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The Relational Progression

A Relational Theology of Discipleship

 

Discipleship  Study

12       The Church as Equalizer:
                             Equalizer Within Itself

printer-friendly pdf version of entire study

 

Subsections:

Its Foundation
Its Functional Basis
Redeemed to Equalize
The Work of Equalization
Building Infrastructure
Knowing Our Context
Addressing Change
Rationale for Change
Opposite Directions for the church
Multicultural Qualifier
Equalizing Disqualifier
Functional Discipleship
Consider

 

Study Note: Please engage each chap. in sequence because this study is cumulative.

Chap. 1
Chap. 2
Chap. 3
Chap. 4
Chap. 5
Chap. 6

Chap. 7
Chap. 8
Chap. 9
Chap. 10
Chap. 11
Chap. 13
Chap. 14

Table of Contents

 

Scripture Index

 

 

"My house will be . . . for all nations."

Mark 11:17

The redemptive process for God's people is ongoing--in its joyful experience, as a challenging privilege and with its rigorous relational work. In further defining this process the functional meaning of discipleship is made complete. In its practice his followers participate in advancing the full witness of Christ and the wholeness of his purpose.

His mission and commission are the mutually shared divine vocation for each of his followers--without exception, whatever their background, abilities or gender. This purpose became not something the early church merely would do or engage in. It became the substantive expression and qualitative extension of their life together: what it is, whom it's about, and why it is so. Unlike today, mission was not compartmentalized from their intimate fellowship as just another aspect of their total church program. Furthermore, unlike the conventional Christian mind-set today, mission was not an option or an avocation. As their mutually shared vocation (in life purpose, lifestyle and life experience), it was also not a practice primarily for the more adequate, mature or trained disciples. In other words, distinctions like the clergy-laity division were nonexistent.

A mutually shared church operation may sound good in theory but it is not the kind of ideal many churches (mainline denominational or free) would actually practice. Even the magisterial Reformers did not subject their ecclesiology to the priesthood of all believers. This issue, however, is not whether the practice of the church should be left to anybody, but whether it can be the practice of everybody, that is, the whole. It continues to elude the grasp of conventional Christian wisdom how the church can operationally function in unity (whether according to the Nicene Creed or organization principles) with the participation of all its existing diversity, and how the church can operationally function with efficiency along with the range of differences among its members. How we approach unity and what priority we give to efficiency will determine our understanding of the practice of the transformed church as transformed individuals living together in transformed relationships. More importantly, from what framework we perceive of diversity and what meaning we give to differences will indicate the extent to which we are engaging the redemptive process.

 

 

Its Foundation

Paul describes the process of building the church as full members of God's household as his new kinship family in which God intimately lives by his Spirit (Eph 2:19-22). God's household is built on the foundation of the incarnation of Jesus: his person, his words, his redemptive relational work. Yet, Paul also includes the apostles and prophets as part of the foundation (v.20). Jesus is also defined as the apostle and prophet (Acts 3:22; Heb 3:1). Certainly, the first church was established by the twelve core apostles, with the addition of Paul and an expanding corps of apostolic witnesses (Eph 4:11). Their faithfulness to the person, words and works of Jesus demonstrated true apostolic character.

What is significant for building God's household is not the positional order of those apostles, nor their charisma (gift). I suggest that it wasn't their role but the function they represented which is the vital sign of life for the church. Paul adds the vital sign of the function of the prophets as foundational for the church's life. In function, the transformed church Paul defines is both apostolic and prophetic. We need to revisit these two foundational functions.

As the ultimate apostle and prophet, Jesus' person, words and redemptive relational work established the church for his disciples to follow. The term apostle (Gk. apostolos) means one who is sent as an authorized representative, commissioned agent, delegate, emissary to represent another. The Father sent his Son into the world to represent him. Likewise, Jesus sends his followers into the world to represent him and the Father. The church assumes its apostolic function by going forth to represent them. Yet, we have to grasp the type of commissioned agent that serves the authentic apostolic function. As agents of (as well as in) the redemptive process, this goes beyond the traditional perceptions of evangelism.

In representing his Father, Jesus vulnerably engaged us in the relational progression which took us to the Father as his very own in his family. By enacting this function Jesus also served the prophetic function. This function is not about a reference to time (and predicting the future); rather, a prophet (Gk. prophetes) is one who speaks openly before anyone about God's desires. This is what Jesus fulfilled--the apostolic and prophetic functions. In other words, Jesus functioned both to save us from the old life order as well as to save us to the new life order. These NT functions must be understood together as foundational for the practice of church.

To be able to function as a prophet is not about the ability to do something. It is a function of relationship with God and implies that the quality characterizing a prophet is intimate communion with God for such divine communication of his desires to be received. Yet, this intimate communion is not characteristic of relationship between servant and master, nor is it merely the sharing between friends. Such intimate relationship is only between the Father and his Son, between the Father and his daughters and sons--that is, the function of family relationships. It is the ongoing practice of intimate relationship with him as our Father and intimate interdependent relationships with each other as sisters and brothers in his new kinship family which openly expresses best before anyone else and beyond anything else about God's desires for his creation, humanity and all history.

Nothing visibly incarnates the prophetic message and the proclamation of the good news revealing God's desires--which the Father shared through the vulnerable incarnation of his Son in the relational progression--than the transformed church functioning in family love. On this apostolic and prophetic foundation the church builds his household, in which he intimately lives with all his adopted children (Eph 2:22).

 

 

Its Functional Basis

Paul began this passage on building the church by identifying those who constitute it as full members of God's household, in contrast to outsiders, visitors, peripheral and measured participants who do not have a sense of belonging--rendered "aliens" in NIV (2:19, Gk. paroikos, a temporary dweller not having a settled home in the place where one currently participates, though not to be confused with the same word Peter used to define God's people as sojourners, 1 Pet 2:11). Many churches are made up of such "dwellers" who don't experience belonging. Part of this has to do with how churches approach unity and another part involves the priority given to efficiency. There is a fundamental difference between a quantitative and a qualitative process for how churches function.

Contrary to a traditional evangelism paradigm (and outreach effort or membership
drive), the process of family love not only reaches out to others and takes them in as the Father's very own. It also nurtures, builds up and establishes each person: (1) in the reciprocal relational responsibilities of being his and his family, and (2) in the mutually shared vocation to represent him and to build his family for all to experience (as Jesus said). This constitutes the process of making disciples.

This prompts two questions for churches to address. One is, how does a church become transformed? The second is related, what does it mean for a church to practice transformed relationships? It starts with transformed persons, which is where Paul began the second chapter leading to the above passage and subsequent passages involving the church and its relationships.

The truth of Jesus' person, words and redemptive relational work clearly demonstrate that he traversed the natural inequality between the holy, eternal God and all humans. The importance of this inequality is necessary to grasp for both our theology and our practice. Despite God's obvious position of superiority and power, Jesus didn't come down to our level to condemn us, though we are indeed less (whether quantitative or qualitative), nor did he expand the ontological difference between us and God. Jesus came to redeem us from the barriers and difference separating us and to reconcile us with God in a new relationship no longer constrained by the character of a system of inequality. That is to say, though God always loves downward (to our stratum), the inequality between God and us does not determine the character of our relationship with him. As Jesus vulnerably demonstrated in the incarnation, even though the basic and inherent inequality between God and us can never be equalized, the essential function of our relationship together is: intimately heart to heart, effectively united as the Father is with the Son, experientially loved by the Father as he loves the Son. What invariably is the relational consequence in any system of inequality--that is, relational separation or distance--now becomes transformed to the relational outcome of the new order characterized by relational closeness or intimacy. God does not define us by the prevailing criteria of inequality, nor does he do relationship with us by the process of inequality. Given the absolute inequality involved here, this starts to inform us about what it means to practice transformed relationships in a context of diversity and differences.

The intimate knowledge of God and his grace as the ultimate benefactor were incarnated by Jesus in the relational progression before he went to the cross. This is why it is important to grasp (theaomai, to view attentively to perceive correctly, as John said, Jn 1:14) Jesus' person, words and relational work between the manger and the cross. But the redemptive process necessary for us to be the Father's as a relational reality begins at the cross. It is in the function of the cross that Jesus' followers join him to begin the process of transformation as individuals and as the church. The initial experience of God's grace intimately changing us is best summarized by Paul in the first part of Ephesians 2.

Here we find God's people going from death to life, from the old order to the new order in what can be described as "the equalization process." Whether our life is characterized by independence, self-indulgence or conventional arrogance, or, in the implied converse, whether we are living in the hurtful effects of sin, we all need to be equalized. That is, we either need to be brought down to the level of our true humanity, or we need to be raised up to be made whole (cf. Ps 75:7). Whatever our condition or circumstances, we experience consequences which need redemption.

These matters needing redemption always involve our relationships, so the redemptive process must address relational consequences. It is inevitable in human relations that comparisons are made. When comparisons come from a reductionist mind-set, quantitative distinctions are generated with some subjective value attached such as good or bad, better or less. Obviously, this process is never well-intentioned or neutral but is always used to gain an advantage in relationships. When the process is formalized (be it with a family, friends, a society or nations), a system of inequality develops stratifying persons. In such a system a person or group is unnaturally subordinated by others. This subordination is unnatural because it is an inequality between persons who are basically and inherently equal--as all members of humanity are.

All such relational systems stratifying persons are a result of some variation of power relations--ranging from the misuse of authority to the use of force. Power relations is the outcome of sin and evil ever since Adam put down Eve for influencing him to disobey God. In order to have an upper hand in a relationship some form of condemnation (or judgment) is imposed on the "subordinate" either to initially justify the inequality or to maintain the inequality. Unlike God who judges us with the critique of hope for the purpose of reconciliation, humans use condemnation as a rationale to exert authority, power over others to separate or distance relationships. This vertical ordering of relationships makes the dominant feel superior, better and secure while the subordinate feel inferior, bad or condemned. Both need to be redeemed and equalized.

