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The Person, the Trinity, the Church

 

Wholeness Study

Chapter 10                                                             printer-friendly pdf version of entire study

Sent to Be Whole

 

Subsections:

 

The Context to Send Out
Clarifying Some Terms
God's Paradigm
The Mindset of Repentance
Incarnating the Incarnation
Understanding Our Working Assumptions
Jesus' Working Assumptions
The Change of Redemptive Reconciliation
The Church in Conjoint Function

Introduction
Chap. 1
Chap. 2
Chap. 3
Chap. 4
Chap. 5
Chap. 6
Chap. 7
Chap. 8
Chap. 9

Chap. 11

Table of Contents

 

Scripture Index

 

 

In Jesus’ paradigm for serving (Jn 12:26), the priority of intimate relationship with him in communion together is necessary over the work of serving, ministry and mission. In conventional paradigms for mission, sending workers out to the harvest fields becomes the urgent priority dominating our focus, with contextualization to those “fields” a growing part of this priority. Yet, the call to discipleship is the call to be whole which, in order not to be reduced, involves the call to be holy required to distinguish it from the common and ordinary of the world, including those “fields.” This qualifies Christ’s commission for mission and challenges prevailing perceptions of it by defining the following: what to send out, whom to send out, why and thus how to send out. Grasping this more deeply is the focus of this chapter.

 

The Context to Send Out 

In his formative prayer, Jesus commissions (apostello, send for the specific mission) his followers just as (kathos, to show agreement between) his Father commissioned him: “As you sent me into the world, I send them into the world” (Jn 17:18; cf. 20:21). The context for this commission, however, should not be confused with “into the world,” which the current missional emphasis on contextualization tends to do. The world is certainly where the work is to be done but such situations and circumstances do not determine the context for the significance of this commission.

In this prayer, Jesus summarizes his purpose to reveal the Father to us for intimate relationship together in the very likeness of the Trinity. This relationship of eternal life cannot function in the context “of the world” (ek, signifying out of which one is derived), that is, determined by our terms (however well intentioned) or reductionist substitutes from the surrounding context. Thus Jesus’ prayer conjoins the call to be whole and the commission—as God’s name and glory are revealed here conjointly (17:4-5, 10-11)—in the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love (17:21-23). This clearly establishes the relational context of Christ’s commission in sanctified life and practice of the whole of God (discussed earlier in Chapter 8). To be distinguished “in the world” (en, while remaining in it) is the call to be whole which necessitates the call to be holy in order not to be reduced to “of the world”—that is, common usage and ordinary function and practice, or essentially that which prevails in the surrounding context.

For the Son’s purpose and function from the Father to be transferred to his followers, the enactment of the commission has to be both sanctified and whole to be compatible (“just as,” kathos) with the Father-Son relationship and then the Father-Son-disciples relationship. When this compatibility exists in the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love, the church as the whole of God’s new kinship family is not statically “still in the world” but now dynamically sent “into the world” (eis, motion into) to reflect the likeness of the Father and the Son with the Spirit in response to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole of God. The church’s call to be whole is conjointly the church sent to be whole. This constitutes the significance of what to send out and signifies the importance of whom to send out and defines more deeply why to send out while providing the basis for how to function in this commission.

As followers intimately involved with Jesus the equalizer, they together are with him in his paradigm (“where I am,” Jn 12:26) to become his church as equalizer both within itself and in the world. The remaining discussion of this chapter focuses primarily on why and how the church (whole and sanctified) functions in the world as the equalizer.

 

Clarifying Some Terms

The church is established as equalizer within itself by becoming whole in the multicultural nature of transformed relationships together through rigorous relational work. While this relational context and process are uniquely intimate and sanctified, church practice cannot remain private nor individual. The transformed life of the whole of God’s new kinship family is also lived in public. For the early church in the Greco-Roman world this was known as their practice in politeia (“public life”). The Greek term has a much broader focus than our limited notions of politics have. As Bruce Winter informs us, the term politeia involved different spheres of activity and should not be equated to “politics.”[1]

Historically, the church has strained to define exactly what its involvement in public life should be. Depending on which tradition was used, church mission in the world has been conducted narrowly, ambiguously, or engaged without spiritual substance and eschatological significance. Perhaps much of the difficulty centers ultimately on the key prepositions Jesus used in his prayer.

Directly relating the world (and public life) to himself and his followers, Jesus prayed using the prepositions “in” (en, 17:11,13), “of” (ek, vv. 14,16), “out of” (ek, v. 15) and “into” (eis, v. 18). Each preposition has its own significance which should be distinguished in discourse about mission for the church’s public life.

For Jesus to be “in the world” only described a general surrounding context in which he remained (en) temporarily. While en means remaining in the world for his followers also, this position is governed by the preposition ek. That is, how Jesus functioned while remaining in the surrounding context was determined by the nature of his context of origin, not by what prevailed in the surrounding context. Likewise, for those “not of the world,” ek involves being embedded and signifies motion out from within the surrounding context, yet only in terms of its common usage and ordinary function and practice (cf. Jn 15:19); the phrase also implies movement to the holy and Uncommon (signifying both what his followers are and whose they are), just as Jesus was “not of the world” and sanctified himself for his followers to practice “in the world.” The latter was necessary because in this phrase ek is limited to a shift only in purpose and function. In the same breath Jesus also prayed for his followers not to be removed “out of the world.” “Out of” is the same preposition ek which is used in this phrase not for being embedded but for spatial location; and eliminating this sense of separation also should apply to not being removed from relational involvement with the world by relational distance. Jesus gave his followers no option to remain (en) and to be involved (not the separation of ek) in public life; and he clearly qualified what was to determine how they functioned in the surrounding context.

Grasping en and ek is a crucial distinction, the subtle difference of which is blurred by reductionism. Being “not of the world” goes beyond a static identity or status from self-determination and involves a functional framework imperative for determining the practice for those who remain (en) in the surrounding context but emerge beyond (ek) the common and ordinary. This interrelated dynamic is the reason in his prayer Jesus made imperative his call and commission in conjoint function. The call to be whole (thus holy) emerges in public life as “sent to be whole.” For this emergence to be distinguished and thus distinct from the common and ordinary of the surrounding context, it is necessary in function for the call to precede the commission because the latter alone is not sufficient to fulfill the transfer of Christ’s purpose and function without being established in the call to be whole.

