Jesus into Paul
Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel
13 The Relational Outcome 'Already':
Let the wholeness of Christ rule in your hearts…in the one body.
Embody what will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of wholeness.
When Jesus prayed for the integral oneness of his family in whole relationship together with and just as the Trinity, he clearly distinguished this relational outcome ‘already’ in order for the complete purpose “that the world may believe the experiential truth…” with the same relational result “so that the world may know the experiential reality” of this relational outcome (Jn 17:21-23). The synthesis of Jesus and Paul is further illuminated when Paul essentially echoed Jesus’ formative family prayer (Eph 3:14-19). Their integration signifies the definitive integration of their whole gospel embodied in the church that constitutes the church’s irreducible ontology and its inseparable function in the world. Any missional activity of the church engaged in anything less or any substitute are ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from a reduced ontology and function.
The whole gospel and its integral mission have been problematic for the world to believe and know since their own understanding has been difficult to maintain due to human shaping. For example, the major cause creating the need for contextualization of the gospel in mission was the imposition of Western culture on foreign missions. Though the need to be freed from this biased and distorted view of the gospel certainly has been necessary, the contextualization of the gospel in other human cultures/contexts engages the same underlying reductionist dynamic of Western Christianity—that is, a gospel determined functionally, if not defined theologically, by human contextualization. Accordingly, contextualization in missions further reinforces a gospel also narrowed down by human shaping (albeit of its own variation) that cannot be whole as embodied by Jesus in the trinitarian relational context and process. In contrast and conflict, further embodied with Jesus was Paul, who fought against such reductionism in his ongoing fight for the whole gospel and its integral mission, embodied both by the experiential truth of the whole of God in the face of Christ and by the experiential reality of the relational outcome ‘already’ in the church.
Without reciprocating contextualization in the ongoing relational process of triangulation with the whole of God—the ek-eis dynamic of Jesus’ prayer in which God’s context is primary and human context is secondary—we are limited to only our context to define church ontology and determine church function with the gospel and its mission both within the church itself and in the world.
The truth of the incarnation has significance only in relationship as the experiential truth, which Jesus wholly embodied from outside the universe into the surrounding contexts of the world. This relational dynamic in relational terms over referential terms makes functional the theology of God loving the world from top down and sending his Son into the world to love it from inner out. Making John 3:16 an experiential truth was neither a mere evangelistic program nor a gospel composed of referential words; moreover, this was not merely about what Jesus did to signify the propositional truth of salvation. This relational process involved how Jesus lived and functioned in the world because of who he was and whose he was. That is to say, his life and practice unmistakably distinguished God loving the world by being embodied in whole to be vulnerably present and intimately involved with those in it to make them whole in the innermost of relationship together. The referentialization of the Word narrows down Jesus to a more probable theological trajectory and a less intrusive relational path.
The relational significance of God’s communicative action in the vulnerably distinguished Face of Jesus was only for the intimate involvement in relationship—Face- to-face relationship together in the whole of God. The Father sent the Son into the world to make it whole (sozo, Jn 3:17), that is, in congruence with the relational significance of the whole of Jesus and compatible with the qualitative distinguished whole and holy God.
The process of being sent is a relational dynamic involving the irreducible qualitative action of God’s communication and the nonnegotiable terms of God’s relational work of grace. This dynamic further signifies wholeness: the whole of the Word disclosing the whole of God and fulfilling the whole of God’s thematic relational action. The implication of this relational dynamic underlying God’s strategic shift is that who and what was sent was nothing less than and no substitute for the whole and holy God, that nothing less and no substitute could be sent to fulfill this relational dynamic and thereby to fulfill God’s thematic action. This is the significance of the incarnation, the qualitative function of which Jesus vulnerably embodied to be intimately involved with others, including in culture and ethics along with mission. The referentialization of the Word, however, no longer distinguished his whole person in the world, even if centralized in ethics and mission.
‘Relationship together involving the whole person’ is the basis for God’s thematic relational action since creation (Gen 2:18) and the covenant (Gen 17:1), and disclosed in the qualitative relational significance of the gospel vulnerably embodied by Jesus and integrally extended into Paul. What was the synesis Jesus demonstrated at age twelve that captivated Jewish leaders (Lk 2:47) and later was the source of tension and conflict? I affirm it was ‘relationship together involving the whole person’ that challenged their religious practice (and the statue quo) and threatened their basis for defining themselves and determining their function by narrowed-down referential terms of reductionism. Jesus unmistakably made this both definitive in the Sermon on the Mount and evident in the new wine communion, with the lawyer and parable of the Good Samaritan and in the cleansing of the temple. We cannot sufficiently account for God’s self-disclosure embodied in Jesus without integrally understanding ‘relationship together involving the whole person’. Nor can we adequately receive and respond to the whole of God for the relational outcome ‘already’ of the gospel’s qualitative relational significance. This wholeness of Jesus is what Paul made the imperative for defining and determining of our whole person (“rule in your hearts,” brabeuo, Col 3:15). In contrast and conflict, the human shaping of relationships in the human condition narrows involvement to less and less of the whole person, consequently defining persons and determining relationships in fragmentary terms. The only response to this relational condition that would be significant is to make it whole.
The process of being sent into the world is the functional outworking of this relational dynamic. For Jesus, only the ongoing function of his whole person embodied his incarnation into the world; and only the ongoing relational involvement of his whole person fulfilled his purpose and function in the world to make whole. Nothing less and no substitutes would be sufficient either to be whole or to make whole. Thus, how Jesus was in the world—whether in word or deed, his teachings or example—cannot be integrally understood apart from the function of who and what he was. To disengage how Jesus was from the full identity of who and what he embodied in function is to essentially disembody Jesus from both his whole person and his relational source. This has the relational consequence to reduce God’s communication as Subject and renegotiate God’s grace as relational response on Subject’s terms, which creates relational distance with the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement.
“Sent” involves a relationship-specific dynamic, and “sent into the world” involves a relationship-specific function. We need to have whole understanding of these in Jesus’ life and practice in order to understand our place in the world and our function to the world to be “just as” (kathos) the Father sent him (Jn 17:18).
As noted previously, of the various images evoked by the incarnation, “intrusive” tends not to be one of them. Yet, Jesus embodied unavoidably the intrusiveness of God in response to the human condition—which was disconcerting for the reductionists and their counter-relational practice—because “the Father has sent me into the world” (Jn 3:17; 5:36; 10:36; 17:18a). The term for “sent” (apostello) denotes to send forth on a certain mission, signifying Jesus’ commission by his Father to fulfill his response to the human condition. Accordingly, then, “commission” should not be reduced by disembodying it from its relational source in the relational dynamic of the Father with his Son. That is, the context for his commission should not be confused with “into the world,” which the current missional emphasis on contextualization tends to do. The world is certainly where his salvific work is to be fulfilled but its situations and circumstances do not determine the context for the significance of his commission. The ek-eis dynamic is critical to be distinguished both in and to the world.
This interrelated dynamic is the integral relational basis and ongoing relational base that Jesus illuminated in his family prayer, making imperative his call and commission to be whole in conjoint function. How his followers together live and practice in the surrounding context emerge from who and what they are; that is, what (or who) defines them determines how they function. Paul further distinguished that the new creation family is called to “the wholeness of Christ,” which is the imperative for primarily defining and determining them (brabeuo, Col 3:15).
These issues needing our response in the surrounding contexts involve human ontology and the social design of humanity, whose created nature necessitate the response from the convergence of our sanctified life and practice (to be whole) and our salvific life and practice (to make whole). In other words, for us to be involved in the surrounding contexts of the world and to be responsive to others in those contexts, we have to demonstrate in relational terms (not referential) the depth of our person—qualitatively distinguished from inner out—in the function of our identity; only from these distinguished persons emerge practice having relational significance for the whole of God and relational substance for others to experience also in ‘relationship together involving the whole person’ (as Jesus prayed for ‘already’, Jn 17:20-23). Consequently, these issues in the world, for example, related to culture, ethics and mission must be responded to while in the process of addressing ongoingly two imperative issues:
These two imperative issues, of course, are in unceasing interaction, which reflects the ongoing tension-conflict between reductionism and God’s whole. How we will live and practice always emerges from who and what we are in function. The critical issue centers on what (or who) will define our identity and, in turn, determine our practice. Thus, the first imperative issue involves the need to examine: our working Christology (incomplete or complete) and practicing soteriology (truncated or full); the whole integrity of our discipleship based on his terms in the Sermon on the Mount, notably our relational involvement with our Father; therefore the unavoidable issues of the significance of the person we present, the integrity and quality of our communication, and the level of relational involvement we have. The second imperative issue involves the need to examine: our working theological anthropology and human ontology (outer in or inner out) for both the person and relationships together, and our specific functional purpose in the created social design of humanity; therefore the inescapable issues of what defines our person functionally (not ideally) and then determines how we actually function in relationships with others—both in his kingdom-church family and in the surrounding context.
The human redefining of God’s whole has been problematic and reflects the human condition since the primordial garden. God’s thematic relational response to the human condition, however, also has been subject historically to human shaping. The patriarchs were clear examples of this. They demonstrated the use of incongruent means to advance the covenant relationship by their human shaping, thereby displaying an ambiguous participation in culture, practicing contradictory ethics and self-determining their “mission.” While staying in Egypt, for his own safety and prosperity, Abraham instructed Sarah to lie to the Egyptians, saying she was his sister. This led to her becoming part of Pharaoh’s harem as his wife (Gen 12:10-16). Isaac acted similarly to protect himself from being killed during their sojourn in Gerar by lying about Rebekah, saying she was his sister; Abimelech correctly admonished him for exposing his wife, Rebekah, to abuse (Gen 26:1-11). Later, Jacob used Esau’s hunger as leverage for a calculating acquisition of his birthright (Gen 25:29-34). Then, Jacob schemed to deceive Isaac into conferring his blessing (meant for Esau) onto Jacob (Gen 27:1-29).
What was common in their human shaping is important to God: first, the reduction of the human ontology for the person and for relationships, making the covenant relational process amenable to human shaping; and, then, the relational consequences such efforts of self-autonomy and self-determination have to fragment the relationships necessary to be whole; and therefore to diminish the relational significance of the whole—the whole relationship of God, whose relational work of grace is not amenable to human shaping. God’s terms for covenant relationship together were yet to be fully disclosed to the patriarchs, which inexplicably allowed the latitude for this human shaping of God’s thematic relational response to make whole in covenant relationship together—inexplicable since tamiym was determinative for the relationship, though yet to be fully defined. In addition to God’s terms for relationship given later in the law, those qualitative relational terms have been unmistakably made definitive by Jesus in both his whole teaching and in his vulnerably embodied life and practice, and on this basis irreducible by anything less and any substitutes, as well as nonnegotiable to our terms for human shaping. This always brings us back to the issue of what (who) will define our identity and, in turn, determine our practice.
The reality is that reductionism is always positioned against the presence of the whole. While this tension-conflict can be an overt struggle, the genius of its promoter is the subtle counter-relational work operating in ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of the whole. A major sign of reductionism’s influence is when our primary focus is on the quantitative aspects of human function for the person and relationships, and then on those secondary or fragmentary aspects of church practice and all related service, ministry and mission. With this focus, Christian life and practice easily get embedded in the ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of reductionist substitutes, evidenced in Jesus’ rebuke to the churches at Ephesus, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea (discussed in his post-ascension discourse).
One critical human shaping of the church has been notably consequential for its distinguished ontology and function in the world, and thereby for the whole gospel and its integral mission: secondary and false distinctions reducing persons and resulting in stratified relationships that create barriers to full participation in ‘relationship together involving the whole person’.
The redemptive changes, which Jesus made the relational imperative for the above churches to undergo, directly involved his relational work of equalizing. What Jesus embodied throughout his sanctified life and practice was vulnerable relational involvement with the devalued, the dispossessed, the discounted and disregarded—that is, with those stigmatized by false distinctions that created barriers for relationships to come together to be whole. This required also being involved with those who benefited from such distinctions in a prevailing collective order, whether sociocultural, economic, political or religious (including the emerging church). These were persons, even collective orders, that Jesus never avoided and even took initiative to engage (notably Jewish leaders, cleansing the temple). His relational work of family love always involved redemptive reconciliation, and to be redeemed is to be equalized for reconciliation in the relationships necessary to be God’s whole. These relationships are necessarily transformed relationships, both equalized and intimate. Relationships are not fully reconciled in coming together intimately until they are first redeemed, thus equalized.
Human communities containing this diversity of distinctions and related misuse of differences (e.g. about gender and age) ongoingly maintain relationships together in some condition “to be apart” as long as this existing order is not changed. When the discussion is about bringing together human diversity, it is misguided to think that persons can be united in relationship together without these distinctions being rendered insignificant, or at least secondary. Those who employ distinctions on others and for themselves knowingly or inadvertently use a ‘deficit model’ in human relations: the treatment, however subtle, of others who are different as being essentially less. Whatever the distinction or difference, persons are perceived as less because ostensibly they do not measure up to the prevailing standards used in the reductionist process of defining human persons by what they do or have, achieved or acquired—resulting in ‘identity deficit’ or a sense of ‘ontological deficit’. The relational consequences of such perceptions is a stratified relational order embedded in the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole. Whatever the variation of this human shaping of relationships together, it does not and cannot involve the experiential reality of whole relationships together necessarily composed by whole persons.
This counter-relational process—of distinction making, with the use of a deficit model to stratify relationships, for creating barriers in relationships together reinforcing the human relational condition “to be apart” from God’s whole—was made evident by Jesus in his post-ascension discourse, when he encouraged the church in Philadelphia of the experiential truth of his relational work as the equalizer (Rev 3:7-12). Apparently, this relational message was directed to Jewish Christians who had been ostracized from the Jewish community (excluded from the synagogue) because they no longer measured up to the prevailing standard of Judaism (v.9, as the church in Smyrna was, 2:9). Jesus identified himself as the functional and relational keys to God’s house prophesied earlier (Isa 22:22), who determines access to relational belonging to God’s family (v.7). He fully affirmed the experiential truth that they permanently belonged to God’s family (“open door,” v.8, cf. metaphor of 3:20, a relational key to Jesus’ involvement for ecclesiology to be whole). As the equalizer, Jesus’ family love rendered insignificant the distinction imposed on them by the Jews prevailing in that religious order and redeemed them of the barriers to full participation in God’s family (v.9b). This equalized them from any ontological and identity deficit to relationally respond back to be reconciled in reciprocating transformed relationships together as God’s family in the new relational order with the veil removed. Their response back was not of self-determination (“little strength,” dynamis, signifying being unable or incapable) or out of obligation (opheilo) to a code of the law, but ongoing relational response back to Jesus and his terms for whole relationship together as family: “you have kept my command with hypomone” for ongoing reciprocal relationship together (v.10, in contrast to the perseverance of the Ephesian church, 2:3).
By equalizing them in the surrounding context of this prevailing religious order shaping relationship together, Jesus made unequivocal the experiential truth that “I have loved you” with family love to be whole in relationship together as God’s family. As the equalizer, he will also humble those Jews functioning in ontological simulation, who imposed this counter-relational process on them, to know as well that he has loved them as family together—in a dramatic image of equalization (3:9). This dramatic image should be projected back onto his equalizing cleansing of the temple to complete the relational outcome of equalization in the redemptive reconciliation necessary for “my Father’s house” to be for “all nations” without distinctions. In this relational outcome ‘already’ Jesus constituted the Philadelphian communion further and deeper as his church family in the relational progression transplanted within the whole of God’s eschatological plan to the new Jerusalem (3:11-12). In doing so, Jesus’ concern for ecclesiology to be whole is functionally integrated with eschatology in the whole of God’s thematic action.
As those who have been equalized to permanently belong to the whole of God’s family, part of “your crown” (v.11) as the relational outcome of redemptive reconciliation involved their defining commission (in integral function with their call) to live whole and make whole as the church as equalizer. This was the experiential truth of the gospel they were to embody in the experiential reality of its relational outcome ‘already’, not in isolation merely among themselves but embody to the world, just as Jesus embodied from his Father to make whole the human condition (Jn 17:18).
Ironically, the counter-relational process of distinction making and discrimination by Jews to Christian Jews became the same counter-relational process used by various Jewish Christians to make distinctions of Gentile Christians to discriminate against them in the early church. This was Peter’s perceptual-interpretive framework and essentially his contradictory practice in the church until Jesus’ post-ascension discourse with him directly. Then Peter led the discussion in reordering the stratified early church to be the equalizer, though Paul would be the one to make it functional and to compose the ecclesiology of the whole. After Jesus redeemed his bias and reformed his ecclesiology, Peter declared at the Jerusalem church council that God “has made no distinction between them and us” (Acts 15:9). The term diakrino denotes to make a distinction, discriminate, and treat differently, which God does not practice in his family. This term and God’s family action help us understand that such distinctions are not neutral without repercussions but rather are integrated in a counter-relational process, which uses those distinctions to discriminate toward those persons by treating them differently, namely as being less by the deficit model, and thereby imposing an identity or ontological deficit on them. Peter learned that those distinctions are human constructs, not made by God (cf. Acts 10:14-15).
In this pivotal action for ecclesiology, the early church shifted to emerge as the equalizer. Its defining function for church practice became distinguished: dissolving false human distinctions of human construction and absorbing legitimate human differences from God in order to be and live the whole of God’s family in the new relational order of transformed relationships together integrally equalized and intimate. As Jesus embodied in his equalizing, church function as equalizer by its nature necessitates being both whole and holy, therefore to be qualitatively distinguished from the function of the common—specifically in the human shaping from the prevailing function of the surrounding context’s relational order.
