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The Relational Progression

A Relational Theology of Discipleship

 

Discipleship  Study

13               The Church as Equalizer
                       Within
 the World

printer-friendly pdf version of entire study

 

Subsections:

 

God's Paradigm
The World of Today
Limited Prescriptions
The Jesus Alternative
The Jesus Example
The Outcome of Reconciliation
The Process of Reconciliation
Redemptive Reconciliation
The Church's Challenge
Discipleship for the World
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. 12
Chap. 14

Table of Contents

 

Scripture Index

 

 

" . . . so that the world may believe . . .

to let the world know. . . ."

John 17:21-23

 

For the church to be established as equalizer by becoming the multicultural transformed church through rigorous relational work is only one part of its total purpose. The other part is its work in the world. While the practice of Christian relational faith is uniquely intimate, authentic Christian faith (both for the individual and the church) cannot remain private. The transformed life of God's people is also lived in public--"into the world" as Jesus prayed. For the early church in the Greco-Roman world this was known as their practice in politeia ("public life"). The Greek term has a much broader focus than our limited notions of politics do. As Bruce Winter informs us, the term politeia involved different spheres of activity and should not be equated to "politics."[1]

Historically, the church has strained to define exactly what its involvement in public life should be. Church mission in the world has been conducted narrowly, ambiguously, or without spiritual substance and eschatological significance. This chapter will suggest a more definitive public life for the church without the ambiguity and shallowness which reduce the church's identity and function as light and salt. In the process we need to address aspects of eschatology, evangelism and social ethics within the framework of discipleship and its practice of following Jesus in the relational progression.

 

 

God's Paradigm

The relational progression is God's paradigm for the church in the big picture. This paradigm is introduced to us by Jesus in his farewell prayer. As we have discussed different aspects of his prayer throughout this study, the closing aspect of his petition to his Father on our behalf converges with the other aspects to address the public life of his disciples. Here we can understand why he specifically asked his Father not to take us out of the world and why he sent us into it.

"So that the world may believe" (Gk. pistis, trust) and "to let the world know" (Gk. ginosko, to come to know, experience)--trust what, experience what? How this has been answered in church practice must be reexamined. This is the current issue about politeia and the tendency to define Christian mission in reductionist terms.

Trust "that you have sent me" and experience "that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." This is what the world can trust and experience: Christ's purpose (1) in coming to reveal his Father, (2) to extend his family love and reconcile us to the Father, and (3) to make us one with the Father as his and his family. Yet, the what for the world to trust and experience is not predicated on the propositional truth of this relational progression but on the witness from the experiential reality of these intimate relationships between the Father, the Son and his family.

When the world can observe in God's people "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you . . . that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me," it is exposed to more than a belief system that it can believe or know. This intimate relational oneness is the relational outcome made possible only by Jesus in the relational progression.

If Jesus had not come to reveal his Father, we could not know about the Father. If Jesus had not redeemed us from our enslavements, we could not trust the Father. If Christ had not reconciled us to his Father, we could not intimately know the Father as his and experience him as his family. This relational progression is the relational work of family love which the Father initiated, Jesus fulfilled and his Spirit brings to completion. This is God's desire for his whole creation, his direction for redemptive history and his eschatological plan for his people. As the Father sent his son into the world for this purpose, Jesus sends his followers into the world for the same purpose. This constitutes God's paradigm for the church's function in the world as the major part of the big picture.

To fulfill its purpose to represent the Father as his new kinship family and to reveal the Father in his vulnerable heart of intimate relational involvement, the church needs to engage others directly with family love just as Jesus made it functional in the relational progression. As Jesus relationally involved himself with others in public as the equalizer, with the practice of this family love the church equalizes in the world. When the world becomes the object of this family love, it has the true basis to trust the reality of God's covenant promise and to experience the qualitative substance of love and hope unique to God. When so engaged by the public life of the church, the world has the opportunity to trust in the truth of the gospel as witnessed by the church (in practice not proclamation), and thus be able to experience the reality of God's family love by also becoming his and his family.

As a function of relationships and the corporate relational involvement of family, this purpose in the world operationalized by family love cannot be fulfilled by the individual(s). The individual alone cannot witness to the relational progression of God's desires and purpose. This can only be fulfilled by the church functioning as family. In God's paradigm the nature and scope of the church's purpose are defined in the relational progression. We need to understand this further.

In the previous chapter we discussed the significance of "all nations" in the church's purpose and commission. Now we need to examine more specifically the critical aspects in the commission of "proclaiming repentance" in public in the process of "making disciples" of Jesus Christ. Because of the tendency to utilize reductionist alternatives for these aspects of Christ's commission, we need to reexamine his commission within the relational progression, that is, according to God's paradigm.

 

 

The World of Today

As the world shrinks because of human migration (as well as by the Internet), the cities around the world expand. As peoples of the world become aware of each other and are confronted with one another in this global community, they are less able to remain isolated and separate; and people of likeness (or like-mindedness) have less opportunity to live in a homogeneous or provincial context. And the place where this social revolution has been exploding the most is in the city.

The global nature and structure of the economy have accelerated this process and compounded its effects. Consequently, more than at any other time in the history of the human species we are thrust upon each other, voluntarily or involuntarily. Since we can neither avoid these encounters nor ignore each other, we have to deal with each other. These are not the mere encounters within the comforts of the Internet. These are the direct relational encounters in our "neighborhood"--usually defined in geographical terms or physical proximity, but not necessarily. For example, telecommunications is expanding globally everyday so that areas of telemarketing, public relations, and support services (especially technical support) are being outsourced to other countries (e.g., India) to reduce costs for U.S. operations. These become part of the direct encounters we experience in our "neighborhood."

The potential for conflicts or adversarial relations has always existed in human history. War, race and religious conflicts obviously are not new to history. Yet, all the contextual and structural changes and resulting interaction have intensified human relation conflicts exponentially. This modern period is realizing this potential on a wider and wider scale never before seen in human history. From a biblical perspective on human nature and from a historical perspective on human behavior, these conflicts are not unexpected. Wisdom would have us anticipate them. And this does not even account for the influence such a climate has on stimulating adversarial encounters within common relationships at work, school, sports, even at home.

The common denominator underlying this increasing multitude of conflicts is the issue of human differences. Whatever the level of differences--racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, economic, political, social, interpersonal, personal--the inability or the unwillingness to deal with and live with others who are different (look, act, think, feel) has always had a damaging impact on human relations. In the past we could minimize these consequences as long as we could avoid encountering others' differences.

