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The Person, the Trinity, the Church

 

Wholeness Study

Chapter 11                                                                printer-friendly pdf version of entire study

Nothing Less and No Substitutes

 

 

Subsections:

 

Accountable for Wholeness


Churches Today


A Suggested Relational Conclusion

Introduction
Chap. 1
Chap. 2
Chap. 3
Chap. 4
Chap. 5
Chap. 6
Chap. 7
Chap. 8
Chap. 9
Chap. 10

Table of Contents

 

Scripture Index

 

 

From the beginning, the human person has been accountable for God’s revelation (cf. Rom 1:20). With God’s self-disclosure in the incarnation, this accountability has been clarified with the imperative need for compatibility of our relational response to Jesus’ vulnerable revelation (cf. Mt 7:24-27; Jas 1:22).

As the hermeneutical key opening the ontological door to the whole of God and the functional key opening the relational door to the ontology of the whole of God’s family constituted in the Trinity, Jesus vulnerably revealed nothing less and no substitutes than the whole of God and God’s ultimate response to our relational condition “to be apart” from this whole. God’s revelation and truth are shared with us only for the purpose of this relationship (cf. Jn 14:6, 7), for which we are accountable to respond compatibly to the qualitative significance of the incarnation—as were the first disciples (Jn 14:9). The relationship-specific nature of God’s vulnerable self-disclosure and ultimate response is demonstrated further by Jesus in the above narrative account with his disciples (see Jn 14:21-24).

Judas’ (not Iscariot) question, “why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (v. 22), is important to understand in the relational context and process of Jesus’ words. On the one hand, Jesus did reveal the “object” (apokalypto, cf. Mt 16:17; Lk 2:32) of God to all the world; yet, his revelation was not an end in itself merely to inform or to be observed. On the other hand, he distinctly limited to whom he would “show myself” (v. 21, emphanes, to be rendered here not merely as apokalypto but similar to phaneroo focusing on the persons receiving the revelation, as in Jn 17:6). Those whom Jesus clearly defined are basically persons who intimately have received him (lambano, cf. Jn 1:12) and are relationally responding to him (akoloutheo, cf. Jn 8:12; 12:26) compatibly with only his terms for relationship (outlined in vv. 21, 23, 24).

While Jesus’ response to Judas appears not to answer his question, it actually does when we understand revelation and truth are only for relationship—relationship with the whole of God as family together, nothing less and no substitutes. If our Christology is incomplete and soteriology is truncated, then we tend to become overly Christocentric. A position excessively Christocentric is reductionism that does not understand or embrace the incarnation as nothing less and no substitutes than the whole of God. Christ gives us no other hermeneutical key than to the whole of God and serves as no other functional key than in the relational progression to the Trinity as the family of God.

We are accountable to respond to and practice this relationship in our lives both within the church and into the world. Moreover, this distinctively defines for the whole of church practice that all actions extending Christ’s commission (cf. Jn 15:27) are only for relationship, not to inform, not to promote a belief system, nor to disseminate propositional truths.

 

 

Accountable for Wholeness

The trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love established by Jesus are not simply theological formulations of the Trinity but the experiential reality of relationship with the whole of God. On the basis of this relational outcome from God’s revelation and truth in Christ, our accountability is unequivocally nonnegotiable and irreducible, not to mention unavoidable. By fulfilling his relational purpose and function, Jesus not only revealed the ontology of God but in correlative importance also restores the ontology of the human person to nothing less and no substitutes in the relational context and process of the relationships necessary to be whole as God’s family in likeness of the Trinity.

The whole of God established at creation for the human relational condition in the image and likeness of God and restored in the new creation require “nothing less and no substitutes” both from God’s response and our response back in order to be whole. The principle of nothing less and no substitutes enacted in our practice signifies wholeness from redemption and constitutes the function to be whole in reconciliation. Anything less and any substitutes then always indicate a reduction of the whole. Christ came in the only way God presents his being, communicates and engages in relationship; and as nothing less and no substitutes, the Trinity cannot be reduced, for example, to distinctions of authority and roles. Like God’s response, our response and practice must be compatible by nature to be whole. Thus, in these three major aspects of all practice, the presentation of our person, the content of our communication and the level of relationship engaged necessitate nothing less and no substitutes than the whole of our persons in the relationships necessary to be whole. This also requires, by the nature of this function, countering sin as reductionism of the whole of God.

