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The Face of the Trinity
The Trinitarian Essential for the Whole of God and Life
Chapter 9 The Church of Likeness
Comparative Relations, Power Relations, or Whole-ly Relationships
There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit…different kinds of service
but the same Lord…different kinds of working but the same Trinity
works all of them in all persons and relationships of the church.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6, NIV
…so that they may be whole together, in congruent likeness
as we are whole together.
As you have sent me in uncommon wholeness into the world,
in uncommon likeness I have sent our church family into the world.
The global church has emerged with its majority composed now in the global South. While its numbers have shifted to the Majority World, what composes the identity of the church, both in the global South and North, remains unclear. Certainly, the shape of the church in likeness of the West is challenged to reflect its diversity, with a post-colonial lens no longer assuming the superiority of Western theology and practice. In the midst of this transition, however, the identity of the church remains in doubt as to its likeness, because the integrity of the church is largely uncertain throughout the theology and practice of its global presence.
Explicitly or implicitly, knowingly or unknowingly, churches struggle to establish their identity both in the global community as well as within the global church. This struggle continues as long as the integrity of who, what and how the church is is not composed in the ontology and function that distinguish its likeness beyond a common likeness of its surrounding context (locally, regionally, globally). The church’s likeness emerges directly from the likeness of its persons and relationships, whose likeness unfolds from their theological anthropology. The church in likeness then unfolds together according to the theology and practice of its Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology and eschatology to establish churches of likeness. After twenty centuries, does the existing identity of the church provoke this question from Jesus for the church in the twenty-first century: “Don’t you know my whole person even after all these years, creeds and liturgies in my name?”
The church represents the most comprehensive witness of God’s presence and involvement in the human context, and thus the church arguably is the most tangible resource for knowing and understanding God—the witness and resource illuminated by Jesus to distinguish his church family (Jn 17:21,23). How valid the church as this resource is depends on the validity of the church’s likeness to the whole and uncommon God, not to mere parts of a common God. Therefore, the church of likeness in the human context is challenged to distinguish integrally the validity of God’s uncommon presence in its midst and the reliability of God’s whole involvement with its persons and relationships, and indeed is accountable to be congruent just as Jesus prayed definitively to compose his church family.
YHWH directed Moses to have a sanctuary made “so that I may dwell among them” (Ex 25:8). This consecrated place (miqdas)—designated as both the house of the LORD and the tabernacle (also “tabernacle of the covenant,” Ex 38:21, and “the tent of meeting,” Ex 40:34), and later the temple—was definitively the uncommon relational context (“the holy place” and “the most holy place,” Ex 26:33) for YHWH’s presence and involvement. The tabernacle-temple also distinguished the uncommon relational process necessary for covenant relationship with the uncommon YHWH. The Most Holy Place was separated by the curtain to distinguish the uncommon vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of YHWH (Ex 26:31-33). The curtain was critical to maintain the integrity of uncommon YHWH, who is irreducible and nonnegotiable to any common shaping or terms.
Covenant relationship together with YHWH was composed to be whole (tāmiym, Gen 17:1) for the persons engaging in this reciprocal relationship. In spite of the uncommon relational context and process distinguished by the tabernacle-temple, God’s people frequently signified the covenant, their persons and relationship together in common terms. Namely their pivotal shift from inner out to outer in rendered God, persons and relationships together converging in the tabernacle-temple to common shaping. The temple became constructed accordingly, which rendered ambiguous the presence of God and elusive the involvement of God. So, what does the temple have to do with the church and how is it significant for the church’s witness and resource?
The creator of the church constituted his church family based on the uncommon relational context and process of the temple. The Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement dwelled intimately together distinguished in the church’s trinitarian relational context by its trinitarian relational process—which Jesus illuminated in relational terms for his trinitarian church family (Jn 14:23) and Paul made definitive for the church (Eph 2:21-22; 1 Cor 3:16-17). Yet, in spite of the essential terms of the temple distinguished for the church, the issue continues for the church to understand what temple it is in likeness of.
The relational context and process of the temple on which Jesus based the church family are integrally constituted and reconstituted in two irreplaceable ways. First, since the covenant was composed for all persons to be whole in reciprocal relationship together with the whole of God, Jesus had to reconstitute the existing temple in order to restore the relational context and process of the Lord’s house to be “a house of relational connection with God for all persons, peoples and the nations” (Mk 11:15-17). Moreover, not any kind of relational connection is sufficient, because the whole and uncommon God is integrally embodied to be present and involved for reciprocal relationship together in the new covenant that is composed further and deeper than the initial covenant. Secondly, then, in order for this further and deeper relational connection to be, Jesus further reconstituted the temple by tearing open the curtain to have direct access to the Most Holy Place of God’s dwelling. The uncommon relational context and process of the whole of God was now fully vulnerable without the veil of any relational barriers to the ongoing relational connection and essential relational outcome of intimate relationship together ‘face to face’ with the whole and uncommon Trinity.
Removal of both the temple curtain and the veil to intimate relational connection are irreversible conditions integral for the reconstituted temple’s uncommon relational context and process, which unmistakably distinguish the Trinity’s uncommon vulnerable presence and whole relational involvement in the new covenant relationship of family together to constitute the trinitarian church as the Trinity’s uncommon temple. Therefore, Jesus reconstituted the temple and constituted the trinitarian church family based only on persons, peoples and nations equalized in intimate relationship together with the person-al inter-person-al Trinity; the church emerges in uncommon wholeness only in likeness of this reconstituted temple, and this church is constituted together with its persons and relationships to be whole in ontology and function in the uncommon likeness of the Trinity, integrally whole and uncommon.
Here again is the reality that the Trinity and the Trinity’s temple home used by the church is the church and its persons and relationships they get.
The covenant (both initial and new) must not be seen as a mere reference point (or identity marker) for our faith, because the covenant is only known as a relationship by God and by its nature can only be understood in relational terms by us. The ontological footprints and functional steps of the full profile of God’s face, which discloses the Trinity, converge in ‘the tabernacle-church of the covenant’ and ‘the tent-church of meeting’ for the only purpose of covenant relationship together. In other words, the only way we can account for the essential reality (not virtual or augmented) of the whole-ly Trinity’s presence and involvement is in relationship together, and this can only be a relational reality in reciprocal relationship and not unilateral relations. Reciprocal relationship, however, has no essential reality when the relationship is either referentialized (as if in front of the curtain) or just observed (with relational distance behind a veil). This critical issue is an ongoing problem for the integrity of the temple-church’s relational context and process—a relational condition needing to be reconstituted (not simply reconstructed but transformed) to restore the reciprocal relationship together of the covenant. Therefore, the church and its persons and relationships need to understand in what likeness of the covenant they function, and thus of what likeness they are composed: uncommon or common.
In the reciprocal nature of the covenant relationship, the essential outcome of the relational terms of the covenant is nothing less and no substitutes for the following: “The LORD’s portion or inheritance in the relationship is his people” (Dt 32:9), and the portion for God’s people in the relationship is not about land, nation building or any related blessing but the whole of God (Ps 119:57; Jer 51:19; Lam 3:24). Even inheriting eternal life is to know the Trinity in intimate relationship together, as Jesus made definitive (Jn 17:3). The tabernacle-church of the covenant and the tent-church of meeting provide the integrated relational context and process for the primacy of this relational outcome; and Jesus reconstituted the temple and constituted the church for this primary function in reciprocal likeness. Accordingly, the reciprocal portions in covenant relationship are integrally accounted for and accountable in reciprocal likeness. Unmistakably, therefore, the covenant is composed of whole persons from inner out only involved in reciprocal relationship together in wholeness—not engaged in conforming from the outer in to a covenant code of stipulations—in which this inner-out primacy constitutes the essential relational outcome for the temple-church to be in uncommon likeness of the face of the Trinity in complete profile.
In further contrast to the referentialization of God’s Word and God’s definitive blessing in the relational terms of covenant relationship (Num 6:24-26), the face of YHWH has turned to his portion and unfolded to siym and shalôm, that is, to bring change for a new relationship together in wholeness. The relational outcome ‘already’ is the new covenant relationship composed with the curtain torn open and the veil removed in order to raise up the new creation church family in reciprocal likeness of the Trinity (as defined in Heb 9:15; 10:19-22; 2 Cor 3:16-18). ‘Already’ means today, in which the church is responsible for its persons and relationships to be in reciprocal likeness.
Reciprocal likeness is not a referential likeness to the major events in Jesus’ life. What Jesus did with the temple, he enacted with his whole person to disclose the person-al Trinity’s uncommon presence and the inter-person-al Trinity’s whole involvement, thereby distinguishing the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love for the church and all its persons and relationships to be in reciprocal likeness. Nothing less and no substitutes can constitute the church in likeness of the temple Jesus reconstituted. However, once again, the temple and covenant used will determine what church emerges; and, of course, the principal determinant in this process is the Trinity used. The church can function in likeness of a temple still constructed in common referential terms, in which case the curtain and veil have not been removed in church practice if not also in church theology. Certainly this relational condition is critical for the church’s persons and relationships, needing urgent care for their well-being.
One relevant example of a church in this condition was clarified and corrected by Jesus in post-ascension with the Spirit. Regardless of this church’s exemplary practice and maintaining correct doctrine in rigorous ways, the church in Ephesus was held accountable for “forsaking your first love” (aphiemi, Rev 2:1-4). They essentially sent away, let go from themselves, or kept relational distance from their portion in covenant relationship—the Trinity who first loved them and loves them as the reciprocal portion in intimate relationship together without the veil of relational distance and separation in front of the curtain. This primacy of relationship together was let go or lost in their preoccupation with what was secondary in church practice, even though important but still secondary to reciprocal relationship together. The consequence of such church practice, which is common today, is the unavoidable condition of the church’s persons and relationships gathered as relational orphans (aphiemi), contrary to how Jesus constitutes his church family (Jn 14:18).
The likeness of persons and relationships in the church either exists still in front of the curtain with the veil in place for outer-in engagement, or their likeness emerges behind the torn-open curtain with the veil removed from their faces to be involved from inner out in face-to-face intimate relationship together. The former likeness is limited and constrained to common terms and shaping, which may appear correct in common orthodoxy and with common Trinitarianism. This condition reduces persons to their outer-in distinctions in comparative process, whereby their relationships are fragmented to a stratified order, which reconstructs the relational context and process of the church in likeness of the temple before it was reconstituted by Jesus. The most evident indicators of this likeness are the lack of intimate and equalized relationships, which explicitly or subtly gathers persons in measured engagement in a relational order vertically structured either to minimize deeper involvement or for the convenience to simply gather. Such practice makes the significance of belonging ambiguous or elusive, and excludes persons on the periphery to be marginalized; and responding to this relational condition was the relational purpose for Jesus to reconstitute the temple.