The significance of the church being holy involves a functional aspect and a relational aspect for which church practice is accountable not only in distinguished identity but also in sanctified life and practice. Since Jesus redeemed and thus equalized persons in extending to them the whole relationship of his Father as family together, what distinguishes his followers (his family, his church) is to live equalized, and, in full congruence with his relational work, to equalize by extending this whole family relationship of family love. Jesus made unmistakably evident throughout his sanctified life and practice that his equalization perspective and a reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework are irreconcilable, thus incompatible as a working basis for church practice. Therefore, the functional aspect of being holy involves being freed from the influence of reductionism that explicitly or implicitly defines and/or determines church practice. The related relational aspect of being holy involves the integral practice of church relationships together in likeness of the Trinity, which is distinguished from any and all aspects of the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, for example, shaped in likeness of orphans in an orphanage. This functional and relational significance of the church being holy interact to shape the process of church qualitative development and growth.
This relational outcome ‘already’ is not an experiential reality without ongoing redemptive change. Otherwise the church struggles to be distinguished within itself in the world, which then certainly limits its significance to the world. This change was illuminated in the whole of Paul’s own life in order to distinguish his theology with the qualitative relational significance necessary for the church’s whole relationship together. Understanding of this emerges in response to the following question.
As a Jew and a Christian and an adopted son, to what extent did change need to take effect ‘already’ for his theology to be functional?
It was never sufficient for Paul to change from outer in, either by outward change only, giving the appearance of some inner significance (metaschematizo, 2 Cor 11:13-15), or by change just from conforming outwardly to a surrounding context’s normative influence and terms (syschematizo, Rom 12:2). What only constituted change for Paul, together as a Jew and a Christian and an adopted son, involved a pivotal relational process which by its nature necessitated his whole person from inner out. The relational outcome of whole relationship together in God’s family can emerge only from this pivotal relational process. In Paul’s theology, the pivotal relational process is made definitive by being “baptized into Christ” for the redemptive change ‘already’ in which the old dies and the new rises with Christ (Rom 6:4-5) by the Spirit (Rom 8:10-11). The old is the reduced human ontology and function entrenched in the sin of reductionism which needs redemption to be integrally both freed and made whole as a person in relationship together (Col 3:9-11). The dynamic of the cross becomes paradigmatic for this ongoing process of the old to die ‘already’ and the reality of the new to rise (cf. Paul’s desire for further intimate relationship with Christ, Phil 3:10-11). This is the irreplaceable dynamic through which the kingdom converges into the new creation family of the church.
The wholeness dynamic of redemptive change is the pivotal process of relational involvement with Christ for the inner-out transformation of the whole person by the Spirit (metamorphoo, 2 Cor 3:18; Rom 12:2), which is necessary for the experiential truth ‘already’ of the relational outcome for relational belonging and ontological identity in God’s new creation family of transformed relationships together, both intimate and equalized (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 3:26-29; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:9-11; Eph 4:22-24). Without full and ongoing engagement in redemptive change, there is no reconciliation to these relationships together—though possibly in appearance from outer in, but not inner out. The inseparable dynamic of redemptive reconciliation is indispensable for relationship with the whole and holy God and for all relationships together to be whole in God’s likeness.
This relational outcome entirely from redemptive reconciliation was the experiential truth of Paul, from inner out as a Jew and a Christian and an adopted son. Therefore, redemptive change is nonnegotiable and its pivotal relational process of baptism into Christ is irreducible in Paul’s pleroma theology. And Paul’s readers need to understand ‘already’ that nothing less and no substitutes are of functional significance both for the whole of Paul’s person and the whole in his theology.
Implied in previous chapters, the theological dynamics within Paul’s theological systemic framework converged in his theological forest and were integrated with further theological dynamics with just one relational purpose for wholly one relational outcome and condition: to constitute God’s new creation family, whose relational outcome emerges already in the embodied pleroma of Christ, the church, and whose relational conclusion completes the church’s eschatological trajectory. Paul remains focused primarily on the relational outcome ‘already’, perceiving its context within the time of qualitative kairos and not of quantitative chronos, thus his imperative for the church to be free to live in the present (Eph 5:15-16). Any dialogue with churches that Paul makes about the relational conclusion ‘not yet’ and the end times is always in the context of ‘already’, therefore the not yet emerges inseparably from the already (e.g. 1 Thes 5; Gal 5:5-6; Col 3:14).
For the church to be free to live in kairos and not be determined by chronos is no spiritualized paradigm shift but involves redemptive change. In Paul’s relational imperative above, “making the most of kairos” (exagorazo) implies being redeemed from not only determination by chronos but also its underlying influence, “because the days are evil” (Eph 5:16)—that is, they prevail with the sin of reductionism and its ongoing efforts against wholeness and God’s relational whole, as Paul clearly illuminates the source (Eph 6:16). What Paul illuminates points to issues ongoing for the church to live wholly embodied in the relational outcome now.
Through the course of his letters, Paul has been focused on the gospel more than theology. This same gospel unfolds as God’s thematic relational response of grace to make whole the human condition, which Paul identifies as “the gospel of God” (Rom 15:16), “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4), and lastly as “the gospel of wholeness” (Eph 6:15). Consistently, passionately and ongoingly, Paul has fought for this gospel and against reductionism. His integrated fight turned to the church and is now fully engaged in and inseparable from the church’s life and practice; yet this still involves the whole gospel and its integral mission. Specifically, Paul’s fight within the church directly involves the three crucial interrelated issues that frame the ongoing tension and conflict between wholeness and reductionism, and that are inescapable:
The first two issues involve theological assumptions of the human person (our working theological anthropology), the reduced ontology and function of which Paul challenges. These issues extend to Christ (thus, of assumptions of Christology and soteriology) in whose image and likeness the church is the new creation. The third issue signifies also the extent to which Paul challenges their theological assumptions of pneumatology and ecclesiology.
These three crucial issues further interact with the three critical issues involved in all practice for the church and its members, which are unavoidable:
These six issues together are ongoing in the primacy of ‘relationship together involving the whole person’, which Paul continues to address with the church and to challenge within churches in order for the church to live in wholeness ‘already’.
This section completes the whole in Paul’s theology that embodies the kingdom’s whole relationship together into the church distinguished in and to the world. His fight against reductionism continues to be as strong as ever. His fight for the gospel of wholeness—vulnerably embodied by the pleroma of God—becomes his fight for the church embodied to be alive in wholeness, irreducibly alive in Christ’s likeness as the pleroma of Christ. For Paul, the good news for the inherent human relational need is further embodied by the church’s whole ontology and function.
The church in wholeness ‘already’ is neither passive nor in a defensive mode. The new creation of whole persons integrally involved in whole relationships together is by its nature dynamic and alive. Any condition of apparent homeostasis in the embodied church should not be confused with maintaining the status quo; the latter essentially is a deteriorating condition in a church (cf. the church in Laodicea, Rev 3:14-17). The dynamic in the church alive involves ongoingly distinguishing the church’s ontology and living the church’s function in wholeness while in the surrounding context of reductionism. The church’s whole ontology and function are ongoingly distinguished only in the relational context and process of the whole of God, which cannot be engaged passively or without reciprocal relational involvement.
Paul’s closing relational imperative for the church, “be strong,” stated in the Greek passive voice (Eph 6:10), appears to put the church in a passive position and a defensive mode with the armor of God (6:11-18). Yet, by combining the passive voice with the middle voice (indicating direct involvement of subject), Paul is further illuminating the church’s reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit, and thereby with the whole of God. This direct involvement with the Spirit is integral for the church’s whole ontology and function in the midst of reductionism, while not ignoring reductionism’s presence or underestimating its influence. This reciprocal relationship together does not render the church passive and on the defensive but rather embodies the church in the dynamic position to be on the offensive, alive in the experiential truth and reality of wholeness (6:15). In its ontological identity as light, the church does not just resist reductionism but also exposes, rebukes, refutes and shows its fault (elencho, Eph 5:11-14) in order to extend God’s family love to the human condition with the gospel of wholeness. This embodies the intrusive nature of Jesus embodying the gospel in his relational path. Paul assumes the offensive enactment of this whole function of the church, in which he personally engages in reciprocal relationship together with them (6:19-20; cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20).
Paul also assumes that the whole ontology and function of the church is in likeness of the pleroma of God. The whole of God’s thematic relational response to make whole the human condition was embodied and fulfilled by Christ. The truth of this gospel was not a proposition or doctrinal truth to Paul but only the experiential truth of the embodied pleroma of God in whole relationship together—Paul’s definitive basis for exposing, rebuking, refuting and convicting Peter in his reductionism (Gal 2:11-14). The evidence of the experiential truth of the gospel’s whole relationship together embodied by Christ is now embodied and extended by the church in likeness. Therefore, the experiential truth of the gospel of wholeness is already wholly embodied in the church to live whole together as God’s new creation family and to extend God’s family in the world to make whole the human condition. Pointing to his own past updated, Paul earlier reflected on this relational dynamic for those made whole and their call and commission to share the experiential truth of the whole gospel: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Rom 10:14-15; Isa 52:7). The functional significance of this gospel of wholeness is unequivocal when embodied in the church’s whole ontology and function, which is the basis for Paul’s relational imperative for the church in wholeness (Col 3:15) and its relational significance ‘already’ as God’s new creation family (Gal 6:15).
The nature of the church family as dynamic and alive in the new creation is distinguished only by the function of relationship—that is, whole relationships together, the function of transformed persons relationally involved in transformed relationships together. How deeply a church is distinguished by this function of relationship is the relational outcome of its reciprocal relational involvement together with the Spirit, starting foremost by the vulnerable involvement of its leadership.
How is a minister of righteousness distinguished from other “ministers of righteousness” (e.g. 2 Cor 11:15)? Not by their gifts, resources, role-performance or any other outer-in measure (as in metaschematizo, 11:13-15). Based on outer-in perception and assessment, Paul said the telos (end, goal or limit) of ministers will be determined by the workings of how they define themselves and thereby determine their function, specifically in how they do relationships and lead in church (“Their end will match their deeds.”). In other words, Paul makes the theological anthropology of church leaders a basic issue in church leadership and a basic antecedent needing to be congruent from inner out for leading the new creation church family (cf. Phil 2:1-5; 1 Cor 12:12-13). This builds on Jesus’ new relational order for leaders (Mk 10:42-43) and points to what in churches is always primary to Jesus (Rev 2:23).
Theological anthropology congruent with the gospel of wholeness is a function only of its experiential truth, not mere doctrinal or propositional truth. Given that the church now embodies this gospel of wholeness, the church’s ontology and function must be an outworking of its theological anthropology that is congruent with the experiential truth and reality of wholeness. Anything less or any substitutes in the church—for example, leadership defined and determined from outer-in—fragments the wholeness of God’s new creation to the various shaping of reduced ontology and function; the new creation then becomes indistinguishable from reductionism (cf. “ministers of righteousness”), no longer growing in the functional significance of the gospel of wholeness both to experience within its own life and to extend to the world. This is how reductionism functions in an outer-in dynamic contrary to the inner out of the new creation, signifying a subtle shift in theological anthropology of how persons are defined and thereby determined.
Paul’s theological anthropology is definitive discourse precisely on the experiential truth of whole ontology and function, invariable in definition yet growing in wholeness, in which Paul’s own person functions to integrate the whole of his witness—both within the church (e.g. 2 Cor 12:7-10) and to the world (cf. Acts 27:23-25)—and the whole in his theology (e.g. Phil 3:7-9). On the basis of the integrity of his whole person presented to others, Paul engaged others with the quality of his communication (e.g. honest and loving, Eph 4:15, 25) that relationally involved himself with others for the depth of whole relationship together congruent with God’s new creation family (e.g. 2 Cor 12:14-15). Persons congruent with the new creation are being transformed to live from inner out in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10-11; 2 Cor 3:18).
This theological anthropology of whole ontology and function for the person and persons together as church is nonnegotiable for Paul (1 Cor 4:6). The new creation is not open to be defined and determined by human terms and shaping (Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10; 2 Cor 5:16-17). Only the wholeness of Christ brabeuo for the whole person and church (Col 3:15). Just as Paul holds himself accountable for his wholeness (cf. 1 Cor 15:9-10), he firmly holds church leaders accountable for theirs because, for all of them, their wholeness is inseparable from the embodying of the church in whole ontology and function (Col 3:15; Eph 2:14-15; cf. 1 Cor 3:21-23). The new creation functions only in the inner-out dynamic in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God, the transformation which emerges from anakainoo (restored to being new again in one’s original condition, Col 3:10) and ananeoo (being made new from inner out, Eph 4:23). The responsibility for engagement in this process of transformation is reciprocal. On the one hand, all persons being transformed by the Spirit are responsible for their involvement. On the other, church leaders are further responsible for what they share and teach (as Paul implies, Eph 4:20-22) since their definitive purpose and function is the katartismos (from katartizo, to restore to former condition for complete qualification) of church members to embody the whole ontology and function of God’s new creation family (Eph 4:12-13). Paul assumes for church leaders in their purpose and function in katartismos that their own persons have been and continue to be anakainoo and ananeoo. If their ontology and function are not whole, then their theological anthropology has shifted to a reduced ontology and function incongruent with the new creation, and consequently they no longer have functional significance for the embodying of God’s new creation family and the experiential truth of the gospel of wholeness, much less to assume a leadership function. Church leaders (including in the academy) need to understand that katartismos has functional significance only in dynamic interaction with their anakainoo and ananeoo, and that this ongoing interaction is requisite for their ministry to be integral for embodying the church as the pleroma of Christ, the whole of God’s new creation family. On no other basis can ministers of righteousness be distinguished.
In Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology, church leadership in the new creation is a new creation of those who are defined and determined by whole ontology and function, not by their roles and resources. Thus, these persons are in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit for the ongoing involvement together necessary to build (oikodome) God’s new creation family in embodied whole (pleroma) ontology and function, which integrally involves their own person with persons together in transformed relationships. With this leadership the church is alive and grows in wholeness to maturity (teleios) as the pleroma of Christ (Eph 4:12-13). Therefore, Paul both expects this wholeness in church leaders and holds them accountable to be transformed persons agape-relationally involved in transformed relationships together conjointly equalized and intimate (Eph 4:14-16; Gal 5:6; 6:15). This expectation and accountability of church leaders was demonstrated earlier by Paul with Peter and Barnabas (Gal 2:13-14), and is demonstrated further with Titus, Timothy and Philemon.
Titus and Timothy were Paul’s partners and coworkers in church leadership among various churches (1 Thes 3:2; 2 Cor 8:23; Rom 16:21). The depth of their relationship together as church leaders is expressed in Paul’s so-called Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Tim, Ti). Paul’s authorship of these letters is debated in Pauline scholarship because of questions involving them: lack of general knowledge of these letters prior to the second century along with the rest of Paul’s letters; terms and expressions not found in his undisputed letters; theological terms and concepts from undisputed letters either missing or used differently in the Pastorals; form of church order in Pastorals not found in undisputed letters; difficulty placing Pastorals into Paul’s known career; and they point to a softer, domesticated and somewhat idealized Paul. The sum of these questions suggests that the Pastorals appear to be the work of someone other than Paul (e.g. pseudonymous, final form by a secretary, his fragments compiled after his death). There are lingering questions unanswered about the Pastorals as representative of Paul himself.
I propose another alternative for the Pastorals: these letters are a compilation of Paul’s personal thoughts, advice and written notes communicated directly to Timothy and Titus, who formed them with the Spirit into a personal letter for some edifying purpose (not for nostalgic reasons) after Paul’s death, while contextualizing Paul in the church of this later period, thus accounting for apparent further development of church order and giving only the appearance of a softer Paul in his communication with these church leaders. Though Timothy and Titus may not have understood the full edifying purpose of compiling a letter from Paul to each of them respectively, their reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit for this cooperative effort points to God’s complete purpose for canonical inclusion. On this basis, I assume Paul’s unintended authorship of the form of these letters yet his full responsibility of their content for church leadership, which in their canonical inclusion are representative wholly of Paul and not mere Pauline fragments. This is not to say that Timothy and Titus constructed Paul’s thought, nor added their own shape to the Pauline corpus. They merely compiled what was from and of Paul—neither to idealize nor to give tribute to Paul—in cooperation with the Spirit in order to fulfill Paul’s oikonomia to pleroo the whole of God’s desires and thematic action to make whole the human condition in relationship together as God’s new creation family.
For this relational purpose, what has become known as the Pastoral Epistles perhaps is better understood as Paul’s Album of Family Love—which is more than pastoral but further and deeper involves Family Letters for the whole relationship together necessary to be God’s whole family only on God’s qualitative relational terms. And in this relational purpose for church leadership, Titus needed for accountability just a condensed summary from Paul, while Timothy necessitated greater input and feedback from Paul in family love.
Though not very much is known about Titus (he is absent from Acts), he became a key member of Paul’s team (2 Cor 2:13; 8:23), notably in mission to Corinth (2 Cor 7:6-15; 8:6-23), now to Crete (Ti 1:5), and later to Dalmatia (2 Tim 4:10). Paul appeared to have confidence in Titus to address the difficulties in these situations (Ti 1:5,13; 2:15). In a sense, it can be said that Titus became Paul’s troubleshooter for churches to function in pleroma ecclesiology. This personal letter then needs to be understood for the edifying purpose for all church leaders to engage their responsibility for church ontology and function to be God’s new creation family together.
