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The Person, the Trinity, the Church

 

Wholeness Study

Chapter 9                                                                      printer-friendly pdf file of entire study

Gender in the Big Picture

or a Reduced Context

An Unavoidable Blessing for the Church as Equalizer

 

Subsections:

 

Distinguishing the Context
What Matters Most to God
How We Define Gender and How We Do Gender Relations
Jesus' Response to "to be apart"
The Need for Deeper Change
Costs to Change and Reconciliation
Where Our Expectation Are Rooted

 

Introduction
Chap. 1
Chap. 2
Chap. 3
Chap. 4
Chap. 5
Chap. 6
Chap. 7
Chap. 8

Chap.10
Chap. 11

Table of Contents

 

Scripture Index

 

 

In the narrative of the first creation, God created a difference that was fundamental to the whole yet critical not to be distinguished beyond God’s purpose to be whole. Since then, the most dominant human difference which all humanity has faced without exception is gender. Gender is the most dominant human difference because it pervades in all other distinctions of race, ethnicity, class or age. To the extent that gender has gone beyond God’s purpose, there has been struggle with this distinction both within the human person and in human relations. As discussed in the first chapter, God created this difference for more than procreation; and God created the relationship having this difference for more than marriage and biological family. God created this difference in order to be whole in the whole of God as the whole of God’s family constituted in the Trinity.

How the church has addressed, dealt with and struggled over gender suggest the absence of the whole of God or a lack of understanding of the significance to be whole. This would apply to both biblical egalitarians and complementarians. While gender in the church goes beyond the scope of this study, it is vital that this issue be addressed within the context of discourse on the whole of God. The process necessary to be whole for personhood and relationships cannot circumvent the issue since it directly involves God’s resolution to our condition “to be apart” from the whole. Within the limits of this study, I will address this unavoidable blessing briefly in this parenthetical chapter and suggest an alternative in the last chapter.

In Two Views on Women in Ministry, Craig Keener concludes his egalitarian discussion by emphasizing Jesus’ demand “that we keep first things first, not missing the forest for the trees.”[1] “What matters most to God,” as Keener discusses, should indeed be our primary focus and priority. Yet, Keener suggests only broader principles such as justice, mercy and faith to define God’s desires. We need to go further and deeper than mere principles to understand the whole of God’s desires in the big picture. In doing so, much of the current exegetical discussion on gender can be extended in a deeper perceptual-interpretive framework—challenging our lens which filters what we see and how we see it (our biases) and examining the basis for determining what we pay attention to and what we ignore.

 

 

Distinguishing the Context

 

Throughout this study, the thesis for the fundamental condition of human relations which God defined as “not good” has been “to be apart” (a more relationally significant rendering of the traditional but limited “to be alone,” Heb. bad, Gen 2:18) from the whole. And God’s thematic actions throughout Scripture have been distinguished as a response to this human condition, whereas human activity has been summarized as maintaining this relational condition “to be apart” in various ways (even unintentionally in Christian practice) in multiple forms (even inadvertently in church practice).

Since God has acted consistently in the big picture toward an eschatological conclusion—most clearly and vulnerably in the incarnation of Jesus—we need to address more deeply in function how we may have unintentionally reduced God’s design and inadvertently redefined God’s purpose for human relations. Such reductionism is critical to address specifically in three basic interrelated issues, as discussed previously, which directly involve what matters most to God: (1) how we define ourselves, (2) how we do relationships and thus (3) how we do church.

How we see gender relations is always formulated by our perceptual framework, which for Christians is a combination of the social, cultural and religious aspects of our lives, influencing what we pay attention to and what we ignore. This means that gender relations for Christians should not be seen in isolation from human relations in the larger sociocultural context. We do not live in a vacuum, as if “to be alone.” And sociology helps us functionally understand that each of us is a part of something bigger than self.

