios, the act of talking becomes an end in itself, an ontological simulation of relationship and an epistemological illusion of connection. All of this typifies and even reinforces relational distance, keeping persons in the human relational condition ‘to be apart’ from both God and each other.[12] This experience of ontological simulation is further entrenched in the use of technology, which merely enhances the quantitative aspects of communication in more and faster transmission of information about ourselves while lacking the inner-out face-to-face involvement of our whole person to make meaningful connection together with others. This process gives the illusion of allowing ourselves to be known and supposedly knowing others—an epistemological illusion that more and more persons invest in and fail to recognize. Yet, this should not be surprising since, for example, social media merely reflects the reduced ontology and function of the human relational condition. The ontological simulation and epistemological illusion pervading relationships are not mere academic notions; they directly affect us all in the totality of our lives, most significantly with God in worship.

            Such was the dissonant worship practice that provoked Jesus to harshly rebuke some Pharisees and scribes (Mk 7:6-7; Mt 15:7-9), with words echoing God’s critique of the ancient Israelites’ outer-in worship (Isa 29:13). What was unacceptable about their language was that what they presented to God as worship was a substitute from their own shaping by offering “human precepts as doctrines.” Their worship language lacked their whole persons, that is, the qualitative function of the heart in relationship together with God: “[They] honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” These Pharisees and scribes’ remained distant from God, and in place of the vulnerable inner-out involvement of their whole person, they offered God something less than and some substitute for what God seeks from his people. These were substitutes from secondary matter, their traditions (“rules taught by men,” Isa 29:13 NIV; cf. “a human commandment learned by rote” NRSV). What they assumed to be significant worship language, God rejected as “in vain” (matēn, adv. signifying false, useless, invalid)—that is, lacking significance to him. Even though the Pharisees and scribes were highly knowledgeable about and devoted in their practices of piety (cf. Paul’s autobiographical statement, Phil 3:4-6), their involvement lacked consonance with God’s involvement. The implication in their worship practice is that they assumed they knew what God wanted—they assumed he accepted what they did from outer in (e.g. washing hands before eating, Mt 15:1-2; Mk 7:1-5) and what they had (correct doctrine, rules, information about God). Their worship language reflected a reduced view of God, reflecting their own reduced persons and worship reduced to primacy of the secondary, thereby uttering insignificant words to God.

            These worshipers constructed and shaped their worship on substitutes from the secondary, outer in aspects composed by and indirectly highlighting what they did and had. The critical underlying relational issue was engaging in relationship with the whole and holy God not according to God’s terms, but their self-determined terms constituting “the tradition of the elders.” Jesus makes clear this issue of self-determination as he confronts the Pharisees, asking, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Mt 15:3). Their pious traditions were, in Jesus’ words, “human tradition…your tradition” (Mk 7:8-9). These words stand out and raise the urgent question to ask ourselves: what can God hear from many of our worship traditions and utterances, utterances which include many of our worship hymns and songs? Traditions are neither good nor bad in themselves; they are merely secondary means to support our relationship with God as his people. It is when these secondary means become our primary language in worship that they become substitutes for the response of our whole person that God seeks, substitutes for the relational language necessary to be the integral response to God that is both reciprocal and compatible with the whole of who, what and how God is. Whenever the secondary becomes primary, this composes the context of a ‘secondary sanctuary’, the function of which is relational distance caused by indirectness. The worship in ‘secondary sanctuary’ by its nature is shaped by our reduced terms for relationship rather than the reciprocal relationship with whole worshipers that God seeks.

            All of this reflects, reinforces or sustains the counter-relational work of reductionism. Until we recognize and understand this influence of reductionism on God’s relational whole, we have insufficient understanding of the only means to redeem it in our lives in general and in our worship in particular—the whole of God’s relational response of grace, which is discussed in the next chapter. At the same time, to understand reductionism, we need also to integrally understand (put the pieces together, syniemi, for whole understanding, synesis, Mk 8:17; Col 2:2) that reductionism’s work is always counter-relational—always diminishing the whole person to the outer in, and thus disrupting or completely blocking relational connection. Reductionism does this by replacing God’s relational language with referential language and noisy silence. The sounds of dissonance in the secondary are the paradoxical sounds of noisy silence in relationship that drown out sounds of consonance in the primacy of the qualitative and relational. This hermeneutical impasse continues to be a critical condition needing to be addressed accordingly in order to be made whole.