The sanctified life and practice of the whole of God’s family constitutes the commission and signifies the basis for the authentic undertaking of church mission in public life. To be whole is the basis for his followers to be sent “into the world” (eis). As ek is the “motion out of” the world necessary to establish the functional significance of the whole, eis governs “motion (back) into” public life necessary to fulfill the transfer of the Son’s purpose and function from the Father to his family. Ek and eis are not in dialectical tension but operate ongoingly together in a reflexive interrelated process (with triangulation and reciprocating contextualization) for church practice to grow and develop in its conjoint call and commission.

Yet, there is ongoing tension and conflict with reductionism which shifts church practice to and embeds it in common usage and ordinary function and practice. This reductionist influence is most prominent in diminishing personhood and minimalizing relationships, thus affecting how we practice church and engage in mission. As Jesus prayed, it is imperative for church public life that eis should not be confused with en, that is, merely to be in the same context, remain in the same space, occupy ministries in surrounding situations and circumstances. En only statically describes where we remain, not what, who, why and how we are in that context. Eis, however, is not simply dynamic “movement into” a surrounding context but also engagement of persons in deep relational involvement the depths of which is “just as” (kathos, indicating conformity) the Father sent the Son in the incarnation (Jn 17:18). This process invokes the principle of God’s self-disclosure as “nothing less and no substitutes.” Anything less and any substitutes of this depth of involvement are reductions of the church’s conjoint call and commission. While the commission takes place “in the world,” it can only be enacted and fulfilled “into the world.” Anything other than the ek-eis process is reductionism.

This process further explains why Paul’s apostolic commission was predicated on his conversion (transformation). Paul’s person, not only his perceptual-interpretive framework, was changed to be whole. From the basis of his following Jesus, he formulated the ecclesiology of the whole which operationalized the church beyond the reductionist substitutes of his time. The call and the commission signify to be whole and thus necessitate to be whole in function.

The Father only sent the whole of God and the Son only sends the whole of his family to be whole, along with the Spirit to complete the whole. Therefore, the church cannot be sent on any mission in its public life without functioning in its call to be whole; nor can the church be whole within itself and thus into (not merely in) the world without being holy. Separating the commission from this call fails to understand God’s thematic response to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole of God, and it only fragments (notably with a truncated soteriology) the church’s purpose and function as the whole of God’s family in likeness of the Trinity. In conjoint function: the church’s presence (en) with humanity and all of creation must by its nature be presented functionally from beyond (ek) the prevailing ways of the surrounding context to distinguish itself as the whole of God in order to both engage (eis) its conflict with reductionism and engage in the relationships necessary for the intimate involvement of family love as the whole of God’s family constituted by the Trinity.

How this conjoint function is fulfilled and why it involves certain responses need further discussion.

 

God's Paradigm

God’s thematic response to the human relational condition from the first creation through the new creation to the eschatological completion pivots on God’s ultimate response in the incarnation. This axis through which Christ takes his followers is the relational progression consummating God’s response to restore the whole of God: Jesus came to vulnerably reveal his Father only for relationship together, which required both redemption for his followers in order to be adopted as the Father’s very own, and thus reconciliation so that they can intimately know the whole of God and experience relationships together as the whole of God’s new kinship family in likeness of the Trinity. The whole of God’s ultimate response in this relational progression is the trinitarian relational work of family love which the Father initiated, the Son fulfilled and his Spirit brings to completion. This is the triune God’s desire for the whole creation, God’s direction for salvation history and eschatological plan for God’s family.

The relational progression Jesus incarnated is God’s paradigm for the church in the whole of God’s eschatological desires. In his formative family prayer Jesus defines why and how this conjoint function is the outworking of the relational progression and God’s paradigm for church practice. The engagement “into the world” in contrast to the relational distance “out of the world” is significant in its purpose and function only as Jesus prayed: “so that the world may believe” (pistis, trust, Jn 17:21) and “to let the world know” (ginosko, to come to know, experience, 17:23). Trust what, experience what? How this has been answered in church practice must be reexamined. This is the current issue about politeia and the tendency to define Christian mission in reductionist terms. Jesus qualifies his commission with this petition and makes imperative the call to be whole.

Trust that you have sent me” and “experience that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” What the world can trust and experience is the relational progression of the whole of God’s response of family love vulnerably expressed by the Son and now extended through his family. Yet, the what for the world to trust and experience—and quite likely even for some within the church—is not predicated on the propositional truth of this relational progression but rather on the witness directly from the experiential reality of these intimate relationships between the Father, the Son and the whole of God’s family: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as [kathos] you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us” (17:21); “that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me . . . and have loved them even as [kathos] you have loved me” (17:22, 23). This is not about organizational unity and group identity. This is a function only of relationship—the quality of intimate relationship. As noted earlier, kathos indicates compatibility, agreement, that is, with the intimate relationships in the very likeness of the Trinity.

Vulnerably following Jesus in the relational progression is imperative to be compatible with the whole of God. This call to be whole must by its nature be conjoined with the commission in order for the commission to be the compatible transfer of the purpose and function from the Father to the Son and to his family. When the world can observe this compatibility in God’s people, it is exposed to more than a belief system that it can believe or know. This is the wholeness various movements in the world pursue, this is the wholeness of God the world can trust and experience. And only God’s paradigm constitutes church practice to be whole in its purpose and function.

Further, as Jesus relationally involved himself with others in public as the equalizer, with the practice of the same family love the church engages others directly to equalize in the world. When the world not only observes God’s wholeness but becomes the object of this family love, it has the true basis to trust the reality of God’s covenant promise and to experience the qualitative significance of love and hope unique to the whole of God’s response to the human relational condition “to be apart.” When so engaged by the public life of the church, the world has the opportunity to trust in the truth of the gospel incarnated by the church (in practice more so than in  proclamation, cf. Peter in Gal 2), and thus be able to experience the reality of the whole of God’s family love by also becoming God’s very own in family together.

Since God’s paradigm is a function of relationships and the corporate relational involvement of family, this purpose in the world operationalized by family love cannot be fulfilled by the individual(s). Though the individual can point to it, the individual alone cannot witness to—much less incarnate—the relational progression of God’s desires and purpose. This can only be fulfilled by the church functioning as family. The Father did not send only the Son; Jesus incarnated the whole of the triune God in the relational progression. Thus, God’s paradigm for the church is also the incarnation of this whole—that is, to incarnate nothing less and no substitutes than the relationships necessary to be the whole of God in likeness of the Trinity.