These current conditions of human ecology have increasingly altered the modern human posture and psyche from passive indifference to active intolerance of human differences. The results are human conflicts being realized to an alarming extent. Consequently, we live today not only in a period of increased violence but, contextually, also in a culture of violence, directly or indirectly, real or simulated, perceived or not.

Even the process of force is being "legitimated" (merely by its frequency) on a wider scale as the primary means of resolution--resolution of external conflicts as well as internal struggles. Increasingly, the use of force has become a way of everyday life (an "established way to do things")--the attitudinal spirit or behavioral letter of our practices. In other words, force (or violence) has become a part of culture, or a culture in itself.

There is a reasonable basis to expect that even much more conflict will be realized in our period of history. Although the specter of total annihilation of earthly life in nuclear war is now less of a scenario with the end of the Cold War, there does not exist on the global horizon even a negative "solution" to reduce the magnitude of human conflicts with which we are and will be faced. And the current war on terrorism appears to be fueling the conflict--both globally and locally. Furthermore, economic growth continues to compound the issue of human differences with no apparent end in sight. Inevitably, the interrelation between the global economy and human ecology has its "trickledown effects" on everyday relations in our neighborhood and in interpersonal relationships, even within our own family. The primary impact here is negative, lower prices for consumer goods notwithstanding. For example, market fluctuations causing stress to compete for work and to perform on the job, fear of losing a job because of downsizing or exporting labor, anger in being mistreated, or impotence in being unable to do anything about it all. We bring these feelings home every day and impact those around us.

The increase of violence (physical or emotional) in families and neighborhoods is one outcome we can associate to this global process. And scapegoating (particularly of another racial/ethnic group) is another outcome. These two are connected by the issue of intolerance. Whether intolerance is linked to the anger of depersonalization or the despair of hopelessness, or linked to the inability or unwillingness to deal with human differences, the end result is conflict, adversarial encounters. Though we are oversimplifying the process, the underlying principle of human relations remains the same: the biological, cultural, economic or ideological differences of others become more threatening as the physical, social, emotional or spiritual aspects of personal needs are less satisfied.

Though all the areas of personal needs are important, unmet spiritual needs have the broadest association to others' differences and the threat they pose. Yet, whatever need triggers the process, any threat becomes realized in conflict as encounters move persons from passive indifference to active intolerance.

This is just part of the world today into which Jesus sends us to fulfill the Father's purpose.

 

 

Limited Prescriptions

History has not consistently linked intolerance and human differences in its accounts of human conflict. The link, however, between intolerance and differences is germane to human nature since Adam and Eve; it's always been there. Today, the interconnection of mass mobility (again, voluntary and involuntary) of people, the global economy and the Information Age creates an increasing condition for human conflict without an end in sight because the intolerance of human differences has no viable solution in the world arena of human relations.

The initial recourse mainly seeks to prevent the encounter of human differences. But with the expansion of urban centers and regions worldwide, the attempt of balkanization is not only impractical but unrealistic. Such effort will invariably lead to ghettoization and systems of inequality. Tribalism and nationalism only exacerbate the problem because the global economy no longer allows for such isolationism and protectionism. The reality is that we are stuck with each other.

Ignorance of others' differences is no longer civilized. Separatism is no longer reasonable nor efficacious. Intolerance per se is a sin. The conventional prescription of tolerance, on the other hand, though important and widely advocated, is not sufficient. Essentially, tolerance deals with relations on a horizontal plane, laterally to the left and right. As such it must have agreeable limits to how far from the center will be tolerated. Otherwise, the extremes become anarchy. Being a horizontal process, tolerance also is not able to deal with the truly crucial issue in human relations--the vertical plane of stratified relationships created between people, not the horizontal. This involves the perceptions and feelings of "more or less," "better or worse," "good or bad' and the comparative judgments made, for example, about one's identity or self-worth.

So, what are we going to do with all these differences in our changing world? Resist, adapt, capitulate? Capitulating lacks hope for improvement, and resisting only worsens the problem. Of the three, adapting is the most promising. What we are dealing with, however, is not some biological process that will eventually adapt itself due to necessity. Certainly, the process of human relations is much more complex, compounded by the damaging effects of human nature. Diplomacy, negotiation and compromise only go so far.

Furthermore, as we witness the growing use and legitimation of force (political, economic, civic, social) as a means to deal with conflict in the home, the neighborhood, a nation or in global situations, we also see the failure to look beyond the situation, to go deeper than presenting circumstances. Much of the use of force responds only to symptoms, failing to understand causes. Such uninformed response only compounds the problem in the long run. What is missing in this whole process for all these prescriptions, what's never achieved in its outcome is the basic and simple relational matter of people coming together.

We don't experience the relational process of coming together because reconciliation is not an integral part of this resolution process. We don't build reconciliation into the process. If we are stuck with each other, then nothing short of reconciliation of persons in their differences will prevent or eliminate conflict.

This is the purpose of the church as equalizer. Whether within itself (as we discussed in the last chapter) or in the world, for the church to absorb differences and be multicultural necessitates that reconciliation be built into it as an integral part of its work (as the ministry of reconciliation) as well as its way of living (as the culture of reconciliation). The redemptive relational process is the natural outworking of the transformed church.

Since the transformed church requires transformed persons living out transformed relationships, it is not sufficient for Christ's followers to just work for reconciliation. We also have to live reconciliation as what we are in Christ and as how we define our self and do relationships in being his followers. In other words, this means the culture of reconciliation. We have to develop this culture, substitute it for a culture of violence and show the world what we are as transformed persons made whole, who we are in intimate and equalized relationships, and whose we are as his and his family. This puts everything into the relational context and process of the relational progression, which is made operational by family love. Clearly, this is more than a work or ministry. It is the culture of God's people living as family. This is the biblical culture which is distinguished from and supersedes all other cultures--especially a culture of violence. When the world observes this and is the recipient of this, it has a basis to believe the same Christ who was sent by the same Father for the same purpose to be able to experience being his and his family.

Yet, living this out from the biblical cultural framework also goes beyond the limited notions of evangelism, ethics and discipleship we tend to prescribe for church practice in public.

 

 

The Jesus Alternative

When we look beyond the current situations in the world and symptomatic conditions associated with them, we are compelled to address human relations in general. The general condition of interpersonal relationships was set in motion from the beginning of human history. When Adam blamed Eve, he not only was avoiding his own sin but he was also stratifying their relationship. That is, the implication of using Eve as a scapegoat was that he put her down as being less than he. Sin does that to others and works like this in relationships.

