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The Person, the Trinity, the Church

 

Wholeness Study

Chapter 8                                                                printer-friendly pdf version of entire study

Called to Be Whole

 

Subsections:

 

The Work of Equalization
Its Multicultural Nature
Addressing Change from Without from Within
Four Major Aspects to Multicultural Change
Called Beyond the Common and Ordinary
Sanctified Whole

Introduction
Chap. 1
Chap. 2
Chap. 3
Chap. 4
Chap. 5
Chap. 6
Chap. 7

Chap. 9
Chap. 10
Chap. 11

Table of Contents

 

Scripture Index

 

 

The call Jesus made the relational imperative to “Follow me” is the ongoing function of discipleship in which Paul responded with his whole person to be intimately involved with the whole of God as family together. While doing so, Paul operationalized the church to be whole. Paul’s theology followed the vulnerable revelation of Jesus and thus he made the church operational in the dynamic progression of the relational context and process of the Trinity and the trinitarian persons’ involvement with us. Church practice needs to be the same relational response of discipleship to the whole of God’s self-disclosure in Christ, who was the ultimate response to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole.

Throughout this study the incarnation has been defined as the ultimate of God’s self-disclosure and loving response, thus the hermeneutical and functional keys for defining the human person and the church. The Son was sent by the whole of God, as the whole of God, for the whole of God. To summarize Jesus’ formative family prayer (Jn 17): “Righteous Father . . .  you have sent me (apostello, send for the specific mission, vv. 8, 25), to reveal you to them (phaneroo, reveal to them for relationship, v. 6), make you known and continue to make you known to them (v. 26), in order for them to know you intimately (v. 3), so that the love you have for me may also be the experiential reality of their heart together and that I may be intimately involved together with them in the whole of our family” (v. 26).

The Son was sent for this purpose/mission which was totally relational. God’s revelation and truth are only for relationship—the relationship of the whole of God. This relationship is the function of discipleship which necessarily integrates spirituality (intimate relationship with God) and community (intimate interdependent relationships equalized together in God’s family) in God’s eschatological desires. This relationship is our call (both individual and corporate) to be whole—the whole of God constituted in and by the Trinity. For the church to be whole involves transformed relationships—engaged by transformed persons—which are both intimate and equalized. Yet, for the church to follow Jesus as the equalizer in God’s redemptive process for his people, for humanity, creation and all of salvation history requires a deeper and more rigorous functional understanding of redemption and reconciliation. This will be the focus of the next three chapters in the attempt to establish a working basis for the practice of the church as equalizer within itself (chap. 8, along with parenthetical chap. 9) and within the world (chap. 10), followed by the concluding chapter suggesting who will best meet this challenge for the whole of God.

 

The Work of Equalization

In the process of discipleship, following Jesus in the relational progression encounters various matters which can be a blessing or a threat. Equalizing is one of those matters that is a blessing or a threat. It is a threat for those who depend on what they do, accomplish and have, in order to establish themselves; this includes those who misuse Christian freedom and feed on individualism. It is a blessing, however, for those who need grace and who want more than reductionist substitutes. Since Jesus equalized persons by extending the relationship of his Father to us, what distinguishes his followers, his church, his family, is to likewise equalize by extending this relationship of family love. Yet, equalization and a reductionist framework are irreconcilable, thus incompatible as a working basis for church practice.

Reductionist influences diminish or minimalize the qualitative significance of God’s people to an ambiguous function (diminished “light”) and shallow practice (minimalized “salt”). Whether fragmenting into parts the whole of God, reducing the whole person, constraining God’s design and purpose for relationships, minimalizing qualitative substance in life, or even diminishing the relational process of faith and the relational truth of the gospel, reductionist practices essentially take something away from what is authentic and replace it with a counterfeit substitute—though the substitute may appear in form to be the same, is presented as genuine and fulfills a prevailing function. By diminishing or minimalizing the whole, reductionism takes away the qualitative significance clearly distinguishing God’s people and thus makes the church ordinary in usage, common in function and practice; that is, in effect the church becomes “of the world.” If a church’s identity and function as God’s family of sojourners is not to be co-opted by a reductionist process—shaping it, for example, as another well-intentioned social institution among a plurality, or assimilating its members into a prevailing sociocultural context—then it is imperative for church practice to make more explicit and heighten its conflict with reductionism. By its nature as those equalized by and who now follow Jesus the equalizer, the church in its practice must be true to the redemptive process which reconciled all its members together to the whole of God.

In addition to the lure of reductionism, we should not have any romanticized illusions about equalizing. The process is rigorous. Whether within the church or in the world, the process of equalization is a rigorous work. The divine cost to equalize all of us before God was beyond our comprehension—involving, at the very least, the Son temporarily giving up equality in the Trinity and submitting his whole person for the relationships (through redemption and by adoption) necessary to be whole as God’s family (cf. Phil 2:6-8; Col 1:19-20). When we contemplate intently on the holy, eternal God and truly grasp what the Father did in his Son and continues to do in his Spirit for its completion, we can understand that indeed this equalization process is rigorous relational work. All that the Trinity engages goes into destroying the barriers “to be apart” in order to reconcile us together as one in the whole of God. The work of equalization and the cost to implement it, therefore, should never become ends in themselves because in God’s call the work and cost always serve toward the primacy of relationship in the whole of God.

The human cost for equalizing work—first to be equalized within one’s own person and then to equalize all persons in relationships—is similar to the divine cost. It involves ongoingly giving up all elements of reductionist human distinctions which stratify persons, as well as submitting one’s whole person (as is, without those distinctions) to be intimately involved with others in relationships of family love which equalize and reconcile to the whole of God. Yet this cost is always for these relationships necessary in order to be whole. A prime example of this is when Paul operationalized the ecclesiology of the whole for Philemon in relation to his runaway slave, Onesimus. Philemon was called to be whole in the rigorous relational work of equalizing not only his slave but also himself for transformed relationship together (Phlm 9-12). On the basis of family love, this required Philemon to give up a slave to gain a brother, to make his household “business” secondary to gain family (Phlm 16)—the importance of the whole person in the primacy of the whole of God’s family.

The primacy of the trinitarian relational context and process cannot be diminished or minimalized in any way in order for the relational outcome to be authentic of the whole of God. When we are establishing our persons not “to be apart” from the whole of God, we are engaging the redemptive process of reconciliation God extends to us through redemption in Christ, which is imperative for relationship with God in particular. To participate in—that is, to be relationally involved in and have communion with—the whole of God’s life requires the redemptive change that transforms (metamorphoo, not metaschematizo) the person to be reconciled to God for intimate relationship as his very own, belonging permanently to God’s family. Additionally, when we are working on our relationships not “to be apart” from the whole of relationships in general, we need to engage the relational process of redemption and reconciliation (or redemptive reconciliation to be discussed in chap. 10) imperative for these relationships to be whole. To participate in and have an equal share in life together as family in likeness of the Trinity requires the equalization of redemption and intimate involvement of reconciliation in family love.

