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A Theology of Worship
'Singing' a New Song to the LORD

 

Verse 3        Jesus, the Key

sections:

Sourcebook Noted

Jesus' Table Fellowship

The Lord's Supper and the Major Relational Barrier

Being Family at the Lord's Supper

Exposing Human Shaping

Is Jesus in the bread and wine?

Is baptism a requirement for partaking in Communion?

Triumph of the secondary and substitutes

Transforming Communion to Transform Worshipers

Chorus

printable pdf of entire study

Prelude

Verse 1

Verse 2

--

Verse 4

Verse 5

Finale

Table of Contents

Bibliography

Scripture Index

 

 

I have made [you] known to those....

 

John 17:6

 

Could the Father have sent someone other than the Son? Instead of sending the Son into the world, the Father might have continued sending his angels or some other intermediary to be a guide for us in this life, or hand someone a book of ready-made New Testament Scriptures. Back in Moses’ time the Old Testament indicates that at one point God would have sent an angel in place of his own presence had Moses not argued for God's own presence (see Ex 33:1-3,12-17). For Moses, a substitute was not good enough, was not acceptable to Moses. In the historical arc of God’s thematic action to restore humanity and the rest of creation to wholeness, God made strategic and tactical shifts by sending the Son himself into the human context to meet us Face to face (2 Cor 4:6).[1] Jesus’ embodiment, including between the manger and the cross, of the whole of transcendent and holy God (the Trinity) to the world was radical, shocking, and profound. Understanding the whole of Jesus is the key to whole understanding of the heart of God, and to growing in our own person as we are created to be.[2]

Much of worship today can be considered theologically christocentric. Yet, much of this worship is challenged in a lack of understanding of Jesus as the theological key to the whole of God, particularly if its emphasis is overly christocentric. Furthermore, this evidences a lack of the functional and relational keys that Jesus embodied in his whole person for his followers to experience in relational progression together with the whole of God, not just with him. This Verse addresses this lack and hopefully will fill any gaps in our understanding with what Jesus disclosed of the Father and the primacy of their relationship, together with the Spirit, as the whole of God. Who and what Jesus disclosed of God is also keyed to how he made God known (phaneroō, Jn 17:6). As distinguished from apokalyptō (to reveal), which only refers to the Object revealed (as if to be observed for information), phaneroō also involves “those” to whom the revelation is made. In other words, Jesus disclosed who, what and how God is as Subject vulnerably present and relationally involved only for the primacy of whole relationship together (Jn 17:26).

Jesus came and dwelt among us as nothing less than and no substitutes for the whole of God, only for the purpose of relationship as family together. The whole of the incarnation was for reconciled relationship in Face-to-face involvement together, to constitute human persons into God’s trinitarian context, which is God’s family. As the Word of God, all that Jesus embodies speaks in relational language. The gospel translates into good news only in this language of Jesus’ relational words and messages throughout the incarnation. Thus, the importance is immeasurable that we pay attention to his life between the manger and the cross, for the person Jesus presented was openly and vulnerably extended, revealing to humanity God’s being, nature, and presence (the first issue for practice). All that Jesus communicated verbally and non-verbally disclosed his whole person openly and vulnerably (the second issue for practice). And, Jesus involved his whole person with other persons—the Father, his disciples, and others—revealing the primacy and depth of relationship that God engages (the third issue for practice).

The person Jesus presented in the incarnation, the quality of his communication, and the depth of his relational involvement with persons integrate the three major issues for all practice as ‘nothing less than and no substitutes’ for the whole of God—signifying the “incarnation principle”[3] —readily available and accessible for relational connection. In his own relationship with the Father, Jesus also is the functional key integral for our becoming whole, and reveals his intimate relational involvement with his Father (the trinitarian relational process of family love) that constitutes our own response to the Father as those who worship in spirit and truth—that is, whole worshipers with nothing less and no substitutes for our whole person functioning also from inner out. This wholeness is the purpose for which God has created (and recreated) us, to “be conformed to the [relational] image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn within a large family” (Rom 8:29). Jesus’ relational dynamic constitutes the heart of the gospel, which is the only good news for the human relational condition. Yet, that which is good news for those wanting transformation in their relational condition from inner out also becomes uncomfortable (even bad) news for those wanting to maintain a relational condition of ‘something less and some substitute’. Christians need to recognize this relational reality existing in our midst (in ourselves) that essentially engages in counter-relational work to the whole relational work of Jesus and the gospel.

For Jesus, little children represent how to function with the openness and vulnerability sought by God for relational connection together. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). He did not mean we literally act like children (cf. Nicodemus’ literal, outer-in interpretation, Jn 3:1-9), but only relationally, requiring redemptive change (3:3). Little children signify the soft (as opposed to hardened) hearts that are open and thus both sensitive to the qualitative and relationally aware. These are hearts of whole persons with whom God is able to connect through his relational response of grace.

At that time Jesus, full of joy [leaping, skipping] through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you Father...because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Lk 10:21 NIV).

We need to be ongoingly asking ourselves: Who and what is the person we present to God in worship (individual and corporate), and the quality of our communication to him, and the depth of relationship we engage with him? Is our response compatible with how Jesus is? The Gospels also show that Jesus’ presence for relationship caused humans to react negatively. Some overtly rejected him. Others had difficulty relationally connecting with Jesus from inner out, as was the case with the twelve male disciples (e.g. Peter in Jn 13:6-10; 21:15-22. Cf. Lewis Smedes and Mother Theresa, discussed previously). Others connected deeply with Jesus, such as some of the women disciples (Lk 7:36-50; 10:38-42; Jn 12:2-3). Most of us fail to understand this qualitative and relational difference for how we are involved with him, and it is evident in most corporate worship.

The person we present to God cannot be assumed to be whole. Jesus’ critique at the opening of this study (“these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”) challenges us where we are. God says that he wants our whole person, defined from inner out, for heart-to-heart relational connection—nothing less and no substitutes for Face-to-face relationship together. Everything else is secondary to God’s primacy of relationship, no matter how dedicated, devoted or well-intentioned we are.

We can learn further from Jesus’ disciples and others with whom Jesus interacted. In my opinion, even though the Gospel narratives (and related texts in the New Testament) do not define an order of worship or prescribe set formulas for worshiping, we can learn what it means to worship from Jesus’ relational words and messages more than any other source from church history, from the ancient period of the early Fathers through the Reformation. Indeed, our Sourcebook for worshiping the whole of God needs to be composed in relational language by the relational words and messages of Jesus.

 

Transcendent God, holy God

Vuln’rably present is who you are (who you are)

 

O, Righteous God, faithful God

Int’mately involved (with us) is what you are (O, what you are)

 

Revealed by grace, with your love

Here for relationship (with us) is how you are (yes, how you are)[4]

 

 

 

 

Sourcebook Notes

 

Jesus did not tell the Samaritan woman at the well information about the worship God seeks, but he disclosed the significance of the whole persons the Father seeks: “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23-24). Jesus focused on the person and how the person relates to the Father. The whole person’s ontology and function must be in compatible reciprocal response to God’s ontology and function: “God is spirit [heart] and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (v.24). In the text of his relational language, the verb form “worshiping” refers to the relational action and “worshipers” the ones engaging in it. One wonders when “worship” became a noun, which makes worship easily construed as event, program, and activity instead of a relational process.

Nevertheless, Jesus’ disclosure to the Samaritan woman, together with Jesus’ other relational words that “their hearts are far from me” are relational messages that God wants our whole person from the inner out for relationship together. Anything less or any substitute for our whole person means nothing to him relationally. An underlying assumption, or even stated intention, we make in such efforts for worship is that we can touch, move, please, impress, and perhaps entertain God apart or afar from direct involvement in relationship together—treating God as if he were an ‘audience of One’ who merely observes our efforts. In such a mindset, we can easily see ourselves also giving something less and some substitute along with Peter at the transfiguration of Jesus.

At the transfiguration, Peter, James and John were confronted by the whole of Jesus (and Elijah and Moses), and fell down frightened (Mt 17:1-8). Peter’s first impulse was to do something, not to engage relationally. This is a good example of presenting some substitute for one’s whole person, in this case to make three shelters. Moreover, while the content of Peter’s communication was about his offering, what was really going on was he simply was frightened (par. Mk 9:6); thus Peter presented something less than his whole person from inner out. This limited his involvement to reduced ontology and function with Jesus during this vital moment of his full self-disclosure as the whole of God.

In relational terms, the three disciples stayed within their comfort zones, giving God only what they wanted to give, their own shaping of worship that can take place individually and corporately. It is instructive to note here what God ignores (pointing to God’s perceptual-interpretive framework). Peter, focusing on the situation, not thinking relationally, was frightened, and reacted in his default mode of ‘what to do’. He offered to build three shelters, but the narrative of this scene makes no mention of Jesus or the Father responding to Peter’s offer, only Jesus’ relational response that he “came and touched them” (Mt 17:7). We can only conclude that Peter’s worship had no relational significance to God.

God does not do relationship on our terms; worship on our terms, whatever we think we are experiencing, is always an ontological simulation that is based on epistemological illusion. Ontological simulation is shorthand for the illusions we create to substitute for direct and whole relational experience with God and others. Our involvement in such relationships is limited to what we do or have, and are shallow and ambiguous relationships. Epistemological illusion is shorthand denoting the biases, assumptions and the terms from human construction by which we think we know God (however sincerely we feel), know what God desires—a boast that cannot be made on secondary terms (cf. Jer 9:23-24).[5]

We are no different relationally from Peter when the person we present to God in worship is defined by roles we have in leading worship, teaching, or serving in other capacities, and are engaged with God (and others) on the basis of these roles. Inseparable from this person we present to God is the referential content and reduced quality of our communication, and indirect depth level at which we engage relationally with others, foremost with God. In effect, we maintain relational distance by remaining ‘in front of the veil,’ outside of God’s intimate relational context and its process of intimate relationship, heart to heart, face to Face.

In OT tabernacle and temple practice, only the high priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place behind the curtain. This was where the high priest encountered the presence of Yahweh, and served as mediator to make the needed animal (blood) sacrifice for the atonement of the people of Israel. This sacrifice made it possible for Israel to be restored to and continue in covenant relationship with Yahweh. The people could only stand outside, or “in front of” the curtain, as the sacrificial animal served as a substitute for them. From the NT, we know theologically that the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, signifying the work of atonement Jesus finished (Mt 27:51; Mk 15:38; Lk 23:45; Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17). Of the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion, only John’s Gospel does not record that the curtain was torn. I suggest that in place of that fact of the torn curtain, John records Jesus words “It is finished” (Jn 19:28,30, teleō, to accomplish, fulfill), to signify that he now fulfilled the relational requirement in his own person to open up direct access to the Father.[6] This is not merely a static doctrinal truth about atonement. In relational terms, we are now free to enter behind the veil into the most intimate place (Heb 6:19; 10:19-22), which is in God’s presence Face to face (2 Cor 4:6). Therefore, in relational terms the veil no longer exists, yet we can still function as if it does by not being directly involved at the depth level that Jesus constituted conclusively on the cross (cf. 2 Cor 3:14-18).

Consider, then, that so much of worship (individual and corporate) takes place ‘in front of the veil’ in spite of our desires, intentions, and assumptions that we in fact are ‘behind the veil’. This is why it is necessary to listen to what has relational significance to God, and why it is unavoidable to challenge our ontology and function. If the person we present to God is not whole, functioning from outer in, giving something less (hiding behind a role, hiding our hearts thus displaying a mask as in a masquerade) and some substitute (offering what we do or have, e.g. Peter), what this means relationally is that we do not live behind the veil, but in front of it. The implied message we communicate is that we have functionally replaced the veil that Christ died to remove. Is this the gospel we claim and proclaim?