Whether that self is about gender, race, ethnicity, class, age, or any other distinction, it is only a part of a larger context of human relations. Sociology helps us understand the relationships involved in a larger context. Yet, useful as that is, sociology is limited in giving us understanding of the relations which constitute life—particularly its qualitative aspects. This understanding needs to be expanded and deepened in order to specifically address the human condition “to be apart.”  A person cannot know what one is a part of without understanding who one is apart from, and how being apart reduces that person to something less.

This more expanded and even deeper context into which all persons and human relations are placed is: the created context of interpersonal relationships in God’s design and purpose, constituted by and with God to address the condition of human relations “to be apart” from the whole. From first creation to the eschatological completion of the new creation, God’s actions consistently responding to this human condition formulate the big picture.

What matters most to God in the big picture is the relational context. This relational context is the very extension of the qualitative significance of God’s being as the heart of God as well as of the qualitative relational nature of the Trinity. In God’s likeness and into this relational context we all were created and for this purpose our lives are designed. From this expanded and deeper context our primary perceptual framework must be constituted in order to formulate perceptions of the importance of the whole person (defining the true status of personhood from the inside out, without distinctions) and the primacy of interpersonal relationships (defining intimate relationships as resolution for “to be apart” and thus its primacy over any other level of involvement).

Such perceptions of the importance of the person and the primacy of relationships are inadequately defined from sociocultural perceptual frameworks, even with Christian influence, because of the lens of reductionism. Reductionism redefines personhood and diminishes or minimalizes relationships to common usage and ordinary function and practice—the outer in over the inner out, quantitative over qualitative, parts over the whole. The importance of the person and the primacy of relationships can only be sufficiently and necessarily based on God’s self-disclosure of what matters most to the Creator.

God’s desires are defined and most vulnerably revealed in the relationship-specific incarnation of Jesus, which is ongoingly mediated by the relational work of the Spirit. The relational response and involvement of the persons of the Trinity should not be minimized because they constitute the relational context and process of God’s big picture. Therefore, despite the various sociocultural contexts in which human persons live, we all are parts of this whole and share in common this overall relational context constituted in the very trinitarian being of God (not tritheism) and signified by the relational process of the Trinity.

God’s creation of persons is both an extension of God and how God does relationships. God’s self-disclosure is the vulnerable presentation of God and this vulnerable relational involvement defines how God does relationships. Both creation and revelation represent who, what and how God is—with nothing less than God and no substitutes for God. Thus any reduction of God’s design and purpose or of the relational context (especially as Jesus engaged) become a reductionism of God, however unintentional and inadvertent. This is how God gets put in a “box.” Likewise, anything less than God’s design and purpose or any substitute for the relational context consign gender and human relations to a reduced context, a reductionist alternative. And we cannot adequately address nor resolve any relations from a reductionist framework, nor can we experience wholeness in personhood without the relationships necessary to be whole.

Similar to a call we hear from postmodernism, this suggests a need for a paradigm shift from quantitative to qualitative. Unlike postmodernism, however, this change requires going deeper than the relativity associated with persons and beyond the variability of human experiences in communities. All persons and human relations are rooted in the shared relational context of God, which is distinctly qualitative.

Whenever we define gender and its relations according to a context influenced by reductionism, we are susceptible to drawing a scenario that is incompatible with God’s big picture, and thus can inadvertently be modifying the big picture or formulating in function a different picture. Such a picture may not appear to be theologically contrary, yet may be incompatible functionally with the whole of God in the eschatological picture—specifically with how the persons of the Trinity do relationships.

Since this can be true for both evangelical complementarians and egalitarians, we need to honestly address the three basic issues noted earlier (how we define ourselves, how we do relationships, how we do church). These vital issues are not only interrelated and overlapping but both linear and reflexive in their influence on each other. How we define ourselves is a prime determinant for how we do relationships, with both determining how we actually practice church—and mutually reinforcing thus, for example, entrenching us further into reductionist practices.