For human persons to be whole is a dynamic relational condition of coming together, which cannot be compatible with any presence of the more static relational condition “to be apart.” Therefore to be whole is an ongoing relational condition that involves reconciliation. Situations and circumstances may bring persons into common activity or shared space (including cyberspace connections) but they do not account for (unintentionally or by design) bringing those persons together—notably to be whole. This is the unique function of relationship, specifically reconciled relationships. Yet, reconciliation is not mere peaceful harmony or operational unity. We cannot fully come together as one in deep, meaningful relationships unless they are established with the whole person signified at the level of our hearts. Churches have to reexamine the significance of the ministry of reconciliation God committed to those of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17-19) and how we practice it foremost within the gathering of the church.

This becomes an issue in church practice that often tends to be a threat or burden more than a blessing and privilege. The Greek term for reconciliation (katallege) denotes: to change from one condition to another by taking away the root cause of a broken (or distant) relationship and, thus, leaving no barriers to restoring communion. This restoring to communion is the qualitative significance of persons coming together, that is, hearts coming together. In other words, as noted previously, this is intimacy. Intimacy is the relational process which underlies all reconciliation. Clearly then, the ministry of reconciliation involves specifically the building of intimacy. Building the intimate relationships necessary to be whole—foremost with God and within the church, then extending its purpose of reconciliation in the world—becomes the definitive work (cf. Gen 2:18; 1:28) for the new creation “in Christ.” This relational work is what  substantively distinguishes the functional life and practice of the transformed church from the common usages and ordinary practices prevailing in the surrounding contexts, and often in churches today. That is, this is the outcome when this rigorous relational work is not diminished or minimalized by reductionism, nor avoided because of threat or burden.

Practicing transformed relationships (both intimate and equalized) is simplified when diversity is the exception rather than the rule. Human differences, however, prevail increasingly regardless of the context. How we address differences is the most crucial issue in this relational work which not only rigorously challenges church practice but also imperatively calls it forth in order to be whole.

 

 

Its Multicultural Nature

All the global changes and instability experienced since the latter third of the twentieth century have created much more uncertainty in our lives, collectively and even individually. With the extent of the changes taking place around us, relational changes are the most critical. As noted earlier, globalization is forcing us to think more about the interrelationships beyond our provincial boundaries and comfort zones. Additionally, emigration (voluntary and involuntary) has affected all our lives in one way or another. At no other time in history has a group of persons “faced” so many other peoples different from themselves than exists today. This certainly has strained our comfort zones and either has threatened and burdened church practice or has challenged, privileged and blessed churches to expand its relationships, even to change how it does relationships.

Diversity and human differences have been addressed in various ways. In the U.S., assimilation into the dominant culture has been the prevailing approach to deal with differences, the effects of which may be functionally efficient but do not have the qualitative outcome sufficient for the persons involved to be whole as well as necessary for their relationships to be whole. During this recent period of change, we have been hearing the call from more progressive segments of our society for pluralism and multiculturalism. Pluralism is the acceptance of others’ differences and the mutual coexistence of those differences. Multiculturalism attempts to be more adaptive to differences by mutually establishing a solidarity of them together, though not to be confused with the myth of a melting pot identified with the U.S. Whether done with good intentions or mere political correctness, however, the solidarity of multiculturalism tends to be essentially a call for pluralism and the tolerance of others’ differences. Though this affirmation of diversity is certainly important and necessary for our times, coming together and becoming one is not on their agenda, reconciliation and restoring wholeness are not a part of their process.

The mere affirmation of human diversity is not sufficient to define the purpose nor to determine the practice of the church. Moreover, the presence of diversity in a church is not necessarily a sufficient basis to celebrate, though such celebration would be conventional of multiculturalism. This is not the multicultural perspective to be presented in this chapter.

What distinguishes the church as equalizer goes beyond these limited efforts in the surrounding context, and for the church to be whole it cannot mirror them. It would be naive to think that pluralism is or can be the dominant structure ordering human life. In contrast to the horizontal structure of pluralism—where differences are accepted or at least tolerated—the vertical structure imposed on human differences is what dominates. Divisions in human relations, for example, caused by human differences are not simply horizontal partitions. Implied in most divisions is vertical structuring which stratifies relationships in inequality—as seen between Judaizers and Gentile Christians in the early church, observed in U.S. race-ethnic relations under the illusion of “separate but equal,” and witnessed in twentieth-century Balkanization. The human tendency to perceive human differences on a vertical scale of “better” or “less” is the dominant way of human life reflecting the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole.

Since God intervened in this relational condition, the action he initiated by his grace constitutes the church in the process of the rigorous relational work of equalizing. Furthermore, Jesus clearly led the way to equalize in order to change this old order of life. Indeed, along with the whole nature of the cross, the whole week of Jesus’ passion demonstrates this equalization: Sunday’s humble but triumphant entry set the tone for the week and for the equalizing nature of Christ’s relational work, purpose and his church to follow; Monday, Jesus cleansed the temple of its system of inequality (to be discussed further in chap. 10) and opened God’s house for “all nations”; on Thursday—assuming a traditional view of what day this Passover meal took place—he washed his disciples’ feet, demonstrating the new relational order of relational involvement, which means to be willing to submit one’s life for others in order to be whole—ultimately demonstrating this love on Friday; Wednesday was absent of recorded activity strongly suggesting that Jesus separated himself in the solitude of prayer, which, for us, is a place of equalization where there is no one else to be compared to and no work or role to define self other than our whole person.

This is the week the world and all history became equalized, when the old died and the new was raised up, where God’s design for relationships was restored to their true purpose. As discussed in the ecclesiology of the whole, the redemptive outcome of all this is that the relational work of God’s grace does not allow us our distinctions and takes away differences which keep us apart from the whole.

Going back to the cleansing of the temple, Jesus restated unequivocally “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mk 11:17). He was not merely opening access to God’s house for “all nations” by his actions. This has to be connected to the window of the whole Jesus opened by defining who his family is (Mt 12:48-50). Whereas he clearly constituted the whole of his family as his authentic disciples, here he emphatically demonstrates that the whole of God’s house (oikos, household, family) is made up of “all nations” (ethnos, people as a unit and humankind together). In the Great Commission, the only imperative Jesus made is to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Without grasping the whole, our tendency in evangelism is to make converts over disciples, while our mission focus is geographical—going to “all nations.” This missional paradigm grasps neither Jesus’ call nor his commission. We need to revisit “all nations” and the imperative call of Jesus because ethne (pl. of ethnos) is not about places, situations and doing something but about persons, relationships and being the whole of God’s family.

In the whole of God’s family, all the human differences catalogued under humanity come together, not simply have access or a presence. This is the multicultural nature of the whole of God as family constituted in the Trinity—without the distinctions which stratify in a system of inequality, yet with all the unique functions necessary to be whole.