When joining Christ for the process of our redemption is a relational reality, two vital changes in our relationships are established and set into motion. First, having been justified before God, we have reconciliation with the Father as his very own in his family. Secondly, there is an equalization of all other relationships, without false distinctions so that "there is neither Jew nor Greek [race, ethnicity], slave nor free [class], male nor female [gender]" (Gal 3:28). These distinctions, plus many others including clergy-laity, cause divisions which fragment the whole of "you are all one in Christ." The relational outcome of Christ's relational progression is that no person is secondary or less but only full members of his family.

The relational transformation of this equalization became an established reality when Christ destroyed the barriers to the intimate relationships of his new family, both the horizontal barriers on keeping relational distance and the vertical barriers of division separating relationships (Eph 2:14). Yet, the fact of this new condition can remain static in church doctrine, which is certainly insufficient to fulfill God's purpose (as the church in Ephesus later learned, Rev 2:4). What must also be set into motion here is the dynamic process of relationships; this process necessitates operationalizing the ongoing relational work of eliminating separation and distance in our relationships along with building greater trust, intimacy, wholeness and well-being as his family. Equalization, then, becomes the clear qualitative functional indicator that we are redeemed from the old ways, as well as the qualitative relational indicator that our practices are transformed to the new life order (cf. Paul's concern in Gal 4:9 and Col 2:20). Transformed relationships are not only intimate relationships but equalized relationships. And inequality separates, distances, fragments.

Whether we have been humbled, lifted up, or both, we are reconciled to God through Christ's redemptive relational work. In being transformed by Christ's resurrection through the relational work of his Spirit, we are equalized with one another before the Father in his family. It is with the intimate experience of God's grace in the ongoing relational process as his family that his followers corporately are able to witness (Gk. martyreo, one who bears testimony, not a spectator) to being his in their apostolic and prophetic functions. Their mission was based on having first-hand experience in this equalization process. As the function of transformed persons practicing transformed relationships, the purpose of the transformed church has to be its relational experience first before it becomes its mission, before it can fulfill its purpose to reveal the Father and extend his family to the world.

A church's witness and purpose is the substantive expression and qualitative extension of its shared life together: what it is, whom it's about, and why it is so. Grasping this basis for the mission of the transformed church is indispensable for our understanding of the nature and scope of church function in the new life order.

 

 

Redeemed to Equalize

How God in Christ vulnerably involved himself with us for intimate relationship provides us with the relational experience to operationalize the practice Jesus required in our relationships with others. His family love clearly reconciles us to his Father and equalizes us in his own family; the experience of his love is the basis to operationalize our practice to love each other (Jn 15:12). Throughout his incarnation, Jesus was engaged in relational work to restore equitable human relationships and reconciliation. In the relational connections he made in his earthly relationships, persons did not feel condemned, distant or less though they were different. We are experiential witnesses of how God seeks to reconcile the diversity of persons to himself in order that all persons and relationships have the opportunity to be restored to the Father's desires and purpose.

Equalizing is another matter that is a blessing or a threat. It's a threat for those who depend on what they do, accomplish and have, in order to establish themselves. It's a blessing, however, for those who need grace. Since Jesus equalized by extending the relationship of his Father to us, what distinguishes his followers, his church, his family is to equalize by extending this relationship of family love also.

Equalization and a reductionist framework are irreconcilable. When soteriology is truncated, our practice becomes operationalized by a reductionist mind-set of what Christ saved us from. To operate from the full soteriology includes embracing, living and experiencing what Christ saved us to in the relational progression. This necessitates a whole Christology which involves before the cross as much as from the cross.

Paul said there are no "foreigners" and "aliens" in the church (Eph 2:19). Why? Does this mean all diversity and differences have been eliminated? Yes and no--yes in terms of conventional function and no in terms of transformed relationships. This will be expanded later, but for now it is important to understand that no "foreigners" and "aliens" exist in God's family because they have been taken in (not the same as assimilated), accepted (not the same as pluralism) and equalized (not the same as reformed) as full members of his family, without distinctions.

This equalizing process was initiated by Jesus before the cross. One interaction he had demonstrates various aspects of this process. A Canaanite woman boldly intruded on Jesus for help to free her daughter from a demon (Mt 15:21-28). Canaanites were the most morally despised people by Israelites in the OT As a pagan woman who was assimilated into Greek culture (cf. Mk 7:36), she was not a likely candidate to receive God's redemptive response. Jesus indicated as much by his response about the primacy of a family's children over dogs. Dogs were considered scavengers in the Jewish community, yet in Greek custom at times dogs were pets. The woman was not a scavenger looking for some handout (not that Jesus was implying such), though she accepts the analogy of the children's priority to eat before pets. Nevertheless, she didn't seem to define herself in those quantitative terms but she continues to impose herself on Jesus. This suggests that on the relational level she boldly approached him to receive in effect as an equal to others in his family ("lost sheep of Israel," v.24).

The fact that she boldly presented herself as one who could receive the same blessings from God as Jews effectively placed her on equal terms with them. By vulnerably presenting her person (his disciples wanted to reject her) without even knowing yet that she could be equalized by Christ, she certainly must have amazed Jesus and demonstrated the quality (not necessarily quantity) of her faith. Despite being different she didn't define herself by how others did, nor did he see and define her as less in her difference--because Jesus is the equalizer.

This opportunity to experience the importance of the whole person (without reduction) and the primacy of intimate relationships (without substitute) as God designed, desires and covenants is the apostolic and prophetic function of his very own, the transformed church. This function as agents of redemption and reconciliation is operationalized by family love. Just as Jesus, in the context of the world where the consequences of sin and evil produce distant relationships and systems of unnatural inequality, the church lives and functions to be the equalizer--a relational work both within the church as well as in the world.

Returning to Paul, it was inconceivable to him that the church could function apart from equalization (though some of his contextual prescriptions seem to confuse this). This was the very truth of the gospel over which he confronted Peter in order to firmly establish the equalization of Gentiles in the church (Gal 2:14). Furthermore, this equalization was the mystery of Christ personally revealed to Paul for the apostolic and prophetic functions of constituting the church (Eph 3:4-6), which he was "to make plain" (Gk. photizo, illuminate, make us understand) for its "administration" (Gk. oikonomos, management of God's household, 3:9). To be authentically redeemed resulted in a process of reconciliation to be one with God as in the Trinity and thus also in his people. The distinctions coming from inequality cause division which fragments this unity; equalization is a necessary function from redemption for the church to be one as family (Paul's thesis in Galatians, Ephesians and Corinthians).

In Banks' study about the early house churches and Paul's formulation of community, he concludes: "for Paul equality was subservient to the more fundamental idea of unity. For this reason the idea of equality itself could never become a leading motif in his thought."[1] Yet, despite his positive observations of the principle of equality in Paul's formulation of community, Banks does not adequately perceive that equalization is inherent to authentic unity, not the structural unity of the institutional church but the functional and relational unity of the transformed church.

Perhaps the confusion comes from the perception of equality as not only the basis for all church members to assume personal responsibility for the operation of the church but also as a rationale for individualism. This is certainly an issue. For example, while the priesthood of believers equalizes all of God's people, evangelicalism has used this (intentionally or inadvertently) to foster individualism. This happens when intimate relationship with God (spirituality) is not integrated into the relational progression, which necessitates taking one's personal place in the reciprocal relational responsibilities of his family. Paul never separates the individual from the function of the whole. In addition, his metaphors for the church and the processes he describes for its function do not suffer from such a quantitative perceptual framework. He doesn't talk about equality in quantitative terms of what the members do (though it can be possible) or what they have (though it may at times). Paul defines equality in qualitative terms of what the members (individually and corporately) are in relation to God (Eph 2) and who they are in relation to each other (Gal 3). Equalization doesn't reduce living to the notions of the individual, but it brings us to the depths of the true heart of the person and opens the way for our hearts to come together, first with God then with each other. This process establishes the new redemptive order in Christ where equality prevails (cf. 1 Cor 11:11-12) and divisive distinctions like race/ethnicity, class, gender are transcended. Reductionist alternatives (even for unity or efficiency) cannot substitute for the relational qualitative difference Jesus incarnated.

Equality is the qualitative function of transformed relationships and is fundamental to how God is involved with us and how he wants his very own to be involved in their relationships and with others. The unity or oneness of the church Paul describes is the relational outcome of this intimate reciprocal involvement of equalized relationships which thus form the qualitative interdependent bonds of his family characteristic of the Trinity. There was no tension for Paul between equality and unity. The process of equalization is the relational opposite of individualism; and equalizing functions always in direct conflict with any form of anomia (basically doing whatever one chooses for which some use Christian freedom as a rationale--an issue Paul countered in 1 Cor), or with any other reductionist alternative.

Evangelicalism in the free church tradition has been justifiably criticized for its low priority of church unity, or even ignoring it, thus inadvertently fostering individualism. While this remains an issue, we are also faced on the other end with the issue involving from what framework unity is perceived. For example, when the Nicene Creed ("one, holy, catholic, apostolic church") provides the standard by which to measure the validity of our present notions of church, we cannot use quantitative indicators to define "one," or even "holy." Doing so tends to aggravate false distinctions and often reinforces in principle prevailing perceptions of "differences as less." This makes the formulation of unity unable to relationally absorb differences or to functionally account for diversity; likewise, holy becomes more quantitatively rigid and less qualitatively substantive. The relational consequences are that we have institutions which have little relational significance because they make few deep relational connections, as well as emphasize ritual practices which distance persons from their heart because the approach is from the outer-in. Of course, free churches are equally susceptible to these reductionist practices, as evidenced with individualism. These remain issues from which we need to be redeemed.

For Paul, to be redeemed is to be equalized (Eph 2:12-13)--not merely as an individual but as the Father's very own family in which he intimately lives by his Spirit (2:16-18). In this redemptive process Christ indeed was the equalizer; and the church which follows him in the relational progression with the relational work of his Spirit also lives and functions with him as the equalizer. This is the functional operation of family love which the Father initiated and now extends in his very own.