This process signifies the compatible transfer of the Father’s purpose and function from the Son to his family, which makes imperative the commission for the church as nothing less than: (1) God’s further relational response to the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, thus (2), must by its nature be the vulnerable incarnation of God’s family love in the three critical areas of practice—(a) the presentation of our whole person, (b) the qualitative content of our communication, and (c) the intimate depth of relationships we engage which are necessary to be whole.

We need to further understand the nature and scope of this conjoint function of the church.

 

 
The Mindset of Repentance 

The current conditions of human ecology—and the influence human migration, globalization and the Internet have had—challenge us to change, force us to do so, or cause us to resist change. Resistance reflects how these conditions have increasingly altered the modern human posture and psyche from passive indifference to active intolerance of human differences. Whatever the level of differences—racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, economic, political, social, interpersonal, personal—the inability or the unwillingness to deal with and live with others who are different (look, act, think, feel) has always had a damaging impact on human relations (cf. Cain and Abel). In the past we could minimize these consequences as long as we could avoid encountering others’ differences. In today’s global community that is highly unlikely, and the results are an alarming increase in conflicts and violence (physical or emotional).

This is just part of the world today into which Jesus sends his followers to fulfill the transfer of the Father’s function and purpose. How well the church fulfills his commission depends significantly on how well it responds to the challenge to change, acts (not reacts) on the force (or imperative) to change, as well as knows what change to resist. Distinguishing the latter from the other two and being able to practice all three require repentance—that is, the mindset of repentance.

Certainly, repentance is a precondition for conversion to become an authentic follower of Jesus; and the commission to “make disciples of all nations” involves “proclaiming repentance to all nations” (Lk 24:47). Other than this, how does the mindset of repentance involve church practice? This requires understanding what underlies the commission. Because of the tendency to utilize reductionist alternatives for these two aspects of Christ’s commission, we need to reexamine these critical aspects within the relational progression, that is, according to God’s paradigm.

Repentance in Greek (metanoia, verb form of metanoeo) has the distinguishing characteristic of change (of mind), both good or bad. In the OT, the Hebrew term naham describes the process of changing one’s mind and is translated for “repent” in the Septuagint by metanoeo. Yet, more decisive for NT understanding of this change is the Hebrew term sub: “to turn around” in the sense of turning away from present things and returning to the point of departure (1 Kings 8:47, 48; Ezek 3:19, 20). Sub in the prophets directs the return to the original relationship with God and implies a new beginning in the relationship (cf. Jer 34:15; Ezek 18:30, 31).

The process of “turning away from and returning to” is one process which should not be separated nor left incomplete. This separation happens when the emphasis on turning away from sins or returning to the so-called behavioral fruits of repentance (cf. Lk 3:7-14) are not understood as interconnected; for the former to be valid necessitates the latter, whereas for the latter to be authentic implies the former. Along with recording Jesus’ commission declaration (Lk 24:47), Luke appears to present a wholistic view of repentance that connects it with forgiveness of sins, that is, a change that leads to conversion followed by deeds (Acts 26:20; cf. Lk 3:8). He alone records Jesus’ use of metanoeo and epistrepho (to return) to human relationships (Lk 17:3, 4) which reflects the mindset of repentance as more than ethics. Jesus embeds this mindset in the relationships of the whole of God as family—the new creation hope of repentance for forgiveness of sins signified in his commission declaration above.

This deepens our understanding to grasp that the singular process of repentance is further left incomplete when it is not understood entirely as a relational process. The only significance of this relational process is: on the one hand, the primacy of relationship to turn away from the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole of God and, on the other hand, to return to be restored to intimate relationship with the whole of God, thus as the new creation family in likeness of the Trinity.

Contrary to this relational process for the primacy of relationship, reductionism shifts the focus of repentance from the qualitative whole person (inner out) and relationship to the quantitative aspect of persons (outer in) with the priority on the behavior of sins and fruits, not the relationship. John the Baptist, whose use of metanoia was more characteristic to him than to Jesus, appears to have a limited focus with his emphasis on behavior (Lk 3:1-18). While Jesus demanded repentance of all without exception (Lk 13:3, 5), he focused on the relationship of repentance (Lk 11:29-32).

The relationship Jesus emphasized was to follow him in the relational progression, that is, discipleship which integrated intimate relationship with the whole of God as family together. “To be apart” from the whole constitutes the need for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. When Jesus celebrated this relational process with Levi, he disputed the reductionists by clarifying his vulnerable presence, purpose and function (Lk 5:27-31). As God’s ultimate response to the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, he came to call sinners to repentance—not “the healthy” (hygiaino, to be whole) nor “the righteous” (dikaios, congruence in actions to one’s constitutionally just, right character, which implies wholeness instead of disparity). Those who are not whole and who remain apart from the whole are the ones Jesus came to be vulnerably involved with in his relational mission to restore them back to the whole of God. This was his mindset of repentance.

This deepens and broadens our understanding of sinners and the function of sin. In the relational context and process established by Jesus, sin is the functional opposite of being whole and sinners are in the ontological-relational condition “to be apart” from the whole. When sin is understood beyond just moral and ethical failure displeasing to God, sin becomes the functional reduction of the whole of God, thus in conflict with God and that which is and those who are whole. Counter-relational work functions in this way.

It can be suggested—maybe with some valid basis—that it is more difficult to deal with sin and evil today than in the age of the early church. Whether this has any validity or not, two factors heavily contribute to what has become a weakened view of sin and evil. One is a contextual factor: the increasing normative character of sin. We need to realize that the growing frequency and extent of any negative behavior or practice create conditions for redefining those to be more favorable, or at least tolerable. The second factor is structural: the collective nature of sin and evil found in the operation of institutions, systems and structures of a society or the global community, which can in effect force the individual to participate in collective sin. This certainly raises accountability for Christians not to directly or indirectly propagate sin and evil by being in complicity with the operation of such an institution, system or structure.

Yet, what weakens our understanding of sin the most is reductionism, which is the underlying framework for even the above contextual and structural factors. The influence of reductionism prevails at all levels of human life, emerging most significantly in diminishing the ontological importance of the whole person and minimalizing the Divine-created primacy of the relationships necessary to be whole. All aspects of “sin as reductionism of the whole of God” of all aspects of life at all levels must be addressed and called to repentance, thus restored to wholeness—even within the church, which may include how we call persons to repent, do evangelism, missions and also church. This involves the mindset of repentance in ongoing function focused on the whole of God. Perceiving sin and sinners through this lens empowers the church to respond to the challenge to change, to act on the imperative to change, and to resist any change reducing the whole, in order to fulfill the conjoint function of the church transferred from the Father to the Son to his family—the whole of God.