Paul’s personal communication reminds Titus what is expected of him and for what he is accountable as a church leader, which extends to all church leaders. This is focused for Titus (and for Timothy) on the necessity of “sound doctrine/teaching” (hygianino, sound, healthy, from hygies, sound, whole, Ti 1:9; 2:1; 1 Tim 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13; 4:3). As Paul made clear to Timothy, this is about the whole teaching congruent with the experiential truth of the whole gospel that was relationally entrusted to Paul (1 Tim 1:10b-11). What Paul illuminated to center their focus as church leaders cannot be reduced to a static notion of “sound doctrine,” which would be a reduction of the whole gospel, thereby reducing the experiential truth of the gospel’s functional and relational significance in wholeness. The functional consequence would be a different gospel under the veneer of “sound doctrine” and the relational consequence would involve a renegotiated ecclesiology. It is this tension and conflict with reductionism of God’s relational whole that must be fully understood in these personal letters for them to constitute being from and of Paul. Only this whole understanding and accountability by church leaders extends Paul’s fight for the experiential truth of the gospel of wholeness, which by necessity defines and determines their katartismos of the church to embody the whole of God’s new creation family.
The Titus communication stresses similar aspects as in 1 and 2 Timothy, yet without the personal challenges, charges and even “pushing” Paul used with Timothy (1 Tim 1:18; 4:6, 11-16; 6:11-14; 2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14; 2:1-7; 4:1-2, 5). Even though I assume their compilation of Paul’s communication (oral and written) with each of them for their respective letters, this is not to suggest that Titus selectively left out those elements in his shorter account. Rather it illuminates that Timothy was less firm and decisive than Titus and thus needed more exhorting from Paul to be distinguished in whole ontology and function, not reverting back to reduced ontology and function—that is, in what he presented of himself to others, in the quality of his communication and in the depth level of his relational involvement (the three unavoidable issues for all practice noted above). Paul, however, is not focused on Timothy becoming more assertive in his role as church leader, nor more dynamic with his gifts. Paul focuses Timothy only on living in his wholeness. The Greek Titus, even among Jews, seemed to more readily live in his whole ontology and function (e.g. 2 Cor 7:6,13; 8:6,16-17; 12:18; Ti 1:5), and likely was encouraged that Paul did not define him by external identity markers even on religious terms (Gal 2:3).
In these Family Letters, Paul is not suggesting a certain type of personality to be effective church leaders. Paul’s nonnegotiable expectation of church leadership is unequivocally for wholeness in ontology and function and accountability as transformed persons agape-relationally involved in transformed relationships together. His expectation and accountability are based on defining the person, engaging in relationships and practicing church (the three inescapable issues noted above) only in the new creation image and likeness of the whole of God—just as Paul made imperative for Timothy (1 Tim 4:12,15-16). Therefore, whether leaders are “stronger” like Titus or “weaker” like Timothy, Paul holds all accountable in family love for nothing less and no substitutes—which included himself in all that he is, or isn’t (2 Cor 12:9).
Paul’s expectation and accountability of church leaders to be transformed persons relationally involved in transformed relationships together is even more clearly distinguished with Philemon. In his personal letter to Philemon, Paul identifies him as a beloved church leader in partnership with him and Timothy (Phlm 1,17). Philemon leads a house church in his own house (v.2), in which Paul indicates Philemon’s role as a benefactor and points to the deeper function of the church as family beyond a mere gathering (vv. 5,7,9-10). The prevailing sociocultural role of benefactor combined with a leadership relational function in the church as family creates tension and conflict, even incompatibility, if the basis for the benefactor (i.e. outer-in distinction of reductionism) becomes the defining measure of the leader and thereby the determining influence for the function of the church. By implication, Paul addresses a potential problematic ecclesiology that redefines the relational dynamic of an embodied family. Whenever a part(s) in the church body, even if that person is a benefactor providing for the physical existence of a house church, determines the whole of God’s family, then reductionism has taken effect, shaping the whole by the terms of a part(s)—becoming a gathering of reduced ontology and function in renegotiated ecclesiology.
Paul writes to Philemon to take him further and deeper into the relational whole of God’s new creation family only on God’s relational terms, as a direct extension of his purpose for the Colossian letter (read also in the church at Laodicea). Therefore, the Philemon letter needs to be read, interpreted and understood by the qualitative phroneo from the whole phronema Paul established in Colossians for the synesis necessary for the pleroma of God, who constituted the embodying of the wholeness of the church. Paul was developing, yet had not fully articulated, pleroma ecclesiology. In this process for Paul, Philemon is a key letter for church ontology and function to be the relational whole of God’s new creation family, and it becomes a functional bridge to Ephesians. In the Pauline corpus, Paul makes definitive in Ephesians the theological basis for Philemon’s relational function as a transformed person agape-relationally involved in transformed relationships together to embody the church’s whole ontology and function as family.
For Philemon, as both
benefactor of this house church and slave owner of Onesimus, the
process of involvement in transformed relationships necessarily both
equalized and intimate is not a simple transformation, and likely a
threatening engagement to make himself vulnerable to. This required
from Philemon nothing less than ‘relationship together involving the
whole person’. It is important to understand that Paul does not
simply articulate to Philemon the expectation and accountability of
church leadership. Because Paul writes from the whole of God’s
relational context of family by the relational process of God’s
family love (vv.9-10), Paul engages Philemon as a whole person (not
merely as a benefactor or church leader) in a family dialogue within
the very transformed relationships that he wants Philemon to
experience further and deeper (vv.8,14). These are the distinguished
relationships both equalized and intimate which constitute God’s new
creation to be whole persons in whole relationship together in the
image and likeness of God. Therefore, these whole church
relationships are not reduced by the false distinctions of persons
from outer-in function in relationships fragmented by vertical
separation and/or horizontal distance. Whole church relational
involvement together in family love is the relational and functional
basis both for Philemon as a transformed church leader and for the
church he leads to embody the transformed relationships together
necessary as God’s new creation family (vv.15-
Philemon’s challenge as a new creation was to function as a person being transformed from inner out, thus to be vulnerable in his whole person without defining himself by the roles he had and performed and without engaging relationships on that basis. Equally challenging for Philemon was to define Onesimus as a person without those distinctions who is also being transformed from inner out on the same basis, whereby to see each other as whole persons vulnerably from inner out—in other words, ‘relationship together involving the whole person’. On this basis, inseparably in integral function, Philemon’s further challenge was to vulnerably engage Onesimus from inner out to be relationally involved together in family love as equalized and intimate brothers; and for this new relationship together to be the relational basis for their church family would necessitate Philemon to restructure his own household operation (“business”) as a slave owner in order to embody God’s new creation family. These challenges illuminate the tension and conflict between wholeness and reductionism, and the interrelated crucial issues of how we define ourselves and do relationships on that basis, and thus practice church on the same basis.
Certainly, there is a human cost for Philemon to meet these challenges and engage in the relational work of equalizing. There is also a cost for engaging in intimate relationships but the cost is less obvious. It is important to understand a vital distinction about agape in this matter because Paul challenges (parakaleo) Philemon “on the basis of agape” (v.9). Paul is not calling upon Philemon for sacrificial action. There is indeed a human cost for equalizing relational work—first to be equalized within one’s own person and then to equalize all persons in relationships—which is similar to the divine cost of the embodied pleroma of God (cf. Phil 2:6-8; Col 1:19-20). This cost involves ongoingly giving up the benefits or letting go of the burdens from all elements of reductionist human distinctions that reduce persons to the outer in and fragment relationships in vertical stratification and/or horizontal distance; by comparison the cost of human shaping is immeasurable. The person then presented without reductionist distinctions involves submitting one’s whole person (as is, without the benefit or burden of those distinctions) to be vulnerably involved from inner out in relationships with others, therefore beyond the comfort or security of keeping distance in relationships. This vulnerability opens the functional door to the heart to engage the depth of agape, not as sacrifice but as intimate relational involvement together as family (Col 3:11,14-15; Gal 5:6; cf. 2 Cor 12:15; Rev 3:20). This is Jesus’ relational path that must compose the ontology and function of his followers and church.
Agape family love was initiated by God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition. In this relational process of family love, God pursued persons like Paul, Philemon and even Onesimus, embraced them as they are from inner out, paid the cost to take them into his family and made them whole together as his very own sons and daughters (as Paul clarified, Gal 4:4-6). This irreducible relational process, irreplaceable relational action, and nonnegotiable relational involvement constitute the family love embodied by the pleroma of God to equalize and reconcile persons intimately together in God’s new creation family (as Paul made definitive, Col 1:19-22; 2:9-10; 3:10-11; Eph 2:4-5, 14-22).
This is the agape by which Paul engages Philemon and into which he takes Philemon deeper. Family love is the depth of agape that changes incurring the above cost from the notion of a sacrifice, tending to signify a compelled obligation (ananke, “something forced,” Phlm 14). Rather family love emerges from a transformed heart by choice, freely and uncompelled (hekousios), which is how Paul encouraged Philemon to function. Paul is making this rigorous relational process of family love functional for Philemon, and all church leaders and members living in reductionist distinctions, in order to live as whole persons in whole relationship together, the embodying of God’s new creation family. On the relational-functional basis of family love, Philemon would give up a slave to gain a brother (“you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but…a beloved brother,” vv.15-16), give up a household shaped by the surrounding context to gain whole family together (“but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord,” v.16). As Paul signified in his opening and closing greeting (vv.3,25), by the whole of God’s relational process of family love, he takes Philemon further and deeper into the importance of his whole person from inner out involved in the primacy of relationship together to be whole in the experiential truth of God’s family ‘already’, so that “your faith may become more effective when you specifically understand [epignosis] all the good that we may do for Christ” (v.6). This good was not about serving in mission but about deep involvement in relational family love together for the experiential reality of the gospel’s relational outcome ‘already’. On this basis alone, the church and its ministry emerge in qualitative relational significance.
Paul made unequivocal to Philemon, all church leaders and the entire church that the embodied church becomes alive only in family love to be wholly the new creation in relational likeness to the whole of God (Col 3:14-15). This is the relational purpose of Paul’s prayer for the church to specifically know from the Spirit God’s family love from inner out in order to wholly embody the pleroma of Christ (Eph 1:17; 3:14-19). Moreover, as Paul clarified for Timothy, this relational process of family love necessitates the whole person (pneuma and soma together) to embody the agape relational involvement for whole relationship together, by which Timothy would engage in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit (2 Tim 1:7,13-14; cf. Rom 8:14-15). This depth of agape is not engaged merely by the quantity of deeds one does or resources one gives, even in great sacrifice. Agape family love is a function only of relational involvement from inner out. This relational function emerges only from persons (and notably church leaders) being restored to new again (anakainoo, Col 3:10) and being made new from inner out (ananeoo, Eph 4:23) to prepare and be prepared (katartismos) to embody the pleroma of Christ, and on this qualitative relational basis to live and make whole (Eph 4:12-16).
Since family love is involvement of the whole person in reciprocal relationship together conjointly with each other and with the Spirit, another important necessity in this integral relational process is to submit one’s person to one another (hypotasso, Eph 5:21). Paul does not make this an imperative because as a participle (hypotassomenoi) it directly defines the relational means by which his prior relational imperatives for the church are engaged (Eph 5:1-2,8,15,18b). Hypotasso makes definitive both the relational nature of the new creation and the relational primacy of God’s new creation family before the individual, thus its priority over individual self-autonomy, self-determination or self-justification. Hypotasso becomes a reductionist act when taken out of the relational context of Paul’s imperatives and engaged apart from the relational process of family love.
Family love in relational likeness of the whole of God is neither optional nor negotiable in Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology. “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in agape, as Christ loved us” are relational imperatives for the new creation church family, which by their very nature necessitate being submitted to one another based on experiencing the love from Christ’s submission. Hypotasso has been interpreted with a reductionist lens of human distinctions to mean to render obedience, be submissive, be subordinated, with implications of becoming objectified or reduced in ontology and function—notably for women and slaves as Paul’s prescriptions for them appear to suggest. Moreover, this interpretation has application only for certain persons to submit, not all. In interaction with his relational imperatives, however, Paul uses hypotasso as every person’s initiation of a voluntary relational action and should not be confused with a compulsory act of obedience or subordination to, for example, someone with authority, power or more status as defined by human distinctions. Paul’s relational dynamic of submitting one’s whole person to one another is a function only of family love extended to one another in relational likeness of Christ’s family love for us. This reciprocal relational involvement of family love signifies the whole person giving primacy to the relationships together of God’s relational whole over an individual’s self-interests and self-concerns (cf. 1 Cor 10:23-24, 31-33; Eph 4:14,19)—yet without sacrificing the whole person’s significance in the family, for example, as experienced often in collective contexts and some human families. Personhood is constituted from inner out in wholeness with the relational means of submitting one’s person, not by highlighting it from outer in. The underlying issue illuminated here is theological anthropology and its ontology and function.
Paul’s interpretive lens for ‘submitting’ is not from human contextualization but from the whole of God’s relational context of family and relational process of family love vulnerably embodied by Jesus’ whole person, in pleroma Christology for pleroma soteriology ‘already’ to embody the pleroma of Christ (Eph 1:22-23). Therefore, in clear contradistinction to any self-centeredness of self-autonomy, any self-interests of self-determination, and any self-concerns of self-justification—all from the influence of reductionism and its counter-relational work fragmenting relationships together (as Paul clarified earlier, Gal 5:13)—Paul makes conclusive this vital relational dynamic for relationships together to function whole in relational likeness to God: submitting our whole person to one another in family love while in intimate relational response to Christ, who submitted his whole person to the Father in order to relationally embody the whole of God’s family love for us to be equalized and intimately made whole together in God’s new creation family.
This relational whole in family love is what Christ saved us to ‘already’ to constitute the whole ontology and function of who the church is and whose the church is (Eph 2:4-5, 14-22). What emerges from this relational whole in ontology and function with family love is the new relational order integrally signifying and further constituting transformed persons agape-relationally involved in transformed relationships together (Eph 4:15-16, 23-25). This is the new relational order with its essential relational process of family love that Paul identified previously (Gal 5:6) and distinguished integrally in pleroma ecclesiology for the new creation church to be embodied alive in wholeness (Eph 2:15b; 4:2-6; cf. Gal 6:15).
Unequivocally for Paul, the church alive in wholeness is the church in love, family love, agape family love in relational likeness to the whole of God. Yet, family love should not be idealized, nor should it be rendered to a “kingdom ethic.” Family love is vulnerable relational work, made difficult in the midst of counter-relational work from human shaping of relationships together. As Paul has made unmistakable to various church leaders and churches, engagement in family love is a relational process continuously subjected to human terms and shaping. Consequently, just as leadership in the new creation faces ongoing tension and conflict with reductionism, the church as the new creation family is ongoingly challenged to be defined and determined by wholeness or reductionism, by the new or the old, by pleroma ecclesiology or renegotiated ecclesiology. What emerges from the church and its leadership signifies either the gospel of wholeness or a different gospel, which Paul defined as no gospel for the inherent human need and problem (Gal 1:6-7). And it warrants ongoing emphasis that the new creation church family should not be confused with a gathering of relational-epistemic orphans, no matter how much sacrifice has been made for gathering.
A theological assumption Paul makes through the whole in his theology is that the new creation is ‘already’, even though not yet totally completed (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Rom 6:4; Col 3:10; Eph 2:15b; 4:23-24). To embrace this assumption with Paul is to be accountable for its functional significance and implications both for the person and persons together as church, and for their witness and mission in the world—all of which assumes wholeness.
Directly as a result of the new creation ‘already’ for Paul, the outcome emerges of having a qualitative new phroneo (mindset and lens) from a whole new phronema (framework for thought, Rom 8:2,5-6; cf. 12:2). It is from this whole interpretive framework with its qualitative lens that life is perceived in the innermost of qualitative zoe (not the limits of quantitative bios), and that peace is understood with the presence of wholeness (not the absence of conflict). Paul clearly distinguishes that this new interpretive framework with the Spirit is “life and peace” (v.6), and its interpretive lens determines the qualitative depth level of life discerned and its wholeness realized inner out.
This new interpretive framework is critical for Paul in his discourse about peace throughout his letters and is essential for his readers to know and understand the whole in his theology. When Paul addressed the church at Corinth in their disputes, he illuminated “God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33). This may appear to illuminate the obvious but that depends on our interpretive framework. The term for disorder (akatastasia) involves being without a fixed or settled condition. Since Paul added that their church life and practice should be “in order” (taxis, v.40), that is, according to a set of guiding principles or an established framework, there are various conditions of church life and practice that would appear sufficient to establish order in the church—even by maintaining tradition or the status quo (cf. Jesus’ interpretive lens, Mt 15:8-9). If Paul understood peace as just the absence of conflict, then these various church conditions (including the status quo) would qualify as sufficient ecclesial order.
A deeper tension and conflict emerge because this is not the peace of God that Paul illuminates. As urgent as disorder may be in some churches and around the world, Paul is deeply focused both on the quantitative of bios and the qualitative of zoe, with zoe always primary; and the absence of conflict does not adequately address the existing disorder, nor does it fulfill the order needed for the human condition, the inherent human relational need and problem neuroscience reminds us about. The juxtaposition of disorder (akatastasia) with Paul’s peace reveals a critical distinction: Paul’s use of akatastasia is not merely about being in a fixed or settled condition of taxis—for example, according to a set of guiding principles—but that this condition of akatastasia is a function of fragmentation, that is, practice that fragments the whole; and that God is not a God of reductionism but the God of wholeness, who therefore does not fragment but who makes whole (cf. Jesus’ practice of peace, Mt 10:34). Moreover, what Paul further illuminates for his readers is that any ecclesial order (even with an established framework) without wholeness has no significance to God—as Paul further clarified later for the new creation church (Col 3:15; Eph 4:3).