 

 

The Work of Equalization

We should not have any romanticized illusions about equalizing. The process is rigorous. Whether within the church or in the world the process of equalization is a rigorous work. When we contemplate intently on the holy, eternal God and truly grasp what the Father did in his Son and continues to do in his Spirit for its completion, we can understand that this equalization process is rigorous relational work. All that the Godhead engages goes into destroying the barriers between us in order to bring us together as one. And Jesus' person, words and relational work in particular provide us with the way to equalize.

As noted earlier, reconciliation is not mere peaceful harmony. We cannot fully come together as one in deep, meaningful relationships unless they are established at the level of our hearts. We have to reexamine the ministry of reconciliation God gave us (2 Cor 5:18) and how we practice it within the gathering of the church. We will expand this discussion to extending it to the world in the next chapter.

The Greek term for reconciliation (katallege) denotes: to change from one condition to another by taking away the root cause of a broken (or distant) relationship and, thus, leaving no barriers to restoring communion. This restoring to communion is hearts coming together; in other words, this is intimacy. Intimacy is the relational process which underlies all reconciliation. Clearly then, the ministry of reconciliation involves specifically the building of intimacy. This is what becomes such a vital and imperative work (even struggle) for all his followers. This building of intimacy substantively establishes the functional life and practice of the transformed church--be it in its communion with God, in its shared life together, or even in its purpose of reconciliation in the world.

The bulk of this practice must (dei) begin within the church itself and the relationships among its members. Eliminating distance in relationships and establishing closeness with one another doesn't happen automatically or mysteriously, nor even necessarily over time. It takes intentional work and relational work we are more than likely not used to engaging in. Some would find it easier, for example, to conjugate biblical Greek verbs than to conjugate in deeper church relations. Many persons simply would rather not participate in much of the beginning stages of this process of intimacy, particularly with the adjustment to diversity and the embracing of differences in the church which requires us to come out of our comfort zones and change. Yet, such transformation is fundamental to Jesus' relational progression and what he saved us to. And yet transformed relationships necessitate practicing intimate and equalized relationships in which God's design and purpose for life begin to be restored and the church's purpose fulfilled.

How the church functions within itself must be distinguished by this change and cannot mirror the surrounding context. Despite all the human differences catalogued under humanity, pluralism is not the dominant structure ordering human life. In contrast to the horizontal structure of pluralism (where differences are accepted), the vertical structure imposed on human differences is what dominates. Divisions in human relations, for example, caused by human differences are not merely horizontal partitions. Implied in most divisions is vertical structuring. That is, we see human differences in a comparative manner on a human totem pole. This is not just human tendency but the dominant way of human life.

Since God intervened in the human condition, the action he initiated by his grace constitutes the church in this process. Jesus led the way to equalize in order to change this old order; the whole nature of the cross reflects this process of equalization. Indeed, the whole week of Jesus' passion demonstrates this equalization.

Holy Week begins with his entry into Jerusalem without the usual pomp accorded royalty; Jesus wasn't separated or distant from the people, nor was he above them in his sovereignty. In contrast, Jesus' triumphant entry of humility set the tone for the week and the equalizing nature of the whole of Christ's relational work, purpose and his church to follow. After the King of kings entered Jerusalem on Sunday at the common people' s level, on Monday Jesus cleansed the temple of its system of inequality and opened God's house for all people. When he washed his disciples' feet on Thursday, he demonstrated a new relational order in which they must both not consider themselves more important than others but must also humbly serve others--a relational involvement which means to be willing to subordinate one's life for another. Of course, the ultimate demonstration of this love came on Friday.

We should also not overlook Wednesday of this week, even though the Gospel accounts do not record any events on this day. The absence of activity strongly suggests that Jesus separated himself in the solitude of prayer. For him the need to do so was obvious and resumed on Thursday in the garden of Gethsemane. For us, the solitude of prayer is a place of equalization. In this place away from everything else in daily life, we each are equalized--equalized before God and with our self. With no one else to be compared to we have no importance or prominence in life (no work or role to define self) other than the fact that we (in my person) are--nothing more and nothing less.

This is the week the world and all history became equalized, when the old died and the new was raised up, where God's creation can be restored to our true purpose. The redemptive outcome of all this is that grace does not allow us our distinctions and takes away differences (Gal 6:15; 5:6). Grace, therefore, changes our perception of ourselves, of others and also of God.

Our perception of differences is an important process in following Christ: how we perceive our own personal differences and self-evaluate, how we "see" others in comparison and make judgment, how we look at God and, therefore, treat him. Our perception of these differences exerts controlling influence on our relationships. So, we need to deal again with the question about cultural perceptual framework: what determines how we, as Christians, perceive things? More specifically for this chapter, how do we "see" each other?

Do we see human differences, for example, according to prevailing cultures and value systems? Or, do we see others according to God's grace and his view of us? As you recall from our previous discussion, the culture influencing our lives determines what we should pay attention to and what we should ignore. This process obviously affects our relationships and how we relate to others. Stereotypes, for example, certainly either dominate, control or strongly influence how we relate to a particular human difference. As a preface to the ministry of reconciliation, Paul redefines the framework for this work by saying "from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view" (2 Cor 5:16). "Regard" (Gk. oida, recognize) and "worldly point of view" (Gk. sarx, flesh) can be rendered respectively "perceive" and "reductionist perspective"--that is, perceptions from a reductionist framework. Changing to the new person in Christ necessitates "no longer perceiving others with the quantitative distinctions of a prevailing reductionist framework." This change becomes a necessity to engage the ministry of reconciliation.

We all live in a context that in daily function we limit to what becomes essentially "our little world." Whether that world comes from family, neighborhood, school, work, a segment of society (e.g., the media or entertainment world) or a combination of these, we remain in this world we construct of ideas and beliefs. Rarely, do we go beyond "our world" to see what's out there and, more importantly, to understand how what else out there is connected to "our world." That's because this world or "box" we live in, this reality constructed from cultural stuff, tends to define things as essentially the sum total of the way life is. Anything beyond this is always interpreted through this "box." Culture exerts this extensive influence on our lives.

Sociology helps us to understand the relationships involved in all this. Yet, useful as it is, sociology is limited in giving us understanding of the relations that make up life--particularly its qualitative aspects.

The understanding from sociology that "each of us is a part of something bigger than self" can be expanded and deepened. The "box" we live in is the clear result of cultural stuff derived from our social interactions. While the "box" of a world expands us beyond our own self, it also limits us to that specific cultural stuff. An even deeper context, however, in which all humans find their self is the created context of interpersonal relationships (the relational context).

God created Adam initially without this human relational context. Revealing that this is not the way created human life was meant to be (Gen 2:18), God created Eve to complete the interpersonal relational nature of human life (which implied also the nature of our life with God). Into this deeper context of interpersonal relationships we all were created and for this purpose our lives are designed. This is the deeper and expanded world which comes from biblical culture. From it we form perceptions of the importance of every person and the primacy of interpersonal relationships--perceptions based on the revelations and truths from the author, creator and sovereign Lord God of all life. Therefore, despite being in different contexts (for example, the various cultural contexts in which we live) we all are a part of and share in this common relational context.

On the human side, essentially every human activity since Adam and Eve's disobedience has been to diminish, distort or deny the primacy of relationships. On God's side, everything he has done is to restore relationships to his original design and purpose. In the process of redemption, Christ takes us first down and inward to the core (heart) of our being, exposes what that core is and what is necessary for new life. At the point of our redemption emerges a resurrection of the core of our being (new creation, new heart) which reconciles us to God. This whole process works totally in the context of interpersonal relationships in order to restore our relationships to God's design and purpose.

In looking at the bigger picture, we could conceive of this resurrection as an explosion that thrusts the core of our new being out beyond "our little world" into the far corners of the "universe" of life--life as it was created, then broken, yet as it is still meant to be and can be through the redemptive and reconciling work of Christ. The thrust out beyond "our little world" is the equalizing process of the ministry of reconciliation, the relational extension of God's family love.

This thrust out, however, involves change--major changes both individually and corporately. These changes are necessary if, in actual practice, the purpose of the church engages the relational process of family love in which persons who are different will be embraced into God's family. The interpersonal relationships involved in this process and the dynamics needed to enlarge "our little world," to extend beyond our "box"--that is effectively transforming "our world" in the church--all help us to understand the rigorous relational work necessary to constitute the diversity (multicultural nature) of Christ's church and the church's function as the precursor or presence of the kingdom of God.

 

 

Building Infrastructure

The work of church growth and development must be examined more deeply. In many of its functional aspects, the objectives involved in church planting, church building and growth tend to get reduced to quantitative goals in actual practice. Unlike most of how modern society operates today, the transformed church is not "goal oriented"--goal as defined primarily to production and the activity (labor) connected to it. The church's purpose is not the outgrowth of such goals nor are goals the object of its mission involvement.

This suggests that our efforts in church growth need to undergo a paradigm shift. Church growth needs to concentrate on building the infrastructure of the church (transformed persons practicing transformed relationships with family love) rather than erecting the superstructure--increased quantities and the buildings to accommodate them.

Understanding the nature of Jesus' purpose throughout the incarnation needs to determine the working priorities for church practice. By his own behavior in many of what turned into intimate interactions--many of which were unplanned, untimely and even disruptive to his original plans--he demonstrated how to function in the process of the new life order. This often caused consternation for the disciples due to their working priorities, particularly from their perceptions of different people. Nothing was more important to Jesus than persons and relationships.

His working priorities were not about goals to fulfill in a divine mission, because his whole purpose was a function of relationship: its origin, its initiation, its enactment, its fulfillment, its outcome. Grace and the incarnation were relational acts. The process and outcome of redemption and transformation are relational functions. The church as an organic body, as the family of God, as the fellowship of believers is a direct function of relationships. The whole Christian life is a relationship. Reconciliation and problems of human inequalities are fundamental relationship issues. The basic theme of history is a relationship matter. Jesus did not function outside of this relational context and process.

Likewise, the nature of the purpose for the transformed church must find its sum and substance in relationships--the very nature of God as intimately relational. The structure and process of the new order are based on this priority of relationships. Its mission is an extension and expression of this qualitative substance. When authentically practiced, the transformed church's purpose deals with relationships: their alienation, their healing, their reconciliation, their restoration. This builds the infrastructure for the whole of God's people to fulfill its purpose. This purpose is fulfilled as the transformed church ongoingly engages the practice of family love and becomes equalized in the multicultural church.

