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The Person, the Trinity, the Church

 

Wholeness Study

Chapter 7                                                                     printer-friendly pdf version of entire study

Ecclesiology of the Whole

 

 

Subsections:

 

Its Emergence
    The Apostolic Church and the Definitive Key

Its Formulation

    Grace as the Functional Basis

Its Operation
    Submission as the Functional Response
    Submission to Wholeness
    Equalizing to Be Whole

 

The Church Becomes Equalizer

 

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

Chap. 8
Chap. 9
Chap. 10
Chap. 11

Table of Contents
 

Scripture Index

 

 

 

Central in Christ’s teachings is the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 4:23; 9:35). Reductionist substitutes in Paul’s time, however, turned the kingdom of God into secondary practices focused on less significant aspects of the persons and relationships in a gathering (see Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 4:20; 15:50). In the limited times Paul referred to the kingdom of God, he focused not merely on the concept of the kingdom but on the functional aspects of it—that is, its relational context and process which are about family. For Paul, the gospel was not about the idea of the kingdom nor merely the eschatological hope for it. As established in the relational progression by the Son’s incarnation, the kingdom (or family) of God was at hand. Thus Paul operationalized the kingdom in the church as the family of God constituted in and by the Trinity.

 

Jesus alluded to the necessity for the whole of the kingdom (united and complete) without being divided (Mk 3:23-25). Paul affirmed the necessity of the whole also by asking if Christ himself has been divided into parts (1 Cor 1:13). The term for “divide” (merizo) is used in a negative sense to imply the reduction of unity and completeness. This involved not only the reduction of the whole of Christ’s person (for example, down merely to his teachings) but reducing the whole of the Trinity, as if the parts had more significance than the whole and could determine the whole (bottom-up causation). The church in Corinth was practicing such reductionism (1 Cor 1:10-17).

 

The whole of the church depends on the unity and completeness of the Trinity to constitute it as the whole of God’s family. Any reduction of or disregard for the Trinity makes any church practice insufficient to be whole—for example as the church in Sardis was confronted by Christ and needed to emerge (Rev. 3:2). Likewise, to have a trinitarian view of God and to affirm the relationality of the Trinity without engaging the church in the intimate relationships of family reduces the whole of church practice to a correct doctrine without the relational significance and involvement of family love signifying the Trinity—for example as the church in Ephesus insufficiently practiced (Rev 2:2-4). How is this whole operationalized for church practice? This chapter attempts to answer this question in the historical development and the functional process of this new ecclesiology.
 

 

Its Emergence 

 

 

Ecclesiology of the whole begins to emerge from two metaphors. The first, as discussed earlier, is “the church as an orphanage” (a gathering of Christ’s followers who remain in some relational condition “to be apart”), from which church practice needs to be transformed (metamorphoo, not metaschematizo), just as the church in Sardis needed. This imperative change relates to the second metaphor lovingly extended by Christ to the reductionist church in Laodicea which used its own resources to define itself under an illusion effectively promoting the status quo (Rev 3:15-20). The classic visual of Jesus knocking at the door represents the desires of the whole of God to have intimate relationship with his family. This change therefore must (by its nature as signified in the Trinity) be a relational change from a gathering of relationships having distance (orphanage) to the intimate involvement of relationships together as family (“open door”)—the whole of God as family constituted in the Trinity.

 

These linked metaphors reflect God’s response to our condition “to be apart” in order to fulfill both his promise not to leave us as orphans (Jn 14:18) and his prayer to experience family together with the Trinity (Jn 17:20-26). Paul summarizes the redemptive process necessary to be God’s very own family and the function of the trinitarian persons to make this a relational reality (Eph 1:3-14). And Paul defines the Spirit’s relational work (as previously discussed) for the relational change of our whole persons knowing and experiencing the whole of God in intimate relationship (Eph 1:17; 3:16-19). When relationships are redeemed, they are changed from relationships characterized by any degree of distance to intimate relationships involving hearts open to each other and coming together, thus belonging as family. Anything less than intimate relationships redefines the function of the Trinity and replaces the relationships inherent to the Trinity with substitutes of reductionism.

 

Simply changing the form of relationships (metaschematizo)—for example in activity or quantity—does not result in this relational reality because intimacy cannot be simulated—no matter how sincere our intentions. In other words, the redeemed relationships of the whole of God’s family are not the function of mere human effort. The relational change indicative of transformation (metamorphoo) engages the relational process necessary for this relational outcome. In the ecclesiology of the whole, the church relationally reflects the whole of God constituted intimately in the Trinity and experiences the ontological reality of God’s family signified by the Trinity because the church ongoingly and cooperatively works together relationally with the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor 3:17, 18). That is, this is the relational outcome when the Spirit is not misused as discussed earlier. Without this joint relational work church practice becomes the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of reductionism.

 

There are other aspects of relationships involving the family process of the whole of God’s family but it is crucial to understand that their practice needs to be predicated on the primacy of intimate relationships of love. Without the primary function of these intimate relationships, all other church practice functions in some relational condition “to be apart”—resulting, for example, in relational distance from “your first love” (Rev 2:4), in church practice “not . . . complete in the sight of God” (Rev 3:2), or in maintaining the status quo of “you are lukewarm” (Rev 3:16). The intimate involvement of love in relationships as family is what gives coherence to church practices for relational significance to the whole of God (see Col 3:14 and context). Moreover, without the primacy of intimate relationships the practice of love becomes focused on “what to do” (for example, service or sacrifice) rather than on “how to be involved” with other persons in relationship, not merely the situation or need. When such reductionism determines church practice, Christ’s followers have yet to learn what he desires and what matters most to God (Mt 9:13; Jn 13:34, 35).

The Apostolic Church and the Definitive Key:

In the initial development of the apostolic church we see only the inaugural formulation of the ecclesiology of the whole, albeit significant beginnings. Yet Christ would be “knocking on the door” of the church for imperative relational changes. Apparently, the relational involvement of love was not well established, at least it was not consistently practiced. Indications of this relational problem first surfaced because the widows of Grecian Jews were being neglected in their food needs (Acts 6:1). The action which followed can be perceived in two ways.

 

The first perception is the church’s response to the persons in need. While the apostles made the word of God their priority, they set in motion the family process for family members to care for each other (Acts 6:2-4). This appeared to be a relational process suggesting some relational involvement since everyone was “pleased” (aresko, to please, make one inclined to, to soften one’s heart toward another, 6:5). From this ministry emerged the significance of Stephen (Acts 6:8-7:60) and Philip (Acts 8:4-40) in the church’s transition to ecclesiology of the whole.