Based on God’s vulnerable self-disclosure and relational response in the incarnation to restore us to the whole of God, we are accountable to be whole and church practice must account for this wholeness to fulfill our purpose and function. We have to grasp functionally, however, that the practice to be whole ongoingly is critically challenged by reductionism, testing our authenticity and depth of relational involvement. Reductionism is always positioned against the whole; it has no significance without the presence of the whole. Given its source, reductionism thus is essentially about counter-relational work to reduce the whole and to lure us “to be apart” from it.

The demands of “nothing less and no substitutes” are necessary to engage the function to be whole. This rigorous process is contingent on God’s grace to be equalized in how we define our person. With the relational outcome of grace based on this ontology of personhood, we then can function in relationships “naked and felt no shame” (as Adam and Eve did before sin as reductionism, Gen 2:25). A reductionist ontology of personhood based on what we do and have shifts the function of relationships to presenting our persons in these quantitative substitutes and thus engaging in relationships with less than intimate involvement. Grace is the only basis to negate reductionism and to be “naked without shame”—thus to be able to function in the equalized and intimate relationships necessary to be whole.

Yet, grace itself must not be reduced to merely an element of belief or propositional truth, even a provision from God. Grace is an unwarranted relational action initiated by God that is a function of relationship defining the terms for that relationship. Part of those terms demand nothing less and no substitutes than our whole person involved in equalized and intimate relationships of the whole of God. But underlying these terms is the ek-eis (out of-into) dynamic as the process of ongoing relational involvement with God in his terms to constitute the whole of who we are and whose we are. This relational call to be whole and thus holy (ek relational movement) can only be a function of God’s grace and antecedes its conjoint purpose and function with “sent to be whole” (eis relational movement). Without the ek-eis relational movement of involvement with God for the whole, our practice is functionally based just en (in) the surrounding context. This is problematic for the relational function of grace in its demand for nothing less and no substitutes because our practice is susceptible to the influence of what prevails in that surrounding context. And what prevails en any context of the world is reductionism.

Without the ongoing function of grace in ek-eis relational involvement, there is no consistent functional basis to negate the influence of reductionism. This leaves church practice susceptible to subtle embedding in the surrounding context, even despite apparent indicators of important church practices distinguishing its identity. This is clearly illustrated by the church in Thyatira (see Rev 2:18-29).

Thyatira’s economy emphasized trades (including brass-working) and crafts (cf. Acts 16:14). In the Greco-Roman world of that time, trade guilds organized the various trades and were necessary to belong to if one wanted to pursue a trade (much like unions today). These guilds served various social functions as well, one of which was to meet for common meals dedicated to their patron deities, thus engaging in activities of pagan worship and immorality. For Christians not to belong to a guild and participate would generally mean becoming isolated economically and socially.[1]

In this surrounding context Jesus acknowledges the church’s “deeds” (ergon, work that defined them, Rev 2:19): “love” (agape), “faith” (pistis), “service” (diakonia, service, ministry that benefits others, especially compassion to the needy), “perseverance” (hypomone, enduring and not giving in to bad circumstances [cf. Rev 2:3] in contrast to makrothymia which is patience with respect to persons), and that they were “now doing more than . . . at first,” suggesting not a status quo situation (cf. Laodicea, Rev 3:15) but actually doing more ergon than before. Yet, their practice also “tolerated” (v. 20, aphiemi, same word as “forsake” in Rev 2:4 and Jn 14:18 but used here as to let pass, permit, allow) Jezebel’s teaching. What they let pass, permitted or allowed is important to understand in the above context.