If the church is to be a household for "all nations' as Jesus defined, churches cannot be selective about the specific persons whom it involves or to whom it reaches out. The church must not bypass some persons in order to include specific other persons. In other words, the practical operation of a gathering of God's people must not discriminate between persons, no matter how efficacious it may appear in the process of church growth, development and mission.

"All nations" is an inclusive approach and suggests no discretionary models or expedient strategies to fulfill God's desires as revealed by Christ and later revealed to Peter and Paul (cf. Acts 15:8,9). More importantly, God's family is inclusive and cannot be the transformed church without the explicit and ongoing effort to be inclusive (read all of Peter's argument before the Jerusalem council in Acts 15). In its practice of family love the church takes in "all nations," overlooking none, neglecting no one, and especially avoiding no persons. God's people cannot legitimate any other approach to God's desires--with even language only a conditional exception for ethnic churches.

As beneficiaries of God's equalizing actions, we can only extend his favor to others as agents of redemption and reconciliation by humbly relating to all his creation on a horizontal plane (not vertical), reaching out to "all nations" without discrimination and working to equalize every person just as we've been equalized. In this total process the church naturally and by necessity becomes the multicultural church. So, we can see that the church's purpose as equalizer needs to take place both within the church and out in the world.

This is "the truth of the gospel" invalidating discrimination in the church and "the mystery of Christ" precluding stratification in God's family. These are not codes from biblical culture but its revealed qualitative framework shaping not only our perceptions but requiring our obedience in the practice of the church.

Functionally, this means, for example, any homogeneous model of church growth is a critical error in building the body of Christ. Even with the presence of some aspect of infrastructure, this process becomes only a simulation or substitute for the qualitative substance and difference of God. Relational simulation or substitution is not the infrastructure for the transformed church. The implicit quantitative nature of any homogeneous church growth approach not only reduces the quality of disciples making up the church, but it also reinforces (intentionally or unintentionally) the exclusionary practices characteristic of a system of inequality. As Paul clearly defined the truth for biblical culture in application to exactly this issue (Eph 2:11-22), Christ wiped out the relational barriers separating and stratifying us and made us all one--that is, "one new anthropos" (Gk. human being without respect to gender, and thus to any other distinction, v.15) with all the human differences structurally and relationally into one new family. No more "homogeneous models," no more "separate but equal" models, no more "deficit models."

 

 

Knowing Our Context

While being involved with or engaging "all nations," the church must be extremely cautious not to use a "deficit model" for any human differences. The "deficit model" is the treatment, however subtle, of others who are different as being essentially less. Historically, in its extreme forms this was perpetrated by colonialism and manifest destiny while its more common form is displayed (even today) by paternalism. This stigma is even attached to the needy and the disadvantaged. Whatever the difference, they are perceived as less because ostensibly they don't measure up to our standards. Yet, these standards themselves, not only their application, raise the question: are these standards based on prevailing cultures, or biblical culture? Of course, this is directly related to what determines our perceptions.

Unless you are a "biblical reductionist" who narrowly interprets the Bible to a list of codes or creeds practiced by a separatist or elitist approach, you probably have struggled with some ambiguity or ambivalence about your belief system. Part of this struggle can be purely over theological issues. Yet, I suggest that the dominant part of our struggle is a contextual issue. That is, this mainly involves not the effort to contextualize the gospel for others but the struggle to translate our beliefs into the contexts of our everyday living such that it makes a difference, is satisfying and even enjoyable. The tendency for most seems to be: mainly an intellectual difference; some possible satisfaction from merely some activity involving those beliefs, doing something indirectly related to them or even satisfaction from elsewhere; and most enjoyment comes from another unrelated source, though at times God is thanked for it.

When our faith is not contextualized comprehensively into the full scope of our daily life, we are susceptible to having our faith contextualized by those influences in our daily living which do make more of a difference, have a deeper satisfaction and bring enjoyment. Difference, satisfaction and enjoyment are issues directly involving the whole person (with the heart) and significant relationships (with intimacy). While secular sources of influence don't necessarily address these two basic areas any more than many churches, they can frequently better simulate or substitute for them with more convincing reductionist alternatives. These competing sources of influence are not only problematic for the church, but they serve as critiques exposing a church's lack to establish the ultimate context for the whole person and intimate relationships, as well as the relational process for growth which qualitatively makes a difference, results in satisfaction and even brings enjoyment.

Despite all the current activity taking place about contextualization (and the effort to place the gospel into a different context), we need to understand that the gospel of Jesus Christ itself creates a context of its own in the formation of the church. Unless this context is functionally developed in a church's practice, the transformed church and the truth of the gospel have not been distinguished. If this lack is the condition from which other contextualization takes place, the only indicators available to distinguish the church or the gospel from the surrounding context are quantitative indicators, such as the representation (not meaning and substance) of doctrine, creeds and ritual practices, not to mention buildings. Such indicators alone become barriers and preclude meaningful connection with others--no matter how much they are contextualized to the culture of others.

The authentic context of the transformed church (and thus the truth of the gospel) is the outcome of the relational work of redemption and reconciliation by Christ. "All nations" is not a goal for missions or a church policy but this relational reality functioning with family love. In its authentic practice this context not only generates the ministry of reconciliation but it also generates a distinct "culture of reconciliation" clearly defined by biblical culture. This culture is about restoring wholeness to the person and to all relationships according to God's design and purpose.

The transformed church creates a context which functionally, on the one hand, equalizes differences while, on the other, affirms differences which are both important and necessary for the body of Christ, and perhaps even of secondary import for the diverse family of God's people. The function of biblical culture defines from the qualitative framework of God what differences mean, what differences are significant, which ones are not necessary or are unacceptable. Prevailing cultures should not define this for the church. We need to understand specifically from what context, for example, our standards come and our perceptions are determined.

Knowing the context which informs our approach to church unity and which determines the priority we give to efficiency in its operation becomes vital for the practice of any church. In the truth of the gospel, the transformed church context precludes homogeneous models, deficit models and any other success models which generate growth primarily in quantitative terms. Building the transformed church and establishing God's family (or even kingdom) involves the process of making, nurturing and developing disciples in the relational context of biblical culture and in the relational process of the culture of reconciliation. In other words, it is the reconciliation of all God's creation, all nations, to his purpose: transformed persons living in transformed relationships together in his new kinship family. All the created differences, contextual differences and the gifted (from God) differences, as well as the consequential differences we have to live with until total wholeness and well-being are brought to completion in heaven, all need to be reconciled to him and to each other (however difficult and inefficient) in this new context with a new culture. It is in this new context where legitimate diversity is seen (through the perceptual framework of biblical culture), affirmed, experienced together, given its full and rightful place in God's household and intimately enjoyed. This is fundamental to the covenant promise of the mystery of Christ (Gal 3:6).

The authentic church of Jesus Christ is both local and universal (catholic as defined in the Nicene Creed). The integrity of this twofold character of the church must be dynamic by nature and not static where local has no functional meaning. That necessitates a biblically orthodox (monocultural) ideological core for our belief system as "one new anthropos"; but this core also includes a functional multicultural framework in secondary areas (defined by biblical culture) for the operation (not the identity) of the church in its unique local settings. The church universal transcends surrounding cultures with its own monoculture while the church local accounts for the diversity of persons and peoples and aspects of their culture within the limits of this framework for secondary matter. Biblical culture maintains the unity (one) and universal (catholic) attributes of the Nicene Creed and the traditional characteristics of the church, but it does so with a dynamic integrity, not a static integrity of institutionalism. In doing so, biblical culture also accounts for the diversity of the multicultural nature of the church as well as the practice of the local apostolic church of the NT Both the integrity of the universal and the local church must be maintained.

When biblical culture does not provide the context for our faith and the church, they become contextualized by another source, a reductionist source. Then the integrity of our practice needs to be critiqued by the truth of the gospel, just as Paul did with Peter. Yet, this issue is less about doctrine and mostly about relational practice--how we present our self, the meaning and substance of our communication and the level of relationships we engage. Peter was guilty of hypocrisy (role-playing, playacting) in these areas of practice because sources other than biblical culture contextually influenced his behavior. The relational consequence, of course, was relational barriers, discrimination and inequality within the church.

Authentic discipleship integrates personal spirituality into the corporate relational context and process of the transformed church, the integrity of which is defined by biblical culture alone. This is the purpose of followers of Christ. This is the nature and the process of his commission for his disciples. In a new shared life together this purpose is fulfilled in the multicultural church.

It is important for churches to be multicultural not just because of the surrounding situation but because of the truth of biblical culture. Additionally, this framework from biblical culture not only provides deeper understanding to issues of contextualization, but it also relationally ties together the micro-level (individual and relationships) and the macro-level (creation, humankind, course of history, kingdom of God) issues in the same framework and process of God's eschatological plan. The transformed church operationalizes this by connecting the micro and macro variables into the whole of the Father's purpose--a process fulfilled primarily through the practice of family love. This is the relational meaning of the gospel and the purpose of the church as equalizer.

 

 

Addressing Change

The growing contexts and intrusive realities of human migration (voluntary and involuntary) in recent decades have magnified the need in human relations, both local and global, for redemption and reconciliation. Compounded by globalization, this need exists today more so than probably any other period in human history. This makes the multicultural nature of the church that much more urgently necessary in order to witness to the world without ambiguity or shallowness of its hope and means for redemption and reconciliation.

The human condition, the multicultural church and the mission which connects them are all relationship functions. Into this relational context of biblical culture we need to bury "our little world," our "box," our perceptions, our "established ways of doing things." This may include any popular perceptions of Jesus which have been contextualized by the influence of a prevailing context. When the person we follow is not the Jesus of the full incarnation also between manger and cross and the Jesus of the relational progression, we cannot adequately understand God's intimate relational nature and his grace to love downward to us and to destroy the relational barriers of inequality.

