Home h Paul Study h Wholeness Study h Spirituality Study h Discipleship Study h Worship Perspectives h Worship Songs h About Us h Support Services/Resources h DISCiple Explained h Contact Us
A Theological & Functional Study of the Whole
Christology Studyprinter-friendly pdf version
The New Relational Order
and the Ecclesiology of the Whole
The New Relational Order
Church Practice as Family or Orphanage
Jesus’ Post-Ascension Discourse on Ecclesiology to be Whole
His Church as Equalizer
For light to illuminate what is around it, the light needs to have clarity. When the light has clarity—as defined and determined in the last chapter—what does the function of its identity illuminate specifically about the ontology of human persons and the social design of humanity, which the surrounding contexts of the world will pay attention to with either positive response or negative reaction? Since the light does not merely illuminate the human condition but also signifies God’s thematic relational response to it, what does the light illuminate specifically about the qualitative relational alternative for our condition constituting God’s response? These questions certainly are interrelated and, even further, are interdependent in the discussion for both the functional significance of the gospel and the experiential truth of life together as God’s people. This chapter responds to these questions by attempting to define the new relational order of the gospel which is determined by new covenant relationship in the ecclesiology of the whole.
Jesus’ identity as the light of the world was obviously perceived with mixed reviews, if at all. The Greco-Roman world appeared ambivalent to Jesus and his emerging church. While this dominant culture was polytheistic and thus pluralistic in their approach to religion, they were skeptical of new religions such as the Jesus cult. For first-century Jews, messianic expectations determined the lens through which Jesus was paid attention to, positively or negatively. Many simply wanted the Christ to establish Israel among the nations (e.g. Jn 6:14-15). Jesus came only to fulfill the covenant relationship for all the nations together. In other words, how Jesus’ identity as the light was perceived in the surrounding contexts was often in contradistinction to the whole of Jesus’ function as the light. This discrepancy exists today, not only in the surrounding contexts thus reducing the functional significance of the gospel, but also among churches thus reducing the experiential truth of their life together. We need to bring together specific parts (syniemi, cf. Mk 8:17-19) of Jesus’ life and practice to grasp the functional reality of his relational purpose fulfilling God’s thematic relational response to the human condition.
This directs us to the specific working soteriology we use in practice and to examine its compatibility with Jesus’ salvific life and practice. When our Christian life and practice (individual and corporate) remains focused on only what Jesus saved us from, our perspective of soteriology is truncated. Moreover, with this truncated working soteriology, our perception of sin in human life and practice (including our own) is weak—despite being focused on what we are saved from. A weak view of sin does not understand the underlying issue in the human condition as the sin of reductionism, which emerged in the primordial garden to challenge God’s whole and has been positioned against it ever since. This sin redefines human ontology from the outside in (e.g. by the quantitative aspects of form and function, metaschematizo, cf. 2 Cor 11:13-15) and, on this basis, determines the function of human relationships, thus countering the involvement of the whole person in the relationships necessary to be God’s whole.
The lens of a weak view of sin does not recognize or pay attention to all of the relational consequences constituting the human condition, and this perceptual-interpretive gap diminishes the awareness of reductionism’s counter-relational work and minimalizes its effects. Like the reductionists in Judaism addressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, a weak view of sin further and more deeply fails to grasp the significance of the law (and its counterpart in Jesus’ teaching) as God’s desires and terms for covenant relationship together; this thus reduces Christian life and practice essentially to a quantitative framework of what to do or not to do, as the reductionists did in Judaism.
The sin and its effects which Jesus saves us from is only half of the soteriological equation. Without the other half of the equation to make it whole, salvation is not realized, the whole of God’s thematic relational response is not fully received, and God’s deep desires for relationship together are not wholly experienced. Relationship together is what Jesus saved us to—which is the only significance the gospel of the whole of Jesus has and the only experiential truth his followers in life together can embrace. This chapter involves what Jesus saved us conjointly from and to. Therefore, our discussion necessitates the further grasp of sin and the deeper experience of church.
As Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the final phase of his earthly ministry, he healed ten lepers (Lk 17:11-19). Lepers were not mere persons with leprosy but were labeled as unfit outcasts unable to belong to the surrounding community; the Levitical terms for maintaining purity of Israel’s community ostracized them from their midst (Lev 13:45-46). The fact that in this group of Jews was a Samaritan suggests a substitute association for their loss of community. More significantly, that the Samaritan was the only person to return to Jesus to praise and thank God after his cleansing signifies the wholeness of Jesus’ salvific relational work of grace. Jesus not only cleansed his body of disease but also made his total person whole (sozo, v.19) to belong to the whole of God’s family, as the Samaritan’s relational response back (“your faith”) warranted.
What appears in Luke’s Gospel as a fortuitous encounter between a Samaritan and Jesus goes beyond anecdotal evidence of Jesus’ impartial grace and mercy. His impartiality further constituted the strategic, tactical and functional shifts of God’s thematic action (discussed in chapter three) to be fulfilled in Jerusalem, which Jesus initially made evident to another Samaritan (Jn 4:7-26). When Jesus declared to the Samaritan woman at the well “a time is coming and has now come” (4:23), he vulnerably disclosed God’s strategic shift with the transcendent whole of God’s presence and intimate involvement, which thus pointed to the new relational order he was establishing. This is the new relational order he enacted with the Samaritan man devalued with leprosy.
The intimate relationship introduced with the Samaritan woman, necessary by its nature together with the whole and holy God, involves the whole person (constituted by the heart) in the inner-out human ontology (“in spirit and truth”). This is the intimate involvement in relationship also necessary by its nature to be and live whole in God’s family, and thus to make whole in the surrounding contexts of the world. Jesus clearly made this intimate relationship together definitive in his tactical shift to family and in his functional shift by family love. Yet, for human hearts to be open and come together in intimate relationships (as Jesus embodied), there is another necessary relational condition for these relationships together to be an experiential reality. This relational condition also was made definitive throughout Jesus’ sanctified life and practice, the relational significance of which converged during the week he reached Jerusalem—that is, when the relational outworking of God’s strategic, tactical and functional shifts reached its summit.
Jesus’ vulnerable relational involvement to constitute this relational condition started in John’s Gospel (for the eschatological big picture) at the collective level with his temple cleansing (Jn 2:13-16), emerged intimately with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:7-26), continued in Matthew’s Gospel (for continuity with the OT) with the improbable calling of Levi (Mt 9:9-13), and extended further in Luke’s Gospel (concerned for all people groups) in vulnerable involvement with the prostitute (Lk 7:50), by receiving the Samaritan man with leprosy (Lk 17:19), and with a discrimination-negating pursuit of Zacchaeus in family love (Lk 19:9-10). With further overview, in the process of Jesus’ relational involvement: he disclosed that the kingdom of God had come (Lk 11:20); he opened a previously closed door to women for discipleship (Lk 10:39,42); he redefined for his followers the prevailing quantitative indicators of achieved success and acquired greatness for status, prestige and power to now be “the very last and servant of all” (Mk 9:35, cf. Mt 20:26-27), “who is least among you all” (Lk 9:48b); and he dissolved the stratified relationships pervading others’ contexts by making definitive the qualitative relational involvement like a child to be “the greatest” in his kingdom-family (Mt 18:4).
These accounts are not mere narrative anecdotes but signify an abridged account of God’s intentional process for a historic pattern of change being constituted for the human condition. The common denominator in these human stories is the relational consequences from reductionism diminishing the human person, redefining personhood and fragmenting relationships. And throughout their narratives is the integrating motif of Jesus’ relational involvement: to redefine the diminished person, to transform their human relational condition, and to make them whole. This cohered in the relational progression of the whole of God’s desires, the Trinity’s thematic action and the whole of Jesus’ embodied relational work of grace, which was fully constituted at Jerusalem in what can be defined as “the week of equalization.”
Equalization is the other relational condition in conjoint function with intimate involvement which is necessary for relationships to come together to be made whole, to be God’s whole. The relational condition of being equalized was constituted by Jesus in the above human stories to make them whole, which needs to be grasped for both its historic and relational significance (cf. Is 57:14-15, Eze 21:26, Mt 23:12). This implies an existing relational condition of inequality which kept persons in explicit or implicit relations “to be apart”; moreover, this relational condition “to be apart” only evidenced the ongoing human relational condition throughout human history. Thus, in this historic process of equalization for relationships to come together, the existing (and historically ongoing) relational condition had to be addressed directly with the intent for change, that is, the redemptive change necessary to open (free) the relationship for the process of reconciliation.
While redemptive change, historically, was always involved in God’s covenant of love (Dt 7:7-9), there was a further and deeper relational process unfolding of historic significance. The deeper qualitative relational need for redemptive change was inherent in Jesus’ ongoing relational involvement as a working assumption of his relational work of grace. Furthermore, this need for change was also assumed by each of the persons above who received his relational action. His response and their response back both demonstrated the need for change for relationships to come together to be made whole.
For example, when Jesus equalized the Samaritan woman at the well, her response demonstrated the change from prevailing gender, ethnic and moral distinctions which otherwise would have prevented their coming together. Levi (as well as Zacchaeus) also crossed over cultural, social and religious barriers to reciprocate with Jesus in new relationship together—changes which Jesus initiated and constituted by family love to be clearly distinguished from the existing relational order. In his functional shift to extend family love, Jesus constituted the whole of God’s new covenant family. This new kinship family was not based on blood relation, racial/ethnic ancestry or cultural lineage, but based on intimate relationship together of any and all persons equalized by Jesus to be relationally involved only on the Father’s terms, just as Jesus vulnerably disclosed earlier (Mt 12:48-50). This essential new relational order was constituted further as Jesus entered Jerusalem.
“The week of equalization” began with his humble but triumphant entry to Jerusalem to the joy of many with messianic expectations. Yet the donkey’s colt (Mt 21:4-5, par. Jn 12:14-15) signifies a strong contrast to a Roman military leader’s triumphant entry mounted supremely on a horse. This sets the tone for this week and points to the nature of Jesus’ messianic fulfillment and the equalizing nature of his relational work, his purpose and his church to follow. Entering with the humility of a commoner, not a king, this commoner’s king (of those apart from the whole) did not seize upon their messianic hope and aspirations in an exercise of power relations (cf. Mk 10:42-45). He exercised authority and power in relationships to make them whole, and he humbly assumed responsibility for fragmented relationships and pursued those apart from the whole. Thus, in spite of his popular reception, Jesus took the initiative to enter this hostile context in order to open the way to reconciliation for relationships to come together unlike experienced before in human history.
Matthew used the prophet Zechariah to connect this entry toward the fulfillment of God’s salvific action—though omitting the phrase as “righteous and having salvation” (Zec 9:9)—and to define Jesus’ coming to them as “gentle” (Mt 21:5). The term for “gentle” is praus, denoting meek, mild, gentle (cf. the third beatitude, Mt 5:5), for which the Hebrew term in Zechariah is ‘aniy to denote poor (cf. ptochos in the first beatitude, Mt 5:3). Matthew’s Gospel essentially connected Jesus’ earlier words (from the Sermon on the Mount) and action here to God’s covenant fulfillment for “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3) and “they will inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). Jesus came to them, however, to fulfill the messianic order beyond (if not contrary to) the prevailing expectation, thus this new relational order was not experienced by many of them (Lk 19:44b). The need for change was evident in order for the relational outcome to be whole.
As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept openly for it (Lk 19:41, cf. Is 22:4). His deep feelings could not be contained and compassion for the whole of God’s creation overflowed. Throughout this week Jesus made openly evident the full glory of God in his heart, his intimate relational nature and his vulnerable presence as the passibility of God emerged. In his initial poignant expression he said “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace” (Lk 19:42). Both the vulnerable expression of his heart and his statement combine to help us understand his actions and working assumptions.
Jesus’ compassion and statement for the city point to the extent of his concern for the human condition, which involved both the individual person and the existing collective order of persons together. This suggests his belief or model about the nature of humanity and also his perception about the nature of the social order (or society). Whether we articulate it or not, we all hold to some kind of belief or model about the nature of humanity; this is also true of our conceptions about society—assumptions usually even more implicit. Basically, we hold to either the inherent sinfulness or the inherent goodness of humankind, and generally assume either the basic goodness of the existing social order (in function, if not theologically) or not. Jesus entered the world in general with the working assumption of humanity’s sinfulness and entered Jerusalem in particular without the assumption of the goodness of its existing order, including its existing institutions, systems, structures, practices and values. The peace weighing on Jesus’ heart was not a partial and temporary solution to the human condition but involved the response necessary to make persons together whole.
