Paul & the
Whole in His Theology
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
As Paul’s theological forest is being completed, how these theological dynamics are completed and in what they are made complete become the central focus in Paul’s theology. Moreover, the inherent human need and problem—as identified also by neuroscience to introduce this section on Paul’s theology (chap. 5)—continues to be central in Paul’s theological dialogue (discourse in relational context). It remains central because his theology was always first his experiential truth: his experiential truth from and subsequent to the Damascus road; the unmistakable experiential truth for the human condition, which was vulnerably revealed only for whole relationship together; thus that which constituted nothing less and no substitutes of the experiential truth of the whole gospel for the inherent human relational need and problem. Since the historical Paul became the relational Paul, despite his role as both a Jew and an apostle of Christ the theological Paul emerged focused on God’s thematic relational response to make whole all human persons, of whom Paul considered himself to be “the least” (1 Cor 15:9; Eph 3:8).
Paul, therefore, has been focused on and concerned for communicating theology that illuminates the good news and constitutes the relational outcome of whole relationship together—perhaps also articulating their doctrinal clarity but not formulating a systematic theology. While these concerns involved the historical Paul, they emerged from the relational Paul who constituted the theological Paul in the relational epistemic process with the whole of God. This vulnerable involvement signified the relational Paul qualitatively determining the functional significance of the theological Paul, thus to grasp Paul’s theology also implies a contingency to understand the relational Paul. In this relational epistemic process, what emerged was not his theological speculation and theory from bottom-up but God’s vulnerable self-disclosure from top-down in the whole of God’s relational context and process, distinct from human contextualization and terms. What unfolded in Paul’s theological systemic framework and integrated his theological forest was the relational embodiment of the pleroma of God (Col 1:19; 2:9-10). In the relational epistemic process with the whole of God, the theological Paul (unified with the relational Paul) was restored to whole knowledge and understanding in the relational context and process of God’s communicative action, specifically, as relationally embodied by the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6) and relationally extended by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:10-13). The relational outcome was the wholeness of Paul who was taken from partial knowledge and understanding to whole knowledge and understanding to constitute the whole in his theology. This included both understanding signified as the grasp of meaning (not its density but its intensity, cf. Eph 3:18-19) and wisdom signified as the understanding of the whole, God’s relational whole (cf. synesis, Eph 3:2-4; Col 1:9).
Since Paul’s theology was first his experiential truth of this good news, theology for Paul was always inseparable from function and can never be reduced to conventional theological discourse. The relational discourse, jointly theological and functional, in Paul’s letters put together (syniemi for synesis) the theological basis for the truth of the whole gospel (Eph 3:4-6; Col 2:2-3), by which he also engaged in the deconstruction of ontological simulations and epistemological illusions from reductionism (e.g., Gal 1:6-7, 11-12; 5:6; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29; Col 2:4,8-10; 3:10-11) and, when possible, their reconstruction/transformation to be made whole (e.g., 1 Cor 3:21-22; Gal 2:11-14; Phlm; cf. Eph 2:14-18). The relational outcome of Paul’s theological engagement is the integrated dynamics of the theology of wholeness, relational belonging and ontological identity—the relational outcome ‘already’ and the relational conclusion ‘not yet’ in the whole of God’s relational context and process vulnerably embodied by the Son in pleroma Christology for pleroma soteriology, and ongoingly being completed by the Spirit.
Paul’s only concern, both theologically and functionally, is for the irreducible embodiment of the pleroma of God to be further relationally embodied and extended in nonnegotiable ontology and function for the inherent human need to be fulfilled and the human problem to be resolved. This further embodiment is the whole ontology and function of those who relationally belong to Christ. In the experiential truth of Paul’s theology, how does the relational progression of God’s relational dynamic of grace and agape involvement become embodied from the pleroma of God to the pleroma of Christ and continue in its eschatological trajectory for the relational conclusion of the gospel of wholeness? And according to the experiential truth of the whole of Paul’s person and the whole in his theology, how do persons belonging to Christ—by necessity both as individual persons and as persons together in God’s family—engage in this relational progression with God and thus participate in the whole of God’s life to the relational completion of whole relationship together?
This qualitative process of embodiment and its relational process of participation deeply involve the theological dynamics which are wholly integrated in Paul’s theological forest to pleroo the communicative word of God—thereby illuminating the embodied pleroma of God who is relationally from God, and now in relational extension for God (cf. Col 1:25; 2:9-10).
A prevailing presence in the systemic framework of Paul’s theology which pervades his theological forest is pneuma (spirit). The presence of pneuma is in both ontology and function, both in God’s ontology and function (1 Cor 2:10-11; 3:16; 2 Cor 3:6,17; Rom 8:11; 1 Tim 3:16) and for human ontology and function (1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; 2 Cor 1:22; 3:6,18; 7:1; Rom 8:11; Eph 2:18,22). What is pneuma for God and what is pneuma for human person?
In terms of God’s ontology and function, pneuma is not what but who, though Paul does not specifically call the Spirit a person. Yet Paul implies personhood for the Spirit by identifying the Spirit as having a will to decide and using it (boulomai, 1 Cor 12:11), who also can be “grieved” (lypeo, afflicted with sorrow, distressed, mournful, Eph 4:30; cf. Heb 10:29), and, moreover, who bears witness to us of our family status (Rom 8:16). The Spirit’s grief, for example, is over not being engaged in reciprocal relationship together (cf. Eph 2:22), which is not an anthropomorphism but signifies the whole of God’s being and relational nature. This identification is the who of a person, the person of the Spirit, who is also vulnerably present and relationally involved. This does not imply, however, that Paul was a trinitarian in the later sense, though his theology certainly provides definitive basis for trinitarian theology.
The doctrine of the Trinity emerged in the fourth century as a response to theological conflict and reductionism. Arius specifically taught that Jesus was subordinate to God in substance (ousia) and was created (begotten by the Father). The Council of Nicea (the Nicene Creed in 325) countered that Jesus was begotten (i.e., generated, not created) from the substance of the Father, of the same substance (homoousios) with God. In further response to another form of Arianism (from Eunomius: divine substance is unbegotten and belongs only to the Father), the Cappadocian fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus, between 358-380) formulated the distinction between the same substance of God and the different persons (hypostasis) of God, thus establishing the doctrine of the Trinity: one God existing in three persons.
Essentially, from the fourth century into the twenty-first, we have observed one aspect of God emphasized over another (e.g., the oneness of God or the divine threeness), and some aspect of God reduced (e.g., God’s substance [ousia] or the persons/personhood [hypostasis] of God), as well as redefined or ignored (e.g., as “begotten” or the relationality of the Trinity). If not in the theology most certainly in function, these perceptions and interpretations profoundly affect how we define God’s ontology and function—notably in the relational nature of the whole of God. I suggest that much of this theological difficulty can be resolved or prevented if trinitarian theology emerged first and foremost from pleroma Christology, and thus could better grasp the whole in Paul’s theology needed for the whole knowledge and understanding of any theology of the whole of God.
Since Paul was no trinitarian, his purpose and responsibility to pleroo the word of God was not to theologically clarify the Trinity or to develop theological concepts like homoousios, hypostasis and perichoresis. His purpose was more functional and distinctly relational in order to make definitive the gospel as whole without any reductionism. Within his purpose, Paul instead epistemologically clarified the whole of God and hermeneutically corrected human shaping and construction of theological cognition, challenging theological assumptions which were either limiting or reductionist. Thus Paul indeed took Judaism’s monotheism beyond its limited knowledge and understanding, and he extended the Jesus tradition into the depths of the whole of God. In making relationally functional the pleroma of God, Paul focused also in making relationally definitive the whole of God in the relational presence and relational work of the Spirit.
In pleroma Christology of Paul’s theological forest, salvation was constituted by Christ and completed in Christ for the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology. Pleroma soteriology is the relational act solely by Christ and the relational outcome is the function solely of relationship with Christ (Rom 6:5-11); and both of these are constituted in reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit (Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; 2 Cor 1:22; 3:6,17; Eph 1:13; 2:18,22; 1 Tim 3:16; cf. Jn 1:32-33; Lk 4:1). In the whole of God’s ontology and function, pneuma is person, the Holy Spirit, and not to be reduced to a power, also noted by Paul (1 Cor 2:4; Rom 15:13,19). There is a dynamic interaction for Paul between the embodied pleroma of God and the person of the Spirit—that is, the Spirit as the functional cohort of Jesus who shares in, even constitutes, and now completes the relational work of the Son, whose embodiment (prior to and after the cross) fulfills the relational response of grace from the Father (Gal 4:4-6; Rom 8:9b-11). This is the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma (body) of the pleroma of God, which is vital for understanding the whole of God’s ontology in its depth, as Paul claimed for the Spirit (1 Cor 2:10-11) and Jesus promised about the Spirit (Jn 16:12-15). Paul understood that soma without pneuma can be confused with or reduced to sarx (“flesh,” cf. Paul’s polemic about the resurrection, 1 Cor 15:35-44). In this sense, pneuma is also a what—distinguished from who—that signifies the qualitative depth of God’s ontology which is irreducible for God to be God (cf. Phil 3:3 and Jn 4:23-24).
Moreover, the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma is critical for grasping the whole of God’s function, as well as understanding God’s ontology, in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. Pneuma will not allow for the embodied pleroma of God to be reduced or renegotiated to anything less than and any substitutes for whole ontology and function. There is indeed mystery involved in this interaction, but for Paul pneuma is unequivocally the person of the Spirit. Even though Paul had whole knowledge and understanding (synesis) from the Spirit, he did not claim to totally understand this dynamic (1 Tim 3:16).
This dynamic interaction with the Spirit likewise points to the embodiment of the pleroma of Christ (Eph 1:23). Pneuma is the person who constitutes also those who belong to Christ (Rom 8:9). In cooperative reciprocal relationship as well with these human persons, the Spirit—who functions as the relational replacement of the Son, as Jesus promised (Jn 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; cf. Eph 1:13)—constitutes persons (both individually and together) in whole ontology and function, that is, the qualitative ontology and relational function from inner out in likeness of the pneuma of God’s whole ontology and function (2 Cor 3:17-18; Rom 8:11, 14-17). For Paul, in other words, the Spirit is not a mere Object of theological discourse but the experiential truth of subject-theos, who is present in us and relationally involved with us for relationship together as God’s whole family (“dwells,” oikeo from oikos and its cognates in reference to family, Rom 8:11, 14-16; 1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:22). Paul goes beyond merely the Spirit’s agency (e.g., power, instrumentality) to make definitive the depth of the Spirit as Subject’s agape relational involvement as the whole of God (Rom 5:5). Importantly, Paul understands that the person of the Spirit is Jesus’ relational replacement for the continued involvement necessary to complete the relational work Jesus constituted. When Paul speaks specifically of “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9; Gal 4:6; Phil 1:19; cf. Acts 16:7), this is Paul’s shorthand-relational language implying the Spirit’s relational replacement and extension of Jesus, whose further involvement is indispensable for extending the qualitative process of embodiment of the pleroma of Christ and making functional its relational process of participation in the whole of God’s life and family together (cf. 1 Cor 6:14-15a; Rom 8:11; Eph 1:23).
What emerges from this reciprocal relational involvement together with the Spirit? Paul first addresses what does not emerge when relationship with the Spirit becomes incompatible. The issue of incompatibility, incongruity or discontinuity with the Spirit (as with Jesus and with the whole of God) hinges on theological anthropology and our assumptions about the human person. This specifically involves defining the person by what one does/has and, on this basis, engaging in relationships with both God and each other, individually and together as church. Paul exposed such reductionist assumptions of theological anthropology in the church at Corinth (1 Cor 3:1-4; 4:6-7). This reductionism directly fragments the person from the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma, thus leaving soma without the quality of pneuma to then be confused with or reduced to sarx: “I could not speak to you as pneuma people but rather as people of sarx, as infants in Christ without identity formation as whole persons” (1 Cor 3:1, italics inserted). Sarx (and its cognates sarkikos and sarkinos) signifies reduced human ontology and function in Paul’s discourse, whereas pneuma is inseparable from soma in the whole ontology and function of the person.
This reduction of soma to sarx is the issue in Paul’s polemic when he made the ambiguous claim: “Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself” (1 Cor 6:18). Paul’s focus goes beyond sexual immorality and is not implying that all other sins are inconsequential for human ontology and function. He is focused on the sin of reductionism that fragments soma from pneuma to reduce a human person’s ontology and function to that signified by sarx (6:16-17). The consequence is reductionist embodiment diminishing the whole person, which further includes the relational consequence of fragmenting the embodiment of whole relationship together (6:14-15, 19-20). Essentially, Paul argues rather that every sin a person commits is the sin of reductionism, thus against the embodiment of wholeness. Whole human ontology and function is the inseparable embodiment of both soma and pneuma by the Spirit, which is irreducibly and nonnegotiably embodied together by and with the Spirit in God’s whole family (1 Cor 12:13).
In Paul’s theological systemic framework and theological forest, the Spirit functions to bridge the quantitative of bios (including all creation) with the qualitative of zoe. Even more than bridge, the Spirit integrates the quantitative into the qualitative to embody irreducible wholeness and the nonnegotiable embodiment of God’s whole (2 Cor 3:18; Col 1:20; 2:9-10; 3:10-11,15; Rom 8:18-23). This is why cosmology and theological anthropology converge in Paul’s theological systemic framework, and how they are integrated in the theological dynamic of wholeness. Therefore, the Spirit’s person is inseparable from both the whole of God and God’s whole, and the Spirit’s involvement is indispensable for the embodiment of wholeness. Anything less and any substitutes of this whole, either of the Spirit or of human persons, are reductionism for Paul, the sin of reductionism that must always be exposed and its counter-relational work confronted—whatever its form, conditions or assumptions.