A church functioning without distinctions may sound good in theory but pragmatically it is not the kind of ideal many churches (mainline denominational or free) would actually practice. Even the magisterial Reformers did not subject their ecclesiology to the priesthood of all believers. This issue, however, is not whether the practice of the church should be left to anybody—thus, for example, sacrificing orthodoxy or compromising mission—but whether church function can be the practice of everybody, that is, the whole. It appears to elude the grasp of conventional Christian wisdom how the church can operationally function in unity (whether according to a creed or pragmatic principles) with the participation of all its existing diversity, and how the church can operate with efficiency along with the range of differences among its members. Certainly a reductionist framework influences how unity is approached and what priority is given to efficiency, which must be reexamined for church practice to engage the redemptive-reconciling relational work of God’s family.

The relational tension created by others’ differences is directly proportional to the homogeneity of “our little world,” which we construct of ideas, beliefs and experiences. This world or “box” we live in, this reality essentially constructed from cultural stuff and relational experiences, tends to define things presumably as the sum total of the way life is and should be conformed to. We would all be consigned to “our little world” had God not intruded in this world by his vulnerable incarnation to relationally extend family love so we would not be apart from the reality of the whole. This initiative of God’s reconciling work redeems us from “our little world” and extends us beyond it in the equalizing process of the ministry of reconciliation.

The imperative call to extend family love beyond “our little world,” however, involves change—major redemptive changes both individually and corporately. These changes are nonnegotiable, thus imperative if, in actual practice, the purpose of the church engages the relational process of family love in which persons who are different will be embraced equally within the church family and into the whole of God’s family. The transformed relationships necessary in this process and the ongoing redemptive dynamics needed to enlarge “our little world,” to extend beyond our “box”—that is, effectively transforming our established ways of doing things in the church—all help us to understand the rigorous relational work imperative to constitute the multicultural nature (diversity) of Christ’s church and the church’s function to represent the whole of God as family constituted in the Trinity. This becomes the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

 

 

Addressing Change from Without from Within

The work of church growth and development must be examined more deeply. The focus on quantitative goals—defined primarily as production and the activity (labor) connected to it—reduces the priority needed for the primacy of building the infrastructure of the church: transformed persons practicing transformed relationships with family love (cf. Gal 5:6, 6:15; Rev 2:2-4).

Understanding the relational nature of Jesus’ purpose throughout the incarnation needs to be the basis for determining the working priorities for church practice. Based on his own behavior in many of what turned into intimate interactions—most of which were unplanned, untimely and even disruptive to his original plans—Jesus demonstrated how to function in the process of God’s desires and what is important to God in the new creation. This often caused consternation for the disciples due to their working priorities, particularly from their perceptions of people who were different, like the Canaanite woman discussed earlier (Mt 15:21-28). Nothing was more important to Jesus than persons and relationships—and transforming them to be equalized in and reconciled to the whole of God.

Jesus’ working priorities were not about goals to fulfill in a divine mission because his whole purpose was a function of relationship: its origin, its initiation, its enactment, its fulfillment, its outcome. While functioning in the primacy of relationship, Jesus was not an efficient missionary or church planter in terms of how efficiency controls function today and becomes an unwritten policy of church operation. Yet, the church as an organic body, as the family of God, is also a direct function of the relationships which are necessary to make it whole in likeness of the Trinity. As followers of Jesus, the nature of the purpose for the transformed church must find its sum and substance in relationships—the very nature of the whole of God as intimately relational, vulnerably responsive and lovingly involved in ongoing function. The structure and process of the new creation order are based on this priority of relationship. The church’s life is an expression of this qualitative significance, and its mission is an extension of the qualitative difference of the whole of God. When authentically practiced, the transformed church’s purpose deals with relationships: their alienation, their healing, their reconciliation, their restoration and transformation.

This calls for a fundamental paradigm shift in our approach to church body life and church growth. The trinitarian relational context of family and the relational process of family love establish the priorities necessary to build the infrastructure for the whole of God’s people to be whole as family in likeness not of any type of family or any form of community—including those of the first-century Mediterranean world, though there is clear association to its patrilineal kinship group[1]—but in likeness of the Trinity. This likeness and purpose are fulfilled as the church ongoingly engages the relational involvement of family love and becomes equalized in the multicultural church.

If the church is to be a household of “all nations” (ethne) as Jesus defined, churches cannot be selective about the specific persons whom it involves or to whom it reaches out consistently. The church must not bypass some persons (or make it more difficult for them) in order to include specific other persons. In other words, the practical operation of a gathering of God’s people must not discriminate between persons—even inadvertently, for example by charging for programs that make it difficult for the poor to participate freely—no matter how efficacious it may appear in the process of church growth, development and mission. The church character of ethne is an inclusive approach and suggests no discretionary models or expedient strategies to fulfill the whole of God’s desires as revealed by Jesus in the incarnation and further revealed by him to Peter and Paul (cf. Acts 15:8, 9). More importantly, God’s family is the reconciliatory inclusion of human differences and cannot be the transformed church without the explicit and ongoing effort to be inclusive for the whole (read all of Peter’s argument before the Jerusalem council in Acts 15). In its practice of family love the church takes in and involves all persons, overlooking none, neglecting no one, and especially avoiding no persons. Church practice cannot legitimate any other approach to the whole of God’s desires—with even language only a conditional exception for ethnic churches.

Yet the church cannot be relationally involved with the human diversity in the surrounding context of the world without the full involvement of human differences in transformed relationships (equalized and intimate) within its own life as family. In extending God’s response to the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, the church fails to fulfill its purpose as equalizer as long as its own members remain functionally apart in this condition—even if unintentional or inadvertent. The equalizing of redemption and the intimacy of reconciliation are intentional relational practices, in the total process of which the church naturally and by necessity becomes the multicultural whole of God’s family.

This is “the truth of the gospel” enforced by Paul invalidating discriminatory distinctions in the church, and “the mystery of Christ” operationalized by Paul precluding stratification in God’s covenant family. These are not codes to follow for church structure and polity but the framework of qualitative significance shaping not only our perceptions but requiring our obedience in the practice of the church. Functionally, this means, for example, that any homogeneous model of church growth—or any variation emphasizing “likeness” other than of the Trinity—is a critical error in building the body of Christ. The implicit quantitative nature of any homogeneous church growth approach not only reduces the quality of disciples making up the church, but it also reinforces (intentionally or unintentionally) the exclusionary practices characteristic of a system of inequality. As Paul clearly defined the truth for biblical culture in applying the new relational reality to exactly this issue (Eph 2:11-22), Christ wiped out the relational barriers separating and stratifying us and made us all one whole—that is, “one new anthropos” (signifying human being without respect to gender, and thus to any other distinction, v. 15) with all the human differences structurally and relationally reconciled into the whole of God’s new kinship family. This makes it imperative for church practice: no more “homogeneous models,” no more “separate but equal” models, and moreover, no more “deficit models” (the treatment, however subtle, of others who are different as being essentially less).