The primacy of intimate and equalized relationships unfolds in the church only in reciprocal likeness of Jesus going behind the curtain to remove the veil for the intimate new covenant together in reciprocal relationship of wholeness. The relational outcome ‘already’ of what Jesus enacted conclusively is irreversible, and it is not subject to negotiation but essential for the church and its persons and relationships together to be whole. Thus, this primacy of the church in reciprocal likeness also integrally constitutes the church in the uncommon likeness essential to the whole of who, what and how the Trinity is. In this sense, we can say ironically that the likeness of the church used will determine the Trinity the church gets in its theology and practice. The church of common likeness composes common Trinitarianism, which is unable to distinguish the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement in the primacy of relationship together with family love, which then does not compose church practice with the sensitivity and awareness to know when it has forsaken its first love (the common likeness of the church in Ephesus).
Therefore, the temple (either before or after being reconstituted) is inseparable from the church, and the covenant used (explicitly or implicitly) for composing the church becomes inevitably the persons and relationships it gets. Their interrelated context and process are defining for the church’s witness of the triune God’s presence and involvement, and are determinative for the church’s resource to know and understand the whole-ly Trinity. The reality of the embodied Truth facing the church is that the likeness of the temple the church uses will be the church it gets in likeness. With who and what are at stake here, the church urgently needs to be accountable for what temple it is in likeness of and in what covenant its likeness is composed. The temple and covenant interdependently are unavoidable issues for the church and its persons and relationships to face—either behind the curtain vulnerably from inner out, or in front of the curtain guarded from outer in, either without the veil in open hearts or with the veil in measured function.
Before Jesus reconstituted the temple to restore its relational context and process for all persons, peoples and nations to have relational connection with the whole and uncommon God, he lamented over Jerusalem: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you in the relational condition ‘to be apart’ ” (“left” like orphans, aphiemi, Lk 13:34-35, cf. 19:41-42). The relational consequence of not willing to be vulnerable to Jesus’ relational terms was aphiemi, the default condition that reduced their persons and fragmented their relationships ‘to be apart’ without the means to be whole. In contrast, those willingly vulnerable in response to Jesus’ relational terms are “not aphiemi as orphans who don’t belong in my family by our essential relationship together” (Jn 14:18,23). Yet, the essential reality of this relational outcome is commonly rendered virtual in many churches and prevails subtly in most churches as a gathering of relational orphans (like the church in Ephesus)—a relational condition still lacking intimate and equalized relationships together in the wholeness of their persons from inner out. And such gatherings of relational orphans are always lamented by Jesus: “If churches only recognized on this day the essentials that make for wholeness,” and this relational condition will continue as long as “they are hidden from the churches’ lens” (Lk 19:42).
Paul had the church family responsibility (oikonomia, Col 1:25) to help the church understand what makes it whole and to recognize when its persons are reduced and its relationships are fragmented. So, for example, when Paul critiqued the church in Corinth, he exposed their fragmented condition (“Has Christ been divided?” 1 Cor 1:10-13) that shaped the church in negotiated human terms “beyond what is written” (including beyond the oral tradition of the Scriptures and the Jesus tradition, 1 Cor 4:6). He wanted this church to recognize its reduced state and the fragmented relational condition of its persons and relationships. Their persons functioned in a comparative process of human distinctions (notably in the church’s roles and titles), which determined their engagement in relationships inseparably functioning in likeness of a comparative system and structure composing a stratified relational order (1 Cor 3:1-5; 4:7; 2 Cor 10:12). Paul wants this church (and others in likeness) to understand what makes the church and its persons and relationships whole, therefore he holds them accountable to be the following: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you, your persons together? If anyone reduces the state of [phtheiro] God’s temple, God will relegate that person to a worse state. For God’s temple is uncommon, and your persons and relationships together as church are that temple in uncommon likeness” (1 Cor 3:16-17, see also Eph 2:21-22).
Paul was not pontificating here to get the churches and their persons and relationships to conform to a metanarrative of orthodoxy, the referential terms of which have neither significance for the church’s theology nor relevance for the practice of the church’s persons and relationships. Rather Paul made clear that his urgent response to the church signified the vulnerable involvement of his “heart is wide open to you”—that is, his whole person from inner out involved in family love with “no restriction in our affections” (2 Cor 6:11-12), in reciprocal likeness of the new covenant relationship together composing the church family in unveiled likeness of the Trinity (2 Cor 3:16-18). In the uncommon likeness of the church as God’s uncommon temple, Paul also holds accountable the church and its persons to be reciprocally involved in relationship together: “open wide your hearts also” (6:13) without the restrictions, relational distance and barriers of “the veil,” so that the church with all its persons and relationships together are whole—neither fragmented in the church’s relational order nor reduced in the church’s function (as Paul later made definitive, Eph 2:14-22; 4:12-16).
Yet, churches must understand that the peace of Christ (composing “the gospel of peace,” Eph 6:15) made definitive by Paul as the only determinant for the church (Col 3:15) is still the uncommon wholeness Jesus constituted for his family (Jn 14:27; 16:33). It is this uncommon wholeness, “which surpasses all understanding” (Phil 4:7), that Paul makes imperative as the sole determinant of our whole persons from inner out to “rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to wholeness” in uncommon likeness of the Trinity (Col 3:15, NIV). Uncommon wholeness constitutes God’s uncommon temple, the function of which is distinguished by and thus has significance in only trinitarian likeness. The church emerges as the new creation church family only in uncommon likeness of the Trinity, and the church unfolds in uncommon wholeness only in trinitarian likeness. That is to say, the church is whole in ontology and function when its persons are in likeness of the person-al Trinity and its relationships together are in likeness of the inter-person-al Trinity—the whole nature of which is uncommon and therefore never subject to anything common, though always subjected to the common human context and its prevailing human condition in reductionism with its counter-relational workings.
When churches lack the wholeness of Christ as their sole determinant, they are commonly shaped by the human context. This is demonstrated by another church clarified and corrected by Jesus in post-ascension with the Spirit. The church in Sardis had an esteemed reputation in the surrounding community for being full of life, such that their popularity must have generated a lot of excitement, perhaps augmented by innovative practices that enhanced their ministries—analogous to megachurches and some emergent churches today. Yet, not surprisingly, Jesus sends them a “Wake up!” call because he finds them reduced, essentially useless (nekros, Rev 3:1-2), and consequently their so-called church life was not complete (pleroo, full, whole) according to the whole relational terms essential to the Trinity. In other words, this church assumed their church life and practice wasn’t reduced but elevated to a higher level (sound familiar from the beginning?) as their reputation indicated, only to be exposed in common likeness of the human context rather than being in the uncommon wholeness distinguishing the church’s uncommon likeness of the Trinity. Hence, the clarifying and correcting questions, “Where are you?” and “What are you doing here?”
Churches shaped by the common in human contextualization is an ongoing issue for the church and its persons and relationships, which is compounded because the likeness of the church is also composed in correlation directly from the likeness of its persons and relationships shaped by a common theological anthropology influenced by the human context. The main problem for persons and relationships influenced by the human context is the common focus on the outer in (such as observable differences) and the related human distinction-making emerging inevitably from this lens, and how those distinctions define persons and determine relationships and thereby shape the church in likeness, notably in its practice even if not in its theology. In the church, from its leadership down through its membership, such differences exist in summary as follows: “There are different kinds of gifts…different kinds of service…different kinds of working…” (1 Cor 12:4-6, NIV). Difference (diairesis) is the reality in the church. Whether it is the essential reality of the church is contingent on how difference is perceived and on what basis difference exists in the church and determines the function of the church.
How difference is perceived by persons certainly is commonly different, and how difference exists and functions in relationships certainly differs among persons, peoples and nations. In its history the church has established the above differences in a formal or informal structure conforming to a uniform function of those differences in uniform roles and titles. On the one hand, Paul first established distinct roles and titles for church function (Eph 4:11). However, on the other hand, Paul never intended for such differences to be used as the basis for distinctions in the church to determine the essential function of the church—“For who sees anything different in your persons and makes you different from anyone else?” (1 Cor 4:7)—since Paul fought against such reductionism in the church in order for the new creation church and its persons and relationships to emerge whole (as he defined, 1 Cor 12:22-25). Thus, for Paul there was an insurmountable gap between difference and distinctions to understand and ongoingly maintain that is essential for the church to be distinguished as the whole of God’s uncommon temple, in which and whom the Trinity dwells together in the reciprocal relationship of the new covenant. And the key to the critical issue of distinguishing difference from distinctions is only the trinitarian key freeing the church from being defined and determined by distinctions and thereby living whole together in any differences granted explicitly or implicitly allowed by the Trinity.
Even though Paul was no traditional trinitarian in theology, he clearly made definitive for the church this trinitarian likeness: “There are different…but the same Spirit…but the same Lord Jesus…but it is the same God the Father”; in addition, “There is one body and one Spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:4-5), and differences granted to the church are based on each person “given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7) and “given the presence and involvement of the Spirit for the uncommon wholeness of the church…just as the body is one and has many members…are one ontological whole in likeness of the trinitarian persons…all our persons baptized into equalized relationships together without distinctions” (1 Cor 12:7-13). The whole of Paul and the whole in his theology for the church can only be understood in this trinitarian likeness, which transforms persons from inner out in their relationships without the veil to constitute the uncommon wholeness of the church in uncommon likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity (as Paul made definitive in 2 Cor 3:14-18).