Paul’s synesis of peace emerged with the Spirit in a new phronema with a new phroneo that deepened his focus. His synesis of wholeness included the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction from tamiym (cf. Gen 17:1), which helped him to integrally understand God’s establishing the new relationship (siym) of wholeness (shalom) in God’s definitive blessing of his family (Num 6:24-26), and to relationally receive the wholeness that only Jesus gives (Jn 14:27) to embody the gospel of wholeness for the human condition (Eph 6:15). What Paul illuminated above about God and peace and extends in relational discourse throughout his letters made definitive this wholeness: the whole ontology and function of God, the whole of God’s thematic relational response to make whole the human condition, the new creation of human ontology and function in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God, and the embodying of the whole ontology and function of the church as God’s new creation family—the relational outcome of wholeness ‘already’ in the midst of reductionism.
While Paul assumes the new creation ‘already’ and its relational outcome with the Spirit to embody the church’s whole ontology and function as God’s new creation family, he never assumes the church will live whole in its new relational order, and thereby make whole in the surrounding context of reductionism. To live in wholeness is the continuous challenge for the church because its ontology and function are ongoingly challenged by and susceptible to reductionism. The tension and conflict between wholeness and reductionism is ongoing with deep repercussions, which is why Paul settles for nothing less and no substitutes in his pleroma theology.
In Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology, for the church to live in wholeness is for the church to be ongoingly involved relationally with the Spirit for its embodying together “in the bond of wholeness” (Eph 4:3). This bond (syndesmos) is the whole relationships binding the church together from inner out as one interdependent body, which Jesus embodied for transformed relationships together both equalized and intimate (Eph 2:14-22). For the church to live in wholeness as God’s new creation family is to be deeply involved together in this new relational order of equalized and intimate relationships. This is what holds together the church in its innermost; and apart from these relationships together with the Spirit, there is just a fragmentary condition of the church. When Paul illuminated “God is not a God of fragmentation but the God of wholeness,” he also made unequivocal that this new church relational order is neither optional nor negotiable. The challenge for Paul’s readers, then, becomes both about his assumption of the new creation ‘already’ and if God’s new creation family is truly the church. Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology clearly defines these as inseparable and irreducible. Reductionism would renegotiate church order as sufficient alternative, perhaps even with its reification as the peace of God with irenic identity markers.
In Paul’s ongoing fight for the gospel, wholeness is a theological given for the truth of the gospel, just as Peter, Barnabas and other church leaders experienced this truth from Paul (Gal 2:11-14). They learned a difficult lesson about the experiential truth of the gospel (distinguished from only having a referential or doctrinal truth) that whole relationships together are a theological imperative for the functional significance of the gospel. The polemic Paul framed around the issue between the works of the law and faith is more deeply focused on the underlying conflict between reductionism and wholeness, either reduced ontology and function or whole ontology and function (Gal 2:19-21). Even though some of Paul’s readers may not affirm the relational outcome of the gospel until ‘not yet’ for whole persons and persons together in whole relationship, they still must account for the persons and persons together now in the image and likeness of God. Past, present and future, God is not a God of fragmentation but the God of wholeness. Even now, therefore, human terms and shaping of church life and practice are not sufficient to be of significance to God—despite the certainty of a church’s guiding principles and the long-established tradition of its framework. Reductionism is never an option or substitute for the whole of God and God’s relational whole embodied in the face of Christ, who has “shined on you and been gracious to you…and established the new relationship of wholeness.” This peace—from the God of peace embodied by the pleroma of God for the gospel of peace to fulfill the inherent human relational need and resolve the persistent human problem—must be accounted for by the church now. Doctrine alone is insufficient to account for this peace, tradition has been inadequate, and missional, servant, incarnational, inclusive and postmodern models for church are ambiguous. If the church is not directly dealing with the human shaping of relationships together, then the church is not addressing the human relational condition, both within itself and in the world. In the midst of reductionism, Paul is still exhorting his readers to “embody whatever is necessary to live the gospel of wholeness” (Eph 6:15).
Within the reductionism-wholeness issue is the tension between the already and the not yet, both of which Paul engaged in his relational discourse with the church at Philippi in what is likely one of his last prison letters. Paul raised some interrelated conditional (or factually implied) statements about their experiential truth of relationship with God in the present (Phil 2:1). They evoke reflection on the existence of the following: encouragement being in relationship with Christ, intimately experiencing his family love, having reciprocal relational involvement ongoingly together with the Spirit, and being affected in one’s persons from inner out. From Paul’s interpretive lens (phroneo), if these exist (or since they exist), then this defines their new mindset and interpretive lens (phroneo in likeness, 2:2,5) to determine their reciprocal involvement in relationships together, first based on their experiential truth of the whole of God and thereby in relational likeness to this whole of God (2:2-4). This new phroneo is not the result of human effort but emerges from a transformed phronema constituted by the experiential reality of relationship together with the whole of God. With this new interpretive lens, the person perceives oneself wholly from the inner out and others in the same way, and is involved in relationships together on this basis (involving the first two inescapable issues), which is congruent with their experience of relational involvement from God and in likeness of how God engages relationships.
The agape relational involvement Paul defines is not about sacrificial love but family love, which submits one’s whole person from inner out to one another in equalized and intimate relationships signifying whole relationship together—just as the whole of God functions together and is relationally involved with us. Paul defines conclusively that in the midst of reductionism, this is the church order in which “the wholeness of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your persons from inner out in Christ from reductionism” (Phil 4:7) and by which “the God of wholeness will be relationally involved with you” (4:9).
For Paul, God indeed is not a God of fragmentation but the God of wholeness, and therefore nothing less and no substitutes of the person and persons together in the new relational order are functionally significant for all of the following: to reciprocally involve the whole of God (Eph 2:17-22), to constitute God’s relational whole as family in his relational likeness (Col 3:10-11,15), and to embody the ontological identity and relational belonging that are necessary to fulfill the inherent human relational need and resolve the human problem existing both in the world and even within churches (Eph 3:6,10-12; 4:13-16). In pleroma ecclesiology, the church in whole ontology and function signifies only transformed persons agape-relationally involved in transformed relationships together integrally equalized and intimate, composing the new relational order for the embodied church alive in wholeness in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole and holy God (Eph 4:23-25)—who is not a God of reductionism promoting ontological simulations and epistemological illusions. The relational messages to churches by Jesus in post-ascension illuminate only this whole of God.
The relational outcome and order from the theological dynamics integrated in Paul’s pleroma theology are distinguished clearly in the church only to the extent of their functional significance in church life and practice (Eph 5:8-14). Yet, functional significance is not as variable as many churches perceive. Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology should not be confused with an elective-type referendum for local churches to define and determine their own life and practice according to contextualization in their surrounding settings; this would also be contrary to kathos in Jesus’ defining family prayer. Such shaping results in a garden-variety of churches occupied in church building(s), the process of which is both distinct from the growth of God’s family and indistinguishable from church by human terms.
Paul’s conjoint fight for the truth of the whole gospel (the theme in Gal) extended to the gospel of wholeness and shifted into the church (the theme in Eph). For Paul’s readers to fully understand what Paul fights for and against in Ephesians, we need to understand what he fights for and against in Galatians. The dynamic for both in which Paul is engaged signifies the development of the whole in his theology.
Paul’s emergence from the Damascus road was the relational outcome of his experiential truth of the gospel—the good news for whole relationship together. The truth of this gospel is clearly illuminated by Paul in Galatians, which is less theological discourse about doctrinal purity and more relational dialogue about function together for wholeness (cf. Gal 2:12-13 and 6:16). The alternative to this gospel is labeled “a different gospel” by Paul (1:6). The subtlety of a different gospel becomes apparent only as the whole gospel is distinguished next to it (Gal 1:7,11-12), and the correct interpretive lens is used to pay attention to this crucial distinction and to ignore other human-shaped distinctions (3:1-3; 5:25-26). The issue of one’s interpretive lens is again critical to Paul’s polemic for determining what is defined as primary and significant in comparison to what is secondary and insignificant. Paul identifies unmistakably what the interpretive lens of a different gospel is focused on: “to make a good showing in the flesh” (6:12), “to make a good impression outwardly” (NIV). The term euprosopeo (from euprosopos, pleasing in appearance) is focused on the person from outer in, whose function may be misleading (even unintentionally or unknowingly), as Peter’s and Barnabas’ was in their hypokrisis (i.e. outward identity inconsistent with inward), or whose function may be specious as was the function of some Christian Jews (6:13).
Paul exposes the use of an outer-in interpretive lens to define the nature and function of a different gospel, the bias of which determines a greater importance of quantitative significance over qualitative significance. Any emphasis on the outer in is problematic for the gospel because its practice can even unknowingly give just the appearance (as in metaschematizo) of the gospel without its qualitative relational significance. Intentional or not, this becomes a reductionist gospel shaped by human terms and engaged by human effort rather than the whole gospel constituted by God’s thematic relational response of grace. This is the ongoing conflict between faith (or church) from below and faith (and the church) from above—an antinomy basic to relations between human persons and God (Gal 6:14). The former is focused on human distinctions from outer in with its quantitative interpretive lens, while the latter embraces whole persons from inner out with its qualitative new interpretive lens (5:6; 6:15). Ontology and function in wholeness also encompasses “the Israel of God,” which is not about faith based on human distinction (e.g. the notion of the God of Israel with its identity markers) with its comparative human effort (e.g. observing the torah) but is only God’s relational grace constituting the whole of God’s new creation family (6:16), as Paul later clarified theologically (Rom 2:28-29).
Paul illuminated in Galatians the experiential truth of this whole gospel that distinguishes it from any ontological simulations and epistemological illusions from reductionism. The qualitative new interpretive lens, which is needed to pay close attention to this critical distinction while putting other human-shaped distinctions into deeper focus, is a key for Paul in his fight. This strongly indicates that Galatians needs to be the lens by which to read Paul’s letters and his theology in general, and Ephesians and his ecclesiology in particular. As Paul’s twofold fight shifted into the church, his readers need to use this qualitative new interpretive lens to understand the functional whole of his ecclesiology for the church to be embodied alive in wholeness as the equalizer from inner out.
When Paul declares that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything” (Gal 6:15), the term for “anything” (tis) means having significance—which applies to all human distinctions identified earlier (3:28). That is, Paul makes conclusive that all human-shaped distinctions exist (eimi, verb of existence) without having significance. For Paul, life and practice in human distinctions is a reduced ontology and function that has no ontologically significant existence, only the new creation exists in the significance of whole ontology and function. Any life and practice shaped by human terms and based on human constructs from human contextualization have no ontological reality and thus no significance, but are only an ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from reductionism. Paul makes further definitive that the only life and practice with ontological and functional significance is “faith functioning in reciprocal relational response of trust of one’s whole person both to be vulnerably involved with the person of Christ Jesus and to be agape relationally involved in family love with others for whole relationship together” (5:6). This relational dynamic integrally distinguishes the irreducible value and significance (ischyo, “counts for”) of the relationships together of God’s new creation family. Paul can be definitive because he was not engaged by Jesus according to Paul’s own human-shaped distinction; rather, Jesus intimately embraced Paul in family love and equalized him from inner out to relationally belong in God’s family. This was his experiential truth of the whole gospel, the relational outcome of which is now embodied in the whole ontology and function of the church. It is with this lens from Galatians that Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology emerges to complete the ontological and functional significance of the new creation church as equalizer from the inner out.
The human-shaped distinctions Paul has identified (Gal 3:28; 5:6; 6:15; Col 3:11) always need to be perceived and addressed within the ongoing tension and conflict between wholeness and reductionism. Paul’s purpose was not to eliminate all distinctions in the church but to neutralize the influence of such distinctions as primary for defining and determining life and practice. The fact of human differences and the reality of any valid distinctions are only secondary for Paul (1 Cor 12:12-13; Rom 12:3-5), and any meaning and significance given to them beyond being secondary fragment human ontology, function and relationships together in the church (e.g. 1 Cor 1:12-13; 3:4-5, 21-23; 4:6-7). Yet, it seems only natural to ascribe value to human differences, which is exactly Paul’s polemic addressing the need for redemptive change (1 Cor 3:3-4).
Human differences evoke different responses from persons depending on their interpretive lens. When Paul argues “who sees anything different in you?” (diakrino, 1 Cor 4:7), he points to both who sees and what is seen as different. Who and what are interrelated in a reflexive dynamic: ‘what is seen’ is determined by a person’s interpretive lens, and in reflexive interaction ‘who sees’ also becomes determined by the nature of what is seen. The issue is between outer in and inner out (as Paul clarified later, 2 Cor 5:12). Whoever sees from outer in perceives outer-in differences as primary by which both others and they are defined and relationships together are determined. Whoever sees from inner out perceives any differences as only secondary, which thus neither define others and themselves nor determine their relationships together. Paul is confident in his polemic that any differences used “to treat persons differently by making distinctions” (diakrino) are the terms of human constructs—which either create further value differences from those differences, or boast about differences as their own when in fact they were only given to them by God. These comparative values construct a ‘deficit model’, which is used for differential treatment of others who are different as being essentially less (diakrino). The critical issue with diakrino then is the human shaping of relationships together signifying the human condition. Paul knows from his own relational involvement with God (Phil 3:4-9) that diakrino is of no significance to God and contrary to how God functions, and thus is in conflict with the integral basis determining the church’s life and practice (as Peter testified, Acts 15:9).
Therefore, diakrino has no place or function in the new creation church embodied in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God. What is the functional significance of the church without diakrino?
When Paul integrally defined the relational process of equalizing persons, he illuminated the human condition of persons in human distinctions valued as less (Eph 2:11-12). This involved the human shaping of relationships together that resulted in relational separation or distance (“far off,” macros, 2:13, cf. Isa 57:19). Theirs was a relational condition “to be apart” from God’s relational whole—that could include those in church gatherings—who were pursued in family love by Christ to be equalized and made whole together in God’s family (2:13-22). The contrast between the relational condition “to be apart” and made whole together parallels the relational condition of the temple prior to Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem and after those closing days. God’s house had been stratified in the relational condition “to be apart” that denied access to persons of certain distinctions; this relational condition, after Jesus’ redemptive cleansing, was made whole as “a house of prayer for all nations” (Mk 11:15-17; cf. Isa 56:3-8). By his relational process of family love equalizing persons to be made whole together, Jesus shifted the temple from the outer in to its deeper significance inner out (1 Cor 3:16), in which the whole of God is intimately present and relationally involved to embody the church as God’s whole family together (Eph 2:18-22; Rom 8:9,14; cf. Jn 14:23; 17:21-23,26).
There is a direct correlation between treating persons differently by making distinctions (diakrino) and who has equal access and intimate involvement in the church. The relational process of family love equalizing persons is an inner-out dynamic incompatible with diakrino, because treating persons differently by making distinctions is an outer-in dynamic which limits access and creates barriers to intimate relationships together for those having the distinction of being less. The threat of vulnerability to closer relationships is also a major motivation for maintaining such distinctions in church, including the academy. Paul makes unequivocal that these are limits and barriers that Jesus redeemed for persons to be equalized and reconciled together without human-shaped distinctions in order to be made whole in God’s family (Eph 2:14-16). For the church to have limits on accessibility based on distinctions, and barriers to intimate involvement due to distinctions, even unintentionally out of tradition or from the influence of culture, is to fragment God’s relational whole and to be reduced in ontology and function. This often subtle church practice renders Christ’s salvific work of wholeness incomplete and thereby lacking of its relational significance to fulfill the inherent human relational need and resolve the human relational problem “to be apart.”
Making distinctions and treating persons differently are inseparable because human-shaped distinctions are rooted in a comparative process of more-or-less value, which engages relationships accordingly by treating persons differently (cf. Paul’s polemic, 2 Cor 10-12). The primacy of ‘relationship together involving the whole person’ is replaced by relationships shaped by human distinctions. Intentional or not, this is the dynamic that, for example, church leaders promote by emphasizing roles and gifts, and church members reinforce by treating leadership and themselves based on roles and gifts (e.g. 1 Cor 1:12; 3:5-7). In this dynamic, how well persons measure up to those expectations determines their position and influence in church. This often well-intentioned mutual engagement functionally (not theologically) limits those in a deficit position from full access in a church, which obviously creates vertical barriers to intimate relationships together. Further, since this dynamic is an outer-in process of engagement, there is also ongoing horizontal distance precluding intimate involvement together. The threat Jesus created with ‘relationship together involving the whole person’ is to this relational condition. This apparently acceptable relational distance in churches makes for a comfortable arrangement with minimal accountability, that is, for a gathering of relational-epistemic orphans, but not for God’s new creation family “in the bond of wholeness” (Eph 4:3). The contrast for Paul is between the counter-relational nature of outer-in function shaped by human terms and the relational nature of inner-out function in likeness of God.
In Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology, the bond of wholeness with the Spirit is embodied inner-out function of whole persons who relationally submit to one another in family love to be intimately involved in relationships together without the limits, barriers or comforts of human-shaped distinctions. This relational process of equalizing from inner out needs to be distinguished in the experiential truth of church ontology and function, and not remain in doctrinal truth or as a doctrinal statement of intention, or else its experiential reality will be elusive. This experiential truth happens only when the church is made whole by reciprocal relationship with the Spirit in the functional significance of four key dynamics. These key dynamics constitute the church to be embodied alive in wholeness in the qualitative image of God and to live ongoingly in whole relationship together in the relational likeness of the whole of God.
Two of these keys for the church necessitate structural and contextual dynamics and the other two involve imperatives for individual and relational dynamics. In each dynamic, redemptive changes are necessary to go from a mere gathering of individuals to the new creation church family—changes which overlap and interact with the other key dynamics.
First Key Dynamic: the structural dynamic of access. While access can be perceived from outer in as a static condition of a church structured with merely an “open-door policy,” access from the inner out of God’s relational context and process of family is dynamic and includes relational involvement—implied, for example, in Jesus’ transformation of the temple for prayer accessible by all. When Paul made Christ’s salvific work of wholeness conclusive for the church, all persons without distinctions “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18) for relational involvement together “in boldness and confidence” (3:12) as persons who have been equalized for intimate relationships together as God’s family (2:19-22; cf. Gal 4:4-7). Access, therefore, is the structural dynamic of the church without diakrino, which is congruent with Christ’s relational work of wholeness (Eph 2:14-17) and is in relational likeness to God (Acts 15:9; Col 3:10-11).
The issue of access is deeply rooted in human history. Peter himself struggled with his interpretive framework (phronema) and lens (phroneo) shaped by his tradition, whose diakrino denied access to those of Gentile distinction. Even after Jesus changed his theology (Acts 10:9-16), Peter struggled to change from the practice of his tradition because of his emotional investment and likely perception of losing something related to the privilege, prestige and power of having access. Human-shaped distinctions signify having advantage in comparative relations, the absence of which precludes that advantage. After the primordial garden, the human relational condition “to be apart” became an intentional goal of human effort to secure advantage and maintain self-preservation—the ‘survival of the fittest’ syndrome masked even by religious faith. The specific resources for this relational advantage may vary from one historical context to another (cf. even the works of the law and justification by faith). Yet, privilege, prestige and power are the basic underlying issues over which these relational struggles of inequality are engaged—whether the context is family, social, economic, political or even within or among churches. Any aspects of privilege, prestige and power are advantages (and benefits) that many persons are reluctant to share, much less give up, if the perception (unreal or not) means for them to be in a position of less. The control of this distribution is threatened by equal access.
Human-shaped distinctions create and maintain advantage, which certainly fragments relationships together. By their very nature human distinctions are an outer-in dynamic emerging from reduced ontology and function, which in itself already diminishes, minimalizes and fragments God’s relational whole. Access, however, is an inner-out dynamic signifying the relational dynamic and qualitative involvement of grace. That is, the functional significance of access is for all persons to be defined from inner out and not to be treated differently from outer in, in order to have the relational opportunity to be involved with God for their redemption from the human struggle of reductionism, and thereby to be equalized and intimately reconciled together to fulfill their inherent human relational need in God’s relational whole (as Paul clarifies in his polemic, Gal 3:26-29). Equal access does not threaten personhood and wholeness for the church, but is a necessary key dynamic for their qualitative development wholly from inner out. Therefore, for a church to engage the necessary redemptive change that makes functionally significant ‘access without diakrino’ is relationally specific to what wholly embodies church life and practice for the ongoing relational involvement with persons who are different, in order for them also to receive equally and experience intimately the ontological identity and relational belonging to the whole of God’s new creation family.
This structural dynamic flows directly to the contextual dynamic.
Second Key Dynamic: the contextual dynamic of reconciliation absorbing human differences and valid distinctions. This is not a contradiction of the church without diakrino, but the acknowledgement of the fact of differences in human makeup and the reality of valid distinctions given by God, without the church engaging in diakrino. The ancient Mediterranean world of Paul’s time was a diversity of both human differences and human-shaped distinctions. Yet, prior to its diaspora due to persecution (Acts 8), the early church community was a mostly homogeneous group who limited others who were different from access to be included in their house churches, table fellowships and community identity (e.g., Acts 6:1). Despite a missional program to the surrounding diversity, church practice had yet to relationally involve the reconciliation dynamic of family love to take in those persons and absorb (not dissolve) their differences. This purposeful relational involvement necessitates a major contextual change in the church, especially for a homogeneous gathering. Paul was pivotal in bringing such redemptive change to the church (e.g. 1 Cor 11:17-22; Gal 2:1-10).
Paul delineates a twofold reconciliation dynamic constituted by God’s relational process of family love. On the one hand, family love dissolves human-shaped distinctions and eliminates diakrino. Equally important, on the other hand, family love absorbs most human differences into the primacy of relationships together, but not dissolving or assimilating those differences into a dominant framework (Rom 12:4-5). The twofold nature of this reconciliation dynamic of family love is the functional significance of Paul’s integrated fight against reductionism and for wholeness (1 Cor 12:12-13). Yet, in order to be God’s relational whole, it is not adequate to include persons of difference for the purpose of diversity (e.g. to have a multicultural church). The relational process of family love extends relational involvement to those who are different, takes in and vulnerably embraces them in their difference to integrally relationally belong to the church family. This is the dynamic made essential by Paul for the church’s “unity of the Spirit in the bond of wholeness” (Eph 4:3,16).
This reconciliation dynamic signifies the contextual change necessary for the church to be ongoingly involved in the relational process of absorbing human differences into the church without dissolving or assimilating those differences. This involves, therefore, its willingness to change to adjust to differences and even to adopt some differences, all of which are only compatible with God’s relational whole and congruent with God’s relational terms. Redemptive change also involves the reflexive interaction between these contextual and structural dynamics.
In addition, just as Peter was chastened by Christ in his interpretive framework and theology, and humbled by Paul, making this contextual change functional in the church may require us to humbly accept the limitations of our current interpretive framework (phronema) and lens (phroneo) to understand the significance of differences to the whole of God as well as of those in the whole and holy God. It also requires us to honestly account for any outer-in bias necessitating a whole phronema and a qualitative phroneo (as Paul delineated, Eph 4:22-25). This humility and honesty are essential for the church’s contextual dynamic of reconciliation to be of functional significance to absorb human differences into church life and practice as family together (cf. Eph 4:2).
The importance of these structural and contextual dynamics for the church to be whole as the equalizer from inner out also directly involve the other two key dynamics. These are dynamics for the individual person and our relationships. The four dynamics strongly interact together in reflexive relationship that suggests no set order of their development and function. Yet, there is a clear flow to each pair of dynamics—for example, there has to be access before differences can be absorbed—while in crucial and practical ways the latter pair will determine the extent and significance of the former’s function.
Third Key Dynamic: the person’s inner-out response of freedom, faith and love to others’ differences. When a person is faced with differences in others, there is invariably some degree of tension for that person, with awareness of it or not. The tension signifies the engagement of our provincial context or ‘our little world’ we live in—that which is constructed from the limitations of the person’s perceptual-interpretive framework, which is why humbly accepting its limits and honestly accounting for our bias are needed for the reconciliation dynamic to be whole together. What does a person(s) do with those differences in that relational context? The structural and contextual dynamics can be invoked, yet their functional significance interacts with and will ultimately be determined by the individual person’s response.
The person’s response will emerge either from outer in or inner out. What differences we pay attention to and ignore from our interpretive lens are critical to understand for the following ongoing interrelated issues: first, what we depend on to define our person and maintain our identity; then, on this basis, how we engage relationships in these diverse conditions; and, thus, based on these two issues what level of relationship we engage in within the church. These are inescapable issues which each person must address as an individual and be accountable for, on the one hand, while the church community must account for these in practice on the other.
Paul demonstrated the person’s inner-out response to others’ differences that is necessary both to be a whole person and to be involved in whole relationship together. In his fight for the gospel, Paul is also always fighting against reductionism. One aspect of the relational outcome of the gospel is the freedom that comes from being redeemed. Yet, for Paul the whole of the gospel is not a truncated soteriology but the whole relational outcome of pleroma soteriology. He composes Christian freedom in the relational context of God’s relational whole so that the relational purpose of Christian freedom and its functional significance would not be diminished, minimalized or abused in reductionism (Gal 5:1,13; 1 Cor 8:9). From this interpretive framework and lens, Paul highlights his own liberty and the nature of his relational response to others’ differences (1 Cor 9:19-23). He deeply engaged the relational dynamic of family love in the process of submitting his whole person to those persons, simply declaring “I have become all things to all people” (v.22). Clearly, by his statement Paul is not illustrating what to do with the tension in those situations created by human differences and how to handle those differences. Further clarification is needed, however, since his apparent posture can be perceived in different ways, either negatively or positively.
Given his freedom, Paul was neither obligated nor coerced to function in what appears to be an absence of self-identity. His response also seems to contradict his relational imperative to “Live as children of light” (Eph 5:8). Yet, in terms of the three unavoidable issues for all practice (noted above), the person Paul presented to others of difference was not a variable personality who has no clear sense of his real identity (e.g. as light). Nor was Paul communicating to them a message of assimilating to their terms, and to try to fit into their level of relationship or even masquerade in the context of their differences. Contrary to these reductionist practices, Paul engaged in practices of wholeness. Since Paul did not define his person in quantitative terms from the outer in, he was free to exercise who he was from inner out and to decisively present his whole person to others even in the context of any and all of their differences. He communicated to them a confidence and trust in the whole person he was from inner out, the integrity of which would not be compromised by involvement with them in their difference and could be counted on by them to be that whole person in his face-to-face involvement with them. His involvement with them went deeper than the level of their differences and freely responded in the relational trust with the Spirit to submit his whole person to them in their differences for the relational involvement of family love needed for the relational purpose “that I might by all means save some” (v.22). Paul submits his whole person to them in family love not for the mere outcome of a truncated soteriology of only being saved from but for the relational outcome of also being saved to gained from “the whole gospel so that I may share in its blessings of whole relationship together as family” (v.23).
In the face of others’ differences, Paul neither distanced himself from them in the province of ‘his little world’ nor did he try to control them to assimilate and fit into his world and the comforts of his framework. In contrast, he acted in the relational trust of faith to venture out of his old world and beyond the limitations that any old interpretive framework imposes on personhood and relationships in order to illuminate the wholeness of God in the midst of reductionism. In this relational process, he also illuminated the relational need of the person and persons together as church to have contextual sensitivity and responsiveness to others’ differences, without reducing their own ontological identity of who and whose they are. Clearly, Paul demonstrated the necessary response of the whole person from inner out to those differences in order to engage those persons in the reconciliation dynamic of family love for their experience in the relational whole of God’s family. Yet, Paul’s response also demonstrated the needed changes within the individual person involving redemptive change (old “worlds,” frameworks and practices dying and the new rising). This process addresses in oneself any outer-in ontology and function needing to be transformed from inner out (metamorphoo, as Paul delineated, Rom 12:2-3). This transformation from outer in to inner out not only frees the relational process for the new creation but directly leads to its embodiment. Redemptive change must antecede and prevail in the relational process leading to reconciliation to the whole of God’s new creation family.
In the freedom of the person’s inner-out response to submit one’s whole person to others in family love, the act of submitting becomes a reductionism-issue when its is obligated or coerced apart from freedom. Freedom itself, however, becomes reductionist when it is only the means for self-autonomy, self-determination or self-justification, which are the substitutes from reductionism. Paul clarified that God never redeems us to be free for this end (Gal 5:1,13; cf. 1 Cor 7:35). God frees us from reductionism to be whole (1 Cor 10:23-24). Redemption by Christ and what he saves from are inseparable from reconciliation and what he saves to. The integral function of redemptive reconciliation is the whole (nonnegotiable) relational process of the whole (untruncated) relational outcome of the whole (unfragmented) gospel. Therefore, it is crucial for our understanding of the inseparable functions of personhood and human relationships, both within the church and in the world, to understand that deeply implicit in the wholeness of Christian freedom is being redeemed from those matters causing distance, barriers and separation in relationships—specifically in the relational condition “to be apart” from whole relationship together, which if not responded to from inner out leaves the inherent human relational need unfulfilled even within churches.
In this dynamic for personhood, for example, can women or slaves submit their persons without falling into reduced ontology and function? Paul’s prescriptions and directives for them can be taken or applied in the negative if separated from the function of relationships in wholeness together from the inner out (discussed shortly). Personhood is an inner-out function of the individual person always in relationship with other persons (different or not), never in isolation regardless of the extent of freedom the individual person has. Therefore, whether women and slaves are those responded to in their difference or are the persons responding without being defined by their difference, the focus for Paul always centers on wholeness for persons in relationship together in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God.
Paul’s exercise of freedom in submitting his whole person to others in family love was constituted by the convergence of the theological dynamics of pleroma Christology in pleroma soteriology with pleroma pneumatology for pleroma ecclesiology to be involved in the relationships together necessary to embody the church as equalizer from inner out. This is what Paul condenses in the gospel of wholeness vulnerably embodied in the face of Christ, which has the relational outcome ‘already’ of only whole persons agape-relationally involved in whole relationships together.
The integral function of whole persons and whole relationships together is deeply integrated, the interaction of which must by their nature emerge from inner out. For the person and persons together as church to have the functional significance of being equalized in intimate relationships, their ontology and function need to be whole from inner out—nothing less and no substitutes for the person and for relationships together. This inner-out process leads us from the key dynamic for the individual to its interaction with the key dynamic for relationships.
Fourth Key Dynamic: relationships engaged vulnerably with others (different or not) by deepening involvement from inner out. The dynamic engaged within individual persons extends to their relationships. What Paul defined as his whole person’s inner-out response—“I have become all things to all people”—also defines his relational involvement with them by making his whole person vulnerable from inner out—“I have made my person vulnerable to all human differences for the inner-out relational involvement with all persons.” This decision to engage relationships vulnerably must be a free choice made with relational trust and in family love because there are risks and consequences for such involvement. On the one hand, the consequences revolve around one’s person being rejected or rendered insignificant. The risks, on the other hand, are twofold, which involves either losing something (e.g. the stability of ‘our little world’, the certainty of our interpretive framework, the reliability of how we do relationships) or being challenged to change (e.g. the state of one’s world, the focus of one’s interpretive lens and mindset, one’s established way of doing relationships). The dynamic of ‘losing something-challenged to change’ is an ongoing issue in all relationships, and the extent of the risks depends on their perception from outer in or from inner out. For Paul, this is always the tension between reductionism and wholeness, that is, between relationships fragmented by limited involvement from outer in and relationships made whole by deepening involvement from inner out. Regardless of the consequences, Paul took responsibility for living whole in relationships for the inner-out involvement necessary to make relationships whole together, because the twofold risks were not of significance in wholeness but only in reductionism (cf. his personal assessment, Phil 3:7-9; also his challenge to Philemon).
Later, Paul appeared to qualify the extent of his vulnerable involvement in relationships by stating “I try to please everyone in everything” (1 Cor 10:33). The implication of this could be simply to do whatever others want, thereby pleasing all and not offending anyone (10:32). Paul would not be vulnerable in relationships with this kind of involvement. Aresko means to please, make one inclined to, or to be content with. This may involve doing either what others want or what they need. Paul is not trying to look good before others for his own benefit (symphoros, 10:33). Rather he vulnerably engages them with the relational involvement from inner out that they need (not necessarily want) for all their benefit “so that they may be saved to whole relationship together in God’s family.” In his statement, Paul does not qualify the extent of his vulnerable involvement in relationship with others by safely giving them what they want. He qualifies only the depth of his vulnerable involvement by lovingly giving them what they need to be whole, even if they reject his whole person or try to render his whole function as insignificant (cf. 2 Cor 12:15).
This deepening relational involvement from inner out to vulnerably engage others in relationship with one’s whole person certainly necessitates redemptive change from our prevailing ways of doing relationships, including from a normative church interpretive lens of what is paid attention to and ignored in church gatherings and relationships together. If the vulnerability of family love is to be engaged, whether by the individual person or persons together as church, the concern cannot be about the issue of losing something. The focus on such risks will be constraining, if not controlling, and render both person and church to reduced ontology and function, hereby exposing the greater risk of being challenged to change and their need for it. Faith as relational trust with the Spirit is critical for freeing us to determine what is primary to embrace in church life and practice and what we need to relinquish control over “for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of wholeness” (Eph 4:3; Gal 5:16,25). The bond of wholeness by its nature requires change in us: individual, relational, structural and contextual changes. With these redemptive changes for person and church, the integral function of redemptive reconciliation can emerge in family love for vulnerable engagement of others (different or not) in relationships together from inner out.
The dynamic flow of these four key dynamics is the dynamic of wholeness composing the experiential truth of the church’s ontology and function as equalizer from inner out. In ongoing tension and conflict with the church in the bond of wholeness is reductionism seeking to influence every level of the church—individuals, relationships, its structure and context. For Paul, this is the given battle ongoingly extended into the church, against which reductionism must be exposed, confronted and made whole by redemptive change at every level of the church. While Paul presupposes the need for redemptive change given the pervasive influence of reductionism, he never assumes the redemptive-change outcome of the new emerging without the reciprocal relational involvement of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17-18; Gal 5:16; 6:8; Rom 8:6; Eph 3:16). The reciprocal nature of the Spirit’s relational involvement makes change an open question. These redemptive changes at all levels of the church certainly do not occur smoothly or in linear order, as Paul’s dealings with Peter and Philemon demonstrate. The interaction between the four key dynamics frequently influences how the functional significance of one key dynamic may be contingent on the redemptive change made necessary by another key dynamic. Both Peter and Philemon could not practice church-without-diakrino or reconciliation absorbing differences until they were free in their own persons to be vulnerable from inner out with others, notably in Jew-Gentile relations and with slaves.