In Galatians, Paul extended his polemic against these assumptions reducing theological anthropology and their broader relational consequence for human persons. While the situation in Galatians involved “false believers” (2:4) who were teaching “a different gospel” (1:6) and “confusing you” (1:7), and have “bewitched you” (3:1), the underlying dynamic involved assimilation into human contextualization (3:2-5; 4:8-31). Paul challenged their theological anthropology by framing the issue within the further and deeper relational context and process embodied by Christ and extended by the Spirit. Here again, the dynamic interaction between the soma of the pleroma of God and the pneuma of the whole of God is inseparable. If fragmented, soma becomes confused with or reduced to definitions from human contextualization (“elemental spirits,” stoicheion, basic principles, 4:9; cf. Col 2:8,20) and thus shaped by the reduced ontology and function of sarx (3:3). Moreover, when fragmented, pneuma is reduced to mere Object, at best only in agency to do something or to help us to do something based on the reductionist self-definition of what one does: “Having started with the person of the Spirit, are you now epiteleo [fully completing your purpose] with sarx?”—that is, by human effort in reduced ontology and function (3:3). For Paul, this is incompatible, incongruent and discontinuous with the Spirit (5:16-17; 6:8; cf. 2 Cor 7:1).
The whole of the Spirit is received, experienced and ongoingly engaged in relationship together solely on the basis of our reciprocal relational response and involvement of trust, not on the basis of human effort shaped by human terms from human contextualization (Gal 3:5-14). The latter is consequential for the human person and persons together to be enslaved in a reductionist comparative system of human ontology and function based on quantitative human effort/possessions, thus constructing false human distinctions which relegate persons to stratified relationships together in systems of inequality (3:28; 4:3, 8-9)
This fragmentation can never be whole because the who of Pneuma is not engaged in relationship together within the whole of God’s relational context and process (5:16,25; Rom 8:5-6; cf. 1 Thes 4:7-8), and because the what of pneuma is divided from soma in dualistic ontology and function characteristic of shaping by sarx from human contextualization (cf. the wholeness in 1 Thes 5:23; 2 Cor 7:1). These are the consequences of assimilation into human contextualization and its defining and determining influence by reductionism. For Paul, the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma precludes this fragmentation and duality (cf. his claim in Phil 3:3). Throughout his letters, Paul addressed various situations involving moral and ethical issues. Yet, Paul’s readers must understand what Paul is further speaking to and where he is speaking from. As Paul addresses these situations, he goes beyond moral and ethical behavior to speak directly to the underlying and more far-reaching issue in human contextualization: reductionism, exposing reductionism as sin and confronting the sin of reductionism, and its pervasive consequence on human ontology and function. Paul was definitive and decisive about this without being shaped, diminished or minimalized by human terms from human contextualization because with epistemic humility he spoke from God’s relational context in God’s relational process through reciprocal involvement with the Spirit, subject-theos (cf. 1 Cor 2:12-16).
What does Paul also make definitive as the outcome of reciprocal relational involvement together with the Spirit? What clearly emerges from ongoing relationship together with the Spirit is the functional wholeness that is incompatible, incongruent and discontinuous with reductionism pervading human contextualization, as Paul clarified functionally and theologically (Gal 6:14-16; Rom 8:6). When Paul boasts of the cross of Christ through whom he has been crucified to human contextualization (“to the world,” Gal 6:14), the soma of the pleroma of God and the pneuma of the whole of God are conjoined and resurrected for the embodiment of the new creation. That is, this is the embodiment in qualitative zoe (not quantitative bios) and wholeness (“life and peace,” Rom 8:6), in which the Pneuma also inseparably dwells in mortal soma for whole relationship together as God’s family (Rom 8:11, 14-16; cf. Eph 2:22). The theological dynamics Paul illuminates have only functional significance for this relationship together (Eph 2:18). Apart from the function of relationship and its relational embodiment Paul’s theological clarity has no significance, both to God and to human persons for the fulfillment of the inherent human relational need and the resolution of its relational problem (Eph 2:14-16). The Spirit is present and relationally involved for the whole ontology and function necessary for the ongoing relationship together to be God’s whole—the embodiment as the pleroma of Christ ‘already’ in relational progression to its completion in the relational conclusion ‘not yet’ (1 Cor 12:13; cf. Jn 7:37-39).
The Spirit’s relational involvement notably emerges in the resurrection, in which the Spirit’s dynamic interaction also involves us wholly (soma and pneuma) to be embodied in the new creation (new person, new life, new covenant, Rom 8:11). Involvement together in this relational process is also defined by Paul as being baptized in the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; cf. Mt 3:11; Acts 1:5; 11:16). The theological dynamic of baptism is complex and mysterious but the relational process involved is uncomplicated yet rigorous: death to the old and raising of the new (Rom 6:3-8). Being baptized with the Spirit makes functional the redemptive change from reduced ontology and function (consequential of the sin of reductionism) necessary for the emergence of whole ontology and function (cf. Tit 3:5). The relational outcome of this relational process is the redemptive reconciliation of whole persons embodied in relationship together as the new creation family of God (Col 1:19-22; Eph 2:14-22)—“baptized into one body” without false human distinctions from reductionism (1 Cor 12:13). This zoe, the embodiment of the new creation, emerges specifically from the relational work of the Spirit (Rom 8:11; 2 Cor 3:6; cf. Jn 6:63; Rom 8:6)—“we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13; cf. Jn 7:38-39). On this basis, Paul declares unequivocally: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him…. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom 8:9,14); furthermore, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). Therefore, the experiential truth of the theological dynamics of wholeness, relational belonging and ontological identity functionally emerge from reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit.
The dynamic interaction of the Spirit and the pleroma of God always constitutes ontology and function in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. Thus, the reciprocal relational involvement by the Spirit is neither with only the human pneuma nor with just the human soma. Such involvement would create a duality which fragments the person. Human soma without pneuma is a critical condition because it is a reductionism focused on the outer in that the person cannot distinguish unequivocally from sarx, consequently is rendered to the sin of reductionism notably in ontological simulation (as discussed earlier about Paul’s polemic beyond the situation to the underlying reductionism in 1 Cor 6:12-20). Likewise, human pneuma apart from involvement of soma becomes disembodied, which is also a reductionism focused on a subjective part of a person, not the whole person qualitatively integrated from inner out. The focus of such a person cannot distinguish from subjectivism, esoteric individualism or self-centered separatism—as often found in spiritualism, mysticism and asceticism—thus rendered to the sin of reductionism notably in epistemological illusion (cf. Paul’s polemic about reductionism in spiritual practice disembodied from the church in 1 Cor 14). The Spirit is relationally involved only with the whole person (soma and pneuma inseparably) from inner out signified by the function of the heart and embodied in the primacy of relationship together (2 Cor 1:22; Gal 4:6; Rom 5:5; 8:16; Eph 1:17-18; 3:16-19). Additionally, the Spirit’s relational involvement with the whole person from inner out includes both the person’s mindset (phroneo, Rom 8:5) and its basis from the person’s perceptual-interpretive framework (phronema, 8:6). In this involvement, the Spirit also transforms quantitative phroneo and reduced phronema and constitutes the qualitative phroneo (interpretive lens) in its whole phronema (interpretive framework). Both of these changes are necessary for persons to be embodied in qualitative zoe and wholeness together, and to function ongoingly in this new embodiment (1 Thes 5:19,23; 2 Thes 2:13; Rom 15:16).
Paul is clear about the experiential truth of the Spirit’s relational involvement. Yet, it is important for his readers to understand that the Spirit is involved in reciprocal relationship, not unilateral relationship. By God’s relational nature, the Spirit’s involvement is reciprocal relational involvement, implying a necessary compatible reciprocal relational response to and involvement with the Spirit—not as contingency limiting God’s relational nature but as the condition/terms for relationships together according to God’s relational nature (cf. Paul’s conditional sense in Phil 2:1; 2 Cor 13:13). Therefore, in relation to the Spirit, Paul always assumes the presence of the Spirit (e.g., 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Gal 5:5), but he does not assume the Spirit’s relational involvement and work, as he implies in his ongoing relational imperative (not moral imperative) “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thes 5:19). Certainly, the Spirit can and does act unilaterally; yet his primary concern and function is in reciprocal relational involvement with persons to extend and complete the whole relationship together constituted by the embodied pleroma of God—all of whom the Spirit also raised up together in order to functionally embody the pleroma of Christ as Jesus’ relational replacement.
This is the depth and breadth of the Spirit’s relational involvement with persons belonging to Christ, and the likeness of involvement necessary from those persons to be compatible, congruent and continuous in reciprocal relationship together with the Spirit. The dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes constitutes the ontology and function of the Spirit and can constitute the ontology and function of those in whom the Spirit dwells. In Paul’s theological forest, anything less and any substitutes of the Spirit’s ontology and function are an immature pneumatology still undeveloped and needing to be whole; anything less and any substitutes of human ontology and function are a deficient theological anthropology, the assumptions of which for Paul always need to be challenged in order to be made whole. That wholeness, however, is made functional solely by the relational dynamic of pleroma pneumatology.
In the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, the relational involvement of the Spirit’s whole ontology and function makes functional the theological dynamics of wholeness integrated with relational belonging and ontological identity for the experiential truth of their embodiment in those belonging to Christ. The emergence of the new identity for these persons is functionally constituted only by the reciprocal relational work of the Spirit; human terms from human contextualization cannot establish the identity formation of who they are with Christ and whose they are in Christ (Rom 8:9-11). Paul is definitive that this identity is not formed by a social process but by the relational dynamic of the Spirit in reciprocal relationship together (Rom 8:12-17; Gal 5:16-26). The new identity constituted in this relationship together as family is neither a static condition nor a contextual characteristic, but a dynamic process of relationship together necessitating by its nature ongoing reciprocal relational involvement with each other. Paul also describes this reciprocal response as “we are debtors” (opheiletes from opheilo, Rom 8:12), that is, not in human terms and contextualization but to God’s favor (indebted to a benefactor). Yet, opheiletes in this context should not be reduced to an obligation (opheilo) to fulfill. Paul is not defining an ethical mandate but illuminating, by the nature (dei, not opheilo) of God’s relational response of grace, the reciprocal relational response necessary for whole relationship together. Moreover, when Paul further defines this reciprocal response by “Live by the Spirit” and “are led by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16,18), he is also not defining a moral imperative for our conduct (outlined in 5:19-24). Rather this is another relational imperative by which he further illuminates the reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit necessary for functionally constituting the new identity of who we are with Christ and whose we are in Christ (5:25).
What this reciprocal involvement with the Spirit constitutes is the ontological identity and embodiment of God’s new creation (Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:10-11; cf. 2 Cor 3:17-18). Just as pneuma and soma are inseparable for the whole ontology and function emerging from the Spirit’s involvement, ontological identity and embodiment of the new creation are also inseparably conjoined for the wholeness made functional by the Spirit (examine Paul’s relational connections: 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26-28; 4:6-7; Rom 8:14; 12:5; Col 3:15; Eph 2:14,18,22). And this ontological identity and embodiment of the new creation are predicated on the functional reality of relational belonging to God’s family as definitive daughters and sons, the experiential truth of which only emerges from the reciprocal relational involvement of the Spirit (Eph 1:13-14; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Rom 8:14-16; Gal 4:6-7). Without the Spirit’s reciprocal involvement and relational work, this identity and new creation are rendered, at best, to only ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of wholeness—simulation of whole relationship together with illusions of the whole of God (Gal 6:16; Col 3:15; cf. Rom 12:3-5; 1 Cor 3:21-22).
This relational dynamic of belonging or not belonging is either the relational outcome with the Spirit or the relational consequence without the Spirit, which Jesus made unmistakable in his promise “I will not leave you orphaned” (Jn 14:18). The term for “leave” (aphiemi) means to let go from oneself, essentially abandon to a condition deprived of their parents and family, which in the ancient Mediterranean world was an unprotected, helpless position. What Jesus defines, however, is only that the significance of orphans is relational, not situational, which directly involves the condition of wholeness in relationship together constituted by the Spirit—the what and who, respectively, that Jesus did leave them (Jn 14:27; 16:33). Paul further illuminates the relational belonging emerging with the Spirit and its embodiment by the Spirit, which includes the counter-relational issue of orphans, to be discussed shortly in Paul’s ecclesiology.
In Paul’s theological forest, along with God’s relational dynamic of grace, the Spirit’s reciprocal relational involvement is indispensable, sine qua non as with grace, for the experiential truth of the theological dynamics of wholeness, relational belonging and ontological identity. Clearly for Paul, those who are relationally involved with the Spirit in reciprocal relationship together—“who are led by the Spirit of God”—are the daughters and sons of God (Rom 8:14). Paul is not using family language merely for emphasis in a kinship-oriented context, perhaps as a hyperbole, for example, to evoke obligation in response to the Spirit. Rather Paul is illuminating the depth of the theological dynamics involved in the gospel and clearly identifies the person who is necessary for its fulfillment and completion. In dynamic interaction with the embodied pleroma of God, the Spirit of the whole of God relationally extends pleroma Christology to make functional pleroma soteriology by the embodiment of God’s new creation family. That is to say, the Spirit makes functional the experiential truth of the whole gospel in its relational outcome ‘already’ in whole relationship together, just as the Son prayed for the formation of God’s family (Jn 17:20-26).
What is the significance of distinguishing this relational outcome ‘already’ by the Spirit? As Jesus’ relational replacement, the Spirit both fulfills this relational outcome ‘already’ and completes what is necessary for its relational conclusion ‘not yet’ (2 Cor 1:21-22; 5:4-5; 1 Thes 5:19-23; Rom 8:23; Gal 5:5 Eph 1:13-14; Phil 3:21). In Paul’s theological forest, pneumatology is conjoined with eschatology. Paul adds theological and functional clarity to the relational outcome already of the embodiment of God’s new creation family by engaging his family further and deeper into the big picture of God’s eschatological plan framing the trajectory of God’s thematic response to the human condition (Rom 8:18-23). Just as the Spirit is the functional bridge for the quantitative of bios with the qualitative of zoe, the Spirit functionally connects the whole embodiment of God’s family with all of creation, with the kosmos and those in it in order to be involved as well with the world for the redemptive reconciliation necessary to be restored to God’s whole—as Paul also made definitive in other letters (2 Cor 5:17-19; Col 1:20), and as Jesus constituted in prayer for the already (Jn 17:21-23).