Sounds of Dissonance

            Wholeness is never experienced as an individual in a social vacuum but only integrally as persons in the qualitative image of the whole and holy (uncommon) God and in relationships together with other whole persons in relational likeness of the triune God. These relationships together, the new creation, are irreducible by the kinds of fragmenting distinctions that human contexts construct, and can grow in maturity only on God’s relational grace as their basis and ongoing base. Reductionism, which is always in conflict with wholeness, disrupts those relationships by subtly getting us to shift from this indispensable basis and ongoing base of God’s relational grace to our substitute terms from human shaping (i.e. self-determined from outer in). The consequence is always to reduce persons and relationships of God’s whole to conform to the constraints of human templates. The consequences on relationships take various forms familiar to all of us, and these dissonant expressions need to be exposed as sin of reductionism from which we need to be redeemed, healed and made whole.

            Again, the major consequence of reductionism on the whole person is to fragment our person thereby creating distance from our hearts. When our heart is hidden or ignored, we cannot make relational connection with our whole person from inner out; instead, we present to others in relationship some fragment of ourself from outer in, namely something we do or have. On this basis of defining our person from outer in, we also define others in the same way and engage in relationships with others on that reduced basis. We relate to other persons through what we and they do and have, which is always measured in a comparative process identified by distinctions of more or less, better or worse. We bring this involvement with others, along with related distinctions, to church life and practice, including worship. What emerges then in planning and leading worship is a narrowed-down focus on the distinctions of what we do (e.g. perform in roles, years of service to God) and have (e.g. musical talent, trained voice, innovative ideas, and, increasingly, academic degree in worship leadership). This is how patterns of tradition are formed and sounds of dissonance become the norm, even formalized.

            Fragmenting and reducing persons by defining ourselves from outer in results in this inescapable process of making stratifying distinctions among ourselves. In our human context in general, but sadly within God’s family, we make distinctions also based on outer-in human differences, such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, and age—distinction-making not unique to our period of church history but always contrary to God (Acts 15:8-9). Those who are different from us are considered to be either ‘less’ or ‘better’, depending on how we measure up in the comparative process. Wherever we make outer-in distinctions, there will be distance in relationships, constructed either hierarchically, or horizontally; any such distinction-making renders relationships to competitive relations, if not conflict relations. Those relations emerge both between and within churches as well as in the academy. Moreover, these stratified relationships directly counter the new creation family relationships in which all persons are equalized from inner out together (the process of equalization is discussed in the next chapter; cf. Gal 3:26-28). Among the most glaring divisions in God’s church in the US today are relational divisions between clergy and laity (exacerbated by the professionalization of clergy, which includes worship leadership), excluding women from leading churches, and the existence and preservation of churches based on race and ethnicity beyond the first immigrant generation. For us to construct and maintain homogeneous church contexts or partitions within a church on the basis of any outer-in criteria is to reduce ourselves and others to a fragmentary condition—all done in a comparative process of better or less (even inadvertently) that renders void any basis of God’s grace.

             The comparative process and its competitiveness are common and recognizable indicators of the presence of reductionism in the church. I have heard lead pastors deplore the comparative process in themselves, and go on to admit they keep track of numbers of persons attending worship service. In the comparative process, the quantitative, secondary, outer-in criteria we use to define ourselves are what we look at in others, by which to determine whether or not we measure up. No matter how well I do, there will always be someone doing better than I or not as well, who has a greater gift or a lesser one. This process both reduces other persons to fragments of their whole person, and makes them ‘the competition’ (evoking envy) or even ‘the enemy’ (evoking disparagement or indirect disdain). The effect this has on our relationship with those persons is obvious: we certainly would not allow ourself to be open and vulnerable, showing our weaknesses and lacks—that is, we close off our heart and keep relational distance, while appearing irenic.

            Persons in positions of worship leadership are susceptible to comparing themselves to other leaders, and to look for indicators of success from secondary quantitative results, such as applause and other positive feedback. The results, if positive for me, make me feel good about what I did in order to define myself as more; of course, if the results are negative, I can only be defined as less. Either way, whatever happens revolves around this critical comparative and competitive process that defines me. Reductionism thus conjointly is counter-relational as well as keeps the underlying focus primarily on oneself in this self-determination (even self-justification) that depends on what one does and has in this fragmentary defining process, an enslaving process that we cannot free ourselves from on our own, even if we wanted to.