Jezebel (probably a byword symbolizing the OT character of Jezebel, cf. 1 Kg 18:19) appears to be a woman (or possibly a group) accepted within the church fellowship. The practice associated with her teaching probably refers to compromise with prevailing activity related to trade guilds prominent in the city which “misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols” (2:20). What is significant to grasp here is not the obvious disparity of this teaching and practice with the desires of God. What is more significant is how these prevailing influences of the surrounding context were absorbed into the practices of the church along with all its other goods deeds acknowledged above. This is not simply an issue about syncretism, synthesizing competing ideologies, or even pluralism, but goes beyond merely maintaining doctrinal purity (like the church in Ephesus, 2:2) to the deeper issue about participation en a surrounding context having the prevailing presence of reductionism and its subsequent influence on their perceptual-interpretive framework. When reductionism is not negated, its influence then affects how those other deeds would be engaged with something less and some substitute for the whole of persons and relationships.

This reduction is usually more subtle than observed in the Thyatira church, as witnessed in the churches in Ephesus and Sardis discussed earlier. Yet, whatever the surrounding context may be, we can expect the prevailing influence of reductionism to affect the whole of church practice unless there is the ongoing function of grace in ek-eis relational involvement to distinctively distinguish church purpose and function from beyond merely its position en the world. Without the relational function of grace, reductionism is able to shift grace’s demand for nothing less and no substitutes than the whole to anything less and any substitutes. This shift is qualitative, the significance of which cannot be grasped in quantitative terms, as the Thyatira church’s increased amount of “good deeds” demonstrate.

As long as we depend on a quantitative perceptual-interpretative framework, the extent of surrounding influences reducing the whole of church practice will not be apparent. The relational function of grace, however, clarifies that nothing less and no substitutes than the whole is the only practice which has significance to God. And Jesus wants “all the churches” to clearly understand “that I am he who searches hearts and minds” (Rev 2:23)—that is, examines the qualitative significance of the inner person, whom he holds accountable to be whole in relationships together as the whole of God (2:25; 3:11).

It is not sufficient for God’s people merely to be present or even merely to function en the world; their only significance is to function eis (relational movement into) the world both to engage others as the whole of God and, by the nature of such function, also to confront all sin as reductionism of the whole. The lesson we need to learn from Thyatira is: to let pass, indifferently permit or inadvertently allow the influence of reductionism in any form from the surrounding context proportionately diminishes the wholeness of church practice and minimalizes their relational involvement with God, with each other in the church and with others in the world. And the eis relational engagement—conjoined with the ek relational involvement as its antecedent in the ek-eis dynamic—negates the continuous counter-relational work of Satan and its reductionist influence (Rev 2:24) by ongoingly engaging, embracing and practicing the whole of God in the qualitative significance of the ontology both of personhood and the church constituted in and by the Trinity.

This lesson delineates a simple reality of life about the human person and the social order which we either pay attention to or ignore depending on our working models and assumptions. Since we do not live in a vacuum, our practice is either shaped by the context we are en (thus embedded) or constituted by what we enter eis that context with. For the latter to function necessitates the ek relational movement to disembed us from a surrounding context in order to re-embed us to the whole of God, thus constituting the whole for the eis relational movement back. This signifies the relational process of grace compatible with the working assumptions Jesus came eis the world and the models of humanity and the social order with which he engaged the world (as discussed in the previous chapter).

Disembedding from the influence of reductionism to re-embed to the whole of God is the issue we need to grasp. Regardless of past or present situations and circumstances, we are accountable to be whole. Without the function of nothing less and no substitutes wholeness is diminished and the whole is minimalized. For church practice to fulfill its purpose and function, it must account for being embedded in the whole of God and God’s eschatological plan for its globalizing commission in conjoint relational function with its call to be whole (cf. Rev 2:26-29). Just as Jesus was accountable in the incarnation for the whole of God and the whole of God’s response, the church is accountable for this whole in compatible purpose and function—“just as,” kathos, nothing less and no substitutes (Jn 17:18).

 

 

Churches Today

Church practice in the trinitarian relational context of family and with the trinitarian relational process of family love appears foreign to most Western churches today. If this is true, then Western churches function in the relational condition “to be apart.” Of course, to this condition God said “it is not good” and has responded since. This suggests that we have not understood God’s thematic response ultimately fulfilled in the incarnation, nor do we really grasp the truth of the gospel.