The relational outcome ‘already’ of the church as equalizer, however, becomes problematic in Paul’s own corpus if his position on slaves and women is not clarified. Whole understanding of Paul is needed on these matters, which can be gained from discussion of the following questions.
Given Paul’s emphasis on the relational outcome ‘already’ of God’s relational response to the human condition, how is Paul’s discourse on slaves congruent with this relational outcome, and his directives for them compatible with its function in transformed relationships together?
As we discuss slaves in this question, and women in the next question, the issue of freedom and its determinative dynamic of redemption are basic to both. In Paul’s pleroma theology, part of the outcome of redemption is to be free, but it cannot end here or the outcome becomes fragmentary and reduced in human ontology and function. The full outcome of redemption is a relational outcome. Redemption in Christ is not about just being set free and Christian freedom is not the freedom to be free—that is, for self-autonomy, self-determination, or even a variation of self-justification. We are redeemed to be made whole in ontology and function for the primacy of relationship together with the whole of God and with God’s whole family, which is the relationship that the Creator originally created in God’s likeness and that the whole of God redemptively reconciles in the new creation.
Paul’s relational discourse on slaves (and women) is from this framework within this context, by which his theological dialogue must be interpreted and understood. Otherwise, his readers are left with only the human contexts of Paul’s situations to frame his dialogue with slaves, and as a result will go no further and deeper into his framework in the context of relationship with God, the primary context into which Paul contextualizes these theological issues and their human shaping.
There are two levels of slavery for Paul:
1. Slavery embedded
in social conditions, thus from outer in (cf. 1 Tim 6:1).
2. Slavery embodied in the human condition, thus from inner out (cf. Rom 6:6).
These two levels interact between them, with the first emerging from the second and the first confirming or reinforcing the second. Paul always contextualizes level one in the workings of level two. Therefore, Paul always gives greater priority to level two over the first, because two underlies one and is necessary to be redeemed in order for level one to have full redemption. Yet, in what appears contrary to his directives for slaves in level one, Paul neither ignores this level nor accepts it due to its underlying condition in the sin of reductionism.
Paul addressed all sin of reductionism (slavery in both levels, cf. Phlm) while he was focused on being whole, God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms. This integral dynamic is critical to Paul’s discourse. Redemption is neither an end in itself for slaves nor sufficient to deal with the sin of reductionism in the human condition involved in slavery. Paul is unequivocal that we are not redeemed just to be free but for whole relationships together (Gal 5:1, 13-14; cf. 1 Cor 8:9-13). Relationships together necessitate a process of reconciliation to be in conjoint function with redemption for the redemptive reconciliation required for relationships together to be whole on God’s qualitative relational terms from inner out, not shaped by human terms from outer in (cf. Rom 14:13-19). Paul neither pursues redemption over reconciliation nor does he sacrifice reconciliation for the sake of redemption since there cannot be wholeness for slaves and their relationships without this reconciliation.
When Paul directs slaves in the social conditions of slavery, who are also part of the church, to submit to their masters (Col 3:22-24; Eph 6:5-7; 1 Tim 6:1-2; Tit 2:9-10; cf. for masters, Col 4:1; Eph 6:9), he did not define an obligation (or duty, opheilo) or an ethical framework for slaves to conform to. Paul is focused on slaves being whole and the relational outcome of whole relationship together for slaves; this was always primary for Paul. That is, he calls for their congruity from inner out with the ontological identity of both who they are and whose they are, without outer-in distinctions defining their persons. And he takes them further and deeper into their whole function on God’s qualitative relational terms to live whole together and even to make whole in the world, without outer-in terms and circumstances in the surrounding context determining their primary life and function. Paul’s implied message to slaves is that freedom does not guarantee their whole ontology and function, nor does being a social-level slave preclude it.
Since Paul defines the ontological identity of God’s new creation family without outer-in distinctions like “slave or free” (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11), and did not determine its function by situations and circumstances, he did not give those matters priority over being God’s relational whole. Therefore, as discussed above about Philemon and Onesimus, Paul’s primary focus was not on the social conditions of slavery but on the primacy of a slave’s redemptive outcome of relational belonging and ontological identity in God’s family, and on the redemptive reconciliation of slavery’s human condition necessary for persons like Philemon and Onesimus to be equalized brothers in this family. This process of equalization certainly then will have direct relational implications for the social level of slavery, but even more important for Paul was his intended purpose for social-level slaves in whole ontology and function to plant the seeds, cultivate and even grow whole relationships together, first within the church and then in the surrounding context.
Equally important, if not more, how are Paul’s new creation view of women and his prescriptions for them in agreement, and how are his directives compatible for the relational outcome of God’s new creation family?
The above discussion on slaves extends in direct application to women. I have purposefully placed this discussion on the church as equalizer for last, but not since women have traditionally occupied last place. Rather because, in my opinion, women signify the most consistent and widespread presence of reduced human ontology and function in the history of human contextualization, this condition is unavoidable for all persons to address for our wholeness. Theological discourse and pronouncements have not significantly changed the embodiment of this human condition and its human shaping of relationships, perhaps due to ignoring its enslavement. Paul has been placed at the center of this human divide that fragments the church and renders God’s family “to be apart” from being whole in likeness of the relational whole of God—a condition existing knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally. As long as this condition of reduced human ontology and function continues, the relational outcome ‘already’ will not be our experiential truth and reality until ‘not yet’. Any significant change will require challenging the referentialization of the communicative word from God that Paul was responsible to pleroo for the church’s wholeness—his family oikonomia signifying the pleroma of God into Paul (Col 1:25).
Paul would dispute how his relational discourse on women has been interpreted; he would expose and confront the reductionism underlying such interpretation and application for the reduced ontology and function of women—for example, by both complementarians and egalitarians. Yet, his prescriptions and directives for women will have to be clarified in order for Paul to be vindicated, his theological anthropology affirmed and his pleroma ecclesiology in transformed relationships together to be the experiential truth ‘already’.
The issue of Christian freedom continues in Paul’s relational discourse, which he always frames, defines and determines by the dynamic of redemption and baptism into Christ. Just as Paul defined for slaves, the importance of women having freedom is never about self-autonomy and self-determination or self-justification, but only to be whole in ontology and function, not yoked to reduced ontology and function (Gal 5:1). This also applies to men, and any other classification of persons. The issues of freedom and of wholeness are critically interrelated for Paul; and, as was discussed earlier for slaves, having freedom is no guarantee of whole ontology and function. The dynamic of redemption and baptism into Christ is the functional bridge between freedom and wholeness. Paul makes this link definitive.
From the interpretive lens of his theological framework, Paul’s definitive view of women is that “there is no longer male and female” (Gal 3:28). His perception could be taken as contrary to the reality of creation, yet Paul is not implying that there are no physical and biological differences between the genders, and thus that no distinctions should be seen. Paul’s view is this definitive declaration: In the dynamic of baptism into Christ, the redemptive outcome is the human ontology freed from being defined and the human function freed from being determined by the gender differences of any kind shaped or constructed by human terms, whether in the surrounding context or even within churches. These human differences are used to create distinctions which reduce the whole human ontology and function of those baptized into Christ’s death and raised with him by the Spirit in the whole image and likeness of creator God (Col 3:10-11; 2 Cor 3:18).
As Paul clearly distinguishes, the person emerging from baptism is a new creation, whose ontology and function from inner out cannot be defined and determined by any differences and distinctions from outer in, not even by one’s gifts or role in the church. This transformation from inner out in the redemptive change to whole human ontology and function also integrally involves reconciliation to the whole of God in God’s family, which is constituted in the process of redemptive reconciliation to the transformed relationships together both intimate and equalized (Eph 2:14-22). As with slaves, Paul’s concern for women is their whole ontology and function and the relational outcome of whole relationship together, of which women are an integral part and of whose function women are the key. Yet, it has been difficult for Paul’s readers (both women and men) to reconcile his decisive view of women with his prescriptions and directives for them.
In his relational discourse, Paul continues to integrate Christian freedom with redemption, which is inseparably conjoined with reconciliation. Also in his theological dialogue, Paul integrates the redemptive-reconciliation dynamic with the creation narrative for the redemptive outcome in the image and likeness of God. His convergence is made deeply in his main directives for women, and this convergence must be accounted for to understand where Paul is coming from in his relational discourse. Reviewing hermeneutic factors in interpreting Paul, though he speaks in a human context involving women and speaks to their human context, Paul is not speaking from a human context. His prescriptions and directives for women are contextualized beyond those human contexts to his involvement directly in God’s relational context and process. These directives emerged in human contexts, along with his letters, but were composed from the further and deeper context of the whole of God—which is the significance of Paul’s convergence I will attempt to account for in this limited discussion.
There are two main directives representative of Paul’s relational discourse with women and his theological discourse in relational terms (not referential) for all persons: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15.
1 Corinthians 11:3-16
This section of Paul’s letter must be read in the full context of
his letter. From the beginning Paul was dealing with the
reductionist practices fragmenting this church (1:10-15). While
confronting these persons in family love throughout the letter, in
fairness to them and for their encouragement Paul puts their context
into a larger picture of God’s people (10:1-11) and their practices
into the deeper process of the dynamic of redemption and baptism
into Christ (10:16-
On this basis, Paul’s further relational discourse with women continues, with its convergence with the creation narrative. Earlier in his letter, Paul had defined conclusively for this fragmented church: “‘Nothing beyond what is written,’ so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another” (4:6). The comparative dynamic Paul magnifies here is the natural relational consequence of reduced human ontology and function defined from outer in and determined by human terms, that is, beyond God’s qualitative relational terms revealed in God’s communicative word written in Scripture. In this section on women, Paul restores the focus to what is written in the creation narrative in order to illuminate the relational outcome from the dynamic of redemption and baptism into Christ (1 Cor 10:16-17; 12:13). If the creation narrative does not converge with this dynamic in the intended focus of Paul’s interpretive lens, then the relational outcome will be different for Paul’s readers, and neither compatible with his relational discourse nor congruent with his theological dialogue.
Paul’s focus can be misleading due to the explicit aspects he highlights in the creation narrative, namely, chronological or functional order and quantitative significance. Yet, Paul’s focus remained on God’s communicative action in the words written, without disembodying those relational words in the narrative, which would be essentially to go beyond what is written, notably by narrowing it down through referentialization.
chronological and functional order, Christ participated in the
creation of all things and its whole, as Paul later made definitive
in the cosmology of his theological systemic framework (Col
1:16-17). Thus, “Christ is the head [kephale, principal or
first] of every created man” (1 Cor 11:3). The embodied
Christ also became the kephale “over all things for the
church” (Eph 1:22) and the first to complete the dynamic of
redemptive reconciliation as its functional key (Col
The quantitative significance of this chronological-functional order has been misinterpreted by a different lens than Paul’s and misused apart from his intended purpose by concerns for the sake of self-autonomy, self-determination, and even self-justification efforts—which have reduced human ontology and function and fragment relationships together. Paul expands on the quantitative significance with application to prayer and whether the head should have a covering or not (11:4-7). The quantitative significance of head coverings during prayer is connected by Paul to the chronological-functional order in creation. While such practice is actually secondary (11:16), Paul uses it to illustrate an underlying issue. Apparently, for a man to cover his head was to void or deny that Christ is the head, who created man in the image and glory of God (11:7). For a woman to be uncovered implies her independence from the creative order, implying her self-determination, of which in Paul’s view she needed to be purified (11:6; cf. Lev 14:8) because she was created from the qualitative substance of the first human person in the same image and glory of God (11:7). Her glory cannot be reduced to being “the glory of man” but is nothing less and no substitutes of the man’s glory, that is, in the same image and glory of God. This differentiation of glory is critical for understanding the basis used for defining gender ontology and, more likely, for determining gender function in reductionism or wholeness. Yet, it would also be helpful for women to have for themselves a clear basis (exousia) for distinguishing their whole ontology and function to fully understand their position and purpose in the created order (as angels needed, 11:10).
A further differentiation is also critical to Paul’s relational discourse. The glory of God tended to be referentialized for a more quantitative focus in Hebrew Scripture and quantitative significance for Israel. The focus and significance of God’s glory deepened to its full qualitative and relational depth in the vulnerably revealed face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). This qualitative and relational depth is the glory Paul experienced from Christ and the full significance of glory he alludes to. It is this glory in Paul’s pleroma theology which is basic to whole ontology and function, both of God and of human persons. Yet, its qualitative relational significance is fragmented or lost with the referentialization of the embodied Word.
When Paul restates the chronological order of human creation (11:8) and its functional order (11:9; cf. Gen 2:18), he is shifting from its outer-in quantitative significance to point to the inner-out qualitative significance of creation: the primacy of whole relationship together (in contrast, “to be apart” as in creation narrative above) constituted by the whole human ontology and function created in the image and likeness of God (11:11-12; cf. Gen 1:26-27; 2:25). In this shift, Paul also engages the dynamic of redemptive reconciliation to converge with the creation narrative. The other quantitative matters are secondary, even if they appear the natural condition (physis, 11:14-15); therefore, they should not define and determine human ontology and function, both for women and men (11:16). To use secondary matters as the basis is to reduce all persons’ ontology and function, and thereby to go beyond what is written by substituting outer-in practices of ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from reductionism—that is, ontology and function shaped from outer in by human terms, not God’s qualitative relational terms from inner out. The relational consequence is to diminish the primacy of relationships, minimalize their function, and fragment relationships together, all of which can only be restored in the process of redemptive reconciliation to the transformed relationships together of the new creation (cf. 2 Cor 5:16-18).
This is the ontological and functional condition Paul addressed and the purpose of his relational discourse with the church at Corinth to fight integrally against their reductionism and for God’s relational whole—which Paul addressed conclusively in the remainder of his letter (11:17ff), notably with the summary declaration: “for God is a God not of fragmentation but of wholeness” (14:33). When Paul adds to this declaration further relational discourse for women, somewhat parenthetically, his only concern is for this wholeness of human and church ontology and function (14:34-35). Paul is not seeking the conformity of women to a behavioral code of silence but rather their congruity to the whole ontology and function in the image and glory of God. Therefore, what Paul does not give permission to for women in the church is for them to define their persons by what they do (“to speak”) and have (knowledge, position or status) because this would reduce their ontology and function, thereby diminishing the church’s ontology and function. Certainly, this applies to men equally, whom Paul has been addressing throughout this letter.
How persons define themselves is a major issue basic to how persons engage in relationships, and on this basis how these persons in these relationships then constitute church—the three inescapable issues for those in Christ. The whole of Paul and the whole in his theology challenge the assumptions and theological basis persons have in these three crucial issues. In his family communication with Timothy, Paul extends his relational discourse for women to provide further clarity to this process to wholeness.
1 Timothy 2:8-15
The letters to Timothy and Titus have been perceived to depict a less intense, more domesticated Paul, with a more generalized focus of faith and an emphasis on the virtue of “godliness” (eusebeia, piety toward God, 1 Tim 2:2; 3:16; 4:7,8; 6:3,5,6,11; 2 Tim 3:5; Ti 1:1; cf. 1 Tim 5:4). This milder image and emphasis not found in his undisputed letters are part of the basis for disputing Paul’s authorship of these letters. His relational discourse for women, I contend, helps “restore” the intensity of Paul in his integral fight, not for having a mere faith and mere virtue, but for wholeness and against reductionism.
In his loving encouragement of Timothy to engage in this fight (1 Tim 1:18), he reminds Timothy that the primary purpose and outcome (telos) of his proclamation (parangelia) for the church is not purity of doctrine and conformity of belief but is only relational: persons in whole ontology from inner out who are agape-relationally involved by the vulnerable relational response of trust (1:3-5). Paul’s intensity of meaning should not be confused with quantitative density, thereby not understanding the quality of Paul’s intensity in the absence of any quantitative density in his words. The faith and love focused on by Paul (v.5) were first Paul’s experiential truth of vulnerable relationship face to face with Christ (1:12-14). Paul’s intensity of meaning is critical for his readers to embrace in order to understand where Paul is coming from. On the basis of his “relational faith and experiential truth” (2:7), Paul’s whole function establishes the context of his communication with Timothy and his relational discourse for women.
Paul’s deep desire and concern for persons are for their whole ontology and function and for their whole relationships together. This outcome can emerge only with these persons transformed from inner out, thus redeemed from life and practice, both individually and collectively as church, that are defined and determined from outer in. He pursues them intensely with family love for their congruence with this wholeness.
Paul begins this section with the practice of worship, with the focus first on men (2:8). Based on where Paul is coming from, his deep desire is for men to move beyond any negativity they have from situations and circumstances—not letting that define and determine them (cf. Eph 4:26-27)—and to openly participate in worship, not merely observing or being detached (cf. abad, work from the creation narrative, also rendered as worship to highlight this relational work). Yet, participation was not about being more demonstrative by lifting up their hands outwardly. “Holy hands” signified an inner out action of personal involvement, not as an end in itself but lifted up in relational response to God. This personal relational involvement with God was Paul’s deep desire for men to engage further and experience deeper, because the only alternative is a reductionist practice even if the hands were lifted. Paul’s focus for men is the focus by which his similar desires for women need to be seen.