            As to be expected, reductionism in the church has unavoidable consequences on the new creation family relationships. Without the open and vulnerable hearts, relationships can only be engaged at a relational distance. Not only do we not make ourselves vulnerable to others, including God, but we cannot relationally receive those who are vulnerably extending their hearts to us, notably from God. Moreover, persons who function openly and vulnerably for relationship pose a “threat” to those who define themselves from outer in. Two unmistakable examples focus our attention once again on Mary, Martha’s sister. Revisiting Jesus’ fellowship at Martha and Mary’s home, Martha objected to Mary’s actions and even tried to get Jesus to have Mary return to be with her in ‘the kitchen’—literally and also as metaphor for human contextualization for women. The text does not specifically say that Martha felt threatened, but she certainly felt negatively toward Mary, and tried not only to stop Mary’s focus on relationship, but also to get Mary to be like Martha—that is, remaining in the controlled comfort in the secondary of serving Jesus while at a relational distance. Mary also received negative treatment from others during her loving action toward Jesus at another table fellowship (Jn 12:4-5); those persons tried to shift Mary’s person from the primacy of relationship with Jesus to the secondary of ministry. The function of wholeness is always a threat to reductionist practice. Consequently, these two scenarios make evident how reductionism tries to interfere in the primacy of relationship with God. Had Mary been concerned with what others thought of her in a comparative process, she would have compromised her whole person by allowing her person to be defined by fragmentary secondary terms. If she had done so, the only sounds that would have emerged from Mary would have been dissonant to Jesus’ ears.

A common view holds that the threat Jesus posed to the Pharisees and temple leaders had to do with his threat to their authority and power, yet this is only part of it. More importantly he exposed their reductionism underlying the practices (from outer in) by which their persons were defined in a comparative process (Mt 6:1,5,16; 23:5-7) and behind which their whole person was hidden (cf. 23:25-28). We also often hear that the issue Jesus had with the Pharisees was their legalism—living by “the letter of the law” as opposed to “the spirit of the law.” While this interpretation warrants some attention, it has not understood the underlying sin of reductionism and what and who are being reduced.[13] God opposes what certain Pharisees (not all) epitomized: fragmentation of the person (divine and human) resulting in reductionism of the whole (whole persons in whole relationships), and on that basis trying to engage in relationship with God. Jesus specifically warned his followers against reductionist Pharisees: “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy” (role-playing function from outer in, Lk 12:1), because of its position against inner-out function composed by the wholeness of God’s people, as explained further here by T. Dave Matsuo:

The determination of self, meaning and wholeness has been ongoingly the most consequential human practice ever since the first humans took up the challenge in the primordial garden (Gen 3:2-6). This becomes even more problematic when it is a theological practice functioning in a religious context supposedly in relation to God. Jesus called this practice hypocrisy (hypokrisis, “the yeast/leaven of the Pharisees,” Lk 12:1) and those who practiced it hypocrites (hypokrites, Mk 7:6, Mt 23:13ff). Hypokrites denotes a pretentious person who is not truthful about the person presented—besides all the added connotations associated with the term; hypocrisy was also one of the chief sins denounced in Judaism, of which the Pharisees were often guilty.[14] Yet, what better serves our purpose in this discussion is denoted by the metaphorical sense of hypokrisis taken from the world of Greek theatre: the action of a person which is similar to a stage performance as an actor. Deceit is not necessarily the intention of a hypokrites, though that is certainly a common issue. The main issue reflected by hypokrisis, however, involves the ontology of the person and its consequence for relationships. This sense of hypokrisis addresses the individual person’s functional determination and the underlying human ontology, which Jesus confronted and clarified.

Hypokritai (pl) make a presentation of self (even unintentionally) which does not correspond to or represent their whole person (signified by the function of the heart). Jesus exposed the worship practice of Pharisees and scribes to make their hypocrisy evident (Mk 7:6, cf. Jer 12:2); later, in his list of woes, he confronted them on their duplicity (Lk 11:39, Mt 23:25). The person presented was the measured (scripted if you will) expression of the outer, more quantitative and distinctly observable aspects of the person (Mt 23:5-7) purposely for a process of self-determination and justification (Mt 23:27-28). This outside-in approach to the person to define, constitute, and distinguish one’s sanctified life and practice was confronted by Jesus in his woes against them and clarified for us not to engage in similar practice. Why was this approach and practice neither sufficient nor compatible for determining self, meaning and wholeness?