The big picture Paul paints goes back to creation and the emergence of the human condition (cf. Gen 3:17-19 with Rom 8:20). Not only human persons were enslaved in the condition ‘to be apart’ from God’s whole but the rest of creation was also (Rom 8:20-22; cf. Gen 5:29). God’s whole also encompasses all of creation; and God’s relational response of grace to the human condition is the redemptive key for the rest of creation to “be set free from its bondage to decay” (8:21) and restored to God’s whole (“obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” v.21). Therefore, all of creation is dependent on the relational outcome and conclusion of the Spirit’s relational involvement to raise up and embody God’s whole new creation family: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (8:19). The timing of this revealing is ambiguous in this verse but the contingency is clearly eschatological. If our eschatology involves both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’, as Paul’s did, then that new creation family ‘already’ is revealed by the Spirit’s relational involvement in those who belong to Christ (8:9), in those whom the Spirit has wholly embodied along with Christ and already dwells now (8:11), and thus in those “led by the Spirit” (8:14) and the Spirit relationally constitutes already and ongoingly as the whole daughters and sons of God’s family (8:15-16).
Paul further illuminates this already/not-yet eschatological picture to provide deeper clarity for God’s family. As all of creation waits eagerly for the embodiment of God’s children together, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23). Paul is not suggesting that the theological dynamics of redemption and adoption have not taken place, only that their functional significance is in the relational process and progression of being completed by the Spirit—who has already constituted the relational outcome for those belonging to Christ as God’s daughters and sons, and who continues to embody them for the relational conclusion ‘not yet’ in this eschatological process. Paul clarifies that the Spirit has not yet completed this relational progression, and the basis for this expectation (“hope”) is conclusive in the experiential truth already of having been both saved from and to (sozo, delivered and made whole in Gk aorist tense, 8:24). This hope for full completion “now” is always present and ongoing along with the already (“wait for it with patience,” v.25); yet this unequivocal hope should not be confused with ‘already’ (“hope…we do not see”), nor should it be perceived with a reductionist interpretive lens (“hope that is seen,” v.24).
As Paul clarifies the line between the already and the not yet, he understands that God’s children vacillate between them, even unintentionally or unknowingly. This happens notably when situations and circumstances are difficult. These tend to create various scenarios, drama and anxiety which can define and determine who we are and whose we are, thus rattling our sense of belonging and straining our relational response of trust, just as Paul summarized (8:28-39). In such moments, God’s presence may seem distant and perhaps too transcendent to make relational connection with. Paul addresses the equivocation of relational connection and the ambiguity of relational involvement in those moments. With more than just his own empathy, Paul makes definitive God’s deep understanding and intimate involvement with us through the relational involvement of the Spirit (8:26-27). Especially in our deepest moments of weakness when “we do not know how to be relationally involved as is necessary” (Paul uses dei not opheilo, v. 26), the Spirit helps us be involved in God’s relational context and process—“that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words; and God who searches the heart, intimately knows what is the phronema of the Spirit because the Spirit is reciprocally relationally involved with and for the saints according to the whole ontology and function of God” (italics added). Thus, the Spirit ongoingly helps God’s children in the relational connection and involvement with God necessary for engagement in the process of reciprocating contextualization (dynamic interaction between God’s context and human context) in order not to be defined and determined by human contextualization, whether in difficult moments or not.
The already-now embodiment of God’s new creation family, ongoingly functioning in reciprocal whole relationship together, unequivocally in relational progression to ‘not yet’, is the integrated relational dynamic at the heart of Paul’s pneumatology. The presence of the person of the Spirit as Jesus’ relational replacement and the Spirit’s reciprocal relational involvement must be accounted for both theologically and functionally. Therefore, Paul’s pneumatology is a theological dynamic always in conjoint function with an eschatology that is not either-or but both-and, both already and not yet. The significance of Paul’s eschatological picture above is to further deepen theologically the experiential truth of the whole gospel for the definitive wholeness in both the theology and function of the church as God’s new creation family. Paul’s primary concern always focused on the present from which the future will emerge.
In the complex theological dynamics of Paul’s theological forest, the dynamic presence and involvement of the whole person of the Spirit functions while inseparably on an eschatological trajectory. Yet for Paul, this does not and must not take away from the primary focus on the Spirit’s presence and involvement for the present, just as Paul addressed the Thessalonians’ eschatological anxiety with the relational imperative not to quench the Spirit’s present relational involvement (1 Thes 5:19). The Spirit’s present concern and function is relational involvement for constituting whole ontology and function, for making functional wholeness together, and for the embodiment of the whole of God’s new creation family in whole relationship together as the church, the pleroma of Christ—which is why the person of the Spirit is deeply affected, grieving over any reductionism in reciprocal relational involvement together.
In Paul’s theological forest, the theological dynamic of the Spirit in wholeness is pleroma pneumatology. Anything less or any substitute of the Spirit is an immature pneumatology, both underdeveloped and stunted, the practice of which signifies the reduction of our reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit. In such reductionism, Paul rightly defines the Spirit’s grief (Eph 4:30) because it clearly diminishes the Spirit’s relational involvement for wholeness and being whole already (amemptos, as in tamiym, 1 Thes 5:19,23; cf. Gen 17:1). Even the historical theology of the church’s spirituality and spiritual formation often has diminished involvement in whole relationship together reciprocally with the Spirit’s person, in efforts ironically to participate in God’s life. Any such immature pneumatology is underdeveloped or stunted and continues to grieve the Spirit.
For Paul, participating in God’s life is neither precluded by a somatic limitation nor limited to just a pneumatic experience, but rather involves the relational dynamic of whole human ontology and function with the whole of God’s ontology and function. In contrast, and at times in conflict, with how some of Paul’s readers (past and present) have interpreted him, this relational involvement was not defined or determined by mysticism, nor was its depth esoteric and thus limited to certain individuals (cf. 1 Cor 14:36; Col 2:8). In Paul’s theological forest, participating in God’s life is the relational outcome that emerges from ongoing reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit.
How does this relational outcome emerge? Moreover, I think it is accurate to say that prior to the Damascus road Paul participated (however limited by reductionism) in the life of God’s people, and that after the Damascus road he began participating in the life of God. What is the difference, and how is this difference constituted and its dynamic significance experienced ongoingly?
Participating in God’s life necessitates by God’s qualitative being and relational nature the following: the relational involvement of whole persons (pneuma and soma) of whole ontology and function from inner out, who are vulnerably involved by the heart with the whole of God’s ontology and function, who initially is vulnerably disclosed to them in direct face-to-face, intimate heart-to-heart relationship together as family. As Paul indicated previously, Moses participated face to face in God’s life, but it was limited (2 Cor 3:7-13; cf. Num 12:6-8). By the nature of reciprocal relationship, God’s children can participate in God’s life only to the extent that God participates in theirs; however, participation in God’s life is never the result of unilateral human effort. In Paul’s theological forest, the whole of God’s thematic relational response and involvement is fulfilled by Christ and completed by the Spirit (2 Cor 3:14-18; 4:4-6). In other words, with the depth of God’s whole participation, it is now insufficient for God’s children to participate in the whole of God’s life with anything but face-to-face involvement compatible with God’s qualitative being and congruent with God’s relational nature—that glory of God vulnerably disclosed in the face of Jesus Christ’s whole ontology and function (not just soma or pneuma, as some have interpreted the incarnation, but soma and pneuma together, inseparably without reduction). This is “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (4:4), the meaning of which is rendered without relational significance by the lack of reciprocal relational involvement face to face, thus reducing the gospel of its experiential truth.
Paul focuses all participation in “the glory of God in the face of Christ” first on Christ’s blood and body and participating in his death (1 Cor 10:16) in order to participate in his resurrection (Rom 8:11,17; Phil 3:10). This participation involves being baptized with Christ and the Spirit for the death of reduced ontology and function and the raising of whole ontology and function (Rom 6:3-5; 1 Cor 12:13). Relational involvement with Christ and the Spirit in these theological dynamics is critical for face-to-face involvement compatible with God’s qualitative being (the whole and holy God) and thus congruent with God’s relational nature. To participate in the whole and holy God’s life begins with the necessary transformation of human persons conjointly to ontology in the image of God’s qualitative being vulnerably disclosed by Christ (“the image of God,” 2 Cor 4:4), and to function in the likeness of the whole of God’s relational nature together (2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29; Col 3:10). Paul defines this critical initial participation with the term koinonia (“sharing,” 1 Cor 10:16) and its cognate koinonos (“partners,” 10:18), from which our notions of fellowship and communion come. Basically these koin terms define a common bond among its participants which is relational involvement definitive of having a share in something together. This understanding of participation goes further and deeper than what our practices of fellowship and communion tend to be; moreover, it goes beyond common efforts of spirituality to participate in God’s life.
For Paul, the definitive relational involvement of sharing together in Christ’s death is a complete participation, which is irreducible and nonnegotiable to koinonia and koinonos in human contextualization (1 Cor 10:20-21). Thus, this undivided-complete participation is inseparable from sharing together also in Christ’s resurrection, by which the necessary transformation to whole ontology and function emerges in order to wholly participate compatibly and congruently in God’s life as God’s whole family in relationship together (Rom 6:5; 8:11,15; Gal 4:5-6). This inner-out change from the process of redemptive reconciliation is an ongoing necessity for increasing and deepening participation in the whole of God’s life. The embodiment of this new creation in koinonia with the whole of God is both of the whole person and of whole persons together (1 Cor 10:17) in reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 2:22; 4:3-4). Therefore, participating in the qualitative whole of God’s life is neither limited to the intimate involvement of the individual person, nor is individual involvement sufficient by itself to constitute participation in the relational whole of God’s life. Participation is complete with only whole persons together (Col 3:15; Eph 2:14-18); this challenges our theological assumptions about God, the human person, and the church. Paul makes these vital distinctions for the reciprocal relational involvement in whole relationship together both with God and with each other, which is necessary to embody God’s new creation family—the dwelling for the whole of God’s participation in whole relationship together (Eph 2:22; cf. Jn 14:23).
Through the relational involvement of the Spirit, participation in the whole of God’s life is unequivocal in its relational outcome ‘already’ (Eph 2:18,22; 3:12; Rom 5:5; cf. Jn 17:23). And by reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit, participation in God’s whole life in family is ongoing to its relational conclusion ‘not yet’ (Rom 8:14,17; Phil 2:1; 3:10)—just as Paul prayed for the church family (Eph 3:16-19) and Jesus vulnerably disclosed in his face and prayed for his family (Jn 17:26). The whole of Paul’s person and the whole in his theology fight for nothing less and no substitutes of this gospel of wholeness, thus nonegotiably against any and all reductionism.
As those belonging to Christ through the Spirit gather for the koinonia at the Lord’s table to celebrate the Eucharist—that is, without reductionism to human terms shaped by human contextualization, as Paul’s polemic makes indisputable about incompatible and incongruent participation (1 Cor 10:21; 11:17-22, 27)—their whole persons together deeply participate in the embodied pleroma of God. Conjointly, their intimate relational involvement with the whole of God in whole relationship together also embodies them together in the whole ontology and function of the church, the pleroma of Christ (1 Cor 10:17; Eph 1:23; 3:19; 4:13). This embodiment is the relational outcome of only direct participation in God’s life, not from participation just in the church (note Paul’s polemic, 1 Cor 11:20, 29).
Therefore, the church emerges as God’s new creation family only to the extent that its reciprocal relational involvement is compatible and congruent with the extent of God’s participation in its life, notably now by the Spirit. Given that God’s participation is solely by the relational response of grace with the theological dynamic of wholeness, the participation of God’s children likewise can be nothing less and no substitutes. Only this whole relationship together embodies the pleroma of Christ in Paul’s theological forest, which Paul makes theologically definitive in Ephesians for the functional clarity necessary for the whole ontology and function of the church.
The theological dynamics deeply involved in this qualitative process of embodiment and its relational process of reciprocal participation not only have converged and are integrated in Paul’s theological forest. These dynamics, both theological and functional, are also relationally extending ‘already’ beyond what Paul can only rightly describe as “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church” (Eph 3:20-21).
The church, that is, the pleroma of Christ, is God’s relational context of convergence for the theological dynamics in Paul’s theological forest (Eph 1:22-23), and is God’s relational context and process of relationally extending these theological-functional dynamics (Eph 2:22; 4:12-13). Pleroma (fullness, completion) is the wholeness that reflects the development not only in Paul’s thought and theology (e.g. Col 1:19) but also in the whole of Paul’s person (e.g., Col 2:10; 3:15; Eph 3:19; cf. Phil 2:1-2; 3:12, 15-16). The experiential truth of Paul’s development is questioned or obscured by disputes over the authorship of some of these letters, notably Ephesians.
Ephesians emerges in the Pauline corpus without the usual context—no personal greetings and situations noted, with the Ephesian title added later—to understand Paul’s purpose, or that he even wrote this text. Yet I assume Paul’s authorship despite any style and language differences, and that Ephesians closely followed his Colossian and Philemon letters. I assume the insufficiency of these disputed details to deny Paul’s authorship based on the depth of its content, which emerges to be an even further development of Paul’s thought and theology than Colossians presents. That is, this development is his integrated content based on Paul’s claim to have received further revelation (Eph 3:3-4), while in ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11-12; Acts 26:16) and in reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit (1 Cor 2:10, 12-13). Paul’s depth of development reflected in Ephesians is, to be specific, about his theological forest, which integrated his previous theological dynamics (notably in Romans); and then he extended these dynamics in the ecclesiology necessary for the relational function of the embodied pleroma of Christ, the church reconciled in wholeness ‘already’ by the pleroma of God, just as Paul introduced earlier and was developing about God’s new creation family (2 Cor 5:17-19; Gal 3:26-28; 6:15-16; Col 1:19-22; 3:10-11,15). It is highly unlikely that any author other than Paul could have formulated this theological integration, and the existence of a Pauline school has not been established to attribute this to one of his students. This is the outcome of Paul’s synesis (whole knowledge and understanding) of the church that was developing from its earlier beginning in 1 Corinthians (e.g., 10:17-18, 12:13, 27). Paul’s readers also need to syniemi further than the historical Paul in human contextualization to account for the whole of Paul’s person and the whole in his theology.