Paul’s concern for women’s practice in worship may initially appear to be a reverse emphasis than for men, less visible and more in the background as observers (2:9-10). Paul’s focus, however, went deeper than outward appearance and further than the common church practice of “good works.” This involved the first critical issue in all practice about the integrity of the person presented to others, which is directly integrated with how that person defines herself. In other words, Paul’s concern is about women who focus on the outer in to define themselves by what they have and do. Defined on this basis, women depend on drawing attention to their appearance and other outer-in aspects of themselves.
The issue for Paul was not about dressing modestly and decently, with appropriateness. Again, Paul was not seeking the conformity of women to a behavioral code. While modesty is not the issue, highlighting one’s self to draw attention to what one has and does is only part of the issue. When Paul added “suitable” or “with propriety” (NIV) to the matter of dress and later added “modesty,” “propriety” (NIV) to the matter of teaching and authority over men (2:15), the same term use for these, sophrosyne, is more clearly rendered “sound mindset.” That is, Paul was qualifying these matters by pointing to the necessary interpretive lens (phroneo) to distinguish reductionist practice from wholeness—the new interpretive framework (phronema) and lens (phroneo) from the dynamic of redemption and baptism into Christ (Rom 8:5-6). The underlying issue for Paul, therefore, is whole human ontology and function, or the only alternative of reduced human ontology and function. Paul’s initial focus on men clearly indicates that this issue equally applies to men.
How a person defines one’s self interacts with the presentation of self, which further extends in interaction with how the person engages relationships. The person’s interpretive framework with its lens is critical to this process. Paul’s alternative to outer-in function for women is “good works” (2:10), yet this can be perceived still as being defined by what a woman does. With Paul’s lens, however, good works must always be defined by and determined from the primary relational work of relational involvement with God from inner out—the ongoing vulnerable relational response of trust in relationship together. This is also the lens and focus of the process of learning for women. Paul appears to constrain and conform women to keeping quiet (hesychia) as objects in the learning process. Rather, hesychia signifies ceasing from one’s human effort—specifically engaged in defining one’s self and notably to fill oneself with more referential knowledge to further define one’s self with what one has (cf. 1 Cor 8:1)—and, with Paul’s lens, to submit one’s person from inner out for vulnerable involvement in the relational epistemic process with God (further qualifying 1 Cor 14:35). Certainly, this learning process equally applies to men (cf. 1 Cor 2:13; Gal 1:11-12).
His next words to Timothy about women also appear incongruent with God’s relational whole created in relational likeness to the whole of God: “no women to teach or to have authority” (1 Tim 2:12). Yet the lens and focus of the relational epistemic process continued to apply in Paul’s directive for women. Information and knowledge about God gained from a conventional epistemic process from outer in do not have the depth of significance to teach in the church, that is, teach to God’s relational whole on the basis of God’s qualitative relational terms. Such referential information and knowledge may have functional significance to define those human persons by what they have but have no relational significance to God and qualitative significance for God’s family. The term for authority (authenteo) denotes one acting by her own authority or power, which in this context is based on the human effort to define one’s self further by the possession of more information and knowledge, even if about God. Therefore, Paul will not allow such women of reduced ontology and function to assume leadership in God’s family. Moreover, he would not advocate for Christian freedom for women to be the means for their self-autonomy and self-determination, because the consequence, at best, would be some form of ontological simulation and epistemological illusion, that is, only reduced ontology and function. He turns to the creation narrative to support this position (2:13-14).
By repeating the chronological order of creation, Paul was not ascribing functional significance to man to establish male priority in the created order. Paul was affirming the whole significance of the human person created in the image and glory of God, just as he affirmed in his previous directive to women (1 Cor 11:7). Yet, Paul appears to define their function differently by blaming Eve for the dysfunction in the primordial garden, as if Adam did not engage in it also and was an innocent bystander. What Paul highlights was not Eve’s person but the effort of Eve’s self-autonomy to gain more knowledge for self-determination, perhaps even self-justification—human effort based on outer-in terms in reduced ontology and function—which she certainly engaged first, followed by the willful engagement of Adam (cf. Gen 3:2-7). Paul uses the chronological order in the creation narrative to magnify, on the one hand, the qualitative and relational significance of the human person’s ontology and function and, on the other, the functional and relational consequences of engagement in the sin of reductionism with reduced ontology and function.
At this point Paul converges the creation narrative with the dynamic of redemptive reconciliation and integrates them into the relational outcome of baptism into Christ (1 Tim 2:15). In Paul’s pleroma soteriology, sozo (saved) is conjointly deliverance and being made whole. Curiously, Paul declares that women “will be saved through childbearing,” which appears to be a human effort at self-determination and justification, limited to certain women. With Paul’s lens, he highlights an aspect from the creation narrative, whose quantitative significance is only a secondary function in God’s whole plan (cf. Gen 1:28), to magnify the qualitative significance of the primary function of whole relationship together, both with God and with persons in the image and likeness of God (cf. 2:18)—which childbearing certainly supports in function but does not displace as the primary function. Therefore, with Paul’s convergence and in his pleroma theology, women will be saved from any reduced ontology and function and saved to wholeness and whole relationship together. That is, women are sozo while they engage in secondary functions—as identified initially in the creative narrative by childbearing, but not limited solely to this secondary function—based not on the extent of their secondary functions but entirely on ongoing involvement in the relational contingency (“if they continue in,” Gk active voice, subjunctive mood) of what is primary: the vulnerable relational response of trust (“faith”) and the vulnerable relational involvement with others in family love (“agape”) only on God’s qualitative relational terms from inner out (“holiness”) with a sound mindset (“sophrosyne”), the new phronema-framework and phroneo-lens from the dynamic of baptism into Christ and redemptive reconciliation. Women’s ontology and function pivot on this contingency. Any shift from this primacy to secondary functions reduces their ontology and function.
The faith in Paul’s relational contingency is not the generalized faith of what the church has and proclaims but the specific function only of reciprocal relationship. The vulnerable relational response of trust signifies the ongoing primary relational work that constitutes the “good works” of Paul’s alternative to outer-in function for women, and from which all secondary functions need to emerge to be whole from inner out. Moreover, the agape in Paul’s relational contingency is also reflexively contingent on faith. To be agape-relationally involved with others must be integrated with and emerge from the vulnerable relational response of trust; without this, agape becomes a more self-oriented effort at sacrifice, focused on what that person does—for example, about others’ needs, situations or circumstances—without the relational significance of opening one’s person to other persons and focusing on involvement with them in relationship. Paul was decisive that any works without the primacy of relational work are not the outworking of the whole person created in “the image and glory of God” (1 Cor 11:7).
Of course, everything that Paul has directed to women is also necessarily directed to men in Paul’s pleroma theology, except perhaps for childbearing. Paul sees both of them beyond their situations and circumstances and defines them as persons from inner out. Yet, I wonder if an ‘unexpected difference’ has emerged in the church, which no one has, or perhaps wants to, seriously address. Whole ontology and function for persons of both genders are defined and determined only as transformed persons from inner out relationally involved in transformed relationships together, both intimate and equalized—the relational outcome ‘already’ in Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology, which Jesus intrusively embodied with ‘relationship together involving the whole person’. This relational outcome of the experiential truth of the gospel has been problematic in church history as far back as Peter (cf. the churches in Rev 2:2-4; 3:1-2, 15-17), and which continues to grieve the Spirit. What Jesus embodied intrusively underlies, I affirm, the basis for Mary (Martha’s sister) still not being central to the preaching of the gospel and its relational outcome in the church, as Jesus clearly distinguished for their experiential truth (Mk 14:9; Mt 26:13). While the situations and circumstances in the church have certainly varied, the underlying issue of reductionism (and its shaping of relationships) in church ontology and function has remained the common problem—which may be pointing to an emerging solution needing our attention.
Since Paul was occupied with fragmentation in churches, I doubt if he had any initial awareness of this ‘unexpected difference’ in his early experience with churches. But if the difference between Jesus’ relationships with women compared with men during his earthly life has any further significance for the church, it supports what I present without apology: Women who are emerging in whole ontology and function are the relational key for the whole function of this relational outcome ‘already’ and the persons most likely to be vulnerable from inner out in order to lead other persons in this qualitative relational process to wholeness in church ontology and function. Qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness are integral for the church and indispensable for church leadership.
The Creator made no inner out distinction between male and female, as Adam and Eve experienced in whole relationship together (Gen 2:25), in contrast to their experience in reduced ontology and function (Gen 3:7). The extent of a person’s engagement in reductionism is the key. In Paul’s pleroma theology, the righteous are not those who simply possess faith—a common theological notion. The righteous are those in ongoing congruence with their whole ontology and function in relationship with God, whom God can count on to be those persons in their vulnerable relational response of trust. Whom God can count on to be vulnerable in relationship with their whole person is the question at issue; which persons will step forward to be accountable with God and to act from inner out on the challenge in transformed relationships together, irreplaceably both intimate and equalized, as the new creation church family is the question before us all. No human distinctions in Paul’s lens have any qualitative significance for persons baptized into Christ (Gal 3:27-29), only the primary relational work of trust making persons vulnerable to be agape-relationally involved with others in and for God’s new creation family ‘already’ (Gal 5:6; 6:15)—nothing less and no substitutes.
Along with acknowledging an ‘unexpected difference’ emerging in the church, there is an even more important acknowledgement that needs to happen both in the church and academy. This involves the understanding that the referentialization of the embodied Word provides a hermeneutical basis to narrow down, disembody and thereby blunt the intrusiveness of Jesus embodying ‘relationship together involving the whole person’. This then conveniently establishes a rationale, intentionally or unintentionally, for retreating from engaging the Word—not only in his intrusive relational path but also his improbable theological trajectory—and his church family in whole relationship together vulnerably equalized and intimate—without the veil and the distinctions based on what we do (no matter how valued by churches) and have (no matter how esteemed by the academy).
The church embodied as equalizer from inner out is the embodied church alive in wholeness. The church in wholeness is the relational outcome only of redemptive change with the Spirit. Redemptive change distinguishes the church from reduced ontology and function in a renegotiated ecclesiology. Redemptive change also signifies that the church is different from all that prevails around it or pervades its surrounding context. Therefore, on the basis of its clarity and depth, the church embodies intrusively with Jesus the gospel of whole relationship together. This is the relational outcome that emerges from the ek-eis dynamic of Jesus’ family prayer, engaging the process of reciprocating contextualization with triangulation. Extended with and by Paul, the dynamics of his pleroma theology compose the integral relational basis and ongoing relational base for the church to emerge ‘already’ in pleroma ecclesiology as the whole of God’s relational whole with the relationships together necessary to fulfill the prevailing inherent human relational need and to solve the pervading human relational problem—that is, if the church is different.
When Paul illuminated theological clarity for the gospel of God’s relational whole without human distinctions, he integrated Israel’s relational position with the Gentiles’ relational position in God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition (Rom 11:11-24). God’s salvific action was initiated through Israel on the collective level (“firstfruits,” v.16) and now extends to Gentiles—the relational dynamic also involving Jesus into Paul. The deeply interrelated relational position of Jews and of Gentiles is in complex interaction to render them without distinction in their relational condition, which signifies undeniably the whole of God’s thematic response of grace. What Paul makes definitive is that in terms of each other’s relational position, one is not the cause of the other’s; neither is one at the exclusion of the other, nor marginalizes or is better than the other. These theological dynamics emerge in the relational context and process of God’s relational involvement of grace, the relational source and relational outcome of which Paul illuminated conclusively as holy: “if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy” (v.16). This is no mere theological proposition or doctrinal truth Paul makes for the church’s heritage and pronouncement.
There is a dynamic functional interaction illuminated by Paul that integrally both deconstructs human-shaped distinctions and differences in God’s relational whole, and constitutes the difference distinguishing God’s relational whole. Paul identifies this dynamic for the church as the functional significance of “holy” (Col 1:22; Eph 2:21; Rom 12:1; 2 Tim 2:21). The ontological identity of the church is rooted in the relational source of who the church is and whose the church is (cf. Joshua’s confusion about Israel’s identity, Josh 7:10-13). This integrated identity emerges with the embodying of the church’s whole ontology and function, whose relational outcome to be whole is also distinguished by its relational source clearly as holy. In Paul’s pleroma theology, the embodied church alive in wholeness with a new relational order is functionally significant only when distinguished as holy. The dynamic of being holy engages a reciprocal process of deep relational involvement in the whole of God’s relational context and process (2 Cor 6:17-18)—which involves the ongoing process of reciprocating contextualization and triangulation. It is unattainable for the church to be distinguished whole from inner out apart from this ongoing reciprocal involvement, as Paul prayed for the church in pleroma ecclesiology (Eph 1:17-23; 3:14-19) and as Jesus prayed for his whole and holy family (Jn 17:17-23).
Forming and maintaining clearly distinguished church identity is not the outcome of identity markers from outer-in theological propositions but from inner-out theological function, not with possessing doctrinal truth but with the experiential truth of the whole gospel, and thus not with the limited significance of what the church is saved from but with the full significance of what it also is saved to. What distinguishes the church’s identity, therefore, is not what it has and/or does from outer in but only its wholeness from inner out—its imperative determinant (brabeuo, Col 3:15). Yet, wholeness from inner out must be further distinguished uniquely (and likely impractically) from the competing source of outer in. This contrast emerges when the church’s whole ontology and function is distinguished solely in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole and holy God—the church’s relational source and outcome.
The church’s relational outcome in wholeness is whole persons agape-relationally involved vulnerably in whole relationships together, which are both equalized and intimate. This relational outcome is defined and determined by the church’s relational source, which Paul illuminated with the church’s “call to be holy” (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Tim 1:9; Eph 1:4). The term for holy (hagios; cf. sanctify, hagiazo) means to be separated from ordinary or common usage and devoted to God; this is the functional significance that Paul makes a contingency for the church to be whole in likeness of its relational source. Paul’s call (echoing Jesus’ prayer) signifies ‘already’ for the church to be different from the surrounding context, that is, clearly distinguished from the sin of reductionism in human contextualization (Rom 11:16; 12:1-2; Eph 5:3; Col 1:22)—most notably distinguished from the human shaping of relationships together. This difference is not distinguished by mere moral purity and ethical perfection but to be whole in relationship together (Eph 1:4; 2:21; Ti 1:8). Therefore, Paul’s call to be holy is inseparable from the call to be different, a difference which is irreducibly integrated with being distinguished whole from inner out and nonnegotiable in the shape of its relationship together (as he clarified in Rom 12:1-5).
For the church to be clearly distinguished in its wholeness, the functional significance of its life and practice must be distinct from reductionism; accordingly in its wholeness the church must ongoingly expose the ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from reductionism and reconcile reductionism’s counter-relational work. While the church can absorb valid human differences, its ontology and function cannot mirror any differences that diminish its own difference. In its vulnerable engagement in the reconciling dynamic of family love, the church embodies a new relational order that equalizes all persons intimately from inner out to be whole in relationship together, to live this whole as God’s new creation family and thereby to make whole the human relational condition “to be apart” resulting from its human shaping of relationships. In other words, the church in wholeness cannot mirror existing relational orders of human shaping or it would no longer be or live whole, and consequently render itself functionally insignificant to make whole, both within itself and in the world. A church, for example, may have multicultural aspects in its life and practice, but the church in wholeness cannot be defined or determined by them or it becomes shaped from outer in by human terms from human contextualization, that is, by reductionism. As Paul made unequivocal, the new creation church is distinguished by its difference from the common in the common’s sociocultural and racial-ethnic categories, socioeconomic emphases and gender characteristics, whose comparative values are all embedded in human contextualization signifying the reductionism of the common and its human shaping of relationships together (1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; 6:15; Col 3:10-11).
Paul’s call for the church to be holy, therefore, is for the church to live in its own difference from the sin of reductionism in all its forms. The church embodied in its own difference is not in a separatist, exclusionary life and practice, but is to be distinguished as whole in the midst of reductionism, and on this integral basis to expose, confront and make whole all reductionism. This necessitates for the church both a further understanding of sin and a deeper means to deal with it.
Being holy and sanctified is a relational process with the Spirit (Rom 15:16) that engages an inner-out dynamic. This inner-out dynamic to be holy does not stay ‘inner’ (or “spiritual”) because the Spirit’s involvement always integrates pneuma and soma, inner and out, for wholeness of the persons and persons together (1 Thes 4:3-4; 5:19,23). This inner-out relational process with the Spirit to be holy and thus whole also composes the inner-out lens necessary to further understand the sin of reductionism (as phroneo and phronema in Rom 8:5-6).
Sin or reductionism also does not stay ‘inner’ of the person and is not limited to the individual. Nor is the ‘outer’ of sin limited to individuals in relationships, though these are the main aspects of sin Paul addresses in the situations in his letters. With Philemon as a slave owner, Paul points to the further presence and influence of the sin of reductionism that even this church leader and church needed to address. Paul understood that paying attention to or ignoring reductionism, its counter-relational work and its substitutes is directly correlated to our lens (phroneo) and its perception of sin. Our lens reveals assumptions we make about the human person and the collective order of persons together. This involves our view of the nature of humanity and the nature of the social order (or society). For example, if we assume the goodness of humankind and/or the existing order of life, there is no need for redemptive change—which was a question Philemon and Peter (as noted in Acts 10) needed to answer. Yet, even assuming these levels of sinfulness assures neither a need for redemptive change nor the extent of such change, a lack which Peter later demonstrated and Paul exposed (noted in Gal 2). The change perceived to be needed is contingent on the strength and adequacy of our view of sin.