This directly involves the issue of who determines the functional terms of sanctified life and practice, and more importantly who functionally determines the terms for relationship with God.[15]

            Paul identifies this hypokrisis as “masquerade,” the presenting of a role or unauthentic identity to other persons in relationships. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church, wrote of this issue existing in the context of church: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor 11:14-15). Masquerade (metaschematizō; the NRSV translates metaschematizō as “disguise”) means to change one’s outward form which is merely change from outer-in. In contrast to metaschematizō is metamorphoō, the inner out transformation of redemptive change (cf. Rom 12:2) which requires the transformation of one’s heart, how one defines oneself, and subsequently engages relationships in the new creation family. This dynamic of presenting self becomes a critical issue about reductionism in worship because outwardly we cannot necessarily tell the difference between reduced worship offered to God by reduced persons, and whole worship from the whole worshipers God seeks for whole relationship. This difficulty reflects the genius of reductionism to give ontological simulation the illusion of significance to our practices even when they are dissonant to God. The key indicator of living in reductionism is found in the interrelated presence of (1) insensitivity to the qualitative in life from the inner out, and (2) a corresponding relational unawareness of connection, even as the heart and relationship are spoken about in worship gatherings.

Jesus’ disciples aren’t immune to hypokrisis and masquerade. Peter’s practice illustrates his masquerade of outer-in living, as well as the hurtful consequences on relationships in the church. Not long after Jesus had ascended, Jesus spoke to Peter directly in a vision, telling him that God also extends salvation to the Gentiles—an initial dissonant sound in Peter’s ear (Acts 10). Led by the Spirit, Peter then went to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile, and preached to the Gentiles who had gathered there that the Good News was indeed extended also to them, and baptized those who received Christ. On subsequent occasions, Peter proclaimed this whole gospel message, his new theology (Acts 11:1-17; 15:6-11). Yet, Peter later contradicted the gospel of wholeness at the church in Antioch by making outer-in distinctions between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles, and thus separating himself from the latter (Gal 2:11-14). He persuaded other Jewish Christians to do the same, so that “even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy,” thereby fragmenting the church (v.13). In family love, Paul confronted Peter about his hypokrisis, for “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (2:14, NIV). Peter’s distinction-making in God’s family exposed his lack of wholeness from inner out, and, instead, being defined and determined by outer-in influences in his human context (i.e. “certain people…the circumcision faction,” v.12). The relational fragmentation in the church at Antioch parallels what often exists in today’s churches resulting from our own distinction-making shaped by a lack of sensitivity of the qualitative in us and of relational awareness between us.

The gap between Peter’s theology and his practice is symptomatic of an experiential gap with God.[16] Peter’s relationship with Jesus had ups and downs due to how Peter defined his person by what he did, and on this fragmentary basis tried to do relationship with Jesus on his reductionist terms; this reflected his reduced theological anthropology that needed further redemptive change from inner out (metamorphoō).[17] Even having received a direct revelation from God, Peter’s newly corrected theology remained an outer-in acquisition (i.e. metaschematizō), not redemptive change (dying to the ‘old’ so that the ‘new’ can emerge, i.e. metamorphoō) that reflected his relational experience with God, particularly in the involvement of God’s relational grace. Preaching this new theology, however, gave the appearance that Peter lived it, yet the sounds of dissonance speak of an ontological simulation. Moreover, the disjuncture between Peter’s theology and his person in practice effectively embodied (thus communicated to others) a “different gospel” (cf. Gal 1:6-7)—a gospel that has been shaped (past and present) by human contextualization, and continues to be constructed and deconstructed in dissonant terms composed by pervasive influence in the unavoidable age of reductionism. This urgently challenges church and worship leaders, seminarians, and teachers in church and the academy to “listen to my Son” in a new way, because “the interpretive framework and lens we use will be the gospel we get” (Mk 4:24).

The hypokrisis in Peter’s life clearly demonstrates for us the qualitative difference between outer-in change (metaschematizō) and inner-out redemptive change (metamorphoō). Jesus and Paul both warned against metaschematizō, and for the necessity of metamorphoō necessary to be whole in the relational outcome of the truth of the whole gospel, just as Jesus declared unmistakably that Mary embodies the significance of the gospel for all of us. This redemptive change requires both dying to the old (reductionist ontology and function from outer in) so that the new can emerge, made possible by Jesus’ relational work on the cross and the experiential reality of ongoing intimate connection with the whole of God, particularly with the Spirit. This is the relational outcome to be whole in the family relationships together necessary to constitute God’s whole, which cannot be limited to the individual. It is crucial to understand that this integral relational outcome is the experiential reality of what we are saved to and composes the only context for worship that has significance to God (discussed further in the remaining chapters).