 

Another perception of what took place describes church action in response to a need or situation, not relationally to the persons. Perhaps this is observing church organization operating at optimum: establish ministries based on need, designating qualified persons to serve in them within a division of labor based on doctrine or tradition. While the apostles correctly gave themselves over to the priority of the word of God, we need to ask if at this stage they understood that the revelations and truth of God are for relationships. As discussed earlier, the word of God was subjected to reductionism and the first disciples certainly engaged in reductionist practices with Jesus. And remnants of reductionist substitutes apparently remained in this situation and at this stage of the church’s development, suggesting that the second perception may be more accurate.

 

At the heart of God’s word is God’s intimate involvement of love with his people, particularly in response to our condition “to be apart” from the whole. The widows represented not mere needs but persons who were experiencing being apart and not belonging to the whole. The apostles’ decision to concentrate on “prayer and the ministry of the word” and to delegate “this responsibility” to others (Acts 6:3, 4) suggests a focus on the work to be done over the primacy of relationship (cf. Jesus’ paradigm for service, Jn 12:26). The term for “responsibility” (chreia) signifies a person’s employment or job—ministry and service in this situation. What this focus suggests for the apostles and the other disciples is the enactment of roles. While the church is an interrelation of various functions—as Paul defined later—their practice needs to be predicated on the primacy of intimate relationships of love. Whatever the ministry or service for God, Jesus cautions his followers about engaging in role-playing (Lk 12:1) which invariably reduces the primacy of relationship.

 

Though the church grew at this stage (Acts 6:7), Jesus was still knocking on its door. Something was missing despite the presence of the Spirit and their ministry of the word because the church was relationally constrained by their perceptual-interpretive framework. That is, the relational involvement of their hearts appeared to be more measured than vulnerably open both within the church (as the second perception of Acts 6 suggests and the Jerusalem council clearly addressed in Acts 15) as well as to those outside the church (as their provincialism indicated). Yet dramatic events were about to happen to change the church in its transition to the ecclesiology of the whole.

 

After Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts 7, the church was persecuted and scattered, from Acts 8. Up to Acts 8 the church was essentially provincial in function and thus constrained in its operation. As the church was persecuted and dispersed, God used this to force the church out of the reductionist box of provincialism. This would lead to church practice of an ecclesiology that is globalizing—the inherent nature of the ecclesiology of the whole. Yet, we need to see this change as more than geographical and to understand this beyond a traditional missiology of the church (spreading the gospel to all nations), which tends to reduce evangelism to work apart from the relationship of discipleship. We need to understand this critical change of church practice in its relational significance because it concerns the whole of God as family and sharing his family love—the extension of the trinitarian relational context and process of the triune God’s response to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole of God. And Paul was at the center of this relational change and development of the church—emerging as the definitive key for church practice and growth—which appeared at times to put him in tension with the other apostles (e.g., with Peter in Gal 2:11-14; cf. Acts 9:26, 27).

 

In his narrative Luke places Paul’s conversion-call experience in Acts 9. The placement of this account after Acts 8 (the book of Acts may not necessarily always be in historical sequence) is significant for the historical perspective of the church in its development as the whole of God’s family. Luke was presenting God’s strategic activity which constituted his whole family (kingdom) in the church. Thus we need to understand that Jesus’ revelation to Paul was not merely about Paul’s conversion and the special treatment he received as an individual. This was about God’s continued response to our condition “to be apart” from the whole and to reconcile his creation into his family together.

 

As Jesus “knocked on the door” of Paul’s heart in Acts 9, he “knocked on the door” of Peter’s in Acts 10 for the relational changes imperative for the ecclesiology of the whole. While Peter struggled in this relational process to be whole, Paul led the process to operationalize church practice in the ecclesiology necessary to be whole. With Paul’s emergence the church would find its direction on the eschatological journey in the new creation as God’s very own family constituted in and by the Trinity.
 

 

Its Formulation 

 

 

God claimed possession of his people as his very own through redemption (as Paul summarized in Eph 1:5, 7, 14). As the church claims the whole of its intimate life together both with the Trinity and with each other, the process of redemptive change and transformation also underlies a church’s authentic experience of this relational reality. This transformation involves both qualitative change of the whole person (signified by the heart, metamorphoo) and conversion to heart involvement in the intimate relationships of God’s family love. For transformed persons to function in these transformed relationships, however, what this must include by its nature is a change in basic perception of persons and relationships in order for the whole of God’s family to be realized. This shift or turnaround is fundamental to repentance.

 

This issue of perception was a critical factor which Jesus addressed as he knocked on Peter’s door in Acts 10. It is obvious in this vision that what Peter perceived (Acts 10:14) was in contradiction to what Jesus saw (10:15). As Peter learned, his perception was crucial because it created a relational barrier (or distance) in the relationships necessary to be whole as God’s family. Certainly this included not only how he saw others but how he saw himself and God as well. Peter needed transformation of his perceptual framework in order to function as a transformed person in transformed relationships. Thus this redemptive change involved both his theology and more importantly his relational practice—the latter change still being a struggle for Peter in spite of having his theology reworked.

 

The issue of basic perceptions held by a church has broad implications for church practice within its life together as well as its relations in the world. The perceptions influencing what a church pays attention to or ignores certainly are instrumental in determining church practice. Understanding and addressing the source of these perceptions is critical in the process of church development. As Paul operationalizes the ecclesiology of the whole, the coherence of church practice reflecting the whole encounters various points of tension and conflict with reductionism of the whole.

 

After summarizing the redemptive act of adoption into God’s family (Eph 1:4-14), Paul goes on to describe the process of building the church involving the full members of God’s household as his new kinship family, in which God intimately lives by his Spirit with all his adopted children (Eph 2:19-22). Paul began this passage by identifying those who constitute the church as full members of God’s household, in direct contrast to outsiders, visitors, peripheral and measured participants who essentially remain relationally apart and do not have a sense of belonging—rendered “aliens” in NIV (2:19, paroikos, a temporary dweller not having a settled home in the place where one currently participates, though not to be confused with the same word Peter used to define God’s people as sojourners, 1 Pet 2:11).

 

The difference between full members (as sojourners) of God’s household and all others present in a church involves the relational function of belonging to the whole—the whole of God’s family. Anything less than the trinitarian relational context and process in effect functions only as an orphanage for God’s children who are gathered yet remain relationally (not in doctrine) apart from the whole of God’s family. This urgently raises two questions for church to address. One, how does a church become transformed? The second is related, what does it mean for a church to practice transformed relationships? While we have partially addressed the second question with the primacy of intimate relationship, the response to both starts with transformed persons. This is the necessary beginning where Paul opened the second chapter of Ephesians leading to the above text and subsequent texts involving the church and its relationships.