Paul’s summary of his theological forest (Eph 1:3-14; cf. Col 1:15-22) illuminates his synesis of God’s thematic relational action in response to the human condition, which, as noted earlier, neuroscience defines also as the inherent human relational need and problem. Paul’s synesis is the whole understanding that becomes the integrating process, framework and theme for the various theological trees (the complex dynamics) in his previous letters (particularly in Romans) which makes definitive their theological forest. It is within Paul’s theological forest that the ecclesiology necessary to be whole, God’s relational whole only on God’s terms, is relationally embodied and wholly emerges in Ephesians. Without his ecclesiology in wholeness, Paul’s oikonomia (relational responsibility) to pleroo (complete) the word of God would not have been fulfilled (Col 1:25).
In Ephesians, Paul makes definitive the ecclesiology that by the nature of its roots emerged from antecedents prior to Paul’s letters and even predating his studies in Judaism. These antecedents were necessarily integrated into his ecclesiology. The first of these antecedents was rooted in OT Israel as the gathering of God’s people. The Septuagint (Gk translation of the OT familiar to Paul, a Roman-citizen Jew) uses ekklesia for Israel as the covenant community. This embeds the NT ekklesia (“church,” e.g., Eph 1:22; Col 1:18) in the context of God’s ongoing relational action with his chosen people and their covenant relationship together (Ex 19:5; Dt 7:6-8; Eze 11:19-20). Beyond being a mere historical root and religious heritage, this antecedent is important for understanding the whole of God’s thematic relational involvement and the theological dynamics in Paul’s theological forest enacted only for whole relationship together as God’s family (Eph 1:4-5, 14).
The term ekklesia itself, though used by Paul in his letters, appears to have only limited descriptive value for what the church is and does. As far as function is concerned, ekklesia is a static term that is neither sufficiently significant nor necessarily useful to define the church (notably the local church). A more dynamic understanding is needed for the church’s ontology and function than merely a gathering (even one called out, ekkletoi), which points to a second antecedent integrated into Paul’s ecclesiology.
Jesus himself used the term ekklesia when he revealed “I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). The functional significance of his church, however, emerges when the focus is given to the process Jesus implied in his statement—which directly involves what he relationally embodied face to face in his life and practice, and which he made further evident in his post-ascension involvement with various churches (Rev 2-3). Jesus’ relational involvement and relational work went further and deeper than a gathering, regardless of a gathering’s doctrinal and moral purity, its extensive church activity and its esteemed reputation (as demonstrated by churches in Ephesus and Sardis, Rev 2:2-4; 3:1-2). In Jesus’ disclosure “I will build my church,” the term for build is oikodomeo. This term denotes building a house, derived from its root oikos meaning house, home, family, that is, a family living in a house, not merely a gathering under the same roof.
Paul later conjoined these terms with their significant cognates for the church’s ontology and function, with oikos as the basis for the church as God’s household (1 Tim 3:15): oikeios, belonging specifically to God’s family (Eph 2:19); oikodome, building God’s family (Eph 2:21; 4:12); synoikodomeo, being built together as God’s family (syn and oikodomeo, Eph 2:22); oikonomos, led by persons who manage God’s family (1 Cor 4:1); and oikonomia, for which Paul was given the specific relational responsibility to administrate the relational outcome ‘already’ of God’s family (Eph 3:2; Col 1:25), which is in relational progression on an eschatological trajectory to its relational conclusion ‘not yet’ (Eph 1:10).
The relational function of these terms points to the definitive relational process of the new kinship family of God that Jesus constituted in the incarnation. That is to say, the specific relational connections Jesus made throughout the incarnation to build his family together formed the embryonic church from which the whole ontology and function of the church emerged. Jesus provided Paul, partly through the Jesus tradition and mostly by direct relationship together along with the Spirit, with the necessary relational context for the relational embodiment of his church and the imperative relational process for the relational function of his church. This is the irreducible relational context and nonnegotiable relational process which the whole of Jesus vulnerably embodied progressively in the whole of God’s relational context of family by his whole relational process of family love. Thus, the church as God’s family was made definitive by Jesus even before the cross, and was fully constituted by his salvific relational work; and this relational outcome is what the Spirit, as his relational replacement, will bring to its relational conclusion—and Paul, not Peter, would engage the oikonomia to provide the ecclesiology necessary for the whole of God’s family.
Therefore, Paul’s ecclesiology is rooted in what germinated with the whole of Jesus’ person and relational involvement, who relationally embodied the pleroma of God in pleroma Christology for pleroma soteriology. This pleroma theological-functional dynamic was first Paul’s experiential truth and then was the key antecedent into which Paul’s ecclesiology is integrated for the church to be the pleroma of Christ. Any ecclesiology not rooted and integrated in pleroma Christology is insufficient to make functional the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology (what Christ saves to), and fundamentally lacks wholeness. Such an ecclesiology is shaped by human terms rooted in human contextualization, which at best is only a gathering—an ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of the ekklesia Jesus builds. While a mere gathering may have some functional significance for those gathered, it does not have relational significance to the pleroma of God and to the inherent human need of those gathered (cf. Jn 14:9; Mt 15:8-9).
The doctrine of the church and church function is either whole or some reduction. This doctrine either defines the extent of what emerges in church life and practice, or limits it. Christ’s ekklesia rises up with him to emerge above and beyond a gathering. The whole ecclesiology that emerges for Paul is not a mere doctrinal truth of this new ekklesia but the experiential truth entirely of whole relationship together in God’s whole family on God’s relational terms. What unfolds in Paul’s ecclesiology?
In going beyond a doctrinal statement, Paul’s ecclesiology does not become a metaphor, an organizational structure or programmatic system for church life and function. Rather, his ecclesiology is the theological-functional dynamic signifying the embodiment of the whole ontology and function of the church in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God. Thus, whole ecclesiology signifies the embodiment of God’s new creation family in the functional significance of its relational outcome ‘already’ in ongoing relational progression with the Spirit to its relational conclusion ‘not yet’. This ecclesiology emerges only from the embodied pleroma of God, who constitutes the embodiment of the pleroma of Christ with the Spirit. For Paul, ecclesiology is rooted in this whole and is the theological dynamic of wholeness, nothing less and no substitutes. Paul’s ecclesiology then is always synonymous with pleroma ecclesiology. Therefore, the ecclesiology of this new creation is irreducible in the church’s ontology, and its shared new covenant is nonnegotiable in the church’s function. Anything less and any substitutes in the church are a renegotiated ecclesiology shaped by human terms from human contextualization.
The experiential truth of being whole and its function in wholeness together is both the theological purpose and functional concern of Paul’s ecclesiology. When he made the relational imperative in his Colossians letter to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Col 3:15), his concern for the church was to be whole and to function in the wholeness of relationship together. For these purposes, he wanted this letter to be read also in the church at Laodicea (Col 4:16). One person in particular whom Paul most likely targeted for this relational imperative of wholeness was Philemon, though whether he resided in Colosse or Laodicea is uncertain. Philemon was the slave-owner of Onesimus (4:9), who ran away from Philemon and with whom Paul shared family love and who now belonged to Christ as a son in God’s family (4:9; Phlm 16). We will discuss the specific implications of their relationship in the next chapter, but for now it is important to identify his personal letter to Philemon as a key letter for the relational function of the church to be whole in its relationships together as God’s new creation family. The Philemon letter is a specific relational context in which wholeness in ecclesiology is made functional.
Though written before Ephesians and closely aligned with Colossians, Philemon reflects what was already developing in Paul’s thought for ecclesiology to be whole. Following the course of Colossians’ theological dialogue (discourse in relational context) on God’s new creation family (Col 3:10-11) and relational imperative of wholeness (3:15), Philemon emerges prior to Ephesians to become a functional bridge to Paul’s thought and theology in Ephesians. In this vital letter to the Pauline corpus—both of whose understanding are diminished without their integrated development—Paul makes definitive the theological basis specifically for church-leader Philemon’s relational function and generally for the whole ontology and function of the church in the ecclesiology of the whole, Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology.
In spite of its basic need in those who belong to Christ, the experiential truth of a whole ecclesiology is often reduced to, not distinguished from, or, indeed, even never realized as other than a doctrinal or propositional truth. While the objective truth is necessary, doctrinal and propositional truths are not sufficient in themselves to constitute whole ecclesiology. Paul’s ecclesiology is not compatible with such theological reductionism, nor is this reductionism an option capable of replacing experiential truth. This reductionism predictably happens apart from the Spirit, as Paul has functionally identified throughout his previous letters (1 Thes 5:19; 1 Cor 12:13; 2 Cor 3:17-18; Gal 5:16,25; Rom 8:9,14,16; Phil 2:1). And conjointly in his dialogue with churches about the church, Paul challenges the assumptions of ecclesiology and its related theological anthropology held by his readers (both past and present).
The functional basis for Paul’s ecclesiology is clearly identified as the Spirit’s presence and involvement. In Ephesians, Paul integrates and relationally extends the Spirit’s relational work. By reciprocal involvement with the Spirit, the Spirit baptizes and raises up those who share in (koinonia) Christ’s body and blood for the redemptive change necessary to embody the new creation. The new creation is not a theological concept with only theoretical significance; rather this new creation is the experiential truth of the relational outcome that emerges only from relational participation in Christ’s death and resurrection together with the Spirit for the death of reduced human ontology and function and the raising of whole ontology and function (Eph 2:1-10; 4:24; cf. Rom 8:11). This participation is relationally extended to the Father to involve the whole of God in whole relationship together in order, theologically and functionally together, to embody God’s new creation family (2:18-22). The theological dynamics in Paul’s theological forest (1:3-14), which are involved in this process of redemptive reconciliation, by necessity transform human persons from being defined and determined by reductionism to be defined and determined by whole ontology and function created in the image and likeness of God—that is, that to which the Spirit raises those in Christ. This new creation of wholeness involves conjointly, and thus inseparably, the whole person and whole persons together to embody the whole ontology and function of God’s new creation family—all of whom and which are constituted together by the relational involvement of the Spirit. The collective ontology and function of God’s family define and determine its relationships together on the basis of this wholeness. These new and whole relationships together signify the transformed relationships between transformed persons which are necessary to be God’s whole family, the pleroma of Christ, thus which are also irreducible for church ontology and nonnegotiable for church function.
The reciprocal relational involvement by and with the Spirit is indispensable to this transformation process to wholeness and whole relationship together, and the person of the Spirit is inseparable from the embodiment of the whole ontology and function of God’s new creation family. On this determining basis, Paul prays clearly for and makes relationally imperative the church’s deeper relational involvement both with the Spirit and with each other together (Eph 1:17-20; 3:16-21; 4:3-6; 5:18b-21). He also makes definitive the relational consequence for the Spirit when the church’s relationships together function in reductionism (the context of 4:30). In addition, Paul implies that the relational consequence for church ontology and function is to be reduced to persons as epistemic orphans without whole knowledge and understanding of who they are and whose they are (contrary to Paul’s prayers and Jesus’ promise, Jn 15:26; 16:13-15); and thus the deeper relational consequence for the church is to be reduced to a gathering of what are relational orphans from inner out despite bearing the family titles from outer in (contrary to Jesus’ claim, Jn 14:18). That is, in function such a gathering has no relational significance both to the whole of God (in Jesus by the Spirit with the Father) and to those gathered, leaving them essentially as orphans (cf. Jn 14:1,27; 16:33).
Jesus’ assurance to “not leave you orphaned” is contingent on the reciprocal relational involvement of the Spirit. The Spirit’s relational presence and work is certainly assumed by Jesus as his relational replacement and is further illuminated by Paul. The wholeness of relationship together as family promised by Jesus (Jn 14:18-20,23,27) and constituted by the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; Rom 8:6) is the whole relationships together basic to Paul’s ecclesiology and the wholeness he builds by making it the relational imperative for the church (Col 3:15; Gal 5:16,25; 6:16). Yet, Paul also illuminates the reciprocal relational nature of the Spirit’s involvement, which includes exposing the lack or absence of the church’s reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit. In Paul’s ecclesiology, the relational consequence of function apart from the Spirit is to be rendered orphans, both relationally and epistemologically. ‘Relational orphan’ is a functional condition lacking the experiential truth of relationally belonging to God’s family, even while claiming its propositional truth or professing its doctrinal truth. ‘Epistemic orphan’ is a condition of cognitive and existential homelessness, signifying distance, detachment or separation in God’s family, which leaves God’s children in ambiguity, confusion or even deeper conflict about who they are and whose they are. Apart from relational involvement with the Spirit, how church members address this inner longing for relational connection or handle the fragmentation of their beliefs/faith directly involves reductionism and substitutes of ontological simulation and epistemological illusion signifying renegotiated ecclesiology. Further discussion of this reductionist dynamic will be helpful for grasping the whole in Paul’s ecclesiology.