The persons of the church in uncommon likeness are defined from inner out in contrast (and thus in conflict) to outer in. For the inner-out person, the inner is primary and essential to constitute the heart of the whole person over any outer differences the person may have. Whereas, for the outer-in person, the outer is primary, and thus a person defined by the outer differences, distinctions and any other parts primarily over the heart of the whole person. The inner-out person is or can be whole while the outer-in person is fragmented and cannot be whole from outer in. As Paul illuminated (Eph 2:14-22), the peace of Christ transformed persons from inner out, free of their differences and distinctions, and reconciled their whole persons in the relationship together of wholeness both with the Trinity and with each other. This relational outcome of “the bond of wholeness,” composed in trinitarian likeness (Eph 4:3-6), is both irreplaceable for the uncommon wholeness of the church to emerge, develop and mature, and is indispensable for all the church’s persons to function whole together (4:12-16). Any appearance of common peace-wholeness from outer in cannot fulfill this relational outcome in the church—the reality that the church in Sardis didn’t assume to have to face in the midst of all their success.
Churches need to understand, however, that the bond of wholeness is not simply a bond of love but is relationship-specific to whole persons in two vital nonnegotiable ways:
1. Only whole persons can be involved at the heart level for the bond of intimate relationships that is necessary for wholeness in trinitarian likeness; yet, this is only uncommon wholeness and not common peace (passing for wholeness), so the bond of intimate relationships is not a virtual reality that could be simulated, but is irreplaceably the essential reality of the hearts of whole persons (without the veil of differences and distinctions) bonding together.
2. This intimate bond requires then unavoidably that these persons be equalized unmistakably in any and all differences and distinctions, such that the involvement of their whole persons is not compromised and the integrity of this intimate bond is not redefined outer in and thereby become a bond of common peace—a bond which would neither be whole nor be in trinitarian likeness.
When Paul earlier held the church accountable to “open wide your hearts” in reciprocal likeness (2 Cor 6:11-13), it was this bond of wholeness in intimate and equalized relationships together in which he challenged their whole persons to be uncommon in trinitarian likeness. Nothing less and no substitutes for the church and its persons and relationships can be whole, just as is essential for the Trinity.
Trinitarian likeness was not a theological construct for Paul. It signified the reality of his face-to-face involvement with the trinitarian persons, which composed the trinitarian relational process “with unveiled faces…being transformed into Jesus’ likeness…who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). This essential relational outcome was the whole and uncommon basis for the whole of Paul’s person and the whole in his theology and practice, which most notably composed the uncommon wholeness of the church and its persons and relationships in trinitarian likeness. In other words, since the Damascus road this monotheistic Jew vulnerably experienced the relational response of the trinitarian persons and their ongoing relational involvement in family love, so that his whole person was to be distinguished in trinitarian likeness (see also Col 3:10-11; Gal 5:6; 6:15).
As discussed previously, the trinitarian persons occupied different roles and functions in order to extend family love downward to the human context—the uncommon Trinity vulnerably present and relationally involved to love us in all our commonness. The different roles and functions, however, do not define their whole persons. To limit their persons to their roles and functions reduces their whole persons and fragments the person-al Trinity; and this becomes the basis for perceiving the Trinity in modalism. At the heart of their persons, they are one without those distinctions (heis eimi, the ontological One) to constitute the person-al Trinity. Furthermore in wholeness, even to constrain the trinitarian persons to their titles imposes a distinction to their differences that reduces their whole relationship together (en eimi, the relational Whole) and thereby fragments the inter-person-al Trinity. When you see one trinitarian person (Son, Father or Spirit), you also see the other trinitarian persons (even for Paul, 2 Cor 3:17-18). How so? Because, to the extent disclosed to us, they are integrally bonded together in uncommon wholeness (en eimi) by intimate and equalized relationships to constitute the inter-person-al Trinity. The person-al inter-person-al Trinity is whole and uncommon, therefore no fragmentary knowledge and common understanding can account for the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement. Nor can they account for the uncommon likeness of the Trinity or the Trinity’s uncommon wholeness, both by which the person-al inter-person-al Trinity constitute the church and its persons and relationships together.
The church in Ephesus used fragmentary doctrinal knowledge and common orthodox understanding to get a church of exemplary practice in unlikeness of the Trinity who loved them first. The church of likeness requires by its nature the whole and uncommon Trinity to be distinguished (pala) unmistakably beyond any other likeness. The church of likeness needs, even if it may not want, the person-al Trinity’s uncommon presence and the inter-person-al Trinity’s whole involvement in order to be in uncommon wholeness. Therefore, the church of likeness has to be in uncommon likeness of this Trinity to be in the uncommon wholeness constituted by only the whole and uncommon Trinity, not by a partial and common Trinity. Accordingly, it is always essential that the church in likeness of the Trinity is to be person-al and inter-person-al, uncommonly composed with whole subject-persons from inner out without distinctions who function vulnerably in the primacy of relationships together in wholeness without the veil. And the church and all its persons and relationships must (by their nature, not out of duty) function in uncommon wholeness distinguished in uncommon likeness in order to be essential beyond the common and thus to be significant for the common condition of all persons and relationships. This is the church of likeness that Jesus made definitive in his prayer for the trinitarian church family to be, and that the Spirit is present and involved to unfold and bring to relational conclusion.
The church may not want, even though it needs, the presence and involvement of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. The primary issue is because to be in uncommon likeness, the church and its persons and relationships have to be more vulnerable than they may want or find convenient—even though that is essential to what they need, which makes the want-need issue unavoidable. As Paul illuminated, wide-open hearts are uncommon and churches have consistently existed on a common path, contrary to Jesus’ intrusive relational path. Yet, to follow Jesus is neither optional nor open to negotiation for the church, despite the reality that discipleship has been presented as such by churches. Such church practice reflects a church’s Christology and soteriology, and evidences a theological anthropology of its persons and relationships in an ontology and function struggling (knowingly or not) to establish its identity both in the global community and within the global church—perhaps with a reputation like that of the church in Sardis, or with a track-record like that of the church in Ephesus.
The identity a church wants to establish may not be compatible or congruent with the identity the church needs to compose in likeness of the Trinity. As long as the integrity of who, what and how the church is (the whole of its righteousness) is not composed in the ontology and function that distinguishes its likeness beyond a common likeness of its surrounding context (locally, regionally and globally), that church has a major problem. That church’s presence and involvement are in a critical condition that compromises the validity of its witness to the whole of God and its resource to know more than a common God. Churches in this likeness need to be transformed to uncommon wholeness to be in uncommon likeness, and that’s the pivotal reason why the church may not want the presence and involvement of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity.
Can you imagine going into a church and unilaterally turning it upside down in order to restore the relational context and process of God’s uncommon temple for all persons without distinctions? Can you also imagine tearing down a church’s tradition and exposing the barriers of its practice in order to open wide relationships of intimacy and equality to compose God’s uncommon temple? Paul more than imagined these because Jesus embodied and enacted this intrusive relational path to constitute his church family in uncommon wholeness (“not as the common gives”) in uncommon likeness (“just as I do not belong to the common”) of the Trinity whole and uncommon, person-al and inter-person-al.
What jumps out in front of our face from Jesus and Paul about the church as God’s temple is the incompatibility between the uncommon and common, and that they are incongruent for any attempt to integrate them in a hybrid, not to mention irreconcilable in function and antithetical in ontology. What is ‘holy and sanctified’ has been perceived by churches throughout history with a common lens. That is, the uncommon constituting the church by Jesus and composed for the church by Paul has been shaped by terms lacking congruence with the qualitative relational significance integral to their definition and application of uncommon. The most prominent issue-conflict involves the underlying theological anthropology defining persons and determining relationships in the church on the basis of what amounts to a common ontology and function. This church theology and practice further expose an incomplete Christology of Jesus’ whole person disclosing the whole and uncommon Trinity, as well as expose a truncated soteriology not encompassing being both saved from sin as reductionism and saved to wholeness of persons in relationship together as the Trinity’s new creation family. This essential reality and relational outcome have been pervasively commonized, such that at best they are simulated with only illusions of the uncommon.
The issue-conflict of defining persons and determining relationships in the church by a common ontology and function may not be apparent in the church’s theology, doctrinal statements and decrees of faith. But its operating presence emerges in the church’s practice of its persons lack of heart-level involvement in the depth of relationships together integrally intimate and equalized in their differences and from their distinctions. Wide-open hearts in intimate reciprocal relationships is simply too uncommon and thus threatening for the church to advance for its persons—a threat also for keeping their numbers in the church—plus too difficult for the church to cultivate in its relationships without having to address all the relational issues that emerge as persons become more deeply involved. Palatable relationships are certainly much easier for persons (especially leadership) to face, just ask Jesus and Paul about their experiences related to the temple-church. The reason palatable relationships are easier to face is the fact that they don’t bring persons together in face-to-face relationships—which is the seduction of social media and the use of technology in the church. At most, palatable relationships are an association between persons in the church, gathering together essentially as relational orphans still ‘to be apart’ from the transformed relationships together both intimate and equalized in the new creation family composing the Trinity’s uncommon temple, that is, with the curtain torn away and the veil removed.
The relational context and process of the church as the Trinity’s uncommon temple have been reconstituted for the primacy of all its persons to have intimate relational connection and ongoing involvement with the Trinity and with each other face to face. For the church’s persons to have intimate relationships with the Trinity necessitates, by the nature of trinitarian relationship, the heart of the whole person, who by necessity has to be equalized from distinctions to be whole from inner out for the person’s involvement in intimate reciprocal relationship together—just ask the Samaritan woman, on the one side of this relational equation, and Peter at his footwashing on the other side. The church of uncommon likeness has no available option for palatable relationships, because the intimate and equalized relationships of the Trinity’s uncommon temple are not optional but essential for the church to be in uncommon ontology and function to distinguish it and its persons and relationships together in uncommon likeness of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity.
Therefore, the church in uncommon likeness grows all its persons to be whole in the primary from the inner—neither shifted to nor substituted by the outer—and cultivates their intimate involvement in the primacy of equalized relationships both in their differences and without their distinctions. That is to say, contrary to what many may want, the church in uncommon likeness is distinguished in its ontology and function to be the intimate equalizer in the whole relational response of trinitarian family love to what all persons, peoples, nations and their relationships need—regardless of what they may desire and seek.