In order for disciples to follow God's lead, be relationally involved just as Jesus was and obey his commission by becoming the multicultural church, there are various tensions and conflicts which we must address individually and corporately. To face honestly the issues of mission in this relational context is to deal with the need for change--changes individually within oneself and corporately within the church. Before the church deals with changes in the world, it needs to change within itself in vital areas.

This is apparent as we discuss more specifically what it means for the church and Christ's followers to be multicultural. There are four major aspects involved in becoming the multicultural church: structural and contextual dimensions, plus individual and relational processes. In each aspect redemptive changes are necessary--changes which overlap and interact with other aspects.

The multicultural church doesn't automatically mean the church has to be made up of different races, colors and ethnicities, like a quota system. The first key characteristic of the multicultural church is the structural dimension of access. Access can be seen as a static condition as in an "open-door policy." From a relational perspective, access is dynamic and includes relational involvement.

In his description of the multicultural church, Paul said: "For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit" (Eph 2:18). The term for "access" (Gk. prosagoge) was used for the audience granted to someone by high officials and monarchs; it comes from prosago, to bring near. This is not merely an open door but the opportunity to interact with someone greater. Paul goes on to define the nature of this relational involvement: "we may approach [prosago] God with freedom and confidence" (Eph 3:12). "Freedom" (Gk. parresia) involves boldness, especially to speak all that one thinks, feels, that is, with "confidence" (Gk. pepoithesis, trust, from peitho, to persuade). This trust to share one's self openly suggests a very intimate relationship, not merely having access. Access to the Father involves this intimate relationship.

This is the kind of access Peter first thought was impossible for Gentiles, until Jesus spoke to him in that vision. As he struggled to practice this equalization, he still maintained the relational barrier preventing the Gentiles this access in actual practice. The remnants of the old order still exerted influence to constrain the gospel and the church in an alternative context. Certainly, this changed (with Paul's help) but change did not come easily, even for Peter. Change is always difficult if it involves losing something, or at least the perception of losing something.

Power, privilege and prestige are the basic issues around which systems of inequality revolve. We see these in Acts 10: the privilege of having access to grace and life's resources and opportunities (10:34ff); the power of the anointing of the Holy Spirit (10:44-46); the prestige (status) of being God's children with all the rights and privileges (10:47,48). Any power, privilege and prestige are advantages many persons are reluctant to even share if the perception means less for them. Access, however, is not a quantitative resource based on merit. It is a qualitative relational process based on grace. Embracing this change extends the relational involvement and deepens it for more persons to receive, experience and enjoy.

This structural change led quite naturally to a contextual change. This contextual dimension is the second key characteristic of the multicultural church. As just noted, the multicultural church doesn't necessarily always involve a multi-race/ethnic make-up, although it is improbable without it since we live in a multicultural world. But the early Jewish Christian community was a homogeneous group which denied or limited access to others who were different. They had to learn that "all nations" includes Gentiles, Samaritans, whomever. To include all people means an active involvement with all persons who are different. This necessitates a major contextual change, especially for a homogeneous group.

Yet, becoming the multicultural church cannot stop here. The transformed church context operates with a culture of reconciliation by which the vital process of its reconciliation ministry practice initiates active relational involvement with all in family love. This family love does not make distinctions of persons, nor does it give any comparative value to their differences. The process of family love simply extends relational involvement, takes in and embraces as a full part of one's own family. This is what operationalizes the relational involvement of the multicultural nature of the transformed church. For authentic church practice there has to be significant contextual change, which defines the next characteristic. This second key characteristic of the church is the process of absorbing differences into the church and, therefore, the willingness to change and adapt to differences, all within the framework of the biblical culture.

With this principle, the biological family among Christians also needs to be "multicultural" in the sense that it needs to absorb (i.e., increasingly accept) family differences (especially generational) and change and adapt to those differences within the biblical culture. When they do, both the family of God and the biological family become more loving.

The importance of these structural and contextual aspects to the multicultural significance of the body of Christ was first demonstrated by Jesus back at the temple cleansing. He began the process of becoming multicultural by confronting the system of inequality established by power relations. The Jewish leaders had set up this system of inequality to control the temple to the advantage of their terms; and they set it up not only on the basis of religious and cultural factors but on an economic one also (as the context well indicates). This effectively denied access and use of the temple to all peoples in need. This would be especially true for those with less power, privilege and prestige--those in the lower strata of society.

So it is just and fitting to see Jesus, immediately after cleaning out the temple, receiving those needy persons with less resources and bringing healing to their lives (Mt 21:14). His household is for all people, not built on stratification, not using unjust criteria to create inequality; it not only gave access to all but absorbed all who are different into one. This is to be the nature of his church--the multicultural nature of the transformed church.

Jesus' actions were always in the relational context. Here, Jesus purified the temple but not only for the presence of God. His whole purpose was to relationally open access to the Father so that all his creation could be reconciled to him in intimate relationship. This is the beginning of the multicultural church. And the church today has its roots here--not just by tradition, not merely ecclesiological roots but, more importantly, because of the relational context in which and the relational process by which Christ established his body.

What churches today pattern themselves after defines the context of influence that basically determines how they will function within itself and in the world. When that influence is other than biblical culture, alternative practices such as goal orientation, success models, dominant group value system, status quo perspectives on change, individualism, among others all serve to bring similar results in our churches as in society. The underlying relational consequence is that churches emulate many of the inequalities of society. Explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly, intentionally or inadvertently, regardless of its form, we've developed some parallel systems of inequality. This suggests that churches are often more a function of society than anything else. There is only one true basis for the church but many alternative reasons why a church exists today. These need fundamental, redemptive changes.

The other two major aspects involved in becoming the multicultural church are processes for the individual and for our relationships. The individual process (third key characteristic) involves our reaction or response to differences. When the individual is faced with differences in others, there is inevitably some degree of tension for that individual, whether conscious or not. This has to do with "our little world" or the "box" we live in. What do we do with that tension in those situations? More importantly, what do we do with those differences in that relational context? This is important to understand for how we do relationships and what level of relationship we engage, especially within the church.

Let's look at two contrasting responses in the Bible. One is from Paul. While affirming the existence of Christian freedom, Paul highlighted his own liberty by responding to others' differences simply with: "I have become all things to all. . . ."
(1 Cor 9:22). This is not the chameleon action of a wishy-washy person who has no clear sense of his real identity. This is not about assimilating or masquerading. Furthermore, Paul was not demonstrating what to do with tension in those situations created by differences in others. On the contrary, he demonstrated the relational need for having cultural sensitivity of others' differences (without losing his true identity) in order to be involved with them in the relational context of the ministry of reconciliation (as he goes on to describe, vv.22-23). Implied in Christian liberty is being redeemed from those matters causing barriers in relationships. This also shows us that as long as we maintain the basic integrity of what we are in Christ defined by biblical culture, then what multicultural mode we use in secondary areas to exercise our lives or ministry is not an issue. Mode is not that important to what we are as long as it does not substitute, distort or diminish our identity as his.

In contrast to Paul, the second response is seen at Jesus' dinner visit with Mary and Martha (see Lk 10:38-42 and our previous discussion of this passage). Martha had tension about differences in that situation. When Jesus responded to her being worried and upset by saying ". . . only one thing is necessary," it was an important statement about the meaning of differences and our reaction to them based on our perceptual framework.

What was Martha worried or upset about? Others' differences--in this situation both Jesus' and Mary's. Martha had an established way of doing things based on the prevailing cultural norm: her role as a woman, the importance of dinner in hospitality, the conformity of others in all this. In the established ways of "her little world," Martha felt comfortable. But in her tension with differences she also demanded that Mary be like her; and she tried to make Jesus feel guilty for not practicing the prevailing norm. Since Mary was different in that situation, Martha tried to control the situation by changing Mary to her established ways of doing things, to be like her.

Martha's response is understandable because she was threatened by differences. In her mind-set, differences to "her little world" had to be controlled. This brings out the underlying issue for all of us when it comes to others' differences: such differences pressure us to change. This becomes another burden or blessing--try to maintain the status quo or change for growth. Others' differences either become a threat to our established ways of doing things, or it's an opportunity for reconciliation. Either the fear and control of Martha, or the freedom and love of Paul. (In fairness to Martha and to her credit, she did appear to change from this particular situation, cf. Jn 12:1-3).

Just as Jesus told Martha what was important, we need to discover those ways which are truly necessary and important--based on biblical culture, not prevailing cultures. Then, we need to relinquish control of our unnecessary established ways of doing things and stop expecting others to fit into "our little world." In order to follow Jesus in the relational progression to the Father as his, this means to step out of our "comfort zones" in trust of him by adjusting and adapting, even changing, to engage others' differences in order to be relationally involved with all. In the ministry of reconciliation this is becoming truly multicultural, not about pluralism; in the culture of reconciliation this is absorbing differences, not about blanket tolerance.

These changes within the individual don't often come easily, as Peter experienced. Despite this struggle, change is guaranteed by following Jesus in the redemptive relational process. This is the process of change from old to new. Yet, for the new to come this process of being freed from old or existing conditions (i.e., redemption) must by necessity take place first. This is the nature of redemptive change: the cross of the old always precedes the resurrection of the new. The hope for change is not in me but in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the transforming work of his Spirit. In this joint relational process, however, we can only have a personal resurrection in direct proportion to our cross. That is, to the extent we bring the old in us to the cross to die, to that extent the new will rise. Redemptive change antecedes and prevails in the relational process leading to reconciliation.

When Jesus told Martha "only one thing is necessary," he defined what was happening in the qualitative framework of the relational context. Mary exercised the relational process of this context to be with Jesus, even at the cost of going against her sister, of being contrary to religious and social custom, even of exposing herself to possible rebuke from Jesus.