 

What Paul implied about Christ in the adoption summary in the first chapter of Ephesians—which involves what he experienced directly with Christ—serves to define the transformed person. The relational work clearly demonstrated that the Son traversed the natural inequality between the holy, eternal God and all humans (cf. Phil 2:6-8). The importance of this inequality is necessary to grasp for both our theology and our practice. As discussed previously, despite God’s obvious position of superiority and power, Jesus did not come down to our level to condemn us—though we are indeed less (quantitatively and qualitatively)—nor did he reveal God to expand the ontic differences between us and God (cf. Jn 3:17). As God’s ultimate response to the human condition “to be apart,” Jesus came to redeem us from the barriers and differences separating us from the whole and to reconcile us with the whole of God—in coming “to save” (sozo), the Greek term also means to make whole—in a new relationship no longer constrained by the reductionist character of a system of inequality. That is to say, although God always loves us downward (to our stratum), the inequality between God and us does not determine the character of our relationship with him.

 

While the distinction between Creator and creation will never be dissolved and even though the basic and inherent inequality between God and us can never be equalized, as Jesus vulnerably demonstrated in the incarnation and relationally ensured in his prayer (previously discussed from Jn 17), the fundamental function and experiential reality of our relationship together is: intimately involved heart to heart, relationally united as the Father is with the Son, experientially loved by the Father just as he loves the Son.

 

What this defines is the initiative of God’s response to vulnerably extend nothing less and no substitutes of the whole of God to us, and then it defines the relational outcome of his response to our condition “to be apart” from the whole. “Full members” function as part of and belonging to the whole because they have become the Father’s very own children through redemption by the Son and transformation by the Spirit. Thus what invariably is the relational consequence in any system of inequality—that is, relational separation or distance—now becomes transformed to the relational outcome of the new creation signified by relational belonging in the intimate involvement of love. God does not define us by the reductionist criteria of inequality, nor does God do relationship with us by the process of inequality. Given the absolute inequality involved between us, this starts to inform us about what it means to practice transformed relationships in a context of diversity and differences.

 

Grace as the Functional Basis:
 

Yet there is more to understand about this process of transformation. As Paul clearly established God’s relational initiative in the redemptive process of adoption, he compellingly defined the significance of God’s grace as the functional basis for the transformed persons and the transformed relationships necessary for the church to be transformed (Eph 2:1-10). The initial experience of God’s grace intimately changing us is best summarized by Paul in this text. Here we find God’s people going from death to life, from the old order to the new creation, from being apart to being part of the whole of God in what can be described as “the equalization process.” Whether our life is characterized by independence, self-indulgence or conventional arrogance, or in the implied converse, whether we are living in the hurtful effects of sin, we all need to be equalized. That is, we either need to be brought down to the level of our true humanity or we need to be raised up in order to be made whole (cf. Ps 75:7). Whatever our condition or circumstances, we experience consequences from which we need redemption. We need to be freed from our enslavements in order to be adopted into God’s family.

 

This further defines the process of transformation for the church to be whole. These matters needing redemption always involve our relationships, so the redemptive process must address relational consequences, particularly from reductionism. The influence or control reductionism may have on our lives effectively enslaves us, thus preventing the free function of full family members. The connection between freedom and authentic family function in contrast to enslavement and not relationally belonging was clearly defined by Jesus (see Jn 8:31-36), and this functional issue became the necessary condition to authentically experience the relational outcome from God’s redemptive process of adoption.

 

Moreover, it is inevitable in human relations that comparisons are made among persons. When comparisons are perceived from a reductionist mindset, quantitative distinctions are generated with some subjective culturally-conditioned value attached such as good or bad, better or less (cf. Peter’s perceptions in Acts 10:14). Certainly, this distinction-making process is never well intentioned or neutral but is always used to gain an advantage in relationships. This comparative judgment underlies defining ourselves by what we do or have (cf. Jn 7:24). When the process is formalized (be it with a family, community, a society or nations), a system of inequality develops by vertically stratifying persons. In such a system a person or group is unnaturally subordinated by others, as Peter practiced. This subordination is unnatural because it is an inequality between persons who are basically and inherently equal—as all members of humanity are. This stratification is what Paul addressed convincingly in the early church because grace compelled no other relational outcome in the truth of the gospel.

 

As God’s relational initiative, grace fundamentally alters our perceptual framework in how we see ourselves, how we see others and thus function in relationships together. When persons joined in Christ by grace for the process of redemption becomes a relational reality (not merely a doctrinal truth of our belief system), two vital changes in relationships are established and set into motion. First, having been equalized and justified before God as a relational outcome of Christ’s relational work, we have reconciliation (restored communion) with the Father as his very own in the whole of God’s family. Secondly, on the basis of this grace equalizing persons before God, there is an equalization of all other relationships, without the false distinctions of reductionism such that “there is neither Jew nor Greek [race, ethnicity], slave nor free [class], male nor female [gender]” (Gal 3:28). These distinctions, plus many others including clergy-laity, cause relational separation or distance (even inadvertently with good intentions) which functionally fragment the whole of “you are all one in Christ.” The grace of Christ’s redemptive work of adoption conclusively established the relational imperative for perception and practice that no person is comparatively less in the whole of God but only full members of his family without distinctions.

 

Paul was certainly prophetic in his emphatic declaration that the relational transformation of this equalization became a fully operational reality when Christ destroyed the barriers to the intimate relationships of his new family—barriers which include both the prevailing vertical barriers of distinctions separating relationships and the conventional horizontal barriers of keeping relational distance (Eph 2:11-18). Yet, without engaging the relational imperative, the fact of this new condition along with the presence of grace can remain static in church doctrine, the mere possession of which is insufficient to function as a transformed church to fulfill God’s desires for his family—as the church in Ephesus obviously learned later the hard way (Rev 2:4). What a church must also engage ongoingly is the dynamic process of relationships; as Christ set into motion, this process necessitates operationalizing the ongoing relational work of eliminating separation and distance in our relationships along with building greater trust, intimacy, wholeness and well-being (the relational significance of peace) in belonging to God and each other as his family—the lack or substitute of which maintains the church as an orphanage. As Paul operationalized for church practice in contrast to reductionist substitutes, the combination of equalization and intimacy in our relationships becomes: first, the clear qualitative functional indicator that we are redeemed from the old, and secondly, the qualitative relational indicator that our practices are transformed to the new (cf. Paul’s concern in 1 Cor 1:12, 13; Gal 4:9; Col 2:20).

 

Transformed persons thus practice transformed relationships, which by the nature of grace are not only reconciled intimate relationships but also redeemed equalized relationships. Yet a reductionist framework of inequality and reductionist substitutes of distinction-making separate us, distance our relationships, fragment the whole of God’s family. In Paul’s theology there is no basis of hope for transformed persons, transformed relationships and the transformed church apart from redemptive change from reductionism. The effect of reductionism renders church practice to ontological simulation and epistemological illusion. And the only alternative Paul posits to negate the influence or control of reductionism is grace. Grace is the functional basis for the transformed, the new, for becoming the whole of God. The urgent issue for church practice, however, is understanding the significant difference between grace as the functional basis from grace merely as the theological basis. The latter is necessary but it is not sufficient to distinguish church practice from reductionism.