Peter’s dissonant words noted at the beginning of this chapter exemplify what happens when a worshiper’s heart is hidden or ignored, words that lack significance to God. Peter’s intention of worship illustrates the substitutes we give God in the absence of our primary function for intimate relationships together (the latter which Mary’s worship epitomizes). At the transfiguration of Jesus (Mk. 9:2-11; Mt. 17:1-13), Jesus was transformed (metamorphoō, to fundamentally change) revealing the whole of who he was right before Peter, James and John’s very eyes. And the disciples were afraid. The significance of this moment is illuminated here:

The transfiguration marks a pivotal point of Jesus’ disclosure of God’s glory, which these disciples have the unique opportunity to experience further and deeper: the “visible” heart of God’s being, as Jesus is transformed to exalted form and substance (cf. Moses’ face, Ex 34:29); the intimate relational nature of the whole of God, as the Father, along with his Son, communicates directly with them in relationship (cf. with Moses, Ex 24:15-16; with Elijah, 1 Kg 19:8-18); and the vulnerable presence and involvement of God, as made evident in this amazing experiential moment. At this reunion of key persons in God’s family, the whole of God’s thematic action coheres from the past (represented by Moses and Elijah) with the present (presented by the Messiah in God’s glory embodying God’s grace) to the future (by the present constituting reality of God’s kingdom/family). In the Father’s relational communication (an extension from Jesus’ baptism, Mk 1:11) further made with these disciples to build relationship together, two vital messages summarize all that God relationally has disclosed, promised and experienced with his people: (1) the full affirmation of his Son in the trinitarian relational context of family and by the trinitarian relational process of family love, and (2) the clear imperative (“Listen to him!”) for all his followers to pay attention and respond to him in his relational context and process—because Jesus communicates the whole of God, not only with his words but from his whole person.

The whole of God’s glory is vulnerably disclosed in the face of Jesus (cf. 2 Cor 4:6). Moses and Elijah responded to God’s glory “face to face” on God’s terms to build the covenant relationship together. What does Peter do with God’s glory; how does he respond to the face of Jesus?[18]

Face to face with Jesus’ whole person (his divinity now stunningly disclosed), Peter did not know what to say (Mk 9:6), or did not know what he was saying (Lk 9:33). Most consequential to his response in worship was that Peter was not free to first receive Jesus now openly and vulnerably revealed. In his fear, Peter (also speaking for the other two disciples) resorted to offering to erect altars/tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter’s worship language did not convey what was really going on (he was afraid), and more importantly, his language did not communicate his relational involvement with Jesus and the others. His heart was unfree to be directly involved in worship with Jesus’ person, and therefore his worship could only be something offered indirectly (apart from face to Face)—building altars (tents) for Jesus and his companions. His worship offering clanged in the dissonance of ‘secondary sanctuary’—something less than and with a substitute for his whole person. We might want to credit Peter with having good intentions, but there is a crucial matter for us to understand here: Peter’s worship language had no relational significance because he remained relationally distant from Jesus. Relationally, Peter worshiped with the veil over his face/heart, not with openness and vulnerability with Jesus face to face, heart to heart, but with an incompatible and self-determined response that was dissonant to Jesus’ presence and involvement with Peter.

None of the three Gospel accounts record either Jesus or the Father responding in any way to Peter’s suggestion of building altars; the implication is that in this instance Peter’s worship language had no significance to God. Instead, however, the Father addressed the disciples with an imperative that resounds to us today: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7; cf. Mt 17:5; Lk 9:35, NIV). Then Jesus “came and touched him and the others, saying “Get up and do not be afraid” (Mt 17:7), patiently and in love continuing to pursue their hearts. God ongoingly engages with us in the same way, in order that our response to and involvement with God become reciprocal to and consonant with God’s vulnerable presence and involvement with us.