There are understandable concerns about the emphasis on equality and equalizing, which may raise questions and concerns whether this makes being equal the top priority for the church and the highest purpose for the gospel. My short response is yes and no. No, it doesn’t if we are talking about ‘common equality’, which emerges from common peace and thus from efforts of social justice without the integrity of righteousness so that both don’t account for sin as reductionism and an underlying theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function. Yes, it does because we are only focused on uncommon equality, which unmistakably and undeniably emerges from the uncommon peace of Christ and his justice with righteousness—“He has abolished the inequitable practice of the law with its commandments and ordinances” (Eph 2:15ff)—in order to save us from sin as reductionism and save us to his family composed by transformed relationships together both equalized and intimate, so that persons and relationships are distinguished in their primacy of whole ontology and function and thereby belonging to the new relational order of the Trinity’s whole and uncommon family. Yes, the church in uncommon equality fulfills the relational significance of its ontology (who and whose it is), and the intimate equalizer church fulfills the relational purpose of its function (what and how it is)—fulfills by its uncommon peace of whole ontology and function in uncommon likeness of the Trinity embodied and enacted by Jesus to compose “the gospel of uncommon wholeness” (Eph 6:15).
Given the uncommon temple Jesus reconstituted and the uncommon church he constituted, do you have a better gospel and a greater function for the church than as the intimate equalizer?
In open congruence with the church of uncommon likeness, the church as the intimate equalizer is a distinct minority in the common context—“just as I am not of the common.” As the minority of minorities, the intimate equalizer church is ongoingly subjected to influences and challenges to commonize the integrity of who, what and how it is in uncommon likeness to the essential relational reality of the Trinity’s uncommon vulnerable presence and whole intimate involvement. Therefore, the intimate equalizer can only respond in love to what is needed (even if not wanted), when it is nothing less and no more than the Trinity it is in likeness to be—“congruent as we are together Father.”
The church is in uncommon likeness to Jesus who intimately equalized persons in his whole relational response of family love to what others needed in their human relational condition—whose strategic shift converged with the Samaritan woman to intimately equalize her whole person. Accordingly, the intimate equalizer church follows Jesus on his intrusive relational path in relationship together to the Father, in triangulation with the Spirit, to compose the trinitarian church family as the Trinity’s uncommon temple. This is the intimate equalizer church’s only relational purpose, and thus its foremost priority is to grow the trinitarian church family in intimate equalized relationships of likeness—of course, uncommon likeness since the Trinity is nothing less than whole and no substitutes for uncommon. These intimate equalized relationships must (by nature, dei, not obligation, opheilo) encompass the whole of the church’s practice from its worship through its fellowship down to its ministry and mission. In this inclusive relational process, the uncommon wholeness of its witness must illuminate the essential reality of the Trinity’s presence and involvement, and thereby provide the resource in uncommon likeness to know the Trinity in intimate relationship together.
Yet, and this is vital to understand to distinguish the church in likeness, the intimate equalizer’s uncommon wholeness in uncommon likeness is not contained only within the relational context of the church for the relational process limited to its persons and relationships. As Jesus embodied, enacted and prayed, the trinitarian church family is in uncommon likeness of the Trinity who constitutes the new creation church as the essential relational outcome of the Trinity’s relational response of family love to the entire human condition. Congruently, the intimate equalizer of the trinitarian church family extends inner out to the context of the common in likeness of the Trinity’s relational response, in order that all persons, peoples and nations can experience the Trinity’s relational response of family love to their human condition, whereby they have the opportunity to respond back to claim what they need (Jn 17:21,23).
What unfolds from the relational context of the trinitarian church family’s intimate and equalized relationships together, and is embodied and enacted in its relational process of family love, is the uncommon wholeness needed to make whole the human condition. Without these intimate equalized relationships in likeness of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity, the church has no qualitative relational significance to be of relevance for what the human condition needs—though what such a church does offer may be what some may want, at least temporarily. Thus, the foremost priority of the intimate equalizer is always to grow the trinitarian church family for the Trinity’s uncommon temple. But it cannot remain contained within the church or else it turns into common likeness that lacks the uncommon wholeness of the Trinity, which becomes contrary to and in conflict with the wholeness Jesus gives (Jn 14:27). This self-contained church follows a different path without the qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness to recognize its own condition (sustaining Jesus’ weeping, Lk 19:41-42) much less to help the surrounding human condition. The natural inner-out growth (not obligated or otherwise forced) of the trinitarian church family to be whole in intimate equalized relationships is to be vulnerable in uncommon wholeness to the common’s human condition, in order to share the trinitarian relational response of family love just as the church’s persons have been loved in their relational condition. In other definitive words, “By this relational response of love in reciprocal likeness everyone will know you are my followers in intimate equalized relationships together” (Jn 13:35).
In this essential trinitarian relational process, the foremost priority of the intimate equalizer is not within the church, but to be the church in uncommon likeness of the Trinity’s presence and involvement in the common context and thereby to be the church in uncommon wholeness that all in the common context need to be made whole also. Therefore, the only priority for the intimate equalizer church is to be in the uncommon wholeness of the trinitarian church family and its natural inner-out growth in uncommon likeness to the ongoing presence and involvement of the Trinity. Moreover, this inclusive priority of the intimate equalizer church precludes the distinction between evangelism (gospel of salvation) and social action (social gospel), and dissolves its false dichotomy, the presence of which are often misguided by social trinitarianism.
So, where does this bring the church in uncommon likeness and how does it grow as the intimate equalizer?
Persons are the central focus of the person-al Trinity and relationships are the primary focus of the inter-person-al Trinity. As the church in uncommon likeness, the scope of intimate equalizer’s relational response of family love is centered on all persons in the primacy of all relationships, anywhere and everywhere, at the personal level to the institutional, structural and systemic levels of the global community. Moreover, Paul illuminated that “all creation waits with eager longing for the unveiling of the Trinity’s uncommon family in intimate equalized relationships together…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to reductionism and will obtain the freedom of the uncommon wholeness of the persons and relationships together composing the trinitarian church family” (Rom 8:19-21). To state it simply and essentially, the scope of the intimate equalizer in uncommon likeness has no common boundaries to limit or constrain its own persons and relationships in the relational response of family love.
This scope and its priority have confounded, conflicted and prominently fragmented the church throughout its history, with the relational consequence of rendering the church in common likeness while composed at best with simulations and illusions not beyond common “wholeness.” Accordingly, the church operating without the scope and priority of the intimate equalizer then occupies a different relational path than Jesus embodied and enacted to constitute his church family as the Trinity’s uncommon temple. Such a church occupies a different path by being preoccupied with persons and relationships from the outer in, thereby limiting its scope and constraining its priority by common terms whereby the church and its persons and relationships are shaped in common likeness—perhaps in likeness of a Trinity but only in common Trinitarianism. Jesus grieves over the commonized churches and the commonization of its persons and relationships, because they are not to be in the uncommon wholeness only he gives, in the uncommon likeness of the Trinity he embodied and enacted in the trinitarian relational process of family love in response to them in their condition and to the entire human condition.
There is a present reality that the church and its persons and relationships need to understand and thus recognize. Along with life in the Internet, all life from outer in lives in, what by essential terms amounts to, a virtual composition of life—a virtual reality no matter how much it is augmented. This present reality, pervasive even in the church, is not a recent development since it is the existing condition from the beginning ‘to be apart’ from the essential reality constituted in whole and uncommon likeness of the Trinity. It is the present reality of this existing condition both in the church and the human context that defines the scope and determines the priority of the intimate equalizer church.
“The Trinity, who knows the heart of the whole person…has made no distinctions between all persons” (Acts 15:8-9). This was the essential reality facing the earliest church council that held the church accountable for its theology and practice to be in likeness as the intimate equalizer. Of course, Peter first had to have his own theology clarified and corrected by Jesus (Acts 10:9ff), because he didn’t listen to Jesus face to face earlier and pay attention to Jesus intimately equalizing persons (notably Peter’s own person) without distinctions. Correct theology, however, by itself is insufficient to be in uncommon likeness; consequently Peter’s practice also had to be clarified and corrected by Paul of his continued distinction-making of persons in his relationship with them, which occupied Peter on a contrary relational path of the gospel Jesus embodied and enacted (Gal 2:11-14). The function of Peter’s person should not be confused as a doctrinal issue (corrected by Jesus earlier), because it involved his person from outer in putting on a mask-veil to perform his role—his hypokrisis that Paul exposed, in likeness of the masks of ancient Greek theatre. Likewise, it is important for the modern church to understand and account for this in its practice. Wearing a mask-veil signified Peter’s practice to perform his major role in its distinctions from outer in—as he functioned with Jesus at his footwashing. How can this happen so consistently for Peter, even when his theology has been corrected? Making distinctions of persons and relationships in our practice is our default condition (discussed further below) that always emerges when we are not congruent from inner out in the uncommon wholeness of who, what and how we are to be in uncommon likeness of the whole-ly Trinity.
In his recurring practice, what Peter demonstrated unknowingly—which churches thereafter also demonstrate—is a commonized theological anthropology of persons and relationships defined and determined from the outer in. This demonstrates a common ontology and function that fails to center on the heart of the whole person, contrary to the likeness of the Trinity who centers on the heart of persons in the primacy of relationships together. What Peter’s theology and practice also exposed—which is underlying a theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function—is a weak view of sin that doesn’t encompass reductionism and the breadth of reductionism’s counter-relational workings, the scope of which composes the human relational condition in general and the church’s relational condition in particular. This is the default condition that prevails as long as reductionism is not accounted for and addressed accordingly. Without the comprehensive sin of reductionism, whatever sin the church and its persons and relationships are saved from is never complete “in cleansing their hearts” (Acts 15:9) to make whole the persons and relationships in the church before even considering in the world—just as the first church council had to account for in order to be accountable in uncommon likeness of the Trinity.
The depth of the intimate equalizer is not complicated, though it is complex. The heart of the whole person is central to the person-al Trinity and this intimate involvement in equalized relationships together is primary to the inter-person-al Trinity. Yet, church theology and practice has either confused this depth or substituted it with a subtle shift to outer in, both of which are composed by a common theological anthropology and weak view of sin. This is evident when the heart is idealized in our theology and yet has no functional significance in our practice—does this reflect in Peter also?—or evident when the heart is spiritualized in our practice but without its depth of relational significance. In unlikeness both outward and inward of the integrating function of the heart for the whole person, the idealized and spiritualized hearts fragment the person, and thus do not and cannot constitute the depth necessary for persons to be involved in intimate equalized relationships.