 

 

What Matters Most to God

“To be apart” was God’s concern for us from the beginning, and Jesus deeply struggled over the effects of this condition within his own person (both in relation to his Father, Mt 27:46, and his followers Jn 14:9) as he responded on behalf of all our persons. What matters most to God is what we do with our whole person and how we function as that person in the created design and purpose for relationships, which are both extensions of who, what and how God is. The whole of the person and the relationships necessary to be whole are God’s deepest desires because this whole directly corresponds in likeness to the whole of God. When we don’t grasp this whole, a person (of whatever distinction) cannot truly know the importance of who one is and is a part of nor understand the primacy of what one is apart from, thus not realizing the significance of how being apart reduces that person(s) to something qualitatively less, or less than whole.

To reduce the person to less than how God defines and sees the person, to reduce the qualitative significance (the image of God signified by the heart) of the person from the inside out by subordinating this to quantitative matter redefining the person from the outside in, notably by what they do or have, has serious relational consequences not only with what matters most to God but also with what we would ideally, if not pragmatically, desire for ourselves. This involves having relationships in which we can be our true substantive person and can experience genuine intimate involvement and belonging in the relationships necessary to be whole. To reduce any part of this is to reduce the whole of God’s desires for life, not merely for the condition “to be apart” but for the wholeness of life together with God and with each other as constituted and experienced in the communion of the Trinity.

Our lack of awareness or our insensitivity to any of the various ways or multiple forms of the condition “to be apart” in human relations reflect the operation of reductionism. This may further reflect being controlled by the lens of a reductionist framework, signifying our lack of freedom to adequately perceive the whole person and the primary function of relationships to be whole. This constrains us in “our little world” and confines God’s function to a quantitative “box.” The change from the quantitative to the qualitative therefore is an issue of redemptive change, the process of which involves being freed from reductionist substitutes in order to function in the new creation.

Redemptive change is a basic need which the church must seriously address in an expanded and deeper context than it often has. God’s response to “to be apart”enacted by Christ in the redemptive relational process (summarized by Paul in Eph 2) redeems all persons from the reductionist practices and effects of distinctions based on the outside in (Eph 2:9, 11-12) to the qualitative significance of their whole person from the inside out (2:4, 5, 10). In this process persons are equalized because they are no longer defined by reductionist distinctions (2:13).  This frees persons and removes the relational barriers for relationships to be restored to the design and purpose of how the whole of God does relationships (2:14-22).

As previously discussed, in the redemptive process engaged relationally to be with and thus in Christ, two irreducible changes are established and irreversibly set into motion: (1) all persons are equalized in their whole person before God, and (2) all persons are equalized as these persons with each other in relationships together as the whole of God.

God’s response to “to be apart” fulfilled by the “nothing less and no substitutes” person of God in this redemptive relational process must not be spiritualized nor doctrinized in an inadvertent reductionist attempt to remove it from the relational context in which all human relations are rooted. God’s response signifies the process of equalization for human persons and human relations. Furthermore, the integrity of church identity (Eph 2:19, 20) and the validity of its practice (2:21, 22) are constituted by this process of equalization inherent in God’s vulnerable response, which constitutes the truth of the gospel operationalized by Paul in the ecclesiology of the whole.

God’s response in Christ defines what matters most to God. Any reduction of the equalization process is a reduction of God’s response to the condition “to be apart” in human relations, which then becomes a reduction of God—who and what God is and how God does relationships, thus reconstituting the gospel. This then is about not only what matters most to God but also about what particular God matters most to us, that is, on whose terms and in whose image.

 

How We Define Gender and How We Do Gender Relations 

The norm to define ourselves and to do relationships in reductionist terms is endemic to Western contexts—but is not unique to modernity, only compounded by it. Variations of this human practice are pandemic to all sociocultural contexts. Historically, reductionism has been consistently present in particular to how gender is defined and how gender relations are done. And this is true today even for biblical egalitarians as well as complementarians. Yet egalitarians have not grasped their reductionism, for example, indicated by qualifying female persons for leadership based on giftedness (that is, on what a woman has or can do) and with this focus thereby continuing to do relationships and practicing church in effect not much differently than male leaders do, modifications notwithstanding. We cannot dismiss the similar reductionist influence on these perceptual-interpretive frameworks for how we define ourselves.  Egalitarians (especially women) need to examine if this is all they want, because this is not what matters most to God.

