Paul & the
Whole in His Theology
Put on whatever will make you
ready to live the gospel of wholeness.
As unfolded in the 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, reductionism and its ongoing efforts against wholeness and God’s relational whole, as Paul further makes definitive (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 conjoint fight shifted to the church and is now fully engaged in and inseparable from the church’s life and practice. Specifically, Paul’s fight within the church directly involves the three crucial interrelated issues which frame the ongoing tension and conflict between wholeness and reductionism (discussed previously in Theology of Wholeness, chap. 6):
1. The interpretive lens we use to perceive the person (from inner out or outer in) determines in function how we actually (not ideally) define ourselves and others.
2. Then, how we function in relationships is generally determined by how we have defined ourselves and others with that interpretive lens; and in reflexive interrelated influence, how our relationships are experienced can also determine further how we see and define ourselves.
3. Therefore, how these two issues become the actual primary inputs which influence, define, even determine how we really see church and function in relationships together at church, in our gatherings in church.
The first two issues involve theological assumptions of the human person, 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 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 (discussed in the previous chapter):
1. The integrity and significance of what and whom the church/members present of themselves to others, both within the church and in the surrounding context.
2. The quality of their communication while presenting themselves to others and the message it communicates to them.
3. The depth level of relational involvement the church/members engage through their communication by what and whom they present of themselves to others.
These six issues together are ongoing, which Paul continues to address with the church and to challenge within churches in order for the church to live in wholeness ‘already’.
This chapter completes the whole in Paul’s theology. 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, that is, 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 conjoined 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.
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 thus 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 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. 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 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 this 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 now 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 embodied unequivocally 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”? Not by their gifts, resources, role-performance or any other outer-in measure (metaschematizo, 2 Cor 11:15). Based on outer-in perception and assessment, Paul said to telos (end, goal or limit) of ministers will be determined by the workings of how they define themselves and thus determine their function, notably 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 for leading the new creation church family (cf. Phil 2:1-5; 1 Cor 12:12-13).
Theological anthropology congruent with the gospel of wholeness is a function only of 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 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, which becomes indistinguishable from reductionism (cf. “ministers of righteousness”) and thus 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.
Reductionism functions in an outer-in dynamic contrary to the inner out of the new creation; reductionism signifies a shift in theological anthropology of how persons are defined and thus determined. Paul’s theological anthropology (discussed previously in chap. 6) 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) which 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).
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). 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 embodiment 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 thus they no longer have functional significance for the embodiment 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 constitute God’s new creation family in embodied whole ontology and function, which conjointly involves their own person with persons together. With this leadership the church is alive and grows in wholeness. 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 suggest 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 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 which 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.” This would be a reduction of the whole gospel, thus 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 which must be grasped in these personal letters for them to constitute being from and of Paul. Only this 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 suggests that Timothy was less firm and decisive than Titus and thus needed more exhorting from Paul to be definitive 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. 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 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; also see Additional Textual Notes on Timothy in chap. 12). 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 distinct 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 thus the determining influence for the function of the church. By implication, Paul addresses a potential problematic ecclesiology which 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). Thus, 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 embodiment 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 conjointly equalized and intimate is not a simple transformation, and likely a threatening engagement to make himself vulnerable to. 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 which he wants Philemon to experience further and deeper (vv.8,14). These are the 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. Thus, 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 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.15-16). How does this relational outcome happen?
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, thus to see each other as whole persons vulnerably from inner out. Conjointly, on this basis, 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 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 which reduce persons to the outer in and fragment relationships in vertical stratification and/or horizontal distance. 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, thus 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; cf. 2 Cor 12:15; Rev 3:20).
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).
This is the agape by which Paul engages Philemon and into which he takes Philemon deeper. Family love is the depth of agape which 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 in reductionist distinctions, in order to live as whole persons in whole relationship together, the embodiment 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.
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 thus 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 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 of 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.
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 definitive 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 which Paul identified previously (Gal 5:6) and makes definitive in pleroma ecclesiology for the new creation church to be embodied alive in wholeness (Eph 2:15b; 4:2-6; cf. Gal 6:15).
Clearly 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. 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 needs to be emphasized 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.