Therefore, “must worship in spirit and truth” is a relational imperative requiring our whole person.[7] The involvement of our person, made whole in relationship with God that is based only in relational grace, is the significance of “true worshiper,” the person who is vulnerable before God and wholly available for intimate connection. This is what it means to be worshipers behind the curtain, in the Most Holy Place—that is, in God’s relational context and by God’s relational process, the whole of God’s irreducible and nonnegotiable terms for ongoing reciprocal relationship together.

These indispensable notes on Jesus’ relational words and messages are integral for our Sourcebook on worshiping the whole of God. Jesus’ relational language further composes the primacy of the qualitative and the relational for the deepest level of corporate gatherings together at table fellowship. We now examine this integrating context for whole relationship together as God’s family.

 

 

Jesus' Table Fellowship

 

 

And as Jesus sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples.

Mark 2:15

 

Your faith has saved you [sōzō]; go in peace [wholeness].

Luke 7:50

The experience that Jesus’ disciples had was the experience of reciprocal relationship with Jesus, with varying degrees of making deeper connection with him beyond merely spending time together. Peter, for example, exemplified the difficulty most Christians today have experiencing this deeper connection (to be addressed below). Jesus did not teach them or leave them with primarily a lifestyle, an ethical paradigm to imitate from outer in (neither virtue nor character ethics), a set of doctrines for a belief system, a religion of rules, a program to set up his church, or a missiological strategy—although the transformation of Jesus’ disciples deeply involves ethics, faith and beliefs, ecclesiology, and mission.[8] Nor did Jesus or the Spirit unilaterally zap them with divine power to transform them, as Paul’s encounter with Jesus (post-ascension) on the Damascus road is often (incorrectly) characterized. And he certainly did not leave the disciples with a pattern of worship, a clerical hierarchy, or a priority of song styles for worship. He established reciprocal relationship together, specially chosen, to whom he would share his most intimate self-disclosures (phaneroō, as he told the Father, Jn 17:6).

The Gospels provide key instances when Jesus deeply involved himself with his disciples and others at a shared meal. I suggest that Jesus’ table fellowship serves as a metaphor in human contextual terms for God’s relational context, and the relational interactions that take place signify God’s relational process. The key for us is the significance of Jesus’ interactions with persons at these gatherings. As the interactions unfolded, Jesus increasingly disclosed the purpose for being sent into the human context, not as teachings or announcements in referential language, but in the relational language of his very person, the embodied Word of God: reconciled relationship.

Jesus’ intimate table fellowships are definitive markers in the larger context of God’s thematic relational action in history. In God’s big picture, all of God’s communicative acts in human history were for the purpose of restoring humankind and all creation to wholeness, in his relational whole. All of God’s activity in the world responds to the human condition—the relational condition from autonomous efforts in self-determination whose consequence is to be relationally apart—to reconcile persons to himself and to each other also, for the intimate relationships necessary for persons’ wholeness and to be whole together. These are the reconciled relationships that function together in likeness of the whole of God, the Trinity, that Jesus prayed for (Jn 17:21-23)—God’s whole as the body of Christ, God’s new creation family constituted in the Trinity, that Paul clarified theologically (Eph 2:14-22; Col 3:10-11).[9] In remarkable strategic and tactical shifts, God came into our human context embodied in Jesus for Face-to-face encounter with his human creation embedded in the human relational condition. We need to keep in mind this larger context of God’s thematic relational action in which Jesus redefined persons from inner out and thus made them whole in God’s whole in the gospel of wholeness (Eph 6:15; Isa 52:7).

For this reconciliation to be experienced by persons, the vulnerable engagement of Jesus’ whole person had to be reciprocated (the significance of faith as relational trust, and submission to his relational terms; cf. Jn 6:28-29) for redemptive change to take place from inner out. In the following examples, we witness the responses of three persons who exemplify the experience of God’s family love (Levi), whole ontology and function (Mary), and the essential relational dynamic of forgiveness (former prostitute) to be made whole. We then examine Peter’s ongoing relational barrier to intimacy with Jesus, which should sound familiar to most of us.

Imagine someone like Levi (Matthew) before he became a disciple (see Mt 9:9-13, Mk 2:13-17, Lk 5:27-32). Though a Jew, he and fellow tax collectors were ostracized by the Jewish religio-cultural community because of their occupation—an ostracism based on outer in criterion of what they did (e.g. often using their employment with the Roman government for dishonest gain). Levi, whether or not he himself was dishonest, experienced the relational condition of being “apart,” that is, the condition of relational orphan. Yet, Jesus did not perceive his person from outer in with that quantitative lens, and called Levi to be with him as a disciple. Jesus also had dinner with Levi—and other tax collectors and sinners—at Levi’s house. Sharing meals in biblical times was an important social communion that connoted “a depth of relationship together involving friendship, intimacy and belonging,”[10] and so Jesus scandalized the Pharisees by disregarding their standard of acceptable company and maintaining purity. Certainly for Levi, Jesus’ person extended in surprising relational overture toward him affected Levi in a way no mere referential language could have. The following reconstruction of Levi’s experience deepens our understanding of the relational dynamic Jesus engaged Levi in; it is excerpted from Sanctified Christology:

Jesus sees Levi deeper than from the outer in of a reductionist quantitative framework; therefore he sees a person from the inside out experiencing reductionism who needs to be redefined, transformed and made whole. The person Jesus presented pays attention to this Levi; and the significance of Jesus’ person is not lost to Levi, who is used to being treated with contempt. He well knows that for this Rabbi (and miracle worker at that) to engage him is radical, counter-cultural, and simply contrary to life as he knew it. Yet, Jesus wasn’t making a sociocultural, political or philosophical statement. He is making a statement of his person only for relationship: “Follow me.”

 

For Jesus’ person to be vulnerable to him and openly be exposed to social sanction and ridicule certainly must have spoken volumes to Levi. And to hear this person say (with both content and relational aspects of his communication) that he wants me, my whole person, for relationship together undoubtedly disarmed Levi and touched him at his core—the significance of his heart, most likely guarded from others in the surrounding context. This person Jesus presented was too significant, qualitatively different and relationally intimate for Levi to dismiss or resist.

Yet, for him to cross those social, cultural and religious barriers, Levi would openly have to let go of his old life and reject reductionism—its perceptual-interpretive framework and its substitutes for the whole of persons and relationships, both prevailing in the surrounding context. This is a risk Levi is able to take because he is entrusting his person to relationship with the vulnerable person he can count on to be truly who and what he is, nothing less and no substitutes. He can count on this person Jesus in this relationship because he personally sees how Jesus is in practice—the significance of his person presented, the qualitative difference of his communication, the intimate depth of relationship he engages—is congruent with who and what he is, thus confirming for Levi that Jesus’ whole person is for relationship. This is what Levi must have seen (not merely blepō, to see, but more like horaō, to recognize the significance of, encounter the true nature of, to experience) in Jesus to support making such a drastic change.

Levi’s story is about the gospel. [11]

Levi experienced the relational response of grace as Face-to-face involvement from Jesus, and thus experienced being redefined and relationally loved from inner out. Only in this relational involvement did Jesus establish Levi into the relational context and process of the whole of God—what we otherwise know as the gospel. Levi directly experienced God’s family love, which is the significance of Jesus’ table fellowship. In his table fellowship Jesus embodies the functional and relational keys of the gospel, along with the keys to whole worship. Levi’s experience of the gospel embodied by Jesus was extended to Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector. Integrated with Levi’s story of the gospel, Zacchaeus’ story of the gospel deepens our understanding of the relational significance of table fellowship and its relational outcome that is the necessary basis for our involvement in Communion. Very briefly, Zacchaeus pursued Jesus (up a tree, no less) and Jesus responded to him with table fellowship (Lk 19:1-10). Without getting into all of the relational dynamics (discussed elsewhere[12]), the relational outcome of Jesus’ family love for Zacchaeus at table fellowship emerged even more distinguished than in Levi’s story: “Today salvation has come to [Zacchaeus] because he [now has become] a son of Abraham” (v.9). Speaking in relational language, Jesus makes unmistakable that the relational outcome of his table fellowship is what he saves to (sōzō, to make whole, not just deliver from, v.10): relationship belonging to the whole of God’s family. This relational involvement and outcome of the gospel is celebrated in Communion, that is, by those who have gone behind the veil to be involved with Jesus in his sacrifice and who have emerged with him without the veil in whole relationship together as his family.

The relational significance of family was not ignored by Zacchaeus and Levi, which would have reduced them to observers at Jesus’ table fellowship. God’s family was not a unilateral relationship, and this is vital for us to realize. Both Zacchaeus and Levi responded in reciprocal relationship to make their own person open and vulnerable to receive Jesus’ person, first to experience this connection and then for ongoing reciprocal relationship together (implied for Zacchaeus in Lk 19:8, and for Levi as a disciple). God does not do unilateral relationship (an oxymoron indeed), though that is what we often expect from him in our terms (e.g. in our prayers). Most importantly, both relational distance and just observing as we participate in Communion communicate that we are disengaged from reciprocal relationship together.

Jesus warned against the assumption that God does relationship unilaterally—and we are urged to pay attention here. There are persons (many of us) who sit at Jesus’ table, so to speak, but do not reciprocate with their whole person, to whom he says, “I don’t know you or where you come from” (read Lk 13:22-27 NIV). These persons will protest, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets,” or “did we not prophesy....drive out demons....perform miracles in your name?” to which he will reply, “I don’t know you....Away from me!” (Mt 7:22-23 NIV). This is a critique we must not ignore, for Jesus holds us each accountable for his self-disclosures which are only and all for reciprocal relationship; and he specifically holds us accountable for whose terms we try to have relationship together on! Levi responded to Jesus, but Scripture does not mention anything further about him. However, Scripture does provide more for us to understand and take in from Mary’s whole involvement with Jesus at another table fellowship.

Shortly before his crucifixion, we are given a deeper glimpse of the disciple Mary showing us whole ontology and function in her expression of family love as Jesus’ follower and worshiper (see Jn 12:1-8; cf. Mk 14:3-9; Mt 26:6-13; Lk 7:36-50). This narrative is especially noteworthy as a model of one who worshiped in spirit and truth (Jn 4:23-24). She demonstrates for us how discipleship and serving as worship are made whole. Jesus was having table fellowship with Lazarus and others when Mary came to wash Jesus’ feet. Recall that Mary already has given primacy to relational involvement with Jesus over her human context’s prescribed behavior for women that focused on secondary areas of serving (cf. her sister Martha, Lk 10:38-42). Mary’s person experienced being made whole from inner out in the primacy of her relationship with Jesus. Here at table fellowship, Mary again stepped beyond the restrictions from her culture (women stay on the margins of a gathering at home), and washed Jesus feet with expensive perfume and used her own hair to wipe them. Viewing her actions with a quantitative lens gives primacy to secondary matters, such as the extravagance of her act—for example, the lavish expense of the “pure nard” (v.3), not to mention the issue of using her hair (cf. Lk 7:38). We tend to view Mary more for what she did than her whole person, because we use a quantitative lens.

That was not Jesus’ lens, for he always made the person and relationship primary—that is, he saw (and sees) the heart (cf. Acts 1:24; Lk 16:15; Rev 2:23; Heb 4:13). This was an intimate act by Mary openly and very vulnerably loving Jesus with her whole person (intimacy defined as hearts open, vulnerable, and connecting together). Her relationship with Jesus defined her and determined how she functioned, from inner out; thus Jesus rebuked her critics (“Leave her alone,” Jn 12:7), and received her deeply: “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mk 14:6; Mt 26:10, NIV). Just as when earlier she sat at Jesus feet, here again we see that she neither defined her person from outer in nor allowed others to determine how she would be involved with Jesus in the depth level of love, to which Jesus affirmed in her (“Mary has chosen the better part,” Lk 10:42). Matthew and Mark’s accounts also record Jesus’ words: “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” As with Levi, Mary’s story is about the gospel. Yet, it is more than coincidence that she has not been remembered wherever the gospel is preached; it indicates a reduction of the gospel claimed and proclaimed. Since she embodied the significance of the gospel for human function, the primacy of her example is mentioned twice in John’s Gospel (see Jn 11:2).