The individual process involved in becoming the multicultural church always takes place within this relational context and, thus, most certainly leads directly to the relational process of our interpersonal relationships (fourth key characteristic), as seen in Mary. But this is the most clearly visible in Jesus' life. In the incarnation of God's glory (his heart, intimately relational, vulnerably present) Jesus made himself vulnerable to our rejection. That is, relational conflict is the natural consequence between the common and the Uncommon, between temporal and eternal. This is not merely information to formulate a theological framework, but more importantly his witness is the basis for the relational process in all our relationships. Jesus opened his heart to be affected by all those relational consequences; and he asks those who receive the Uncommon and Eternal to be vulnerable to the same.

Despite all the inherent differences he encountered, Jesus didn't insulate himself from them but opened himself to them to reconcile relationships. The opposite of control in the relational context of others' differences is vulnerability. Instead of being in control on our terms and trying to ensure something for ourselves, Christ calls us to be vulnerable to others (different or not) for the purpose of reconciliation. He makes this call prevailingly in his commands to love; to love is how to be relationally involved by opening ourselves to others (God included) and being vulnerable. To love others, especially those who are different, is not to expect them to be like me or to come into my little world.

The relational process of love always involves being vulnerable, especially to those who are different--vulnerable to rejection, challenges to our person or criticism by others. Jesus loved in this way in his relationships and suffered consequences from it. Yet, the active trust and intimacy he experienced with his Father attended to the needs of his heart. This is how Jesus lived and loved--and how he loves us in the redemptive relational process.

This shows us that the vulnerability of love also necessitates engaging faith with trust and intimacy in our relationship with God. As this ongoing relational experience attends to our needs, it yields the discovery of faith by freeing us to determine what is necessary in life and what we need to relinquish control over. When practiced in the relational context of the transformed church, love is equalizing (reconciling)--not condescending or paternalistic. Consequently, love requires change in us.

This process of faith, love and change in the relational context is further demonstrated by Paul in his personal letter to Philemon about taking back his runaway slave, Onesimus. While thanking Philemon for his faith and love, Paul tenderly challenges his faith and love to expand beyond "his world" to become part of the multicultural church. This required the redemptive relational process because equalizing was necessary. Paul asked Philemon for redemptive change to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a full member of God' family, as his brother, as he would Paul himself (Phlm 15-17). Paul engaged Philemon in family love for the redemptive change necessary to be vulnerable to Onesimus for transformed relationship.

Changes, while necessary, certainly do not always occur smoothly. To be vulnerable is one of those particular changes which doesn't come readily. Often God uses or allows negative situations to bring the change in our lives necessary to be vulnerable. In the development of the apostolic church God used persecution to force the church out of its provincial context and made it vulnerable. We see this happen from Acts 8. Even further in God's remarkable ways, Christ chose Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews dogmatically monocultural, to lead the church in its new direction to the multicultural church. Why? Because Paul would be changed deeply. Indeed, change is necessary and often unpredictable.

An elementary paradigm for the process of being multicultural is suggested from our discussion of Scripture so far and could be identified as:

1. biblical culture (ideology) forms the

2. basic identity of God's people who are equalized in

3. the relational context and process of the transformed church, thus becoming

4. vulnerable (as they fulfill his commission) in extending

5. the relational act of family love to others, especially those with differences, by

6. becoming "all things to all" in relational involvement for reconciliation to

7. being multicultural both within the church and in the world.

More specific aspects of this paradigm are discussed a little later.

 

 

Rationale for Change

It would be beneficial for our discussion to consider the question: is being multicultural an option for the church or a necessity for its "survival"? Christ's commission to make disciples of all is not merely a one-way relational involvement for the sake of conversion. Discipleship involves far more than our usual notions of evangelism. In terms of building the church there is a reciprocal relational dynamic which is inherent in the nature of the body of Christ, just as we discussed before about the church as an interdependent (covarying) system of differences connected by intimate relationships--the model in 1 Corinthians 12.

In the transformed church are found the multiplicity of human differences and the diversity of humankind created by God. As the equalizer, the church is inclusive of all God's creation, without distinctions or discrimination. In the process of equalization, all of humankind and all of our personal humanity are brought together (reconciled) in one family. Though the church is monocultural in its basic ideology, it is otherwise relationally accepting and absorbing of each human difference in secondary matter. In other words, the church is in effect pluralistic ("all things") in its relationships with others while also multicultural ("all into one") in the holistic operation of the church as family--yet, this is always defined by biblical monoculture, not by any other prevailing influences.

Still, why does the church need to be heterogeneous, including even ethnic churches? Since the ministry of reconciliation works out of the "culture of reconciliation", this process necessitates the coming together of all God's creation. The kingdom of God should reflect in the church; and God's kingdom is not homogeneous. Family love reaches out to all, takes in all and, then, makes all a part of God's own family. This does not mean a quota of "all nations"; multicultural defines the relational involvement with others (particularly who are different) who otherwise might be overlooked, ignored or discriminated against.

For a church to operate otherwise is to deny the nature and identity of Christ's body and its purpose in the world. Because of the relational and ontological realities of who and what we are as a result of being with Christ in the relational progression, any local people of God cannot reduce their identity, for example, to a narrow, provincial segment of humankind. Thus, for a church to authentically practice its function as the new kinship family of God, as the precursor of the kingdom of God (if not already the kingdom), it needs to be multicultural for its integrity to survive. Furthermore, this issue and principle of being multicultural is basically the same involved in all human relations and the matter of differences
-- whether between Martha and Mary, between parents and children, between generations or genders. When defined by biblical culture, however, this does not mean the prevailing notions of multiculturalism, pluralism and blanket tolerance.

For followers of Christ and their relationships, whether as the church or in other relations, change is a crucial factor in the process of being multicultural. This is not the quantitative outer-in change characteristic of metaschematizo but the qualitative inner-out change of metamorphoo. Theologically, this is really what sanctification is all about: the process of redemptive change (transformation) from the old nature to the new nature, the old order to the new order. God wants this change in us more than we do; he gave us his Spirit to complete the process. And the basic paradigm for this transformation is simply: the old dying and the new rising.

Yet, we often create systems (as Martha did) to minimize having to change and to limit having to take more relational responsibility (as the Judaizers did). Then, we fall into various ways to control; the use of the mind as a substitute for the heart is the most prominent way. The consequence is distance from our heart and distance in our relationships.

Contrary to popular perception, God has more room for variation than we would allow in "our little world." In this sense God is not restrictive and narrow-minded, we are. God doesn't want us to be constrained, he wants to liberate us to be all he created us to be. Fundamentally, that purpose finds its fulfillment in the relational context and process of intimate relationships. To be fully restored, God requires of us certain necessary ways and relinquishing control of our other established ways of doing things.

Most contexts in life to which we submit, such as a prevailing culture, seek to limit change in order to maintain control over us and keep us within its established ways. For example, as kids most of us learn certain ways to do things (like painting "inside the lines" or thinking "inside the box") which reflected a certain mind-set and framework. These contexts essentially seek to maintain the status quo and, thus, usually have a negative view of change. The relational context of biblical culture, however, requires change: changes within the heart, change to live by the heart, be more vulnerable, more heart to heart connections and, therefore, more trust and intimacy in relationships, relationships where differences come together in reconciliation as one in the shared life together of his new kinship family (that is, the multicultural church). This is the transformed church of transformed persons living together in transformed relationships which are both intimate and equalizing.

 

 

Opposite Directions for the Church

By now in our discussion it should be apparent that control and faith (as trust and intimacy) don't go together. Essentially, forms of control (exercised individually or corporately) by Christians are antithetical to this relational faith. They become substitutes specifically for trusting God and thus alternatives for his grace and promises. This is clearly observed in Paul's letter to the Galatians about the transformed life and the truth of the gospel; his epistle suggests two opposite models for church practice.

In Galatians there are implied paradigms both for and against the multicultural church. These expand our understanding of the initial paradigm for being multicultural.

FOR:

1. faith/trust specifically in Christ's work of justification by grace makes

2. our redemption a reality and his love enables us to

3. receive the gift of his Spirit and live by the Spirit; this change enables us

4. to be open (in contrast to controlling) and vulnerable to others' differences; the bottom line for making this operational is

5. faith expressing itself in love, particularly family love which is able to

6. absorb others with their differences and relationally

7. come together as one in the transformed family of the multicultural church.

Note: This is the foundational process of building the "children of promise" which God covenanted with his
         people.

AGAINST: As a functional substitute for faith as trust and a reductionist alternative for God's promises, some subtle type of

1. system for self-justification (i.e., for validation or affirmation) operates, often not apparent to members, due to

2. the absence of living by grace and by his Spirit and of relationally experiencing his love, which creates

3. a lack of openness and vulnerability to others' differences because of dependence on that system, in which one must exercise control (variation threatens one's status); this reflects

4. some enslavement because of a lack of redemption; consequently, in the "little world" of that

5. inflexible system in which all must be similar and follow because of

6. the inability to absorb others with differences, resulting in a more

7. selective or exclusionary group, not an inclusive church family.

Note: This is the foundational process of building "children of slaves" and not the covenant family God promises.

The above paradigms help us to understand what we are building. Given Jesus' metaphor that the appearance of what we are building can be deceiving (Mt 7:24-27), we cannot rely on our perceptual framework to distinguish the difference. Nor can the mere presence of doctrinal elements such as grace, redemption, love and reconciliation be sufficient to ensure how we do church. We need to turn to the relational context and examine our engagement in the relational process in order to understand what direction we are taking and what we are building.

In the relational context, faith is always the necessary relational response to God, ongoingly enacted by trust and intimacy. God's grace, of course, is always the initial relational act to which faith responds to complete the relational connection. But, sometimes, as a subtle substitute for faith, we try to do things to justify (measure up to) that grace, thus nullifying the significance of grace and all that Christ did to reconcile us to his Father. Such a process or system is a way we try to control things on our terms, especially in our relationship with God. Certainly, this is counterproductive to our transformation from "old to new" and to reconciliation in our relationships. What this further indicates is a gap in redemption and experiencing the redemptive relational process. This means that there is in effect some enslavement taking place, unknowingly or inadvertently.