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

Ultimately, the only rightful power in life is God’s. As the Lord and Creator, God exercises that authority over all life whether we like it or not. Furthermore, since all human authority is established by God, the issue of authority becomes an ongoing relational issue between God and us (Rom 13:1, 2). Having said this, aside from our relationship with God, where in human relationships does the rightful exercise of power fulfill the desires of God as part of the whole, for the whole and in the whole of God? Moreover, how can we exercise or be subject to human authority within and consistent with God’s redemptive plan for all creation and not find ourselves inadvertently in conflict with what matters most to God?

Consider what characterizes the existing condition of human relationships in modernity more than anything. I suggest it is distant, depersonalized or broken relationships—variations of “to be apart.” Our established ways of doing things further reduce or constrain the whole person while cultivating distance in our relationships, intentionally or unintentionally, with bad intentions or with good intentions. These ways have become further embedded with the use of technology in the information age.[2]

In the broad context of human interaction the greatest indicator of distant, depersonalized, broken relationships is the operation of power relations. Whatever its form, the unrighteous use of power (legitimate or otherwise) is responsible for determining the nature or extent of relationships more than any other single factor. The greatest consequence of power relations is systems of inequality. Unlike our relationship with God which, on the one hand, requires inequality while, on the other, functions with intimate connections upon reconciliation, human systems of inequality create only barriers in human relationships. Whether the criteria used to determine inequality are based on race, class, culture, religion or gender, the results are to eliminate certain people from equitable participation in a system. Yet this relational consequence can be accomplished even without prejudices or biases—even unintentionally. Also, the subtlety of this relational issue may not involve overt power or discrimination but may only be indicated by distance in relationships reflected in a lack of intimacy. For example, how many persons feel less important merely by not being listened to or simply being ignored? “To be apart” always involves horizontal distance but usually also includes the vertical distance of stratified relationships in which disparity (sometimes read diversity) means to be less.

The relational context is necessary to take us deeper than the sociocultural context of these relationships to help us understand underlying issues needing redemptive change. This requires that human relations, power relations and systems of inequality must be addressed both from the aspects of discrimination/oppression (stratified relationships) and the reductionism from which such relationships evolve.

To deal with stratified relationships, for example, merely by redistributing power is to address the human condition “to be apart” with only the economic and political substitutes of reductionism. While these resources are necessary and may be urgent for a situation, there are deeper issues beyond situations to address in order to be whole. Likewise, to share power to level the playing field in power relations is to provide a social substitute of reductionism (such as inadequate prevailing notions of pluralism and multiculturalism), which may level the playing field but does not redeem and transform the “game” itself because the issue is not dealt with in the expanded and deeper aspects of the relational context. Thus underlying issues are not changed—namely reductionism.

Justice and equality (even as principles that matter most to God) do not have the extended and deeper significance of God’s qualitative basis for the person and for relationships, if that justice and equality only perceive all persons as equal in reductionist terms and pursues equality in their relationships merely with the substitutes of reductionism. Reductionist substitutes by definition cannot resolve the human condition “to be apart” for the whole person and the relationships necessary to be whole.

As Jesus revealed, fulfilled and made imperative by the relational context and process of his life, however, the process of equalization redeems and restores the person from reductionism to the whole of God, which involves restoring the primacy of intimate relationships from reductionist substitutes. We need to look more closely at how Jesus revealed this.