Without the fulfillment of Jesus’ formative family prayer, church practice labors in ontological simulations and epistemological illusions, just as the churches in Ephesus, Sardis and Thyatira did. The church functioning as the new kinship family of God was problematic from the church’s inception, yet modernity has compounded the issues for qualitatively significant family formation and process. Moreover, Gehring concludes that ever since Constantine and the introduction of large church structures “the church has had difficulty adequately integrating the biblically based family elements of the ecclesia into the overall understanding and life of the church.”[2]

Does this mean a return to the house church model characterizing the early church in the first three centuries, as Gehring suggests?[3] If the house church movement in mainland China today is a qualitative indicator, this is a significant model which Western churches cannot dismiss for their own practice. Yet, we also cannot overlook the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions seen in early house churches. Past or present, the underlying issue is still about reductionism. The house church and group issue is beyond the immediate scope of this study and warrants extensive response. More importantly, however, than what form a church has is how a group functions as family of the whole of God constituted in the Trinity, as Jesus prayed. The transformed multicultural church may not have to be a house church but it does need to be the new creation family of transformed persons in equalized and intimate (transformed) relationships required to be whole signified by the Trinity.

The most significant issue urgently facing any church (Western or not) is: whether the context a church creates either restores its members to be part of the whole of God’s family together, or that context reinforces their relational condition “to be apart,” however unintentional or inadvertent; and whether the process by which a church functions either restores its members to heart-to-heart relationships transformed to be whole, or that process reinforces its members to substitute something less, however well meaning, in relationships which effectively continue “to be apart” from the whole. This is the basic conflict between the whole of God and reductionism, the ongoing tension and choice between wholeness and reductionist alternatives.

The development of this trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love is imperative in order for the church to fulfill its purpose and function. This relational imperative of the church’s conjoint function in call and commission is nonnegotiable and irreducible, thus accountable only in whole, not in part. How does a church respond to get beyond the reductionist alternatives to nothing less and no substitutes? Who can best make this response and lead this development? The whole of those persons and the relationships necessary to be the whole of God in the Western church suggest more probable candidates to best fulfill this purpose and function. This current study provisionally concludes with this discussion.

 

 

A Suggested Relational Conclusion

While God does not work on the basis of probability and the Spirit’s function must not be put into the box of likelihood, there are indicators today pointing in a qualitative direction which should not be ignored. When the call to be whole (thus holy) is neither diminished nor minimalized by the lure of reductionism, this call in our contemporary context suggests a unique response to develop the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love for the whole of God.

The significance we cannot dismiss about the house church/group model is the context it provides for greater opportunity for persons to have deeper relational connections.[4] The expectation, and then accountability, in such a context is critical in the development of the ontology of personhood and church as family. Yet, this context alone is not sufficient for the relational outcome of the ecclesiology of the whole. This ecclesiology necessitates transformed relationships in which persons are equalized and intimately involved in the interdependent relationships of the whole of God as family in likeness of the Trinity. Conjoined with this relational context is the imperative relational process based on grace which demands nothing less and no substitutes than the whole of our persons and our relationships.

The church (whatever its form) needs to provide this relational context—necessary yet insufficient to fulfill its purpose. More importantly, the church needs to function in this relational process—both necessary and sufficient to fulfill its purpose and function. While the church is accountable for both this context and process, churches can more readily (not without difficulty) account for such a relational context than its relational process. Given the demands of this relational process necessary for the whole of God, churches must acknowledge and be open to affirm those who more readily engage this process to lead the church further and deeper in its conjoint function of call and commission.

In the first creation God created the second human person (Eve) to complete the relational context for his family. Though the person was embodied in gender, the primary significance of this relationship was not to highlight female-male relationships (in marriage and family) as the highest form of relationship. Most significantly, God’s created design and purpose for this relational context focused on the intimate nature of all relationships as signified by the nature of the whole of God constituted in the Trinity. As the ultimate extension of God’s response in the first creation, Jesus vulnerably revealed and definitively demonstrated how the whole of God does relationships, thereby constituting the new creation. And Jesus’ relationships during the incarnation specifically were the initiation of the new creation relational process.