Along with Mary, Levi, and Zacchaeus (whose experience is inseparable from Levi’s), one more person embodies being made whole in God’s family love—once again at table fellowship. An unlikely yet beautiful encounter takes place between Jesus and a woman who was not only “less” in religio-social terms, she was considered “least.” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ interaction with a former prostitute reveals keys for us to understand for our own journeys with him (Lk 7:36-50). Her relational involvement of worship challenges our own worship, which needs to be freed for the connection God seeks. Moreover, her action illustrates integrally that grace, faith, and peace (wholeness) are dynamic relational functions, which necessarily converge in the primacy of relationship.

A known (former) prostitute entered a dinner party attended by Jesus. The party’s host, a Pharisee named Simon, was shocked that this woman came and physically touched Jesus. According to Simon’s religious beliefs and practices, Jesus should not have allowed her to touch him because she was considered unclean. But here she washed Jesus’ feet using perfume (a tool of her trade), her tears, hair and kisses. Simon could only see the woman from outer-in terms of her occupation, his lens a product of his human context. Jesus, however, saw the woman with his qualitative lens; Jesus perceived her from the inner out, her open and vulnerable heart (signifying her whole person) and received her. “Your sins are forgiven” (v.48) signifies that Jesus did not define her by her actions and past life because he had redeemed her from her old identity from outer in, and now redefined her from the inner out by relational grace and forgiveness, only for relationship together. She deeply received Jesus in his relational response of grace only because her heart was open and vulnerable. Having been so deeply loved, the reciprocal response of her heart freely emerged as she stepped out in faith to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipe them with her hair, and anoint them with perfumed oil. “Your faith has saved you” affirms her faith as relational trust in Jesus’ person (e.g. that he would not reject her), thus showing us the dynamic significance of faith that we often reduce to something merely to possess.

The Greek word for “saved” (sōzō) means to deliver (e.g. from the reductionism of her person and function), and also to be made whole (in the relational reality of redemptive reconciliation), which is the significance of Jesus’ relational words to her, “Go in peace”—which, in Scripture, is always about wholeness, in contrast to the Greek notion of peace meaning absence of conflict, conflict that his woman likely would still experience in social contexts. This sister “has shown great love” by giving primacy to her relationship with Jesus, in reciprocal relational response to having been loved first—in a beautiful example of one who worshiped in spirit and truth. We should not, however, overlook the relational contingency that Jesus makes definitive here: This reciprocal relational involvement of love at this vulnerable level emerges only from one who has been vulnerably open to experience God relational response of love in forgiveness from inner out (Lk 7:47). The extent of our reciprocal relational response is directly contingent on the extent of our experience of God’s relational response of grace.

The relational outcome for Levi, Zacchaeus, Mary and the former prostitute was being restored to wholeness, the relational experience of being transposed by Jesus in God’s relational context of family by the relational process of family love (the functional significance of ‘adoption’). Experiencing grace and forgiveness in order to come together in this relationship with God is redemptive reconciliation. It is redemptive because the old must die in order for the new to emerge in reconciled whole relationship together. Each of these persons experienced Jesus’ Face to face involvement—nothing less and no substitutes—and each reciprocated with their own person, nothing less and no substitutes, openly and vulnerably stepping out of comfort zones of their life situations and circumstances and religio-cultural limitations in order to experience more with Jesus.[13] Any negative reactions and repercussions from others were the cost they were willing to pay in order to go deeper with Jesus. The significance of these relational dynamics converges and emerges in table fellowship with Jesus, who continues to integrate his family into the primacy of whole relationship together (Jn 17:26).

Mary and the former prostitute’s washing of Jesus’ feet marked their reciprocal response back to Jesus, not from the position of a servant, but as whole persons who can reciprocate in family love. In stark contrast was Peter’s experience at the last table fellowship Jesus had before his death.

 

 

 

The Lord’s Supper and the Major Relational Barrier

 

 

The Synoptic Gospels each give an account (with minor variations) of the final supper Jesus shared with his disciples, with Jesus sharing the bread as his body and the cup as the blood of the new covenant (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:14-21). John’s Gospel does not have this account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. What John seems to purposely do is to concentrate on the depth of the relationship with Jesus that the Lord’s Supper inaugurated in two movements in Jesus’ new key. First, John elaborates on Jesus’ relational language for what are unmistakable allusions to the bread/body and cup/blood of the Lord’s Supper, unfolding a matrix of connections in Jesus’ relational words: eternal life and believing in him (Jn 5:24; 6:29,40,47); bread from heaven as himself, “the bread of life” (Jn 6:27, 32-35,41,48-51); and eating his flesh and drinking his blood (6:53-58), not literally (cannibalism), but relational language for intimate relationship with Jesus in the innermost behind the curtain, which the atonement sacrifice in referential language maintains at a relational distance, keeping those participants in front of the curtain as if the veil still exists in their relationship together. Together with the Synoptic accounts, what emerges is the primacy of intimate relationship perceivable only in relational language.[14] Second, John recounts Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at their last meal together, recalling the footwashings by Mary and the former prostitute. It will be Peter who demonstrates the major relational barrier to receiving Jesus. (Why is it that none of the male disciples are recorded as having washed Jesus’ feet?)

We are brought back to the primacy of relationship inherent in Jesus’ table fellowship; and Jesus’ continued relational work of family love extends to its deepest depth of relational involvement—even before he reaches the cross—at the last meal he had with his disciples (read Jn 13:1-18). We need to understand, and thus experience, the relational dynamics of this defining table fellowship that composes Communion in the new sanctuary no longer with the veil. At the evening meal before Passover, Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet. Peter refused Jesus, and was sternly corrected by Jesus. What’s happening in relational terms? This involves both the relational significance of Jesus’ act and Peter’s own theological anthropology—which are vital for us to understand for depth of relationship with Jesus and for depth of involvement together in Communion table fellowship.

Peter’s refusal to let Jesus wash his feet issued from essentially trying to assert his own terms for relationship with Jesus. Peter had similarly rebuked Jesus about going to the cross because Peter’s “teacher” would not do such a despicable thing (cf. Mt 16:22-23). Specifically, Peter defined both himself and Jesus according to their roles (disciple-lower, teacher-higher) with a quantitative lens from outer in, and now he would not allow his teacher to do such a demeaning act. Peter asserted these roles as primary, but Jesus did not acquiesce to Peter’s terms, instead correcting Peter in yet another relational message of love, “Unless I wash you, you have no share [part] with me” (Jn 13:8)—that is, no relational involvement with me. Peter was still trying to determine the terms for relationship with a quantitative lens from outer in, thus by its nature with relational distance. Peter’s reply, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head,” expressed his continued outer-in focus of his reduced anthropology and missed Jesus’ whole person. Though Peter balked at receiving Jesus’ whole person presented at the deepest level of involvement, Jesus still vulnerably extended himself to Peter from inner out for the most intimate connection to redefine him by grace from inner out to make him whole in the primacy of whole relationship together—the function of relational grace and the relational significance of Jesus’ footwashing and Jesus’ table fellowship.

We need to learn from Peter’s embeddedness in reductionism from his self-determination and its relational barrier that prevented him from entrusting himself to Jesus. What these relational dynamics also reveal (or expose) specific to theological anthropology is that when the person is defined by what one does and one’s role, this necessitates not only doing things to define the person but also not doing certain things which threaten one’s identity and self-worth. This is how Peter functioned and expected Jesus to function. Along with trying to prevent Jesus from going to the cross, we saw Peter’s self-concern earlier in his fear-driven, constrained response at Jesus’ transfiguration. We also see Peter’s measured relational response after Jesus’ resurrection, when Jesus continued to pursue Peter’s whole person for relationship (Jn 21:15-22). Even in that last exchange, Peter’s focus turns elsewhere in the comparative process, asking “what about him?” to which Jesus continued (albeit with growing impatience) to call Peter back to their relationship: “What is that to you? [You must] follow me!” Apparently Peter did eventually experience being made whole from inner out, as he expresses in his two letters. Engaging in deeper relational involvement, most notably going behind the veil with Jesus as well as letting him wash our feet, is the most critical function that persons with a reduced theological anthropology do not do and manage to avoid with secondary substitutes in ontological simulation—“OK, then, wash my hands and head also.”

Our own involvement with Jesus is always at issue as we reconsider Jesus’ relational messages, verbal and nonverbal, in both sharing bread and wine with his disciples and in washing their feet. Beyond the clarification of Peter’s example, we need hermeneutical correction from the popular misreading of Jesus’ footwashing as a model for “servant leadership.” Reading Jesus’ words as referential language focuses on what Jesus did (washed feet), and what we need to do, “you also ought to wash one another’s feet....you also should do as I have done for you” (Jn 13:14). This lens of servant leadership is an outer-in misinterpretation stemming from an interpretive framework based on a theological anthropology defining our person and thus Jesus’ person by what we do—here, for example, the humble service of washing his disciples’ feet, or the even loftier version that Jesus thus counters hierarchical social structures (Jn 13:12-17). Though Jesus certainly equalized relationships by necessity at his table fellowship, this relational dynamic was neither about sociology nor theological reform. These issues, along with servant leadership, are not unimportant yet they only secondarily reflect their underlying relational condition lacking the primacy of whole relationship together—the wholeness Jesus composes at table fellowship together behind the veil in the new sanctuary on the basis of the deepest level of relational involvement.

Servant leadership does not pay attention to Jesus’ paradigm for those who desire to serve him as the primary determinant of how a follower of Jesus is to live (Jn 12:26, as discussed earlier). We need to put together his paradigm for serving him with his words spoken in response to his critics who questioned his table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Mt 9:13). For Jesus, mercy is about the person functioning from inner out focused on and involved with others in the deep relational process of family love, whereas in human terms sacrifice always focuses on what to do and the person doing the sacrificing (e.g. persons who are praised for their sacrifice). Recall that any sacrifices or offerings to God never had relational significance to him without the whole ontology and function of the persons bringing the offerings to him behind the veil, not presenting them before him in front of the veil. This is the whole function and ontology that has redefined serving to be relationally involved in love also with the poor, orphans, widows, and foreigners in the community’s midst—any persons in the relational condition of being apart, which includes those in church and the academy.

Jesus does definitively counter stratified and hierarchical relationships and structures—and this is indeed the outcome of having a “part with me” by letting him wash our feet to redefine our person from the inner out by the relational function of grace, which is never primarily about ‘what to do’. Stratified relations (based on roles, personal resources, physical characteristics, or human afflictions) that are “changed” from the outer in still function, however much under the radar, from reductionism until that person(s) is made whole from inner out. An example of this would be a male pastor who tries to be open to females as equal pastors, and thus is nice to them, but is still involved in the comparative process and competitiveness in his relationships generally; he is functioning from outer in. Jesus countered all such reductionist anthropology in order to make whole in the relationships necessary for persons to be whole.[15]

As Jesus’ disciples, each of us is faced with Jesus at our feet. Have you let Jesus wash your feet to redefine you by grace from inner out (metamorphoō) so that you have a “part with me”? Unless we have, we can be certain that we function in relational distance with an identity and self-worth shaped by self-determination and reductionism, even if we have changed our outward appearance (metaschematizō), for example, by embracing a servant-leader concept.