In our earlier discussion of peace involving the seventh beatitude (in chapter four, Mt 5:9), Jesus’ statement above was identified as a critical issue focused on what belongs to peace. This critical matter was not addressed by many in Jerusalem, which Jesus further said “but now it is hidden from your eyes.” Peace is an extension from the OT and of the Hebrew shalom: well-being and wholeness; well-being which has both an individual dimension and a corporate/collective dimension; wholeness which extends to all aspects of human life and by necessity included salvation and the end times but certainly is not limited to the latter. The gospel is predicated by this peace (cf. Ac 10:36), in which Jesus constituted his followers—yet which is qualitatively distinguished from conventional peace (Jn 14:27). Therefore, it is insufficient to define what belongs to peace and to signify the gospel of peace with a truncated soteriology (only what Jesus saved us from) without the relational outcome of what he saved us to. This involves the experiential truth of the relationships together of the whole of God’s family in which Jesus constituted his followers to be whole in the new creation of his family. Wholeness is intrinsic to this peace, which can only belong to this new creation that Jesus entered Jerusalem to raise up. This condition of wholeness and well-being is the new relational order of the whole of God’s family—the functional significance of the gospel.
As Jesus vulnerably disclosed in Jerusalem, to be part of his new creation family in the new relational order of life, we must embrace change and go through a process of redemption—that is, undergo redemptive change. God’s thematic plan of redemption for his creation emerges in the progression of God’s ultimate response that Jesus fulfilled at the end of this week by paying the price for this redemption to take away the relational barrier of hostility between us for reconciliation to the whole of God (cf. Eph 2:14-16). This redemptive relational process functions with specific assumptions.
Jesus’ major working assumption as God’s ultimate response to the human relational condition “to be apart” assumes the need for turn-around change, that is, the need for repentance. For the authentic whole of peace, God is not concerned about the mere absence of conflict—a condition better understood on Monday of this week. The absence of conflict alone does not bring people together—no matter how much activity, space and time are occupied together—nor is it ever sufficient to bring about a new relational order, a new creation family. In other words, the absence of conflict, and its counterpart in the appearance of harmony, will not result in wholeness and well-being. Those hoping and working for peace need to grasp the relational significance of peace and must not settle for anything less or any substitutes. The non-reductionist lens of repentance assumes the need for redemption, pays attention to the human condition and calls for its action where necessary. The new does not emerge without liberation from the old. Thus, basically and soteriologically, peace is grounded in God’s work of redemption. There is no whole of peace without it, only reductionist substitutes, which is why Jesus wept for Jerusalem.
Paying attention to or ignoring the presence of reductionism, its counter-relational work and its substitutes is directly correlated to our view of sin. Certainly, if we assume the goodness of humankind and/or the existing order of life, there is no need for redemptive change. Yet, merely assuming their sinfulness assures neither a need for redemptive change nor the extent of such change; this depends on the strength and adequacy of our view of sin. Two factors strongly influence our working perceptions of sin. One factor is contextual and the other is structural.
The contextual factor is the increasing normative character of sin, notably as reductionism. We need to realize that the growing frequency and extent of any negative behavior or practice create conditions for redefining those more favorably. Our perceptions of what is unacceptable are being redefined continuously. That is to say, what we pay attention to or ignore through our lens to distinguish sin becomes more difficult in a surrounding context’s normative practice of sin. Jesus addressed many of those normative practices of sin as reductionism in the Sermon on the Mount. Later he confronted such practice in churches (Rev 2-3, discussed later in this chapter), which points to the next factor.
The other factor which strongly influences a weak position on sin is a structural one. Being a structural factor, its effects on our understanding of, and subsequent dealing with, sin is much less obvious than the conventional moral and spiritual issues. In understanding that human life is not merely operating under the total control or influence of the individual, there are broader operations which must be taken into account. This involves the social design of humanity, whose operations are found on the collective and more systemic level of everyday life.
It is in this area that our understanding of sin and evil must be further developed. Sin or evil can no longer be seen merely as the outworking of the individual(s) alone. It can also be found in the operations of institutions (even churches), systems and structures of a social order (society), or in modernity’s global community. In its more developed stages, evil is not only manifested at this structural level but rooted in those very institutions, systems or structures such that they can operate quite apart from the control of the individual, or even the latter’s moral character. This is especially true, for example, when the very infrastructure of a society obscures moral issues and legitimates such systemic operations. Historically, institutional discrimination has been a major example demonstrating this collective process of sin. Reductionism of the human person and fragmentation of relationships together (by stratification or segregation) has underlain this human condition and created ontological simulations and epistemological illusions to mask its sinful operation.
The contextual factor is the normative character of sin, and the structural factor is the collective nature of sin. Their increasing presence in our midst strongly influences our working perceptions of sin. Jesus addressed both the normative character and collective nature of sin with the lens of repentance, which allowed for no false assumptions about humanity and the existing relational order.
The consequences of reductionism in stratifying human persons and relationships together were what Jesus found operating at the temple on Monday of this week (Mt 21:12-17, which was included in the early part of John’s Gospel for the strategic shift in God’s thematic action, Jn 2:13-22). He drove out those who exploited the less resourceful for profit in an inequitable system which created barriers to access “my house” (oikos, 21:13, “my Father’s house” in Jn 2:16). Oikos denotes the dwelling of a family, that is, the dwelling of the whole of God for communion together with the whole of God’s family (“house of prayer for all nations,” Mk 11:17, cf. Is 56:7). While this account in Luke’s Gospel (who was concerned for all peoples) curiously omitted “for all nations,” Matthew’s omission involved his purpose directed to the Jews and John’s focused on his shift from the place to the person of God directly. Yet, all of them account for the underlying inequality being addressed for the redemptive change necessary to equalize persons in the new relational order of God’ house and family. The normative practice of the temple was unacceptable and its collective dysfunction needed redemptive change in order to be made whole.
“All nations” goes further and deeper than an inclusive sampling of all peoples. Jesus was not merely opening access to God’s house for “all nations” by his actions, and his Great Commission needs to be understood beyond the missional focus of going to “all nations.” In the whole of God’s family constituted by Jesus, all the human differences catalogued under humanity come together in intimate relationship, not simply have access or a presence. This is the multifaceted nature of the whole of God as family constituted in the Trinity: an interdependent relational context and process without the distinctions which stratify in a system of inequality, yet with all the unique functions necessary to be whole. The distinctions of reductionism applied in a comparative process with others always imply (directly or indirectly) inequalities which separate or disconnect persons, distance their relationships and fragment the whole of God’s family. Thus, even Matthew’s omission of “all nations” in his temple account still addressed the reductionist distinctions of the human persons and the fragmented relationships of reductionism’s counter-relational work, which Jesus was redeeming and reconstituting by his actions at the temple.
Matthew recorded the Jewish leaders’ strong objection to the relational outcome in the temple afterward—namely the children shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Mt 21:15-16). The implication of the protest by the chief priests and teachers of the law was essentially that the children didn’t know what they were saying, but that the leaders knew in general about God and in particular about the messiah because of their rabbinic education. In their view, there was no way children could make definitive statements, and these children needed to be kept in their place in the socio-religious order.
Jesus’ response to them redefined the person and transformed the existing relational order. He pointed them to God’s relational action having “ordained praise” from children (katartizo, 21:16). Katartizo signifies either to complete or to repair and restore back to completion, which in this context points to God’s relational action to make whole the person reduced to outer-in distinctions and the relationships necessary to be intimately involved together in God’s whole. This wholeness is signified in the vulnerable openness of these children involved with Jesus in their relational response of trust. This more deeply connects back to when Jesus leaped for joy over his Father’s “good pleasure” (eudokia, righteous purpose) to disclose himself to the intimate relational involvement of “little children” and not to the “the wise and learned” in what functionally constitutes the new relational order (Lk 10:21). Jesus’ action at the temple fulfilled God’s thematic relational response to reduced persons and their relationships “to be apart” to restore them to God’s whole. His definitive action needs to be understood as the new relational order, which he established in human history for ongoing function in his present family to be and live whole, and conjointly to extend to others in the world to live and make whole. This is what the children understood at the temple, as they vulnerably received Jesus and intimately responded back to him—which demonstrated the new relational order displacing the existing relational order necessary for all his followers to engage (cf. Mt 18:3-4).
The relational dynamic involved in Jesus’ cleansing of the temple was not a unique incident but cohered with the whole of his life and practice to make whole the human condition. Just as Jesus used his power and resources to heal after the cleansing (Mt 21:14), and previously used on the Sabbath to restore (apokathistemi, restore to soundness, Mt. 12:9-14) to be well (hygies, sound, whole, Jn 5:6-16), Jesus further enacted this relational dynamic of restoring persons back to wholeness. He clearly saw, through the lens of repentance, both the person and persons together without false assumptions (Lk 5:32), thus the process of restoring meant much more than to mend, to fix or to reform, that is to say, essentially returning something to its commonly existing condition (cf. Jn 5:14). To restore to wholeness involves a change from the existing condition—the redemptive change which the temple needed. Based on this turn-around change of repentance, therefore, to heal and restore to make whole necessitates changing from old to new that Jesus was constituting in Jerusalem.
The existing temple practice represents a general condition needing redemptive change. While Jesus participated in temple life, he made no assumptions about the inherent goodness of its current practice. That is, with the lens of repentance Jesus perceived the operation of sin whether in religious life or social life; and any lack of response to that sin would have implied complicity. Church can be substituted in place of temple to involve other issues in the normative practice of sin in its collective operation—notably sin as reductionism, to be discussed further in the ecclesiology section. In other words, this relational dynamic to wholeness involves the strength and adequacy of one’s view of sin. A weak view of sin, for example, does not account for the increasing normative character of sin present in Christian life and practice which has become accepted, or at least tolerated; likewise, sin’s collective nature would not be perceived in church operations. While churches would disassociate their practice with the image of practice in the temple above, the image from Ezekiel 33 can easily be normative for churches and pastors today: “Your [members] are talking together about you…saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice” (Eze 33:30-32). This image is quite different from the temple image, yet their participants experience the same consequence from reductionism’s counter-relational work and reductionist substitutes. Jesus closed his Sermon on the Mount with the functional consequences of such practice (Mt 7:26-27)—practice which involves unintentional reinforcement or inadvertent promotion by pastors with a reductionist practice of preaching. It is likely that Jesus would have cleaned out this pervasive practice in churches today as he cleansed the temple. Normative practice, even from tradition, neither legitimates it nor precludes it as sin—no matter how prevailing it has become in church practice and Christian subculture.
Just as a weak view of sin ignores the normative character of sin, an inadequate view of sin fails to pay attention to and address its broader relationship issues in operation. Sin is not perceived beyond an individual matter outside of a spiritual context. Sin, however, has to do with our relationship to God and the whole order of life God established for all of creation. Sin is a violation of that relationship with God but it also has relational consequences in God’s design and purpose for creation. That is to say, sin has social consequences also, as well as social influences. Our perspective of sin must be broadened to include these macro-level human factors and human contexts which establish the complexity of the human problem. Jesus’ action in the temple demonstrated that sin does not restrict itself to the individual nor does it stay within the limited context of the individual(s). Thus, we need also to address the increasing collective nature of sin and evil and deal with all sin in this broader relational context. Economic globalization today, for example, compounds sin’s collective nature by simulating the whole while promoting illusion about its normative character. With the lens of repentance, however, we can perceive the operations of the normative character of sin and the collective nature of sin, which is necessary for the redemptive change to equalize persons in the new relational order. This was the purpose Jesus fulfilled at the temple as he constituted the whole of God’s family to be functionally embodied in human history.
Cleansing the temple was part of what Jesus said belongs to peace. Restoring to wholeness requires redemption, and to be redeemed involves the turn-around change to be equalized. This relational process both frees the person and opens the relationship to come together (viz. reconciliation) in the intimate involvement of the whole of God’s family. This restores the person to the human ontology created in the image of God and restores persons to relationships together in the created design and purpose in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity. The created ontology of the person cannot end only within the individual but conjointly involves the relationships necessary together to be whole in the new relational order. These were the created functions Jesus disclosed as the identity of the light. Cleansing the temple constitutes restoring persons and relationships to the wholeness of their created functions.
The importance of the whole of their created functions without reduction is illustrated in a so-called “Markan sandwich” (Mk 11:12-21). The importance of restoring the created function of the temple (vv.15-17) is sandwiched between the account of the fig tree that had no fruit, and thus was rendered dysfunctional by Jesus (11:12-14,19-21). With its leaves, the fig tree only had an appearance of fruition without having functional significance—a reductionist substitute for the whole of its created function. This contrast illustrates the importance to God of having wholeness in function, and the qualitative relational significance of the whole of God’s response to the human condition. Nothing less and no substitutes of the whole embodied Jesus’ vulnerable presence and relational involvement, and can embody the relational response of his followers—just as the children embodied at the temple.
The new relational order is a function only of transformed relationships together. This involves persons who have been equalized from the inner out, who have been redeemed from outer-in distinctions promoting barriers in relationships, and thus who can come together in the process of intimacy necessary for relationships to be whole—the whole of God’s family in likeness of the Trinity. Transformed relationships together are the conjoint function of equalized and intimate relationships, the vulnerable process of which establishes the experiential truth of the new relational order.
The relational process of coming together is certainly problematic, even after the process of equalizing persons has been established—which Peter was about to learn later in this week. In God’s created design and purpose, for human persons to be whole necessitates this dynamic relational condition of coming together, which by its nature cannot be compatible with any presence of the more static relational condition “to be apart.” Therefore, to be whole is an ongoing relational condition that involves reconciliation. For relationships no longer “to be apart” from the whole of God, we need to engage the redemptive process of reconciliation that God extends to us through redemption in Jesus. This is imperative for relationship with God in particular. To participate in—that is, to be relationally involved in and have communion with—the whole of God’s life necessitates the redemptive change which transforms (metamorphoo, inner-out change, not metaschematizo, mere outward change) the person to be reconciled to God for intimate relationship as the Father’s very own, belonging permanently to God’s family.