While being involved with diversity within the church or engaging diversity within the world, the church must be extremely careful, even scrupulous, not to use a “deficit model” for any human differences. Historically, in its extreme usage this treatment was perpetrated by colonialism and manifest destiny while its more common usage is subtly employed (even as a norm today) by paternalism. The stigma of being less is even attached to the needy and the disadvantaged. Whatever the difference, persons are perceived as less because ostensibly they do not measure up to the prevailing standards used in the reductionist process of defining the human person by what one does or has, as discussed initially in the first chapter. Besides the process of human definition, these prevailing standards themselves, not only their application, raise the question: are these standards based on what prevails in the sociocultural context or on biblical culture formulated from the whole of God’s desires revealed particularly in the incarnation? I realize that church tradition at times has failed to illuminate the latter clearly, even at times has confused the distinction between the latter and the former, notably since Constantinianism in the fourth century.[2]

Yet, the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ emerges unreduced when it creates a cultural context of its own in the formation of the church as the whole of God’s family—just as Paul demonstrated. Unless this biblical cultural context is functionally developed in a church’s practice as the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love, the transformed church and the truth of the gospel have not been distinguished in the world of common usage and ordinary function, thus susceptible to the influence of prevailing cultures and reductionism.

The authentic biblical cultural context of the transformed church (and thus the truth of the gospel) is the outcome of the rigorous relational work of redemption and reconciliation established by Christ and being completed by his Spirit in cooperative function with his followers. “All nations” is not a goal for missions, nor is ethne a church policy of diversity-quotas. The ethne character of church is the relational reality from the equalizing of redemption and the intimacy of reconciliation functioning with family love. In its authentic practice this new creation context not only generates the ministry of reconciliation but it also creates a distinct culture of reconciliation clearly defined only by biblical culture. This culture—as distinguished from multiculturalism in common usage—is about restoring wholeness to the person and to all relationships according to the whole of God’s design and purpose.

The transformed church creates this cultural context which functionally, on the one hand, equalizes the differences keeping persons apart from the whole while, on the other hand, affirms those differences which are both important and necessary for the organic function of the body of Christ, though perhaps of secondary import for the diverse whole of God’s family. The function of biblical culture defines human significance from the qualitative framework of God: what differences mean, what differences are significant, which ones are not necessary, and which are unacceptable. Prevailing cultures should not define this for the church, nor should subtle aspects of reductionism determine church practice in common and ordinary terms. We need to understand specifically from what context, for example, our standards come and our perceptions of mission and church growth are determined. Change is imperative where indicated.

This also directly relates to the issues of unity and efficiency in the church raised in the previous section. Knowing the context which informs our approach to church unity and which determines the priority we give to efficiency in church operation—a priority that emerged in the industrial age which is compounded in the postindustrial information age—becomes vital for the practice of any church and for any critical changes necessary to be whole. In the truth of the gospel, the transformed church context is incompatible with homogeneous models, deficit models and any other success models which generate unity and growth primarily in quantitative terms. For transformed persons to live in transformed relationships (equalized and intimate) together in God’s new kinship family, all the created differences, contextual differences and the gifted (from God) differences, as well as the consequential differences we have to live with until total wholeness and well-being are brought to eschatological completion, all need to be reconciled to God and to each other—however difficult and inefficient—in the whole of God’s new creation with a new cultural context. It is within this new context where legitimate diversity is truly seen (through the perceptual framework of biblical culture), affirmed, experienced together, and given its full and rightful place in God’s household as a relational function of family love. This is fundamental to the covenant promise of the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:6).

Yet, how does the unity of the whole of God’s family preclude becoming an essentially homogeneous context which only addresses the changing diversity in its neighborhood by a dominant assimilation approach? The mere presence of diversity is not an adequate response to this question urgently framed in modern contextual changes of human migration. While having diversity is becoming an accepted indicator of church growth, this tends to indicate only a static quantitative condition rather than having functional qualitative significance in church relations. The answer we need to pursue further involves the primacy for biblical culture to inform church practice, which then will also include imperative redemptive changes.

The authentic church of Jesus Christ is both local and universal (catholic as defined in the Nicene Creed). The integrity of this twofold character of the church must be dynamic (not fluid) by nature and not static where local has no functional meaning. This necessitates a biblically orthodox (monocultural) ideological core for our belief system as “one new anthropos” which cannot be reduced, substituted for or redefined by a surrounding context. There is no dialectic at work here resulting in a multicultural church. The significance of this core also includes a functional framework to account for multicultural shaping of secondary areas (defined by biblical culture) for the operation (not the identity and purpose) of the church in its unique and increasingly diverse local settings. Any dialectical relationship reduces the church to common usage and ordinary function and practice of a surrounding context.

The church universal, however, transcends surrounding sociocultural contexts with its own monocultural base while the church local, by the relational process of family love, vulnerably accounts for the diversity of persons and peoples and aspects of their culture within the limits of this framework for secondary matter. Biblical culture maintains the unity (one) and universal (catholic) attributes of the Nicene Creed and the traditional characteristics of the church, yet it does so with a dynamic integrity, not a static integrity of institutionalism. In doing so, biblical culture necessarily integrates (not assimilates) the human diversity of the multicultural nature of the church vitally within the practice of the local apostolic church of the NT This is the whole of God’s family Paul made operational in the church. This precludes any homogeneous simulation of church ontology and exposes any epistemological illusion of the truth of the gospel. Thus, both the integrity of the universal and the local church must be maintained. Any other unity is not whole and becomes a reductionist substitute of the whole of God.

What shapes local church practice is certainly an issue which requires ongoing attention. The growing contexts of human migration (again voluntary and involuntary) and their intrusive realities have magnified the need in human relations, both local and global, for redemption and reconciliation. Compounded by the reductionist influences of globalization and the technology of the information age, this exponential need exists today at the church’s doorsteps more than ever before. This makes the multicultural nature of the church that much more urgently necessary. Yet, it is important for local churches to be multicultural not just because of the surrounding situation but because of the truth of the gospel and biblical culture. When biblical culture does not provide the context for our faith and church practice, they become contextualized by a surrounding reductionist source.

In order for us to respond and be relationally involved with our whole persons to Christ’s commission to be the multicultural church, there are various tensions and conflicts necessary to address both individually and corporately. We began to address some of these issues in the previous two chapters. As we deepen this process to the multicultural family of God, the need for change increases—individual changes involving one’s personhood, corporate changes within the church, and changes in how both do relationships. In the call to be whole, before the church deals with changes in the world it needs to change within itself in vital areas. In other words, we cannot be “sent to all nations” before we embody the “call to be whole”—which is why this chapter precedes the tenth chapter on mission into the world.

 

 

Four Major Aspects to Multicultural Change

This priority is apparent as we discuss more specifically what it means for the body of Christ’s followers to be multicultural. There are four aspects involved in becoming the transformed multicultural church (MCC): two requiring structural and contextual dimensions, plus two more necessitating individual and relational processes. In each aspect redemptive changes are necessary—changes which overlap and interact with other aspects.

To stress a point made in part earlier, the MCC does not automatically mean the church has to be made up of different races, colors and ethnicities, like a quota system. The multicultural nature of the ecclesiology of the whole should not be confused with affirmative-action ecclesiology. The latter perspective tends to be limited in its focus (for example, more quantitative or outer in) and in its practice (for example, to merely celebrating diversity or promoting solidarity). In the deeper perspective of biblical culture, the first key characteristic of the MCC is the structural dimension of access. While access can be seen as a static condition in merely an “open-door policy,” from a relational perspective access is dynamic and includes relational involvement.