 

This suggests that a church is challenged necessarily to determine its basis for existence beyond formulating a statement of faith. Each church needs to consciously and ongoingly decide whether it is made operational by God’s activity or by human activity. This choice, of course, involves the issue central to Paul’s theology: justification. Yet, we have to deepen our understanding of the relational significance of justification by embedding Paul’s discourse on it into the context of the ecclesiology of the whole, which was Paul’s apostolic and prophetic purpose (cf. Gal 2:7-21).

 

This ongoing choice between God’s effort (grace) and human effort (works) translates into the decision (conscious or not, intentional or inadvertent) between “the narrow path” of relational involvement with the whole of God or “the conventional (broad) path” of reductionism and its substitutes for the whole. While theological discussion of justification focuses on salvation—with the tendency to limit it to what we are “saved from”—justification by grace involves the Trinity’s redemptive action in the relational process of adoption which makes God’s family operational in intimate and equalized relationships. In reductionism, justification by “what we do” reduces the function (or even the need) of grace: first, by focusing on human function apart (or distant) from the importance of the heart, thus reducing the whole person; next, by substitutions, simulations and illusions with which the relational context is redefined and the relational process is minimized, thus reducing the relational involvement of the whole of God; then by diminishing the ongoing function of intimate and equalized relationships necessary to be the whole of God’s family. The consequence of a church’s decision is why this issue is so critical to the ecclesiology of the whole and helps us understand the significance of why Paul dealt with justification by grace so definitively for ecclesial contexts and not as a separate theological topic of concern.

 

There can be a fine line distinguishing grace as the functional basis for a church or grace as only its theological basis. The ecclesiology of the whole operationalizes church practice such that it can be assessed by the qualitative functional indicator of being redeemed from the old and the qualitative relational indicator of being transformed to the new, as noted above. These indicators of equalized, intimate relationships are useful for church determination because they directly involve the function of grace.

 

The perceptual framework of grace is contrary to the perception of defining ourselves by what we do. The perception of works sees self, others and God in a comparative process of distinctions and differences which vertically structure relationships in levels of inequality. Since God’s redemptive action of grace equalizes all of us before God and thus with each other in the whole of God’s family, the redemptive outcome for all ongoing church practice is clearly then: grace does not allow us our distinctions and takes away the comparative use of differences (cf. Gal 6:15; 5:6).

 

Our perception of differences is an important process for the church to address: how we perceive our own personal differences and self-evaluate, how we “see” others in comparison and make judgment, even how we look at God and thus treat him. Our perception of these differences exerts controlling influence on our relationships, determining what we pay attention to and what we may overlook or ignore. Stereotypes, for example, either dominate, control or strongly influence how we relate to a particular human difference. Paul even defined the need to be redeemed from our stereotypes of Christ. As a preface to the ministry of reconciliation, Paul redefines the framework for this relational work by declaring “from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view,” not even Christ (2 Cor 5:16). “Regard” (oida, recognize) and “worldly point of view” (Gk. sarx, flesh) can be rendered respectively “perceive” and “reductionist perspective”—that is, perceptions from a reductionist framework, which includes various Christian perceptions of Christ. Therefore, changing to the new creation necessitates transformation in church practice that no longer perceives others with the quantitative distinctions of a prevailing reductionist framework. If Paul makes this redemptive change a necessity to engage the fundamental ministry of reconciliation, this begs the question for each church: what determines its perceptions—grace or reductionism?

 

For a church to have grace as the functional basis to be operational there are deep ramifications. Grace determines not only God’s ongoing relational involvement but also, and equally important, determines how God’s people function and are involved, notably in what we present of our person, in the content of our communication and in the level of relationship we engage. Grace fundamentally affects our relationships at their roots and basic functions. Based on the relational experience of God’s grace vulnerably extended to us by the incarnation of the Son, the functional outcome of grace demands: first, the presentation of the whole person at the very heart of what that person is—without any qualification or concealment because that is only what that person can be when grace prevails as the functional basis; next, as persons practice presenting their whole person, this opens the way (and closes any distance) in relationships to be involved with each other on the heart level, without constraint in vulnerable intimate relationships of love; then, since grace determines the person presented, the nature of the relationship and the process involved, there are no acceptable bases to God for making distinctions among us which would create distance in relationships—in other words, grace demands relationships which are equalized as well as intimate.

 

What grace demands of our person and in our relationships is exactly what grace demands of us before and with God—our whole person in the relationships necessary to be the whole of God’s family as constituted in and by the Trinity. The whole of our response by grace back to God must be compatible with the whole of God’s response of grace to us. Grace defines the terms for relationships with God and simply defines the functional basis for all practice of God’s people.

 

While the normative perceptions of church practice, even as family, have been seen through a lens of wide latitude, grace does not allow us this latitude (particularly of reductionism) as it deepens our perceptions to the very heart of the whole of God. God has disclosed himself only as an act of grace and has given us no other alternative to himself than by his grace. By the relational function of grace the church is constituted and by the function of grace in its relationships the church is made operational as transformed persons experience transformed relationships in its ongoing practice together as family. The church as the whole of God’s family has no other functional basis.

 

How does the church function as God’s family in those intimate and equalized relationships signifying relational transformation to the whole of God? If we have adequately addressed the previous questions for the church, our discussion of the ecclesiology of the whole is now ready to focus on the vital operation of the transformed church.
 

 

Its Operation

 

 

As we address the operation of the whole of God’s family, we need to keep in mind the susceptible tendency to turn to or rely on reductionist substitutes to ontologically simulate God’s family and to settle for epistemological illusions of the relational truth of the gospel. This tendency toward reductionism is magnified especially when we are discomforted or feel the pressure to change—both of which are likely in the discussion ahead, if not experienced already.

 

Paul allowed no negotiating room for reductionism—as demonstrated by his confrontation of Peter—which was why he dealt firmly, if not always clearly, with various “secondary” reductionist issues and practices in his epistles. The latter makes it difficult for Christians to agree on Paul’s practical prescriptions (for example, on gender) when they are removed from the context of the ecclesiology of the whole. In spite of this issue, I suggest that Paul would have more tension and conflict with church practice today than we may have with parts of his teachings—whether due to our practice of reductionist substitutes or our use of a reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework.

 

The ongoing operational lens which a church must use to assess its practice is the trinitarian relational context of family and its relational process of family love. This suggests the working definition for church and its operation that needs to shape its growth and development is: the intimate interdependent relationships of whole persons equalizing each other together in family love as the whole family of God constituted in and by the Trinity.