In this process, the church is not only sensitive to reductions of any whole but also exposes such reductionism—even in its own practice—and always responds to it with the whole as the whole for the whole of God, just as Jesus did. When a church does not function with the mindset of repentance, its own practice is likely to involve reductionist substitutes. This was the problem Jesus exposed in the churches in Ephesus, Sardis and Laodicea, as previously discussed. In his call to them to repent, metanoeo did not refer to their need to repent for conversion but for them to return to the whole originally constituting their condition and practice (Rev 2:5; 3:3; 3:19). These churches demonstrate how sin as reductionism of the whole of God can pervade even the most successful of churches.

The process, therefore, for the church to develop its purpose and function is directly related and subject to the strength of its ongoing relations against sin and evil, notably as reductionism. And countering sin as reductionism of the whole of God necessitates going beyond the limited notions of evangelism, ethics and discipleship we tend to prescribe for church practice in politeia.

 

 

Incarnating the Incarnation

Since the incarnation is God’s ultimate response to the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, it is imperative for the church by its nature to address these human relations as its thematic action. From the beginning of creation and human history, God’s thematic response to this relational condition has been countered by human effort to maintain and reinforce this condition. When Adam blamed Eve, the implication of using her as a scapegoat was to reduce her person and stratify their relationship. Sin reduces others in various ways and works “to be apart” in relationships, even inadvertently.

The ongoing repercussion of Adam’s action set in motion a process in relationships causing distance, depersonalization and brokenness, the conditions of which are the most prevailing in the operation of some form of power relations. This basic dynamic process results in conflicts and inequality—having the broadest consequence in systems of inequality. Whether the criteria are based on race, class, culture, gender, age, ability, or religion, any system of inequality creates barriers in human relationships which keep persons in some aspect of the condition “to be apart” from the whole.

As discussed previously, the issue of such a system of inequality operating within the early church was pivotal in the mission of the early disciples. While the parousia (Christ’s coming) was an eschatological hope encouraging the church’s practice in politeia, particularly in difficult times and circumstances, this more immediate critical relational issue transformed church purpose and function to align with the truth of the gospel’s new creation in Jesus Christ. It can be said that from this point, in cooperation with the Spirit, the apostolic church began incarnating the incarnation of God’s ultimate response in the Son to the human relational condition.

Their direct involvement with this relational condition was imperative because of God’s paradigm for the church. Since the basic issues behind systems of inequality deal with power, privilege and prestige in human relations, any involvement into the human context made addressing this condition unavoidable in the making of authentic disciples. Furthermore, any call to repentance of the human condition made it imperative for the church to contend with this sinful process—both within the church and the world.

The incarnation is characterized by Jesus using his power and resources to heal and to restore (apokathistemi, restore to soundness, cf. Mt 12:9-14)—that is, to be well (hygies, sound, whole, see Jn 5:6-16). These narrative accounts clearly illustrate Jesus’ mindset of repentance for those who are not whole (Lk 5:27-31) and define one aspect of his ongoing relational work to restore persons back to wholeness. The process of restoring meant much more than to mend, to fix or to reform, that is, essentially returning something to its commonly existing condition—see Jesus’ comment in the second healing (Jn 5:14). To restore to wholeness involves a change from the existing condition. Therefore, with the mindset of repentance, to heal means to change from old to new (which will be discussed further as we get into other aspects of Jesus’ work of wholeness). Of course, the healing aspect of his restoring work caused much debate and conflict because Jesus was countering reductionism (cf. Mt 12:11, 12). Thus, even his healing was a threat to those who depended on reductionist substitutes as the basis for their purpose and function (Jn 5:16; cf. Mt 12:14). This work was the nature of the incarnation as God’s ultimate relational response which fulfilled God’s thematic work until then (see Jesus’ response to their threats, Jn 5:17), and which is extended by his family for eschatological completion by the Spirit.

Yet, the church cannot incarnate the incarnation without extending Jesus’ relational restoring work which counters reductionism. Because the fundamental issue today and from the beginning remains the attempts to reduce the whole of personhood and relationships, for the church not to address any reductions of the whole leaves it susceptible in its practice merely to mirror how the surrounding context defines the person and does relationships. The consequence would directly affect the practice of Christ’s commission in the kind of disciples and the call to repentance the church makes. This then involves the more far-reaching effects of reductionism in shaping church identity, purpose and function.

Incarnating the incarnation is intimate involvement in the relational process signified by “nothing less and no substitutes.” Foremost, this process is constituted by following Jesus, which needs to be reexamined in church practice today. Jesus revolutionized what it meant to be a disciple in the Mediterranean world and the rabbinic tradition.[2] His process of discipleship involved a deep relational involvement with the Teacher and becoming progressively more intimate with his Father, not about learning as in rabbinic schools. When Jesus commissioned us to “make disciples” (matheteuo), this relational process must be distinguished from the Greek verb matheo which simply means to learn without any attachment to the teacher (didaskolos). The aspect of “teaching” (didasko) in his commission was focused on transforming a disciple for this relationship, not for the purpose of learning something to later teach others about as conventional rabbinic disciples did. Furthermore, these reductions of discipleship tend to make it merely individualistic because it does not integrate this relationship into the interdependent corporate relationships as family. This is what happens when we stop short in the relational progression.

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

A truncated soteriology addressing only what Jesus saves us from does not fully engage the mindset of repentance, thus cannot fulfill his commission as the transfer of his purpose and function in the incarnation. God did not send the Son “to condemn” (krino, to discriminate between good and evil and choose out the good)—as Jesus previously clarified for the reductionists (Lk 5:27-31)—“but to save” (sozo, also meaning to make whole, Jn 3:17). Salvation is the process to make whole by restoring to the whole of God’s family constituted in the Trinity. The incarnation without a complete soteriology has no relational significance and does not signify the truth of the gospel. The Son’s commission from his Father is the same commission he transfers to his followers to incarnate. Compatibility of practice is a relational function of “nothing less and no substitutes.”

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

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

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

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

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

The development of the new creation life in Christ is always preceded in the process by a clear understanding of and, thus, response to the conditions of the old order and its impact on personhood and relationships. This signifies both the trinitarian context of the relational progression and the redemptive relational process necessary to experience together relationally the whole of what Christ saved us to. By the nature of this new relational condition, this also involves responding to the social consequences of sin and its social influences in our surrounding context. The OT prophets exemplified this in their response to confront their society by countering its evil and calling it to repentance over all its sin—all as a precedence to be restored to the whole of God.