Therefore, what this makes definitive for the intimate equalizer is not a partial or measured depth of persons in measured involvement of relationships. Rather what is unmistakable are the depth of wide-open hearts vulnerably involved without the veil of distinctions or any other barriers, whereby the primary inner of the whole person is free (redeemed) to be in transformed relationships integrally intimate and equalized—in likeness just as Jesus embodied and enacted to constitute the new creation church family as the Trinity’s uncommon temple, which all of creation is longing for today. Without this immeasurable depth, complex as it is, the church cannot function as the intimate equalizer with uncommon wholeness of its persons and relationships in uncommon likeness; such a church only operates in some common likeness, at best with a common peace—as found in the churches in Ephesus and Sardis.
The depth issue raises the validity issue of both the church’s witness of the Trinity’s presence and involvement and the church’s resource to intimately know the Trinity in relationship together. Just as the first church council had to account for its depth and be accountable for this depth in uncommon likeness of the Trinity in order to be the intimate equalizer church, the church today is even more widely challenged in its depth by the scope of the human condition expanding globally as the church moves toward an eschatological conclusion. Underlying this scope is the breadth of reductionism and its counter-relational workings that influence the church to reflect, reinforce and even sustain the scope of the human condition. One example, unexpected perhaps, is the church’s use of and engagement with modern technology to enhance the church context and process, which renders its relational context and process more virtual than essential and thus in need to be reconstituted as Jesus enacted for the temple. Of course, many in the church (likely millennials more so) rely on such virtual experiences to meet their desires, the reality of which is assumed not to reduce them (sound familiar?).
This often-times subtle condition can only be an existing reality if the relational condition of the church and its persons and relationships are not to be in the uncommon wholeness of intimate equalized relationships together in uncommon likeness of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. For this critical purpose, the inclusive priority of the intimate equalizer must initially (but not permanently) and ongoingly (but not exclusively) compose the church and its own persons and relationships in the depth of uncommon wholeness. And the relational outcome will grow in scope with the reciprocal likeness of the trinitarian relational response of family love in further depth of involvement to embrace all persons, peoples, nations and their relationships to be whole together (including all creation)—in reciprocal likeness of “Christ’s relational purpose to create in his wholeness one new humanity out of their fragmentation, thus making uncommon wholeness for all in family together” (Eph 2:14ff).
Nothing less and no substitutes for both the Trinity and the church integrally constitute the trinitarian church family in uncommon wholeness, so that the church and all its persons and relationships are to be in uncommon likeness of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. Only this distinguishes the essential reality composing the church of likeness clearly uncommon to churches of any other likeness. It should not be surprising, therefore, for Jesus to grieve until we in likeness also turn our churches upside down to restore the trinitarian relational context and process of the Trinity’s uncommon temple for all persons without distinctions. And Jesus grieves until we also tear down our traditions and tear open the veil of relational distance and barriers to have intimate relationship with the Trinity, who centers on our hearts and makes no distinctions between us for us to be equalized together in uncommon wholeness.
Many in the church today use Micah 6:8 to answer “what does the LORD require of you?” The emphasis to “do justice” is typically associated with peace, both of which the psalmist emphatically integrates with righteousness (Ps 85:10; 89:14). However, when the model of Micah 6:8 is used by the church based on a reduced theological anthropology, the church becomes composed by the righteousness of who, what and how its persons and relationships are in the terms of common peace. True righteousness is being the whole of who, what and how one is to be in uncommon wholeness. Common peace is not the wholeness that Paul made imperative to solely determine the church from inner out (Col 3:15) in uncommon likeness of the whole righteousness of the Trinity (Eph 4:24). Only the uncommon wholeness of Christ distinguishes Jesus’ church family (Jn 14:27, cf. 16:33) as the Trinity’s uncommon temple (Eph 2:14-22), and thereby composes the church family to be differentiated acutely from common peace (clean-cut by Christ’s sword, Mt 10:34-38). Moreover, his uncommon wholeness exposes the simulation and illusion basic to common peace, and thus causes its division for its real fragmentary condition of persons and relationships to be revealed in its existing reality (Lk 12:51-53). Contrary to common peace, uncommon wholeness is not a comfort zone or a place of convenience for the church family to practice its faith, because the wholeness of uncommon peace conjointly fights for the whole gospel and fights against its reduction to anything less and any substitutes, even if the latter is doctrinally correct—which, for example, is in strong contrast to any irenic practice of common peace. As enacted by Christ, this conjoint fight is for the primacy of persons and relationships in their wholeness of ontology and function and against their fragmentation (often subtle to recognize) to anything less and any substitutes in reduced ontology and function. The influence of reductionism becomes more evident when discipleship in the church is practiced, that is, assuming it is practiced.
The primary motivation underlying the discipleship of many is the pursuit of self-determination (even unknowingly or inadvertently); and this implicit condition is difficult to recognize since it is constructed by epistemological illusion (e.g. in Bible study, Jn 5:39) and ontological simulation (e.g. in worship, Mt 15:8-9, in serving others, prayer and spiritual disciplines, Mt 6:1-16). Moreover, the self-orientation of such practice is an existing reality even in collective-oriented contexts, the condition of which should not be considered to exist only in the Western world. Basic human function in self-oriented autonomy, determination and justification are what Jesus confronted in his definitive discourse on discipleship (the Sermon on the Mount, Mt 5-7).
Therefore, self-determination is engaged by all persons, peoples and nations, and underlies the discipleship of many Christians, notably as engaged both in church and academy. What we need to understand in its function and recognize in our practice is that self-determination is consequential for human ontology and function in two primary, and unavoidable, ways:
1. It demands a reduction of the person from inner out to outer in that fragments one’s ontology and function to be defined by the parts of what one does and has primarily from outer in, measured by those distinctions; this fragmentation is necessary because such determination is unable to be composed from inner out merely by one’s unembellished person without any of these outer-in distinctions. Jesus exposed the reductionism in self-determination conclusively in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6).
2. Self-determination also demands a comparative process of persons in their distinctions in order to determine one’s value, worth or standing (better or less) always measured in relation to others (likely with a deficit model) and never in isolation with oneself, thereby rendering those relations to implicit, or even explicit, competitive relationships that also define others from outer in measured by their distinctions, even with implied competition in church and the academy. Once again, this kind of engagement in relationships is necessary, even if knowingly dissatisfying or even hurtful, because such comparative-competitive engagement in self-determination is unable to engage others in deeper relationship without becoming vulnerable to the inner out that would expose their person without distinctions and likely preclude their competitive standing in this comparative scale (cf. disciples’ relationships with each other, Lk 9:46; 22:24). Paul exposed these competitive and fragmenting relationships that reduced the ontology and function of the church and its persons and relationships together at Corinth (1 Cor 4:6-7; 2 Cor 10:12).
For any success in self-determination for the person and the church, the need to control the results is critical. This control necessitates a shift to the secondary and away from the primacy of reciprocal relational involvement in family love, the vulnerableness of which goes deeper than what one can control. This focus on the secondary makes the person and the church susceptible to reductionism, rendering their results to the shape of common ontology and function from human context. In his struggles, Peter eventually shifted from the secondary to the primary for the whole ontology and function of the church (cf. 1 Pet 1:22-23; 2:9-10). Similarly, the church has struggled with the secondary throughout church history in its attempts to establish its ontology and function, consequently forming merely ecclesial or missional identities rather than its essential ontological identity to be distinguished the whole and uncommon church in the common fragmented world—the ontological identity in uncommon wholeness made conclusive for the church by Jesus in his family prayer.
In further discourse in relational language about the trinitarian relational process of family love in reciprocal relationship for the person and persons together as his family, Jesus used the metaphor of the vine and the branches (Jn 15:1-8). The metaphor neither signifies a static state nor describes merely an organic condition, but only the relational context and process of the Trinity’s agape involvement as family together. “To abide or remain” (meno, 15:4-7) involves the dynamic process of reciprocal relationship together, with its reciprocating contextualization and triangulation to be whole, live whole and make whole in the human context (not be shaped by it)—the fruit of discipleship. This metaphor does not define an ontological union with the Trinity, or this union would be the deification of persons in an ontology and function that goes beyond the image and likeness of the Trinity to encompass the ontology and function distinguishing the Trinity exclusively. Nor should this metaphor be considered the structural arrangement for the Trinity’s family; this structure would shift the church family to a more unilateral relationship in contrast and conflict with the relational imperative requiring the primacy of reciprocal relationship together in agape family involvement—the reciprocal response to the Trinity’s relational terms that Jesus further defines in this context (15:9-11). The lenses of both the ontological union and the structural arrangement (or variations) of Jesus’ metaphor narrow down his relational language to secondary interpretations that do not determine church ontology and function in the primacy of the primary. Even with good intentions, the results emerging from such lenses are limited to a church’s self-determination over the relational outcome unfolding from this reciprocating trinitarian relational process of family love: the Father’s agape relational involvement with the Son, who extends this agape family involvement with us to be the Trinity’s whole and uncommon family, who extend agape family involvement with each other and the world. This essential relational outcome constitutes the trinitarian church family in uncommon wholeness with its persons whole together in intimate equalized relationships
Further distinguishing what the psalmist illuminated (Ps 85:10), only uncommon wholeness kisses righteousness in order for who, what and how the church and its persons and relationships are to be from inner out in their primacy of wholeness, and thus to live their primacy integrally with justice by the faithful relational involvement of family love (Ps 89:14)—singing with the psalmist and dancing with Jesus and Paul. Therefore, the trinitarian church family of the Son, the Father and the Spirit emerges and unfolds only in the qualitative relational significance of uncommon wholeness in uncommon likeness, with its uncommon relational process of family love extended by its whole relational purpose for its uncommon relational outcome distinguishing persons and relationships together in wholeness as the whole-ly Trinity’s church family.
In Paul’s conjoint fight of Christ’s uncommon wholeness, he illuminated the relational significance of uncommon wholeness and its relational purpose, process and outcome definitive for the church and its persons and relationships to be whole together—without fragmentation and any relational distance, detachment or separation. For Paul, this uncommon wholeness is imperative as the church’s only determinant from inner out (Col 3:15), and therefore needs to compose the church’s theology and practice today both in the fight for this primacy of persons and relationships and against their reduction in any way—the subtle reductions of which have eluded our understanding and fogged our perception, thus sustaining Jesus’ weeping. Without uncommon wholeness, the essential truth and reality of the trinitarian church family does not emerge and unfold, even though simulations of the church body of Christ may exist today or have in the past.