To equalize in relationships necessitates being free as persons. Not to be involved in equalizing with love for reconciliation strongly suggests that we are enslaved by something which prevents us not only from equalizing in relationships but also from being equalized in our own life. Defining ourselves, for example, by what we do or have may be the most prominent way we are not truly free just to be (our person), and thus are enslaved to a process that is not just about me but involves the comparative process of judging and treating others accordingly. As long as we don't recognize and address this enslavement, we can't be redeemed and change. Without this freedom we can't function as a full member (son or daughter) of God's household who is equalized in his family; we don't experience the family love of belonging and taking our permanent place in his family (as Jesus defined for the redeemed and reconciled, Jn 8:35). Without this transformation his followers are unable to share family love with all others in the church as equalizer.

The direction of any church is dependent on its level of relational faith and obedience. The church today needs to learn from both the failures and the successes of the early church. Despite its auspicious beginnings, the direction of the early church needed to be revised. The Lord used persecution to help redirect his people out of their provincialism, as well as some remarkable events to clearly define the nature of their life and purpose to "all people," without distinctions.

Any attitudes of provincialism work against the relational function of faith. Any approach controlled by "our little world" redefines obedience as it closes doors and narrows the options. It doesn't venture beyond a limited space or way to "see" things. Provincialism pulls inward to protect or preserve. Consequently, there is little room to consider differences, as well as be aware of or sensitive to matters of equality.

With all the changes taking place in the world and all the differences with which the church is faced, the church is called to be the equalizer. Yet, will all this be a threat to its established ways of doing things or an opportunity for further redemption and reconciliation? The direction a church moves will largely reflect in principle either the fear and control of Martha, or the freedom and love of Paul.

 

 

Multicultural Qualifier

We have been hearing the call from more progressive and liberal segments of our society for multiculturalism. Essentially, it is a call for pluralism and the tolerance of others' differences--positions which have become politically correct by conventional wisdom. Though this is certainly important and necessary for our times, coming together and becoming one is not on their agenda, reconciliation and restoring wholeness are not a part of their process. This is not the multicultural perspective we have been discussing in this chapter. Even though voices in the world may push merely for a multicultural structure or context, the followers of Christ are called beyond that to a multicultural life in a transformed relational context and process defined only by biblical culture.

Just as Paul defined in Ephesians, the equalizing work of the church in the total relational context is based on reconciliation, which is predicated on redemption. The practice of the culture of reconciliation for all its members and their relationships involves changes of the heart in each individual and living as transformed persons in all their relationships as transformed relationships. Anything less than this would be without the qualitative substance of the God of heart and his intimate relational nature. Only biblical culture defines for the church its purpose to make known "the manifold wisdom of God" by functioning as the multicultural church, which is his eschatological purpose for his people (Eph 3:10,11).

 

 

Equalizing Disqualifier

Our lack of awareness or insensitivity to matters of equality and equalized interpersonal relationships reflect our lack of freedom. This is an issue of redemptive change, the need for which the church must seriously address. The integrity of church identity and the validity of its practice are constituted by the process of equalization inherent in the redemptive relational process enacted by Christ and summarized by Paul (Eph 2).

There is one human distinction that I want to highlight in particular. Even though I am a person of color and racism is a hot issue for me, there is another distinction which is even a more sensitive issue for equalization--gender. This issue engages race, ethnicity, class and age because the distinction of gender prevails in all these other distinctions. For example, even at the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S. during the 1960s, gender inequality or discrimination was practiced among the then Black civil rights activists. The operation of a system of gender inequality within a discriminated group, or its operation along with other systems of inequality, certainly compounds the process of equalization. This is uniquely true for women who are already discriminated against on the basis of some other distinction in what has been known as "double jeopardy" (as in law, prosecuted twice for being a woman; cf. the Samaritan woman at the well in Jn 4).

Gender position in the church certainly is a sensitive issue. Yet, we need to examine the ramifications of this issue for the integrity of church identity and the validity of its practice. Just as the integrity of the civil rights movement was opened to question and credibility became an issue as its practice bordered on hypocrisy by the presence of gender discrimination, the church is challenged today. We need to understand if the church also compounds the process of equalization with any insensitivity to gender inequality or with any lack of awareness of gender discrimination.

I want to discuss briefly the gender issue by placing "women in the forest" of God's big picture. This involves examining the issue in the relational context and process of the truth of the gospel (as Jesus incarnated and Paul applied) as constituted in the transformed church, the new kinship family of God. Whatever side of the gender issue you lean toward, we all can undergo more redemptive change on the matter for the sake of the wholeness of the church's integrity and the deeper validity of its practice.

Without going into the specific biblical texts relevant to the place of women in the church, various narratives in Scripture suggest the significant function of women in the development of the early church. The critical question, of course, is how significant can a woman's function be in the church regarding specific positions of leadership?

The significant function of women in the early church's development is so noteworthy to Paul that he prominently acknowledges and affirms their work--work which arguably included the highest positions of leadership. However, Paul also instructed various churches to preclude women from certain positions of leadership. The tension between these readings of Paul becomes problematic if we merely embrace his instructions about women apart from the relational context and process established by Jesus.

I suggest the need to put the "tree" of these specific instructions into the "forest" of the broader context defined in Scripture. At the same time I think it is important to keep in mind that Scripture is not complete in its revelations of God's plan or will; and there is a tendency on our part with our biases either to "fill in the blanks" or to misinterpret a tree in the forest. In spite of God's silence about parts of his will, Scripture (notably the narratives of Jesus) gives us a good understanding of God's heart and his intimate relational nature, if not always his mind on a specific matter. It is on this heart of God and his intimate relational nature that much of my discussion about the forest will depend.

The matter of authority is essential and necessary in any structure relating persons to each other, be it a society, community, the church or a family. In the New Testament, authority (Gk. exousia) means rightful, actual and unimpeded power to act, or to possess, control, use or dispose of, something or someone. But, we should not look at authority as some static means in the possession of some individual/group or designated to some individual/group. Essentially, authority is a relational matter exercised in a relational context. That is, authority or power is always exercised over some other person/group. Consequently, there is an ongoing dynamic relationship involved in this process of authority.

Ultimately, the only rightful power in the forest of life is God's. As the Lord and Creator, he exercises that authority over all life whether we like it or not. Furthermore, since all human authority is established by God, the issue of authority becomes an ongoing relational issue between God and us (Rom 13:1,2). Having said this, aside from our relationship with God, where in human relationships does the rightful exercise of power fulfill the desires of God--not merely in relation to a tree in the forest but more importantly in relation to the whole forest? How can we exercise or be subject to human authority within and consistent with God's redemptive plan for all creation and not find ourselves inadvertently in conflict with his desires?

What characterizes the existing condition of human relationships more than anything? I suggest it is distant, depersonalized or broken relationships. Our established ways of doing things further reduce or constrain the whole person while cultivating distance in our relationships, intentionally or unintentionally, with bad intentions or with good intentions.

In the broad context of human interaction the greatest indicator of distant, depersonalized, broken relationships is the operation of power relations. Whatever its form, the unrighteous use of power (rightful or otherwise) is responsible for determining the nature or extent of relationships more than any other single factor. As already noted, the greatest consequence of power relations is systems of inequality. Unlike our relationship with God which, on the one hand, requires inequality while, on the other, functions with intimate connections upon reconciliation, systems of inequality create barriers in human relationships. Whether the criteria used to determine inequality are based on race, class, culture, religion or gender, the results are to eliminate certain people from equitable participation in a system. This certainly can be accomplished even without prejudices or biases--even unintentionally. The subtlety of this relational issue may not involve power or discrimination but may only be indicated by distance in relationships reflected in a lack of intimacy.

It is in relation to prevailing contexts of human interaction that the issues of church order and the relationships among its members must be addressed. We have to understand what aspects of how we do relationships and thus practice church are determined by biblical culture or by prevailing cultures. Failure to do so makes it difficult for us to distinguish the old (from which we are supposed to be redeemed) and the new (to which we are supposed to be transformed). Failing to assess honestly our established ways of doing things makes us susceptible to being in conflict with or in opposition to, however unintentional, the desires of God for his people.

As previously discussed, Peter was confronted with these failures to deal with the distinction of race/ethnicity (Gal 2:11ff). As clearly defined by the truth of the gospel and the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4-6), this practice of false distinctions was in opposition to God's plan for all his creation. Furthermore, these distinctions are in conflict with the new order of the transformed life of God's people, because distinction-making creates, cultivates, reinforces or perpetuates the very barriers in relationship destroyed by Christ (Gal 3:28; Eph 2:14).

We know that it required the death and resurrection of Jesus to destroy these barriers in relationships and to establish the new order of transformed relationships for his people. Yet, this relational work started prior to his death; as we have examined the narratives between the manger and the cross, Jesus was destroying barriers in relationships and eliminating distance for intimate connections. These interactions were consequential both for their opposition to the old as well as for their establishing the new.

Throughout his incarnation, Jesus was engaged in relational work to restore equitable human relationships and reconciliation. Notably, in all his interactions, the most significant and intimate relational connections were made with women. Given Jesus' position of authority along with the social and religious cultural position of women, his intimate connections with women were remarkable in themselves. More significant, however, is the issue of equalizing relationships in the prevailing context of systems of inequality. When Jesus vulnerably engaged a Samaritan woman at a well, he broke down "double jeopardy" for her and gave her the access for intimate relationship with God by equalizing her (Jn 4:4-26). In his relational connections, Jesus defines the relational process needed for quality relationships, in general, and for Christian relationships, in particular.

No relationship brings these issues to the forefront of Christian practice more than Jesus' interactions with Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. Let's review again the highlights of this relationship: (1) Luke 10:38-42; at this first dinner there is a conflict of cultural perceptual framework; Jesus doesn't deny Martha her framework but prioritizes it in the biblical cultural framework; Mary goes against the religious culture by sitting at Jesus' feet in order to be taught by the Rabbi--a place forbidden for women and reserved only for men, particularly disciples (note also, that serious disciples usually were training for leadership); Jesus not only warmly receives her in front of all the other men but affirms her place and gently explains to Martha what's more important than the prevailing established way of doing things--namely, relationships and discipleship; (2) John 11:17-44; here again we contrast the two sisters; Martha shared her concern for Lazarus but within the limits (maybe barriers) of relationships between men/rabbi and women; consequently, she sincerely expresses her belief but does not fully open her heart; in contrast, Mary, though she repeated the exact opening words (see Greek text) to Jesus as Martha, expressed herself completely from her heart, thus deeply moving Jesus to engage in that intimate connection; (3) John 12:1-11; Mary again breaks various established customs in order to respond even more intimately to Jesus (see similar interaction in Luke 7:36-50); Jesus, once again, not only receives her intimate connection in their relationship but makes this relational process more important than even ministry to the poor.