Adam's action in effect established the operation of power relations and set in motion a process in relationships causing distance, depersonalization and brokenness. In the context of human relations, these conditions are the most prevalent in the operation of some form of power relations. This is the basic dynamic process which results in conflicts and inequality. And the broadest consequence of power relations is systems of inequality: the systematic and unjust stratification of persons, usually based on some criteria which guarantee power, privilege or prestige for those in the upper strata while denying the same to those in the lower strata, effectively making it improbable for the disadvantaged to move up to a better position in the system. Indeed, any system of inequality creates barriers in human relationships. Whether the criteria are based on race, class, culture, gender or religion, the results eliminate certain people from equal or equitable participation in a system. This can be accomplished with or without the presence of prejudice, intentionally or even unintentionally.

As we discussed in preceding chapters, the matter of systems of inequality arose as the pivotal issue in the mission of the early disciples. In fact it was an issue of revolutionary proportions for the new order established by Jesus Christ. Not even the issue of his second coming took on greater importance; yet, the parousia (his coming) was the eschatological hope encouraging the church's practice in politeia, particularly in difficult times and circumstances.

Their involvement with this relational condition was understandable because of God's paradigm for the church's purpose. Since the basic issues behind systems of inequality deal with power, privilege and prestige, any involvement in the human context made this condition unavoidable in the making of disciples. Even further, any call to repentance of the human condition made it imperative for the church to contend with this sinful process. At the same time, any kind of reinforcement by the church of this unrighteous process--either directly through perpetration (e.g., by selectively ignoring or avoiding persons who are different from a church's constituency) or indirectly through complicity (e.g., by remaining silent and not holding discriminators accountable)--not only compromises the church's integrity and witness to the world but strongly indicts it for its legitimation of these sinful practices. What can the world believe and experience if this is how the church functions?

When Christian mission, however, is put into the relational context and process of the new life order established by Christ, a response to the human condition is the natural outcome. The scope of mission in the new order must deal with systems of inequality. We can neither accept (or adapt) nor be resigned (or capitulate) to barriers which eliminate certain peoples from equitable participation in a system, especially within the church. To do so would contradict our intimate experience with God made possible only by his grace to be equalized in the relational progression; and it would violate the nature of his purpose which extends from that whole process of redemption and reconciliation in the relational progression--God's paradigm for the church in the big picture. The big picture is not just about eschatology but more importantly about relationship as the Father's and his family.

Systems of inequality must be dealt with both within the church and the world. Since the fundamental issue here is the importance of relationships, for the church not to address the issue leaves it susceptible in its practice merely to mirror how the surrounding context does relationships. This would directly affect the practice of Christ's commission in the kind of disciples and the call to repentance the church makes. Obviously, selective discrimination by distinction-making is one repercussion. But a more far-reaching effect involves reductionism.

For example, some Christians perceive of discipleship as a methodology for discipling others mainly through using the Bible. The operative words "methodology" and "using" tend to involve the reductionist activity of gathering information and learning about something. This also reflects the outer-in approach to Christian identity and living. As discussed previously, Jesus revolutionized what it meant to be a disciple in the Mediterranean world and the rabbinic tradition. His process of discipleship involved a deep relational involvement with the Teacher and becoming progressively more intimate with his Father, not about learning as in rabbinic schools. When Jesus commissioned us to "make disciples" (Gk. matheteuo), this relational process must be distinguished from the Greek verb matheo which simply means to learn without any attachment to the teacher (didaskolos). The aspect of "teaching" (Gk. didasko) in his commission was focused on transforming a disciple for this relationship, not for the purpose of learning something to later teach others about as conventional rabbinic disciples did. Furthermore, these reductions of discipleship tend to make it merely individualistic because it does not integrate it into the interdependent corporate relationships as his family. This is what happens when we stop short in the relational progression.

In a reductionist framework, his commission to "make disciples" is not only misinterpreted but oversimplified. Besides being subordinated in emphasis by giving primary attention to "go ye" (often incorrectly expressed as the imperative command in his commission, when "make disciples" is the only imperative here), the matter of making disciples tends to get reduced to mere conversion, primarily on simplistic spiritual and moral grounds. This is a truncated focus only on what Christ saved us from which is often perceived with a reductionist view of sin. It is a serious error to limit the application of this commission merely to the operation of traditional evangelism.

Jesus calls us both to be disciples as well as to make disciples. They go together and should not be separated. Yet, the disciples we are and the disciples we make must be in the discipleship process of the relational progression Jesus made functional with his family love. This ongoing process in family love is the basis for our experience with him and his purpose for us; thus, this must constitute our practice of evangelism. This deepens what evangelism involves. It also radicalizes the process of evangelism from quantitative measures like technique to the qualitative process of relationships made operational by family love--nothing less and no substitutes, just as Jesus extended family love from his Father.

In our quantitative emphasis we reduce evangelism more to a method of sharing propositional truths. But the function of his disciples in the Mediterranean world wasn't to spread "teachings" ; it was to witness to the person of Jesus, and thus their relationship with him in their entire life. This is not a methodology for dispensing truth but a life of sharing this relationship and demonstrating "the truth of the gospel" and "the mystery of Christ" with family love. Jesus said we are witnesses (Gk. martyreo, Lk 24:48; Jn 15:27) of him, that is, participants with him in relationship, not observers processing information to dispense later. This is what evangelism involves.

The tendency in such a limited approach to evangelism also involves having a weak or inadequate view of sin and dealing with individuals apart from the contexts of human life in which they live. The latter is not about the absence of contextualization as a method but about failing to address the broader relationship issues present. Sin is not merely an individual matter within a spiritual context. Sin has to do with our relationship to God and the whole order of life he established for all of creation. Sin is a violation of that relationship with God but it also has consequences in his design and purpose for creation. Christian ethics is not a private practice nor can it be limited to issues involving only the individual. Thus, we need also to address the collective nature of sin and evil and deal with all sin in this broader relational context. For example, more and more Christians have realized these consequences in relation to the abuses of physical creation and the environment. As a result more effort has rightfully been undertaken to counteract these abuses with the rationale of the divine order of creation. Still more effort is needed but with a deeper understanding of the relational context.

Sin has social consequences also, as well as social influences. Our perspective of sin must include these macro-level human factors and human contexts. Evil does not restrict itself to the individual nor does it stay within the limited context of the individual(s).

Historically, churches in the past have recognized this fact. Great revivals have occurred as Christians addressed social problems. Significant social changes resulted from such movements. Urged by such tradition, the church today must review its position on sin, yet on the basis of biblical culture. Where it has undergone reduction, it must be restored or made complete.