The experience of God’s relational response of grace necessitates dying to the “old” of our self-determination together with its reductionism and counter-relational focus on secondary matter, and submitting to Jesus’ primacy of relationship. Jesus’ sacrifice behind the veil has made possible our dying to the “old,” and his resurrection makes possible being raised “new” in God’s whole—what we are inseparably saved from and saved to. As we are submitted without the veil in relational trust to his person with our whole person, nothing less and no substitutes, wholeness emerges in relationship together in the innermost likeness of the whole of God—dynamics which Paul composed theologically (2 Cor 3:16-18) and ongoingly pursued in his own deeper relational involvement with Jesus (Phil 3:10-11). This is the irreducible and nonnegotiable relational significance of Jesus’ table fellowship, his footwashing, the Lord’s Supper, and the relational outcome of the gospel of wholeness.

Relationships based on grace must (dei, by nature) be characterized in two vital and observable ways: intimate and equalized. These are relationships that are intimate, because, as relational grace requires, hearts need to be open and vulnerable to God in compatible and reciprocal relational response, and by extension to each other. Jesus disclosed his own relationship with the Father, revealing that their connection together is so intimate as to be one (Jn 10:30,38; 17:20-26), such that to know him is to know the Father and to see him is to see the Father (Jn 8:19; 12:45; 14:7,9). Mary and the ex-prostitute experienced this intimate connection with Jesus. And these women were equalized as whole persons, because grace nullifies the distinction-making based on secondary, quantitative, outer-in criteria for defining persons and doing relationships—all resulting from efforts of human self-determination (cf. Acts 15:9). Equalization is a necessary process for persons not to remain fragmented and reduced to outer in, and for relationships to be freed from barriers and opened to the depth of involvement in likeness to what Jesus defined in his relationship with the Father—the relational outcome Jesus prays for (Jn 17:21-26). This relational outcome of equalization for all persons “in Christ” is summarized by Paul, that Christ destroyed the relational barriers (the old reductionist criteria of outer-in distinctions that created relational distance and barriers (Eph 2:11-18; Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:11). The prominent barriers Paul highlights, without being exhaustive, were based on race/ethnicity (“There is no longer Jew or Greek”), class (“slave or free”), and gender (“male and female”). Levi, Zacchaeus, Mary, and the former prostitute all experienced being equalized by grace, redefined from inner out in their respective relationships with Jesus; there was no intimate connection without the process of equalization. This is how in function God “shows no partiality” (prosōpolēmpsia, respecter of persons, favoritism, Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; Jas 2:1) because God looks only at the heart, inner out, whereas humans who function from self-determination look outer in (1 Sam 16:7; cf. 2 Cor 5:12).

These integral relational dynamics converge at table fellowship with Jesus and they emerge with him in the primacy of reciprocal relationship together in wholeness.

 

 

Being Family at the Lord’s Supper

 

 

Equalized and intimate relationships together as sisters and brothers at the Lord’s table integrally deepen Communion and broaden it, transposing it from its common practice as an individual interaction made with Jesus privately, back to corporate sharing (the koinonia at his table) as God’s family, that is, what we have been saved to. “Family” is no mere metaphor for the new creation, for Jesus identifies his disciples using family language: “Whoever does the will of my Father...is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt 12:50; Mk 3:35; cf. Rom 8:29, Heb 2:11-12); “go and tell my brothers” (Mt 28:10). This is the relational clarity of the corporate life made whole in relational terms which the Lord’s Supper celebrates in only its relational significance, and thus composes the new family as the whole understanding of a complete soteriology that involves both what we have been saved from and to, inseparably.

Communion celebrates this fact that we are no longer relational orphans, but have all been adopted into one family. This relational outcome assumes that we have partaken of Jesus’ sacrifice with him behind the veil so that we have been redeemed for our adoption. And each subsequent Communion celebrates this intimate connection in relationship together and our further participation in the primacy of whole relationship together as family until its relational conclusion at Jesus’ return. Up to the end times, each person has individual accountability for the person he or she presents, and also for the corporate family’s relationships together. Intimate and equalized relationships are the only relationships that are whole and have relational significance to God. These are the relationships of God’s new creation family in Christ—the new relational order—and are the relationships in likeness of the relational oneness of the Trinity:

By vulnerably being involved in footwashing, Jesus radically changed our relationship with God (as signified in God’s strategic shift) and how to be involved with God (as signified in Jesus’ tactical and functional shifts)—and thus how to be involved with each other. His vulnerable relational act directly connects with his salvific action on the cross which tore down the veil in the temple between God and his people. His footwashing vulnerably engaged his followers in transformed relationships, the specific relationship which operationalized the relational significance of the torn veil opening the way for deep and intimate communion with the whole of God. Thus, this new relational order operates only by the function of transformed relationships, which are necessarily both equalized and intimate relationships by the nature of the Trinity’s relational ontology.[16]

The experience of this new relational order began with Jesus’ table fellowship, solidified in the Last Supper, and becomes the interpretive lens to understand the full significance of Communion today in order for its celebration to be the ongoing emergence of God’s new family in relational progression of relationship together in wholeness. As Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples, he instituted the new covenant, though in an experiential sense, he had already embodied with them the new covenant: “having loved his own who were in the world” (Jn 13:1). John’s Gospel portrays this time as the setting for some of the most intimate moments between Jesus and the disciples as he shares his heart with them (Jn 14-17), and with the Father (his “formative family prayer,” Jn 17), as Jesus prepares them for his departure. Importantly, this included his promise to them of the Spirit, to be with them always as his own relational replacement (Jn 14:15-27; Mt 28:19), whose presence with them is even better than his own bodily presence with them (Jn 16:7-15). And he shared all this with them knowing there was yet one more cup to drink—the cross, to put to death the old, and the resurrection to inaugurate the new.

Jesus’ work on the cross is indeed indispensable in God’s thematic relational action composing the gospel, but the cross alone is neither constitutive of nor definitive of the whole. Many preachers remain fixated on the cross, reflecting a Christology that is incomplete and often overly christocentric because it does not “listen to him” (as his Father made imperative) in the primacy of relationship embodied in his incarnation, notably between the manger and the cross. This failure to “listen to him” in relational language reduces discipleship to hearing his teachings and observing his activities only in referential language for information about God and about what to do (how most Christian ethics direct us, mission paradigms send us, and servant models convince us). An incomplete Christology yields a truncated soteriology of being saved from sin, and that is where it revolves. Accordingly, a truncated soteriology yields a renegotiated ecclesiology that shapes relationship together on our reduced terms. On the other hand, listening to him in relational language is to be vulnerably involved with him as his disciples in the relational progression to know the whole of God in the relational context of family and process of family love.

The cross serves only this relational purpose, and establishes us in the full relational context signified in the Lord’s Supper—the sharing together as daughters and sons made whole (though with some difficulty, like Peter) in intimate connection with Christ (“in Christ” as Paul says throughout his writings), who thus composes the new song for us to ‘sing’ as the family of God, the church. This is a complete Christology, which is necessary for the full soteriology that saves us to the new creation family, both in the ‘already’ (realized) and the ‘not yet’ (future)—an ecclesiology of the whole.

Jesus’ table fellowship provides us with whole understanding for the significance of the Last Supper, and therefore the Communion we Christians celebrate now. The relational work of family love that Jesus engaged at his table fellowships during his incarnation went to establishing with his disciples together a new relational order. Equalized relationships were evident in the nascent house churches in participation of persons unhindered by ethnicity, varied occupations and social classes, and both genders—which is what Paul lovingly nurtured Philemon to embrace with Onesimus (his former slave, Phlm 15-16). And intimate fellowship among these diverse persons was indicated by physical affection as well. Persons in ancient Mediterranean cultures regularly shared a kiss as a gesture of affection and respect among family members, and Middle Easterners extended the kiss to persons outside family to indicate honor and fellowship, as Larry W. Hurtado notes in his volume on earliest Christian worship. Thus the ‘holy kiss’ that Paul encourages through his letters takes on new creation family significance:

The solidarity and intimacy of early Christian groups at worship are also vividly reflected in what appears to have been another [besides sharing in one loaf and one cup] characteristic gesture, the kiss of Christian liturgical fellowship. There are references to the ‘holy kiss’ in several Pauline letters (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26) and probably the same gesture is referred to as the ‘kiss of love’ in 1 Peter 5:14. The simple exhortation to share the kiss, without any further explanation, indicates that the gesture was quite broadly practised and familiar among first-century Christian groups.... The early Christian practice seems somewhat unusual in making the kiss a regular liturgical gesture and in extending the circle of allowed intimacy to all congregants of both sexes.[17]

Given our hyper-sexualized sociocultural context (in stark contrast with other cultures), fears about misunderstandings and concerns about hygiene, the gesture of kissing each other, especially of the opposite sex and on the mouth (as the earliest Christians apparently practiced[18]) is out of the question for us today until we can wrest touch from reductionism that suspects any touch as sensual/sexual, and maturely reclaim much-needed affection for God’s family—a sidebar issue of the women tenderly touching Jesus’ feet (discussed earlier). The prevailing dearth of any physical affection (caring touches, warm hugs, grasping hands) reflects our lack of wholeness, for we are much-afraid or uncomfortable to respond to the basic human need for touch. A brief but beautiful scene takes place at Jesus’ transfiguration. As the disciple cowered in fear, Jesus “came and touched” them (Mt 17:6-7). Haptō (“to touch”) denotes “not just physical contact but touch with involvement and purpose in order to influence, affect them, notably Peter—that is, by his relational messages from his relational context of family and relational process of family love.”[19] The most relationally significant touch from Jesus was when he washed the disciples’ feet, as he would ours.

As we grow in wholeness as individuals and corporately as this new creation family, our worship gatherings will, I suspect, become much more affectionate, even with God, as those who worship in spirit and truth—with hugs and perhaps kisses!

 

A final area to consider is how Jesus table fellowship has been inadvertently reduced by two interpretations that have good intentions: (1) table fellowship as a paradigm for an ethics of inclusivity, and (2) as a paradigm for equal-gender church leadership. These two paradigms intend to elevate marginalized persons to equal status at Jesus’ table.

Regarding the ethical paradigm, some Christian ethicists would have us see and embrace Jesus’ table fellowship as an ethical paradigm of inclusiveness for church practice in the ‘already’ as a foretaste of the eschatological kingdom of God in the ‘not yet’. The perception of Jesus’ table fellowship of inclusion of marginalized persons (among whom women are listed[20])—as an ethical example for Christians to imitate—is a product of a particular interpretive framework, and is not the proper approach to human diversity. Imitation of Jesus’ behaviors is an outer-in approach that does not address the deeper issue of the outer-in process of distinction-making in conflict with the inner out relational function of grace (what Paul signifies in his shorthand term ‘in Christ’, Gal 3:28). The concept of “inclusivity” as an ethical category begs the questions: Who are the “included” (the un-marginalized)? How did they get that way? To think in terms of inclusion is to operate with a narrowed-down category of included-excluded, which still operates in the dynamic of making distinctions based on outer-in criteria from human contextualization of gender, race/ethnicity, occupation, and other human differences. Distinction-making is implicit when certain persons are singled out, for example, in one ethicist’s view that God’s kingdom is “gestured in open conversation with women...to welcome sinners, and to treat women as equals.”[21] In practice, any distinction-making implies that “different” is “less”, involving comparison and competition.[22] Inclusivity as an ethical category operates essentially by making distinctions, pointing to a reduced theological anthropology, both of which are antithetical to God’s relational response of grace ‘in Christ’.