 

When Jesus said he will build “his church,” he used the Greek term ekklesia (Mt 16:18). The term meant the assembly or gathering of those who were called out (ekkletoi). Ekklesia also has roots in the OT, which the Septuagint (Gk translation of the Hebrew OT) uses for Israel as the covenant community. This embeds the Christian church in the context of God’s dealings with his chosen people and their covenantal relationship (Ex 19:5; Deut 7:6; Heb 8:10; 1 Pet 2:9-10). The NT extends this salvation history as the Father pursues a people for himself in his eschatological plan (Lk 1:17; Acts 15:14; Tit 2:14; Heb 4:9). Yet there is much more involved to make the church functional. The incarnation of the Son—involving the complete Christology (including between the manger and the cross) and full soteriology (including what Christ saved us to)—converges with Paul in the truth of the gospel through the relational work of the Spirit to operationalize the church.

 

The word ekklesia itself appears to have only limited descriptive value for what the church is and does. Robert Banks suggests that Paul’s usage of the term has less theological significance than we should assume.[1] As far as function is concerned, ekklesia is a static term which is not useful to define the church (local especially). We need a more dynamic understanding for the church’s function than merely a gathering. This dynamic process is gained from the narrative life of Jesus and Paul’s use of other metaphors for the church, as discussed previously in the section “The Church in Likeness of the Trinity” (Chapter 5).

 

Based in the Trinity, Jesus’ person and words provide us with the relationship-specific nature of involvement with the whole God and the basis for the identity of his people as family; these also give us the understanding of the relational significance our involvement must engage—individually and corporately with God and with each other. This forms the trinitarian relational context and process for Paul’s metaphors of the church, which then combine for the necessary framework to the dynamic understanding of church in its full vital function. For church practice, this necessitates integrating what has been known as authentic spirituality, and its importance of the whole person, with the corporate process of family, and its intimate, equalized relationships necessary to be whole.

 

In its claim of the whole of God as family, the church is challenged to function unlike the historic covenant people of the OT, the voluntary associations of  NT times and even the conventional institutional-organizational models of church seen throughout church history. That is, the church is the new creation which functions, even beyond any prevailing perceptions of family, in life together as God’s new kinship family. This does not preclude various church forms, it only defines how they need to function.

 

A major part of church function is definitive in Paul’s metaphor of the human body (1 Cor 12) as it pertains to the new creation family. If we think of this metaphor merely as form or organizational structure, we tend to use it in a perfunctory manner avoiding the main issues involved in it. In this metaphor, the church is a whole, a “system” similar to biological systems. Paul was not describing anatomy but an organic system of deeply interdependent parts in covariation (“if one part . . . every part  . . .  with it,” 12:26) which function together as the whole having synergism, where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts, just as in the Trinity (12:12). Yet, this outcome of the whole does not happen automatically for a church, regardless of what the individuals do or do not do (cf. the church in Sardis, Rev 3:1, 2). Nor is the synergism in a church attributed to the unilateral “signs and wonders” work of the Spirit (note the cooperative work of the Spirit in the distribution and purpose of spiritual gifts, 12:7). The church is not a mystical system but a relational system which together as family involves a cooperative relational process.

 

To engage with the Spirit in the cooperative relational process inherent in Paul’s body metaphor, church practice has to resolve ongoingly the discomfort about and need to change involved with the issues implied in this metaphor—notably freedom, independence, inequality, voluntary association and the underlying reductionism, all of which have critical implications for the whole. The system and the process of relationships necessary to make it work coincide with the whole of God’s family constituted in the Trinity. This combines the metaphors of body and family to operationalize the church.

 

As noted earlier about adoption, full membership in God’s family constitutes significant relational involvement, the quality of which cannot be adequately fulfilled by voluntary, optional, selective practice, nor can it be substituted for with quantity. These latter practices signify the terms for relationship determined only by the individual, not the Father’s terms for his family functioning together as Paul pointed to in his metaphor. Such practice is a misuse of redemptive freedom, which Paul dealt with also in his first epistle to the Corinthians. While every member of Christ’s body willfully decided to follow him, it is the Father who chose us and adopted us for himself to be a permanent (and full) member of his family (Eph 1:3-14). This favor extended to us by the Father, enacted for us by the Son and being completed in us by the Spirit is entirely a function of relationship the terms of which altogether preclude our individual and voluntary determination and allow for no negotiation. This is simply the nature of relationship with the holy, eternal God and the significance of responding to his grace. And Paul addressed the issue of accountability in this matter with the church discipline necessary to be whole.

 

This defines the relational imperative for church practice signified in the Trinity—the same relational imperative Christ conclusively established by his redemptive work of adoption making all of his followers full members of his family without distinctions. As noted about the Trinity, the trinitarian persons are not independent from each other nor can each person be defined and understood apart from the whole Trinity. The Trinity is ontologically and relationally inseparable as one and also relationally and ontologically irreducible as “three in one” in the interdependence of the whole. The Trinity constitutes the whole of God as family without independence from the whole and with interdependence in the whole as equal persons. Likewise, with the body metaphor Paul operationalizes the church without independence from the whole and with interdependence in the whole as equal persons. Church practice must account for this.

 

The relational imperative for church practice is twofold: first, dealing with each member and one’s independence and, secondly, dealing with their relationships together and their interdependence. A church needs to address both the first aspect without sacrificing the whole church as family and the second aspect without sacrificing the whole person. Reductionism would simulate the second without addressing the first or create illusions about the first without practicing the second. Yet to account for the relational imperative is not about enforcing what church and its members are supposed to do but rather about living out what they are redeemed to be in love. That is, the relational imperative is about how to be involved with each other in the relationships of God’s new family in the relational process of family love, not about what to do.

 

The whole person and the relationships necessary to be the whole of God’s family cannot experience being whole without the relational involvement of family love. Paul alludes to this love as God’s design for the church in the body metaphor: “God has combined the members of the body . . . so that there should be no division [relational separation or distance] in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Cor 12:24, 25; cf. Eph 4:16). The church cannot be operational as God’s family apart from the relational involvement of family love—which is intimate and equalizing—constituted in the Trinity. God’s family love is the basis for full membership and ongoing participation in the church and the inherent practice of the church as his family.

 

Just as God’s family love vulnerably involved himself with us relationally in the incarnation and, with our willful response to him, redeemed us back to his house to be adopted as his very own daughters and sons (not servants or guests) in order to be intimately equalized together in the interdependent relationships of the whole of the Trinity as family, from this relational reality the transformed church functions in the same relational process of family love. The experience and practice of anything less is contrary to Jesus’ prayer to the Father for his followers: “I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them”—that is, to experience the same love as the Trinity (Jn 17:26). The revelation of God in the incarnation is God’s ultimate response for these intimate interdependent relationships equalized together by family love in order not “to be apart” from the whole of God. As Paul operationalized the church, he reinforced Jesus’ prayer with his own prayer (in Eph 3:14-19) for our whole persons to experience the love of the whole of God constituted in the Trinity.