The establishment of the new life order in Christ is always preceded by a clear understanding of and, thus, response to the conditions of the old order and its impact on relationships. This signifies the context of the relational progression and the redemptive relational process necessary to experience what Christ saved us to. This also means responding to the social consequences of sin and its social influences in our surrounding context. The OT prophets exemplified this in their response to confront their society in conflict with its evil and call it to repentance over all its sin--all as a precedence of the new. This whole process involves the prophetic aspect of the church's function in God' s paradigm. As the church becomes this relationally involved, the transformed church becomes transforming.

Just as the church is transformed and constituted in the redemptive relational process and context of the relational progression, its purpose in the world is an expression and extension of that intimate relational experience. Following Jesus in this progressive relational experience is the only alternative he gave us, individually and corporately. His alternative is the distinct contrast to reductionist alternatives because it is not about what to do--nor based on a reductionist mind-set defining us by what we do and thus doing relationships in quantitative terms with distinction-making.

Jesus consistently demonstrated and taught that agape love does not define what to do but is about how to be involved relationally. This involvement of love extends beyond a circle of relationships with family, friends and church members (in phileo). When a lawyer tested Jesus about specifics in the Law, he wanted "neighbor" to be defined for him because "he wanted to justify himself" (Gk. dikaioo, to show to be just or prove to be right, Lk 10:25-37). Jesus clarified the command to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18) with the Good Samaritan parable. The term "neighbor" (Gk. plesion) comes from the root pelas (near) and means close by. As illustrated by the parable, anyone within proximity to us should be the object of our concerned involvement, regardless of whether they are close in relationships (like family and friends) or are different in race, class, religion, or even enemies (cf. Mt 5:43ff)--in other words, involvement without distinctions. This is how far the function of love goes. It signifies not what to do but how to be involved. This is not about validating ourselves in missions but about how to love persons in their sin and how to care for persons in need because of sin.

This is the family love with which Jesus loves us. As he told the lawyer, this is the compassionate relational involvement we need to share "likewise." Yet, the "neighbors" in our neighborhood are not only becoming more diverse, our "neighborhood" itself is expanding in this information age and the global economy. This tests what will determine how we perceive who our neighbor is.

 

 

The Jesus Example

When we look at Jesus' behavior throughout his incarnation, we can see his teachings (like those above) demonstrated and the scope of his mission enacted. His behavior, however, also reveals paradoxes we need to understand. For example, his cleansing of the temple by forcefully throwing out the people and overturning their tables (Mk 11:15-17; cf. Jn 2:15) in order to restore God's intended purpose as a house of prayer for all peoples (especially the disadvantaged) stood in contrast to the incident in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus was taken to be crucified. The disciple who cut off the slave's ear was rebuked, as Jesus healed the slave (Mt 26:50-52).

Realizing that Jesus preached the gospel of peace (Eph 2:17; Acts 10:36), we also know that he said: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword" (Mt 10:34). How do we understand such apparent paradoxes in the life and teachings of Jesus, especially regarding reconciliation and peace?

Many church practices in the 20th century tended to place more emphasis on either the work of redemption (e.g., liberation from social conditions) or the work of reconciliation (e.g., traditional evangelism)--usually to the exclusion of the other. Theologically, however, we know that redemption and reconciliation are not mutually exclusive. So, a singular emphasis does not help us to understand the apparent paradoxes of Jesus.

Yet, depending on our worldview and particular approach to the prevailing order of life, Christians often find themselves identified with either redemptive work or reconciling work. These approaches lend themselves to simplified classification on a continuum which will be helpful for us to review.

At one extreme we have left-wing, radical revolutionaries and at the other end of the spectrum we can find hard-core, right-wing "nationalists" (or fundamentalists). One tries to tear down the prevailing order while the other tries to maintain it at all costs. In between these extremes we have a host of variations. But each approach bases its action or perspective on certain assumptions. These assumptions have to do with views on humanity and on society--not to mention more specific views about sin and about God.

Whether we articulate it or not, we all hold to some kind of belief or model of the nature of humanity. This is also true of our conceptions of society--assumptions usually even more implicit. In very practical ways we make assumptions about both areas. Both our model of humanity and our model of society predisposes each of us to certain choices and how we will approach, for example, improving the quality of life. Understanding this influence is important to our immediate discussion about Jesus' paradoxes as well as to the practice of discipleship and the church's function in the world.

Basically, we hold to either the inherent sinfulness or the inherent goodness of humankind. Without getting into all of the ramifications of these views, let's just call the former a "pessimistic model" and the latter an "optimistic model."

We can also place most perspectives of contemporary society into either one of two general models. The first model does not assume the basic goodness of the existing social order. Nor does it automatically accept the standards of the society but invariably questions the legitimacy of existing practices and values. Thus, this model does not oppose basic changes in the existing institutions, systems or structures--especially if it is in the best interest of the people as a whole. In fact, it often finds itself in conflict with some aspect of society because it does not seek to maintain the status quo. We can call this the "conflict model."

The second model of society stands in contrast to the first. It is somewhat optimistic in that it basically affirms (explicitly or implicitly) the existing institutions, systems and structures of the society in effect as good. The prevailing social order is assumed to be good and, thus, to be maintained or upheld--though some reforms may be sought. The core practices and values of the society are accepted as the prevailing standards by which all else is measured. We can call this the "consensus model" because it represents a dominant (if not majority) perspective.

These models do not delineate all the variations which exist but merely provide us with very general categories. Most persons subscribe to one of them for humanity and one for society in their practice, if not also by ideology.

The two sets of models for humanity and society also closely align to one another. The optimistic model (goodness) of humanity aligns with the consensus model of society. They do not see significant reasons for humanity or society to undergo basic changes--a very optimistic or romanticized outlook. The pessimistic model (sinfulness) of humanity matches up with the conflict model of society in their more realistic assessment of the conditions of humanity and society respectively. These two both understand that basic changes are necessary if the quality of life is to be improved.

With respect to sin and evil, we would expect Christians to hold a pessimistic-conflict model combination. This is a reasonable assumption to make; ironically, that is often not the case. Other factors intervene which influence Christians to assume other models. For example, more conservative Christians would generally believe in the inherent sinfulness of humanity (a pessimistic model) while tending also to affirm (if only by silence) the basic goodness of society, especially in the U.S. (a consensus model). On the other hand, more liberal Christians may not believe in humanity's inherent sinfulness (optimistic model) but do not necessarily assume that basic goodness for society (conflict model).