            Peter’s idea of worship from his relational distance was analogous to giving a performance before Jesus, with relational consequences that are important for us to understand. The task of building tents was to engage in a worship performance which Jesus could only have watched. The relational implication for Peter, James and John was to perform ‘in front of the curtain’ rather than entering the most intimate place ‘behind the curtain’ with Jesus for face to Face involvement. In the same way, when the worship we present to God leaves God merely watching us do something, then our worship is also reduced to a performance in dissonance before God while we remain ‘in front of the curtain’. Such practice rejects Jesus’ relational work on the cross to tear open this curtain in order that we can enter into the intimate presence of the whole and holy God (Heb 10:19-20) for face-to-Face involvement (without the veil, cf. 2 Cor 3:16-18) with our whole persons, nothing less and no substitutes, in compatible relational response to who, what and how God is with us. Such practice is the relational consequence of not understanding and receiving God’s vulnerable involvement embodied by Jesus that composed a new “place” and song for worship to be engaged by the open expression of our hearts (Jn 4:21-24). By composing this new relational context and process, Jesus vulnerably disclosed the reciprocal relational response necessary to be “true worshipers.” By its nature (dei, v.24), worship demands this irreducible and nonnegotiable relational response because “such as these” are the only worshipers the Father seeks. This is why the Father made it a relational imperative to “listen to my Son.”

            When we worshipers remain ‘in front of the curtain’, we cannot sing God’s new song as the new creation family, but only utter sounds of dissonance to God’s heart. Furthermore, worship ‘in front of the curtain’ also renders the rest of the congregation to a relationally-detached audience, while those leading worship merely draw focus to themselves, even with the sincere intention to focus on God. Besides being unable to make relational connection with God, drawing attention to those persons leading worship (singers, musicians, choir, orchestra, dancers) creates relational ambiguity about who is to receive the focus, attention, and even praise (notably by applause).

            Grace eventually prevailed for Peter to experience the inner-out redemptive change with the reciprocal relational work of the Spirit, evident in his first epistle (e.g. 1 Pet 1:1-4,13-15). Peter finally recognized his own struggle with reductionism, and warns against this influence from our human contextuals (vv.13-14). Yet, Peter’s metaphor for reductionism (a roaring lion)—that is, the process of reductionism perpetuated by “your adversary the devil” (5:8)—is far more overt than what we experience today of reductionism. The reality for us today is that fragmentary persons and diminished relationships in church simply mirror fragmentary persons and diminished relationships prevailing in our context, and, on this basis, seem perfectly normal to us. Therefore, when we come together for corporate worship, we too often and too readily reinforce relational disconnection and distance. I suggest that nowhere is this dissonance of disconnected relationships in church more evident than in our practice of Communion, how Communion is understood theologically and practiced in both high church liturgy and low church worship. Our sounds of dissonance in Communion are of great concern because Communion is the definitive integrating relational dynamic in the ecclesiology of worship; and our language of Communion requires this composition, as will be discussed in the next chapter.

In church today, reductionism is seemingly undetectable and therefore easy to ignore—this is the insidious genius of reductionism that works in several ways (cf. 2 Cor 11:13-15): the presence of reductionism is subtle because it substitutes for significant relational connection with ontological simulations (focus on the secondary and indirect involvement) that convinces us of their significance; reductionism is alluring because it works off our susceptibility to self-determination by which we determine the terms of our relationship with God to define our self; and the counter-relational consequences of reduced persons and relationships seem normal to us, given their prevalence and accepted presence in our human contexts. No matter how dedicated to Christ we are, no matter how long we have served God, no matter how active in church we are or how much we might even have sacrificed—including in service of worship to God—reductionism works in our blind spot, and Satan likes to keep it that way by getting us to focus again and again on secondary outer-in criteria of what we do or have in a comparative process from self-determination that makes us feel better about our self. This dissonance is not being perceived and recognized today, though it never escapes God’s ear.


Changing Our Sound

            It is urgent for worship and church leaders (and those in the academy) to recognize and address reductionism and its counter-relational work that fragments persons (divine and human) and shifts our focus from the primacy of relationships to the secondary practices of outer-in worship. However, we also must be aware that transformation (from inner out, metamorphoō) to experience the ‘new’ to sing in sounds of consonance with God’s relational language necessitates dying to the ‘old’ from our human contextualization in order to engage the integral process of redemptive change (the old dying and the new rising). And dying to (being redeemed from) the old must include letting go whatever benefits we receive in the ‘old’—for example, affirmation from others about what we do and have to form our identity, or as the basis for self-determination—which then may even mean losing a job contingent on the old. Since reductionism and wholeness are simply incompatible, the process of redemptive change is neither accommodating nor unexacting; but its unlimited outcome is new and whole (cf. Rom 6:4; Eph 4:22-24).