What emerges clearly in his various interactions is the reality that he had the most intimate connections with female persons. The significance of this indicates sociocultural issues which suggest a consistent pattern: males are more reductionist than females both in personhood and relationships. Historically, this pattern has endured and continues to be entrenched in lifestyle today, compounded by modernity in the West.

Even the first male disciples functioned in contrast to the intimate connections Jesus had with females. While these early disciples were directly affected (usually with conflicting thoughts and feelings) by his interactions with women, they did not appear to grasp their significance and learn from them. The Samaritan woman showed them the necessity to be honest and open to new change despite the dominance of the old (Jn 4:4-42). The Canaanite woman taught the disciples what it means to have faith and not to be controlled by sociocultural limitations (Mt 15:21-28). The prostitute who anointed Jesus taught how to be loved in one’s whole person, and thus how to love as a whole person without constraint—clearly demonstrating the relational involvement of grace in its demands of nothing less and no substitutes (Lk 7:36-50). Martha’s sister Mary taught the disciples what matters most to God, even over ministry, and how to make intimate connection with God (Jn 12:1-8) in ongoing relationship (Lk 10:38-42). These women teach us about following Jesus and being intimately involved with him more than the first male disciples did during Jesus’ earthly life. They do as persons because despite all their diversity they held in common the fundamental necessity to engage the relational process as persons from the inside out with the significance of the heart rather than as persons from the outside in based on the distinctions of gender, culture, race, class or any other reductionist distinctions, notably what we do.

The significance of this for the relational process cannot be dismissed and its meaning for church development of this relational process has to be considered. The significance of the whole person embodied in gender for the new creation is suggested as having a similar purpose with the first creation but for a different reason. Whereas at the first creation the female person completed the human relational context, for the new creation female persons appear to emerge again as the key person to help us together engage the relational process of family love necessary to build the relational context of God’s family.

Whether acknowledged in church practice or not, males have become socioculturally conditioned to reinforce “to be apart”[5] rather than cultivate the intimate relationships constitutional to God’s design and purpose for the first creation to be whole. When the first persons “were both naked and they felt no shame” (Gen 2:25), God gave us the operational definition of how our persons need to function and how our relationships need to be involved in order to be whole. That definition for wholeness has not changed; our function and involvement obviously have. Since then the only basis to be wholly “naked without shame” is by God’s grace which equalizes all persons in nothing less and no substitutes.

If the person is defined by what one does and has, notably authority and roles, then living by grace “naked” in relationships is more difficult for males than females because males have more at stake to lose. Additionally, being “naked without shame” in relationships becomes even more problematic and an urgent reason to maintain relational distance. Such vulnerability does not develop through human ability but only through God’s grace. This further illustrates that those most open to God’s wholeness of persons and relationships would be those females functioning more qualitatively than those males quantitatively constrained.

Yet, this is not to imply that women are free from reductionism; many have functioned in reductionist alternatives just as much, or even more so, as men have. More importantly, this is certainly not to suggest to any degree that males have less qualitative significance of the relational nature of God’s image and likeness, nor to imply that females are intrinsically more heart and relationship oriented than males. Contrary to modern quantitative research positing such gender differences in human make-up, such distinctions and differences cannot be supported in God’s self-revelation of the persons of the Trinity, nor by God’s design and purpose (which are functionally whole and wholistically relational) for the ontology of personhood and the relationships that ontology inherently involves.

Given the demands of living by grace with nothing less and no substitutes necessary to fulfill church purpose and function, how does the church indeed become a function of grace and not merely in possession of a doctrine of grace? We have to turn to those who more consistently demonstrate this grace to lead the way. This suggests that women not only need to be leaders in the church but to take the lead for the church to be the whole of God as family. That is, this is turning only to those persons who are not influenced by reductionist substitutes as Eve was, which then distinguishes this from an egalitarian agenda. This is not about leading church as organization—in which case men arguably could continue in the lead—but about church as family which is a function only of relationship. This is about the necessary purpose of the trinitarian relational context of family and the imperative function of the trinitarian relational process of family love.