Since holding to one model of humanity or society does not mean that one automatically embraces the other model aligning to it, four different combinations of models are possible here. Each combination of models of humanity and society exert a particular influence on choices we make and the approach to mission we take. For example, we may seek basic change in only the individual but not society due to a pessimistic-consensus combination of models; or an optimistic-conflict combination seeks change only in society.

Given these assumptions we make about humanity and society as well as the influence they exert on us, let's return to the life of Jesus.

When we review Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we are struck by the humility of this grand event. As noble as that moment was, there was a very ordinary feel to it all. Here was the King of kings. But, grandiose style and protocol were missing because Jesus was a "people' s king," not a "leaders' king." He represented the simple people, not the leadership.

I call his entry a "triumph of humility." The triumph, however, was not merely because of his humility. In spite of his popular reception, Jesus was willfully entering a hostile context, knowing fully the consequences he would bear. His purpose for going into Jerusalem was not to generate support for himself but in order to open the way to reconciliation. Under these negative conditions it was a triumph because of his relational act of reconciliation. This was the redemptive relational process of equalization for which Christ came to this earth.

As a people's king, Jesus brought forth a whole new approach to life to transform the quality of it. Essentially, the Jews in his day were looking for a political messiah, one who would assume control, reign and champion the nation forth. In Jesus this political messiah is replaced with the humble son of man, the suffering servant who was despised; yet, don't focus on these images but on their relational function. Throughout the Gospels we see the conflict of the presumptions of messianic hope with the equalizing relational nature of Jesus' life and teachings.

Jesus did not come to assume political control in an exercise of power relations. He came for reconciliation between God and his creation, and for his creation to be reconciled to each other--the outworking of the relational progression. Reconciliation, however, did not mean merely good relations in general, as previously discussed, but to do away with the barriers of hostility in bad relations to restore communion. Specifically, that is the barrier of hostility from sin.

Since Jesus was a people's king, his approach to relationships did not misuse his authority or power. To the contrary, his approach humbly assumed responsibility for broken relations. He took the initiative to enter the hostile context in order to open the way to reconciliation. This is the essence of God's grace. Power relations is clearly replaced by the ministry of reconciliation.

Consequently, the power we see exerted by Jesus was not for political ends, or any other self-interest agenda. That is not to say that it didn't engage a political process. There was no way to avoid that. But the use of power by Jesus was for the purpose to heal. This purpose is important to keep in focus.

Returning to his triumphant entry, we read that "the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen" (Lk 19:37). This miraculous power was not political power per se but healing power; so they rallied around Jesus for this healing work of power.

Yet, how do we understand this approach of reconciliation in light of his physically forceful cleansing of the temple as well as his statement about not coming to bring peace but a sword? How do we look at human relations, healing and peace given other aspects in the life and teachings of Jesus?

 

 

The Outcome of Reconciliation

In Jesus' triumph of humility we see the full glory of God in his heart, his intimate relational nature and his vulnerable presence demonstrated. As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept openly over it (Lk 19:41; cf. Is 22:4). His deep feelings could not be contained and compassion for God's creation overflowed. In that poignant moment he said: "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace" (19:42).

It would be helpful at this point to consider: with what models of humanity and society do you think Jesus approached Jerusalem? What would he have done if he held different models?

"What would bring you peace?" The focus here is on what belongs to peace. This is a crucial area for discussion that is often overlooked, even by Christians who are a part of any peace movement. There is plenty of discussion on how to bring about peace. Yet, little is said about the details of what peace truly is, what belongs to peace. We make assumptions about the definition of peace as well as assumptions that those who use the term all have the same understanding of peace. Yet, in his farewell address to his disciples just prior to his crucifixion, Jesus clearly distinguished the peace he brought and gave from what the world gives (Jn 14:27).

In the classical Greek sense peace is looked upon as the opposite of war. However, the NT does not take its meaning of peace from this source. The NT concept of peace is an extension from the OT and of the Hebrew shalom. The opposite of shalom is any disturbance to the well-being of the community. In other words, peace is not the absence of something (like conflict) but the presence of something.

Throughout the Bible the primary concept of peace is wholeness and well-being. Peace is a general well-being which has both an individual dimension and a corporate/collective dimension. This wholeness extends to all aspects of our living and by necessity includes salvation and the end times but certainly is not limited to the latter. All of this is what must be present for peace. This is what belongs to peace.

Such peace, then, can only belong to the new order of life as God ordained and as Jesus Christ fulfilled by his life, death and resurrection. In reconciling his creation to God, Christ brought forth a new creation of which we, individually and corporately, are a part. And the authentic "peacemakers" (re: the seventh beatitude, Gk. eirenopoios, a reconciler, Mt 5:9) are those for whom this new life is a reality, thus are called the sons and daughters of God.

This new relational reality has already begun for those in Christ, resulting in our wholeness, well-being, though it still awaits final fulfillment. But, in order to be a part of this new creation and order of life, we must go through a process of redemption. God has been working out this plan of redemption for his creation (humankind and the world) through the course of history. Thus, we understand that what God is deeply and so intimately concerned about is restoring his creation to wholeness, well-being. Corporately that fundamentally involves being his family. He sent his Son to pay the price for this redemption and to take away the barrier of hostility between us for this reconciliation.

For authentic peace, God is not concerned about the mere absence of conflict. This alone does not bring people together, nor is it sufficient to bring about a new order, a new creation. That is, this alone will not result in wholeness, well-being. For these we must turn to the work of redemption; the new does not emerge without liberation from the old. Thus, generally and soteriologically, peace is grounded in God's work of redemption.

Likewise, for authentic reconciliation, God is not concerned about mere harmony in relationships. Good relations in God's plan for his creation are not reflected in the absence of negative activity. They are directly tied into wholeness. This wholeness involves a distinct newness in relationships that involves an open heart and the intimate relational involvement of family love in the process of equalization. Transformed relationships are intimate and equalized relationships. As a qualifier, however, only in a corollary sense does peace describe interpersonal relationships. Foremost, peace involves the condition of wholeness--the wholeness and well-being of the total new order, the new creation as the whole of God's family. This is the relational outcome of reconciliation, the ministry of reconciliation. Each act of reconciliation (and peacemaking) must work toward this end, if, in reality, it is going to be reconciling. So, reconciliation is predicated on redemption. In understanding this, not only our theology but our practice as well must reflect it.

 

 

The Process of Reconciliation

It is from this perspective that we need to look at human relations, peace and healing. From this position we are also better able to understand some of the apparent paradoxes in Jesus' life and teaching.