Biblical feminist Letty Russell sees Jesus’ table fellowship as the paradigm for church and church leadership, a round table that has no hierarchical head.[23] Equality characterizes this table fellowship. Inclusiveness and equality indeed are important and necessary parts of wholeness—only parts and not wholeness in themselves, even together. However, if inclusiveness and equality are not functions in God’s relational context of family on God’s whole terms, which necessitates the intimate relational process of grace, inclusiveness and equality remain in their essence outer-in social structures. Indeed they may be modern anachronisms which no longer have a place in the human relational condition. Moreover, there is a subtle problem that if changes we attempt are only structural (outer in), attempts at inclusivity and equality inadvertently maintain and reinforce the very exclusivity and hierarchy in relationships that we would seek to eliminate by utilizing the same basis of defining persons by what they do or have (e.g. talent, leadership skills, even spiritual gifting), thus reinforcing and further embedding persons in a reduced theological anthropology. We will keep cycling through the same issues until we deal with our autonomous efforts at self-determination for self-justification, which Letty Russell’s paradigm inadvertently seems to promote.

In spite of this gloomy caveat, the New Testament gives us much better news than anything we come up with. “My grace is sufficient for you” is the necessary relational basis by which anyone can come to the table, behind the veil, to enjoy the relational reality of having a permanent place in God’s family, his family marked by intimate and equalized relationships together (cf. Jn 8:35).

One bread, one body, one Lord of all,

one cup of blessing which we bless.

And we, though many throughout the earth,

we are one body in this one Lord.[24]

 

 

 

Exposing Human Shaping

 

 

Of the few known worship practices in NT times, one is the Lord’s Supper, which was part of a meal shared by the earliest Christians in the mode of Jesus’ table fellowship (1 Cor 11:17-34). The earliest worship settings were private homes and the number of persons who could be accommodated at a meal varied depending on the size of the house, and extra room that could be opened up for such gatherings.[25] “The vision of the eucharist as fellowship was an important one to St. Paul” writes liturgical scholar Paul Bradshaw. What soon transpired in some places was not the disappearance of the Eucharist, but rather the substitution of it with something else. Notably, the primacy of its relational significance very soon was diminished. In the Corinthian church, for example, the meal became an end in itself, as when some of the Corinthian Christians indulged themselves (eating and getting drunk) while the poor members were left out, infuriating Paul (1 Cor 11:17-34). Thus Bradshaw writes, “What was happening was the exact opposite of the unity that the meal was supposed to express, so that Paul concludes, ‘it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat (1 Cor 11:20).’”[26]

Within two or three centuries, for varied reasons (mostly speculated), the Lord’s Supper was soon detached from the evening meal, and the meal was apparently dropped in most places, except for an occasional agapē meal together. Suggested reasons for this include the abuses such as at the Corinthian church, the groups grew too large to seat everyone at a house for a meal, and the Roman bans on gatherings of clubs (associations). Consider what was lost in terms of the intimacy once experienced by worshipers gathered for table fellowship, the legacy of which we experience to this day. In the subsequent history of the Eucharistic controversies and debates—about the theological understanding of the Lord’s Supper, and how to understand God’s presence or absence with the bread and cup—from the fourth to the twenty-first century, one can make a generalized observation that the disagreements have arisen from reading Jesus’ words and actions in referential language. Referential language speaks literally, so, for example, Jesus’ words “Take, eat; this is my body... this is my blood” (Mt 26:26-28) creates havoc in rationalistic minds as to how this can be (Jn 6:52,60; cf. Nicodemus’ inquiry about being born from above, Jn 3:4,9). The issue of referential language versus relational language becomes acute in such theological and pastoral attempts to understand the significance of many of Jesus’ words.

Communion today is barely recognizable as Jesus’ table fellowship in the new relational order of intimate and equalized relationships together of God’s whole family. We come instead with something less and some substitutes either shaped from our contemporary sociocultural context or the traditions of our own historical Christian elders. Inasmuch as Communion as we know it today belongs in our Secondary Sanctuary, the following are but some examples of the triumph of referential language and outer-in focus at the expense of the primacy of relationship ‘singing’ the new song in the new sanctuary.

 

Is Jesus in the bread and wine?

 

 

Historically, the Western theologians have argued over how to understand the bread and wine, and fall into one of two categories—sacramentalists or non-sacramentalists.[27] Sacramentalism understands ‘presence’ of God to mean physical presence in the eucharistic elements, the bread and wine (or juice). These views include (1) transubstantiation in Roman Catholic Church belief that upon consecration of the elements, the substance of the bread and wine convert into the body and blood of Christ, though retaining the appearance of bread and wine; and (2) consubstantiation (especially for Lutherans) which holds that Christ’s body and blood coexist with the bread and wine.

Non-sacramental views include (1) the memorialist view (Zwingli, Anabaptists) that the elements are only symbolic of the risen Christ (theology of absence), but the Spirit joins worshipers with Christ who is in heaven; this view downplays the importance of the Eucharist; and (2) transsignification, in which communication through signs, words, and gestures, can contain presence, so that there is a changed significance; that is, bread and wine mean one thing, and when words are said, it changes the meaning. This was rejected by Vatican II because it was temporary, and sounded too Protestant. Calvin tried to negotiate between Luther and Zwingli. He affirmed that Christ is at God’s right hand in heaven and cannot be limited in the elements at so many churches; it is the Holy Spirit that mediates Christ’s presence in the elements.

Difficulty in understanding many of Jesus’ words comes whenever we think in referential language instead of relational language. Referential language, we have noted above, is associated with the left hemisphere of the brain, which generally seeks certainty by making generalizations from fragments of narrowed-down knowledge and information. This is in opposition to the right brain hemisphere that focuses on the whole, of relationships in a whole, and thus expresses itself in relational language. The debates over Christ's literal presence in bread and wine have taken place largely in the sphere of left brain function, it seems to me, for certainty in the “face” of Jesus’ otherwise bewildering statements taken out of the context of Face-to-face relationship. Reader, think relationally as you reflect on Jesus’ words of institution together with his words in John 6 (“eat my flesh,” “drink my blood”), and listen to his deep relational messages.

 

Is water baptism a requirement for partaking in Communion?

 

My husband and I were shocked to hear this contingency made at the beginning of Communion in church because the New Testament makes no such requirement, and we do not recall ever having heard this said in any of the evangelical churches either of us have attended. The obvious problem arises from the difference between seeing baptism through the lens of the primacy of relationship, or in referential terms, giving primacy to the act of water baptism. Ancient post-biblical church orders place baptism chronologically before participation in the Eucharist for new believers.[28] Some of the earliest churches apparently made baptism requisite for participation in the Eucharist, as noted in the earliest known church order, the Didache:

(And) let no one eat or drink from your eucharist except those baptized in the name of [the] Lord, for the Lord has likewise said concerning this: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs.” [29]

Yet, the NT references to baptism stand distinguished from the ancient church orders in two ways. First, the NT contains no prescriptions for baptism either as requisite to participate in the Eucharist, or how to perform baptism other than Jesus’ focus on the relationship, to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). Sadly, however, these words have since been reduced to “a baptismal formula” or “trinitarian baptismal formula” in referential language, having lost the depth and weight of Jesus’ relational language. Second, the NT accounts do not provide any normative patterns (e.g. prebaptismal preparations, alternatives for the water depending on availability).[30] In qualitative contrast, what we receive from the Gospels and Acts are narratives of relational dynamics in which baptism takes place, and Paul’s letters provide us with theological understanding of baptism. Except for baptism by John the Baptist “for repentance” (Mt 3:11; Acts 18:25; 19:4), most NT accounts tell of water baptism and baptism with the Spirit taking place together as persons responded to Jesus, which implied their repentance from (turning from, dying to) sin (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:4; Jn 3:5; Acts 1:5; 2:38; 9:17-18). The NT accounts focus on persons’ relational response of trusting in Jesus (believed in him), and baptism is only in this relational process. Some examples are: While Cornelius’ family and friends were listening to Peter’s message about Jesus Christ, the “Holy Spirit fell on all who heard,” and they were baptized (Acts 10:45-47); the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message, and “she and her household were baptized” (Acts 16:14-15); a synagogue ruler, Crispus, “ together with all his household,” and many other Corinthians “became believers and were baptized” (18:8).

Baptism with water and the Spirit are inseparable in relational language (the former enabled by the Spirit in relational work). Their relational significance was deeply experienced and given theological expression by Paul (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12; Ti 3:5) who wrote of the Spirit’s presence “living in” believers for reciprocal relational function, “because all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom 8:14-15), and the Spirit interacts with our inner being (spirit) to intimately call out to God as “Abba,” (v.15), and the Spirit’s essential function for the corporate body of believers to function together in the relationships together that constitute the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13). The Spirit’s involvement is necessary for this process of conviction and dying to the old and the conjoint action of being raised up in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit.

Apart from this whole relational understanding, water baptism becomes an outer-in action that is assumed to be efficacious of an inner-out change evident in practices such as in infant baptism, which overlooks the necessity of the person’s reciprocal relational response to God’s response, or any insistence on how the baptizand gets wet—total immersion, pouring, or sprinkling. That is a wrong assumption from a theological anthropology that functions from outer in. Jesus refutes such practice of the Pharisees and teachers of the law: “You clean the outside of the cup and the plate.... First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, so that the outside also may become clean” (Mt 23:25-26). Peter, showing his own transformation, also refutes an outer-in view of baptism for the inner-out change when he wrote about the flood in Noah’s time: “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the response of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:21, NIV). Peter’s words here echo his own previous outer-in focus when Jesus washed his feet (“not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (Jn 13:9), the old quantitative focus from which Peter apparently finally shifted by the time he wrote his first letter.

Apparently baptism in the Corinthian church had become perceived wrongly, separated from the Spirit’s function for relationships as God’s equalized people. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, which was being fragmented by reductionism (1 Cor 1:10-31), Paul vehemently decried their reductionism evidenced in their view of baptism (v.13-17). Significant to this discussion also is the fact that Paul’s letters, where baptism is mentioned, wrote of baptism in relational language of persons’ redemptive relationship with Christ (Gal 3:26-7; Rom 6:3; Col 2:12). He clearly wanted his readers to focus on baptism from the inner out, not as an outer-in end in itself (“so that none of you can say that you were baptized in my name,” 1 Cor 1:15).

Paul was engaged in an ongoing and conjoint fight against reductionism and for wholeness. The Corinthians reduction of baptism to an outer-in ritual is precisely parallel to Judaism’s difficulty with circumcision. God had instituted circumcision with Abraham (Gen 17:10) as a “sign of the covenant” between them; this sign continued throughout Israel’s history into NT Judaism (Second Temple) as well. Genital circumcision was only a secondary sign of the primacy of persons’ heart relational involvement of trust and obedience to God in the “covenant of love” (Dt 7:12-13 NIV). “Circumcise...your heart...do not be stubborn [stiff-necked, inflexible, hardened] any longer” (Dt 10:16) specifies the necessary relational response of persons’ hearts. In Judaism, circumcision became separated from the inner-out function of persons, and by NT times, it had come to serve as a national identity marker (along with the Sabbath and dietary laws) with no relational significance to God, which Paul came to understand in his own experience. Paul definitively draws the distinction between outer-in and inner-out circumcision (see Rom 2:28-29), and relativizes circumcision altogether to what is primary: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). To make this emphatic, he restates what is primary to God—“neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything”—in whom he boasts as one transformed, a “new creation” and made whole (6:15-16).