In response to the current challenge of the church’s purpose and function, female persons appear more qualitatively ready, and thus are essential, to take the lead for further and deeper church practice in its conjoint call and commission. While some may argue that this recommendation is based on gender stereotypes, the truth of the issue is based on the reality of reductionism versus those who function in wholeness instead of ontological simulations and epistemological illusions. Until we address the presence of reductionism in church practice with functional wholeness, churches will continue to labor in the simulations and illusions of the whole of God, just as those in Thyatira, Ephesus and Sardis did. This makes “sin as reductionism” more of an issue for the church than secularism—even an ontological and epistemological crisis.

Wayne Grudem begins his complementarian analysis of gender with the following reference (repeated at the end of the preface[6]): “Male and female he created them . . .  and behold, it was good” (Gen 1:27, 31). I presume he uses this reference to support the differences between genders defined in his analysis of what God says is good. Yet, whatever Grudem thinks is good to God needs to be understood in contrast to what God said “is not good” (Gen 2:18). “It was good” is directly related to and in conflict with “it is not good”; they should not be seen separately because the latter helps explain the function of the former. If what is not good is merely about the conventional notions of “to be alone,” then reductionism defines not only what “is not good” but also the ontology of what “is good.” If what is not good is about the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, then the qualitative significance of the whole is the only determinant of what “is good” for the genders and their relationships—nothing less and no substitutes. Any alternatives to this is from reductionism, alternatives which are found equally among both egalitarians as well as complementarians.

The gender difference God defined as good is less about their quantitative differences and more about the common wholeness of their persons for relationship together. Yet, this relationship is less about marriage, procreation and biological family and more about wholeness in the relationships together as the whole of God’s family signified by the Trinity. Neither the whole of personhood nor the relationships necessary to be whole can be reduced without functioning in the relational distance God can only define as “not good.” Any definition of persons and practice in relationships which create, reinforce or promote relational distance—even inadvertently with good intentions—cannot be truthfully associated with what is good to God.

Since gender is the most dominant human difference and creates the most pervasive relational distance which all humanity faces without exception, restoring wholeness to persons and relationships constitute the new creation church family, only as Jesus established. This priority for church function makes imperative the transformation of gender relationships (thus all relationships) to equalized and intimate qualitative involvement. Only the conjoint function of equalized and intimate relationships are the transformed relationships which inform church practice as both: (1) the functional indicator for being redeemed from the old, and (2) the relational indicator for being transformed to the new. Yet, this function cannot be fulfilled as the new creation church family whenever persons are distinguished and relationships are determined primarily on the basis of authority and roles. This has to be on the basis of the intimate involvement of love exercised by persons who are equalized by grace, thus involved “naked without shame.” Otherwise, the distinctions and differences of authority and roles create horizontal or vertical barriers to such relational involvement, thus maintaining some relational distance “to be apart.”

Even Grudem vulnerably admits to the hurtfulness of his relational distance with his own wife. Early in their marriage he didn’t value or listen to her input based on his perception of gender differences, which left his wife feeling “as though her voice was taken away and as though my ears were closed.”[7] Yet, while he indicates progress made in their relationship, Grudem does not appear to grasp the underlying reason for this relational consequence. What this relational consequence illustrates is directly associated with the subtle (or blatant) relational distance resulting from reductionist distinctions, which put limits on the intimate involvement of love in relationships “naked without shame.” Reductionist distinctions resulting in relational distance thus effectively renegotiate the terms of “nothing less and no substitutes than the whole” for both personhood and relational involvement. This also redefines and/or maintains the practice of love as only about what to do rather than how to be involved with others in relationship.

As the hermeneutical and functional keys, however, Jesus vulnerably revealed to us a difference in the Trinity of primary function beyond authority and role distinctions to the depth of the trinitarian persons’ primacy of qualitative function in family love: “God so loved the world” (Jn 3:16; cf. 1 Jn 4:9, 10); “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (Jn 15:9), you “have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn 17:23); “who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love” those persons (Jn 14:21). Based on the significance of the whole of God's qualitative involvement with us directly in intimate relationship with nothing less and no substitutes, Jesus holds his disciples accountable for compatible involvement with each other as the whole of God’s family (Jn 13:34, 35; 15:12).