As Paul made imperative for the church, uncommon wholeness is clearly distinguished for the church to understand and account for in its theology and practice. The Trinity used by the church must by its nature be constituted in uncommon wholeness, in order that the church and its persons and relationships it gets are in essential likeness integrally to (1) the whole of the person-al Trinity (not fragmented in a tritheism), and to (2) the uncommon of the inter-person-al Trinity (not reduced to modalism commonly performing the function of their roles and titles).
As noted already, Jesus’ own disciples argued among themselves about “which of them would be the greatest” (Lk 9:46, NIV). “Be” is expressed in the Greek optative mood that expresses only a possibility or a wish rather than a probability, and comes with a high degree of uncertainty or contingency. The contingency becomes apparent as the disciples continued to debate about “which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Lk 22:24). To be considered (dokeo) the greatest—or at least better than the others—is not a self-ascribed label but what emerges from a comparative process that measures persons on a common scale based on the parts of what persons do and have. The achievements and resources a disciple has, then, will determine one’s position on the scale, and only the disciple in the highest position will meet the contingency to be regarded as the greatest (or at least better than the others) in this comparative system.
The unavoidable comparative relations demonstrated by the disciples are composed from a reduced theological anthropology that defines persons by the outer-in parts of what they do and have; and such relations commonly are competitive, implicitly if not explicitly. The fragmentation into parts signifies persons in reduced ontology and function, which underlies the basis for comparative relations and its composition—under which lies the critical determination our theological anthropology has. From the beginning, persons in reduced ontology and function were engaged in comparative relations: “you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” and they compared each other “and they knew that they were naked” and thus different from outer in. When persons are relegated to their parts for their ontology and function, distinctions are made about them and the comparison of those distinctions both defines those persons as better or less and determines the relations between them. The relations between them based on their distinctions, regarded as better or less, require comparable distinctions; that is, this means that stratified relations (formalized into systems of inequality) have to be constructed to be compatible with the comparative process of those distinctions. This evolves only from human construction because God “made no distinctions,” (diakrino, to separate, treat differently and thus to discriminate, Acts 15:9). This composes the default condition of all persons and relationships, which is an existing condition even among the followers of Jesus.
The deficit condition and its mode are critical for the church and its persons and relationships to understand and account for in their practice. When our person and relationships are skewed to the outer in, we become self-conscious of our ‘self’ mainly in our distinctions. Self-consciousness makes us very susceptible to our default condition and mode to determine our self within the limits and constraints of self-determinism and by its relational consequences. Certainly self-consciousness is a reality of life and the default condition is a fact of life, but whether we fall into our default mode depends on remaining skewed to the secondary outer in or making the essential shift to the primary inner out.
Jesus understood the dynamics of the comparative process engaged by the disciples and the relational consequences of comparative relations; note also the comparative relations of the temple leaders and the relational consequence on those they considered less, and how Jesus responded to them (Mt 21:15-16). So, his first response to his disciples was to interject a little child for their comparison—who surely couldn’t measure up to the stature of the disciples—and then on this incompatible basis he decomposed comparative relations: “Whoever welcomes [dechomai, receives and accepts with respect] this little person in my terms welcomes, receives and accepts me on the same basis…for the least among all of you in comparative terms is the greatest in whole relational terms” (Lk 9:47-48). The relational significance of Jesus’ response is clear:
The comparative process is incongruent with the uncommon wholeness constituting the trinitarian church family in uncommon likeness of the Trinity, and human distinctions have no standing of better or less for the persons belonging to the church family, nor do such distinctions differentiate some persons to be higher in the church and others lower to not be distinguished; therefore, comparative relations (however stratified) are incompatible for the church’s relationships composed by persons in their primacy of wholeness, the primacy of which is incongruent with any narrowing down of their ontology and function.
The reality Jesus illuminates for his followers is that anything less and any substitutes narrow down the church and its persons and relationships from their primacy of wholeness to a fragmented condition from outer in of reduced ontology and function—all of which emerge from a reduced theological anthropology (as the disciples had) that has been shaped by the limits and constraints common to the human context, composing the human condition.
Persons, peoples and nations create human distinctions, not God, and they construct the stratified relations and systems necessary to maintain those distinctions in their comparative inequality—not an inherent inequality, though some make that assumption to justify discrimination. Like the disciples, the church and its persons and relationships have intentionally or inadvertently reflected, reinforced and sustained the comparative relations prevailing in all human contexts. This existing reality has not been understood by the church as the unalterable norm of human contextualization, and thus the church has shaped the gospel increasingly according to the limits and constraints of that particular contextualization. The shaping reality for all human persons and relationships is that to be regarded as ‘better’ (or best, greatest) is enviable but to be considered as ‘less’ is a burden. Those ‘less’ must bear the limits and constraints of being measured by a “higher” template of standards for conformity imposed by those ‘better’, and this explicit or implicit template composes a deficit model that subjects those ‘less’ to a deficit condition unable to regain ‘more’, much less to be cancelled.
A deficit model is an inescapable burden for those different, for example, when the standard of measurement is based on the color white or the gender male. How do persons, peoples and nations of color change their distinction and overcome their deficit condition in comparative relations with whites? How do females, even among those persons, peoples and nations of color, change their humanly perceived distinction and overcome their deficit condition in comparative relations with males? Moreover, it is crucial to understand that the condition of those who employ a deficit model are also rendered to a deficit condition, since this comparative process is engaged and enacted by those in reduced ontology and function—a deficit not merely from outer in (intrinsic to a deficit model) but in the critical condition of inner out, the prevailing deficit condition for all humanity.
The disciples didn’t learn from Jesus’ first response to them. So, they continued to engage the comparative process in their relations, notably imposing a deficit model on Mary (Martha’s sister) when she responded to Jesus’ whole person in the depth of intimate relational involvement by the primary inner out of his person (Mt 26:6-13). Since the disciples still operated primarily from the secondary outer in without the primacy of persons and relationships, they considered Mary’s action insignificant on their comparative scale and thereby less. Whether gender influenced their distinction of Mary is not apparent but their fragmentation of persons (including Jesus) into secondary parts (even engaging justice for the poor) over the primacy of persons and relationships in wholeness is unmistakable. And they lacked the qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness to recognize their practice and to distinguish Mary’s. On this fragmentary basis, they also reduced the whole gospel of its qualitative relational significance, which, in contrast, Jesus said that Mary highlights “wherever this gospel of wholeness is proclaimed in the whole world.” Thus, Jesus not only affirmed Mary’s person without distinctions, he also confirmed the qualitative relational significance of the gospel in the uncommon peace of wholeness and justice only with the whole of righteousness to distinguish unequivocally his family with the primacy of persons and relationships in whole ontology and function.
If bearing a deficit condition cannot be overcome with self-determination in the process of comparative and competitive relations, it will either have to be changed or redeemed. One common recourse for changing this condition is to shift to power relations. Power relations, however, is also the means used by those in upper positions on the comparative scale to maintain a superior distinction over those considered inferior. Colonialism, for example, unfolded with power relations in order to impose a deficit model on persons, peoples and nations of different distinction to relegate them to less and keep them in a deficit condition. Those less could use power relations to change their position or to even reverse positions with those regarded as superior, as witnessed in South Africa. Yet, what is common to both sides using power relations is that they incorporate a conflict model with the deficit model, therefore which doesn’t change comparative relations but only changes its stratified arrangement under that sweeping assumption (assumed from the beginning) they are not reduced. A conflict model assumes a dialectic that theorizes a synthesis for ideal equalized relations, but this has not materialized in its use. Power relations could be used to facilitate the conflict needed for change—which should not be confused with Jesus’ sword and his redeeming process—but the resulting change at best can only bring a common peace lacking wholeness, which then at most only rearranges comparative relations with distinctions in a deficit condition still existing. In other words, inequality remains, although the form may have changed.
This has been a common consequence of the conflicts from communist power relations in the global South or with the expansion of the Soviet Union and subsequent Balkanization, and that emerged from the conflicts by the power relations of postcolonial nations such as India. The conflict from the power relations of American exceptionalism in building empire has consistently imposed a deficit model of democracy on global contexts for their conformity to American superiority; and similar power relations are used within its homeland borders to maintain its stratified system with a deficit condition for many of its own citizens in this presumed democracy. Race relations, for example, in the U.S. have grown in conflict during this recent period, reflecting a deficit condition of inequality still existing in spite of the civil rights movement—even though many still have the assumption they are not reduced. The growing conflict could be and is engaged increasingly with power relations, since historically justice without righteousness and common peace without wholeness have not had the relational significance to bring the depth of change necessary for the relational outcome of the primacy of persons with equality without being relegated to secondary distinctions. Moreover, gender inequality has been further surfacing in business and academic contexts in the U.S., notably in terms of opportunity, income and stature. This still-existing inequality reflects the unyielding stratification and power of its comparative relations, in spite of the feminist movement that has yet to render gender distinction secondary—which ironically, yet not surprisingly, remains an existing distinction also among African Americans in the civil rights movement.
What emerges from all this is the fact that power relations have not resulted in the change needed to remove the primacy given to human distinctions and for overcoming deficit conditions in comparative relations. The use of a conflict model has been a false hope and its related theory has been a false outcome that lacks the primacy of persons and relationships in wholeness, that is, uncommon wholeness. The shift to power relations only exacerbates comparative relations and further embeds persons in a reduced ontology and relations in fragmented function, yet power relations remain as the prevailing means for change—or to prevent change and enforce conformity. This prevailing reality exposes the default condition and mode of all persons, peoples and nations and their common efforts to determine themselves, which pervade the church also. Clearly, Jesus understood these dynamics and their consequences for his disciples and such practice in his family. And he saw this pattern developing in his disciples and anticipated this emerging in the church and its persons and relationships, notably starting with church leaders.
When Jesus responded to his disciples’ continued debate of having the greatest distinction, he added to his first response the use of power relations (Lk 22:25-30). Jesus highlighted leaders who “lord it over them; and those in authority and power over them are called benefactors.” Power relations are obvious when they “lord it over” persons but subtle when exercised as benefaction because of its implied quid pro quo; and this becomes even subtler when paternalism is used, for example, to help others. Jesus was critical of Greco-Roman benefactors who used their resources to gain power over (exousiazo) persons, presumably under the guise to do good (the common good without wholeness). In whatever way power relations are exercised and commonly exist, Jesus made it unequivocal that they are contrary to the uncommon relational nature of his kingdom-family, and are in conflict with the uncommon relational significance of how he functions without the distinctions warranted for his superior position—the pivotal issue between him and Peter that emerged at his footwashing.