In his description of the whole of God’s family made operational in the MCC, Paul said: “for through him we both [human diversity] have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Eph 2:18). The term for “access” (prosagoge) was used for an audience granted to someone by high officials and monarchs; it comes from prosago, “to bring near.” This is not merely an open door but the opportunity to interact with someone greater, however limited the interaction may be. Paul goes on to define the nature of this relational involvement with the Father: “we may approach [prosago] God with freedom and confidence” (Eph 3:12). “Freedom” (parresia) involves boldness, especially to speak all that one thinks, feels, that is, with “confidence” (pepoithesis, trust, from peitho, to persuade; cf. Heb 4:16). This trust to share one’s person openly suggests a very intimate relationship, not merely having access—which Paul further defines for those who have been equalized to interact with Abba as his very own daughters and sons (Rom 8:15). Access to the Father involves this intimate relationship in which his very own are not “treated differently” (diakrino, Acts 15:9).

What Peter testified about at the Jerusalem council was the kind of access he firmly believed was traditionally impossible for Gentiles. Though Jesus changed Peter’s theology, Peter struggled to change the practice of his tradition. Emotional investment made the issue of change more than a matter of habit. Change is always difficult if it involves losing something, or at least the perception of losing something even when it involves redemptive change.

After the primordial garden, the relational condition “to be apart” became an intentional process by human design to secure advantage and maintain self-preservation. The specific resources for this relational struggle may vary from one historical context to another. Yet, power, privilege and prestige are the basic issues around which these relational struggles of inequality revolve—whether the context is family, social, economic, political or even among God’s people. We see these issues in Peter’s transition to the MCC of the ecclesiology of the whole (Acts 10): the privilege of having access to grace and life’s resources and opportunities (10:34ff); the power of the anointing of the Holy Spirit (10:44-46); the prestige (status) of being God’s children with all the rights and privileges (10:47, 48). Any aspects of power, privilege and prestige are advantages (and benefits) many persons are reluctant to even share if the perception (even if unreal) means less for them. The control of this distribution is threatened by equal access.

Access, however, is not a quantitative resource based on merit. Access is the qualitative relational process based on grace. The significance of this relational opportunity for all persons not to be treated differently is the availability of God to redeem them from the relational condition “to be apart” and to resolve their relational struggle by reconciliation to the whole of God. In other words, equal access does not threaten personhood and wholeness for the church but is instrumental in the qualitative development of them. Embracing the redemptive change which functionally engages equal access extends church practice intentionally in the relational involvement necessary to be whole and deepens this involvement with persons who are different to receive, experience and belong to the whole of God.

The dynamic structural change in the early church led quite naturally to a contextual change—a contextual dimension which is the second key characteristic of the MCC. Though the MCC is not always of multiracial-ethnic makeup, it is improbable without it since we live in multicultural contexts. This was true of the ancient Mediterranean world. Yet the early Jewish Christian community was a homogeneous group which denied or limited access to others who were different. Until Peter’s transformation and Paul’s pivotal arrival, “all nations” had not been perceived to include Gentiles, Samaritans, or whomever else, into their house churches, table fellowships and community identity. Despite a missional program to the surrounding diversity, church practice had yet to involve the reconciliatory inclusion of those persons for the whole. Such purposeful relational involvement necessitates a major contextual change, especially for a homogeneous group (even those based on language).

The mere inclusion of human diversity is not sufficient to ensure against ontological simulation of the whole and epistemological illusion of the truth of the gospel. The trinitarian relational context of the transformed church operates with a culture of reconciliation by which the vital relational process of its reconciliation ministry practice intentionally initiates active relational involvement with all persons in family love. As Peter learned and testified to before the Jerusalem council, God’s family love does not make distinctions of persons, nor does it give any comparative value to their differences and thus treat them differently—“He made no distinctions between us and them” (diakrino, treat different, Acts 15:9). Yet, in order to be whole, it is not adequate just to include those persons in the church.

The process of family love simply extends relational involvement to those who are different, takes in and embraces as a full part of one’s own family those who respond to God. This is what definitively operationalizes the relational involvement necessary for the multicultural nature of the transformed church. Yet, for authenticity of church practice in this relational process involving reconciliatory inclusion, there has to be significant contextual change within the church. This contextual change defines the second key characteristic of the MCC: the process of absorbing differences into the church and, therefore, the willingness to change and even adopt differences for the whole of God, all within the framework of biblical culture.

As Peter was chastened by Christ and humbled by Paul, embracing this contextual change requires us to humbly accept the limitations of our working perceptual-interpretive framework (determining what we pay attention to or ignore) to understand the significance of all differences in the whole of God, as well as requires us to honestly admit the practice of our bias in applying our framework. Without this we tend to be lured by reductionism. Thus, this humility and honesty are necessary to be whole, the whole of the holy and eternal triune God.

Moreover, this contextual principle suggests that the biological family among Christians also needs to be “multicultural” in the sense that it needs to absorb (i.e., increasingly accept) family differences (especially generational) and change and even adopt some of those differences within the wisdom of biblical culture—including redefining biological family with the significance of church as family. When Christians practice this contextual dimension, both the family of God and the biological family become more loving and whole.

The importance of these structural and contextual aspects to multicultural change signifying the body of Christ was first demonstrated by Jesus back at the temple cleansing discussed earlier in this chapter. The process of becoming multicultural began when Jesus confronted the system of inequality the Jewish leaders established to control the temple to their advantage. Of course, this effectively denied access and use of the temple to those with less power, privilege and prestige. By his nature and the nature of God’s house, his cleaning out the temple not only gave access to the less resourceful but absorbed those who were different into one household without distinctions. Jesus’ actions were always in the relational context and process of God’s response to the relational condition “to be apart” for the purpose of reconciliation to the whole of God. This is the beginning of the multicultural nature of the transformed church.

The church today has its roots here—not just by tradition, not merely ecclesial roots but, more importantly, because of the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love Christ engaged to establish his body. And this suggests the need for some structural and contextual cleansing to get back to these roots. What churches today pattern themselves after defines the context of influence that basically determines how they will function within themselves and in the world. When competing influences from contexts surrounding the church diminish or minimalize the influence of biblical culture, churches increasingly promote illusions of what the gospel is completely about and thus practice simulations of church ontology as the whole of God’s family constituted in and by the Trinity. There is only one true basis for the church (past, present and eschatologically directed) but many reductionist alternatives for why a church exists and how it functions today. The latter need fundamental, redemptive changes.

These structural and contextual aspects involved in becoming the MCC directly relate to the other two major aspects which are processes for the individual person and our relationships. These four aspects strongly interact together in reflexive relationship which suggests no set order of their development and practice. Yet, there is an obvious flow to each pair of aspects—for example, there has to be access before differences can be absorbed—while in crucial and practical ways the latter pair will determine the extent and significance of the former’s practice.