 

Family love is the experience and practice of God’s family operating together in likeness of the Trinity. Moreover, as Jesus further prayed (Jn 17:13-23), these intimate interdependent relationships equalized by family love not only fully satisfy those within the church as whole but their overt demonstration of this whole in family love reflecting the Trinity also can deeply affect those outside the church. What attracts the world is not Christian ideology but relational experiences about the human condition “to be apart” and the need to be part of (belong through relationship) the whole. In other words, as the church practices God’s family love in the ecclesiology of the whole, it makes operational the fulfillment of Jesus’ and Paul’s prayers as an experiential reality. And the world will notice. (More on the church within the world will be discussed in the tenth chapter.)

 

Submission as the Functional Response:
 

After Paul’s prayer in Ephesians, he defined specific relational actions in the process of family love to make operational the whole of God’s family—prescriptions to be whole always in conflict with and in contrast to reductionism. And the singular relational response (cf. “one and only” revealed by the Son) that most characterizes this relational process of God’s family love is submission—not to be confused with subjugation, compulsory subordination and self-denial, or any other conventional notions from reductionism such as mere self-sacrifice inadequately defining agape love.

 

Submission tends to be perceived as a passive act. In conflict with such reductionism, Paul makes necessary the assessment of how we live (the imperative form of blepo, “look at, examine,” Eph 5:15); additionally in contrast to reductionist substitutes, he outlines the relational imperative in cooperation with the Spirit to formulate our response as the whole of God’s family to the whole of God in worship together (5:17-20). And he culminates this outline of the relational imperative for church practice with the prescription: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”
(5:21).

 

While Paul used the Greek passive voice for “submit,” he was not implying anything passive. The passive voice indicates that the subject is being acted upon by some other agent. There is a dynamic relational process involved in Paul’s prescription. As ongoing recipients of God’s family love demonstrated in the incarnation of Christ, our only response back that can be compatible to his relational act of grace is to submit our whole person (as is) to the whole of God—based on God’s principle of relational involvement with “nothing less and no substitutes.” Submission then is the volitional action of the whole person in relational response to the whole of God; and by the nature of this relational involvement submission is the full affirmation of the whole person.

 

Nothing less than the whole person in relational response to the whole of God’s family love engages our “reverence for Christ.” That is, without submitting to the grace of the holy God vulnerably presented in Christ, our person in function remains relationally distant (“to be apart”) from the whole of God in Christ. We have to understand “reverence for Christ” as a function of relationship and as the practice of intimate relational involvement in response back to the whole of God. Without submission our whole person is not actually involved, and without such a response we are not relationally connected to the whole of God, who makes our person whole in the relationships necessary for the whole of God’s family.

 

Submission is not only the full affirmation of the whole person but is also the full understanding of the absolute necessity to be relationally involved with the whole of God’s family in order for the person to be whole. Ever since the first person was created, it was never good “to be apart” from the whole—that is, to be relationally separate or distant in the relationships necessary to be whole. The person was never created just to be an individual. God’s design and purpose for the whole person was always to be in relationship together with others in the whole of God as family.[2] The person cannot be whole apart from this corporate whole of God’s family, which is operationalized in the church with the Spirit in the cooperative relational process of family love. Submission practices this relational truth.

 

Submission has further relational implications in church practice—particularly for the issues implied in Paul’s body metaphor concerning freedom, independence, inequality. To make the church operational, Paul either highlighted the need for submission or implied the importance of it, the interpretation of which can be misperceived when taken out of the context of the ecclesiology of the whole.

 

Each of Paul’s prescriptions of submission was to counter reductionism and is totally about the whole, thus should not be taken out of this context. The act of submission is for the sake of the whole of God and is not an end in itself, which either promotes or sacrifices the doer. Therefore, whenever the matter or issue is about the whole, submission is warranted and necessary—the absence of which diminished the whole for all involved. Submission, however, is not warranted and is even contrary to the whole when it serves reductionism. This suggests that when Paul calls for submission in marriage, church polity, government and slavery he is not advocating submission in any context if it reinforces reductionism and thus fragments the whole. We have to understand his prescriptions of submission in this qualitative framework of the whole of God and for this relational purpose of the whole of God’s family. Otherwise, the practice of submission does not counter reductionism but instead becomes reductionist.

 

Submission is the foremost relational response of God’s covenant people, the followers of Christ, the full members of the church. As grace is the functional basis for the relationship, submission is the functional response in the relationship which involves two important relational issues: the first defines the priority of the relationship and thus on whose terms, and the second determines what the relationship is about in its ongoing actual practice—the whole of God, his desires and eschatological plan, not about us and our situations and circumstances.

 

Moreover, relational submission is both a necessary and sufficient condition for the process of family love, whereas reductionist submission is not even a sufficient condition for its authentic practice. The single-mindedness of submission is always the relational response necessary to take us beyond and deeper than the subtle focus on what we do, to the primary focus on God (and his desires) and the primacy of relational involvement with others (over doing something for them). This response reflects how God is with us, particularly in Christ during the incarnation and now through his Spirit. Without submission there is no sufficient relational basis to be involved with others beyond merely making it about ourselves in what we do. This is a crucial issue for church practice when love essentially is defined by what we do, not how to be involved relationally, thus making it difficult to distinguish it from reductionist substitutes.

 

In the relational process of family love, therefore, submission always antecedes love in relational expression as well as is motivated by love for further relational involvement. The Son submitted to the Father to share family love with us as well as was motivated by love to submit himself to be vulnerably involved with us, even in difficult times. We cannot love God, for example, without our submission to his grace first; submission is the functional response to God’s initiative which unequivocally defines the relationship on God’s terms. If love precedes submission in our practice, even with good intention, this becomes more about us and what we do in the relationship on our terms. Relational submission then, not love, is the conclusive relational indicator that our practice is about the whole of God and not about us; love further extends this relational response in progression to God’s family.

 

Submission to Wholeness:
 

When Paul outlined the relational imperative for church practice (Eph 5:17-21), his focus understandably was on the ultimate relational practice of worship. By the nature of worship, this outline culminates quite naturally with his prescription of submission because relational submission is an integral part of the meaning of worship. Specifically, submission is our (individual and corporate) relational message of worship directly to God expressing the significance of who we are in Christ and thus whose we are as the Father’s—nothing less and no substitutes. The significance of this relational message expressed in submission is the relational response undergirding the practice of the whole of the church and the whole of each of its members.