Ironically, in a significant way that may seem unorthodox yet is uncommon, Jesus’ whole person from inner out without his outer-in distinctions is more apparent in his footwashing than on the cross. That is, the common perception of Jesus on the cross focuses on the distinctions of what he did in sacrifice as the Savior, Redeemer and Messiah, and less on his whole person embodied and enacted in intimate relationship together in wholeness with the Father—and his immeasurable pain of the mystery for them ‘to be apart’. Jesus, the Teacher and Master, would not allow Peter to see him in his superior distinctions or to reduce him to an act of service, but only his whole person vulnerably involved in intimate equalized relationship together. And those who follow him on his whole relational terms composing trinitarian discipleship must be vulnerably involved without such distinctions “so that you may participate in and partake of my uncommon family and function with congruence just as I function to be relationally involved in justice with whole righteousness—not from relational distance on a throne—for the uncommon wholeness of the Trinity’s whole and uncommon family” (Lk 22:30).
Jesus’ response anticipated what would compose the church today. He directed his response in particular to church leaders, their discipleship and their theological anthropology underlying their theology and practice, in order for their ontology and function to be whole. The uncommon wholeness of his church family in uncommon likeness of the Trinity cannot be composed with comparative relations or subtly by power relations. The pattern of such common relations must be paid attention to by the contemporary church and its persons and relationships in order to reciprocally respond to Jesus congruent in reciprocal likeness for the irreducible and nonnegotiable primacy of persons and relationships in the wholeness of their ontology and function as the trinitarian church family of the Trinity’s uncommon temple, without the fragmentation of persons and barriers of relationships in distinctions. Only uncommon relations in whole relational terms can address what underlies human distinctions and their deficit condition. The issue is less about change and more importantly requires redemption. Human relations, including in the church, need to be redeemed from the ontology and function fragmented by distinctions imposed on them, so that they can emerge with the following: ontology and function that have been transformed from inner out for the transformed relationships together both vulnerably intimate without the veil of distinctions and thus equalized without the barriers of ‘better or less’, thus without stratified relationships and free from a deficit condition. Therefore, only these whole-ly, noncomparative and unstratified, relationships differentiate the trinitarian church family to be distinguished in the uncommon wholeness of all its persons in all its relationships together with their primacy in wholeness. This uncommon relational outcome emerges only from the trinitarian gospel of wholeness to distinguish the church family unfolding in trinitarian discipleship.
Just as Jesus used his sword of uncommon wholeness and also cleaned out his house of commonization, the uncommon wholeness of his church family redeems persons and relationships from their fragmentation in reduced ontology and function to the uncommon wholeness of the whole-ly Trinity. And nothing less and no substitutes for whole-ly (i.e. whole plus holy) relationships have the qualitative relational significance to be involved in the uncommon trinitarian relational process of family love necessary to compose the uncommon relationships together that have the whole and uncommon relational outcome distinguished only by the new-order church family of the whole-ly Trinity—none of which and whom can be narrowed down to common terms, no matter how correct the doctrinal orthodoxy. It is imperative, then, for the church to be cleaned out and redeemed from its distinctions, comparative and power relations, because these reduce its persons and fragment its relationships and subject them to the binding limits and enslaving constraints of reduced ontology and function. This redemptive change is required for the uncommon wholeness of Christ to be the only determinant for the heart of the church—the primacy of its persons and relationships together in wholeness (as Paul keeps making imperative for the church, Col 3:15).
The whole-ly relationships of uncommon wholeness are not an ideal to hope for in the future ‘not yet’. Nor are they an unrealistic goal too impractical to work for today ‘already’. The essential reality inescapably facing all of us is that the only solution significant for the comparative relations of human distinctions, and inevitable power relations and deficit condition, is their redemption. Without the essential reality of redemptive change, neither the old dies nor the new rises, and thus we remain in the status quo of our default condition and mode (cf. Rom 12:2). The essential truth undeniably facing all of us in the global church is that only the church distinguished by the whole-ly relationships of uncommon wholeness has the qualitative relational significance to be the redeeming good news for all persons and relationships fragmented in reduced ontology and function. Until the church embodies this essential truth in its own persons and relationships, the church has no substantive basis to be of qualitative relational significance to enact this essential reality in the human condition needing redemption—regardless if its service and resources are the greatest.
In anticipation of the church needing first and foremost to clean out its own house so that it will unfold in the whole-ly relationships of uncommon wholeness for all persons, peoples and nations, Jesus established this priority for his family:
Before “you address the fragmentation in others” you need to “address the fragmentation in your own theology and practice. How can you say to others, ‘Let me help you out of your reductionism,’ while reductionism continues in your own life? Don’t be a role-player [hypokrites], first redeem your own life from reductionism, and then you will be clearly distinguished to help redeem others’ lives from reductionism” (Mt 7:3-5).
The need for redemptive change in the church is essential to be new, whole and uncommon; and there is no substitute for redemptive change that the church can use to get this relational outcome—which Jesus also made definitive in anticipation of our latitude in theology and practice.
As the church is redeemed from its own reductionism, its persons and relationships conjointly are reconciled in transformed relationships together that by their uncommon nature are integrally equalized and intimate. The transformed church unfolds in uncommon wholeness with its persons and relationships reconciled in uncommon likeness of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity in order to constitute the new essential for the whole of life (as Paul illuminated for the church, 2 Cor 5:16-20; Eph 2:14-18).
In unlikely terms, then, the essential relational outcome unfolding unavoidably from the intimate equalizer church is the new relational order composing this church with its persons and relationships. This new relational order is certainly uncommon, so a clarifying note would be helpful to understand the depth distinguishing this whole relational order. As the new-order trinitarian church family, the intimate equalizer church is still the body of Christ. That is, the functional order that Paul outlined for the church to compose its interdependent synergism is remains vital (1 Cor 12:12-31), just as synergism is essential to the inter-person-al Trinity. The uncommon equality composing the church in the intimacy of uncommon wholeness does not mean that all its persons do the same thing and equally have the same resources, nor does everyone engage their practice (including worship) in the same manner. The new-order church is neither a homogeneous unit nor a monotonic composition. Diversity in what persons do and the resources they have are basic to the body of Christ, yet what value is ascribed to that diversity could be consequential. The key issue is not differences but distinctions associated with differences that limit and constrain persons and fragment the relational order of the church family from wholeness together. Having this functional diversity in the church is important for the church’s interdependent synergism, but each difference is secondary from outer in and must be integrated into the primary of the whole church from inner out, that is, the vulnerable intimate church in uncommon wholeness and uncommon equality (Eph 4:11-13,16, cf. Col 2:19). When differences become the primary focus, even inadvertently, they subtly are seen with distinctions that set into motion the comparative process with its relational consequences, which persons and relationships with those distinctions have to bear—the consequences Jesus saw in the temple before he reconstituted it.
The defining line between diversity and distinctions has disappeared in most church theology and practice today (including the academy’s), such that the consequences are not understood or recognized. In whatever way those consequences emerge in the church (local, regional, global), they all converge in inequality of the church’s relational order—if not explicitly then implicitly. This unequal relational order of distinctions is contrary to and in conflict with the uncommon wholeness of Christ, therefore incongruent with the whole-ly distinguished Trinity. As Paul made definitive Jesus’ salvific work for the church (as in Eph 2:11-22), Jesus enacted the good news in order to compose the uncommon equality of his church family at the heart of its persons and relationships in whole ontology and function, and therefore unequivocally transformed them (1) to be redeemed from human distinctions and their deficit condition and (2) to be reconciled to the new relational order in uncommon transformed relationships together both equalized and intimate in their innermost, and thereby congruent in uncommon likeness with the wholeness of the Trinity. Redemptive reconciliation is not optional but essential to the uncommon wholeness of who, what and how the church and its persons and relationships are to be. This is the gospel of wholeness Jesus enacted to constitute the uncommon trinitarian church family as the intimate equalizer, which is nonnegotiable for the gospel to compose this essential relational outcome.
In June, 2015, nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, were murdered at church during their weekly Bible study together by a white young adult proclaiming racial superiority. This macroaggression shocked many Christians and churches in the U.S. and evoked renewed calls for racial justice. Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, responded in part: “Until our lives [including at Fuller] reflect a gospel powerful enough to eradicate roots of racism and violence, the faith we proclaim will be a marginalized impertinence.”
Indeed, the essential truth of the whole gospel must first be the essential reality of the church and its persons and relationships, including the academy and other Christian organizations. Yet, the issues of justice and reconciliation intrinsic to the gospel must go beyond ethical-moral terms and reach deep into the heart of persons and relationships in their ontology and function. This necessitates unavoidably getting past the secondary into this primacy and requires the redemptive change of our theological anthropology. If we want justice with whole righteousness, then the gospel of the uncommon wholeness of Christ and integrally its uncommon equality also require this essential reality in the church: the new, uncommon and whole relational order for the church to be distinguished as the new creation family not just of Christ but the Trinity, whereby its gospel will have the qualitative relational significance for all persons, peoples, nations and their relationships to be made whole in their innermost—that is, in their primacy inner out without the veil of distinctions and the barriers to intimate equalized relationships together.
Yet, we have to understand the often subtle reality that human distinctions are substitutes for the innermost of humanity, substitutes which fragment human life at the heart of persons and relationships in their ontology and function. This is the default condition and mode for all humanity, which Christians also engage when not in whole ontology and function. These substitutes also serve as subtle simulations and illusions of ontology and function assumed to be in their primary condition, when in fact and essential reality they only compose in secondary terms the reduced ontology and function for persons and relationships. Race-ethnic relations, for example, cannot be expected to be resolved beyond a simulation or illusion from common peace, as long as those distinctions are maintained preventing getting to the heart of the problem. The most that emerges amounts to virtual reality. The consequences of human distinctions, as discussed above, emerge along the spectrum of the human condition in its common ontology and function, with inequality the defining consequence for all persons in relationships ‘to be apart’—whether individual, collective, institutional, structural or systemic. Inequality in race-ethnic relations exists because of these distinctions, thus equality cannot be achieved with these distinctions. The solution is not to be colorblind but to address what such distinctions signify, define and determine for human life.