The individual process (third key characteristic) involves our reaction and response to differences. When a person is faced with differences in others, there is invariably some degree of tension for that person, whether conscious or not. This has to do with “our little world” or the “box” we live in—constructed from the limitations of our perceptual-interpretive framework—which is why humbly accepting its limits and honestly admitting our bias are necessary to be whole, as noted in the contextual aspect. What do we do with that tension in those situations? More importantly, what do we do with those differences in that relational context? This is important to understand for the ongoing issues of what we depend on to define our person, how we do relationships in these conditions and what level of relationship we engage, especially within the church. These are issues which each person must address as an individual and be accountable for, on the one hand, while the church community must account for them in practice on the other.

Two contrasting individual responses to others’ differences can be observed in the Bible to help our understanding. One response is from Paul. While affirming the existence of Christian freedom, he constituted it in the relational context of the whole in order that the significance of Christian freedom would not be diminished, minimalized or abused. Paul highlighted his own liberty (see 1 Cor 9:19-23) by responding to others’ differences simply with the dynamic relational process of submission (discussed in the previous chapter) summarized in his declaration: “I have become all things to all. . . .” (9:22). This is not the variable personality of a person who has no clear sense of his real identity. Nor is this about assimilating or masquerading in the context of differences. Furthermore, Paul was not illustrating what to do with tension in those situations created by human diversity. Since Paul did not define his person in quantitative terms from the outer in, he was free to exercise relational involvement with others in the qualitative significance of inner out—regardless of outer-in differences to which he would relationally submit for the sake of the whole.

It is crucial for our understanding of personhood and human relations to grasp that deeply implied in Christian liberty is being redeemed from those matters causing barriers in relationships—specifically in the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole. Christology and soteriology cohered for Paul in this practice of freedom for the individual person in the relationships necessary for the ecclesiology signifying the whole of God.

In response to the sociocultural conflicts apparent in the diversity of the church community at Corinth,[3] Paul demonstrated the relational need to venture out of “our little world” and beyond the limitations that its perceptual framework imposes on personhood and relationships in order to realize and experience the whole of God. He demonstrated the relational need of the whole to have sociocultural sensitivity and responsiveness to others’ differences (without losing his true identity) in order to be involved with them in the relational context and process of the culture and ministry of reconciliation (as he described in 9:22-23). Moreover, this also critically informs us that as long as we maintain the basic integrity of what we are in Christ and whose we are as the Father’s within the framework of biblical culture, then whatever multicultural mode we use in secondary areas to express our lives or ministry is not an issue. Mode is not that important to what we are and whose we are as long as it does not substitute, distort or diminish the qualitative significance of our identity as the whole of God’s very own.

In contrast to Paul, the second response to examine involves more general differences in others seen at Jesus’ dinner visit with Martha and Mary (see Lk 10:38-42). Martha had tension with others’ differences in that situation. When Jesus responded to her being worried and upset by saying “only one thing is necessary,” it was a vital statement about the meaning of differences and our reaction to them based on our perceptual framework (acting as a filter for relationships).

What was Martha worried or upset about? Essentially, it centered on the repercussion of others’ differences—in this situation both Jesus’ and Mary’s. Martha had an established way of doing things based on the prevailing cultural norms: her role as a woman, the importance of dinner in hospitality, the expectation for conformity of others in this social pattern. In the established ways of “her little world,” Martha felt comfortable; within this social matrix, she defined her person and determined how relations should be. Thus, in her tension about encountering differences outside of her framework, her response in contrast to Paul was to demand that Mary do the same things as she. Furthermore, she tried to make Jesus feel guilty for not enforcing the prevailing norms. Martha’s response and solution to others’ differences can be described as conventional: she tried to control the situation by changing Mary to her established ways of doing things, that is, to be like her.

Martha’s response is understandable because her personhood and the human relations perceived as necessary were threatened by differences. In her conventional mindset, differences to “her little world” had to be controlled. We see this conventional practice in all contexts and levels of human life, even notably in the church. What is absent from this response overlaps with the contextual change discussed above: humbly accepting the limitations of our framework to understand the significance of differences in the whole of God, and honestly admitting our bias in imposing our framework on others’ differences. The absence of this humility and honesty is crucial in the process to be whole because some of the differences of others can take us deeper and beyond in the whole of God, as Mary’s did with Jesus (cf. also Jn 12:1-8).

Martha’s response also helps us understand that the underlying issue all of us face about others’ differences is the confronting reality: such differences pressure us to change. The qualitative differences of the whole of God apply more than pressure; they also make it imperative for us to change. This issue becomes another burden or blessing—to try to maintain the status quo or to change for growth. Others’ differences either become a threat to our established ways of doing things (particularly regarding personhood and relationships) or are an opportunity for further reconciliation to be whole and growth in God’s wholeness. Our responses converge with either the fear and control of Martha or the freedom and love of Paul.

Postmodern influences today pressure us to change, for better or for worse. The lure of reductionism always pressures us, however, both to change what is whole and settle for less as well as to maintain the substitutes for the whole. Just as Jesus told Martha what was important, we need to rediscover those ways which are truly necessary and essential priorities to the whole of God based on biblical culture, not prevailing cultures. In his call to be whole, the structural and contextual integrity of the MCC make it imperative for individual persons belonging to God’s family to humbly relinquish control of unnecessary ways and honestly stop expecting others to fit into “our little world.” To follow the qualitative difference of Jesus means to step out of the comforts of our framework—in trust of him to be whole—by adjusting and changing in order to engage others in their differences with the relational involvement of family love. In the significance of the ministry of reconciliation this is the access of truly being multicultural, not about pluralism; in the qualitative culture of reconciliation this is absorbing differences, not about solidarity in blanket tolerance.

These changes within the individual certainly involve redemptive change (old dying and new rising) which not only clears the way for the new creation but brings it in. Redemptive change must antecede and prevail in the relational process leading to reconciliation to the whole of God.

Yet, for the individual to authentically engage others (different or not) in the relationships necessary for the MCC involves not only the significance of this new relational context beyond “our little world” but also by nature imperatively requires its deeper relational process in our relationships (fourth key characteristic). While this deeper relational process is seen above in Mary, this is the most clearly visible in Jesus’ life.

Along with the various examples of Jesus’ relational involvement previously noted, in the incarnation of God’s glory—revealing the heart of God’s being, God’s intimate relational nature and ongoing open presence (cf. Jn 1:14)—Jesus made himself vulnerable to our rejection (cf. Jn 1:11; Is 53:3). Beyond the conflict of ideological differences, this is the relational conflict naturally consequential when the what that is separated from the ordinary and common (i.e., what is holy) engages those of ordinary and common usage. When the Son stepped out of “his eternal world” to encounter the differences in our temporal context, Jesus opened his whole person to be affected by all those relational consequences (cf. Lk 13:34; 19:41, 42). Nevertheless, the integrity of the Holy One was maintained even though not separate but relationally involved; and this mystery of the incarnation establishes its qualitative significance that revelation of the Truth was for relationship—intimate relationship together regardless of differences. This is the mystery of Christ and the whole of the gospel made vulnerable relationally beyond theological convention and church pronouncement (Eph 3:4, 6).