Furthermore, for our relationships in general no longer “to be apart,” we need conjointly to engage the relational process of redemption and reconciliation (redemptive reconciliation, as Jesus exercised in the temple) also imperative for these relationships to be whole. To participate in and have a functionally equal share in life together as family in likeness of the Trinity involves by its nature the equalization of redemption and the intimate involvement of reconciliation in family love, both of which are irreducible (e.g. by the collective operations of sin) and nonnegotiable (e.g. by the normative practice of sin).
Coming together to be whole is a rigorous relational process, which Jesus pointed to in “what would bring you peace,” demonstrated at the temple cleansing, and fully constituted in the definitive development of his intended relational work for this entire week. Situations and circumstances may bring persons into common activity or shared space, even for a common purpose, but they do not account for (unintentionally or by design) bringing those persons together in relationships to be whole. In the human condition, this is the unique function of reconciled relationships. Yet, as Jesus agonized knowing “what belongs to peace,” reconciliation is not mere peaceful harmony or operational unity. We cannot fully come together as one (a relational whole) in deep, meaningful relationships unless they are established with the whole person signified at the level of our hearts and ongoingly functioning with this relational significance.
The NT term for reconciliation (katallage) denotes: to change from one condition to another by taking away the root cause of a broken (or uninvolved) relationship, and thus leaving no barriers to restoring communion. This restoring to communion definitively involves the qualitative significance of persons coming together, that is, constitutes hearts coming together. In other words, as noted earlier, this is intimacy. Intimacy is the relational process which underlies all reconciliation. And there is no experiential truth of reconciliation without intimacy; nothing less and no substitutes can have the full relational significance of coming together to be whole. Even merely identifying an activity, a setting or a process with the adjective “intimate” does not necessarily involve hearts opening to each other and coming together (e.g. the physical act of sex); thus intimacy is not to be confused with merely anything labeled intimate and should be distinguished from it. Clearly then, peacemaking (viz. the seventh beatitude) and the ministry of reconciliation involve specifically the development of intimacy in relationships together necessary to be whole—most notably within the trinitarian relational context of family by the trinitarian relational process of family love.
In the drama at the temple, Jesus’ forceful action cohered with the redemptive process imperative for “what belongs to peace” to open up relationships to be reconciled with the intimacy necessary for “what will bring you peace.” There is no other full explanation for Jesus’ forceful action, which otherwise would be contradictory, at worst, or a paradox with little understanding, at best. With the conjoint function of redemptive reconciliation, however, persons and relationships are redeemed to be restored to their created function in the intimate relationships together of God’s whole. Though his redemptive action did not appear reconciling for the temple practitioners, Jesus was always relationally involved with family love to restore wholeness in relationship together (as demonstrated on the cross, Lk 23:34). This “door” to his house was opened to all for reciprocal relationship; some responded like the children while others reacted making it problematic for them to come together. Nevertheless, redemptive reconciliation prevailed, and the temple would be even further reconstituted by Jesus’ salvific action on the cross. This is the week Jesus fully constituted the new relational order of his followers in intimate relationship together to fulfill their function in the new creation—foremost with the whole of God and within God’s family, then extended to all of God’s creation.
These transformed relationships of the new relational order are ongoingly challenged by reductionism and are readily substituted with ontological simulations and epistemological illusions. On Tuesday of this week, a day full of polemics, Jesus further addressed the influence of reductionism, notably confronting its operation with the seven woes (Mt 23:1-39, discussed previously). This made even more evident his anguish for Jerusalem and his deep desire to take additional action for God’s covenant household, but the covenant relationship of love is not unilateral and necessitates reciprocal involvement (cf. Dt 7:9), which they were not willing to engage (23:37-38).
The terms for participation in the new relational order are not amenable to the terms (and notions) of our situations, circumstances or culture, for which our assumptions must be addressed by the process of reciprocating contextualization (discussed in chapter seven). There is a qualitatively distinct relational dynamic interconnecting in this week which is definitive for the wholeness and well-being of persons in relationship together. We need to grasp this dynamic to address the influence of reductionism in our midst. What emerges is the following: There is no significant coming together (reconciliation) in relationships without intimacy; there is no function of intimacy in relationships without equalization; there is no equalizing of persons in relationships without redemption; there is no redemptive change in persons and relationships without the vulnerable relational work of God’s grace and intimate involvement with family love. In this relational dynamic there is no reconciliation without redemption; and Jesus does not redeem us merely to be free but only to come together in the relationships necessary to be whole. That is to say also, there is no significance to redemption without reconciliation. Therefore, in his salvific work, Jesus never only saves us from without conjointly saving us to, and there is only wholeness in the transformed relationships from redemptive reconciliation constituting the new relational order of God’s family. As this interrelated relational dynamic progresses in this week, the process of equalization in relationships is conjoined further and more deeply by the development of intimacy for relationships to be transformed to function whole in the new relational order.
No record of Jesus’ activity on Wednesday was reported by the evangelists. This could strongly suggest that Jesus separated himself for a full day in the solitude of prayer; he apparently spent evenings in prayer on the Mount of Olives (Lk 21:37; 22:39-41). As his disciples demonstrated in their Gethsemane experience a day later (Mt 26:36-46, par. Lk 22:39-46), the solitude of prayer is a vulnerable position to be in—particularly when there are strong feelings we are trying to circumvent, as those disciples did. Moreover, the vulnerable solitude of prayer is a distinct place of equalization for us. This is a time and place where there is no one else to be compared to (as more than or less), and no work activity or role function to define self other than our whole person. The solitude of prayer equalizes all persons by the function of God’s grace demanding nothing less and no substitutes than the full involvement of the authentic who, what and how we are. We cannot fully come together with God in communion apart from the grace which equalizes us to be vulnerably involved in relationship together, whether in prayer, worship, service or other aspects of fellowship. Thus, assuming Jesus spent the day in prayer, Wednesday can be considered also part of this week of equalization. Certainly, Peter and the two sons of Zebedee would attest to their humbling experience in prayer at Gethsemane; and Peter most notably in general had difficulty being intimately involved with Jesus. Peter’s life and practice demonstrated both that participation in the new relational order is not amenable to our terms and that coming together in transformed relationships is a rigorous relational process.
Assuming a traditional view of what day the Passover meal took place, on Thursday evening Jesus washed his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:1-17) and formalized the new covenant (Lk 22:19-20). These are not unrelated acts. They are deeply conjoined in Jesus’ salvific action of what he saved us both from and to. As the new relational order was unfolding and the disciples gathered with Jesus for this meal, they were still hassling over their status as the greatest (Lk 22:24, cf. Mk 9:34), still maneuvering for position of privilege (cf. Mk 10:37,41). This points to the pervading issue of distinctions and roles in church leadership which effectively create barriers to come together for intimacy in church relationships. While the disciples still needed to be redeemed from the stratified old order, Jesus always responded by redefining them in the new relational order of his kingdom-family (Lk 22:25-30, cf. Mk 9:35; 10:42-45). At this crucial junction of their relationship together, Jesus’ response also deeply embodied the transformed relationship signifying this new relational order, which functionally constitutes his family by its nature in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity. This was embodied in his footwashing, which operationalized transformed relationships for his disciples.
In this defining interaction for all his followers, Jesus’ embodied action started to make definitive “the full extent of his love” (discussed previously in chapter two, Jn 13:1); he fulfilled this in the closing hours of the most pivotal week in human history. The full extent of his love involved the whole of God’s thematic action in response to the human condition now being fulfilled with God’s family love. The context of Jesus’ footwashing is not limited to the situation and circumstances prevailing prior to his death. As the embodiment of God’s relational grace, his whole person functioned to affirm the created importance of the whole person and to constitute intimate relationships together as God’s family—namely by redeeming and transforming the person and reconciling their relationships. Thus, in his footwashing Jesus vulnerably took his followers deeper into his trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love.
By relationally embodying God’s grace to his followers, Jesus made his whole person fully vulnerable to his followers in direct relational involvement. Since God’s grace affirms the whole person—which reductionism resists and replaces with alternatives—grace demands nothing less and no substitutes. This also applied to Jesus’ life and practice throughout the incarnation, and anything less or any substitute of his own person would be a contradiction of the righteous function of his sanctified identity; even fulfilling his function merely in a role was insufficient, even incompatible. His footwashing signified this relational righteousness to be intimately involved with his followers in the transformed relationship necessary to be whole together as God’s family.
Since cultural custom obligated a host to make provision for washing the dinner guests’ feet, either water or a household servant was provided for this menial purpose. For Jesus, however, nothing less and no substitute of his whole person than he personally assuming this footwashing would be sufficient to constitute his relational involvement of family love—that is, as the embodiment of God’s grace. This goes well beyond merely the act of serving and humility in function. This is not about what to do but how to be involved in the new relational order. Yet, Jesus did not reverse the stratified old relational order but transformed it. He was not exercising a role as servant but dissolving roles which create barriers to deeper relationship—an important distinction to grasp. As were all his other actions (notably this week), this act was only for transformed relationship together and “the full extent” of his relational involvement vulnerably making evident his family love.
In this unparalleled experience, the embodied Word of God essentially was equalized and intimately involved with his followers in transformed relationship together to constitute the new relational order for his family. The significance of his relational messages implied in his action communicates the importance of the whole person involved in relationship together without stratification and other relational barriers to intimacy. Footwashing doesn’t represent so much how far (or “low”) Jesus is willing to go, as much as the feet are symbolic of the depth level of relational involvement Jesus’ person engages with his followers. No level is too deep or beyond any limits—whether personal, contextual or structural—for relationship together in the new relational order. While reductionism resists this and tries to redefine it, God’s grace demands this, and Jesus’ salvific relational work of grace constitutes this equalized-intimate relationship of God’s family. This not only made Jesus’ whole person vulnerable but also makes the whole person of his followers vulnerable. Peter had difficulty with this intimate involvement, as well as being equalized.
If Peter’s perceptions of Jesus had changed from before, there would have been a different response than the earlier time he tried to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Mt 16:21-22). His categorical denial and refusal of Jesus’ footwashing (indicated in the Greek grammar, Jn 13:8), however, evidenced his same reductionist lens. Just as his earlier objections to the cross, there was no reasonable and honorable way Peter’s Teacher, Lord and God could do this servile act (culturally, students served the teacher). Moreover, Peter saw himself through the same lens, which comparatively defined him as unworthy to receive. Their roles precluded such involvement. In other words, Peter was still embedded in the stratified old relational order, and thus he could neither receive the significance of Jesus’ whole person equalized before him nor receive Jesus’ relational involvement for intimate relationship together in the new relational order. Despite Peter’s honesty, his old-order response involved the distinctions and inequalities Jesus was equalizing; and that prevented their whole persons from coming together, which Jesus was reconciling to be whole together. Peter’s honesty, pronouncements and claims notwithstanding, his response was incompatible for deeper relationship with Jesus.
Jesus was making evident to Peter that to “Follow me” is a new-order function only of relationship together, not of confessions of faith (e.g. Mt 16:16, Jn 6:68-69) nor merely to serve him (however devoted and loyal, e.g. Jn 13:37, Mk 14:31). This relational significance of Jesus’ vulnerable involvement embodying the fullness of his family love and God’s grace still eluded Peter (cf. their post-resurrection interaction, Jn 21:22); essentially, Peter, along with other disciples, was not making deep relational connection with Jesus even after three intensive years together, thus demonstrating their lack of intimacy (cf. Jesus’ disappointment in Jn 14:9a). Yet, without redemptive change from the old (namely reductionism) there can be no assumption for Peter to be transformed to the new.
The influence of reductionism always resists God’s grace (which affirms the whole person and constitutes intimate relationship together to be whole) by redefining the person to something less (away from qualitative function of the heart) and by counter-relational work displacing intimacy of relationships with some substitute—even with the use of something labeled intimate to simulate intimacy or create its illusion. By its nature, reductionism is always positioned against God’s whole. Reductionism is a dissenter of the experiential truth of that whole, and thus its practice is always incompatible for wholeness of persons in relationship together.
God’s relational grace acted in response to the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole and thus demands in response the function of the whole person (signified with the heart) to be vulnerable to each other (hearts open and coming together) to constitute the intimate relationships of the whole of God’s family. This was how God’s grace embodied in Jesus functioned with Peter and the response he called from Peter. God’s grace defines the terms for relationship together, and the relational messages communicated to Peter in this vulnerable moment suggest this summary: “In my call to ‘Follow me,’ I am calling you to be whole in relationship together; you have to let my whole person be intimately involved with you as I wash your feet; yet, it is critical to understand that this is not a ritual act of service, and in order to let my whole person be intimately involved with you, and you with me, you must (dei, by its nature, not by obligation) turn from your old ways (notably, reductionist substitutes and practices) and then let me go to the cross for you so that you can be redeemed from this old and reconciled in the new covenant of transformed relationships together as my family in the new relational order.” Peter would later learn and experience—albeit not without struggle—that Jesus’ footwashing and cross were only for this relationship together in his trinitarian relational context of family and by his trinitarian relational process of family love, and thus that relationship together was only on the nonnegotiable terms and the irreducible whole of God.