 

Jesus' Response to "to be apart" 

Any response to the issues of church order and the relationships among its members requires compatibility with God’s big picture and God’s ultimate response in Christ to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole. We need to keep in focus that God’s self-disclosure is always about how God does relationships, and that revelation and truth are for this relationship, not for mere church doctrine and propositional truth. As we look more closely at Jesus, we are confronted to examine what aspects of how we do relationships and thus practice church are determined by a perceptual-interpretive framework from reductionism. Failure to do so makes it difficult for us to distinguish the old about us (which we will see Jesus redeeming) and the new for us (which we will see Jesus restoring). Furthermore, failing to assess honestly our established ways of doing things makes us susceptible to being in conflict with or even in opposition to, however unintentional, the desires of God in the big picture.

Peter learned this the hard way when he was confronted with his failures to deal with how he did relationships by distinction-making based on ethnicity (Gal 2:11ff). As God revealed (Eph 3:4-6; Acts 10:9-16, 34, 35), the practice of false distinctions was in opposition to God’s desires in the big picture because distinction-making creates, cultivates, reinforces or perpetuates the very barriers in relationships destroyed by Christ in response to the relational condition “to be apart” to reconcile us to the whole of God’s family (Gal 3:28; Eph 2:24).

We know that it required the death and resurrection of Jesus to destroy these barriers in relationships and to establish the new creation of transformed relationships (equalized and intimate) for his followers. Yet this relational work started prior to his death. In the narratives between the manger and the cross, Jesus was destroying barriers in relationship and eliminating distance for intimate connections. These interactions defined God’s direct response to the various ways and forms “to be apart,” and they were consequential both for their opposition to the old as well as for their establishing the new. Our Christology must include this to be sufficient of God’s self-disclosure in the life of Jesus.

Throughout his incarnation, Jesus demonstrated how God does relationships by engaging in the relational work necessary to restore the person to wholeness and to reconcile human relationships from relational distance to the whole. Notably, in all his human interactions, the most significant and intimate relational connections were made with women. This was not coincidence. Given Jesus’ position of authority and the sociocultural and religious position of women, his intimate connections with women were remarkable in themselves. More significant, however, is the wholistic issue of equalizing relationships in the prevailing context of systems of inequality. The significance of this goes beyond responding to the sociocultural-religious context to involve the deeper issue of establishing the relationship of the whole of God. This is the relationship in the first creation that God said is “not good to be apart” from and thus provided the female person to complete the relational whole. Of course Adam and Eve did not fully consummate it other than quantitatively in marriage and biological family.

Jesus’ intimate connections with women, in contrast to the relational constraints for men, possibly suggests a symbolic consummation of the first creation relationship between the genders to be whole in the whole for the whole of God. Whether it does or not, Jesus’ intimate relationships with women do suggest the significance of gender in the new creation. This significance of gender seen in his relationships, however, is not as a distinction for personhood to define qualitative differences between female and male persons. Rather, Jesus’ relationships demonstrate the reductionist influence on gender and help us to understand the redemptive changes necessary to be whole as persons in the relationships together as the whole of God’s family. In no other human distinction or difference is the influence of reductionism more pervasive, and thus necessary for change, than in gender. Gender, then, not only informs us of the extent of the human condition “to be apart” but it also reveals the depth of the resolution needed to be whole.

When Jesus vulnerably engaged a Samaritan woman at a well, he broke down “double jeopardy” (double discrimination based here on ethnicity and gender) for her and gave her direct access for intimate relationship with God by equalizing her person without distinctions (Jn 4:4-26). The ethnic issue was certainly important here but gender was even more significant because it applied whether she was a Jew or a Samaritan. In his relational connections (see also Lk 7:36-50; Mt 15:21-28), Jesus defines the relational process needed for qualitative relationships in general, and for significant church relationships in particular to be whole and not “to be apart.” And gender relations provide the functional understanding of this relational process.