There is a dynamic at work underlying the condition of epistemic orphans that interacts with the condition of relational orphans in church contexts where distance, detachment or separation exists in their relationships together. This dynamic overlaps in function with those living apart from God’s created design and purpose for life in whole relationships together (cf. Gen 2:18), that is, the relational consequence that emerged in the primordial garden that involved both relational and epistemic issues (Gen 3:1-13). The loss of whole relationship together became the prevailing condition for human ontology and function, thus embedding and enslaving human life in the reality of relationships needing to be whole—the inherent human relational need and problem highlighted at the opening of the section on Paul’s theology (chap. 5). Whether it is the general loss of whole relationship together in humanity’s family or the lack of whole relationship together in the church as God’s family, the consequential condition of relational orphans interacts with the condition of epistemic orphans to create the basis for either human shaping, construction and even reification of alternatives for the inherent human need, which includes alternative forms of church life and practice. Or it creates the basis for acknowledging the inadequacy of human effort and turning to the constituting source of whole relationship together. The latter dynamic is critical for the basis of Paul’s ecclesiology, while the former becomes the basis for renegotiated ecclesiology. How does this dynamic work to determine ecclesiology?
It would be helpful to use the church at Corinth as a working example, since Paul’s readers are given an overview of this dynamic in 1 Corinthians. Paul addressed this gathering of fragmented relationships with the epistemological clarification (e.g., 1 Cor 8:1-3, as discussed previously) and with the hermeneutic correction of wholeness and the whole relationships together to be God’s whole family (e.g., 3:21-22; 10:17; 12:13)—similar to the clarification and correction he experienced from tamiym. His focus for their clarification and correction was centered on their learning from his personal example the meaning of “Nothing beyond what is written” (4:6). Assuming Paul is referring to more than his earlier quotes from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job and the Psalms (1:19,31; 2:19,16; 3:19-20), Paul focuses on the whole OT canon existing during his time. For Paul, however, what is written goes beyond texts and is deeper than mere words. These are the words of God and thus the words from God communicated to his people. God’s communicative act is the dynamic in question that Paul raises, whose initiating relational involvement Paul further illuminated in the next verse with the rhetorical question “What do you have that you did not receive?” (4:7), and later reinforces with “did the word of God originate with you?” (14:36). Paul focuses his readers on this relational dynamic. He is not raising a propositional truth for their epistemological clarification, nor is he teaching them a doctrinal truth for their hermeneutic correction. Rather his purpose is to illuminate the experiential truth involved in this relational dynamic initiated by God’s communicative action. That is, Paul’s epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction made definitive that it is the experiential truth of what is written that is primary; and this experiential truth is not found in the text alone and is not located in mere words. Texts and words apart from their relational dynamic are reductionism that has relational consequences characteristic of reductionism’s counter-relational work (cf. Jesus’ critique, Jn 5:39-40).
Paul’s clarification and correction illuminate that what is written are words only of God’s communication, which by its nature involves a dynamic process of relational interaction. The reciprocal nature of this relational interaction necessitates involvement in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit to know and understand what the author-God is communicating. An epistemic process with words/texts by themselves, even exegetic words about God, become disembodied and relationally separated from their author, thus any results at best can be no more than mere words known only as exegesis for propositional truth about God and simply texts understood only as a conventional biblical theology for doctrinal truth about God, each without any relational significance and only with reductionist functional significance. Such results or less signify the following consequence: when ‘what is written’ is reduced to words without relational significance, as Israel often experienced with Torah (cf. Paul’s assessment, Rom 11:7-8; 2 Cor 3:15), the relational consequence is the condition of epistemic orphans, who knowingly or unknowingly are without whole knowledge and understanding of who they are and whose they are. This condition directly involves and affects human ontology and function, and is consequential for determining their further reduction in relationships together.
Having this whole knowledge and understanding is nothing less than the experiential truth of what is written. This experiential truth is entirely the relational outcome of direct involvement in the relational epistemic process with God by the reciprocal involvement of the Spirit—which is in contrast to engaging an epistemic process of mere human effort, even at exegesis and integrating what is written (as Paul contrasts, 1 Cor 2:13). Apart from this relational epistemic process with the Spirit, epistemic orphans also become relational orphans. The interaction of these two conditions creates the basis either for disillusionment and even despair, or for dissatisfaction and even desperation, which further creates the basis for human shaping of what is written (e.g., reader-response determination). Consequently, such persons go beyond those words having “lost” their relational significance, in order to find alternatives for relational significance to fulfill their inherent human relational need—whether they are aware of their condition or not. Moreover, this orphan-interaction creates the further basis for constructing substitutes whose ontological simulation and epistemological illusion often get reified as the source of fulfillment for the human need and resolution for the human problem. This reification, for example, has happened in mysticism and spirituality practices (cf. Paul’s polemic in 1 Cor 14:1-33). Such human construction and reification are what Paul confronts in his rhetorical question “did the word of God originate with you?” (14:36).
The dynamic of God’s communicative act in what is written and the relational consequence of being apart from it are the issues which Paul raises to challenge the ontology and function of his readers. For Paul, however, the most significant consequence of reducing what is written and going beyond it is the emergence of a renegotiated ecclesiology. Epistemic-relational orphans renegotiate the ontology and function of the church as God’s family in the absence of the experiential truth of God’s communicative relational action and involvement (e.g., 1 Cor 11:17-21, 27-30), renegotiating ecclesiology in contrast and conflict with pleroma ecclesiology (10:17; 12:13).
It is also insufficient for Paul’s readers merely to acknowledge what is written as God’s communicative act. Paul assumes that this affirmation involves the reciprocal relational response necessary for its experiential truth. Without the experiential truth of God’s communicative act, readers are still left functionally in the condition of orphans, epistemic and/or relational orphans. The only recourse is to turn to the source of the word for the experiential truth of its Subject. This critical process of experiential truth (review its discussion in chap. 1) necessary to change from orphans to family starts with the reader’s interpretive lens (phroneo) and what is perceived of what is written and in the word of God. The hermeneutic by which the reader engages the word/text is determinative of what emerges from this epistemic process. Just as Jesus critically distinguished the hermeneutic of “a child” and the hermeneutic of “the wise and learned” (Lk 10:21), the epistemic results are in contrast, if not in conflict.
A limited epistemic process of human effort from a quantitative lens dependent on outer-in rational interpretation alone invariably separates the object of the text from its relational context and process. This reduces the ontology of the object-God by fragmenting the whole Object into its components (e.g., laws, promises, teachings, example, etc.) without whole knowledge and understanding of the object-God as communicator-Subject disclosing the whole of God for relationship together. The epistemic result is without the experiential truth of the object-subject God of what is written. This is the unequivocal relational consequence because engaging the Object of the text also as Subject is a function only of relationship.
In contrast, the hermeneutic of “a child” vulnerably engages in a relational epistemic process, not to be confused with subjectivism or fideism. This hermeneutic certainly does not eliminate reason but puts rational interpretation into congruence with its whole relational context and into compatibility with its whole relational process; thus it does not disembody the words from the author revealing object-God communicated from subject-God in relationship. For Paul, experiential truth must by its nature involve the relational epistemic process in which truth is beyond the reader as “subject” and is definitively found in the object-God of the text (notably confirmed in quantitative history). The reader cannot define and determine the object of the text without reducing the ontology and function of object-God; and involvement in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit is the conclusive means to disclaim reification by the reader. Yet, this does not complete the relational epistemic process for experiential truth.
It is vital not only to distinguish object-God from subject-reader but equally important to distinguish the subject-God who relationally communicates with subject-reader for relational involvement together in Subject-to-subject, face-to-face relationship. The reader as person cannot have relational connection with an object but only with the Subject whose reciprocal involvement can be experienced in relationship together. The relational epistemic process is complete with this reciprocal relational connection with the subject-object God through the Spirit, and the definitive relational outcome is the experiential truth of the whole of God’s ontology and function in relationship together as family. It is this experiential truth of the pleroma of God embodied for face-to-face relationship together that is the basis, by the Spirit, to further embody the ontology and function of the pleroma of Christ and, with the Spirit, to ongoingly constitute the whole ontology and function of the church. Nothing less and no substitutes than wholeness is the functional basis for Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology. Anything less and any substitutes, even in correct exegesis as propositional truth or rightly integrated for doctrinal truth, are a renegotiated ecclesiology signifying a reduced ontology and function of a gathering of epistemic and/or relational orphans.
Paul previously identified the church as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27; Col 1:24), yet his later dialogue on the church helps to distinguish this as nothing other than a metaphor for an organic structure and system. In Ephesians, however, Paul’s synesis (e.g., 3:4) provides the theological-functional clarity to distinguish the body of Christ beyond a metaphor of the church and makes functional the embodiment of the church’s ontology as the pleroma of Christ (1:23; 4:12-13; cf. his prayer, 3:16-19). Christ’s wholeness is the peace (cf. tamiym) which Paul’s epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction have illuminated to the churches throughout his letters (e.g., 1 Cor 7:15b; 14:33; Gal 6:16; Rom 14:19; Col 3:15). In contrast to a Greek emphasis on peace, this is not about the mere absence of conflict for Paul, despite the situations he was addressing in the churches. This peace is the presence of wholeness, even in situations of conflict, that only Jesus gives (Jn 14:27). Moreover, this is the wholeness those “in me” will have, Jesus declared (Jn 16:33); that is, the relational outcome “in Christ” Paul illuminated by the koinonia with Christ’s body and blood (1 Cor 10:16-17) and baptism in Christ’s death and resurrection through the Spirit (Rom 6:4; 8:11; 1 Cor 12:13)—the wholeness which Paul theologically and functionally clarifies in Ephesians (2:14-17; 4:3-6).
In full congruence, then, the whole ontology and function of the pleroma of God Jesus embodied in death and the Spirit raised whole in the resurrection is also participated in by those in Christ through the Spirit. The relational outcome of this participation together also embodies them in the whole ontology and function as the pleroma of Christ, in the image and likeness of the whole of God (Eph 4:24; cf. 2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29). From the convergence of these complex theological dynamics in Paul’s theological forest emerges this reciprocating relational dynamic of embodiment by the Spirit, in which the embodied pleroma of God is relationally extended in likeness not by a metaphor but by the definitive embodiment of the pleroma of Christ, that is, the embodied wholeness of the ontology and function of the church (1:9-10, 22-23).
What theological-functional clarity does Paul make definitive for the whole ontology and function of the church? First of all, that the body of Christ clearly is not a metaphor, a doctrine, a truth-claim or a confession of faith. This is the embodiment of the wholeness of the church’s ontology and function in likeness of the embodied whole ontology and function in the face of Christ. Thus, embodiment is not theoretical, an ideal or an intention. The embodied church of Christ is the experiential truth of the relational outcome ‘already’ and the ongoing functional reality in relational progression to ‘not yet’, both in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit. Therefore, the church is fully accountable to be whole in its ontology and function now. By its nature in the present, neither epistemic orphans without whole knowledge and understanding of who they are and whose they are, nor relational orphans with distance, detachment or separation in their relationships together can account for the embodiment of the pleroma of Christ. For Paul, anything less and any substitutes of whole ontology and function cannot embody pleroma ecclesiology, but only constitute a renegotiated ecclesiology of reduced ontology and function. Embodiment in likeness of the embodied pleroma of God is the initial function that Paul makes definitive for the church. This function is not optional for a church’s life and practice, nor is it reducible or negotiable. Embodiment in Paul’s ecclesiology is the key for the emergence of the church.
What emerges in this embodiment that distinguishes it clearly from all other church life and practice? Embodiment should not be confused with simply an incarnational notion. Just as the incarnation of the pleroma of God is constituted in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, so is embodiment. That is, embodiment is conjointly whole ontology irreducible to human shaping and construction and whole function nonnegotiable to human terms from human contextualization, including of culture and other contextual aspects. The embodiment of the pleroma of Christ, by its very nature, is defined and determined by only the combined transformation of ‘who the church is’ to its ontology in the qualitative image of the holy God, and of ‘whose the church is’ to its function in the relational likeness of the whole and holy God. This transformed identity of ‘who and whose the church is’ is the new creation of God’s family, which emerges only by the reciprocal relational presence, involvement and work of the Spirit. Embodiment of the church, therefore, is only the new creation; otherwise, its ontology and function cannot be in likeness to the embodied pleroma of God, as Paul clearly distinguished (4:23-24; cf. Rom 8:29). This ontology and function can be rendered at best as just an ontological simulation by relational orphans and an epistemological illusion by epistemic orphans; but relational-epistemic orphans in the church neither can constitute nor do they signify the whole ontology and function of the church in pleroma ecclesiology.
The transformation to the new creation that is necessary to embody the pleroma of Christ involves both individual persons and relationships. In Paul’s theological forest, the theological dynamics of this transformation process are made functional by the Spirit, and thus the transformation of persons and relationships is inseparable from the reciprocal relational involvement of the Spirit. For Paul, the Spirit is simply indispensable for the embodiment of the church to emerge in whole ontology and function.
Paul reviews first the transformation of persons to whole ontology and function (Eph 2:1-10). The sin of reductionism prevailed in reduced human ontology and function, to which God’s thematic relational action of grace responded in agape involvement for the redemptive change necessary from reduced to whole ontology and function. The process from reductionism to wholeness involves the theological-functional dynamic of equalization, integration and reconciliation, or what I simply call redemptive reconciliation.
The redemptive change from old to new involves freeing human persons from being defined and determined by reductionism. The sin of reductionism reduces human ontology and function to be defined and determined from the outer in, for example, by what persons do and/or have. This fragments human persons and enslaves human integrity, worth and identity to these reductionist criteria, to which are ascribed human distinctions not only fragmenting but stratifying human persons as ‘better or less’. Enslavement to reductionism is redeemed by God, and persons entrenched in better-or-less distinctions are equalized before God, which frees them from fragmentation to be integrated and made whole in ontology and function. Transformed persons are equalized persons who have been freed from reductionism. Yet, transformed persons are not just free persons who have been equalized before God but who also have been equalized as persons with each other. Thus, the nature of their relationships together necessarily also undergoes redemptive change. Transformed persons have not only been saved from reductionism but they are also irreducibly and nonegotiably saved to wholeness together. In other words, being equalized from better-or-less distinctions conjointly and inseparably integrates persons to whole ontology and function and then reconciles those transformed persons into equalized relationships in order to transform their relationships together—just as Paul previously qualified for redeemed persons (Gal 5:1,13; 6:15-16; cf. 1 Cor 8:1).