The new relational order is the function of God’s terms for relationship together to be whole in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity, in whose image human ontology was created. By vulnerably being involved in footwashing, Jesus radically changed our relationship with God (as signified in God’s strategic shift) and how to be involved with God (as signified in Jesus’ tactical and functional shifts)—and thus how to be involved with each other. His vulnerable relational act directly connects with his salvific action on the cross which tore down the curtain in the temple between God and his people. His footwashing vulnerably engaged his followers in transformed relationships, the specific relationship which operationalized the relational significance of the torn curtain opening the way for deep and intimate communion with the whole of God. Thus, this new relational order operates only by the function of transformed relationships, which are necessarily both equalized and intimate relationships by the nature of the Trinity’s relational ontology.
The process of equalization and intimacy are not separate processes but are conjoined in an interrelated process by the function of the whole person signified by the heart. Equalizing of persons opens the way for coming together in intimacy, and intimacy demands that our relationships operate predominantly on the heart level. As Jesus vulnerably demonstrated with his whole person and the involvement of his heart—notably in footwashing but throughout this week—these are God’s terms and the only way he does relationships. What Peter needed to grasp in his heart, and all Jesus’ followers need to grasp, is an unavoidable condition of God’s terms for relationship: to live at the level of our hearts is to function openly in the fullness of our humanity, which includes being vulnerable with our weakness, fallibility and sin.
These certainly are pervasive reasons for the heart to keep its distance or hide. These areas of our lives (notably sin), when left unattended, distorted or hidden, also greatly reduce the quality, well-being and wholeness of life for our person as well as for those we have relationships with. Jesus provided for this matter.
As the Passover meal progressed, Jesus passed the cup (four times in Jewish tradition) and the bread (matzo in their tradition). Jesus apparently focused on the third cup which related to the third of four covenant promises of God to Israel for redemption (Ex 6:6-7). The cup Jesus passed was identified with both the fulfilling of God’s promise and the shedding of blood required to make whole the covenant relationship (Ex 24:6-8, Heb 9:12,18,22). What was unique about this Passover meal, however, was that Jesus formalized the new covenant with his own blood for the forgiveness of sins and transformed relationships together in the new relational order of God’s family (Lk 22:14-20).
Jesus invited his disciples to partake of the bread and the cup, his body and his blood, which he made vulnerably accessible for them to share in. This image should be placed in juxtaposition with an earlier scene involving would-be followers in conflict over Jesus’ invitation to partake of the bread of his body—in which they argued “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:48-52). The contexts for these two scenes were certainly contrasting, yet their images give focus to the same vital issue: What does it mean to partake of Jesus?
Moments earlier Jesus told Peter his footwashing was necessary for Peter to have a “part with me” (Jn 13:8). “Part with me” (meros meta) means to “share with me,” which involves the relational function of communion together. This is Peter’s call to be whole in ongoing intimate relationship together. Communion (koinoneo), from which fellowship (koinonia) is derived, involves a partaker (koinonos) who has a common (koinos) share in something. Jesus made his whole person vulnerably accessible to Peter to share in his person (“share with me”) in intimate relationship together—that is, without distinctions, roles, stratification or any other relational distance but equalized for intimacy. As Jesus passed the symbols of his body and blood, he was not focused on symbols or elements. He was making his whole person even more vulnerably accessible to them to partake in his ultimate relational involvement, and thus to have an intimate common share in his ultimate salvific action—the full extent of his love. This is how his footwashing and his formalizing the new covenant are deeply interrelated, and thus were necessarily integrated for this pivotal table fellowship to make definitive the relational process of partaking of Jesus and participating in his life—which needs to inform all participation in the Eucharist, if not transform its practice.
To partake of this communion meal is not an activity, nor about tradition or even faith. It is a function only of relationship and participating in Jesus’ life, thus the whole of God. To partake in his life is to have a common share in not merely his past salvific action but to ongoingly share in intimate relationship together in his trinitarian relational context of family by his trinitarian relational process of family love. To be a partaker in his life on the terms of his relational context and process is a function conjointly of the whole person sharing in common intimately in relationship together as the whole of God’s family, not merely as an individual. Nothing less and no substitutes of our whole person involved in intimate relationship together constitute partaking of and participating in the whole of Jesus’ life. This is to say then, what Jesus made a necessity for Peter to be involved with him in the footwashing is the same intimate involvement necessary also to partake of Jesus in communion and relationally participate together in his life with the help of the Spirit. And this intimacy can only be authentic by also being equalized before him, as Peter learned at his footwashing. Anything less and any substitutes are reductionism incompatible for ongoing relationship together with Jesus in his embodied relational context and process.
What is exalted in celebrating the Eucharist is the restoration of
relationships to the intimate communion of authentic fellowship both
with God and with the whole of God’s family together. This is a
functional reality, even though we cannot be human (i.e. what we
really are) and intimate with each other at the same time without
our sin impacting each other directly. Jesus’ blood constitutes the
experiential truth of the transformation necessary for intimate
relationship together with the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:28).
Therefore, by the lens of repentance without any false assumptions
about human ontology and the human relational condition, Jesus’
salvific action made definitive: the most vital means in the
process of developing intimate relationships together necessarily
has to be forgiveness. He demonstrated this functional necessity
by opening his ultimate salvific discourse with forgiveness as his
blood was shed (Lk 23:
This matter of forgiveness should not be taken lightly, nor should it be seen as a mere spiritual matter. Jesus’ salvific action embodied with his own blood is only for relationship together. Therefore, it is absolutely essential for us to grasp that forgiveness is an ongoing necessity conjointly for what Jesus saves us from and what he saves us to. This is the experiential truth and functional reality in which the whole of Jesus’ vulnerable relational involvement is embodying his followers together to be whole, God’s whole on only God’s terms.
What is unfolding in this week is the relational outcome of redemptive reconciliation. This is the week the world and all history became equalized, whether received yet or not, and when the old died and the new was raised up, whether experienced yet or not, and where relationships were restored to their true purpose in God’s design, whether realized yet or not. And the emerging changes signify the nature of transformed relationships (equalized and intimate) embodying the whole of God’s family in the new relational order.
The functional significance of this redemptive outcome is that the ongoing relational work of God’s grace does not allow any terms in relationships for our false distinctions of the person, and also renders inapplicable the use of human differences which keep us apart from the whole of relationship together. When such human distinctions formulated by reductionism, and the incorrect use of human differences influenced by reductionism, are self-imposed, imposed on us by others, or imposed on others by us, we need to be redeemed to be disembedded from them in order to open (free) the relationship to come together. As Jesus’ disciples demonstrated in their lives, this is an ongoing issue, and the process of coming together in transformed relationships remains a rigorous process, if not also a struggle.
After the meal, Jesus and his disciples went to Gethsemane for further opportunity to be relationally vulnerable (Mt 26:36-46). Jesus went more deeply into his intimacy with his Father, making evident the extent of their openness and the depth of their involvement with each other in relationship together. The disciples had opportunity to further experience the same intimacy with Jesus by sharing in his deep anguish, but they chose to keep their relational distance and not to be vulnerably involved with him (cf. Lk 22:45). Their relational struggle only intensified in the hours ahead.
Nevertheless, the week of equalization would be fulfilled and redemptive reconciliation would prevail. Jesus clearly functioned as the equalizer. In his ultimate salvific discourse on the cross (discussed in chapter six), Jesus definitively constituted his family in transformed relationship together just as he had redefined his family earlier (Mt 12:48-50). By transforming his mother Mary’s and John’s relationship as new family together (Jn 19:26-27), he functionally embodied (not symbolically) them in the new covenant relationship signifying the new relational order of the gospel. Conjointly, his salvific action for Mary and John made definitive what Jesus saves us to: new covenant relationship together belonging to the whole of God’s family, which embodies the functional significance of the gospel. This was further signified when his salvific action tore the curtain to reconstitute the temple for God’s intimate dwelling by shifting it directly to the relational context and process of the whole of God’s family.
This fully initiates the function of his family to be whole in transformed relationships together, thus also operationalizing his church as family to live whole within its life and practice and to make whole the human condition in the world. Jesus functioned definitively as the equalizer to make whole, and those who followed in relationship together to be whole became the church as equalizer. The new relational order of the gospel signifying the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human relational condition will further emerge as his church with the ecclesiology of the whole, in which all the human differences catalogued under humanity come together in transformed relationships necessary to be the whole of God’s family.
The Ecclesiology of the Whole
Perhaps it may appear premature to you to be focusing on ecclesiology (the doctrine and practice of the church) while still in the Gospels discussing Christology. That would depend on what your perceptions of the early church are based and what your understanding of church is. When Jesus revealed “I will build my church,” the Greek term he used for church was ekklesia (Mt 16:18). The term meant the assembly or gathering of those who were called out (ekkletoi). Ekklesia also has roots in the OT, which the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) uses for Israel as the covenant community—suggesting Matthew’s Jewish emphasis as the apparent reason only this Gospel records Jesus’ statement about the church. This embeds the Christian church in the context of God’s dealings with his chosen people and their covenantal relationship (Ex 19:5, Dt 7:6, Heb 8:10, 1 Pet 2:9-10). The NT extends this salvation history as the Father pursues a people for himself in his eschatological plan (Lk 1:17). This was Jesus’ salvific action in complete Christology and full soteriology to build his church.
The term ekklesia itself appears to have only limited descriptive value for what his church is and does. As far as function is concerned, ekklesia is a static term which is not useful to define the church (notably the local church). We need a more dynamic understanding for the church’s function than merely a gathering. The functional significance of his church emerges when we focus on the process Jesus implied in his statement above, and that he embodied in his life and practice—and made further evident in post-ascension discourse with various churches.
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. These terms were conjoined later with their significant cognates: oikeios, belonging to a certain family (Eph 2:19); oikodome, building (Eph 2:21); oikonomos, a person who manages a family (1 Cor 4:1). The function of these terms points to the relational process of the new kinship family of God and building his family together. This provides us with the vital relational context of his church and the dynamic relational process for the function of his church, both of which Jesus vulnerably embodied progressively in his trinitarian context of family by his trinitarian 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 work during the week of equalization—which the Spirit came soon afterward to develop for completion and Paul, not Peter, would later formally operationalize. Therefore, ecclesiology is necessarily integrated within a complete Christology to establish the experiential reality of a full soteriology. Any ecclesiology that is not functionally integrated within Christology is insufficient and lacks wholeness.
It may be argued that church today bears little resemblance to the church which emerged in the first century. The validity or invalidity of this discussion also depends on our perceptions and understanding of the church being built in Jesus’ disclosure.
When Jesus cleansed the temple, this was for “my house” (oikos) to be a context for communion (notably communication through prayer) together with God for all peoples (Mk 11:17). When the curtain was torn to reconstitute the temple, this context of God’s intimate dwelling shifted to the relational context for God’s people to have communion directly in relationship together. Relationship together in this new context, however, was only on God’s terms, just as Jesus initially disclosed to the Samaritan woman at the well about God’s strategic shift. God’s terms (“Listen to my Son”) involved following Jesus in relational progression to his Father to belong to his new family, which he redefined in functional distinction from his biological family (Mt 12:49-50). It was in his trinitarian relational context of family by his trinitarian relational process of family love that Jesus constituted his followers in transformed relationship together as family in the new relational order. Just as he established Mary and John becoming family together, it was this gathering (ekklesia) of his followers being “built” together in relationship who formed his church.
The church, which emerged with Jesus, is the direct relational outcome of the relational dynamic involved in establishing the new relational order; they are inseparable.
The formation of his church is vitally interrelated to Jesus’ vulnerable relational work to equalize persons and intimately involve those persons in the relationship together necessary for the new relational order of wholeness. If church formation is separated from this relational process, then church is no longer about his family. His church as family is a function only of relationship. Yet this relationship has significance only as a function of transformed relationships—that is, redeemed and reconciled relationships together. By its nature, these are the relationships together necessary to be whole in likeness of the Trinity. Therefore, church formation must (dei, not opheilo) involve equalizing persons, whose hearts then open to each other and come together in the relationships as family in the new relational order—coming together to live and be whole among themselves, and in conjoint function to live and make whole in the world.
This is what we need to perceive and understand about his church, and thus how we need to function to be his church. Anything less in church formation is insufficient to be whole, God’s whole on God’s terms, and becomes merely a substitute from reductionism; the influence of reductionism is addressed in his post-ascension discourse to help us further perceive and more deeply understand the purpose and function of his church. The church Jesus formed will challenge how we practice church today, yet hopefully help our ecclesiology to be whole.
The relational process of discipleship involves following Jesus in the priority of relationship together for the relational progression which leads to the redemptive act of adoption as the Father’s very own daughters and sons permanently belonging in his family together (cf. Jn 8:31-36). The whole of God’s family is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise which establishes the functional significance of the gospel and what Jesus saves us to—rendering inadequate a reductionist emphasis of good news merely for the individual in what Jesus saves us from.