 

When Paul addressed reductionist activity in the church, notably the misuse of Christian freedom and the incompatibility of independence, he negated this with the relational function of submission for the sake of the interdependence necessary for the church to be operational as the whole of God’s family. He understood that reductionism is Satan’s counter-relational work seeking to diminish the whole with simulated practices and illusions of more which effectively reinforce our condition “to be apart” from the whole (2 Cor 11:13-15; Eph 5:16; 6:11). As Satan influenced Eve with reductionism to exercise independence (Gen 3:16) and tempted Jesus with reductionist substitutes to act apart from the whole of God (Lk 4:1-13), his counter-relational work continues to challenge the church with substitutes and settling for less. Paul fought  (agonizomai) for the whole person and the relationships in the church necessary to be the whole of God (Col 1:28-2:2). He knew the person cannot be whole while practicing independence because wholeness is constituted by a person’s relational function in the whole of God’s family. Additionally, as understood in Paul’s Jewish heritage, wholeness is rooted in the Hebrew term for peace (shalom) which signifies the well-being of a community or corporate body (cf. Eph 4:3). The practice of freedom (or individualism) becomes reductionist when it is primarily about oneself and one’s so-called rights. To be free indeed is to be redeemed for the sake of relationships—family relationships sharing family love (cf. Jn 8:35, 36). Submission, therefore, in relational function actually optimizes redemptive freedom rather than constrains it.

 

In his personal life, Paul struggled with using the substitutes of reductionism for his own life—perhaps even indulged it (see 2 Cor 12:1-6); and he labored under the need to practice relational submission for the sake of the whole of God—even while he operationalized the church in the ecclesiology of the whole (see 2 Cor 12:7-9). The thorn in his flesh helped Paul get beyond making it about himself and what he could do. In addition, submission was necessary to free Paul from any reductionism in order to go deeper in the relationship of the whole of God. Yet it is important to grasp in Paul’s struggle that submission should not be confused with resignation to one’s circumstances—a critical distinction to help understand his submission prescription in other social circumstances (for example, about slavery). Resignation was not Paul’s conclusion here; that would have only reinforced reductionism. As demonstrated here by his response to God’s relational message—“my grace is sufficient for you . . . ,” which is not about Paul’s circumstances—submission is only relational. While circumstances may be involved, submission is about relationship on God’s terms and our relational response to the whole of who we are and whose we are.

 

In being the foremost relational response and the conclusive relational indicator, submission by the whole person for the sake of and in response to the whole of God constitutes the relational involvement necessary together to operationalize church practice in the relational process of family love. The importance of the whole person engaging the whole of God’s family in relationship together is even more deeply grasped as we move from the issues of freedom and independence to address inequality. Paul’s use of the body metaphor further involved this issue when he made church practice operational by interdependence.

 

Interdependence of the church body should not be confused with fostering dependence in its members nor with constraining the whole person by conformity, though it certainly limits the independence of the individual. Just as submission does, interdependence fully affirms the whole person as important—from the inside out in contrast to the outside in of reductionism—without grading, for example, the person’s role performed in the body. Paul establishes each person as indispensable regardless of how others perceive (dokeo, “seem,” a subjective estimate or opinion) the individual from an outside-in reductionist framework (asthenes, “weaker,” less ability, 1 Cor 12:22; cf. 2 Cor 5:16), thus every person is important. Furthermore, interdependence establishes all persons (regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, age) within the body in a common significant value without stratifying their place based on these distinctions or any other characteristics (12:24b-25a). Yet, this is not about homogeneity.

 

Paul was not simply suggesting a way for the church to be operational. Nor does the body metaphor necessarily suggest a singular form the church must have; yet whatever form a church takes needs to follow the imperative relational functions defined by this metaphor combined with family. In the current challenge to formulate evangelical ecclesiology, Richard Beaton makes a similar observation that “if the church is to reimagine what an ecclesiology might look like in the twenty-first century, it seems that part of that exercise will require a return to the biblical metaphors that have contributed to the structuring of the identity of the church throughout its history.”[3] Yet, it is important to grasp that Paul’s metaphors imply a functional ecclesiology which defines relational structure and process more than institutional-organizational structure. And one of the most vital functions he defined for the church is the interdependence of its members—not as a suggestion but as relational imperative.

 

The interdependence of the church family is the new creation which reflects the image of the whole of God as the Trinity in their relationships together as one (Col 3:10, 11). As discussed in “The Church in Likeness of the Trinity,” this is not optional or even voluntary church practice but the relational imperative. The function of interdependence relationally connects all the members of God’s family (local and universal) in two indispensable ways: (1) it provides the trinitarian relational context for all persons to be equalized with each other, and in doing so, (2) it opens access to the trinitarian relational process of intimate relationships with each other “so that there should be no division [Gk. schisma, relational separation or distance] in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Cor 12:25). Interdependence therefore engages the relationships in the church within the covariation of the whole (12:26), which constitutes all of a church’s practices to cohere in family love (cf. Col 3:14 in contrast to Rev 2:2-4).

 

Equalizing to Be Whole:
 

This brings us to the intentional, unintentional and subtle vertical disconnectedness in relationships due to inequality—even from clergy-laity distinction—as well as the horizontal relational distance from unequalized relationships. Both of these relational conditions constrain the whole person (notably from the heart) because of defining the person by what one does or has and thereby engaging in relationships on this reductionist basis of outer-in perception of persons and involvement in relationships. In church practice these relationships not only lack intimacy to experience family but also preclude intimate connection to be family because the relational involvement is not equalized. The distinctions of reductionism applied in a comparative process always imply (directly or indirectly) inequalities which separate or disconnect persons, distance their relationships and fragment the whole of God’s family.

 

Equalized relationships and reductionist substitutes are incompatible; equalization and a reductionist framework are irreconcilable. Since Jesus equalized persons for relationship both during his earthly life and by his death and resurrection, what distinguished his followers, his church, his family is to equalize persons by extending family love for this relationship also. When soteriology is truncated, however, church practice becomes operationalized by a reductionist mindset of what Christ saved us from. To operate from the full soteriology includes embracing, practicing and experiencing what Christ saved us to (and sozo, to make whole) in the relational progression to the Father as his very own family. This progression necessitates the complete Christology of the whole of God vulnerably self-disclosed in the incarnation.

 

What this complete Christology reveals is that this equalizing process was initiated by Jesus before the cross. One interaction he had demonstrates various aspects of this process. This involved a Canaanite woman who boldly intruded on Jesus for help to free her daughter from a demon (Mt 15:21-28). Canaanites were the most morally despised people by Israelites in the OT As a pagan woman who was assimilated into Greek culture (cf. Mk 7:36), she would not be  conventionally perceived a likely candidate to receive God’s redemptive response—his disciples wanted to reject her. Jesus appeared to indicate as much by his response about the primacy of a family’s children over dogs. How Jesus’ statement was perceived is important in this equalizing process. Dogs were considered scavengers in the Jewish community, while in Greek custom at times dogs were pets. The woman was not a scavenger looking for some handout—not that Jesus was implying such—though she accepted the analogy of the children’s priority to eat before pets, which would imply staying in her place of inequality as someone less. Nevertheless, she did not seem to define herself comparatively in those reductionist distinctions but she continued to impose herself on Jesus. This suggests that on the relational level she boldly approached him to receive in effect as an equal to others in his family (“the lost sheep of Israel,” 15:24).