What we see Jesus practicing and, therefore, clearly defining for us is: (1) the primacy of relationships; (2) the intimate character of those relationships; (3) the equalizing of persons in the process of the relationship. As surprising (shocking to some) as his interactions with women were, this is not really extraordinary. That is, it isn't extraordinary because that's what Jesus came to do: to establish the relational context and process to his Father and for his family. And in order to restore these relationships, he had to redeem relationships--notably from how we make distinctions and relate to others based on those distinctions.

While vulnerably sharing his self in the incarnation, that meant dealing with the old and countering the old with the new. He didn't come just to save us from the old but to save us to the new. All his authority expressed while on this earth went to accomplish this end. Every exercise of his power (even for healing) worked for this purpose. It is to this end and for this purpose that all human authority must be examined and critiqued.

Into this forest I place the tree of Paul's instructions on women. This tree should not be given priority over the forest, nor should it ever take away from the forest. It cannot function as an end in itself nor serve a purpose separated from the Father's total purpose for his family in his eschatological plan. This means needing to deal with the old. By necessity, this involves countering power relations and systems of inequality with the new, as well as displacing any other relational processes which reinforce distance or impede intimacy. Regardless of what side of the gender issue you support, we need to address how we define our self and do relationships and thus practice church.

We know clearly that God seeks to reconcile his creation to himself by making peace through Christ's blood (Col 1:20). We also know from previous discussion that peace in the Bible is not the absence of something (like war or conflict) but, much more, peace is the presence of something (namely wholeness and well-being). Reconciliation denotes the change from the old order to the new order by taking away the root cause of relational brokenness, leaving no barriers to restoring communion. So, the process of reconciliation involves restoring relationships to this wholeness and well-being; that is, it involves returning creation to God's original design and purpose, especially for intimate relationships.

Yet, this is no simple process, as we've discussed. When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he said: "If you had only known . . . what would bring you peace" (Lk 19:41,42). On his way to the cross, Jesus knew the price for wholeness and well-being was great because it required redemption. Restoration to wholeness necessitates setting one free from its existing condition in order that it could be returned to the original design and creation of God. This release, brought about by the paying of a price, is the redemption necessary which Jesus fulfilled for his followers in the relational progression to the Father.

This certainly means that to restore to wholeness involves a change from what exists. Once again this issue of change, here is the issue which raised so much conflict over Jesus' earthly life, and keeps coming up for our life. Even opposition to Jesus' healing ministry must be understood with respect to change, because by healing, Jesus was engaged in the process of restoring--restoring God's creation to some aspect of wholeness, well-being. His healing involved much more than to mend, to fix or to reform, that is to say, to return something merely to its commonly existing old condition. The opponents of Jesus didn't want change. They resisted change because they wanted to keep things the way they were. Whether their position was due to vested interests in the existing order or due to blindness in their beliefs, the results were the same: their approach to improving the quality of life was to oppose change. Yet, in the relational context there is no way to avoid the need for redemptive change for the relational process.

It is changing from the existing condition of human relationships (invested also with culture and tradition) to the original created order of relationships as trust and intimacy (corporately also as a relational community) which creates tension, conflict or even opposition. Why? As Jesus countered the established ways of doing things with his teachings on the new life order, as summarized in the Sermon on the Mount, we can understand why. While he clearly brought out the substantive meaning of the law and the prophets (the primary purpose behind all of God's directives and the heart of God's desires for his people), Jesus helps us understand two of the overriding and far-reaching effects of our established ways of defining our self and doing relationships. To review them again, they are: (1) it gives more emphasis to secondary aspects of life than to primary aspects, and (2) as a result, it does not give top priority to intimate relationships. As we've been discussing, these effects exist even more today than in the 1st century, yet certain distinctions such as race, class and gender have consistently remained resistant to change through history.

The repercussions of power relations and systems of inequality can range from oppression, on the macro level, to living as a victim or an object (as opposed to a subject) for the individual person. The effects on the individual can involve thinking of oneself as less, feeling bad about oneself, or anything else which constrains the person from their full dignity and integrity as God's creation. But a more subtle implication to address also is the extent of intimacy (defined as hearts opening to each other and coming together) women can experience with men in agape family love. Jesus experienced the kind of intimacy with women that would make many men very uncomfortable--not for sexual reasons but for the threat it creates.

Back in Jesus' context or in today's, men have always had more to lose than to gain from such relations, at least in their perceptions. Aspects of prestige, privilege or power are diminished when intimacy defines the relationship. Furthermore, insecurities and self-worth are exposed when the heart is opened, leaving only the authentic person unembellished and without distinction to enter into relationships. Who would be more vulnerable in such relationships?

We hear from various sources that women are more relationship-oriented and that men are not really "wired" well for intimate relationships. Even though such perceptions conflict with the biblical cultural framework, churches have bought into these conventional perceptions (as if God created us with a different heart or designed us for a different purpose) to establish a mind-set, even a bias, that deeply affects the relational context and process of the church, thus compromising the integrity of its identity as constituted by the truth of the gospel and compounding the equalizing process in its practice, even in relationship with God.

Equalization doesn't reduce living to the notions of the individual, but it brings his people to the depths of the true heart of the person and thus opens the way for our hearts to come together, first with God then with each other. This process establishes the new redemptive order in Christ where equality prevails and divisive distinctions (which separate, distance, fragment) are redeemed. Equality is the qualitative function of transformed relationships engaged by those persons truly being redeemed and transformed in Christ; it is fundamental to how God is involved with us and how he wants his very own to be involved in their relationships.

Women have long lived with the repercussions from inequality. Even as a person of color I can only understand part of their experiences. Yet, as we see Jesus interacting with women and understand the purpose his Father gave him and all that was necessary to fulfill the Father's desires, it becomes apparent that his commands to love in this relational context and process can be operational only in relationships which would not create, cultivate, nurture or reinforce, however unintentional, any forms of power relations and systems of inequality whatsoever, as well as any other practices impeding intimacy. Any other relationships diminish the integrity of his family, and any other practice than equalizing in family love invalidates that practice.

Excluding women from positions of leadership will result to some degree in similar repercussions. There will always be, at best, some barrier preventing the intimate and equalizing transformed relationships engaged vulnerably by Jesus and clearly established as the relational context and process for his followers. It would be as if Jesus had told Mary she could not sit there. At worst, the constraints (real and imagined) will minimize women's experiences to be transformed from old to new; this, in turn, will reduce all that the church could be, both in its resourcefulness and its witness as the Father's very own daughters and sons, and as sisters and brothers in his family. It would be as if Jesus had told Mary to use the money for the poor. Yet, in pursuing equalization women also need to decide if they merely want to be defined and have the same distinctions on which men's persons are commonly based, or if they want the more of the qualitative substance only experienced from being equalized in the relational context. The former (reductionist alternatives) will not bring wholeness and reconciliation for and between women and men.

At the same time, men need to examine the impact preventing equalization has on the wholeness and reconciliation not only on the lives of their sisters but on theirs also. Certainly, there is a related relational consequence for men in this prevailing context. The repercussions will be at best and at worst somewhat the reverse than for women, nevertheless further diminish the peace and reconciliation vital to the shared transformed life of the church as equalizer, both within itself and in the world.

In the forest of the Father's big picture, his desire is not for a specific structure or order for the church but for the distinct qualitative function of relationship which reflects being his and his family. This is not about the church doing something a certain way but about his people being someone as family. It is this whole of the Father and his family from which the Spirit distributes spiritual gifts for the sake of building up the Father's family, as discussed in Chapter 7. If those spiritual gifts, roles and relational functions are determined by tradition, culture or aptitude, then we deny the Spirit's relational presence and purpose to build his family and bring it to completion as the Father desires and on his terms.

Following Jesus in the relational progression to the Father as his and his family becomes a functional reality only as it is operationalized by family love, not by doctrine or church polity. Just as Paul appealed to Philemon to equalize Onesimus on the basis of family love rather than merely as his rightful duty in God's family (Phm.8-9), we are called on (with the same appeal) to equalize without distinctions--not compelled to it by order but willfully out of family love. The integrity of our identity as his and his family as well as the validity of our practice as his daughters and sons, together as sisters and brothers, depend on it.

 

 

Functional Discipleship

Discipleship becomes functional when we engage: To follow Jesus in the redemptive relational process of transformation in the relational progression from our functional enslavements in order to be equalized intimately to the Father as his, thus experientially belonging in his family as his authentic daughters and sons, who functionally live in transformed relationships together by equalizing each other as sisters and brothers, without distinctions, in the practice of family love within the intimate relational context and process of his new kinship family.

This is the process of discipleship incarnated by Jesus in the relational progression for us to follow him in together. This relational progression is God's paradigm--his paradigm for the church in the eschatological big picture.

 

 

Consider

The practice of church and the gospel are functionally interrelated and should not be separated, even if you don't articulate an ecclesiology. When you examine the significance of the gospel you claim for yourself and proclaim to others, what substance distinguishes that gospel from other life alternatives?

Certainly, the substance you claim to have in practice must change in a transformational (metamorphoo) way how you function as a person as well as what you experience in relationships with others in your church in order for the gospel to distinguish itself as good news over any other. If it doesn't substantively change our person and our relationships together as the church, what is the significance of being "in Christ"--of being "new in Christ"?

Doctrine alone is insufficient to constitute the authentic church and thus to witness (as experiential participants) to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

_____________________________________

[1] Robert Banks, Paul's Idea of Community, rev. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 138.

 

 

2004 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.

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