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

The priority of relationship over ministry, service and work is difficult to reconcile in practice. Yet, what we see Jesus practicing and, therefore, clearly defining is what is necessary to be whole: (1) the primacy of relationships; (2) the intimate character of those relationships; (3) the equalizing of persons in the process of the relationship. As surprising (shocking to some) as his interactions with women were, this is not really exceptional, though beyond ordinary function and practice (the significance of “holy”). That is, it was not exceptional to the Holy One because the human condition “to be apart” is what Jesus came to restore by vulnerably establishing the relational context and process to his Father (or Mother, if you need) and for his family in the whole of God’s big eschatological picture. And in order to restore these relationships, he had to redeem relationships—notably from how we make distinctions and relate to others based on those distinctions with reductionist substitutes. Thus, what Jesus discloses in these relationships for our depth of understanding is the ongoing tension and conflict between his call to be whole and the lure of reductionism. Reductionism shifts us to common usage and ordinary function and practice. By his nature, Jesus takes us vulnerably beyond that in sanctified life and practice to the whole of God as family in likeness of the Trinity.

All Jesus’ authority expressed while on this earth served to complete this eschatological end. Every exercise of his power (even for healing) worked for this purpose in the big picture. Jesus’ authority and power cohere in the eschatological plan for the whole of God’s family. It is to this end and for this purpose that all human authority must be examined and critiqued.

Church order and relations can neither function in this eschatological end on our terms nor serve a purpose apart from the relational context of God’s family in his eschatological plan. To be compatible with the whole of God’s desires and how God does relationships necessitates countering stratified relationships (in all ways and forms) with the process of equalization, as well as displacing any reductionist relational substitutes which reinforce distance or impede intimacy. This is the redemptive relational process of transformed persons engaged in transformed relationships of the new creation as the new kinship family of God. Regardless of what side of the gender issue you support, we need to address how we define our person and do relationships and thus practice church, because what concerns God most is what we do with the whole person and the relationships of the whole of God. We need to affirm together the divine priority that it is indeed “not good to be apart” from the whole, then respond as the Trinity ongoingly has since the first creation.

 

 

The Need for Deeper Change

Reconciliation denotes the change from the old to the new by taking away the root cause of the human condition “to be apart,” of relational distance or brokenness, leaving no barriers to restoring communion as signified by God’s communion in the Trinity. The process of reconciliation involves restoring relationships to wholeness and well-being; that is, by its nature reconciliation must return persons to God’s original design and purpose, specifically for intimate and equalized relationships (now also new in Christ)—the whole person and relationships to be whole in likeness of the whole of God.

Yet, this is no simple process because to restore to wholeness involves redemptive change from what exists. Reconciliation requires redemption, and the two should not be separated or undertaken independent of the other. In Christian practice, however, many redemptive efforts have not included reconciliation, while reconciling efforts have not involved redemption. It is always easier to make reductionist substitutes for wholeness and settle for less. Changing from the prevailing condition of human relationships (invested also with culture and tradition) to how God does relationships tends to create tension, conflict or even opposition. Why?

When Jesus countered both how the human person was perceived and how relationships were done with his teachings on the new life order (outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, Mt 5-7), we can understand why. As he clearly brought out the qualitative significance and meaning of the law and the prophets (the primary purpose behind all of God’s directives and the heart of God’s desires for his people), Jesus helps us understand two of the overriding and far-reaching effects of our established ways of defining our person and doing relationships. They are: (1) it gives more emphasis to secondary aspects of life than to primary aspects, of the quantitative over the qualitative, defining the person from the outside in rather than from inside out, that is, based on what we do or have rather than on who and what we are in the significance of the heart; and (2) as a result, it reduces our function in relationships away from the qualitative, thus does not give top priority to intimate involvement in relationships. This is about reductionism, and Jesus expects (indeed demands) who, what and how we are as his followers to surpass the reductionists (Mt 5:20).

God’s presence and involvement with us has always been directed toward wholeness. If we are to get beyond the prevailing norms for human relations and surpass the reductionists, we will need redemptive change from any reductionist influence on how we define ourselves, do relationships and practice church. While certain reductionist distinctions such as race, class and gender have consistently remained resistant to change through history, as we undergo redemptive change and experience reconciliation the church can function with Christ as equalizer, both within itself and then in the world.