Therefore, just as genital circumcision or uncircumcision do not determine a person’s heart and relational involvement with God, neither do being baptized with water or not baptized with water determine a person’s heart and relationship with God. Water baptism should never be a requirement for participation in Communion, but a new heart should be required; and that may preclude some who have been water baptized. God knows the heart.[31]

Noteworthy for a theology of worship is what Scripture does include (the primary) and what it is silent about (the secondary or unimportant). The fact is that the NT says so little about secondary aspects about baptism, the eucharist, and worship. Primacy is given in the NT to the relational significance to God, and relationships together in wholeness. This fact alone challenges us for making the secondary matter primary, which stems from defining our person by outer-in secondary criteria of what we do or have. Our theological anthropology keeps emerging in its determining influence to get us out of tune.

 

Triumph of the secondary and substitutes

 

 

Imagine the effect on persons’ hearts to celebrate Communion at a meal with others sitting at table together, face-to-face-Face with God through the Spirit’s relational work, and enjoying the intimate fellowship in well-being and wholeness (peace). This seems to have been the experience for some during Jesus’ time, perhaps during Paul’s time as well. Then consider the two common practices today. In one type of church, once a month servers pass of trays through the pews and worshipers taking a bit of pre-fractured bread or cracker and a little cup of juice. Or consider another type of church in which the weekly Eucharist is (rightly) the center of worship; the liturgy consists largely of set prayers ensuring expression of right belief, a clearly defined ordo, and deliberateness of gesture demonstrating the sacredness of the time. Persons come up to the servers to receive the elements. Both these practices are done with minimal relational connection among worshipers, verbal or nonverbal except for a rare smile or nod. However these patterns have come down to us, and for whatever reasons, we have replaced Jesus’ table fellowship with something of our own shaping. Our current pattern is likely justified by efficiency of time and logistics. I am not proposing a sit-down meal (‘what to do’), but questioning the triumph of a secondary matter—efficiency (a corollary of ‘what to do’), or doctrinal correctness (constructing certainty for ‘what we have’).

As long as we approach Communion giving primacy to secondary aspects of what to do, this opens a dangerous door. Wherever, whenever, and however form and style prevail over qualitative content and substance, the relational grace of Communion to define us has been replaced by self-determination as the basis and source for our ongoing ontology and function. The consequence, a relational consequence, has far-reaching implications and influences throughout church life and practice. It cannot be stated strongly enough.

To give further understanding to the consequences of the primacy of the secondary, in which we define and determine our ontological identity and function, this is the issue underlying three persistent areas of at least some tension: “worship wars,” multicultural worship (contextualization), and racial-ethnic separation, all of which fragment God’s new creation family.

To whatever extent the so-called worship wars continue, and whatever compromises have been made, they shape God’s family on our terms. The gaps in music preferences and dividing lines between generations of worshipers characterize the conflicts, driven by personal preference, comfort zones, sense of entitlement, and other self-concerns. Lacking is sensitivity to and responsiveness to others who are different from ourselves. For example, in a multigenerational corporate worship, the younger generations want the music volume amped up (they are the ones controlling the audio-visual technology), but this physically bothers older persons, some of whom wear hearing aids. In this case, deference to the latter is called for out of compassion, not to mention that high decibel levels harm everyone’s hearing over time.

On the other hand, there is a musical snobbery expressed by persons with classical music training toward the “lesser” quality of contemporary music, in a distinctly outer-in focus on form over relational clarity and significance. It is so sad that church leadership, and by implication seminary preparation, has failed to provide the nurturing, wisdom and guidance necessary to get back to the “first love” we have forsaken (Rev 2:2-4). There is a failure of vision of what is primary to God, lack of leadership in boldness and trust to make Jesus' priorities more important than our shaping. Still, we must not approach this from outer in as ‘what to do’, which would only perpetuate the usual way we function from outer in, not to mention reinforce a reduced theological anthropology.

This caveat extends to emerging churches, the new monasticism, new house churches—and any other recent church alternatives, particularly by younger, enthusiastic, serious Christians seeking deeper and more qualitative ways to live out their commitment to Christ. Too often, however, their experimentation remains only about outward forms (metaschematizō), however creative they may be. The novelty or sensory experience can easily be mistaken for relational depth. Some of these younger “movements” have also been criticized for reinforcing the ‘homogeneous unit principle’ of reaching out to persons from the same demographic groups as themselves. Paul’s admonition to the wealthier Christians at Corinth who stuffed themselves at the Lord’s Supper to the exclusion of others (1 Cor 11:35), leads into his momentous statement for family love (1 Cor 13). Functioning in family love could mean we still end up with multiple services, yet if love is prevailing, then that is what is primary. As Paul writes, “The only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). And as involvement deepens in the primacy of relationship, the new family of God has opportunity to emerge (Gal 6:15).

As churches in the US have been undergoing demographic changes from globalization and immigration in recent decades, church and worship leaders address multicultural contextualization issues in various ways and to varying degrees. Multicultural forms for the liturgy are sometimes incorporated with sincere intentions, for example, substituting the bread with rice, tortillas, or fry bread. Songs in different languages are included in the music set to reflect the diverse church membership. Merely incorporating these symbols of others’ cultures without relational involvement with each other, however, is to remain at a shallow level, and can be patronizing—though unintentional—all reflecting the inadequacy, even harm, of an outer-in approach. The forms in themselves become secondary substitutes for the primacy of qualitative relational involvement of family love with persons of racial and ethnic groups different from the dominant group.[32]

This discussion further applies to all other human differences—e.g. generational, gender, race, class, disability and the like. Having grown up as a minority female in the US, I am aware of feeling marginalized in the prevailing white sociocultural context of this country. Yet, I have come to the conviction that churches that identify themselves on the basis of race are functioning from an outer-in anthropology at the expense of God’s relational response of grace to redefine us from inner out. Their separation, as with any homogeneous unit, may find success in constructing a church organization or even community, but the implied relational barriers and underlying relational distance cannot build up God’s family of relationship together in wholeness. The outer-in lens is also functioning when a church intentionally tries to be multicultural (e.g. “we need to be multicultural”), which is different from being open to and extending family love to anyone, without regard to outer-in criteria. Greater failure has no church leadership—and the Christian academy that produces theologians and church leaders—than this, that as a whole, churches in the US define themselves from outer in, and this from self-determination for self-justification.

Church leaders and the Christian academy engage in secondary (even tertiary) pursuits even while we fail to listen to Jesus’ relational language to receive his person on whole relational terms and not fragmentary referential terms, and thus to be equalized in Christ who redefines us from inner out. Functionally, I suggest, the church in the US does not live out and therefore cannot witness to the gospel of wholeness, the good news embodied by Jesus in wholeness. Thus our church life, ministries and evangelistic missions take place primarily from outer in, in a sense disembodied though we be physically present and extremely active. The presence of much activity, a high reputation, and purity of doctrine do not suffice for Jesus to identify a church as his own. For example, in his post-ascension words in the Book of Revelation, he told the dedicated and persevering church at Ephesus that, in spite of all their church work, they had forsaken God’s primacy of relationship (“your first love,” Rev 2:4 NIV); and, “If you do not repent [and return to your first love], I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (v.5). The lampstand signified status as his church, so to remove it is Jesus’ relational language to indicate the church was essentially no longer his. Jesus’ post-ascension words to the seven churches admonish whatever life and practice they engaged in apart from his whole terms for what is primary (see Rev 1:20-3:22).[33] And we cannot ignore the application of his critique to churches today.

I do not know if it is still true that the 11 o’clock hour Sunday mornings is the most segregated time in the country, yet our corporate worship—with our unrecognizable Communion—surely grieves the person of the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30; Isa 63:10), and quenches the Spirit’s relational involvement in reciprocal relationship to build us up as God’s daughters and sons in family together (“Do not quench the Spirit,” 1 Thes 5:19). As Jesus continues to call, “Follow me,” he expects a relational response that necessitates listening to his relational language and transposing to thinking relationally (perceptual-interpretive framework and lens, phronēma and phroneō, respectively) and to make relationship primary also. Our vocation is this relational work of being Jesus’ disciples; it takes “in spirit and truth,” the vulnerability of our whole person from inner out in relational involvement face to Face with the whole of God—no veil allowed. Thankfully, Jesus has not left us on our own as relational orphans, but has provided the Spirit to be present as his relational replacement for this reciprocal relational work together, as Paul made unmistakable (2 Cor 3:16-18).

The following paradigm is offered here to help worship planners put and keep the primary primary. While trying to contextualize worship for their worship contexts, we need to keep first things first, treating all worshipers as whole persons from inner out and still be sensitive to all our human diversity:

If worship expression is a social construction (of that particular context) without relational clarity, then that form, style, mode of worship is merely a product of culture rather than the relational outcome of those unique persons in relational involvement and response to God in the primacy of relationship together.

Whereas form, style, mode of worship should have cultural relativity and thus be culturally-specific, the absolute necessity of all worship is two-fold based on Jesus’ critique (Mt 15:8-9): (1) it has to have relational clarity to be relationally-specific to God, not referentially-specific about God; and (2) it has to be “in spirit and truth” to have the relational involvement of persons from inner out, and thus be relationally significant to God.

The new creation family that Jesus began at his table fellowship is focused on transformation from the inner out (metamorphoō), and on whole theological anthropology, in contrast and conflict with change only from outer in (metaschematizō) and a reduced theological anthropology. The important process of change involving transformation is the matter of becoming holy, sanctified (theologically, “sanctification,” hagiazmos), that some raised as a purity issue in the context above at Jesus’ table fellowship about his disciples. “They do not wash their hands before they eat” (Mt 15:2). To be holy (hagios) signifies being different from what is ordinary or common, that is, to be essentially uncommon from what prevails in order to be compatible with God. Here Jesus distinguishes between the common focus of purity from outer in, and the uncommon understanding from inner out (15:10-11), and the critical implication for the person and its consequence for relationships (15:17-20). Change merely from outer in is ordinary and common, compatible and even congruent with what prevails. To be transformed and thus sanctified is to be changed from inner out and, therefore, to be uncommon from what prevails, and even incompatible and incongruent with what commonly exists or with the common way to do things. This raises the question about our worship: Is it common worship or uncommon worship?

The church today is faced with whether it is involved in the uncommon process of transformation and functions in sanctification for uncommon worship with no veil, or whether it is engaged in common processes for ontological simulations of outer-in changes for common worship. We now turn to address this matter.

 

 

Transforming Communion to Transform Worshipers

 

 

In the Western church, theologians, pastors, worship leaders, and probably congregants expect that participating in worship transforms persons (sanctification). Along with studying the Bible and prayer, the track for new believers is to attend worship services. Some churches push new members to immediately get involved in ministries. This transformation hope is expressed through a variety of lenses: (1) the discipleship lens: worship forms us as Jesus’ disciples; (2) the spirituality lens: worship is a spiritual discipline that brings us closer to God; (3) the social science lens: involvement in the relationships as a community of God provides a new identity and life narrative; (4) the neuroscience lens: regular involvement in worship and church life (within a nest of relationships) develops new patterns of neural mapping informing our thinking and behaviors.[34] Participating in the Lord’s Supper is singled out for its efficaciousness to bring forth transformation of hearts. There are meaningful hopes and intentions involved here, but does anyone thoughtfully wonder how this change takes place by virtue of eating bread and drinking juice that has been prayed over?

The manner in which we celebrate Communion today is challenged by Jesus’ table fellowship, both its plan and persons’ participation in it. I have no doubts that the practice of Communion as Jesus’ intimate table fellowship would make many Christians uncomfortable; we prefer our own shaping of Communion. Like many Pharisees Jesus exposed, we prefer comfortable conformity to the traditions of our elders (or even those younger) that provide proven boundaries. Like Peter, we prefer to keep Jesus in his role and on a pedestal so that we can maintain our own control in relational distance. Like Martha, we allow our own embeddedness in cultural constraints by fulfilling expected roles and serving in the secondary. Letting Jesus wash our feet signifies our openness to his person and thus to change in order to remove these ‘veils’.

