Monday, January 16, 2012

the Ephesian trajectory

Today is the third Monday in January, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as observed in the United States of America.  Marking this day is in my blood; growing up, I used to attend the festivities hosted by Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas, for the wider community in honor of Dr. King.  Since living in Africa, the continent of King's ancestors, I've used this day to reflect on the connections between the American story and the South African story, and the place of my own experiences within those larger streams.  I do so again today.

King spoke of his dream being "deeply rooted in the American dream", that "America would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: that 'all men are created equal'".  In doing so, King framed his coming world in inclusive terms; "all men"--and today we should say "people"--kept white people in the picture even as it called upon them to open their hearts to the struggle of black people to realize, in the words of the United States' Declaration of Independence, that to which the "all men" are entitled, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".  South Africa, similarly, speaks of a "non-racial society", or a society that bestows its benefits upon all its inhabitants irrespective of color.  These are the visions, if not yet the realities.

A related contribution comes from the field of Christian missiology.  Andrew Walls, a leading thinker, has spoken of our time, as a result of the great expansion of the church to the global south and east over the last century, as "the Ephesian moment", or a situation in the life of the church equal in its ethnic diversity to the first-century context in which Paul penned his letter to the Ephesians.  The familiar reading from Epiphany has just passed us (6 January) again: "In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind . . . that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Eph 3:5-6).  Multiple peoples, multiple cultures, "Jews and Gentiles", each retaining its own distinctiveness, have nevertheless become "one body" by sharing Christ's self-giving love for one another.

My own efforts to articulate the gospel of Jesus Christ resort consistently to the language of Ephesians.  As well as "the same body" of which the many are one, Ephesians uses the parallel images of chapters 2 and 4: "the one new human being" (Greek: anthropos) created "in place of the two" (2:15) and "the complete man" (Greek: andre) (Eph 4:13) into whose fullness the members of Christ's body, church, are growing together.  Cloaked by the generic translation "maturity" in the New Revised Standard Version, the more literal rendering of 4:13--"the complete man" into whom the church is growing--evokes the similar sounding "one new humanity" of 2:15 and thereby creates an unmistakable association of meanings between the two "persons".

The character of that association is essentially christological; it speaks of Christ who "himself"--alone--"is our peace" (2:14).  The goal of the "one new human being" is none other than "the complete man" who is its origin.  And that by which he made "the two" one--the peace/forgiveness which he proclaimed/embodied for his enemies on the cross (2:14-16)--is the same means by which the members of his body will come to "the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to the complete man, to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (4:13).

Before there is an "Ephesian moment", therefore, there is an "Ephesian trajectory"; the coming together of once-divided and hostile peoples into "one new humanity" flows from the One who satisfied God's perfect love for creation within his flesh.  In the South African context, "the Ephesian trajectory" may be found in the beloved Xhosa hymn, "Masibulele kuYesu", "Let us all give thanks to Jesus."  Indeed, in the two verses which we most often hear paired together, the second flows quite appropriately from the first.  First there is the exhortation to "thank Jesus" (Masibulele kuYesu) because "he died for us" (wasifela), a display of loving "kindness" (izibele) on his part.  For our part, in the second verse, we are implored, "black and white" (Abantsundu nabamhlope), to "serve the Lord as one" (Mababulele kunye).

The loving-kindness that was Christ's dying for us is the spirit in which we who belong to his body must relate to one another, and the spirit which the church must embody for the world as it "seeks the peace" of the nations in which it resides (Jer 29:7).


The reference to Walls's term comes from "The Ephesian Moment: At a Crossroads in Christian History" In Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002), 72-81.

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