This process to be whole involves the prophetic aspect of the church’s function in God’s paradigm, which is always combined with its apostolic aspect. As the church incarnates this function and becomes this relationally involved, the transformed church becomes transforming, that is, redeeming and restoring to the whole of God, just as Jesus did.

 

 

Understanding Our Working Assumptions

 

Sometimes this transforming work to be whole is a major struggle which can be perplexing. As Jesus’ behavior throughout the incarnation demonstrated the depth of his teachings and fulfilled the scope of his mission, his behavior also reveals paradoxes to understand in order for the church to further incarnate his relational restoring work. For example, his cleansing of the temple by forcefully throwing out the people and overturning their tables (Mk 11:15-17; cf. Jn 2:15) in order to restore the whole of God’s house for communion for all peoples (especially the disadvantaged) stood in contrast to the incident in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was taken to be crucified. The disciple who cut off the slave’s ear was rebuked, as Jesus healed the slave
(Mt 26:50-52).

When is such action justified and when is it unnecessary? We are informed that Jesus preached the gospel of peace (Eph 2:17; Acts 10:36); we also know that Jesus said: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Mt 10:34). How do we understand such apparent paradoxes in the life and teachings of Jesus, especially regarding peace and reconciliation?

Church practices in the twentieth century can be characterized as tending to place more emphasis on either the work of redemption (e.g., liberation from social conditions) or the work of reconciliation (e.g., traditional evangelism)—usually to the exclusion of the other. Theologically, however, we know that redemption and reconciliation are not mutually exclusive. A full Christology of the narrative life of Jesus’ vulnerable presence, purpose and function counters any such reduction. Thus, a singular emphasis not only is insufficient to understand the apparent paradoxes of Jesus it also conflicts with what underlies the paradoxes, as we will understand in the discussion ahead.

Yet, depending on our functional worldview and particular approach to prevailing orders of life, churches as well as individual Christians often find themselves identified with either redemptive work or reconciling work, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally. These approaches lend themselves to simplified classification on a continuum which will be helpful for us to review.

As descriptive examples, at one end of the spectrum there are left-wing, radical revolutionaries and at the other end there are hard-core, right-wing nationalists (or fundamentalists). Essentially, one tries to completely change the prevailing order while the other tries to maintain it at all costs. In between these extremes there is a host of variations. Yet each approach bases its action or perspective on certain assumptions. These assumptions have to do with views on humanity and on society—with more specific underlying views about sin and about God.

Whether we articulate it or not, we all hold to some kind of belief or model of the nature of humanity. This is also true of our conceptions of society—assumptions usually even more implicit. We can locate ourselves on this continuum by the very practical ways we make assumptions about both areas. Both our model of humanity and our model of society predispose each of us to certain choices and how we will approach, for example, improving the quality of life. Understanding this influence is important to our immediate discussion about Jesus’ paradoxes and the church extending his purpose and function into the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since holding to one model of humanity or society does not mean that one automatically embraces the other model aligning to it, four different combinations of models are possible here. Each combination of models of humanity and society exert a particular influence on choices we make and the approach to mission we take. For example, we may seek basic change in only the individual but not society due to a pessimistic-consensus combination of models; or an optimistic-conflict combination seeks change only in society. This influence—conditioned by prevailing cultures but most significantly by reductionism—can determine not only whether church practice has a singular emphasis on redemption or reconciliation but also the extent of redemption and the level of reconciliation engaged for mission.

Understanding these working assumptions we make about humanity and society as well as the influence they exert on us helps us to reexamine the life of Jesus to understand his working assumptions.

 

 

Jesus' Working Assumptions

The day prior to his cleansing of the temple during the week of passion, Jesus entered Jerusalem. In spite of his popular reception, Jesus willfully entered a hostile context, knowing fully the consequences he would bear. It is defined as “the triumphal entry” because of his ultimate triumph over sin. Yet, that is insufficient to understand the relational significance of his triumph to the whole of God taking place this entire week. We need to reexamine this narrative from the relational context and process of Jesus’ incarnation, focusing specifically on his mindset and working assumptions as he entered Jerusalem.

Jesus entered Jerusalem with the humility of a commoner, not a king. Yet, as a commoners’ king of those apart from the whole, he did not seize upon their messianic hope and aspirations in an exercise of power relations. In actuality, the equalizing relational nature of his life and teachings created conflict with their messianic presumptions. He had a different mindset which did not misuse his authority or power in relationships. Counter to what prevailed, his approach to relationships humbly assumed responsibility for broken relations and pursued those apart from the whole. Jesus took the initiative to enter this hostile context in order to open the way to reconciliation. This is the essence of God’s grace and the triumph of Jesus as God’s ultimate response to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole.

Jesus’ triumphant entry engaged this crowd of followers who praised God “for all the miracles they had seen” (Lk 19:37). This miraculous power was not political power per se, though it certainly had political implications. This power, however, was healing power; they rallied around Jesus for this healing work of power to be made whole. This further illustrates that in Jesus’ approach to humanity and social life power relations is clearly replaced by both the mindset of repentance and the ministry of reconciliation. As God’s response to the human condition “to be apart,” the first of his working assumptions is the need for repentance.

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

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept openly over it (Lk 19:41; cf. Is 22:4). His deep feelings could not be contained and compassion for the whole of God’s creation overflowed. Throughout this week Jesus demonstrated the full glory of God in his heart, his intimate relational nature and his vulnerable presence as the passibility of God emerged. And in this initial poignant expression he said “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace” (19:42). Both the vulnerable expression of his heart and his statement combine to help us understand his actions and working assumptions.

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

“What would bring you peace” is a critical issue focused on what belongs to peace. This crucial area—which Jesus goes onto say “but now it is hidden from your eyes”—is often overlooked even by Christians who work for peace. There is much discussion on how to bring about peace, yet little said about the specifics of what peace truly is, that is, what belongs to peace. We tend to make assumptions about the definition of peace as well as assumptions that those who use the term all have the same understanding of peace. Jesus did not have these working assumptions. The mindset of repentance would not allow for such assumptions and reductionist alternatives. In his farewell address to his disciples later in the week, Jesus clearly distinguished the peace he brought and gave from what the world gives (Jn 14:27). Understanding what belongs to peace helps us to discern further Jesus’ working assumptions.