            What we will gain by dying to the old so that the new can emerge has no significance in referential terms, yet becomes fully distinguished in relational terms (cf. Paul’s language in Phil 3:7-9). What we gain is the outcome of the only alternative to reductionism—that is, the wholeness of God’s relational response of grace to us for reconciled relationship together (fulfilling Num 6:25-26). “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9) are the relational words from God’s heart to ours that call us to redemptive change from inner out to be whole and uncommon, tāmiym and ṣēdaqah. Grace is the only basis for relationship on God’s terms and the ongoing base to live in God’s relational context (the new covenant) and in the trinitarian relational process of family love (agapē) to compose the new creation family (ecclesiology of the whole).

            Grace, new covenant and ecclesiology of God’s relational whole converge in Jesus’ table fellowship. These relational dynamics that Jesus embodied at these table fellowships are essential for us to understand in order to experience the following as family together: relational grace as the basis, new covenant as the relational ‘structure’, and ecclesiology of the whole as the family dynamic in which worship is the integral focus and integrating congruence of our (individual and corporate) reciprocal relational response and vulnerable involvement in relationship together with the whole and holy God for the ecclesiology of worship. This is the communion of God’s family that must by its nature compose our worship language.

            Let the sounds of consonance emerge from us to God’s ear—which the following chapters will further unfold.



[1] T. Dave Matsuo, The Person, the Trinity, the Church, 7.

[2] Tāmiym is central to a deeper understanding of theological anthropology; see T. Dave Matsuo’s discussion in The Whole of Paul and the Whole in his Theology, ch.1, section “Related Issues in Hermeneutical Impasse, Flow and Outcomes” and ch.2, section “The Journey Begins.” 

[3] See especially T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology: A Theological and Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus (Christology Study, 2008). Online at http://www.4X12.org.

[4] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, 26-27.

[5] Jesus’ embodiment of the three major issues for all practice is developed fully in T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, ch.1 “The Person Presented,” 17-35.

[6] I encourage serious readers to see the full discussion about God’s thematic relational actions reaching their fulfillment in the strategic, tactical, and functional shifts in Jesus’ whole person in the incarnation, in Sanctified Christology, 78-97.

[7] For a fuller discussion on how Jesus is our “key,” please see The Person, the Trinity, the Church, Introduction, section “A Window to the Whole.” The full quote is “Christ is the hermeneutical key that opens the ontological door to the whole of God, and also the functional key that opens the relational door to the ontology of the whole of God’s family constituted in the Trinity, the Trinity qua family.” 

[8] Paul Watzlawick, Janet Helmick Beavin, and Don D. Jackson. Pragmatics Of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes (NY: W.W.Norton & Company, Inc, 1967), 51.

[9] Watzlawick et al, 54.

[10] This rendering of principles from communication theory of Watzlawick et al (“This is how I see myself...this is how I see you...this is how I see you seeing me”; p. 52) is developed by T. Dave Matsuo in The Relational Progression: A Relational Theology of Discipleship (Discipleship Study, 2004). Online: http://4X12.org. Chap 1, section: “Understanding the Word.”

[11] For a full discussion of the temptations of Jesus, please see T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, ch.1, section “Reductionism Made Explicit,” 19-23.

[12] For an in-depth and important discussion of the human condition, see T. Dave Matsuo, The Person, the Trinity, the Church, further developed in Jesus into Paul.

[13] The sin of reductionism against God’s whole is more fully discussed in various studies by T. Dave Matsuo. I highly recommend the most recent one, which is addressed specifically to the academy, Did God Really Say That? Theology in the Age of Reductionism.

[14] Walther Gunther, “Lie, Hypocrisy” in Colin Brown, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 467-470.

[15] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, 106-107.

[16] For a full discourse on Peter’s relationship with Jesus, see Following Jesus, Knowing Christ (Spirituality Study, 2003), ch.5, section “Being Relational: The Pursuit of Peter,” and ch.2, subsection “God’s Nature as Intimately Relational.” See also The Person, the Trinity, the Church: The Call to Be Whole and the Lure of Reductionism g ch.2, section “Convergence with the Trinity.” Both studies are online at http://4X12.org.

[17] Theologically, how Peter attempted to have relationship with Jesus was problematic and reflected his “hybrid theology,” which is discussed in full in T. Dave Matsuo, Did God Really Say That? Theology in the Age of Reductionism.

[18] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, 62.



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