Jesus, with the limitless power of God at his disposal, contained and directed his power for the purpose to heal. In doing so, there were times he gave the appearance of being weak and of human imperfection. Certainly, he could have asserted his power to greater personal advantage (e.g., at his arrest, Mt 26:53). Instead, Jesus spent a lot of his time healing; more than situational, this became his occupation. As we know, his healing was a source of much debate and conflict. So extensive was this the case that he was told on numerous occasions to stop healing. As Jesus continued his healing, the strength of opposition grew.

Why? Of course, there were other issues involved in the opposition to Jesus, yet, healing really represented the sum and substance of all the conflict. By healing, Jesus was engaged in the process of restoring--restoring God's creation to some aspect of wholeness, well-being. To restore meant much more than to mend, to fix or to reform, essentially to return something to its commonly existing condition. To restore to wholeness involves a change from the existing condition. Therefore, to heal means essentially to change--from old to new.

This is not about just any type of change. To restore to wholeness involves redemptive change. Certainly, not all so-called positive change is redemptive change; and sometimes what appears to be negative change (especially to those with an optimistic model of humanity or a consensus model of society) is, in fact, redemptive change. The determining factor for redemptive change is the wholeness to which something is being restored. Wholeness, well-being is a creation of God only. By necessity, God is the one to define the nature of that wholeness. From our finite position, our understanding of the wholeness of something is often incomplete. Nevertheless, even without the total picture, the truths of biblical culture provide sufficient understanding of wholeness, especially in the relational context and process of the relational progression.

In the new life order and the new creation instituted by Christ we have the beginnings of understanding what wholeness involves (what belongs to peace), though it is far from complete. The primary aspects of it involve the importance of the whole person and the highest priority given to the relationships necessary to be whole. In these we have a more than adequate basis to engage in the redemptive relational process of restoring. Therefore, the work for reconciliation necessitates dealing with our attitude and approach to change--the change basic and necessary for this purpose.

The world sees reconciliation as bringing together parties engaged in some type of conflict. It brings parties together, however, not to form the wholeness designed and created by God. Rather, it often brings parties together based on the prevailing values, mind-set or worldview of their context or time. In this way it seeks in effect to maintain, uphold or restore the status quo. Basic change is not seen as necessary; optimistic and consensus models have this perception of change. And, like the medical model, it sees variation from the status quo as deviations which need to be fixed. Wholeness is not the starting point, nor even the goal prescribed.

Authentic reconciliation, on the other hand, by necessity must involve change. Since change is often a pre-existing issue and source of tension, the process of redemptive change may require first being freed from old or existing conditions, states or order which then would allow for the relational changes necessary for reconciliation. This is the ongoing work of redemption. For example, resistance to or intolerance of others' differences always involves an underlying fear of or unwillingness to change that need redemption, initial healing. Christ redeemed us not only to be free from the old but also to change to the new. These are aspects of the same total process--both necessary and inseparable.

Ministers of reconciliation are not agents of the status quo. They are ambassadors of Christ (representative of the Father as his) and, therefore, agents of redemptive change--the change necessary to bring complete reconciliation that results in the wholeness and well-being that God designed and created and that Christ brings to the world. For the integrity of this process, it is necessary to make this distinction with the status quo because many times Christ's disciples need to be in conflict with it, just as he was. That's why it is also imperative to address our worldview and approach to the existing order.

 

 

Redemptive Reconciliation

Redemptive change involves restoring God's creation to wholeness. If we were to focus only on reconciliation in this process, we would find ourselves approaching situations differently. This is particularly true if we limit reconciliation to harmony of relations.

For example, reexamine the temple situation which Jesus faced. On the surface, his actions certainly don't seem like an act of reconciliation. If anything, it was divisive to the religious community--action more in line with his statement about bringing a sword, not peace. Yet, Jesus was not contentious in what he was doing, he was redeeming. This is a crucial distinction to understand. To look at this situation only from a limited standpoint of reconciliation would invariably lead us on a course of action different from Jesus' action.

For this reason we cannot separate reconciliation from redemption. Reconciliation is predicated on redemption and, consequently, its ministry must include the work of redemption.

Restoration to wholeness necessitates first setting something free from its existing old condition so that it can be restored to the new order and creation of God. This release through the payment of a price is what is called redemption. To redeem is a rigorous process for us since it required the death of Jesus. Redemptive work is firm and uncompromising when the basic rights and inherent integrity of God's creation are violated; and at times it can appear contentious.

With this in mind let's go back to the temple situation. What did Jesus see there? Essentially, he saw the temple prostituted. This was not merely an institution created by God; it was the functional dwelling of God for the purpose of all peoples to have communion with him. The rights of the people and the integrity of God's house were being violated, denying access for the disadvantaged to be involved with God.

What would you do about this situation? You could pray, or negotiate with the leaders, or have a protest demonstration, or be silent--or attempt to liberate the temple. In this apparent paradox, Jesus was not concerned about reconciliation in terms of harmonious relations with the abusers of the temple. At the same time he didn't set aside reconciliation. He sought the restoration of God's house. For this to be possible, however, it had to be freed from its existing condition or order. His actions reflect the redemptive change necessary for wholeness, well-being. In this dynamic process redemption is inseparable from reconciliation.

I don't completely understand the violent mode of his actions. But I do understand the necessity of his action to engage his purpose in the redemptive relational process. Redemptive work has to be firm and uncompromising when the basic rights and inherent integrity of God's creation are violated.

It's obvious how Jesus' approach to the existing order would differ from those who embrace a consensus model of society. Since a consensus model assumes a basic goodness about the existing conditions or order, it does not seek basic change. For Jesus, redemptive change was basic to all he did. On the other hand, his goal was not to tear down an existing, sinful order. So, how does Jesus' approach differ from those who hold only a conflict model of society as do so-called liberationists or revolutionaries?

For Jesus, peace is an order established by the God of true peace. While peace is opposed to disorder, it is opposed even more importantly to existing sinful orders which need to be redeemed. Yet, Jesus never forsook reconciliation whenever he worked for redemption because he always acted in the redemptive relational process. We must also keep in mind that juxtaposed with the temple incident is his pacification at his arrest and his intercession at his crucifixion ("Father, forgive them"). Both of these actions are directed on behalf of his enemies.

Redemption of the temple by Jesus, then, was only part of the process. Entering a context that was hostile toward him, he was bringing about reconciliation through redemption. His actions were redemptive and reconciling; and reconciliation does not promote adversary relations, though aspects of the total process can appear contentious and cause conflict.

These are important distinctions from a historic conflict model approach. Reconciliation has enemies but seeks to minimize them. Reconciliation speaks the truth that offends but relationally seeks to heal and restore. Power relations are replaced by the healing process while the barriers of hostility between parties are being removed. These actions change the character of a conflict model approach and even an approach which limits its work to redemption. All of this reflects the reconciling nature of God's love: initiating family love by vulnerable involvement with us to restore us to him as his and his family.