God’s thematic response to the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole of God has been the integrating thesis for God’s vulnerable involvement with humankind, thus the theme for salvation history and the ultimate expectation for its eschatological conclusion. In the process of this relational progression which Jesus vulnerably embodied, he promised his followers that they would not be left as orphans because the Spirit will replace him to bring his family to completion (Jn 14:15-18). Then in his formative family prayer, Jesus asked his Father for all his followers to experience the relational reality of the whole of God’s family just as constituted in the Trinity—not at the eschaton but now for the world also to witness (Jn 17:20-26). When Christian life and practice is without this relational significance and experiential reality, it lacks wholeness because it basically functions in the relational condition of orphans, that is, functional, relational, even emotional orphans.
Given God’s thematic relational response, Jesus’ salvific relational work and prayer, and the relational purpose for the Spirit’s ongoing presence, each church is unavoidably faced with the decision that functionally defines its existence and determines its practice. Knowingly or inadvertently by its practice, each church decides either to reciprocally respond to its relational responsibility as the whole of God’s family, or to assume instead by default the function of a gathering of functional and relational orphans in effect as an orphanage. This either-or decision is directly correlated to a church’s perspective on and extent of practice in the relational condition “to be apart”—notably in a church’s operation and how it functions together. Whether a church gives functional priority to this reciprocal relational responsibility of family or subordinates it with other functions, there is no intermediate position for church practice that functionally defines its existence. Based on God’s terms for relationship together, we either are engaging the relational process of the whole of God or are apart from its relational function—no neutral practice, though certainly the relational process is not always consistently engaged in practice.
The metaphor of “church as an orphanage” is descriptive of any gathering of Jesus’ followers who remain in some condition “to be apart” as relational or emotional orphans—gathering even with good intentions and/or for a missional purpose. An orphanage can provide organizational membership, group identity in joint association and activities, and it may even simulate belonging in a limited sense of community. Yet biological-family orphans would have no illusions that this would substitute for belonging to an authentic family. The same awareness cannot be said for most relational and emotional orphans in churches.
The church as orphanage functioning in some relational condition “to be apart” is contrary to God’s design and purpose for creation in general. God’s design and purpose are both functionally whole and wholistically relational, thus God’s declaration “It is not good for [human persons] to be apart” (Gen 2:18). The functional significance of God’s declaration “not good to be apart” converges with the relational significance of Jesus’ declaration “not leave you as orphans” to form the integrating basis of Jesus’ ecclesiology, thus the heart of his ecclesiology of the whole. Consequently, any church practice “to be apart” is also a contradiction of God’s desires specifically for the new creation family in likeness of the Trinity, which Jesus definitively signified in his formative family prayer. Therefore, what authentically represents God and being in God’s image is to function in likeness of the Trinity, and what genuinely reflects the life of the Trinity is church practice in likeness of the Trinity’s relational ontology of intimate interdependent relationships as family.
Jesus made definitive the reciprocal relational responsibility involved in relationship together as family without being apart as orphans (Jn 15:3-11). The key term he used for this relational process is “remain” (meno, abide, dwell), which is not a static descriptive term but a dynamic relational term involving ongoing engagement in a relational process. This is the same term Jesus used to define the relational involvement of his disciples, which tends to be reduced to following his teachings (Jn 8:31). Furthermore, meno is used by Jesus to distinguish the function of those in enslavement (or in reductionism) from those redeemed who authentically live as God’s very own daughters and sons in his family as the relational outcome of redemptive reconciliation, thus defining the qualitative significance of belonging (Jn 8:34-35).
Belonging (not merely membership) is a relational function of the whole of God as family—not as an organization nor even in a limited sense of community—which is constituted in and by the Trinity. While meno has a quantitative dimension of duration (permanence), Jesus emphasizes the qualitative aspect of the depth of involvement in relationship together. Therefore, belonging is the relational outcome of intimately experiencing the relational reality of being God’s very own together as family. The experiential truth of God’s family love was further disclosed by Jesus to define his Father’s and his response to “make our home” (mone for meno) with those in reciprocal relationship together (Jn 14:23). This family experience may be simulated with good intentions or may be perceived with illusions but authentic belonging cannot be substituted for. Nor should church practice be accountable for anything less, as we will discuss shortly about what Jesus addressed in churches.
What renders a church effectively an orphanage are its reductionist practices: first, by defining persons functionally based on what they do, the roles they perform or spiritual gifts they have, thus reducing the importance of the whole person signified by the function of the heart; then on this basis, practicing relationships without the primacy of intimacy, thus not having communion together necessary to participate in God’s life, nor the fellowship to live and be whole together as family. Even though church as orphanage can be a refuge for those who are apart—as orphanages historically have served for those without family—this practice is still a reductionist substitute for the reciprocal relational responsibility as the whole of God’s family. As evidenced from God’s created design and purpose for relationship together since the primordial garden, God holds his people accountable for this relationship together in likeness of the Trinity, accountable to be his people in covenant relationship together, to live in the new creation of his family—that is, accountable to relationally respond back to the whole of God’s thematic relational response, whose trinitarian persons have been vulnerably present and intimately involved with us in family love. Settling for anything less or any substitutes puts a church in tension or conflict with the whole of God’s desires and with what matters most to God; this church operation is not his church, and thus is not about being his family but merely functioning as an orphanage.
As we have discussed throughout this study, Jesus was in ongoing conflict with the main reductionists of his time. The disciples in general and Peter in particular also were in tension with Jesus for their reductionism in how they defined themselves, as they tended to have distance from their heart and to maintain relational distance from the vulnerable heart of Jesus involved with them. Consequently, they did not intimately know Jesus (and thus his Father) despite their membership as his first disciples, and in spite of all their shared activities and time together—experiences witnessed in many churches today. As a group, the early disciples essentially functioned as relational orphans suggesting their participation together in an orphanage during Jesus’ earthly life. This limited involvement would account for some of Jesus’ disappointment (Jn 14:9), sadness (Mt 26:40,45) and frustration (Mk 8:17-19, Jn 21:22) experienced in their relationship. It was not until after Jesus’ ascension that they decisively took up their reciprocal relational responsibility as the whole of God’s family.
Certainly the arrival of the Spirit’s presence and relational work can explain the redemptive changes undergone by the early disciples, though without full explanation since the Spirit does not work unilaterally. That is to say, this does not eliminate the necessity for the reciprocal relational work of Jesus’ followers in cooperative engagement with the Spirit, for which the church is accountable in the trinitarian relational context of family to practice, to nurture and to extend by the trinitarian relational process of family love.
By the relational nature of the Trinity, this family love is a function always for relationship, the relationship of God’s family, thus is always constituting and maturing God’s family. Functional, relational and emotional orphans need family, not orphanages, and urgently need redemptive reconciliation, which the relational function of God’s family love directly and ongoingly addresses. The whole of God’s family love always signifies the following function: pursues the whole person, attends to redeeming persons, and addresses the relational involvement necessary to come together in relationships to be whole as family in likeness of the Trinity. The working assumption of family love is: the importance of the whole person to be involved in the primacy of intimate relationships together as those belonging to God’s family. When the trinitarian relational process of family love is applied to churches and becomes functional in church practice, any church functioning as an orphanage can be redeemed to authentically function together as God’s family.
For authentic followers of Jesus, to maintain function as orphans together is a contradiction of being in relationship with Jesus and is not an option for practice in our relationships together as church. Nor is it negotiable to follow Jesus in the relational progression as his new kinship family. In his study of the NT house church, Roger Gehring observes that the image Jesus preferred for the new people of God was the eschatological family of God. He concludes that this was most likely because family of God best communicated the theological essence of what Jesus was trying to impart. Through social history, Joseph Hellerman examines the social organization of the pre-Constantinian house churches to find, that from first-century Palestine to third-century Carthage the church was a surrogate kinship family whose members understood themselves to be the sons and daughters of God.
We can add that the function of this new kinship family (not necessarily in the form of a house church) is by its nature the necessary practice of God’s people everywhere and how to do church anywhere regardless of its tradition, even in the twenty-first century Western world or global North. Christian church community formation (past, present or future) is more significant than a house, a household or even a conventional family. His church as family in likeness of the Trinity is a new creation unlike any gathering experienced before, even as covenant people of God (as Jesus implied to Nicodemus, Jn 3:3,5). And as whole persons involved in equalized and intimate relationships together with family love, the practice of this relational process in the new relational order raises issues for us which need to be resolved both as individuals and as a church family.
The transformed relationships together of God’s family are the relationships functionally necessary to be whole as signified in the relational ontology of the Trinity. When church practice accounts for this reciprocal relational responsibility, it functions for the experiential truth of this wholeness. Yet, accountability of church function often suffers with a bias of epistemological illusion from reductionism, which masks actual church function with ontological simulation. Reductionism needs to be exposed for its counter-relational work in church practice. Just as family love constitutes and matures God’s family, family love also necessarily involves clarifying what is not a function of God’s family—even contending with what is not authentically God’s family, as Jesus demonstrated in the temple cleansing. The issue of authenticity is an ongoing concern of family love. Accountability for authenticity defines Jesus’ action when he further expressed family love to various churches to be whole.
Jesus’ formulating for ecclesiology to be whole did not stop with the end of his formal earthly ministry. He had other defining interactions specific to his church, which can be considered his post-ascension discourse on ecclesiology definitive for his church to be whole.
After the Spirit came to his church for its development and completion, Jesus acted for Paul’s transformation and called him to be whole to operationalize the church’s wholeness for the experiential truth of the gospel (Ac 9:1-16, Gal 2:11,14). Then Jesus challenged Peter’s perceptual-interpretive framework for making distinctions about persons/peoples, in order to redeem his bias in relationships which created barriers in his church preventing all persons from coming together in transformed relationships as God’s family (Ac 10:9-36; 15:7-9). In family love Jesus clarified the full significance of his relational work of equalization to establish the function of his church also as equalizer, and thus the ecclesiology of the whole was being made definitive. Yet, what was formed (and reformed) theologically was not always made functional in practice, which was the reason Paul later had to chasten Peter in family love for him to practice the relationships together necessary to be whole as God’s church family congruent to the truth of the gospel.
Jesus’ post-ascension discourse on ecclesiology continued when his family love exposed reductionism in various church practices to hold them accountable for the authenticity to be whole as his church (see Rev 2-3). Examining his discourse with these churches will help us grasp the functional and relational significance of Jesus’ ecclesiology necessary for churches to be whole—God’s whole on God’s terms.
The issue about being whole always involves reductionism. What prevails in (en) any context of the world is reductionism. Jesus calls his followers relationally out of (ek) these contexts in order to be whole together as his family, then also relationally sends them back into (eis) those surrounding contexts to live whole together as his family and to make whole the human condition (as defined in his formative family prayer, Jn 17). Without the reciprocating dynamic of this ek-eis relational involvement (discussed in the previous chapter), church practice is functionally based on just en (in) the surrounding context. This is problematic in function for the ongoing relational involvement with the whole of God and God’s terms to constitute the whole of who we are as church and whose we are.
Without the ongoing function of the reciprocating ek-eis relational involvement, there is no engagement of a culture’s life and practice in the surrounding context with the necessary process of reciprocating contextualization (discussed in chapter seven). In conjoint function with triangulation, reciprocating contextualization provides the relational process imperative for the qualitatively distinguished identity of a church to function in the surrounding context without being defined or determined by what prevails in that context. That is to say, without this reciprocating relational process in church practice, there is no consistent functional basis to negate the influence of reductionism. This leaves church practice susceptible to subtle embedding in the surrounding context, or engaging in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion, even despite the presence of apparent indicators of important church practices distinguishing its identity. This is clearly illustrated in the various churches Jesus addressed, each notable for its own variation of church practice.
We examine Jesus’ discourse by starting with the church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29), which both establishes the framework of Jesus’ discourse and frames our discussion as we also end with this church.
Thyatira’s economy emphasized trades (including brass-working) and crafts (cf. Ac 16:14). In the Greco-Roman world of that time, trade guilds organized the various trades and were necessary to belong to if one wanted to pursue a trade (much as unions today). These guilds served various social functions as well, one of which was to meet for common meals dedicated to their patron deities, thus engaging in activities of pagan worship and immorality. For Christians not to belong to a guild and participate would generally mean becoming isolated economically and socially, which may suggest a pragmatic approach to church practice in Thyatira.
In the nature of this surrounding context, Jesus acknowledged this church’s extensive “deeds” (ergon, work that defined them, Rev 2:19): "love” (agape), “faith” (pistis), “service” (diakonia, service, ministry that benefits others, especially compassion to the needy), “perseverance” (hypomone, enduring and not giving in to bad circumstances in contrast to makrothymia which is patience with respect to persons), and that they were “now doing more than…at first,” suggesting not a status quo situation but actually doing more ergon than before. Yet, their practice also “tolerated” (aphiemi, to let pass, permit, allow, v.20) Jezebel’s teaching. What they let pass, permitted or allowed is important to understand in the above context.