What underlies all human distinctions and their consequences of inequality at all levels, which they all have in common in the innermost, is the inescapable fragmentary condition of reduced ontology and function. There is no substitute, simulation or illusion that can alter this condition and therefore resolve the existing inequality of persons, peoples, nations and their relationships. Accordingly, and thus not surprisingly, we have been recently witnessing, if not experiencing, the increasing relational consequences of inequality around the globe (mainly from macroaggressions), and notably in recent days between U.S. college students (primarily with microaggressions) and in U.S. cities between the minority population and law enforcement. Yet, the global church must not be misled in its understanding and misguided in its response. What precipitates conflict relations is comparative relations stratified by human distinctions. Whether these distinctions are self-imposed or imposed on others, or both, a deficit condition results, which may require power relations to maintain conformity or to try to change. At the center of all this fragmentation of persons and relationships is the defining practice of human distinctions; and at the heart of human distinctions are fragmented persons and relationships in reduced ontology and function needing redemptive reconciliation for transformed relationships together—the relationships composed only by both persons being equalized without distinctions and thus vulnerably involved intimately from the heart of the whole person. We must no longer be misguided to work for equality while distinctions are still used, which at best can only result in a common equality that lacks wholeness at the heart of persons and relationships. The distinctions of persons we use will be the equality in their relationships we get.
The gospel of wholeness that Jesus vulnerably enacted only in whole relational terms centered on the innermost of the child-person, who differentiated the heart of the person from inner out and, thus, who lived neither by the bias of human distinctions nor by a naïve lack of discernment. Jesus declared with excitement that the key to receiving and understanding God’s revelation is the vulnerable openness of the child-person, who is not predisposed by the limits and constraints of the epistemic bias (or trained incapacity) of those regarded as “wise and learned” (Lk 10:21). Also, Jesus disclosed in these relational terms that those who compose his family are distinguished child-persons, who have been redeemed from distinctions and thus humbly live at the heart of who, what and how they are without embellishment (Mt 18:1-4), thereby distinguishing their wholeness that can be counted on to be in relationships together. Jesus further differentiated that the heart of those child-persons compose the heart of worship and its qualitative relational significance, about which others with distinctions regarded themselves in comparison as having better practice and knowledgeable resources (Mt 21:15-16). Then, Jesus addressed his disciples’ concern for distinctions “as the greatest” and their need for redemptive change as church leaders—leadership differentiated clearly from the greatest distinctions only by the child-person signified “like the youngest” (new, neos, Lk 22:24-26).
By centering on the child-person, however, Jesus did not reverse the relational order of his church family, which servant discipleship and leadership commonly imply in narrow referential terms of what to do (e.g. misinterpreting Jesus’ footwashing). In reality, Jesus composed the new (neos) relational order for his church family of those new persons redeemed from distinctions and re-newed (anakainoo) to the wholeness of Christ (Col 3:10-11). The new persons in wholeness are the only church leaders who can “equip [katartizo, restore, put in new order and make complete] the persons and relationships of the church in its essential relational purpose and function, for building up the family of Christ, until all of us come to the whole relationship together of our faith distinguished by the whole Word, to full maturity on the basis of the only measure of the fullness, completeness, wholeness [pleroma] of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13). This uncommon relational process and outcome in whole relational terms cannot emerge and unfold with, from and by distinctions, notably the greatest of Jesus’ followers in the church.
Paul is clear about “those who commend themselves by the comparative process. But when they measure themselves by their distinctions, and compare themselves with one another based on their distinctions, they do not understand” (syniemi, 2 Cor 10:12). That is, those who use, reinforce and sustain distinctions do not put together all of the relational words of the Word to have the whole understanding (synesis from the process and outcome of syniemi) of the whole gospel and its essential relational outcome of uncommon wholeness for persons and relationships together from their innermost to their outermost. The syniemi that Paul helps us to have involves the unbridgeable gap between conforming to distinctions from outer in and being transformed from distinctions in the innermost to the outermost.
Child-persons re-newed without distinctions at the heart of their ontology and function, and their transformed relationships together in which they are integrally involved with both equality and intimacy, are who and what the new, uncommon, whole relational order of the church involves, and how it functions. By the essential reality of this relational order of its persons and relationships, the church is distinguished as transformed in its innermost with the uncommon wholeness of the intimate equalizer. Therefore, on only this uncommon relational basis and essential reality, the church has the qualitative relational significance to proclaim the gospel of uncommon wholeness with uncommon equality for the fragmentation and inequality of all persons, peoples, nations and their relationships in the pluralistic, globalizing world, and to call for justice with whole righteousness and work for the uncommon good with nothing less than wholeness. This is the essential that composes the model of Micah 6:8 in the full significance required by the Trinity. Moreover, this uncommon relational process of the distinguished relational order of uncommon relationships together is not the naïve ideal of a child but rather the essential reality of child-persons—who are not defined and determined by the human context’s commonization and thus in virtual reality—vulnerably living from the primary inner out of their heart the essential truth of Christ’s gospel of uncommon wholeness in the good news of uncommon equality.
The life of Jesus before the cross embodied and enacted the uncommon wholeness of ‘Jesus as the intimate equalizer’. In his death and resurrection, Jesus embodies and enacts with the palpable Word the new creation of persons and relationships from inner out in order to embody and enact the uncommon wholeness of ‘the church as intimate equalizer’ for all the ages of persons, the diversity of all peoples and the differences of all nations—enacting congruently in uncommon likeness “just as I am and have been sent.” Along with Paul, the palpable Word inquires, “Where are you in your ontology and function—in whose likeness?” and “What are you doing here to be the church in uncommon wholeness as intimate equalizer?”—or do you have a better gospel and a greater purpose and function to distinguish the church of likeness?
All that Jesus has enacted and has been saying (including from Paul) is “difficult teaching, who can accept it?” One way to handle what is difficult is to make it more convenient. Humans have long-desired convenience, and we have progressed in determining this especially with technological development. Let’s face it, convenience requires less work and frees us for other pursuits. It also requires less involvement by our person, resulting progressively in less face-to-face relational connection and thus less difficult involvement. In this common way, convenience has become a subtle substitute for our persons and relationships that simply makes what’s difficult easier. This common process also reduces persons and relationships from the wholeness God created, and reduces their church from the wholeness of the Trinity. This should not surprise us because all that Jesus enacted and said is less about being difficult but is at the heart of being unequivocally uncommon.
With the improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path, the face of the Trinity emerges in full profile to be in uncommon presence and whole involvement. The uncommon Son, who “does not belong to the common,” called the trinitarian church family to be uncommon (Jn 17:14-17), and only on this essential basis “I have sent our trinitarian church family into the world to be uncommon”—“in the uncommon wholeness just as [kathos, in full congruence] you, Father, have sent me into the world” (17:18). This is the integral calling and commission for the church of likeness (congruence) that Jesus made definitive for the trinitarian church family—the relational terms of which composing his prayer are irreducible and nonnegotiable. And congruence in this call and commission has been problematic for the church and its persons and relationships, largely because it is perceived (if at all) as difficult or ignored perhaps as inconvenient to what they want.
Peter confessed “you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69) contrary to those followers who decided “Your teaching is uncommon; who can accept it?” (6:60). Yet, ironically Peter’s confession was compatible with the confession of a man with an unclean spirit who cried out in the synagogue “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mk 1:24). “Holy and awesome is his name” (Ps 111:9) “for the LORD our God is holy” (Ps 99:9)—that is to say, is uncommon. And in contrast and conflict with those who have commonized their theology and practice (Isa 29:13; Mk 7:5-9), those uncommon “will keep uncommon my name; they will distinguish uncommon the Holy One” (Isa 29:23). The uncommon ones (churches, persons, relationships) are those who have entered the Most Uncommon Place with the Uncommon One (as in Heb 10:19-25) to reconstitute the church as the Trinity’s uncommon temple and tear away the veil of their persons and relationships to be in uncommon wholeness in full congruence with the uncommon likeness of the whole-ly Trinity. These are the uncommon ones who fulfill the call and commission by the Uncommon One to be the whole of the uncommon trinitarian church family—fulfill with nothing less difficult and no substitutes of convenience from the common.
Therefore, the essential reality is that the church and all its persons and relationships are uncommon, distinguished from the common composing the world—in full congruence just as the Son was sent by the Father to embody and enact, and in uncommon likeness to call and send forth their church family in uncommon wholeness. The new creation church family, composed in reciprocal likeness of the new covenant with its persons and relationships together, are true (in righteousness) to the whole of who, what and how they are when they are to be in uncommon likeness of the Trinity. This is ‘the church of full congruence’ that Paul made conclusive in contrast and conflict with any common likeness (Eph 4:20-24). Nothing less and no substitutes can constitute or distinguish the uncommon whole of who, what and how they are because anything less and any substitutes are categorically common in unlikeness of the Holy Trinity integrally person-al and inter-person-al.
The Son longs to gather together the trinitarian church family with its persons and relationships in wholeness, but churches and their persons and relationships have to be willing to be uncommon just as he embodied and enacted in family love (Lk 13:34). This is the whole and uncommon who, what and how the Son prayed to the Father to constitute their church family to be the Trinity’s uncommon dwelling. Churches with their persons and relationships may not perceive themselves to be incompatible with the Son and the Father; but the essential issue is to be congruent as the church of likeness with the whole and uncommon Trinity—hereby distinguishing the church of full congruence both from all the common of the world and for the common human condition in the world also to be in uncommon wholeness. Like the question essential about the Trinity, the dilemma appears to pervade the church in its theology and practice: to be or not to be.
Indeed, to be in the present of the already and the future of the not yet, this highlight unfolds: “Uncommon, uncommon, uncommon is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev 4:8, NIV); and already and not yet, “I saw the Uncommon City, the new Jerusalem…the dwelling of the Trinity is with the uncommon in uncommon likeness together…I did not see a temple in the city because the Trinity and the trinitarian family are its uncommon temple” (Rev 21:2-3,22, NIV). Amen, so be the church and its persons and relationships!
 I discuss the global church at greater length in The Global Church Engaging the Nature of Sin and the Human Condition: Reflecting, Reinforcing, Sustaining or Transforming (Global Church Study, 2016). Online at http://www.4X12.org.
 Quoted from “Out of Anguish, We Commit to Change,” posted 6/22/2015, http://fuller.edu/offices/President/From-the-President/2015-Posts.
©2016 T. Dave Matsuo