Despite all the inherent differences the Holy One of God encountered, Jesus did not insulate himself from them but openly engaged them with his whole person out of the “box” to reconcile relationships. In doing so, Jesus demonstrated the basis for the deeper relational process in all our relationships. The opposite of control in the relational context of others’ differences is vulnerability in the relational process of love. Based on the new nature of those who have received the vulnerable family love of God, Christ calls those to be whole by extending vulnerability to others (different or not) for the purpose of reconciliation. This call to wholeness prevails in all of Jesus’ nonnegotiable desires for us to love; to love is how to be relationally involved by opening our whole persons to others (God included) and being vulnerable—not on our terms or for ourselves. To love others, especially those who are different—which also includes God in qualitative difference—is not to expect them to be like me or to come into my little world.

Just as the experience of the incarnation was unavoidable to the holy God, this deeper relational process in our relationships is irreducible for those made whole. The relational process of love always involves being vulnerable to rejection, challenges to our person or criticism by others, especially who are different. Jesus extended family love in this way in his relationships and suffered consequences from it. Does the incarnation experience suggest that God could have responded to the human condition “to be apart” in only this way? I have no conclusive answer, yet in God’s self-disclosure there is no other way God does relationship. This certainly indicates to us that any other way would not have the relational significance nor have the qualitative substance as the incarnation. God’s vulnerability is “nothing less and no substitutes” than the whole of God. On this basis, Jesus not only created “access” to the Father but vulnerably “absorbed” into the whole of God’s family those who received him regardless of their differences. There can be no authentic practice of these structural and contextual aspects to becoming the MCC without vulnerability in the relational process of God’s family love—which, of course, depends on stepping out of “our little world” into the relational context of God’s family.

Being vulnerable to others obviously involves redemptive change from our prevailing way of doing relationships, including our conventional perceptions. The vulnerability of love cannot be focused on an issue of losing something, which can be constraining, if not controlling. Yet, as urgent as this perception may appear, the significant reality beyond this involves the greater issue of gaining someone and the greater wholeness which comes from relational involvement in the relationships necessary to be whole as God’s family.

Moreover, the whole of God does not sacrifice the individual person for the family, as discussed previously about Eastern families; it nurtures and grows the whole person in the whole, for the whole, as the whole of God in likeness of the Trinity. In the narrative accounts of Jesus’ vulnerability, the active trust and intimacy he experienced with his Father attended to the needs of his whole person constituted by his heart. His ongoing relational involvement with his Father is definitive for our practice, making evident that the vulnerability of love also necessitates the ongoing involvement of trust and intimacy in our relationship with God. Relational faith engages God for this ongoing relational experience which attends to our needs, just as it did for Jesus.

This relational process has a further relational outcome involving the discovery of faith by freeing us to determine what is necessary in life and what we need to relinquish control over. This is certainly of significance because it would affect our involvement with others, particularly who are different, making us more vulnerable to equalized involvement for reconciled relationships of the whole. God’s family love functions in this way. Thus, to be compatible with God’s most fundamental response to our relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, the authentic practice of this love by its nature requires change in us: individual, relational, structural and contextual changes.

These necessary changes certainly do not always occur smoothly nor in linear order. The interaction among the four key characteristics of being multicultural suggests reflexive influence each aspect may have on the total process of change. More importantly, the total process involves cooperative relational work with God, and God often uses or allows negative situations to bring the change in our lives necessary to be vulnerable, and then whole. As discussed in the previous chapter, in the development of the apostolic church God used persecution to force the church out of its provincial context and made it vulnerable. For the ecclesial transition to be whole, Christ chose Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, dogmatically monocultural, to operationalize the church in the new creation as the MCC. This remarkable development happened because Paul’s whole person was changed from inner out. Indeed, redemptive change is necessary and often unpredictable in the process to be whole.

Yet change is not the mere product of unilateral divine action but the mutuality of the Trinity in cooperative relationship with the intentional efforts of the church accounting for these changes and the necessary involvement from the individual persons accountable for change. Moreover, change in itself is not a sufficient indicator of a redemptive process, nor that that change is significant beyond mere human effort. Schultze’s comment on the technology of the information age chastens our modern perceptions of change: “cyberculture is so dynamic that it . . . makes change itself into a symbol for progress.”[4] In God’s qualitative framework, redemptive change is for wholeness, not progress, and for the deeper involvement in the relationships necessary to be whole both with God and with each other, not the quantity of connections.

The call to be whole is the call to go beyond the common and ordinary—to be transformed from common usage and ordinary function and practice to the new creation in likeness of the whole of God made operational in the multicultural nature of the church as equalizer.

 

 

Called Beyond the Common and Ordinary

In the function of the incarnation, it was critical for Jesus’ identity and practice not to be “of the world” while vulnerably involved “in the world.” John the Baptist testified about this difference which distinguished Jesus from John’s own ministry (Jn 3:31-35). Jesus, himself, testified about his qualitative difference from the Pharisees (reductionists) with the conclusion “you are of this world, I am not of this world” (Jn 8:13-23). In his pivotal prayer for his followers, Jesus also embeds our identity in this qualitative difference from the world while being vulnerably involved in it (Jn 17:13-16).

Jesus’ pivotal prayer invokes the transfer of both his identity and function directly to his followers (Jn 17:18). In this transfer, the transmission of the Father’s desires for his family and God’s response to the human condition “to be apart” is passed from his one and only Son to the whole of God’s family as the Father’s new daughters and sons, as the Son’s new sisters and brothers (cf. Rom 8:19, 29). We need to grasp the full significance of this transfer because it qualifies Christ’s commission to become the multicultural family of God.

The foremost imperative Jesus made in his prayer to operationalize the qualitative difference of this identity and function is clearly “sanctify” (Jn 17:17-19). The word for “sanctify” (hagiazo) means to cause to be holy, make holy; the fundamental idea of this word is separation from common or ordinary usage. We tend not to address this aspect of holy, so what is the functional significance needed to be holy?

In God’s disclosure through Isaiah that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8, 9), we tend to think of God’s quantity more than his quality. While this quantitative distinction is true, it is an inadequate distinction about God to understand his ways; this quantitative lens also conveniently does not pay attention to the deeper issue involved in the above aspect of holy.

God’s thoughts and ways are not only greater from a quantitative yardstick but they are different using a qualitative measure. Accepting the quantitative gap between God and us should not diminish or minimalize the more important issue of God’s qualitative difference. It is this primary difference of God which is in conflict with all the common and ordinary of our surrounding contexts. By its nature, to be holy functionally signifies this ongoing tension, the absence of which indicates the influence of the common and ordinary.

This qualitative difference is what is revealed fundamentally in the incarnation, not the quantitative aspects of God. As much of an enigma as it is to understand how the quantity of God can be contained in a human package, more so the paradox of God’s quality able to be vulnerably present in the human context. Christology is more significant and compelling for Christ’s followers when it involves the deeper implications of his qualitative difference.