The implication of reducing Communion to less than Jesus’ table fellowship as the new creation family is the relational consequence of remaining as relational orphans, perhaps in the same room, but relationally distant—the contrast between an orphanage and a family. A common expression of our own shaping is to dismiss our adoption as mere metaphor or consign adoption to the ‘not yet.’ We have done that by the shift from Communion’s relational language to referential language, from inner out to outer in, from involvement of our whole person (nothing less and no substitutes) to spiritual (read disembodied) therapy.

This issue brings us back to the first assumption noted in the beginning of this study that we must challenge, that is, our theological anthropology. Our theological anthropology determines how we understand transformation—from outer in or inner out, as noted in the discussion above about the two perspectives on baptism and circumcision. The areas of growth mentioned above cannot be approached from outer in (metaschematizō), but only from inner out (metamorphoō), as the following further explains:

In order to compensate for the absence of inner substance, what is displayed outwardly must simulate that substance as close as possible. This process of [ontological] simulation is what the Bible calls “masquerade” (Gk. metaschematizō, to take on or change the outward form or appearance without the inner change).[35]

We can appear holy (e.g. by “washing our hands,” as noted above), but that does not make us sanctified, as Paul exposed in the church (2 Cor 11:13-15). The transformation that Jesus speaks of is redemptive change from inner out, from reductionism to wholeness in whole relationship with him. According to Jesus, to grow in relationship with God means that we must be “born from above” (Jn 3:3), which involves knowing him, the Truth, to “set you free” (Jn 8:32) in order to be redefined in relationship with God on his relational terms of grace (8:34-36), and further engaged in the reciprocal relational work with the Spirit (Jn 15:26-27). As discussed earlier in this study, this change must start with our perceptual-interpretive framework and how we define our own person, which was the change Nicodemus needed to understand about being “born again” (Jn 3:4,9-10). This is ongoing rigorous relational work of sanctification.

Paul wrote definitively of the need to change from inner out (metamorphoō, Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18). Outer-in change of metaschematizō may be indistinguishable from inner-out of metamorphoō, since, as Paul warns, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14 NIV) and his servants also “masquerade as servants of righteousness” (v.15); yet metaschematizō is only ontological simulation. For metamorphoō to take place, the “old” (all symptoms of self-determination in our relationship with God) must die so that we can be raised up ‘born from above’ as ‘new creation’ defined by grace from inner out (2 Cor 5:12,16-17; Rom 6:1-14). This process of sanctification is engaged in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit (Rom 15:16) and must include transforming our perceptual-interpretive framework (phronēma) and lens (phroneō, Rom 85-6).

As noted above, the Greek word for “sanctify” is hagiazō (“to make or treat as holy”) and denotes setting apart from common usage for divine, or uncommon, usage. The following two excerpts summarize sanctification and its functional significance:

We must be aware of not reducing the theology of sanctification to a static attribute by which to categorize a person in a condition or identity as “holy”....The process of a person or some aspect of that person being sanctified implies undergoing a significant change. What this change involves directs us to the purpose of Jesus’ sanctified life and practice; and the significance of his purpose always directs us to relationship—first and foremost with the whole of God, then with the whole of each other together as the church and the new creation, and then with the whole of all creation.[36]

When Jesus said in his formative family prayer “I sanctify myself” (Jn 17:19), this was not about sanctifying his ontology but about sanctifying his identity to function clearly in the whole of his ontology. Since Jesus’ ontology was always holy (hagios), this was mainly in order that his followers’ ontology and identity may be sanctified (hagiazō) in the truth of his full identity (as Jesus prayed). Moreover, since Jesus’ embodied identity did not function in a vacuum, it is vital to grasp his sanctified identity for the experiential truth of our identity to be in his likeness and our ontology to be in the image of the whole of God (as Jesus further prayed).[37]

Just as Jesus challenged some Pharisees and the priority they gave to “the tradition of the elders” over God’s priorities (Mt 15:1-9; Mk 7:1-9), so also does he challenge our traditions; they are not sacrosanct. Whose traditions are these? Corporate liturgy in the churches in the West today come to us from long histories of traditions—Roman Catholic, Reformed, Free Church, Pentecostal, and, increasingly, Eastern Orthodox. If we embrace that primacy of relationship is God’s design and purpose, it behooves us to ask these questions: Are the various rituals and sacraments of worship and practices of piety primarily about relational involvement with God engaged with nothing less and no substitutes for our whole person from inner out—or substitute traditions and "rules taught by men" in referential terms, performed from outer in? What lens (phroneō) are we using? What are persons transformed from and transformed to (saved from and to)? If worship transforms persons, how does that happen? What does transformation look like?[38]

During his long discourse at the last meal, as he prepared his disciples for his departure, Jesus made definitive what would distinguish his disciples, their relational involvement of family love with each other, the same love Jesus receives from the Father and that he shared with them (Jn 13:34-35; 15:9-17). “Just as I have loved you, so you also should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In contrast and conflict with reducing Jesus’ relational words to referential information about what to do, this same relational involvement—nothing less and no substitutes—is the same relational involvement of those worshipers who worship in spirit and truth. And this all integrally involves (1) the person we present, (2) the integrity and content of our communication, and (3) the depth of relational involvement we engage with others—the three critical issues for all our practice that indicate whether we are changing from the inside out, or not. Based on his table fellowship, Jesus holds us accountable for how we are engaged with each other in our church, giving our church family relationships priority over other ones, most notably composed and enacted by our relational involvement in Communion for uncommon worship.

If we Christians were really honest with ourselves, I think most of us would have to admit we do not often experience heart-to-heart involvement in face-to-Face relationship with God and each other. It could be that we are hard workers, rigorous servants, excellent worship leaders and musicians. Perhaps we have even exhibited new and different behaviors, but deep inside something is missing, notably evidenced in the limits of our relationships with God and each other among his people. If this is a present reality in our churches—and I believe it exists more than is acknowledged—then we can only conclude that mere participation in the liturgy as we know it does not in fact transform persons; behaviors may change, but not the person. Simply put, redemptive change can not take place in narrowed-down terms at the referential level from outer in by virtue of participating in liturgy.

If we are not engaged in relationship with God on his whole terms of grace, then it makes no difference whether we maintain or change our worship traditions and habits. We cannot make our worship practices whole if we do not function from wholeness ourselves. Only common worship can emerge from our common function. For us to grow individually and corporately, we need to undergo redemptive change intentionally as a relational matter, and none of us is exempt! The process of metamorphoō is solely a relational process, because it involves our relationship with God and on whose terms we engage with him. We need to first acknowledge, reject and repent of the old (primarily the dynamic of self-determination and defining ourselves from the outer in criteria of what we do or have) in order to be freed to embrace the new of being redefined from inner out by grace; in relational terms, we need to let Jesus wash our feet and equalize us through his intimate involvement at our core. This process of redemptive change can only be a relational one that we do not engage in alone—alone we are inadequate. The Spirit dwells in us for the cooperative relational work necessary to be transformed (2 Cor 3:17-18). It is a lifelong relational process of participating in God’s very life.

These redemptive changes entail major shifts of transposing from referential to relational language, from the prevalence of the secondary to the primacy of relationship, and from outer-in substitutes of what to do to the inner-out depth of involvement of our person, nothing less and no substitutes. In Jesus’ family language, it is the shift from being functional slaves and relational orphans to adoption into family (daughters and sons) as full heirs with Christ (Jn 8:34-35; cf. Rom 8:14-17,29; Gal 4:6-7). Nothing less than redemptive change, therefore, is called for in our traditional and routine practices of Communion; otherwise, our participation in and our experience of worship remain contextualized in the common, even while bearing the adjective sacred.

Even after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter still needed to be fully redeemed from the old of defining himself by what he did/had and paying attention to the secondary, as we see in his last recorded interaction with Jesus (Jn 21:15-22). Yet, Jesus’ last words to Peter continue to focus Peter on the primacy of relationship, directly communicating twice, “Follow me!” (vv.19, 22). Peter’s life has helped me to identify for myself deeper issues I have needed to address. In the past I have made excuses for Peter, but it was really to excuse myself. For worship thinkers, planners and leaders, we must be chastened by the fact that Peter’s offer to build tents at the transfiguration was about what to do, and went disregarded by God (Mk 9:5-6). Undoubtedly we have our own versions of worship tents, focusing also on what to do, and falling back onto default modes (tradition), or on the way we have always done things, from our sociocultural context, possibly from personal preference and even fear of failure (a self-concern from outer in).

Historically we have approached Jesus’ table using referential language, so that we treat the Lord’s Supper as a tradition about what to do, a theological position to define a doctrinal identity, or a sacramental mystery. The extensive theologizing in referential language to explain Jesus’ presence or absence at his Table, to describe whether the bread and wine are really Jesus’ body and blood, is finally put to rest with the shift to listen to Jesus’ relational language focused on the whole of God behind the veil. The sacrifice and its elements are secondary to the persons involved in this dynamic. Referential language has resulted in essentially ignoring or denying the Spirit’s presence and involvement within us for reciprocal relationship, as Jesus promised (Jn 14:15-21, 23-27): “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” Our reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit is the same as with Jesus:

The term “another” (allos) means another of equal quality, not another of different quality (heteros). The Spirit then is defined by the Son as of the same qualitative substance and as equal to himself, that is, as whole person in full personhood; this is who replaces [the Son]. The Spirit’s person as truth needs to be understood in function as the Son’s relational replacement whom the Father gave as “another” in lieu of the Son; Paul later described them in a relational sense as interchangeable (2 Cor 3:17-
18).[39]

To “do this in remembrance” of Jesus is not to merely recall what he did on the cross as a past event (anamnesis, even for its theological relevance for us today), but to relationally receive his person present in the Spirit who went behind the veil to remove its relational barrier. Therefore, we can openly celebrate this relational reality and experiential truth by involving ourselves in his sacrifice with him, thanking him for his relational response of grace that removed the relational barrier to reconcile us to himself as his own family, and ongoingly enables us to grow further and deeper together with God as his adopted beloved daughters and sons, and with each other as sisters and brothers in reciprocal relationship together. To remain relationally distant (stay in front of the veil) sends hurtful relational messages to God; as the writer of Hebrews bluntly puts it: “How much more worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Heb 10:29). It is a joy to relationally take our place as daughters and sons in the new creation family that was ordained since before creation (Rom 8:29; Eph 1:4-14), inaugurated and embodied by Jesus, nothing less and no substitutes, and for which the Spirit is present to bring to completion. To have Communion like this would be to finally make the primary primary—indeed, to transpose the uncommon, that in common has been played off-key, into the uncommon key of Jesus.

It is a profound and stirring mystery (not hidden, yet not fully known) that we can partake together in the whole of God as his family, and with all of God’s people past, present and future. Relational language enables us to embrace our place in the life (zōē) of God, just as Jesus disclosed about eternal life in only relational language when he said in his formative family prayer, “And this is eternal life (zōē), that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). Zōē is this depth and quality in God’s relational context and process, distinguished from the quantitative criteria of bios (the daily aspects of living). God’s zōē is not bound by linear time (chronos), but exists in God’s time of opportunity (kairos). It impoverishes the Lord’s Table to participate in it as an individual and private time only to repent and receive forgiveness because it is a corporate relational affirmation and giving thanks (the meaning of verb eucharisteō) to the whole of God for his work of family love in response to our relational condition apart, and the celebration and enjoyment of who we are and whose we are with Christ in the primacy of relationship together in wholeness. If we have responded to his call to follow him in relationship together, we are expected by God to function with openness and vulnerability—nothing less and no substitutes—those who worship in spirit and truth.[40] When we have experienced God’s grace and forgiveness, we have been loved by God, and have experienced heart-to-heart connection of relational intimacy with God’s heart, the only experience that can make us whole from inner out to become those who worship the Father in spirit and truth. And this is what the new song is and how we sing it to the Lord with the Spirit.