Jezebel (probably a byword symbolizing the OT character of Jezebel, cf. 1 Kg 18:19) appears to be a woman (or possibly a group) accepted within this church fellowship. The practice associated with her teaching probably refers to compromise with prevailing activity related to trade guilds prominent in the city which “misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols” (2:20). What is significant to grasp here is not the obvious disparity of this teaching and practice with the desires of God. What is more significant is how these prevailing influences of the surrounding context were absorbed into the practices of this church along with all its other so-called good deeds acknowledged above. This is not simply an issue about syncretism, synthesizing competing ideologies, or even pluralism, but goes beyond merely maintaining doctrinal purity to the deeper issue about participation en a surrounding context having the prevailing presence of reductionism and its subsequent influence on their perceptual-interpretive framework. This is the lens which determined what they ignored and paid attention to, thus the lens by which they practiced their deeds. When reductionism is not negated, its influence then affects how those other deeds would be engaged with something less and some substitute for the whole of persons and relationships, thus raising issues of authenticity, quality and significance.
Thyatira demonstrated a weak view of sin, namely sin as reductionism which was the normative character of their surrounding context and was embedded in its collective order. They also lacked involvement in reciprocating contextualization to distinguish their identity in that surrounding context without being determined by it; and any pragmatism in their practice became a euphemism for reductionism. Their tolerance was essentially about reductionism, thus they reinforced its counter-relational work and functioned incompatibly to be whole, God’s whole on God’ terms. The influence of reductionism is usually more subtle than observed in the Thyatira church. This is illustrated increasingly in the other churches Jesus addressed, as we look next at the church in Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22).
Laodicea was a rich city, the wealthiest Phyrygian city, ten miles west of Colossae. It was known as a prosperous banking center, for its textile industry and its renowned medical school. Their residents had great pride in their financial wealth, fine clothes and famous eye salve. But Laodicea lacked a natural water supply. Hot water was piped in from hot springs and cold water came from the mountains. Both were lukewarm by the time it reached Laodicea. Since hot water was preferred for bathing and cold for drinking, there were frequent complaints about their water as inconvenient to their exceptionally comfortable lifestyle. This background gives important context for Jesus’ discourse and helps us understand further the significance of his ecclesiology of the whole.
How the church in Laodicea functioned was just like their water: lukewarm. Though tepid does suggest that their church practice was “hot” earlier, church life and practice was now comfortable, self-satisfied and complacent, essentially status quo of what prevailed (3:16). Their self-assessment reflected the perceptions of the surrounding city: that they were rich and had everything they needed (3:17a)—relatively speaking, of course, since the comparative process always makes such self-definition provisional. More importantly for those whose self-definition is based on what they do and have, Jesus addressed the illusion of those perceptions and exposed their reductionism (v.17b). They functioned in the epistemological illusion of reductionism, consequently their church practice was without functional substance and relational significance. For Jesus, their lukewarm practice was not only inconvenient but distasteful (“I am about to spit you out of my mouth”), which Laodiceans could readily identify with given their water condition. Moreover, their neither-cold-nor-hot practice was a lie of reductionism; there is no intermediate condition of church practice between being God’s whole as family or not, that defines its existence. Jesus held this church accountable for authenticity—even “cold” was better than a lie—which is how family love functions with its working assumption.
The Laodicean church practice should be familiar to Western churches, notably in the U.S. Yet, this is not merely about relative affluence and comfortable lifestyles. This is about the first major issue of what defines the person, and how this eventually determines how church practice functions. The surrounding context of Laodicea defined itself by what it did and had. The human person was perceived from the outer in, thus functionally reducing the importance of the whole person from the inner out signified by the heart. In this quantitative process, both the importance of the whole person and the primary priority of relationships are replaced by secondary areas of interest and concern. Substitutes are made for the functional substance of our heart and for the quality of our relationships. Substitutes involve any alternative which reduces the qualitative and functional significance of being whole as persons in relationship together. These substitutes of reductionism are what the church in Laodicea accepted (intentionally or inadvertently) from its surrounding context of the Greco-Roman world to determine its church practice, thus creating the illusion (the epistemological illusion of reductionism) about their authentic existing condition. This false sense of self-understanding is ongoingly promoted, reinforced and developed by Satan, who encourages churches with Christian substitutes in ontological simulation (cf. 2 Cor 11:14-15)—which Jesus addressed further in two other churches.
While Jesus exposed the Laodicean church’s reductionist substitutes and dismantled their illusion, he also extended further family love by making his whole person vulnerable to them for the redemptive change imperative in relationship together to be whole (3:18-19). He was clarifying for them that relationship together on God’s terms is incompatible with any reductionist practice. As family love always functions, he redefined them to pursue their whole persons from the inner out to be redeemed to come together in transformed relationships. This is signified in Jesus’ well-known words which followed—an intimate relational message of family love for his church, usually taken out of this context. The classic image of Jesus knocking at the door (v.20) is a metaphor of these deep desires of the whole of God to have intimate relationship with his family. The change they needed, therefore, must (by its nature as signified in the Trinity) be a relational change transforming their practice from a mere gathering without relational belonging (church as orphanage) to whole persons intimately involved in relationships together as family (signified by “open door,” hearts coming together in table communion). This metaphor makes evident that redemptive change is the relational imperative for his church.
This metaphor is helpful to locate the ongoing involvement of Jesus with his church: pursuing his followers for transformed relationships together as family. We cannot continue to reduce Jesus’ intimate relational message of family love for his church in this metaphor by perceiving it only for the individual, as is Christian convention. This metaphor of Jesus’ relational work of grace needs to be returned to its full context for use in ecclesiology. Thus, the significance of this metaphor should not be lost on even the most mature Christian because it is a relational key in Jesus’ ecclesiology to be whole (cf. 3:7-8). This metaphor functionally interacts with the metaphor of church as orphanage to make whole his church.
Any church practice “to be apart” is a contradiction of God’s desires specifically for the new creation family in likeness of the Trinity, which Jesus constituted earlier with his formative family prayer. Since what authentically reflects the life of the Trinity is church practice only in likeness of the Trinity’s relational ontology of intimate interdependent relationships as family, any alternative to God’s whole always becomes church practice as an orphanage, notably operating as an organization or as a voluntary association (cf. church in Thyatira and trade guilds). This either-or defining process is an ongoing tension for church practice. For churches to address the influence of reductionism, even in pragmatic practice, they need the presence of the whole, God’s whole. This is the whole that the relational function of the Trinity ongoingly provides, by which Jesus knocks on church doors. Therefore, embracing the relational function of the Trinity emerges as the primary issue facing churches to define and determine how they will function both within themselves and in the world.
This relational issue was involved in two other churches Jesus addressed. The next church, the church in Sardis (Rev 3:1-3), had “a reputation of being alive” apparently in the prevailing perception, although the city hosted many pagan cults whose practices pervaded the surrounding context. The implication here is that this church lived behind their “reputation” (onoma, used as the substitute of what a person actually is). Even with their reputation of being alive, Jesus made no such assumptions about them. Rather he examined how they functioned through the lens of repentance with family love. Uninfluenced by the surrounding bias, he exposed what existed beneath the outer layer of “being alive”: “you are dead” (nekros, the condition of being separated from the sources of life, thus being unaccompanied by something) based on the fact that “I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of God”—that is, incomplete based on God’s terms, not as defined by the surrounding context. With the perceptual-interpretive framework Jesus makes definitive here for his ecclesiology, their “deeds” (ergon, works denoting what defined them) were not “complete” (pleroo, to fill up, make full or complete). In other words, what defined them was not whole. What was missing in their church practice?
Since no explicit sins such as idol worship and sexual immorality were mentioned (as in Thyatira), their incomplete deeds suggest something more subtle or lacking. Their activity was perceived as alive, yet likely in the quantitative aspects of bios, not the qualitative function of zoe. Their reputation signified only a substitute (onoma) of the authentic identity of who, what and how his church is. While Jesus’ polemic about soiled and white (leukos, bright, gleaming) clothes described those incomplete and a remnant who weren’t incomplete respectively, bright clothes symbolized those who participated in God’s life (3:4).This is about relationship and involvement together, which soiled clothes symbolized a barrier to or precluded. Any type of “soiled” clothes—whether stained by blatant sin or dirtied from subtle incomplete work—would have this relational consequence. I suggest this all implies: their deeds were not whole because they were substitutes from reductionism; and they were not whole because what defined them was based on reductionist practices; thus how they practiced church was separated from the relational involvement of God’s life, unaccompanied by the vulnerable presence and function of the Trinity, because of their sin of reductionism—in what defined their persons and determined their relationships together, and thus in how they practiced church.
The issue of not being complete and being whole started back at creation and the purpose to “fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). The Hebrew term for “fill” (male) generally denotes completion of something that was unfinished. When God declared “not good for human persons to be apart,” God started with Adam and Eve the relational context and process of the function to be God’s family. This was now fulfilled by Jesus—as he declared “I will not leave you as orphans” and sent us the Spirit for completion—in the trinitarian relational context of family by the trinitarian relational process of family love. This relational context and process were not the primary function of the Sardis church’s involvement and ministry, so Jesus critiqued what they “filled their church” with, as he does all churches.
In spite of how well the Sardis church presented itself (its appearance) and how well it was perceived (its image), substance was lacking. This reflected a shift in how they defined themselves from the inner out to the outer-in aspects and functions (metaschematizo). This lack of deeper qualitative substance exposed the credibility of their reputation as essentially worthless, while the validity of their work (apparent service and ministry) was relationally insignificant because they were separated (“to be apart”) from the substance primary to wholeness of life. These are severe critiques Jesus made of a church which at least was doing something to earn that reputation of being alive—unlike the Laodicean church’s lukewarmness. The choice essentially of style over substance is not unique to the church in Sardis. In fact, the distinction between style (for appearance and image) and substance is blurred in many church practices. Yet, the credibility gap between what appears to be and what actually exists is not readily apparent to a church and observers, when a church relies on what it does to define itself. Reputation becomes one of those valued indicators of success which many churches depend on for feedback to evaluate their work—or value to validate their position in God’s kingdom. Jesus asks, “What are we filling our churches with?”
Family love functions for authenticity in relationship together to be whole, and for accountability for anything less and any substitutes. Thus, Jesus’ critiques were “a critique of hope” in his call to be whole—a functional key in his ecclesiology to be God’s whole. When Jesus confronted them to “wake up,” the sense of this two-word combination (gregoreuo and ginomai, v.3) is to emerge as a new, whole person. This was not about self-determination but redemptive change—the relational imperative. They needed to be transformed in the inner-out aspects and functions (metamorphoo) of a person, while being redeemed from the outer-in aspects and functions (metaschematizo) which did not give full importance to the qualitative function of the whole person (signified only by the heart). Their outer-in over inner-out way of defining themselves determined what they paid attention to in how they did relationships and how they practiced church—which were not complete. This certainly diminished their relationships both with God and with each other, though they were unaware of this condition due to the simulation and illusion of reductionism, which ignored the lack of qualitative relational substance.
With the lens of repentance by the function of family love, Jesus called them back to what they had “received” (lambano, v.3) in relationship from the beginning: his whole person, not just his teachings. As disclosed in John 1:12, lambano means to embrace and follow him as a teacher—that is, be his disciples not as students in the rabbinic tradition but as adherents in relationship together in progression to be whole as God’s family, thus pointing to the formative process in his ecclesiology to be whole. In other words, Jesus called them back to be whole in the qualitative function of relational work inherent in who, what and how the Trinity is, and therefore who his followers are and what his church is: the whole of God’s family. For nothing less and no substitutes of this relational reality, they needed to become transformed persons from the inner out who vulnerably engage in the relational work necessary to integrate equalized and intimate relationships together to be his church family in the new relational order.
The rigorous nature of this relational process makes church practice more susceptible to reductionism; church practice is also thus tempted to use the easier alternatives of reductionist substitutes. The lack of primary involvement in this definitive relational work for church practice becomes even more acute with the church in Ephesus (Rev 2:1-4).
Jesus consistently disclosed knowing these different churches’ “deeds” (ergon, what defined them). The list of the Ephesian church’s deeds is impressive: their “hard work” (kopos, denotes not so much the actual effort but the weariness experienced from that effort); their “perseverance” (hypomone, endurance as to things and circumstances, in contrast to patience toward persons; signifies character that does not allow losing to circumstances, cf. church in Thyatira); they maintained the doctrinal purity of the church under trying circumstances and did not tolerate falsehood, unlike the Thyatira church; they even suffered repercussions for Christ’s name and yet endured the hardships to remain constant in their faith. This list forms a composite picture describing how they were, what they did and were involved in, which essentially was extremely dedicated in major church work and which can also describe a number of successful churches today.
Jesus knew not merely the information about their deeds but also knew (oida) the nature of them, and the extent of their functional significance. It may seem somewhat perplexing that Jesus was not impressed with this church and even felt to the contrary about their church practice: “You have forsaken your first love” (v.4). If it was not Jesus making this critique, we would probably dismiss this as a misguided conclusion or uninformed allegation. Yet, his discourse here on ecclesiology raised a serious issue of church function, which is crucial to account for in how we practice church ourselves. His critique makes definitive the very heart of his ecclesiology to be whole.