Yet, of course, there are costs to change and reconciliation which need to be deeply addressed also.

 

Costs to Change and Reconciliation 

Jesus experienced the kind of intimacy (defined as hearts opening to each other and coming together) with women that would make many men (and even some women) very uncomfortable. The primary discomfort with intimacy in gender relations, however, is not for sexual reasons—with the prevailing reductionist substitute of sex confused as intimacy—but for the primary threat genuine intimacy creates. This emerges more clearly when you include equalization with intimacy in gender relations. Adding equalization would make women more confident in gender relations but not necessarily less uncomfortable with intimacy. It depends on how we define our person.

Whether back in Jesus’ time or in ours today, men have always had more to lose than to gain from intimate relationships, at least in their perceptions. Aspects of prestige, privilege or power are diminished when intimacy defines the relationship. This can explain why males have tended to divert intimate connections in general to contexts with more competitive, adversarial or even conflict relations (such as sports)—which may in fact provide the connections not “to be alone” but still maintain enough relational distance to prevent the resolution of “to be apart.” This is compounded because it also becomes confused with intimacy in particular.

Insecurities and self-worth are exposed when the heart is opened, leaving only the authentic person unembellished by what one does or has and without distinction to enter into relationships. This is the significance of genuine prayer and the discomfort we have with silence in prayer (cf. Mt 6:6-8). Even though this is how we intimately need to come equalized before God, we tend to resist this in relation to others. Who would be more vulnerable in such relationships and why?

We have also settled into certain assumptions about the genders, for example, that women are more relationship-oriented and that men are not really “wired” well for intimate relationships. Even though these assumptions have no biblical basis and cannot be used to explain Jesus’ relationships, churches have bought into these reductionist perceptions (as if God created us with a different heart or designed us for a different purpose) to establish a mindset, even a bias, that deeply affects what the church does with the whole person and the relationships necessary to be whole in likeness with the whole of God. This certainly compromises the integrity of church identity as constituted by the truth of the gospel and by the persons of the Trinity.

All the above reflect matters which we humbly need to let go of, to be freed from, to die to. We need to understand them as substitutes which have kept us “to be apart” from the more and whole of God beyond the common and ordinary. Essential for our response to the basic issue of how we define ourselves is to be redeemed from the reductionist alternatives to self-definition. Further, we need to let go of, to be freed from, to die to the reductionist substitutes for how we do relationships and thus get into for how we practice church.

Ironically, what these costs also make us accountable for in gender relations is submission—submission by men and women, by complementarians and egalitarians. Foremost, our submission to God is the submission to how God does relationships in creation and revelation. In this relational context and process, this submission is submission to God’s response of redemption and reconciliation. To submit then to redemptive change and reconciliation is to submit to redeemed and transformed relationships. Redeemed and transformed relationships are both intimate and equalized relationships. Thus, submission is the foremost relational response in the process to be whole in the relationships necessary for the whole of God.

This is the submission God demands from both sides of the gender issue. It is the cost all persons must bear if gender relations are to get beyond a reduced context to the big picture. We cannot avoid the issue (even by ignoring it) yet we can be blessed by its significance, as Adam was in the primordial garden.

 

Where Our Expectations Are Rooted

Our perceptual-interpretive framework will effectively determine further how we will move on to define ourselves, do relationships and practice church. Hopefully, this discussion will challenge us at the very least to think beyond the terms of egalitarians or complementarians. These positions are not what is important to God. I suggest that is probably why Jesus never spoke directly about the issue. He only affirmed the whole person without distinctions and vulnerably involved his person with their persons in intimate relationship together in relational progression to the whole of God’s family constituted in the Trinity. Now this is what matters most to God.