The embodiment of the pleroma of Christ involves the transformation to the new creation in likeness of God, which necessitates transformed persons relationally involved in transformed relationship together for the church’s whole ontology and function. The whole function aspect of this new creation, that Paul identified as the outcome of persons being equalized, is not merely the work of individual persons but also necessitates the collective function of persons together in relationship (Eph 2:10); this is the function that Paul qualifies as ontology and function in likeness of the whole and holy God (4:24). Paul continues to illuminate the collective function of the church in order to be whole and distinguished from the common of human contextualization (2:11-22).
Transformed persons are equalized persons who are relationally involved in transformed relationships, which clearly necessitate equalized relationships (2:11-13). Paul makes equalized relationships together in the church the relational imperative for the whole function of the church to be compatible and congruent with the wholeness that Christ himself embodied only for the embodiment of the church to be whole (pleroma) in equalized relationships together (2:14-17). In the transformation process to the new creation, the relational purpose of its theological dynamic of redemption and integration is reconciliation. Without equalized relationships in the church, relationships together are not transformed to whole relationships together, thus they still labor in the fragmentation of persons and relationships defined by stratifying better-or-less distinctions (2:15-16)—distinctions which totally nullify God’s relational response of grace in Paul’s ecclesiology (2:8-9). God’s grace demands the loss of human distinctions to be in relationship with God as well as the elimination of the influence from distinctions to be in whole relationship with each other.
Without the transformed relationships of equalized relationships, what the church is saved from has lost its functional significance for what it is saved to; in addition, the gospel that Paul made definitive has lost the relational significance of what the church is saved to (3:6). This is the gospel of wholeness/peace (6:15) basic to what Jesus embodied and constitutes for the embodiment of the whole church (3:6). Therefore, equalized relationships together are neither optional for church function nor negotiable for its embodiment. The only alternative is reductionism, which fragments church ontology and function by its counter-relational work, notably and inevitably promoting better-or-less distinctions, even under the guise of spiritual gifts and leadership roles (as Paul will clarify, 4:11-16).
Just as embodiment of the whole ontology and function of the pleroma of Christ should not be confused with a conventional notion of incarnational, the transformation of the church’s ontology and function should not be confused with an increasingly common usage of the notion “transformational.” Paul continues to illuminate the transformed relationships embodying the church’s whole ontology and function, and, as he does, transformed relationships are taken deeper than equalized relationships (2:18-22). Though equalized relationships are necessary to constitute the transformed relationship for the church, they are not sufficient by themselves to complete the transformed relationships involved in the whole relationships together of God’s new creation family.
Transformed relationships are relationships both with God and with each other together as family. While transformed persons are equalized persons before God, they are not in equalized relationship with the whole and holy God. Nevertheless they have a unique relationship with God to participate in God’s life. This unique involvement more deeply signifies the transformed relationships necessary together with God and with each other to be whole as God’s new creation family and the pleroma of Christ. Paul initially defines this unique relational involvement as having “access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18). The term for access (prosagoge) was used for an audience granted to someone lesser by high officials and monarchs; it comes from prosago, to bring near. This involved not merely an open door but the opportunity to interact with someone greater. Access for Paul goes deeper than this notion. He defines further the nature of this relational involvement with the Father as access “to God in boldness and confidence” (3:12). “Boldness” (parresia) involves to speak all that one thinks, feels, that is, with “confidence” (pepoithesis, trust). This trust to share one’s person openly with the Father points clearly to an intimate involvement, not merely having access to the Father. This is the intimate connection which Paul previously defined for those who have been equalized to be relationally involved with Abba as his very own daughters and sons, and the connection which makes functional their relational belonging and ontological identity (Gal 4:4-7; Rom 8:15). Access to the Father, therefore, involves this intimate relationship together in which the whole of God is relationally involved by family love in being family together (2:4,22); and this intimate reciprocal involvement is reinforced by Paul’s prayer for specifically knowing God in their hearts (1:17-18; 3:16-19).
Just as important as equalized relationships for church ontology and function is this involvement in intimate relationships together with each other. Together is not a static condition but the dynamic function of relationship. The transformation of equalized relationships provides the equal opportunity without the distance or separation of stratified relations for whole relationship together to develop, but intimate relationship is the function that opens persons to each other from inner out for their hearts to fully come together as the new creation in likeness of the whole of God (4:24-25,32; 5:1-2, 18a-21). Intimate relationships functionally reconcile persons who have had the distance and separation in relationships removed by equalization. Moreover, intimate relationships go deeper than just occupying time, space and activities together, even as equal persons, and take involvement to the depth of agape relational involvement in likeness of the pleroma of God (3:19; 5:1-2; cf. Col 3:14). Agape is not about what to do in relation to others but how to be relationally involved with others; and agape relational involvement goes beyond sacrifice for deeper intimate relationships together—just as Jesus vulnerably disclosed in relationship together with the Father and vulnerably embodied in relationship together with us (Jn 15:9; 17:23,26).
The experiential truth of the ontological identity of God’s new creation family depends on the function of these intimate relationships together. There is no alternative or substitute for intimate relationships which can bring persons into whole relationship together to embody God’s family. For Paul, being together is inseparable from relationship and is irreducible from the function of these relationships. Relationally belonging to each other in one body emerges only from the transformation to intimate relationships together. Relational belonging should not be confused with “belonging” to a church-group, nor should ontological identity be mistaken for church-organizational identity. Despite any cohesion of “belonging” and strength of identity in the latter, they are just simulations or illusions of the relational bond constituted only by transformed intimate relationships together (cf. 4:3).
Paul conjoins these intimate relationships together with the necessary equalized relationships in a dynamic interaction to complete the transformed relationships together for the embodiment of the whole ontology and function of the church. These conjoint-transformed relationships in wholeness embodies “a holy temple…a dwelling place” for the whole of God’s intimate relational involvement (2:19-22; cf. Jn 14:23). In Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology, the whole ontology and function of the church can be constituted only by transformed persons agape-relationally involved in transformed relationships together; and transformed relationships are constituted only by the conjoint function of equalized and intimate relationships together. Therefore, church ontology and function is this new creation in likeness of the whole and holy God, nothing less and no substitutes. And the function of these transformed relationships together, both equalized and intimate, distinguish the church unequivocally as God’s new creation family, and those who relationally belong in this definitive ontological identity are clearly distinct from any other church gathering of relational and epistemic orphans. Most importantly, this relational dynamic and outcome of wholeness emerges entirely by the ongoing reciprocal relational involvement of the Spirit (2:18,22; 4:3-4; cf. Tit 3:5), which is why the Spirit’s person is grieved by reduced ontology and function in the church (the context of 4:30).
Embodying the whole ontology and function of the pleroma of Christ in transformed relationship together is a relational function only in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. The wholeness of God defines and determines who the church is and whose the church is. Yet, having this relational clarity of wholeness together is one issue for the church, and living its functional significance in wholeness together is a further issue ongoing in church life and practice. That is, for the church to be whole is one matter, and for the church to live whole as well as make whole is another matter; even so, for Paul these functions are inseparably interrelated in God’s new creation family. This ongoing issue for the church further amplifies the tension and conflict between wholeness and reductionism, which Paul continues to address in his ecclesiology.
As the embodiment of the church’s whole ontology and function emerges, reductionism and its counter-relational work increasingly seeks to exert more indirect and subtle influence to define and determine church life and practice with ontological simulations and epistemological illusions which Paul illuminated previously to the church at Corinth (2 Cor 11:12-15). In the further theological-functional clarity Paul illuminates in his pleroma ecclesiology, the functional significance of the church is never assumed but is a relational imperative ongoing for church life and practice in wholeness together. What is this functional significance and how does its dynamic work for wholeness?
When Paul defines the church as being reconciled in one body (Eph 2:16) and as equalized persons relationally belonging to God’s family (oikeios, 2:19), this oikodome (church family not church building) is further defined as being “joined together” (2:21). Paul is providing further theological-functional clarity to his previous dialogue on the church (1 Cor 12:12-31; Rom 12:5). His earlier relational discourse appears to describe an organic or organizational structure of the church whose parts are interrelated and function in interdependence. Paul deepens the understanding of interrelated parts in interdependence by further defining the relational dynamic involved to make this function in wholeness together (4:16).
This oikodome is dynamic, not static, and by its dynamic nature necessitates ongoing growth (“building up,” oikodome) for the embodiment of the church’s whole ontology and function as the pleroma of Christ, as Paul illuminates (4:12-13). The dynamic of oikodome both defines the church family in joint interrelations together, and determines how church family interrelations function in the interdependence necessary for embodying wholeness in its ontology and function. In Paul’s ecclesiology, oikodome is relationship-specific to the church as family, not as a religious group or organization (2:22), and, therefore, the dynamic of oikodome is functionally significant in only the depth of its relational involvement together, not to the extent of its working relations (4:15-16,25). This points to two contrasting ways interrelatedness is defined and interdependence is determined. These distinctions are critical to understand and ongoingly are essential to make because each involves a different church ontology and function, with different perceptions of human ontology and function. Not surprisingly for Paul, this difference involves the contrast between wholeness and reductionism.
Oikodome is rooted ‘in Christ’ and thus embodies Christ’s wholeness (1:23; 2:21). The dynamic of oikodome is a function of the dynamic of wholeness in ontology and function, conjointly of whole persons and whole persons in whole relationship together (i.e., transformed persons in transformed relationships together). Thus, the interrelations of oikodome are constituted only by whole/transformed persons in whole/transformed relationships together. Reductionism more likely does not blatantly fragment these whole interrelations, for example, as Paul encountered between Jew and Gentile, but more subtly redefines ontology and function for person and church to create distance, detachment or separation in church relations and thereby making relationships together fragmentary. This is effectively accomplished by defining persons from outer in by what they do/have, creating better-or-less distinctions in stratified relations which prevent deeper relational involvement (cf. 4:2). This is accomplished in a more subtle yet insidious way when church leaders and church members define themselves by their roles and/or gifts and relate to each other in the church based on their roles or gifts, all for the work of ministry for building up the church. This may work for group cohesion or organizational identity in building up a gathering but it signifies a reduced ontology and function for both person and church. This is not the work “created in Christ Jesus” that Paul means for the church (2:10). Such practice is a major misinterpretation of Paul’s ecclesiology, which does not have the relational outcome he defined for whole church interrelations and their function in interdependence (4:11-13).
In Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology, the functional significance of church ontology and function emerges as the church lives “created according to the likeness of God” (4:24). The church, for Paul, is the Father’s new creation family embodied in Christ and raised up by the Spirit in the relational likeness of this whole of God, who dwells intimately present and agape-relationally involved. If not created and functioning in this likeness, church becomes a gathering of human shaping or construction in likeness of some aspect of human contextualization, which then often reifies its ontological simulations and epistemological illusions as the body of Christ.
Paul was no trinitarian in his theological development, yet his monotheism went beyond the knowledge and understanding of the Shema in Judaism. His experiential truth of Jesus and the Spirit in ongoing relationship together gave him whole knowledge and understanding of the whole of God. The relational and functional significance of Paul’s whole God constituted him as a new creation in God’s family and provided the basis for the church as God’s new creation family to be in the relational likeness of this whole of God whom he himself has experienced. The church in likeness of the whole of God was not a theological construct in Paul’s ecclesiology, the concept of which has growing interest in modern theology, of course, as the church in likeness of the Trinity. Yet, Paul’s understanding of the church’s likeness emerged from engagement in the relational epistemic process with the whole of God, the synesis (whole knowledge and understanding) of which appears to elude many of his readers.
In pleroma ecclesiology, church ontology and function in likeness of the whole of God is not a construct but the embodiment of a relational dynamic which emerges from whole relational involvement together with both God and each other. The embodiment of the interrelations of transformed/whole persons in these transformed/whole relationships is functionally significant only as it emerges in relational likeness to the whole of God’s relationships within the Godhead (cf. Col 2:9-10; 3:10-11). The interrelations within the whole of God between the Father, the Son and the Spirit can best (not totally) be defined as intimate relationship to the depth that, as Jesus disclosed, to see the Son is to see the Father, to know the Son is to know the Father (Jn 14:9; 17:26); and their intimate relationship functions together in the dynamic interaction of interdependence to the further depth that, as Jesus promised and the Father fulfilled, the Spirit’s person will be his relational replacement so that his followers would not be reduced to orphans, but by the Spirit’s relational presence and involvement the Father and the Son will be also and they all will be intimately involved together as family (Jn 14:18,23; 15:26; 16:14-15). Paul was further illuminating this intimate interrelationship together in interdependence in his letters, which he develops theologically and functionally in pleroma ecclesiology for the embodiment of the church’s whole ontology and function. In trinitarian theology, this relational dynamic of God is inadequately described as perichoresis, tending to be overly conceptual.
The interdependence within the whole of God can only be understood to the extent that God has disclosed his ontology and function. In Paul’s theological systemic framework and forest, his experiential truth centered on the function Jesus embodied and on the overlapping and extended function the Spirit enacted, both of which the Father initiated and ongoingly functions to oversee. Paul’s connection to each of them appears to be in their specific functions, which seem to overlap and interact yet remain unique to each of them. (How this is perceived and interpreted has theological implications or repercussions depending on the interpretive framework of Paul’s readers—to be discussed further in the next chapter.)
Interacting functions in themselves, however, do not account for the dynamic of the trinitarian Persons’ whole relationship together, which underlies each of their functions and which integrates their uniqueness into the whole they constitute together, the whole of God. The ontology and function of God’s whole relationship together lives also in interdependence. In this dynamic, any distinctions of their unique functions are rendered secondary; and such distinctions should not be used to define each of them or to determine their position in the Godhead. As vulnerably disclosed, the Father, the Son and the Spirit are irreducibly defined and inseparably determined only by whole relationship together, and this relational dynamic functions in various involvements with human contextualization to enact, embody and complete the whole of God’s thematic relational response to make whole the human condition, that is, to save both from reductionism and to wholeness together. To highlight their distinctions, for example, by being overly christocentric, simply binitarian, or even gender-specific, is to diminish the whole of God’s ontology and to fragment the whole of God’s function.