 

‘I will not leave you as orphans’

‘I do not leave you apart’

‘The Father gives you the Spirit,

the Father gives you the Spirit

in my name, in my name.’

 

‘The Spirit lives with you’

‘We make our home with you’

dwelling whole as family

“Abba Father, Abba Father!”[41]

 

 

 

Chorus:

 

 

‘Singing’ a new song to the Lord:      Jesus is the key for ‘singing’ in tune from inner out the new song he composes for his family in the primacy of whole relationships together at table fellowship in the new sanctuary. Jesus’ table fellowship embodies intimate and equalized relationships in his family love. By washing our feet he redefines us by his relational response of grace, from inner out, in intimate relational connection he makes with us as family, not as teacher, master, or Messiah. This is the full relational significance of his last supper with his brothers (“my brothers,” cf. Mt 28:10) that needs to redefine how we practice Communion today—as his new creation family behind the curtain, who emerge in the primacy of relationship together in wholeness without the veil. This is the necessary transformation that composes both what the new song is and how the new song is sung—nothing less and no substitutes! Uncommon whole persons together in uncommon worship of the uncommon and whole God!

 

 


 

[1] I encourage serious readers to see the full discussion about God’s thematic relational actions reaching their fulfillment in the strategic, tactical, and functional shifts in Jesus’ whole person in the incarnation. See Sanctified Christology by T. Dave Matsuo.

[2] For a fuller discussion on how Jesus is our “key,” please see The Person, the Trinity, the Church: The Call to Be Whole and the Lure of Reductionism (Wholeness Study, 2006). Online: http://www.4X12.org. The full quote is “Christ is the hermeneutical key that opens the ontological door to the whole of God, and also the functional key that opens the relational door to the ontology of the whole of God’s family constituted in the Trinity, the Trinity qua family” (Introduction, section “A Window to the Whole”).

[3] T. Dave Matsuo fully develops the incarnation principle of nothing less and no substitutes in Sanctified Christology: A Theological and Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus (Christology Study, 2008). Online: http://www.4X12.org.

[4] “The Whole of God Embodied” ©2008 T. Dave Matsuo & Kary A. Kambara.

[5] These are vital issues needing further study; they are fully discussed in T. Dave Matsuo’s two studies, Sanctified Christology (Christology Study) and The Whole of Paul and the Whole in his Theology (Paul Study). Online: http://www.4X12.org.

[6] It is worth looking at all seven of Jesus’ statements while he hung on the cross together as a whole; they are discussed in Sanctified Christology, ch. 6, section “The Ultimate Salvific Discourse.”

[7] Although it is not possible to fully discuss here, Jesus’ incarnation exegetes God's being as heart, his nature as relational, and his presence as vulnerable (Jn 1:18). For an insightful examination of how Jesus’ incarnation makes fully known these aspects of God, please see T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology. See also Matsuo, Following Jesus, Knowing Christ: Engaging the Intimate Relational Process (Spirituality Study, 2003). Both studies are online at http://www.4X12.org.

[8] See T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology ch.7, “Jesus and Culture, Ethics, Mission.”

[9] For in-depth discussion about wholeness, see T. Dave Matsuo, The Person, the Trinity, the Church (Wholeness Study).

[10] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, ch.3, section “Tactical Shift.” For further discussion of Jesus’ table fellowship and in the Mediterranean world, see S. Scott Bartchy, “The Historical Jesus and Honor Reversal at the Table” in Wolfgang Stegemann, Bruce J. Malina, Gerd Theissen, eds., The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 175-183.

[11] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, ch.1, section “His Person Presented to New Disciples.”

[12] To read about Zacchaeus who, like Levi, experienced family love with Jesus, see Sanctified Christology, ch.3, section “Tactical Shift.”

[13] Scripture consistently speaks of relationship with God in terms of moving from something else to him. In the OT, God brought the Israelites out from slavery in Egypt to worship him on the mountain as his people. The NT speaks of our salvation from sin to new life (new creation). In these examples at table fellowship with Jesus, persons stepped out from their old, their comfort zones, to relational connection with Jesus.

[14] George Eldon Ladd and others have debated as to whether John 6 contains allusions to the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Ladd takes the view that John was not a sacramentalist, but that he was countering any “magical-sacramental views” of a literalist sacramentalism that was “exerting a dangerous influence on many Christians.” Rather, John was speaking of “spiritual feeding” on Jesus (by the work of the Spirit). See Ladd’s Theology of the New Testament, rev., Donald A. Hagner, ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 321. This discussion demonstrates interpretive constraints imposed by referential language, or even with the more open view that John’s Gospel is “making the implicit explicit” (Hagner, lecture 11/7/2006). While the latter comment points to what the “explicit” is, only by thinking in relational language does Jesus’ call to relational involvement with himself (eternal life, Jn 17:3) emerge distinctively. In a similar comparison between the Synoptics and John’s Gospel, the former three contain transfiguration accounts, but John’s Gospel as a whole expands and deepens the transfiguration’s self-disclosure; thinking in relational language, what clearly emerges is the Son’s intimate and irreducible relationship with the Father, extended to us, notably in the Father’s words “listen to [my Son]!” Referential language is insufficient to listen to God’s full self-disclosures.

[15] The following excerpt from T. Dave Matsuo’s Sanctified Christology identifies Jesus’ relational actions as establishing his “new relational order”: “Since cultural custom obligated a host to make provision for washing the dinner guests’ feet, either water or a household servant was provided for this menial purpose. For Jesus, however, nothing less and no substitute of his whole person than he personally assuming this footwashing would be sufficient to constitute his relational involvement of family love—that is, as the embodiment of God’s grace. This goes well beyond merely the act of serving and humility in function. This is not about what to do but how to be involved in the new relational order. Yet, Jesus did not reverse the stratified old relational order but transformed it. He was not exercising a role as servant but dissolving roles which create barriers to deeper relationship—an important distinction to grasp.... [T]his act was only for transformed relationship together and ‘the full extent’ of his relational involvement vulnerably making evident his family love [Jn 13:1 NIV].” Ch.8, section “The Rigorous and Vulnerable Process of Reconciliation.”

[16] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, ch.8, section “Communion in the New Relational Order.”

[17] Larry W. Hurtado, At the Origins of Christian Worship: The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999), 42-43.

[18] Larry W. Hurtado, At the Origins of Christian Worship, 43.

[19] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, ch. 2, section “The Demands of Grace.”

[20] Richard Burridge, lecture outline for a seminary course, “New Testament Ethics”: August 7, 2007, 4b.

[21] Allen Verhey, “Ethics” in Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 198.

[22] For further discussion of the social dynamic of the “deficit model” (in which “different” means “less” or “inferior”), see T. Dave Matsuo’s, The Relational Progression: A Relational Theology of Discipleship (Discipleship Study, 2004). Online: http://www.4X12.org., ch.12; Section “Knowing Our Context.”

[23] Letty M. Russell. Church in the Round: Feminist Interpretation of the Church. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1993.

[24] “One Bread, One Body” by John Foley, S.J. ©1978 John B. Foley, S.J., and North American Liturgy Resources, Phoenix, Arizona.

[25] E.g. Roman villas “could have accommodated a group no larger than forty to fifty,” according to Larry W. Hurtado, At the Origins of Christian Worship, 41-42.

[26] Paul Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 40-41. This is an excellent brief resource that outlines what we know and do not know about worship practices in the first four centuries of the church(es), the varieties of practices and how they changed through these formative years.

[27] Books upon books have been written about every aspect of Communion one can think of, but none receives more attention than the question of whether Jesus is or is not present in the elements. For a glimpse of major controversies, see James F. White’s survey of the eucharistic practices and meanings in European and American Protestant churches from the Reformation forward, in James F. White, The Sacraments in Protestant Practice and Faith (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 73-118.

[28] For a survey of these post-biblical church orders, the so-called Apostolic Tradition, the Apostolic Constitutions, the Canon of Hippolytus, Testamentum Domini, see “The Apostolic Tradition” by Maxwell E. Johnson in The Oxford History of Christian Worship, Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 32-75.

[29] The Didache was an anonymous document—dated by scholars between the mid-first century to the early second century—that has preserved an oral tradition circulating among of some churches for instructing and nurturing new believers. See Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), ix, 23. If the Didache’s linkage of baptism and participation in the Eucharist was perceived in referential language, this would demonstrate the subtle influence of reductionism that understood baptism (and hence possibly the Eucharist also) in outer-in terms—with negative consequences. At best, it would have confused persons, and at worst it formulated a “different gospel” such as Paul warned against (Gal 1:6-7).

[30] In fact, we simply do not know with certainty if the well-studied early church orders are prescriptive, descriptive, or merely wishful thinking. See Paul F. Bradshaw, The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 1-20.

[31] As a side note, a thought-provoking theory by Martin Connell suggests that early Johannine communities practiced an alternative to baptism—footwashing, “hence the possibility emerges that many of the ceremonies that came to be attached to baptism as additional or supplementary rites of initiation (e.g., handlaying, anointing, foot washing) once constituted complete rites, perhaps even without the water bath, in some early communities.” Martin Connell, “Nisi Pedes, Except for the Feet: Footwashing in the Community of John’s Gospel,” Worship 70 (1996), 20-30, quoted in The Oxford History of Christian Worship, 37.

[32] I have witnessed at a predominantly white seminary a strange recurring dynamic in its weekly chapel time. Any time the chapel is led by Latinos or Blacks, either as speakers or musicians, those gathered at chapel give them a standing ovation. Yet, with some exceptions, of course, this campus remains socially racially segregated in spite of its reputation as a multicultural school. Thus I find the enthusiastic applause at chapel to be patronizing.

[33] For a discussion of Jesus’ words to these churches, see T. Dave Matsuo, The Person, the Trinity, the Church, ch.5, section “Incompatibility of Church Practice.”

[34] Joel B. Green, lecture Jan 17, 2008. Joel Green stresses the formative influence of social relationships for embodied (trans)formation of new believers, which distinguishes him from neuroscientists’ tendency to study only individuals.

[35] T. Dave Matsuo examines further the difference between metamorphoō (inner-out change) and metaschematizō (outer-in change) in The Relational Progression: A Relational Theology of Discipleship, ch.11, section “Reductionist Alternatives.”

[36] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, Intro, section “The Purpose of This Study.”

[37] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, ch.5, section “Jesus’ Sanctified Identity.”

[38] These questions are not mere academic exercises for me. From my college years forward when I was convinced of the need to change from deep within, such issues have been driving my discipleship for many years. I have written about my personal journey with Christ in an essay “My Ongoing Journey to Wholeness in Christ” (Wholeness Essay). Online: http://4X12.org.

[39] T. Dave Matsuo, Sanctified Christology, ch.9, section ”Integral Pneumatology: the Forgotten Person.”

[40] Just as true worshipers worship the Father from the inner out (in spirit and truth), on the corporate level as church family our service to God in the world must also be from inner out. That is, when our relationships together function in wholeness (equalized and intimately involved in family love to build each other up), this is the light we are able to extend to the world around us. Anything else functions from outer in (unknowingly and inadvertently), and lacks the relational substance in likeness of the Trinity’s relational ontology. This study does not explore those areas of corporate life, but I acknowledge that they are integral aspects of church life. Please see the discussion of the church’s life within itself and in its involvement into the world in The Person, the Trinity, the Church, chs.7-8.

[41] “The Spirit of the Word” ©2011 T. Dave Matsuo and Kary A. Kambara

 

 

 

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