 

This is not about social mobility and climbing the ladder of success. By vulnerably presenting her whole person—as she was, nothing less and no substitutes—she claimed God’s favor without even knowing yet that she could be equalized by Christ. She certainly relationally impacted Jesus and demonstrated the quality (not necessarily quantity) of her faith (relational trust). Despite being different and culturally perceived as less, she never defined herself by how others did, nor did Jesus see and define her as less in her difference (cf. Samaritan woman in Jn 4:7ff). What Jesus demonstrated is the equalizing process and the need for his followers together as the church to practice in relationships to be the equalizer—a relational work both within the church as well as in the world.

 

As Paul operationalized this for the church, he said there are no “foreigners” and “aliens” in the church (Eph 2:19). Does this imply that all diversity and differences have been eliminated? Yes and no—yes in terms of the influence of reductionist distinctions and substitutes, no in terms of the transformed relationships of God’s family love in which homogeneity is reductionism (cf. 1 Cor 12:19). No “foreigners” and “aliens” exist in God’s family because persons formerly “to be apart” have been taken in (not the same as assimilated), accepted (not the same as pluralism) and equalized (not the same as reformed or conformed) as full members of his family, without reductionist distinctions. It was inconceivable to Paul that the church could function apart from equalization—though some of his contextual prescriptions of submission appear to confuse this. In “the mystery of Christ” (Eph 3:4-6) and “the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14) equalized relationships are at the heart of the church, making it operational as God’s family. To be authentically redeemed resulted in a process of reconciliation to be relationally one with the whole of God signified in the Trinity and thus whole together with his very own as family. Reductionist distinctions and their comparative inequality only cause division, separation, relational distance which fragment this unity or whole; equalizing is a necessary function from redemption for the church to be operational as the whole of God’s family—Paul’s thesis in Galatians, Ephesians, Corinthians.

 

In Banks’ study about the early house churches and Paul’s formulation of community, he concludes differently: “for Paul equality was subservient to the more fundamental idea of unity. For this reason the idea of equality itself could never become a leading motif in his thought.”[4] Yet, despite his positive observations of the principle of equality in Paul’s formulation of community, Banks does not adequately perceive that equalization is inherent to authentic unity, not the structural unity of the institutional-organizational church but the functional and relational unity of the transformed church as the whole of God’s family signified in the Trinity. Moreover, he does not account for the equalization process necessary for full membership in the community of God’s household without which, as Paul said, church practice does not function in the truth of the gospel.

 

Perhaps the confusion comes from a perception of equality as not only the basis for all church members to assume personal responsibility for the operation of the church but also using equality as a rationale for individualism. This tendency is certainly an issue impacting the whole of church practice. For example, while the priesthood of believers equalizes all of God’s people, evangelicalism historically (with roots in the Reformation) has used this (intentionally or inadvertently) to foster individualism, particularly since Pietism. This consequence happens when intimate relationship with God (spirituality and piety) is not integrated into the relational progression to the Father as his very own, which necessitates taking one’s personal place in the reciprocal relational responsibilities of the whole of God’s family. Reductionism separates the whole of the person from the whole of the church by defining the whole of each according to the function of quantitative aspects such as what they do or have, thus not grasping how the person and the relationships necessary in the church must by their nature function together inseparably and irreducibly to be whole.

 

Paul never separates the person from the function of the church, nor both from the whole of God. In further consistency with his conflict with reductionism, his metaphors for the church and the processes he describes for church function do not suffer from such a reductionist perceptual framework. He does not talk about equality in quantitative terms of what the members do or what they have; and we should not confuse the different functions of the parts in the body metaphor with each person’s self-definition precluding equalized relationships. Paul defines equality in qualitative relational terms of what the members (individually and corporately) are in relation to God (Eph 2) and who they are in relation to each other (Gal 3). Equalization then does not reduce church practice to the notions of the individual, rather it brings the church to the depths of each whole person (signifying the importance of the heart) and opens the way for hearts to come together in the primacy of the relationships necessary to be whole. Equalizing is the function of the qualitative significance of the triune God and the relationality of the Trinity.

 

Equality is the qualitative function of transformed relationships that is fundamental to how God is involved with us and how he wants his very own to be involved in their relationships. The unity or oneness of the church Paul describes is the relational outcome of this intimate reciprocal involvement of equalized relationships, which thus form the qualitative interdependent bonds of his family constituted in the Trinity. There was no tension for Paul between equality and unity because, when not reduced, the one is inextricably linked to the other to be whole. The process of equalization is the relational opposite of individualism; and equalizing always functions in direct conflict with any form of antinomianism (in effect doing whatever the individual chooses), or any other reductionist substitute. Even well-intentioned efforts for organizational church unity and efficiency cannot substitute for the intimate interdependent relationships equalized in the qualitative function of the church as family practicing family love.
 

 

The Church Becomes Equalizer

 

For Paul, both for theological congruence and to reflect the relational reality involving even his own direct experience, to be redeemed is to be equalized (Eph 2:12-15a)—not merely as a person but together as the Father’s very own family in which he intimately lives by his Spirit (2:15b-22). As God responded to our condition “to be apart,” in this redemptive process Christ indeed vulnerably functioned as the equalizer. The church which follows him in the relational progression with the relational work of his Spirit also lives and functions with him as the equalizer. This is the functional operation of family love which the Father initiated and now extends in his very own.

 

As the equalizer both within itself and within the world, the church makes operational the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love. In likeness to and cooperation with the Trinity’s response to our condition “to be apart” from the whole, the ecclesiology of the whole establishes church practice in the relational functions necessary to come together to be whole. The trinitarian persons’ ongoing relational involvement with us provides the experiential basis for the practice of the necessary relational involvement in our relationships so that we would no longer be apart (or distant) from the whole but intimately belong as full (equalized) functioning members of the whole of God’s family. Just as the incarnation demonstrated the Trinity’s ultimate relational response and involvement with nothing less and no substitutes, Paul confronted the response and involvement of anything less and any substitutes from church practice as reductionism.

 

 

Ecclesiology of the whole suggests the only church practice compatible with the truth of the gospel and the mystery of Christ and the only church function in coherence with God’s eschatological plan for all of creation. With the ongoing lure of reductionism and mounting pressure from postmodernity, churches today are critically challenged to relationally demonstrate the whole of who they are and whose they are. This is the call that Jesus makes the relational imperative to follow him in progression and which Paul made relationally imperative for the church to operationalize in transformed life together as the whole of God’s family.

 

 


 

[1] Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, rev. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publ., 1994), 46.

[2] Following the lead of the Cappadocians on the social Trinity, Eastern theologian John Zizioulas conceptualizes personal being as a communal ontology of personhood in Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985).

[3] Richard Beaton, “Reimagining the Church,” in Evangelical Ecclesiology: Reality or Illusion?, ed. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 223.

[4] Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, 138.

 

 

 

 

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©2006 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.