The term “forsaken” (aphiemi) means to forsake, abandon persons, to leave, let go from oneself or let alone—which would include functionally maintaining relational distance even while in close physical proximity or in mutual activity. Aphiemi is the same term Jesus used in his promise to “not leave [his followers] as orphans” (Jn 14:18). Connecting these provides the context and process for the function of ecclesiology to be God’s whole. In the church context at Ephesus this strongly describes not paying attention to the whole person and not giving primary priority to relationships together. They worked hard doing things for God but the relational process necessary for their functional significance was deemphasized or misplaced in their effort. This often happens as churches develop and the goals of church growth become the priority of church practice. In the process, as the Ephesian church demonstrated, there is a subtle shift in which the means become the end and the purpose for relationship together to be whole is forsaken.
As the term hypomone for “perseverance” denotes, they were so focused on circumstances and situations such that persons (especially God) unintentionally were ignored in relationship, inadvertently left in relational distance or emotionally forgotten. Their hypomone was in contrast to the Philadelphian church’s hypomone, which was a reciprocal relational response to Jesus’ desire (“my command”) for relationship together (3:10, to be discussed in the next section). Their persevering character of not giving in to bad circumstances also stands in contrast to makrothymia which is patience, endurance, longsuffering with respect to persons; the former is about dedication in hard work (characteristic of the Ephesian church) while the latter involves relationship with mercy, grace and family love (cf. Mt 18:21-22, Rom 2:4).
Despite what would usually be defined as significant church practice reflecting sound ecclesiology, there was distance in their relationships leaving them in the condition “to be apart,” indicating a sound orphanage and not ecclesiology of the whole. They did not have the relational involvement of family love, which is the only involvement having relational significance to God (cf. Mary’s anointing of Jesus as a priority over ministry to the poor, Mt 26:8-13). This is further evidenced by their reduction of the truth merely to doctrinal purity. They forgot that the Truth was vulnerably disclosed only for relationship together on God’s terms, which they were effectively redefining on their terms. Essentially, their terms reversed the priority order of Jesus’ paradigm for serving (Jn 12:26), which defined the first priority of discipleship as intimate involvement in relationship together, not focused first on the work to be done for serving (diakoneo). Thus, they also compromised their identity as the light, which is rooted in their relationship with the Light (v.5b, cf. Mt 5:14-15). Since they focused primarily on what they did—suggesting how they defined themselves—they paid attention to related situations and circumstances and less important issues, while ignoring the primacy of relationship together in family love. Functioning with this perceptual-interpretive framework resulted in the relational consequences of forsaking their first love which reflected the lack of relational involvement in their church practice.
This was the relational involvement Jesus called them to turn around and get back to for them to be whole: “Repent and do the things you did at first” (v.5). Jesus was restoring their misplaced priorities and more deeply made discipleship definitive by further operationalizing his paradigm for serving. This involved the first priority of discipleship, which is ongoing vulnerable involvement with Jesus in the relational progression to the whole of God’s family—the formative process in Jesus’ ecclesiology to be whole. His ecclesiology is the ongoing relational outcome of discipleship in this relational progression to the whole of God, which vulnerably engages reciprocal relationship with the Trinity and conjointly is intimately involved in reciprocal relationships together as church family in likeness of the Trinity.
The basic complaint Jesus had against this church is the primary issue facing all churches for defining and determining how they will function: embracing the relational function of the Trinity and embodying church practice in likeness of the Trinity’s relational ontology. In all that the Ephesian church was doing (which was a lot), they were not directly involved in the relational context and process of the whole of God and did not function in the context of family and process of family love constituted in the Trinity. They demonstrated a direct correlation between the priority we give relationships and the extent to which we are loving (as defined by relational involvement, not as doing something however dedicated). This correlation is axiomatic for Jesus’ ecclesiology of the whole. Whether Jesus’ complaint against this church included both their relationship with God and with each other is not clearly indicated in the text. Yet we can strongly infer that it included all their relationships, because their primary emphasis on their work reflected: (1) how they defined themselves, which further determined (2) how they did relationships and thus (3) practiced church. These three major issues are always deeply interrelated, and also in interaction with the above primary issue of the Trinity, thus together they need to be accounted for in ecclesiology in order to be whole.
The practices of both the churches in Ephesus and Sardis were contradictions in function which reflect the influence of reductionism. What they focused on and engaged in were reductionist substitutes for the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love. The relational consequence was to become embedded in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion. Moreover, the relational function of the Trinity cannot be grasped in theological propositions nor experienced in church doctrine, even in its purity. By reductionist practice, these churches demonstrated how their practice (“have forsaken your first love” 2:4) and their understanding (“a reputation of being alive,” 3:1) became decontextualized. In their struggle to remain distinct in a pluralistic Greco-Roman context, the Ephesian church stopped paying attention to the greater context which defined them and distinguished their significance. In their effort to be significant (or popular) in their surrounding context, the Sardis church ignored the primary context which constituted them. That is, they were removed, diminished or deemphasized from the relational context and process of the Trinity and needed to be recontextualized in the relational nature of the Trinity. This is the function of reciprocating contextualization in the ek-eis relational involvement of Jesus’ ecclesiology to be whole and to make whole. Without this reciprocating relational dynamic, church practice increasingly finds its functional basis only en (in) the surrounding context, in which reductionism prevails.
Whatever a church’s surrounding context may be, we can expect the prevailing influence of reductionism to affect the whole of church practice. It will, that is, unless there is the ongoing function of the reciprocating ek-eis relational involvement to definitively distinguish church purpose and function from beyond merely its position en the world. His church’s purpose and function in relationship together to be God’s whole necessitate nothing less and no substitutes of this whole, as the terms of God’s grace demand. Without function in the relational terms of grace in reciprocal relational involvement, reductionism is able to shift grace’s demand for nothing less and no substitutes than the whole in church practice to anything less and any substitute. This shift is qualitative, thus cannot be observed in quantitative terms, as the Thyatira church’s increased amount of “good deeds” demonstrated and the Laodicean church’s wealth, fine clothes and medicine illustrate. This shift is ontological, away from the inner-out whole person, thus cannot be grasped by an outer-in ontology of personhood, as evidenced by the Sardis church’s inability to understand its true condition. This shift is relational, thus cannot be experienced in any other human activity than the primacy of intimate relationships together, as signified by the unawareness of the Ephesian church’s diminished experience in their level of relational involvement together.
As long as our perceptual-interpretive framework is reductionist, our lens’ view of the qualitative, the ontological and the relational will not discern the extent of the surrounding influences reducing the whole of church practice. The relational demands of grace, however, clarifies for church function that nothing less and no substitutes than to be whole is the only practice which has significance to God. Additionally, the lens of repentance in conjoint function with a strong view of sin makes no assumptions to diminish addressing sin as reductionism, first and foremost within church practice and then in the surrounding contexts. And Jesus wants “all the churches” to clearly “know that I am he who searches hearts and minds” (Rev 2:23)—that is, examines the qualitative significance of persons from inner out, whom he holds accountable for authenticity to be whole in relationships together as the whole of God’s family (2:25; 3:11). In their effort to be relevant (and possibly pragmatic) in the surrounding pluralistic context, the Thyatira church forgot in their many admirable church practices what was necessary to be whole and to make whole (cf. a similar error by the church in Pergamum in a reductionist context, Rev 2:12-15).
It is not sufficient for churches to be a mere presence, or even merely to function, en the world; their only significance is to function eis (relational movement into) the world both to be relationally involved with others as God’s whole and, by the nature of this function, also to confront all sin as reductionism of the whole. Jesus teaches us about ecclesiology in his discourse, and the lesson we need to learn from the Thyatira church is: to let pass, indifferently permit or inadvertently allow—“tolerated,” which the others also did more subtly—the influence of reductionism in any form from the surrounding context proportionately diminishes the wholeness of church practice and minimalizes their relational involvement with God, with each other in the church and with others in the world. For churches to get beyond practice merely en the world, they need a different dynamic to define and determine their practice.
By searching hearts Jesus teaches us that church function is about being whole, not merely doing correct ecclesial practices. And the eis relational engagement of church function has to be conjoined with the ek (movement out of) relational involvement with the whole of God as its defining antecedent in the ek-eis dynamic. This reciprocating relational process negates the continuous counter-relational work of Satan and its reductionist influence (Rev 2:24) by ongoingly engaging, embracing, experiencing and extending God’s whole in the qualitative significance of the integrated ontology of both personhood and the church constituted in and by the Trinity.
In his discourse Jesus teaches us a profound lesson which delineates a simple reality of life about the human person and the existing social order—matters we either pay attention to or ignore depending on our working assumptions of humanity and society (discussed earlier in this chapter). Since we do not live in a vacuum, our practice is either shaped by the surrounding context we are en (thus embedded) or constituted by what we enter eis that context with. In the latter function, for eis to define and determine practice necessitates the ek relational involvement to disembed us from a surrounding context in order to embed us to the whole of God’s relational context and process, thus constituting God’s whole for the eis relational movement back. This reciprocating relational process signifies the relational demands of grace compatible with the working assumptions with which Jesus came eis the world, and his assumptions of humanity and the existing social order with which he engaged the world.
For our practice both as person and persons together as church, disembedding from the influence of reductionism to re-embed to God’s whole is the issue we need to grasp. Without the function of nothing less and no substitutes, which grace demands for person and church, wholeness is diminished and the whole is minimalized—or functionally not whole. For church practice to fulfill its divine purpose and function, it must account in its function for being relationally embedded in the whole of God and God’s eschatological plan for its globalizing commission “sent to be whole” in conjoint relational function with its “call to be whole and holy” (as Jesus pointed the Thyatira church to, 2:26-29).
Jesus’ post-ascension discourse is not merely an addendum for his church. This is what in pre-ascension he vulnerably embodied with nothing less and no substitutes of the whole of God and ongoingly accounted for the whole of God’s intimate response for relationship together. After his church had opportunity to establish its practice in his call and commission, his discourse provided in family love the critique of hope necessary for all churches also to embody in its practice the qualitative relational function to be God’s whole. Now in deeper reciprocal relational responsibility, his church is ongoingly accountable for God’s whole with compatible relational response back. And his post-ascension discourse on ecclesiology is clearly definitive for his church’s response to be whole as God’s new family, and for his church to live and make whole as equalizer for God’s new relational order. His ecclesiology constitutes church function only in relational congruence with his embodied function as the equalizer in the trinitarian relational context of family by the trinitarian relational process of family, nothing less and no substitutes but God’s whole on God’s terms.
The redemptive changes, which Jesus made the relational imperative for the above churches to undergo, directly involved his relational work of equalizing. What Jesus embodied throughout his sanctified life and practice was vulnerable relational involvement with the devalued, the dispossessed, the discounted and disregarded—that is, with those stigmatized by false distinctions which created barriers for relationships to come together to be whole. This required also being involved with those who benefited from such distinctions in a prevailing collective order, whether sociocultural, economic, political or religious (including the emerging church). These were persons, even collective orders, which Jesus never avoided and even took initiative to engage (notably Jewish leaders, cleansing the temple). His relational work of family love always involved redemptive reconciliation, and to be redeemed is to be equalized for reconciliation in the relationships necessary to be God’s whole. These relationships are necessarily transformed relationships both equalized and intimate. Relationships are not fully reconciled in coming together intimately until they are first redeemed, thus equalized.
Human communities containing this diversity of distinctions and related misuse of differences (e.g. about gender and age) ongoingly maintain relationships together in some condition “to be apart” as long as this existing order is not changed. When the discussion is about bringing together human diversity, it is misguided to think that persons can be united in relationship together without these distinctions being rendered insignificant. Those who employ distinctions on others and for themselves knowingly or inadvertently use a “deficit model” in human relations: the treatment, however subtle, of others who are different as being essentially less. Whatever the distinction or difference, persons are perceived as less because ostensibly they do not measure up to the prevailing standards used in the reductionist process of defining human persons by what they do or have, achieved or acquired. The relational consequences of such perceptions is a stratified relational order embedded in the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole.
Peter used a deficit model to make false distinctions about Gentiles which stratified relationships in the early church, thus creating barriers to their full participation in relationship together. This necessitated both Jesus to correct him in his post-ascension discourse and Paul to chasten him to practice the truth of the gospel. Until Peter’s bias was redeemed, the Gentiles were not equalized to be functionally able to come together in church practice in transformed relationships as his church family—regardless of maintaining a theology of grace.