As discussed previously, in Paul’s conversion he followed Jesus in this relational context and process; and in his call from Jesus he operationalized the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love in the ecclesiology of the whole. Even in the textual areas of dispute with Paul’s teachings on gender, he completely reinforced Jesus’ qualitative emphasis on the whole person and intimate relationships together. If we distinguish, on the one hand, what Paul said about human relations (particularly in church) in the big picture, while on the other, with what he said about gender relations in reduced contexts involving essentially important reductionist issues, we can better understand that in dealing with the latter Paul was always working for the relational context and process of God’s desires for the big picture. When we take Paul’s gender teachings out of the extended and deeper relational context, we are susceptible to overlooking the reductionist issues affecting the whole persons they were in Christ and the relationships necessary for the new creation as the whole of God’s family in the eschatological big picture. I suggest to this end and for this purpose Paul addressed these gender issues. He did not shift from this qualitative focus on the inner out of personhood and relationships to fragment the whole by giving priority to a reductionist focus on outer-in issues. Paul did, however, address the latter as it affected the former—the ongoing tension between the lure of reductionism and the whole of God.

Moreover, as mentioned earlier, I further suggest that we even need to revisit some of Paul’s teachings on issues about a reductionist focus on secondary matter by examining them more deeply in three vital areas of practice: (1) the presentation of our self to others, (2) the content of our communication, and (3) the level of relationship we engage. Certain secondary matters (for example, dress and appearance) are issues even complementarians conveniently ignore in Paul’s teachings. Yet, in part or all, Paul was not establishing church structure or order in all these unavoidable reductionist issues, but he was concerned about what they did with the whole person and with the relationships necessary to be whole in likeness of the whole of God as vulnerably revealed in the face of Christ (cf. Col 2:2, 3; 2 Cor 4:5, 6). For Paul, what matters most to God was also what mattered most to him, and this was where his expectations for the church were rooted. We have yet to adequately address similar reductionist emphases practiced today in churches. Until we do, our expectations of church practice and for change or resolution of the gender issue cannot be promising.

In the unreduced context of the big picture, God’s desire is not for a specific church structure or order but for the distinct qualitative function of relationship which reflects the likeness of the whole of God and experiences being God’s very own family. This is not about the church doing something a certain way but about God’s people being the new creation family as the extension of the communion of the Trinity. This becomes a functional reality only as it is operationalized by God’s family love (intimately involved to equalize), not by doctrine or church polity.

As we see Jesus intimately interacting with women and understand the purpose his Father gave him to respond to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole and all that was necessary to fulfill the Father’s desires, it becomes evident also that his commands to love in this relational context and process can be operational only in relationships which would not create, cultivate, nurture or reinforce, however unintentional, any forms of stratified relationships, power relations and systems of inequality whatsoever, as well as any other reductionist practices impeding intimacy. When the full Christology of the incarnation coheres with a complete soteriology (saved from and to), the truth of the gospel compels our persons to the redemptive change of transformation (from inner out, as Peter was compelled, Gal 2:11-14), thus constituting our practice together in the church by the ecclesiology of the whole.

Intimacy and equalization are the qualitative functions of transformed relationships engaged by those persons truly being redeemed and transformed in Christ. These functions are fundamental to who, what, how God is and continues to be vulnerably involved with us in the persons of the Trinity. And this is who, what and how God expects (demands) his very own to be and to be involved in their relationships together in the multicultural church as equalizer.

From the beginning with the person Adam, the condition “to be apart” has always been what concerns God the most—to whom God responded with the gift of the person (not gender) Eve, responding ultimately with the gift of the incarnate person God and continuing with the gift of the person Spirit. This is only how God does relationship. As the righteous and faithful God, we need to expect (demand if you will) how God does relationship to continue in the big picture to the eschatological conclusion. At the same time, this is a reciprocal relational responsibility since God also expects this relational work from us—even demands it, if we fully grasp this—both among ourselves as the whole of God’s family and within the world as equalizer.

Our call to be whole includes being sent to be whole, which is discussed in the next chapter.

 


 

[1] Craig Keener, “Women in Ministry,” in James R. Beck and Craig L. Blomberg, eds., Two Views on Women in Ministry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 68.

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

 

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©2006 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.