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

Peace is a general well-being which has both an individual dimension and a corporate/collective dimension. This wholeness extends to all aspects of human life and by necessity includes salvation and the end times but certainly is not limited to the latter. Beyond the mere absence of negative activity, all of this involves what must be present for peace. This is what belongs to peace. Such peace, distinguished from what the world gives, can only belong to the new creation for which Jesus entered Jerusalem. Yet, in order to be part of this new creation and order of life, we must go through a process of redemption. God’s plan of redemption for his creation emerges in the progression of God’s ultimate response when at the end of this week Jesus paid the price for this redemption to take away the barrier of hostility between us for reconciliation to the whole of God.

This redemptive relational process functions with specific assumptions. Jesus’ initial working assumption as God’s ultimate response to the human condition “to be apart” assumes the need for repentance. For the authentic whole of peace, God is not concerned about the mere absence of conflict. That alone does not bring people together, nor is it sufficient to bring about a new order, a new creation; that is, the absence of conflict will not result in wholeness and well-being. The mindset of repentance assumes the need for redemption and calls for it. The new does not emerge without liberation from the old. Thus, basically and soteriologically, peace is grounded in God’s work of redemption. There is no whole of peace without it, only reductionist substitutes.

Furthermore, the redemptive relational process does not end with redemption. Passion week does not illustrate simply being freed and saved from the old. Redemption assumes the need for reconciliation, as Jesus’ actions this week in the temple and with his disciples demonstrated. For the authentic whole of reconciliation, God is not concerned about mere harmony in relationships. Just as in the whole of peace, significant relations in God’s desires for creation are not signified in the absence of negative activity. They directly involve the relationships necessary to be whole. This relational context and process are what Jesus revealed and constituted in the incarnation as God’s complete response to the relational condition “to be apart.” Therefore, the whole of reconciliation assumes the need for the initiative, vulnerable presence and intimate relational function of the whole of God fulfilled by the Son and to be completed by the Spirit in order to be constituted in the relationships of the whole of God’s family in likeness of the Trinity. The incarnation, as this week demonstrates, is this relational engagement by the Son into (eis) the world.

The whole of reconciliation signifies the redemptive change of relationships that involves a vulnerable heart and the intimate relational involvement of family love in the process of equalization, just as Jesus engaged. If relationships are changed from the inner out (metamorphoo) and not the outer in (metaschematizo) of reductionism, then these transformed relationships are always intimate and equalized relationships. Authentic reconciliation cannot allow barriers to remain which keep persons apart from the whole, thus calling for repentance and the work of redemption—which is why Paul confronted Peter for his metaschematizo reflecting his hypokrisis, or role-playing (Gal 2:11-14). Thus, as peace is grounded in God’s work of redemption, reconciliation is predicated on redemption.

In coming to restore communion to the whole of God, Jesus functioned in the natural relational flow from repentance to redemption to reconciliation—nothing less and no substitutes. He simply worked on the basis of what is necessary to be whole. While peace describes interpersonal relationships only in a corollary sense, the condition of wholeness and well-being is the new relational order of the new creation as the whole of God’s family. This is the only relational outcome of reconciliation and the only purpose for the ministry of reconciliation. Each act of reconciliation (and peacemaking, cf. Mt 5:9, eirenopoios, a reconciler) must function in the same natural relational flow toward this end, if, with compatibility with Jesus, it is indeed to be reconciling to the whole. In understanding Jesus’ working assumptions, not only our theology but our practice as well must reflect him if the transfer of purpose and function from the Father to the Son to his family is to be fulfilled and not fragmented. This is only the function of following him in the relational progression and incarnating the incarnation.

 

 

The Change of Redemptive Reconciliation

From the natural relational flow of this functional perspective, we can approach human relations, peace and healing more deeply and also better understand Jesus’ action in the temple cleansing.

As discussed earlier in this chapter, Jesus contained and directed his power for the purpose to heal. Healing involved restoring to some aspect of wholeness, which meant to change from old to new. This is not any type of change, particularly outer-in metaschematizo, but only the redemptive change of metamorphoo. The determining factor for redemptive change is the wholeness to which something is being restored. While our understanding of wholeness (and what belongs to peace) is far from complete, its primary aspects involve the ontology of personhood with the importance of the whole person signified by the heart combined with the highest priority given to the transformed relationships necessary to be whole. This is how Jesus vulnerably opened his person and the level of relationship he engaged throughout the incarnation, thus intimately revealing the whole of God for relationship. On this basis, the redemptive relational process of restoring to wholeness needs to be both engaged as well as experienced.

Yet, Jesus never presumed this vulnerability of heart and intimacy of relationship could be an experiential reality without the change basic and necessary to be new, and thus qualitatively different from prevailing practices of personhood and relationships. His experiences with his disciples (notably Peter) clearly demonstrated this need for redemptive change, even in ongoing ministry, service and mission for God (cf. Lk 22:31-34; Jn 16:31-34). Inherent to repentance, redemption and reconciliation is change. Each of them implies undergoing a process of change which cannot be diminished or minimalized for them to be complete. Therefore, the mindset of repentance, the work of redemption and the ministry of reconciliation together necessitate dealing with our attitude and approach to change—not only in the world but also within the church.

Since Jesus always functioned for the change necessary to be whole, this can be examined in the temple situation. Conventional reconciliation brings conflicting parties together based on the prevailing values, mindset or worldview of its context or time. In so doing, conventional reconciliation seeks in effect to maintain, uphold or restore the status quo. Basic change is not seen as necessary or pragmatic; an optimistic model of humanity and a consensus model of the social order have this working perception of change. And, like the classic medical model, this perceptual framework sees variation from the status quo as deviations which need to be fixed. With these assumptions, any effort for unity tends to be about conformity or tolerance, not wholeness. If these were Jesus’ assumptions, what would he have done in the temple?

The authentic whole of reconciliation, on the other hand, by necessity must involve fundamental change. Since change itself is often a pre-existing issue and source of tension, the process of redemptive change may require first being freed from old or existing conditions, states or order which then would allow for the relational changes necessary for reconciliation to the whole. This is the ongoing work of redemption, which assumes the need for reconciliation and must always function jointly with it. Redemptive change involves restoring God’s creation to wholeness. If we focused only on reconciliation in this process, we would approach situations differently and overlook the redemptive changes necessary for that reconciliation, thus not know what belongs to peace. Given Jesus’ working assumptions, he entered Jerusalem and the temple for the change of redemptive reconciliation.