Directly as a result of the new creation ‘already’ for Paul, the outcome emerges of having a qualitative new phroneo (mindset) 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 depth of qualitative zoe (not the limits of quantitative bios), and that peace is grasped with the presence of wholeness (not the absence of conflict). Paul makes definitive 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 grasp 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 which 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: Paul’s use of akatastasia is not merely about being in a fixed or settled condition of taxis, 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 thus 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 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. His synesis of wholeness included the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction from tamiym (cf. Gen 17:1), which helped him to grasp 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: 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 embodiment 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 thus make whole in the surrounding context of reductionism. To live in wholeness is the challenge for the church, whose ontology and function are also 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 embodiment together “in the bond of wholeness” (Eph 4:3). This bond (syndesmos) is the whole relationships binding the church together 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. 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 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 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; 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. In the midst of reductionism, Paul is still exhorting his readers to “put on 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 thus 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 truth 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, which is congruent with their experience of relational involvement from God and in likeness of how God does 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 makes definitive 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 thus 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 which 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 conjointly equalized and intimate, constituting 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 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. Such shaping results in a garden-variety of churches engaged in church building, 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 grasp 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 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 makes unmistakable 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 some Christian Jews’ was (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 often 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 even embraces “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 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 clearly 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 suggests that Galatians needs to be the lens by which to read Paul’s letters and 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 grasp 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 which has no ontological 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 has no ontological reality and thus significance, but is 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 relationship together” (5:6). This relational dynamic clearly distinguishes the cogent value and significance (ischyo) 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, 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). 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 (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 made definitive the relational process of equalizing persons, he noted the human condition of persons in human distinctions valued as less (Eph 2:11-12). Theirs was a relational condition “to be apart” from God’s relational whole, 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. Paul makes unequivocal that these are limits and barriers which Jesus redeemed for persons to be equalized and reconciled together without human-shaped distinctions 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 devoid 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). 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 based on roles and gifts (e.g., 1 Cor 1:12; 3:5-7). In this dynamic, how well persons measure up determines their position and influence in church. This often well-intentioned mutual engagement functionally (not theologically) limits access in a church to those in a deficit position, 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. 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 become the experiential truth of church ontology and function, and not remain in doctrinal truth or as a doctrinal statement of intention. 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 definitive 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).
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 among churches. Any aspects of privilege, prestige and power are advantages (and benefits) which many persons are reluctant to even share if the perception (unreal or not) means less for them. 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 thus 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 (before Acts 8), the early church community was a mostly homogeneous group who limited access to others who were different 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—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 conjoint 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. The relational process of family love extends relational involvement to those who are different, takes in and vulnerably embraces them in their difference to wholly 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 which 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 constitutes 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 basic issues for all practice (discussed throughout this study), 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, italics added).
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 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 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 made clear 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 conjoint 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 grasp 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 further in chap. 11, questions 10 and 11). 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 conjoint 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, relationships fragmented by limited involvement from outer in or 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 which 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 for 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, thus 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 conjoint 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 constituting 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 (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 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. The dynamics of Paul’s pleroma theology constitute the coherence 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 deeply interrelated relational position of Jews and of Gentiles is in complex interaction to render them without distinction, which signifies 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 conjointly 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. This integrated identity emerges with the embodiment 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. 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 practice, 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. Yet, wholeness from inner out must be further distinguished uniquely 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, whose functional significance 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 of sin, that is, clearly distinguished from the sin of reductionism in human contextualization (Rom 11:16; 12:1-2; Eph 5:3; Col 1:22); and 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.
For the church to be clearly distinguished in its wholeness, the functional significance of its life and practice must be distinct from reductionism; and 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 human differences, its ontology and function cannot mirror any differences which diminish its own difference. In its vulnerable engagement in the reconciling dynamic of family love, the church embodies a new relational order which equalizes all persons intimately from inner out to be whole in relationship together, to live whole as God’s new creation family and to make whole the human relational condition “to be apart”. In other words, the church in wholeness cannot mirror existing relational orders or it would no longer be or live whole, and thus 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 (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 thus to expose, confront and make whole all reductionism. This necessitates for the church both a further grasp 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 conjoins 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 constitutes the inner-out lens necessary to further grasp the sin of reductionism (cf. 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 which 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, 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 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, the strength and adequacy of his view of sin, which is necessary in order for the embodied church to live in its difference and to be alive in wholeness.
It is helpful for our grasp 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, which 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—notably when our focus shifts from inner out to outer in. 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 which 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 which 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, thus 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 grasp of sin as reductionism must be broadened to include these macro-level human factors and human contexts which 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 conjointly 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 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 which 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 (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 thus 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 can be defined 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 grasped deeply that pressure and conflict from reductionism always intensifies 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 serves to give clarity to the ontological identity and function of both person and church in order to live whole and thus 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, 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 signifies what further distinguishes the church by the process of reciprocating contextualization (discussed in chap.1 to define Paul). Engaging in reciprocating contextualization helps person and church maintain the focus on the relational source of their ontological identity, which is vital 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 which 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 (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 implied for Philemon to engage in order for his person and 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 illuminated for Philemon, it is vital for person and church to engage with the Spirit in the dynamic of reciprocating contextualization (discussed in chap. 9), and to grasp this involvement as a relational process in necessary conjoint function with triangulation (as Paul also demonstrated, noted above, 2 Cor 12:8). The urgency was twofold for Paul. This integrated relational process is necessary for the qualitative distinction 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 conjointly in relational interaction to constitute 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 thus 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 in order for his readers to grasp 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 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 rule in your hearts…in one body” (Col 3:15). On this relational basis alone, they submit their whole person to 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 conjointly 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.
This is the pleroma theology of Paul, which signified his synesis from the Spirit and constituted his oikonomia with the Spirit to pleroo the communicative word from 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.
 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.
 For a discussion of reciprocating contextualization and the triangulation process in the life and teaching of Jesus, see my study, Sanctified Christology: A Theological and Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus (Christology Study, 2008), online at www.4X12.org, ch. 7 “Jesus and Culture, Ethics, Mission.”
©2010 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.