In his conjoint call and commission, Jesus defines these persons based on what they are and whose they are as the relational outcome of this qualitative involvement by God. The significance therefore of their persons and their relationships is the function of love and the intimate relational involvement which constitutes them, not authority, roles, spiritual gifts or giftedness. Just as Jesus vulnerably shared with us, this is the only significance to how God does relationship that reconciles our condition “to be apart”—both in the first creation and the new creation. What I suggest the gift of gender symbolizes today appears significant for us as the new creation just as it was in the first.

Whether or not you can agree with my suggested relational conclusion of women taking the lead, we are accountable in church practice to unambiguously establish the trinitarian relational context of family and to deeply function in the trinitarian relational process of family love. This relational context and process are the experiential reality of relationship with the whole of God; anything less or any substitutes leave us relationally apart from the whole of God, thus reducing the whole person in the image of God (signified in the trinitarian persons as revealed in Christ) and the relationships necessary to be whole in likeness of the Trinity (as constituted in the relationships between the trinitarian persons). Until we account for this with compatible response to Jesus’ vulnerable revelation, his formative family prayer (in Jn 17) still remains for us relationally to embrace and experience, and then to be further fulfilled by extending the whole of God’s response of redemptive reconciliation for the human relational condition “to be apart.”

The new creation church purpose and function are contingent upon nothing less and no substitutes. As Jesus said: “Wholeness I leave with you; my wholeness I give you” (Jn 14:27), thus “Wholeness to you! Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you” (Jn 20:21). And for those who may lead the church in his call and commission, the only alternative to wholeness is reductionism.[8]

 

 


 

[1] For further contextual information, see Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000).

[2] Roger W. Gehring, House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structure in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 304 n. 33.

[3] Ibid., 300-311.

[4] Gehring quotes a Chinese bishop’s experience in the house church movement in which everyone served everyone else: “As bishop I felt somewhat uncomfortable in such groups, but I learned to allow others to serve me . . .  The educated and the farmer sat side by side and learned from one another” (307).

[5] Fareed Zakaria reports on a significant trend emerging on the world stage of women leaders in public life that could reshape politics, give greater priority to poverty needs and education, and less for the military; moreover, women are considered to make better diplomats suggesting that countries with women leaders should become less aggressive, violent and competitive. “First Ladies, in the Truest Sense,” Newsweek, 28 November 2005, 39.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (Sister, OR: Multnomah Publishers: 2004), 21.

[7] Ibid., 27.

[8] A relational challenge to my sisters:

God has created and embodied your person in gender by design and purpose. Don’t let this distinction, however, reduce you from the primary significance of God’s purpose. This has less to do with your uniqueness as a female individual and more to do with the whole of God’s desires in the big picture for redemptive reconciliation of our relational condition “to be apart.” God has gifted your person in gender for this qualitative purpose, which has everything to do with the church as his family. If you only function apart from the church or give up on the church, you will fail to use your whole person to fulfill our primary purpose to build God’s family, thus leaving my gender in particular with only its simulations and illusions of church family.

Certainly for you to function wholly within the church is a struggle and may seemingly be without opportunity. Yet we need you to demonstrate the grace imperative for the qualitative purpose and function of church practice. With the Spirit you can go beyond your situations and circumstances to help us distinguish between the prevailing church as an organization or institution from the reality of the new creation church as family—into which I suggest God is asking you to lead us all further and deeper. My gender needs your help to get out of our enslavement to reductionism, both in personhood as well as relationships, in order to experience the whole of God together in intimate interdependent relationships equalized in family love. Your willingness to make your person vulnerable in these relationships will demonstrate the grace and redemptive changes necessary to be whole as this new creation church family. God calls us both to build this family, yet current conditions suggest for you (yes, embodied in your gender) to take the lead. Please don’t wait for my gender to give your gender “permission” to act. Just as the Canaanite woman, the prostitute and Mary did, let the heart of your whole person be expressed to and involved for the whole of God.

 

 

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©2006 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.