By incorporating redemption with reconciliation, we are better able to avoid the excesses or lacks which could happen in emphasizing only one of them--practices, by the way, which could also find us in sin, anywhere from its direct instigation to indirect complicity. To move toward the wholeness, well-being of the new order of life created by God and relationally constituted by Jesus requires that the work of redemption and the ministry of reconciliation be interacting in the singular process of God's eschatological plan for his creation and his mission to the world. This is the relational process of redemptive reconciliation. This total process helps us also to better understand what belongs to peace and what Jesus fulfilled in the relational progression.

Peace is an issue of reconciliation, which is predicated on redemption--all of which operate within the relational context and process of following Jesus in the relational progression. Therefore, what belongs to peace is the kind of mission not influenced by discrimination (e.g., power relations, systems of inequality), limited by provincialism (e.g., ethnocentrism, nationalism), nor diminished by reductionism (e.g., defining the person from outer-in and relationships without intimacy). Peace sustains the sanctity of all life in what God defines as wholeness and well-being--the intimate relationship of being his and his family.

 

 

The Church's Challenge

Christ's commission to the church to "make disciples" and "call to repentance" clearly takes us well beyond traditional evangelism. The church's posture and function in the world involve the redemptive relational process which engages the church more deeply in the lives of persons than may be desired--by both persons in the world as well as even in the church. This tension is essentially guaranteed because the church' involvement in public life breaches both secular "comfort zones" and Christian "comfort zones." That is, it does when defined by biblical culture and not made ambiguous or shallow by reductionist influences from surrounding cultures.

Yet, it should be understood that the primary discomfort about the church's practice in public is really not about what it does but about how it is involved. Jesus' relational progression, for example, redefines evangelism within the relational context and process of family love. As rigorous as this can be at times, agape love is not focused on what to do, only on how to be relationally involved. Such involvement affirms both the integrity and dignity of every person and the primacy of interpersonal relationships within the relational context of God's design and purpose. His desires, fulfilled first by Christ, for such involvement by his people make love the single most important quality practiced in the church's purpose as equalizer--within itself and within the world. No other action, no activity, proclamation, institution or propositional truth can substitute for the relational involvement of love. Yet, in actual practice this intimate involvement makes many persons uncomfortable, too vulnerable. Thus, in function the involvement of love (not the deeds of love) is often avoided, redefined, distorted, compromised or denied by reductionist alternatives and substitutes.

This tension is compounded when the world reacts to the church's functional presence--reactions ranging from rejection to persecution. Under such conditions it is always simpler to let the light become ambiguous and the salt become shallow. It is more difficult to pursue justice than, for example, to maintain the separation between church and state, more costly to apply biblical social ethics, for example, to the global "marketplace," harder to extend mercy and compassion, for example, to urban needs, problems, issues. Yet, this is not about what to do regardless of the consequences. It is still about how to be relationally involved with family love in the relational progression.

Faced with hardships and suffering, the early church was challenged to continue the redemptive relational process. Since their involvement was based in the relational progression, situations and circumstances did not signify the status of this progression. Its relational significance was constituted by the covenant of God and his eschatological plan. Eschatology (for relationship, not doctrine) provided the framework for a functional, secure hope necessary to encourage early church practice in difficult conditions (cf. Peter's line of thought, 1 Pet 1: 3-4,13; 4:12-13; 5:10). In the parousia, the relational progression is brought to ultimate conclusion, the relational outcome of family love is secured, and this assures his family that they are his and have a permanent place of belonging in his family.

Not only in the future, but also in the present process, this relational progression is ongoingly constituted by the Father's covenant love and covenant faithfulness; and it is being brought to complete fulfillment by the current relational work of his Spirit.

The Father's ongoing relational involvement with his people comes with the reciprocal relational responsibility to be involved with him and for him. This is what family love is. As those redeemed and adopted for reconciliation as the Father's very own daughters and sons permanently belonging to his family, all his adopted children now have the family responsibility (and "legal obligation") to represent their Father before others and to extend his family. Just as his Son fulfilled his purpose "to reveal the Father to the world" (Jn.17:6,26), the church as his family is given this privileged purpose to continue to reveal the Father to the world. This is made functional only in the intimate relational context of being one with him as family (just as in the Trinity) and is made operational only in the relational process of family love (even as the Father loves the Son). This is Jesus' prayer for the purpose and practice of his followers in the world (Jn 17:21-23).

This family love is the only qualitative substance, the only distinguishing characteristic in the church which reveals the Father. The relational involvement of family love--with which he first vulnerably involved himself with us and continues to be involved with us--establishes the church's purpose (within itself and within the world) deeply into the relational progression, and relationally works with his Spirit to bring his eschatological plan to completion.

This means in practice the church is not just a refuge from the world. It must be the agent in the world which brings the Jesus alternative and means of life for the world. It cannot do this in absentia or by proxy, nor can it function this way while being of the world or defined by the world. These nuances with the world are important to differentiate the reductionist alternatives and substitutes. This is not a matter of a goal or a program; it is only a function of relationships--the relational work of family love vulnerably extended to others by his family. With its own flesh the church must be into the world to relationally connect with the people who need the alternative for life or are hurting for the means to live quality of life. This is the new life of the transformed church living in transformed persons involved in transformed relationships. Even the individual disciple (however gifted and resourceful) cannot alone adequately express this relational reality. By its intimate life together as family the church provides the world with the model and the means for the new life restored to its ultimate design and purpose.

The approach a church takes to fulfill its purpose to the world is directly influenced by its models of humanity and society respectively. Likewise, how a church perceives the world, what it pays attention to and what it ignores, is determined by its cultural perceptual framework. The Scriptures, particularly the narratives Jesus, cannot be reduced to merely a belief system. It provides us with the biblical cultural perceptual framework for how we need to see the world, humanity, society and what approach the church needs to fulfill its purpose.

When the church as equalizer embodies this nature of mission and the extent of its scope, the church practices a particular approach to society and the world. Fundamentally, this approach is tension or conflict with sin and evil at all levels of human life--micro and macro. Functionally, this involves active prophetic engagement of prevailing contexts and ongoing relational involvement with our "neighbors."