Paul grasped their whole relationship together as the experiential truth of the whole of God relationally undifferentiated. His synesis of this relationally whole God was the theological-functional basis for the church’s whole ontology and function to be embodied in likeness (Eph 4:4-6). Anything less or any substitute is neither in relational likeness to the whole of God, nor, therefore, embodies the intimate interrelationships together in interdependence to grow in the wholeness of the pleroma of Christ (4:12b-13).
The ontology and function of whole relationships together, either for God or the church, lives in interdependence, which for the church is the relational outcome and ongoing dynamic of transformed persons relationally involved in transformed relationships together. Church interdependence in likeness of the whole of God’s interdependence enters a critical condition when it shifts from being a function of transformed/whole relationships together. In an early letter, Paul warned against such a shift as he described this interdependence for the fragmented church at Corinth (1 Cor 12:12-31). This interdependence of the individual parts involved the connections together which resulted in covariation between the individual parts; moreover, if the parts are properly connected together, the implied result would be synergism in which the whole becomes greater than the sum of its individual parts (12:25-26). To what Paul points to constitute that connection is the relational involvement of agape (12:31). In another letter, Paul provided the theological clarification needed to define the transformed relationships together as the basis for church interdependence (Rom 12:3-16). Both of these church scenarios struggled with the influence of reductionism and its counter-relational work affecting their relationships together.
Reductionism, however, is often not as blatant as at the church in Corinth. As noted earlier, it is often more indirect and subtle, for example, involving assimilation into human contextualization as existed perhaps in the Roman church (cf. Rom 12:2). The norms prevailing in the surrounding context are in their function mainly how reductionism affects church relationships together in general and church interdependence in particular. For example, when the norm for defining persons is based on what roles they perform and/or resources they have, this determines how relationships function, which affects a church’s interrelations together and, subsequently, affects church interdependence. Cultural models of family, social models of group relations, organizational and business models of interdependence, all influence a church’s interrelations together and its interdependence, with substitutes for the relational likeness of God. Furthermore, norms of individualism and individual freedom foster the independence which strain and weaken church relationships together and counter church interdependence, thus redefining, reshaping and reconstructing what it means to be created in the likeness of God.
Reductionism defines a church and explains church function by the behavior of its individuals and their resources. A church, therefore, becomes the sum of its individuals; church interdependence is thus no longer the relational outcome of relationships together with the Spirit but a byproduct at the mercy of individuals. The shift from top-down and inner out to bottom-up and outer in is subtle. In the church today, synergism has been replaced by individualism, and church interdependence has been renegotiated to church dependence on the individual’s terms—in contrast to Paul’s relational imperative for the church (Eph 4:2,15-16; cf. Col 3:10-15). Independence is the reductionist alternative to interdependence and, intentionally or unintentionally, serves as the functional substitute for it, with freedom as its identity marker. This was a major issue which Paul was fighting against, making epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction, even in that collective-oriented sociocultural context (e.g., Gal 5:1,13; Rom 12:3; Phil 2:1-4; 1 Cor 4:7; 8:1,9). Even modern neuroscience recognizes that interdependence is the natural state for human persons, and that independence is a political notion, not a scientific one.
Paul challenged the renegotiated ecclesiology of churches in reduced ontology and function, and also challenged the assumptions of theological anthropology underlying the definition of the person and its determination of relationships together in reductionist terms. Both of these conditions existed in churches apart from, in contrast to, or in conflict with the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God. Paul’s challenges to such reductionism are summarized in his response to make relationally specific the functional significance of pleroma ecclesiology (Eph 4:14-25). His theological-functional clarity of this functional significance is directly connected to and emerges from his dialogue on the theological dynamic of church ontology (4:7-13).
For the ontological identity of the church to be of functional significance, it cannot be shaped or constructed by human terms from human contextualization. In Paul’s ecclesiology, the church in wholeness is the new creation by the whole of God’s relational response of grace (“was given grace”) from above top-down, the dynamic of which (“descended…ascended”) Christ relationally embodied to make each one of us together to be God’s whole (“he might fill all things,” pleroo, make complete, 4:7-10; cf. 1:23). This is the church in wholeness embodying the pleroma of Christ. In God’s relational response of grace, Christ also gave the relational means to church leaders for the dynamic embodiment of the church (4:11), which Paul previously defined also as part of the Spirit’s relational involvement to share different charisma from the whole (not a fragmented source) for the functional significance of the church body (1 Cor 12:4-11). Paul illuminates this further to make definitive the functional significance of embodying of the church in relational likeness to the whole and holy God.
Church leaders are given the relational means for the purpose “to equip the saints” (katartismos from katartizo, to put into proper condition, to restore to former condition, make complete, 4:12). This directly points to the dynamic of transformed persons reconciled and relationally involved in transformed relationships together in relational likeness to God, and integrated in interdependence of the various church functions (“work of ministry”) necessary for the dynamic embodying (oikodome, 4:12) of the church’s whole ontology and function of “the pleroma of Christ” (4:13). This means unequivocally: For church leaders to be of functional significance, their persons must be defined by the wholeness of the new creation in the qualitative image of God from inner out, not defined by their gifts, resources or the roles and titles they have which reduce their persons to outer in; and for their leadership to be functionally significant as transformed persons, their function must be determined by agape relational involvement in transformed relationships together (both equalized and intimate) as God’s new creation family in the relational likeness of the whole of God, not determined by the titles and roles they perform (even with sacrifice) which make distinctions, intentionally or unintentionally creating distance and stratification in relationships together. The latter practices by church leaders renegotiate ecclesiology from bottom-up based on a theological anthropology from outer in.
In Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology, church leaders in reduced ontology and function are not created or living new in the image and likeness of God and, therefore, cannot katartismos others in the interdependence necessary to be of functional significance for embodying the church in relational likeness of the whole and holy God. Nor can they proclaim the experiential truth of the gospel of wholeness (Eph 6:15). Only transformed leaders—whose persons are ongoingly being restored to the image and likeness of God (anakainoo, Col 3:10-11; cf. ananeoomai, Eph 4:23)—vulnerably involved in transformed relationships together with the Spirit can help make complete the saints—that is, katarismos emerges from conjoint interaction with anakainoo. Only whole leaders relationally serve to make complete the saints in the interdependence that is functionally significant for the church’s whole function: to dynamically embody (oikodome) the pleroma of Christ until all those relationally belonging to God’s family come to (katantao, reach, arrive) be together as one (herotes, unity), that is, whole in their relational response of trust in reciprocal relationship together and whole in specifically knowing (epignosis) the Son of God in intimate relationship, the relational outcome of which is persons without distinctions (beyond aner) who are wholly complete (teleios) in the qualitative depth (helikia, stature) of the pleroma embodied by Christ, therefore who together with the Spirit can embody the pleroma of Christ in functional significance of the relational likeness of the whole of God (4:12-13).
Paul is not outlining an ecclesial function of church growth models, missional models or any other ministry techniques of serving for the quantitative expansion of gatherings shaped or constructed by human terms. Paul makes definitive the theological paradigm for the whole function embodying the church’s ontology and function of who the church is and whose the church is as God’s new creation family in his qualitative image and relational likeness. This paradigm is the theological dynamic of church ontology, whose function is entirely relational and whose whole ontology and function is the functional significance of just transformed persons agape-relationally involved in transformed relationships together in interdependence, the definitive paradigm especially for its leaders (discussed further in chap. 10).
It is unequivocal in Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology that the church in relational likeness of the whole of God is irreplaceable for the functional significance of its ontology and function. For the church’s ontology and function to be whole as God’s new creation family, it must (dei not opheilo) be the functional significance of both transformed relationships reconciled together and intimate interrelations integrated together in interdependence; and both of these are functionally significant only in agape relational involvement. Church whole relationships together are reconciled together by Christ with the Spirit, thus are by their nature irreducible; and its integrated relational outcome of church interdependence in relational likeness to the whole of God is nonnegotiable. Interdependent is how God created his new creation family, as well as created the whole human family in relationship together (cf. Gen 2:18) and integrated all of creation (cf. Col 1:20; Rom 8:19-21). Just as modern neuroscience affirms this interdependence and acknowledges the influence of reductionism to counter it, the whole ontology and function of the church embodies the functional significance of this new creation to fulfill the inherent human relational need and to solve the human problem—which neuroscience can merely identify without good news for its fulfillment and resolution. Yet, the church in renegotiated ecclesiology is also without both the functional significance of the good news of what persons are and its relational significance of what persons can be saved to.
Renegotiated ecclesiology may be considered to be pragmatic by some of Paul’s readers, even a necessary reality. On the other hand, pleroma ecclesiology may be perceived as “just theological” by his readers, perhaps an ideal not attainable in practice. Many of his readers may even argue that some of Paul’s prescriptions for the church (e.g., about women and slaves) appear to be pragmatic ecclesiology, thus that he either contradicted his theology or suspended its ideal. While there seems to be ambiguity in some of his church prescriptions, the issue in understanding the whole of Paul and the whole in his ecclesiology is about the perception of what context Paul is speaking from, not the context he is speaking in and to. Renegotiated or pragmatic ecclesiology is based on human contextualization and shaped by human terms. Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology emerges from God’s relational context and process and is defined and determined by God’s terms through reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit—terms irreducible by the nature of the whole of God and nonnegotiable by the nature of the holy God. In his prescriptions for the church, Paul is speaking from God’s relational context and process. Therefore, Paul’s prescriptions need to be seen in the strategic interest and concern of pleroma ecclesiology and must not be confused with or reduced to renegotiated ecclesiology for pragmatics. His prescriptions involve a tactical shift advocated by Paul which points to the strategic concerns of God’s relational whole on God’s terms to fulfill and complete God’s thematic relational response to the human condition.
The church is God’s new creation family which fulfills the inherent human relational need. The embodiment of church ontology and function can be either reduced ontology and function based on the perception of pragmatics and/or a necessary reality. Or it can be whole ontology and function constituted by being transformed from old to new in the likeness of the whole and holy God. Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology makes the latter the functional imperative, not an obligatory moral imperative, by the nature of wholeness together being the only solution to the human problem that can fulfill the inherent human relational need. Moreover, by the nature of wholeness, pleroma ecclesiology cannot be reduced in its ontology of the church or be renegotiated in its function of the church and still have the functional significance for the human problem and the relational significance for the inherent human need. This is the gospel of wholeness by which the church was constituted and in which it must be congruent for the church to claim ontological identity and relational belonging with the whole of God (Eph 2:14-22; 6:15).
When Paul said “Live as children of light” (Eph 5:8), he gave both a functional imperative and a relational imperative for embodying the church. Here Paul is defining neither an obligation (or duty, opheilo) nor a moral-ethical framework, as the context of this verse may suggest (particularly for women and slaves). Rather, Paul is further illuminating what is necessary (dei) by the nature of the ontological identity of who the church is and whose the church is—that is, the ontology of the church in wholeness of those relationally belonging in God’s new creation family. This is made necessary not by a theological construct of light but by the experiential truth of the Light in reciprocal relational involvement with Christ together with the Spirit, just as Jesus vulnerably disclosed (Jn 8:12) and relationally embodied in the whole ontology and function of his face (2 Cor 4:6). Paul makes definitive that in face-to-face involvement with Christ in relationship together, “you are light” (Eph 5:8; cf. Mt 5:14) because God has shone “in our hearts” (2 Cor 4:6) to transform our ontology and function into the image and likeness of the whole of God (2 Cor 3:18; 5:17; Col 3:10) and now relationally belong to the family of the Light (1 Thes 5:5). For Paul personally, theologically and functionally, this is the experiential truth of “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). On the basis of this experiential truth, therefore, Paul is decisive, that by the nature of the church’s new and whole ontology it is functionally and relationally imperative to “Live as children of the ontology of the light,” no longer in the old ontology and function of darkness. Paul is unequivocal because the church’s ontology in whole relationship together is the functional and relational significance of relationally belonging wholly in family ‘already’ as “children of light…not of darkness” in relational progression to ‘not yet’ (1 Thes 5:5, in its context of eschatological concerns).
The imagery of light and darkness is unlike a traditional dualism between good and evil. For Paul, light and darkness involve the dynamic of wholeness in ontology and function and the only alternative, reductionism, which is anything less and any substitute of wholeness. “Darkness” is both an ontological condition and a relational condition, the full significance of which cannot be limited to quantitative conditions or described simply as evil. Darkness-reductionism encompasses the prevailing ontology and function of human contextualization “in which you once lived, following the course of this world” (Eph 2:2), that is, the counterproductive efforts (“unfruitful works”) of reductionism which need to be exposed, confronted and convicted (elencho, 5:11). This can only happen when light engages the darkness (5:13-14). Not to live in the ontology as light, however, is to diminish or minimalize the light by the influence of darkness, that is, by reductionism (cf. Mt 5:14-16), for which Paul makes epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction in order to embody the church’s whole ontology and function. The imperatives in Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology are for the church to live whole, God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms, in the midst of reductionism surrounding it, and to make whole any reductionism, both within itself and in the world.
Paul further illuminates the light in pleroma ecclesiology because in Paul’s theological forest the light’s ontology and function emerged from the pleroma of God in pleroma Christology for pleroma soteriology with pleroma pneumatology to be embodied whole as the pleroma of Christ in pleroma ecclesiology. Furthermore, since these theological dynamics of the light in wholeness are clearly distinguished from any reduced ontology and function in darkness, the light’s whole ontology and function in church life and practice becomes more easily recognized in contrast to reductionism in darkness. The light’s contrast, however, presupposes whole ontology and function; otherwise, the church’s light can no longer claim to be different from reductionism, and thus not be recognizable either within the church or in the world.