In the initial observations of the temple incident, his actions certainly do not seem like an act of reconciliation. If anything, it was divisive to the religious community—behavior more congruent with his statement about bringing a sword, not peace. Yet, Jesus was not contentious in terms of reinforcing the human relational condition “to be apart” but rather directly addressed the condition to redeem it. This is a crucial distinction to understand. To approach this situation only from a reductionist framework of reconciliation without the need for redemption would not make this distinction and invariably lead to a substitute for Jesus’ action.

As this week keeps revealing, to redeem is a rigorous process since it ultimately required the death of Jesus. Redemptive work is firm and uncompromising when the purpose and function of God’s creation are violated; and at times this work can appear contentious. With the mindset of repentance, what did Jesus see at the temple? Though their activity was the prevailing norm of religious practice, he did not make any assumptions for its legitimacy. He clearly saw the temple prostituted for reductionist substitutes that violated God’s purpose and function. The temple was not an institution created by God; it was the functional dwelling of God for the purpose of all peoples to have communion with the whole of God. The prevailing temple system of inequality denied access for the disadvantaged to be involved with God, thus reinforcing the human condition “to be apart.” These relations had to be equalized by eliminating the barriers created by such distinctions.

What would be the alternatives in this situation? We could pray, or negotiate with the leaders, or have a protest demonstration, or be silent; except for the last one, all of these are definite possibilities. Yet, prayer, negotiation and demonstration must be about redemptive change. By functioning in the natural relational flow from repentance to redemption to reconciliation, Jesus acted in the temple on the basis of what was necessary to be whole. In this apparent paradox, Jesus did not substitute a reconciliation of harmonious relations with the abusers of the temple for needed redemptive change, though he never forsook the whole of their reconciliation. To restore the whole of God’s house, it had to be freed from its existing relational condition or order; thus Jesus functioned as the equalizer. His actions only reflect the redemptive change necessary for this wholeness—the change of redemptive reconciliation.

I cannot completely understand the violent mode of his actions or explain when its use is warranted. Yet, I do understand the necessity of his action to fully engage his purpose in the redemptive relational process resulting in reconciliation. Redemptive work has to be firm and uncompromising—nothing less and no substitutes—when the purpose and function of God’s creation are violated.

It should be apparent how Jesus’ approach to the existing order would differ from those who maintain a consensus model of society or the social order. While a consensus model approach does not seek basic change because of its assumption of basic goodness, for Jesus redemptive change was basic to all he did, as highlighted in this week. On the other hand, his goal was not to tear down an existing sinful order. How then does Jesus’ approach differ from those who hold only a conflict model of society as do so-called liberationists or revolutionaries?

For Jesus, peace is the order of wholeness established by the whole of God. This wholeness is what Jesus gave to those who followed him in the relational progression (Jn 14:27) and thus established in the embryonic church, despite contextually in the world not experiencing conventional notions of peace or even prevailing forms of reconciliation (Jn 16:33). The disparity is by design and needs to be intentional for God’s purpose and function. While God’s peace is opposed to disorder, it is opposed even more importantly to existing sinful orders which need to be redeemed. Yet, Jesus never forsook reconciliation as he worked for redemption because he always acted in the redemptive relational process for the whole of God. In this week of equalization, the temple incident needs to be integrated with his pacification at his arrest and his intercession at his crucifixion (“Father, forgive them”) which were directed on behalf of his enemies.

Redemption of the temple by Jesus, then, was only part of the process engaged by Jesus. To separate this part only truncates the process to be whole, leaving it incomplete and fragmented. By entering a context that was hostile toward him, Jesus opened the way for reconciliation through redemption. He intentionally initiated actions solely for the change of redemptive reconciliation. As God’s ultimate response to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole, his purpose and function could be nothing less and no substitutes.

These are important distinctions from a historic conflict model approach. While redemptive action can appear contentious and even cause conflict, reconciliation does not promote adversary relations. The change of redemptive reconciliation always makes enemies—notably with reductionists—but seeks the whole of their reconciliation. Redemptive reconciliation speaks the truth with the mindset of repentance that undoubtedly offends but relationally seeks to heal and restore. Power relations are replaced by the healing process to wholeness while the barriers of hostility between parties are being removed to become part of the whole. The natural relational flow of these actions change the character of a conflict model approach and even an approach which limits its work to redemption. Moreover, redemptive reconciliation reflects the nature of God’s love in response to our condition: initiating family love by vulnerable relational involvement with us in order to restore us to the whole as God’s very own in family together constituted by the Trinity.

There are no shortcuts to the whole of God, no alternatives and nothing optional. In the mindset of repentance redemptive change is always a given in order to be whole. With this functional mindset, the work of redemption and the ministry of reconciliation will interact inseparably in the singular process of God’s eschatological plan for his creation, and thus his purpose and function into (eis, not only en) the world. This relational process of redemptive reconciliation helps us to grasp what belongs to peace and how Jesus fulfilled the relational progression to the whole of God.

Contrary to conventional notions of peace, authentic peace is an issue of reconciliation, which is predicated on the redemption seen through the lens of repentance—all of which operate within the relational context and process of following Jesus in the relational progression to wholeness. Therefore, to be compatible with what belongs to the peace of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem requires the function of mission into (eis, movement into signifying engagement) the world that is not: influenced by discrimination (e.g., power relations, systems of inequality), shaped by distinctions (e.g., gender, other differences), limited by provincialism (e.g., ethnocentrism, nationalism, other comfort zones), or most importantly diminished by reductionism (e.g., defining the person from the outer in without the significance of the heart and relationships without the priority of intimacy), therefore free to counter any of the above which are barriers to be whole. Peace sustains the sanctity of all life which is constituted by what God defines as wholeness and thus is no longer in the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole of God.

When church practice in mission is itself redeemed and then reconciled to be whole, the church wholly appropriates the transfer of the Son’s commission to itself as his family. With this change within itself, the church is sent to be whole into the world to extend redemptive reconciliation with family love.

 

 

The Church in Conjoint Function

The process to be whole helps us understand that the church has no commission of significance to God within the world apart from discipleship in the relational progression. Whatever work a church practices in politeia has no relational significance to God unless it is the relational work of extending God’s response to the human condition “to be apart” as the compatible transfer of Jesus’ purpose and function to the whole of his family.