The early followers in Acts did not defer to its socio-religious context. If a community of believers had been under such influence, it would have lost its purpose and function. Thus, as it served in politeia, it often was in conflict with other sectors of society. For example, when Paul redeemed an abused slave girl who was generating a great deal of money for her owners, they accused Paul and Silas of radically disrupting the prevailing customs of Roman citizens (Acts 16:16-39). As a result, Paul and Silas were severely beaten without a trial and thrown into prison--unlawful treatment of Roman citizens. Since their civil rights had been violated, Paul was not silent or passive about it but demanded accountability from the town's magistrates before he would leave the prison.

Two other examples in Acts 17 and 19 highlight the church's conflict with prevailing contexts. In the first situation, the conflict was with the Jews in Thessalonica. Yet, it was not over religious truth but with the Jews' vested interest: influential power (17:4-5). The second situation is even more interesting (19:23-41). The issue raised ostensibly could be taken as religious truth and freedom. Here again, the driving motivation was to protect a vested interest: in this case, money. The local craftsmen would incur a great economic loss if Christianity kept gaining influence. In these examples, both groups strongly felt threatened by the church's intrusive politeia; and they engaged in conflict with the church in order not to lose their power, privilege or prestige. So, they had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo because they benefited from the existing system or structure without competition. Despite the conflict, the early church was not deterred in its purpose.

The tension or conflict associated with the transformed church's purpose is either initiated by its confrontation of sin or is created by others because of the threat of its mission. In either case, it has relational significance to inequalities and people threatened by any changes in the way things are. Because of the vested interests that advantaged people have, for example, in any vertical order of relationships, they are very resistant to change.

Vested interests by a church in the ways things are can be destructive to its purpose. They make us susceptible to a selective approach to Scripture--the tendency to take what we want and ignore or de-emphasize what we don't. This is particularly true for our perceptions of discipleship, where consistent obedience is the exception and not the rule. To embrace, however, the biblical culture and the purpose in the new life order is to divest ourselves of these old ways and any vested interests in the old order usually involving aspects of power, privilege or prestige. Authentic discipleship needs to relinquish a "status quo theology" and to function in the world as agents of redemption and reconciliation, agents of healing and change.

The Acts of the Apostles witnesses to this ongoing conflict with the world but also to the relational means, the experiential joy and the heart-level hope of the intimately shared life together of God's family. This new kinship family is important for us to grasp in the total relational process of mission in the new order. The early church made the nature of mission as a redeemed system of equality functional in its own midst whereby every person was vitally interrelated to each other as full family, without distinctions. This gave witness to the world of the authentic living alternative to systems of inequality. It is a model, however imperfect, of the kingdom of God and how the new creation in Christ lives. In its very life operationalized by family love, it is both confronting to the old and the hope for the new.

Furthermore, the intimate shared life together as family is also an essential support base for all who would undertake this mission. Since the Father's purpose is not an individualized one, until our mission practice is an expression and extension of his kinship family, we are denied the second of only two major means of support which the Father provides for his people to fulfill his purpose (the first being his Spirit). Without this support base, serving in the apostolic, prophetic, even pastoral functions can easily result in burned out, dried up, frustrated, angry or wounded disciples. We observe this, for example, in the many who entered various Christian causes with concern and enthusiasm, only to come away too needy or discouraged to continue. This group includes a growing number of pastors. Yet, this "occupational hazard" is a deficiency of relational involvement in which needs and feelings are not being attended to in the whole person as well as life not adequately being shared together in intimate relationships. This is the consequence of a context where what we do is more important than how we are involved relationally.

As demonstrated vulnerably by Jesus in the relational progression, the Father's purpose is engaged only with the relational involvement of family love. This is the transformed church's ongoing relational experience within itself and the relational reality it extends to the world. Yet, though the "all nations" aspect of Christ's commission is nondiscriminating, there is an apparent sense in which the church as equalizer is partial. This happens when the church extends family love to the poor or the alien or the disadvantaged. These are the discounted, the dispossessed, the oppressed for whom God has a special affection. These are the lowest strata of systems of inequality which God seeks especially to equalize. God is always involved in loving downward.

For those who have been equalized as his very own family, the reciprocal relational responsibility is on the church to heal broken and depersonalized relationships, to work in restoring God's wholeness and well-being. Throughout the world churches are confronted with this challenge in their own "neighborhood," face to face with their "neighbors," especially in the city. Regardless of where this purpose is engaged, the world urgently awaits the church as equalizer.

 

 

Discipleship for the World

The discipleship practiced and experienced within the transformed church as equalizer is the discipleship expressed and extended to the world. Following Jesus in the relational progression as the Father's and his family involves us with the world in the redemptive relational process operationalized by family love. This relational process of discipleship ongoingly needs to work directly for change (within itself as well as in the world) and, thus, to function in the world as agents of redemptive reconciliation, not maintaining the status quo. By confrontation of sin and relational involvement with those affected by it, this redemptive work seeks to restore wholeness and well-being to persons and relationships by reconciliation to the Father's desires and purpose.

In this practice of discipleship, the Father is genuinely represented and vulnerably revealed to the world, and his desires to build his family are lovingly shared--"so that the world may believe . . . to let the world know."

 

 

Consider

Unlike the early disciples, most Christians' introduction to discipleship does not precede their involvement with church. This is problematic if the practice of that church does not emerge from following Jesus in the relational progression. The expectations many churches place on their members are rather insignificant compared to what Jesus expected of his followers. Thus, we need to examine where our discipleship comes from and what exactly determines what in our practice.

For Jesus, discipleship precedes church. While the apostolic church didn't exist before Christ's ascension, Jesus already constituted the embryonic church with followers intimately involved with him in the relational progression. Authentic church formation cannot happen prior to the progression of intimate relational involvement with the Father as his very own and together with one another as his family. This is God's paradigm based on his design and purpose for his creation, his covenant with his people, his revelation of himself in his Son to fulfill the new covenant with family love and his ongoing vulnerable relational work by his Spirit to complete it. Theology and practice which do not account for God's paradigm result in fragmenting the whole of God's desires, purpose and eschatological plan. The relational consequence is a reductionist substitute.

As the relational progression, discipleship is the integration of this relational spirituality with community (fellowship of believers, communion of God's people, the new kinship family of God) in the relational process of family love. How the church lives within itself and out in the world is the relational work of this transformed family process. By necessity then, the life of the church in public involves the three major issues of all practice we've discussed in the course of this study. And we should clearly understand in examining these three issues that how a church presents itself in public, what it communicates to the world and the level of relationship it engages with others cannot be in substance a witness beyond what it practices within itself.

 

_______________________________

[1] Bruce W. Winter, Seek the Welfare of the City: Christians a Benefactors and Citizens (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994).

 

 

2004 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D. 

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