Paul’s fight for the gospel of wholeness, now extended into the church, is ongoingly also fighting against reductionism. This was an assumed inseparable fight for Paul because any reductionism of God’s relational whole on God’s qualitative relational terms to human terms and shaping from human contextualization engages the dynamic process of sin. Paul never assumes the absence of reductionism, even when its presence is not always clear, because its absence would not be reality. Nor does he ignore any form of reductionism, since reductionism as sin is incompatible with being holy and thus incongruent with being whole. All sin as reductionism needs to be redeemed, which is why Paul appealed to Philemon and confronted Peter with family love. Paul demonstrates in relational dialogue, not theological discourse in referential terms, the strength and adequacy of his view of sin, and this is nonnegotiable in order for the embodied church to live in its difference and to be alive in wholeness.
It is helpful for our integral understanding of the presence and influence of sin to realize two factors strongly influencing our ongoing working perceptions of sin. One factor is contextual and the other is structural, and their presence also indirectly interacts with the contextual and structural dynamics of the church as equalizer from inner out to influence a shift to outer in.
The contextual factor is the increasing normative character of sin as reductionism. We need to realize that the growing frequency and extent of any negative behavior or practice create conditions for redefining those very behaviors more favorably, which was Paul’s ongoing effort to help distinguish (e.g. 2 Cor 2:17; 4:2; 5:12; Eph 4:17-20; 5:10-11). As Paul implied, our perceptions of what is unacceptable are being redefined continuously. That is to say, what we pay attention to or ignore through our perceptual-interpretive lens to identify sin shifts in acuity and awareness in a surrounding context’s normative practice of sin—particularly when our focus shifts from inner out to outer in. Most notable is a diminishing qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness. When reductionism is the norm, it is a decisive difference to live whole since wholeness would be clearly in the minority. In that context, the church in wholeness is subject to pressure, both from without and within, not to be different but to fit in (cf. Paul’s polemic, 2 Cor 6:14-18; Col 2:20-23).
The other factor that subtly yet pervasively influences a weak position on sin is a structural one. Being a structural factor, its effects on our understanding of, and subsequent dealing with, sin is much less obvious than the conventional moral and spiritual issues. Paul seemed to address only the latter issues of sin, yet there are contextual and structural factors that were underlying his situations. Whether in a collective context of Paul’s Mediterranean world or in an individualistic context of the modern Western world, it is important to understand that human life does not merely operate under the total control and influence of the individual person or even persons together. This further involves the social design and construction of ongoing human life, whose operations are found on the collective and more systemic level of everyday life. This was what Paul indirectly points Philemon to in the issues with his slave Onesimus.
Whether Philemon changed or not, it is in this broader area of human life that our understanding of sin as reductionism must be further developed. Sin can no longer be seen merely as the outworking of the individual(s) alone. In its historical development, contextually and structurally, sin can also be found in the operations of institutions (even churches), systems and structures of a social order, and today in modernity’s global community. In its more developed stages, sin as reductionism is not only manifested as the norm at this structural level but rooted in those very institutions, systems or structures such that they can operate quite apart from the control of the individual(s), or even the latter’s moral character. This is particularly true, for example, when the very infrastructure of a society obscures moral issues and legitimates such systemic operations. Reductionism of the human person and its counter-relational work of fragmenting relationships together (e.g. by stratification or segregation) have underlain the human relational condition and created ontological simulations and epistemological illusions to mask its reductionist operation, thereby precluding the fulfillment of the inherent human relational need and preventing the resolution of the human relational problem.
The contextual factor is the normative character of sin, and the structural factor is the collective nature of sin. Their increasing presence in our midst as reductionism strongly influences our working perceptions of sin. Just as a weak view of sin ignores the normative character of sin, an inadequate perception of sin fails to pay attention to and address its broader relational issues in operation on a collective level. Yet, sin is a dynamic relational process always in specific relational context with God, which involves the whole relational order of life God constituted for all of creation (cf. Col 1:20). Sin as reductionism is a violation of this relationship with the whole of God that also has relational consequences in God’s whole design and purpose for creation (cf. Rom 8:19-21). Therefore, sin also goes beyond its effects on the individual and has social consequences, as well as social influences. Our understanding of sin as reductionism must be broadened to include these macro-level human factors and human contexts that establish the complexity of the human relational problem.
Even at the early stages of the church, Paul was at the heart of this fight against reductionism, calling for redemptive change to distinguish the church as integrally holy and whole. This distinguishing process is essential for the structural dynamic of the church to be accessible for all persons without diakrino (differential treatment) and the church’s contextual dynamic of reconciliation to absorb valid human differences in whole relationship together both equalized and intimate. Moreover, this fight against reductionism was not Paul’s human effort but the relational means to deal with sin as reductionism that he received in reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit (Gal 5:16-17,25; Rom 8:5-6; Eph 4:3).
In pleroma ecclesiology, the Spirit constitutes access and ongoing involvement with the Father as Jesus’ relational replacement for relationship together as family—the integral relational basis and ongoing relational base for the church (Eph 2:18,22). Reciprocal relationship with the Spirit embodies the church’s life and practice in the whole of God’s relational context and process from the already to the not yet (Eph 1:17; 3:16-17; Rom 8:25-27), which is necessary to embody the church alive in “the bond of wholeness” (Eph 4:3). Given the ongoing tension and conflict between wholeness and reductionism, the Spirit’s reciprocal involvement is indispensable for the church to decisively deal with sin as reductionism in all its forms, and on this basis be clearly distinguished in its difference as holy and whole in the midst of reductionism (Gal 5:16-18, 22-26). How is this relational process made functionally significant for the church, notably given the normative character and collective nature of reductionism?
When Paul addressed Philemon about his slave, Onesimus, he appealed to him on the basis of the family love experienced by both of them (Phlm 9). This family love centered Philemon’s focus on the whole of God’s relational context and process, in which he experienced God’s involvement in whole relationship together. While Paul centered Philemon’s focus on God in the relational process of family love, on the one hand, he also widens Philemon’s focus to include Onesimus on the other hand (v.10). These separate but interrelated relational connections formed for Philemon what has been defined previously as the triangulation process (cf. to navigation). Faced with each on corresponding sides of him, Philemon needed to decide which one would determine his response: the wholeness of God in family love or the reductionism surrounding the status of Onesimus.
Paul’s relational imperative for the church to “Live by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16) is vital both to be whole together (Eph 4:3) and to ongoingly live whole in the midst of reductionism (Gal 5:25; Rom 8:6). And Paul understood deeply that pressure and conflict from reductionism always intensify in the presence and function of the whole. The Spirit involves us with the whole of God in the triangulation process for God to define and determine the specific relational response needed to engage a person, situation or issue embedded in reductionism, and be clearly distinguished as different and whole. Triangulation with reciprocating contextualization serves to give clarity to the ontological identity and function of both person and church in order to live whole and thereby make whole all encounters with reductionism. Without involvement in the triangulation process with the Spirit, the influence of the normative character and collective nature of reductionism subtly diminishes, minimalizes and fragments person and church, and often renders them to ontological simulations and epistemological illusions.
In Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology, the pleroma of Christ embodies in likeness what Jesus, the pleroma of God, vulnerably embodied in the context of the common without being contextualized by reductionism. The embodied church alive in wholeness is contextualized only in the whole of God’s relational context and process embodied by Jesus. Just as Jesus engaged various aspects (e.g. culture, institutions, social order) of human contextualization without being reduced by them (as Paul delineated, Phil 2:6-8; 2 Cor 8:9), he also contextualized those aspects in his primary context of the whole of God and in his context’s relational process of family love. In this contextualizing process—a process involving deconstruction and reconstruction—Jesus unequivocally distinguished his wholeness from the common in order to make them whole (Eph 2:14-16). This dynamic interaction with human contextualization by the whole of God’s relational context and process composes what further distinguishes the church by the process of reciprocating contextualization. Engaging in reciprocating contextualization helps person and church maintain the focus on the relational source of their ontological identity, and this is irreplaceable for distinguishing what and who defines them in the midst of reductionism, particularly in its normative character and collective nature. This dynamic was clearly demonstrated by Jesus when he was tempted by reductionism (Lk 4:1-13), and that had emerged even as a boy of twelve (Lk 2:49). Moreover, this dynamic was implicit in Jesus’ teaching, which in function prevents his teachings and examples from being disembodied from his whole person. Paul also learned to distinguish what and who defines him while dealing with reductionism as it influenced his own life (Phil 3:4-8; 2 Cor 11:21-12:1,7-9). Without engagement in reciprocating contextualization, person and church are more susceptible to reductionism, thus often unknowingly rendered to reduced ontology and function and determined in a renegotiated ecclesiology.
This process of reciprocating contextualization is what Paul also illuminated for Philemon to engage in order for his person and house church to be redeemed from the influence of human contextualization, with the relational outcome to be distinguished in their difference as holy and whole in relationship together. As Paul implied for Philemon, it is vital for person and church to engage with the Spirit in the dynamic of reciprocating contextualization, and to understand this involvement as a relational process in necessary integral function with triangulation. The urgency was twofold for Paul. This integrated relational process is necessary to be qualitatively distinguished from inner out in the common’s surrounding context of reductionism in order not to be defined or determined by the common’s function from outer in. In reciprocal involvement with the Spirit, triangulation and reciprocal contextualization function integrally in relational interaction to compose church life and practice to be “sanctified whole” (holotelos) and ongoingly “maintain your whole [holokleros] person blameless” (amemptos, i.e. whole, cf. tamiym) before and with “the God of wholeness” (1 Thes 5:23; cf. Gen 17:1). In this reciprocal relational process, the church is ongoingly engaged in its own difference as holy, and therefore ongoingly involved, in its own difference as whole.
Since Paul’s emphasis throughout his letters was on function more than theology, he engaged in direct relational dialogue over conventional theological discourse (i.e. in referential terms) in order for his readers to understand in relational terms (not referential) the experiential truth of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition. All his theology converged for this thematic relational purpose and emerged in just this integral relational outcome. For the whole of Paul and the whole in his theology, this is the definitive relational outcome ‘already’ that clearly embodies the church alive in wholeness to fulfill its uncommon relational purpose in the midst of the common, just as Christ embodied (and prayed for this family, Jn 17:15-23). With whole ontology and function clearly distinguished from inner out, person and church together live in “the bond of wholeness” (Eph 4:3) ongoingly in the relational imperative for God’s family, “let the wholeness of Christ be the primary determinant in your hearts…in the one body” (Col 3:15). On this relational basis alone, they submit their whole person to “embody what will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of wholeness” (Eph 6:15), and thereby be vulnerably involved in the midst of reductionism to relationally engage persons in the human relational condition without differential treatment in family love, and to reconcile them to equalized and intimate relationships together in the whole of God’s new creation family (Gal 5:6; 6:15; Col 3:11; cf. Eph 2:15-16). Nothing less and no substitutes for Paul constitute and distinguish person and church together to be holy and whole; anything less and any substitutes do not have functional significance from inner out. Therefore, the pleroma of Christ must by the very nature of its relational source embody this difference ‘already’ in the image and likeness of the pleroma of God (Eph 1:23; 4:24; Col 2:10; 3:10-11).
Only the convergence, interaction and coherence of these theological, relational and functional dynamics “will make you ready to live the gospel of wholeness” (Eph 6:15) in the relational outcome ‘already’ of what the whole of God saves us to: God’s new creation family embodying the church alive integrally both in whole relationship together to fulfill the inherent human relational need and in the new relational order to redemptively reconcile the pervasive human relational problem. Nothing less composes the depth of the gospel necessary to respond without substitutes to the breadth of the human condition.
This is the pleroma theology of Paul, which signified his synesis from the Spirit and constituted his relationally-specific oikonomia with the Spirit to pleroo the communicative word from God for the whole ontology and function of the church in likeness of the pleroma of God. With the whole in his theology, Paul challenged the theological assumptions of his readers, even their theological cognition. In this relational process, the whole of Paul continues to challenge his readers for the functional significance of this whole relational outcome—ongoingly holding us accountable for the already while encouraging us to the not yet.
The contrast and conflict of the church in whole relationship together necessarily emerge when its communion ‘already’ is distinguished from the human shaping of relationships together. When we are developing our relationships in church contrary to shaping apart from the whole, and thus to be distinguished from relationships in general in the surrounding context, we need to engage a relational process distinguished from the surrounding context’s relational order and process. That is, church relations need to engage the relational process of redemption and reconciliation imperative for these relationships to be the transformed relationships integrated together to be God’s whole, and which integrally compose the new wine communion. To participate in and have an equalized share in new life together as family in likeness only of the Trinity is likewise the holy communion that—by its nature constituted by Jesus and the Spirit and extended into Paul—is the relational outcome only from the equalization of redemption and the intimacy of reconciliation in family love. For persons to partake of the whole of Jesus’ life and to participate in his church in the relationships together of God’s whole involves the reciprocal relational response of nothing less and no substitutes—the only response compatible and congruent with his relational response of grace, as Peter experienced in his footwashing. The primacy of this holy communion is the intrusive ‘relationship together involving the whole person’.
Accordingly and nonnegotiably, the church as equalizer cannot be relationally involved with the human diversity in the surrounding contexts of the world without first absorbing the valid human differences within its own family life by ongoing involvement in transformed relationships (equalized and intimate) together. To extend God’s response of family love to the human relational condition, church function must be whole to make whole. Churches lack wholeness to fulfill its purpose as equalizer as long as its own members remain functionally apart in some aspect of this relational condition—even if unintentional or inadvertent. The equalizing of redemption and the intimacy of reconciliation are intentional relational practices for his church, and on the basis of this qualitative relational process his church dissolves false human distinctions and absorbs legitimate human differences to be the whole of his family in the new relational order.
Yet, the church as equalizer cannot be narrowed down to what to do in the life of the church and developing more ministries for church growth and missions, as made evident by the churches in Jesus’ post-ascension discourse for ecclesiology to be whole. This distinguished communion still only involves relationships and how to be involved in relationship together by family love. In his function as equalizer, Jesus’ working priorities were not about goals to fulfill in a divine mission because his whole purpose was a function of relationship: its origin, its initiation, its enactment, its fulfillment, its outcome and conclusion. The embodied church who integrally follows Jesus as equalizer has purpose only in relationship and always functions involved in his primacy of relationships: for their condition “to be apart,” their redemption, their healing, their reconciliation, their restoration and transformation. To “listen to my Son” and to be “just as the Father sent me” is to be on the same theological trajectory and relational path.
Just as Jesus made redemptive change the relational imperative for the churches in his post-ascension discourse, the function of church as equalizer requires such change for churches today; otherwise, we will emulate their reductionist practices. While this may not require the theological reform undergone by the church council at Jerusalem, it does indeed call for the functional shift the early church undertook in church practice to transform their relationships together. This functional shift involves our approach to church life, church growth and missions. The trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love establish the working priorities necessary to build the relationships for his church to be whole as family in likeness—not of any type of family or any form of community, including those of the first-century Mediterranean world, though there was secondary association to its patrilineal kinship group. His church as family is in likeness only of the Trinity qua family. The functional integrity of the trinitarian relational context and process cannot be diminished or minimalized in any aspect of church practice—most notably starting with its gathering at Holy Communion—in order for relationships together to have the ongoing relational outcome to be whole in church life and to live whole in church growth, and on this qualitative relational basis to make whole in church mission. Anything less and any substitutes are irreconcilable to his church as family and incompatible for his church family as equalizer; these alternatives are just rendered by a variation of the human shaping of relationships together.
The defining call and commission to wholeness for his followers—since each of them has been equalized to be God’s new creation family together—compose his qualitative relational terms for function in the new relational order as equalizer. “Just as” (kathos) the Son received from the Father, his inseparable call and commission integrally embody the qualitative relational significance of his church to be whole in transformed relationships together in likeness of the Trinity. The experiential truth of the whole of Jesus’ call, commission and relationship was extended into Paul to embody the kingdom’s whole of God’s whole into the church’s whole ontology and function for the relationally (not referentially) distinguished significance of his gospel to make whole the human relational condition.
The new creation church as equalizer by its distinguished nature both vulnerably and intrusively embodies his good news for relationship together with the working assumptions of both redemption and reconciliation (Gal 4:4-5). Therefore, its ontology and function integrally embodies the complete Christology of the whole of Jesus and the full soteriology of his salvific relational work—the pleroma theology and hermeneutic of this gospel that Paul embodied in whole for the church. The pleroma of who, what and how Jesus embodied, and the pleroma of whom he saves, what he saves them to and how he saves them, this is the whole of God’s whole that the church as equalizer embodies in its holy communion in the innermost. The distinguished practice of this holy communion in whole fulfills Jesus’ formative prayer for his family—with the whole of God, within its relationship together, and for the world to believe as the experiential truth in relational terms and to know as the experiential reality only in the relational outcome ‘already’.
The already is ‘already’ and the not yet is ‘not yet’. These two converge by the Spirit with the church’s relational progression following the pleroma of God in his theological trajectory and relational path. In this ongoing relational process, the human shaping of relationships together waits for the experiential reality of the good news of whole relationship together to be alive in the church ‘already’, just as “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the new family of God” (Rom 8:19).
 For a summary of this discussion, see Arland J. Hultgren, “The Pastoral Epistles” in James D.G. Dunn, ed., The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 141-155.
 Joseph H. Hellerman describes this as a correlation in The Ancient Church as Family (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).
©2012 T. Dave Matsuo