The implication most compelling about Christ which confronts all who would follow him involves the provoking reality: the incarnation of God is not only a paradox, it is a necessary contradiction, the qualitative nature of which cannot be redefined, diminished or minimalized by his followers if the integrity of their identity and function is to be relationally significant to God (cf. again the issue for would-be disciples [Jn 6:51-60, 66] and the resolve of authentic disciples [Jn 6:67-69]). The vulnerable presence of the holy triune God is a contradiction with whom Christ’s followers have the opportunity to be intimately involved and in whose life they can participate. In the transfer to his followers, Jesus asks his Father for this experiential reality in likeness of the Trinity (Jn 17:11, 20-21, 26). Yet, for this experience to be whole “in the world” it compels a change for his followers resulting from the imperative “sanctify.” His followers cannot be whole without sanctified life and practice.

To be holy is the functional change from the common and ordinary to the whole of the Uncommon, which necessitates this contradiction in order to be involved “in the world.” In the context of the Uncommon out of the world, to be holy is natural and totally compatible. In the world, however, to be holy, and thus whole, is a contradiction—life and practice contrary to common usage and ordinary function and practice. This is pivotal in Jesus’ prayer for the transfer and transmission of God’s desires, purpose and response.

This constitutes following Jesus and the practice of his church—by its nature in whatever context except the Uncommon—as essentially a contradiction of whatever else competes with it in the surrounding contexts “of the world.” The functional significance of living a contradiction in the world before others is the deeper issue about being holy needing resolve from his followers because this matter has relational consequences, as it did for Jesus (Jn 15:18, 19; 17:14).

Every aspect of Jesus’ prayer for his followers hinges on the imperative to be holy—to be beyond common usage and deeper than ordinary function and practice. There is no other basis to be the whole of God and no other process to experience the whole of God. The call to be whole is the call to be holy—the contradiction of qualitative difference. To follow Jesus in the world requires his qualitatively different identity and function from the world. To be with him in this difference is the outcome of the redemptive change of transformation (sanctification), which includes the rigorous process of establishing contradiction with aspects of the world while reconciling differences in the world to the whole of God. Paradoxically, only the difference reflected in this contradiction can reconcile the differences of the world to God’s whole beyond the world. This was what distinguished Jesus in the incarnation and what distinguishes his followers in the world as the whole of God. This may explain the motivation for Jesus also revealing in his prayer: “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (Jn 17:19).

His statement is somewhat puzzling. Does this suggest that Jesus lacked deity and thus a holy nature (as Arianism does), or that Jesus was merely a man elevated to divine status  (as in adoptionism or dynamic monarchianism), or that in emphasizing the distinction of Jesus’ divine and human nature (as the Antiochenes did) Jesus worked on sanctifying his human nature? None of these Christologies sufficiently explain the whole of Jesus, the whole of the Trinity and the whole of God’s self-disclosure in the incarnation for relationship in the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love. Why, then, did Jesus sanctify himself or even need to?

Since the whole of Jesus is one with and in God the Father, we can confess with Peter “that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69). “Sanctify” was not imperative for Jesus’ person because this “nothing less and no substitutes” God person was hagios (holy). In saying this about himself right after the transfer of the Father’s purpose (Jn 17:18), Jesus was not focused so much on the condition of holy but more so on the function of being holy. The issue here was not about himself but about his followers (“for them . . . that they too”). Along with being the basis for their transformation, Jesus wanted to demonstrate his difference to his followers, not his quantitative difference (which certainly emerged) but his qualitative difference. That is, he also wanted his followers to have the experiential understanding of what it means to rise above the common and ordinary which prevailed in their surrounding contexts and even in their lives. Throughout the incarnation Jesus defined his person and presented himself, communicated with others and engaged in the level of relationship which went both deeper and beyond common usage and ordinary function and practice. “Sanctify” exceeded the conventional issues of truth, doctrinal and moral purity and contradicted the prevailing notions of personhood and how relationships functioned—notions and practice which reflect having been redefined, diminished or minimalized by reductionism.

The whole person signified by the importance of the heart and the primacy of intimate relationships necessary to be whole are inherent to the whole of God constituted in the Trinity. This is the whole Jesus functionally outlined in the Sermon on the Mount which contradicted the reductionism of the Pharisees by making imperative the function and practice of the whole of God to surpass the reductionist substitutes in the common and ordinary (Mt 5:20).

 

In the nature of sanctified life and practice, Jesus was always confronting reductionism, not only in the surrounding contexts but even in his disciples (notably Peter) and the early church (namely in Ephesus, Sardis, Thyatira and Laodicea). Reductionism creates the tension and conflict with the Uncommon by shifting the person and relationships to common usage and ordinary function and practice, by redefining the whole by its parts, and by refocusing perceptual-interpretive frameworks from the inner out to the outer in. Yet, the parameters of “our little world” shaped by reductionism become established ways in which we maintain control and resist change. To rise above this limit can be discomforting, to go deeper than this constraint can be threatening. This is the deeper issue of sanctification which is unavoidable and nonnegotiable, needing our resolve in our identity and function. To be restored to the whole of God requires redemptive change in the basic paradigm: the old dying and the new rising—relinquishing control of certain established ways and establishing the practice of necessary new ones.

 

 

Sanctified Whole

From the demonstration of sanctified practices throughout Jesus’ life (“sanctify myself”), his followers can grasp the functional significance to be holy, to be whole and not “of the world” (preposition ek signifying emergence from within and thus separation from the world), yet be relationally involved “in the world” (en means remaining in place). The call of discipleship to “Follow me” is the call to be whole and to be holy, which means to be involved with him in sanctified life and practice “that they too may be truly sanctified” (Jn 17:19b) to receive the transfer of identity and function from the Son. That is, the call to be whole is the call to be holy involving life together “in the world” in the experiential reality of the whole of God as family (signified in “name,” Jn 17:11) beyond the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of the common and ordinary. Therefore, Jesus’ prayer converges with his practice to provide the understanding that to be holy involves two functional aspects: a negative aspect addressing “not being reduced” from the whole and a positive aspect engaging the relational work necessary “to be whole.”

When church identity and practice become sanctified from “of the world,” the transfer of the purpose and function of the whole of God constituted in and by the Trinity emerges in Christ’s followers “in the world,” just as it did in Jesus. Thus we cannot separate becoming whole from being holy without being reduced to common and ordinary usage with no relational significance to God, however well intentioned. In sanctified life and practice, “the contradiction of the qualitative difference” expressed in the whole of Christ’s followers also functions by its nature—paradoxically in likeness to the incarnation of the Son—as the authentic equalizer within itself and the world to reconcile differences in the relationships necessary to be whole.

We need to humbly address the most significant of those differences if the church is indeed to be “truly sanctified”—that is, in reality transformed to the whole of God’s family constituted in the Trinity. The next chapter serves as a parenthetical chapter for this purpose.

 


 

[1] See Joseph Hellerman’s study for a discussion of this correlation, The Ancient Church as Family (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).

[2] Roger Olson identifies Constantinianism, and its symptom in church history, as “the disease of allowing secular and pagan rulers to dominate church life and meddle in biblical and theological interpretation,” and describes its influence in theological development in The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 158ff.

[3] For a discussion of its social organization, see Hellerman, The Ancient Church as Family, 95-99, and Roger W. Gehring, House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structure in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 167-171.

[4] Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 76.

 

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©2006 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.