This counter-relational process—of distinction making, with the use of a deficit model to stratify relationships, for creating barriers in relationships together reinforcing the human relational condition “to be apart” from God’s whole—was made evident by Jesus in his post-ascension discourse, when he encouraged the church in Philadelphia of the experiential truth of his relational work as the equalizer (Rev 3:7-12). Apparently, this was directed to Jewish Christians who had been ostracized from the Jewish community (excluded from the synagogue) because they no longer measured up to the prevailing standard of Judaism (v.9, as the church in Smyrna was, 2:9). Jesus identified himself as the functional and relational keys to God’s house prophesied earlier (Is 22:22), who determines access to belonging to God’s family (v.7). He fully affirmed the experiential truth that they permanently belonged to God’s family (“open door,” v.8, cf. metaphor of 3:20, a relational key to Jesus’ ecclesiology of the whole). As the equalizer, Jesus’ family love rendered insignificant the distinction imposed on them by the Jews prevailing in that religious order and redeemed them of the barriers to full participation in God’s family (v.9b). This equalized them to relationally respond back to be reconciled in reciprocating transformed relationships together as God’s family in the new relational order. Their response back was not of self-determination (“little strength,” dynamis, signifying being unable or incapable) or out of obligation (opheilo) to a code of the law, but ongoing relational response back to Jesus and his terms for relationship together as family: “kept my command with hypomone” for ongoing reciprocal relationship together (v.10, in contrast to the perseverance of the Ephesian church, 2:3).
By equalizing them in the surrounding context of this religious order, Jesus made unequivocal the experiential truth that “I have loved you” with family love to be whole in relationship together as God’s family. As the equalizer, he will also humble those Jews functioning in ontological simulation, who imposed this counter-relational process on them, to know as well that he has loved them as family together (v.9)—in a dramatic image of equalization. This dramatic image should be projected back onto his equalizing cleansing of the temple to complete the relational outcome of equalization in the redemptive reconciliation necessary for “my Father’s house” to be for “all nations” without distinctions. In this relational outcome Jesus constituted the Philadelphian gathering further and deeper as his church family in the relational progression embedded within the whole of God’s eschatological plan to the new Jerusalem (3:11-12). In doing so, Jesus’ ecclesiology of the whole is functionally integrated with eschatology in the whole of God’s thematic action.
As those who have been equalized to permanently belong to the whole of God’s family, part of “your crown” (v.11) as the relational outcome of redemptive reconciliation involved their defining commission (in conjoint function with their call) to live whole and make whole as the church as equalizer. This was the experiential truth of the gospel they were to embody, not in isolation merely among themselves but embody to the world, just as Jesus embodied from his Father to make whole the human condition (Jn 17:18).
Ironically, the counter-relational process of distinction making and discrimination by Jews to Christian Jews became the same counter-relational process used by various Jewish Christians to make distinctions of Gentile Christians to discriminate against them in the early church. This was Peter’s perceptual-interpretive framework and essentially his contradictory practice in the church until Jesus’ post-ascension discourse. Then Peter led the discussion in reordering the stratified early church to be the equalizer, though Paul would be the one to operationalize it and to formalize the ecclesiology of the whole. After Jesus redeemed his bias and reformed his ecclesiology, Peter declared at the Jerusalem church council that “God made no distinctions between us and them” (Ac 15:9). The term diakrino denotes to make a distinction, discriminate, treat differently, which God does not practice in his family. This term and God’s family action help us understand that such distinctions are not neutral without repercussions but rather are integrated in a counter-relational process which then uses those distinctions to discriminate toward those persons by treating them differently, namely as being less by the deficit model. Peter learned that those distinctions are human constructs, not made by God (cf. Ac 10:14-15).
In this pivotal action for ecclesiology, the early church shifted to emerge as the equalizer. Its defining function for church practice became: dissolving false human distinctions of human construction and absorbing legitimate human differences from God in order to be and live the whole of God’s family in the new relational order of transformed relationships together conjointly equalized and intimate. As Jesus embodied in his equalizing, church function as equalizer by its nature necessitates being both whole and holy, thus to be qualitatively distinguished from the function of the common—notably from the prevailing function of the surrounding context’s relational order.
The significance of the church being holy involves a functional aspect and a relational aspect for which church practice is accountable not only in sanctified identity but also in sanctified life and practice. Since Jesus redeemed (thus equalized) persons in extending to them the relationship of his Father as family together, what distinguishes his followers—his family, his church—is to live equalized, and, in full congruence with his relational work, to equalize by extending this family relationship of family love. Jesus made clearly evident throughout his sanctified life and practice that his equalization perspective and a reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework are irreconcilable, thus incompatible as a working basis for church practice. Therefore, the functional aspect of being holy involves being freed from the influence of reductionism which explicitly or implicitly defines and/or determines church practice. The related relational aspect of being holy involves the authentic practice of church relationships together in likeness of the Trinity, which is distinguished from any aspects of the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, for example, as orphans in an orphanage. This functional and relational significance of the church being holy interact to shape the process of church development and growth.
When we are developing our relationships in church not “to be apart” from the whole, and thus be distinguished from relationships in general in the surrounding context, we need to engage a relational process distinguished from the surrounding context’s relational order and process. That is, church relations need to engage the relational process of redemption and reconciliation imperative for these relationships to be the transformed relationships integrated together to be God’s whole. To participate in and have an equalized share in life together as family in likeness only of the Trinity is a holy communion that, by its nature constituted by Jesus, is the relational outcome only from the equalization of redemption and the intimacy of reconciliation in family love. To partake of the whole of Jesus’ life and to participate in his church in the relationships together of God’s whole is the reciprocal relational response of nothing less and no substitutes—the only response compatible and congruent with his relational response of grace, as Peter experienced in his footwashing.
Conjointly, the church as equalizer cannot be relationally involved with the human diversity in the surrounding contexts of the world without first absorbing the human differences within its own family life by involvement in transformed relationships (equalized and intimate) together. To extend God’s response of family love to the human relational condition, church function must be whole to make whole. Churches fail to be whole to fulfill its purpose as equalizer as long as its own members remain functionally apart in some aspect of this relational condition—even if unintentional or inadvertent. The equalizing of redemption and the intimacy of reconciliation are intentional relational practices for his church, in the process of which his church dissolves false human distinctions and absorbs legitimate human differences to be the whole of his family in the new relational order.
Yet, the church as equalizer is not about merely what to do in the life of the church and about developing more ministries for church growth and missions, as made evident by the churches in Jesus’ post-ascension discourse on ecclesiology. This is still only about relationships and how to be involved in relationship together by family love. In his function as equalizer, Jesus’ working priorities were not about goals to fulfill in a divine mission because his whole purpose was a function of relationship: its origin, its initiation, its enactment, its fulfillment, its outcome and conclusion. The embodied church who authentically follows Jesus as equalizer has purpose only in relationship and always functions involved in relationships: their condition “to be apart,” their redemption, their healing, their reconciliation, their restoration and transformation.
Just as Jesus made redemptive change the relational imperative for these churches in his post-ascension discourse, the function of church as equalizer requires such change for churches today; otherwise, we will emulate their reductionist practices. While this may not require the theological reform undergone by the church council at Jerusalem, it does indeed call for the functional shift the early church undertook in church practice to transform their relationships together. This functional shift involves our approach to church life, church growth and missions. The trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love establish the working priorities necessary to build the relationships for his church to be whole as family in likeness—not of any type of family or any form of community, including those of the first-century Mediterranean world, though there is clear association to its patrilineal kinship group. His church as family is in likeness only of the Trinity qua family. The functional integrity of the trinitarian relational context and process cannot be diminished or minimalized in any aspect of church practice, in order for relationships together to have the ongoing relational outcome to be whole in church life and to live whole in church growth, and thus to make whole in church mission. Anything less and any substitutes are irreconcilable to his church as family and incompatible for his church family as equalizer.
The defining call and commission of his followers, who have been
equalized to be his family together, constitute his terms for
function in the new relational order as equalizer. His conjoint call
and commission embody the relational significance of his church to
be whole in transformed relationships together, the experiential
truth of which is necessary to embody the functional significance of
his gospel to make whole the human relational condition. The church
as equalizer vulnerably embodies his gospel with the working
assumptions of both redemption and reconciliation (Lk 24:46-47),
thus it qualitatively embodies the complete sanctified Christology
of the whole of Jesus and the full soteriology of his salvific
relational work. The whole of who, what and how Jesus embodied, and
the whole of whom he saves, what he saves them to and how he saves
them, this whole embodies the church as equalizer. Its authentic
practice is God’s whole on God’s terms, which fulfills Jesus’
formative family prayer, just as the Father sent his Son with
nothing less and no substitutes.
In response to the opening questions of this chapter, I have sketched a conclusion that the function of Jesus’ identity as the light of the world illuminated the only alternative for the ontology of human persons and the social design of humanity which is definitive for them to be whole: the qualitative new relational order of his church as family together. The hard question for us now is what do we do with his alternative, that is, specifically in terms of our prevailing human self-definition, our pervasive relational practices and relational order, and, interrelated, our predominant church practices?
All of us, persons and persons together as church, have made this decision in the past, knowingly or unknowingly, and are faced with this decision in the present, explicitly and directly, and will make this decision ongoingly in the future, intentionally or inadvertently. The question then is not about when we will choose but what we are choosing in our living as persons, with our engagement in relationships and by our practices as church. And the question revolves on the integrated issue in these three matters of being God’s whole on God’s terms. Jesus also made definitive that the only alternative to his only alternative is reductionism.
As Peter would attest, it is not easy to live whole among ourselves as church family and in our surrounding contexts, even though the theology to be whole and make whole may clearly be present. The functional implications of the church as equalizer in the new relational order as God’s family could in itself take up volumes, much less a small section in a chapter. Yet, the functional and relational significance of Jesus’ sanctified life and practice, and his gospel, remain vulnerably present and intimately involved by his Spirit for his church to respond to—ongoingly addressing churches for irreducible and nonnegotiable church practice, as if in further post-ascension discourse for our ecclesiology to be whole.
We need to openly face not only the human relational condition but the relational condition of church practice and make no reductionist assumptions for our practice. God’s family love holds us to be accountable for authenticity. Thus, we have to seriously embrace the relational reality in the metaphor of Jesus knocking on our church doors to be changed from any metaphorical condition of church as orphanage, if we are to be reconciled in transformed relationships together (both equalized and intimate) for authentic function in likeness of the Trinity. Jesus made it uncomfortably clear that our only alternative is some reduction of God’s whole and renegotiation of God’s terms, replaced by our substitutes, many of which closely emulate the reductionist church practices in Jesus’ post-ascension discourse.
The interrelated issues of how we define our persons, how we engage in our relationships and thus practice church always involve three vital aspects for all practice: (1) the significance of our person (and persons together as church) presented to others—signifying the integrity of who is presented; (2) the quality of our communication (including implied relational messages)—signifying the qualitative substance of what is communicated and its congruence with who is presented; and (3) the depth level of relationship we engage—signifying the qualitative extent of how we’re involved, which can qualify the quality of (2) and the significance of (1). As we examine these three aspects of our practice along with the interrelated issues involved in church practice, we can better understand if how we function as church is congruent with the relational function of the Trinity or has shifted to a reductionist substitute. This will certainly challenge what we are filling our churches with, or even face us with why persons don’t respond to our church practice, both from outside and inside a church. Moreover, it will hold church leaders accountable for not only who fills our churches and what they lead, but also for how they lead. For example, maintaining distinctions and role differences are convenient means to promote or reinforce separation in relationships together, and also are comfortable positions to keep relational distance without vulnerable involvement with other members.
Jesus’ working assumptions and priorities served only to make relationships together whole. The human condition is a relational condition, and human persons (both in the world as well as in the church) need relationship to be whole. No other priority and function are primary for Jesus and can have legitimate primacy for his church and his gospel. While he functioned in this primacy of relationship, many unconventional, unorthodox and counter-cultural things happened—namely in relationships, which appeared uninformed or ill-advised; his practices can certainly make following Jesus uncomfortable, if not avoidable. Essentially, it can be suggested that Jesus was not an efficient missionary or church planter, that is, in terms of how efficiency controls function today and becomes an unwritten policy of church operation. This simply signifies the incompatibility of reductionist practices with Jesus’ sanctified life and practice to be whole and make whole, God’s whole only on God’s terms.
This calls for a fundamental paradigm shift in our approach to church life, church growth and church mission, which in Jesus’ working assumption necessitates a qualitatively new perceptual-interpretive framework. More importantly, Jesus assumes that this condition and any related relational condition “to be apart” in churches need repentance for the turn-around change of redemption, which assumes the need for reconciliation, which assumes the need for the relational grace of the whole of God. This grace embodied by Jesus transforms persons for transformed relationship together with family love, thus defining the only priority of function constituting the very heart of the life of his church in the new relational order.
God’s grace demands from us reciprocal relationship in nothing less and no substitutes than God’s whole on God’s terms. As Jesus’ vulnerable response to the human condition fulfilled, human persons—with whatever distinctions and of whatever differences—don’t need a gathering in an orphanage but need the relational belonging in family, the whole of God’s family. What are we choosing by our church practice?
 Daniel G. Reid, ed. The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 670-71.
 For a broader discussion of ecclesiology of the whole, see my overlapping study The Person, the Trinity, the Church: The Call to be Whole and the Lure of Reductionism (Wholeness Study, 2006), online at http://www.4X12.org.
 Roger W. Gehring, House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structure in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 47.
 Joseph H. Hellerman, The Ancient Church as Family (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).
 For further contextual information, see Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000).
 For a discussion of this correlation, see J. Hellerman, The Ancient Church as Family.
©2008 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.