“You are light” supposes only an inner-out ontology (2 Cor 4:6; cf. metamorphoo, Rom 12:2) that cannot function from outer in to give just the appearance of light (cf. “angel of light” of reduced ontology and function, metaschematizo, 2 Cor 11:14). Paul made it definitive that the light constituted in these persons’ hearts illuminates the glory of God’s qualitative being and relational nature in the whole ontology and function of Christ’s face, thus this light can only be whole ontology in likeness of God’s; and that light’s inner-out whole function can be at best only simulated by outer in function from reductionism, as with “an angel of light” and “ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor 11:14-15). Any outer-in simulations and illusions of light happen when light is disconnected from its source, because light is neither an energy nor ethereal and must not be disembodied from the Light. “In the Lord you are light” Paul said clearly. When Jesus disclosed his embodiment of the light, he also made clear a contingency about light. Those who have his embodied light are only “whoever follows me” (Jn 8:12). This is not, however, a discipleship of merely following his teachings or example—which commonly get disembodied from his person—but of following “me, my whole person,” who embodied the pleroma of God only for relationship together (Col 1:19-20; 2:9-10). Church leaders and any person wanting to serve Christ must first “follow me” in relationship together, as Jesus made imperative in a paradigm for serving (Jn 12:26)—which Peter learned the hard way (Jn 21:22), and Paul points to (Eph 5:10).
In other words, Paul’s emphatic message is “you are light” only on the basis of your whole ontology from inner out, signified by the function of your heart following Jesus’ person in relationship together with the whole of God. For the functional imperative “live as children of light” to be functionally significant, it must by its nature (dei), and not by obligation or duty (opheilo), be the embodiment of whole relationship together as God’s new creation family. Moreover, Paul conjoins other imperatives to support this primary one of embodying the whole ontology and function of the church: “discern, distinguish and determine [dokimazo] what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:10); “Be careful then how you live both within the church and in the surrounding context…making the most of the time,” that is, exagorazo, “redeem from reductionism in these days of opportunity” (kairos, not chronos, 5:15-16); and most importantly, “be made complete [pleroo] with the Spirit” (5:18).
Paul is emphatic with these imperatives in order for the embodiment of church ontology and function to be whole, as light in the darkness, in wholeness in the midst of reductionism. He is also decisive because he never underestimates the surrounding influence of reductionism (“the days exist in the sin of reductionism,” 5:16), and the persistence of its author (6:16) and its subtle presence within the church (2 Cor 11:14-15). Yet, he is not pontificating about church life and practice and legislating relationships together, nor does he prescribe anything less and any substitutes of what the whole of Jesus relationally embodied for the experiential truth of the whole gospel—the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ’s whole ontology and function (2 Cor 4:4), the gospel of wholeness (Eph 6:15). In his conjoint fight for this gospel and against any and all reductionism, Paul is not apologetic about pleroma ecclesiology. The only embodiment the Spirit raises up with the embodied pleroma of God is God’s new creation family, the church, the pleroma of Christ (Rom 8:11,14-15; Eph 1:23).
Wholeness is not optional in Paul’s ecclesiology. Wholeness is the basis for pleroma ecclesiology, which is constituted by the embodied pleroma of God himself, who “is our wholeness…making wholeness…proclaimed wholeness” (Eph 2:14-18). Therefore, by the nature of God’s wholeness, church wholeness is irreducible in its ontology and nonnegotiable in its function. Pleroma ecclesiology accounts for, signifies and constitutes nothing less and no substitutes. And for the church to live whole has inescapable implications for church life and practice.
With wholeness no longer being optional for the church and thus no longer reducible in church life and negotiable in church practice, there emerge further implications for its ontological identity and relational belonging which are vital to understand for church life and practice.
In Ephesians, Paul illuminates pleroma ecclesiology. Yet he was not engaging in a conventional theological task but, rather, the experiential truth constituting the heart of who the church is and whose the church is as the pleroma of Christ. In the either-or dynamic between wholeness and reductionism, there are ongoing distinctions to be made and maintained for the church to embody its ontological identity. His theological dynamic of church ontology (4:7-13) is prefaced by this concern (4:1-6). Part of his concern can be understood in terms that the church not experience identity loss or even identity theft. Thus, Paul is engaging the church directly in God’s relational process of family love (from his earlier prayer, 3:18-19) for the transformed relationships together of ‘who the church is’ necessary to be ‘whose whole family they are’: “lead a life corresponding to [axios], in congruence with, the klesis to which you have been called” (4:1). Klesis can mean call or vocation, either of which signifies the identity of the church that needs to be clearly distinguished and ongoingly lived in correspondence, congruence (axios).
The implication here is that clarity of the church’s ontological identity depends on two dynamics which must be engaged: (1) making the functional distinction of the whole integrity of who and whose the church is in church life together, and (2) maintaining and ongoingly living this relational distinction of wholeness together both within itself and in the surrounding context—“making every effort…in the bond of wholeness…one body and one Spirit…one hope of your identity [klesis], one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (4:3-6).
Moreover, Paul was relationally involved with churches whose surrounding context was the dominant Greco-Roman world, within the pervading ancient Mediterranean world. The further implication is that making and maintaining the distinction of the church’s whole identity in these surrounding conditions necessitates having a minority identity. That is, a minority identity signifies persons and persons together (“saints,” hagios, holy, uncommon, 5:3) who are not distinguished by the ordinary, common, normative practices of the surrounding context, that which Paul has been identifying and detailing as sins of reductionism—which Paul’s readers should neither limit to his specifics nor assume are the same for all surrounding contexts. Paul is not focused on moral purity and having a glorified status in an elite position with the notion of saints. A minority identity is hagios, uncommon, not common. Therefore, how the church lives in the surrounding context must not be with a bifocal identity (primary identity defined by human contextualization, secondary identity defined by God’s context), a hybrid identity (crossbreeding both), or with any form of pluralistic identity in mutual coexistence without the distinction of its ontological significance. These identities are reductionist substitutes which cannot make and maintain the necessary distinction for the whole integrity of who and whose the church is. This distinct identity of wholeness is easily lost or “taken” from the church (identity theft) in the common of the surrounding context, which is less about the Greco-Roman and ancient Mediterranean worlds and more about reductionism. This does not imply that the church’s ontological identity of wholeness is separated, isolated or disengaged from the surrounding context, but that how the church can be involved in it and maintain its primary identity is a function only of wholeness, which is a function of its relationships together.
If the church does not conjointly make the functional distinction of the whole integrity of its ontological identity and ongoingly live the relational distinction of its wholeness in relationships together, the church no longer embodies the whole ontology and function of God’s new creation family. The relational consequence is various forms of ekklesia, gatherings not family, to which epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction are directed for the church’s wholeness within itself and in the surrounding context. The relational consequence of the loss of wholeness is not a conclusion Paul shaped from his own thought. Jesus already made definitive the consequence for the new creation by mixing the new with the old (Mk 2:21-22; Lk 5:36-38).
The ontological identity of
God’s whole and holy family can only by its nature of wholeness
be in congruence with its klesis when the church lives
whole in the surrounding context in order to make whole in the
world. Anything less and any substitutes lack distinction for
the three critical issues unavoidably involved in all church
practice, for which each of its members in the body and members
together are accountable, just as Paul himself accounted for in
his own life and practice:
1. The integrity and significance of what and whom the church/members present of themselves to others in the surrounding context (e.g., prepo, “fitting” our identity, or not, Eph 5:3).
2. The quality of their communication while in their presentation of self to others and the message it communicates to them (e.g., morologia, “foolish talk,” which includes style and content of broad spectrum of speech essentially without depth of significance, thus reductionist communication with “empty words,” kenos, lacking content or hollow, 5:6; also, e.g., eutrapelia, “coarse talk,” wittiness that essentially uses one’s speech to draw attention to oneself and promotes one’s knowledge, self-interest or other self-concern [cf. 1 Cor 8:1]; in contrast, e.g., to “thanksgiving” that does not focus on or revolve around oneself but is relationally communicating involvement with others, 5:4).
3. The depth level of relational involvement the church/members engage with their communication while in what/whom they present of themselves to others—a level of involvement, for example, from the outer in without the primacy of inner out involvement in relationships (i.e., agape relational involvement of family love), thus signifying reduced ontology and function (e.g., eidololatres, one submitted, even unintentionally, to outer-in form and appearance, i.e., reductionism, thus church/members who “disregard,” apeitheia, God’s relational terms congruent to “the family of Christ and of the whole of God,” 5:5-6), all in contrast to the wholeness about which Paul is decisive to make imperative for the church and its members, “therefore do not share in and become partners with [symmetochos] the reductionists in the surrounding context” (5:7).
Paul simply illuminates further the consequence for God’s new creation family of mixing the new with the old that Jesus clearly defined for the new creation already, in which the reductionists consider “The old is good or better” (Lk 5:39). It is unavoidable for the church and its members to give account of their practice in these three critical issues. As Paul continues on to make further imperative, this accountability is necessary both for the embodiment of the church’s whole ontology to be light in the surrounding context and for the church’s ongoing function to be whole in order to “Live as children of light” (5:8ff).
In Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology, God’s thematic relational response of grace, agape relational involvement and dynamic of wholeness (peace) converge only for this irreducible and nonnegotiable relational outcome: to embody the ontological inner-out depth of church identity in the interrelated, interdependent and integrated function of who the church is together and whose family the church distinguishes, and thus to embody ‘already’ the new creation family of transformed persons agape-relationally involved in transformed relationships together for the whole ontology and function of the church. This relational outcome emerged from Paul’s synesis of the theological dynamics of the whole of God (Eph 3:2-6)—from his involvement not in a theological task but in his oikonomia family responsibility to make complete the whole (pleroo) of God’s relational communication for his family (Col 1:25-28). Therefore, there are further implications inescapable for the church’s accountability.
Along with the implications for the church’s ontological identity are conjoined inescapable implications for the functional significance of relationally belonging to the church as God’s new creation family (Eph 2:14-16 in conjoint function with Col 3:10-11; Gal 3:26-29; 6:15). What unfolds in Paul’s theological development of pleroma ecclesiology go further and deeper, indeed well beyond, what many of Paul’s readers merely perceive as moral/ethical imperatives or household codes of collective life in the church while in the surrounding context. Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology gets to the heart of the experiential truth of relationally belonging in God’s new creation family, the implications of which the church cannot avoid being accountable for. They are simply:
1. Relationally belonging in God’s new creation family is the relational outcome ‘already’ that cannot be set aside or relegated (and thus neglected) to ‘not yet’; therefore the church is accountable now to function in this experiential truth.
2. The experiential truth of this relational outcome also has a reciprocal contingency which necessitates conjointly the relational significance of the church’s intimate relationships together and the functional significance of its equalized relationships together—the interaction of which implies that the church cannot have one (significant aspect of relationships together) without the other for the church to embody its whole ontology and function. In other words, transformed relationships together of the new creation can be nothing less than the conjoint function of intimate and equalized relationships together; and relational belonging in the church as God’s new creation family can be nothing less than ongoing agape relational involvement in these transformed relationships together.
Therefore, the combined implication of being accountable already for the relational-functional significance of transformed relationships together is for the church to be making whole and living whole in a new relational order of whole relationships together. These definitive relationships are the intimate relationships together in a new order which are without the determinacy of human distinctions from outer in and are equalized from inner out, thus in contradistinction with the reductionism of human contextualization. The church functioning intimately without human distinctions and as the equalizer may be perceived by Paul’s readers as a theological construct, whose ideal transcends pragmatic function in the real world. Without the Spirit that would be the reality. Yet, in the relational dynamic of Paul’s theological forest the pleroma of God relationally embodied nothing less than the whole ontology and function of God in order to embody with the Spirit nothing less than the whole ontology and function of the pleroma of Christ, the church. In this definitive relational process of wholeness, the relational embodiment of the church is wholly constituted in the qualitative image and the relational likeness of the whole of God—the relational outcome ‘already’. The experiential truth of this ontological identity for Paul is found in the congruence of the church’s identity to nothing less and no substitutes, regardless of its constituency or its situation in the surrounding context. And so the wholeness of relational belonging in the church is neither optional for church function nor negotiable to other church terms. The gospel of wholeness has no other relational significance and outcome.
Moreover, just as the whole of Paul experienced for himself, it is important to underscore that this relational-functional transformation to a new relational order in the church also requires a redemptive change in the church’s perceptual-interpretive framework and lens from outer in to the inner-out framework and lens—the new phronema and phroneo with the Spirit which Paul made definitive for “zoe and wholeness” (Rom 8:5-6)—necessary for the following: for the church to have the sensitivity of quality over quantity in its life and practice, and for the church to have relational awareness in its ontological identity and relational belonging. This relational awareness is dependent on the qualitative sensitivity that is inseparable from relational function in likeness of the whole of God, which Paul clearly distinguishes from reductionism (Eph 4:14-24). This interaction involves the dynamic of wholeness in which the church is accountable for all the imperatives and implications of pleroma ecclesiology—accountability which extends to all of Paul’s readers, who themselves may require a critical change in interpretive lens to pay attention to the whole of Paul (historical, relational and theological), and a basic change in interpretive framework to grasp the whole in Paul’s theology.
“But now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.” The Spirit grieves over anything less and any substitutes, whose sentiment necessitates relational awareness and qualitative sensitivity for Paul’s readers to understand (Eph 4:30).
 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2004), 252-69. Catherine Mowry LaCugna, ed., Freeing Theology: the Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective (San Francisco: Harper, 1993) 85-87. Stanley J. Grenz, Rediscovering the Triune God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 7-8.
 For a discussion of the reification of worldviews, religion and ideology, see David K. Naugle, Worldview: the History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 101-2, 178-80, 85-86, 236-38.
 For example, see John D. Zizioulos, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985). Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991). Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).
 John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick, loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008), 248.
©2010 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.