The incarnation as “nothing less and no substitutes” than the whole of God and God’s response for creation to be whole was Christ’s commission (cf. Col 1:19, 20). For the church to incarnate what Jesus fulfilled in the incarnation necessitates responding first to the imperative call of discipleship to follow him in the relational progression to be whole as God’s family. This nonnegotiable call to be whole in sanctified life and practice (call to be holy) is irreducible yet defines only half of the ek-eis dynamic in the relational process of the whole of God. For those “not of the world” in identity, purpose and function, ek involves the movement (redemptive change) beyond the common and ordinary, out of one’s little world and box, to be whole. The call to be whole necessitating the movement out, however, cannot be separated from the movement back (eis) “into the world” to further incarnate the incarnation.

This commission to extend Christ’s purpose and function as God’s response to be whole requires compatibility with the Son’s incarnation for the transfer to be fulfilled. This involves church purpose and function to be whole as God’s family such that it is conjoined with the commission; this conjoint process results in the movement back “into the world” which clearly denotes the commission as “sent to be whole” to engage those in the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole of God. Eis is this relational engagement which can only emerge from ek as the whole of God’s family functioning in family love. Thus, the ek-eis dynamic also requires an ongoing engagement with reductionism so that the call to be whole and the commission “sent to be whole” are not separated nor reduced in identity, purpose and function.

While missional approaches and paradigms consistently separate Christ’s commission from his call to be whole, the commission by itself fails to understand God’s thematic response to the human condition ultimately fulfilled in the incarnation. This only fragments the church’s purpose and function as the whole of God’s family extended to others to be part of the whole—truncating soteriology, for example, to only what Christ saved us from. Moreover, such an incomplete commission does not emerge from ek, thus does not engage the relational process of eis with vulnerability to others’ differences in family love—the fourth key characteristic of the multicultural church discussed in Chapter 8. Without the conjoint function of the church’s call and commission, the church does not join the Spirit (as Jesus’ relational replacement, Jn 15:26) to “testify” (martyreo, as relational participant, Jn 15:27) about the whole person of Jesus in the incarnation, and therefore leaves the commission without a “witness” (martyreo, Lk 24:48) of the nothing less and no substitutes whole of God and God’s response to be whole.

Only the church in conjoint function can be an equalizer with Jesus and the basis for the world to trust and to experience the whole of God’s family constituted by the Trinity—the fulfillment of Jesus’ formative family prayer. This dynamic function predicated on the natural relational flow of repentance, redemption and reconciliation clearly takes the church and its missional enterprise well beyond traditional evangelism in calling to repentance and making disciples. Yet, the church’s posture and function into the world involve the redemptive relational process which engages the church more deeply in the lives of persons than may be desired—by both persons in the world as well as even in the church. Deeper involvement always guarantees tension (perceived as positive or negative) since this relational practice breaches “comfort zones” both in the world and in the church. That is, such practice penetrates these barriers when defined by biblical culture (notably of redemptive reconciliation) and not made ambiguous or shallow by reductionist influences from surrounding contexts—for example, diminished personhood and minimalized relationships.

Though the strength of a church’s view of sin and evil determines the extent of its practice in politeia, the primary discomfort about the church’s movement into the world is actually not about what it does but about how it is involved. This is the shift from beyond the common and ordinary of quantitative behavior to the qualitative relationships necessary to be whole. By the relational progression, for example, Jesus’ involvement redefines evangelism within the relational context of the whole of family and the relational process of family love. Despite how rigorous this process can be at times—as Jesus demonstrated throughout the incarnation—agape love is not focused on what to do, only on how to be relationally involved with others. Such involvement affirms both the integrity and dignity of the whole of every person and the primacy of interpersonal relationships necessary to be whole within the relational context of God’s design and purpose at creation, which Christ restored in the new creation.

The nature of this relational involvement is God’s thematic response for those “to be apart” to be restored to the whole of God. God’s desires, ultimately fulfilled by Jesus, transferred to his family to extend this relational involvement make family love the single most important quality expressed in the church’s purpose and function as equalizer—within itself and into the world. No other actions, no activity, proclamation, propositional truth or provision can substitute for the direct relational involvement of love.

Yet, in actual practice this intimate involvement makes many persons uncomfortable, too vulnerable. Consequently, in function the deeds of love (quantitative behavior) get separated from the involvement of love—similar to the commission without conjoint function with the call to be whole—leaving the relational involvement often avoided, redefined, distorted, compromised or even denied by reductionist alternatives and substitutes. By not attending to this tension, church practice, even with good deeds, is rendered less than whole and thus of no relational significance to extend God’s response of “nothing less and no substitutes.” The church in conjoint function is the only qualitative significance compatible with the incarnation of God’s response.

The tension the church faces ongoingly is compounded when the world reacts to the church’s direct involvement—reactions ranging from rejection to persecution. Under such conditions it is always easier in church purpose and function to let the light become ambiguous and the salt become shallow. Yet, this is not about what to do regardless of the consequences. Church practice is always about how to be relationally involved with family love in the relational progression.

Faced with hardships and suffering, the early church was challenged to develop in the redemptive relational process. Since their involvement was based in the relational progression, contrary to a reductionist framework, situations and circumstances did not signify the status of this progression. Its relational significance was constituted by the covenant response of the whole of God and God’s ongoing involvement to eschatological completion. Eschatology (for relationship, not doctrine) provided the framework for a functional, secure hope necessary to encourage early church practice in difficult conditions (cf. Peter’s line of thought in 1 Pet 1:3-4, 13; 4:12-13; 5:10). In the parousia, the relational progression is brought to ultimate conclusion, the relational outcome of family love is complete, and this secures God’s family that they are the whole of God’s very own and permanently belong to the Trinity’s family.
 

The conjoint relational function of this new kinship family is vital for us to grasp in the total relational process of mission in the new creation order. The early church eventually changed the nature of mission to a redeemed system of equality functional in its own midst whereby every person was vitally interrelated to each other as full family, without distinctions in the relationships necessary to be whole. This testified to the whole of God and witnessed to the world of both the authentic living alternative to systems of inequality as well as the qualitative significance of wholeness. It is a functional model, however imperfect, of the kingdom of God and how the new creation in Christ lives. In its very life operationalized by family love, the church in conjoint function is both confronting to the old and the hope for the new.

Yet, the church cannot confront the old without the redemptive change from “of the world” signified in the call to be whole (thus holy), nor can the church bring hope for the new without the redemptive reconciliation constituting its being sent to be whole “into the world.” Only the church in conjoint function reflects the whole of God and extends the whole of God’s response—nothing less and no substitutes.

 


 

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

[2] For a discussion about some of these differences, see Michael J. Wilkins, Discipleship in the Ancient World and Matthew’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995).

 

 

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©2006 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.