II. The One Family of God (Continued)

C. The One Family of God Equipped for Ministry

While Romans cannot be looked at as a compendium of Christian ministry, that not fitting within the theme of the letter, it would not be unusual for Paul to include material on ministry where the problems in Rome suggested the need for correctives. At least two such areas appear with enough substance to warrant a continued investigation into their congruence with house church practice.

Just as it was important to shape the convictions of the people in the Roman churches, Paul also wanted be sure that they were equipped for the work of ministry. He already established that these men and women needed to understand their places in the one family of God--with convictions shaped by baptism, commitment, and love. His next task was to help them gain an understanding of God's purpose--first in the distribution of gifts among the cluster of churches, and then regarding their part in bringing about the agenda of the one family of God.

1. Equipping through Gifting

Paul treats gifting in Rom. 12:3-8.The gifts mentioned are not explicitly "spiritual," as they are in 1 Corinthians where Paul was answering a specific question. The only "spiritual gift" is in Rom. 1:11, where the meaning is quite different. Nevertheless, Käsemann regards the all gifts mentioned in Romans as spiritual, tying them back to baptism. Fitzmyer, on the other hand, simply calls them "gifts," even though some of them are clearly spiritual in nature (e.g., prophesying, Rom. 12:6). The present writer suggests that Paul intended to make the broadest possible application, while still treating each gift--be it a spiritual or natural--as engendered, enhanced, or otherwise optimized for the purpose of the corporate body.

a. Gifting in the Light of a Believers' Church Hermeneutic

The relational aspect of a properly functioning local church does not assume that each member of that church is capable of performing all of the tasks of ministry. In Rom. 12:3-8, Paul informs his hearers that the church is like a "body with many members," and he enumerates several of those with a remarkable--and significant--lack of any priority of relative importance ("leadership," for example, is at the end of the list). The gifts are due to "grace" (Rom. 12:6), with the implication that the distribution of gifts is God ordained.

The "body" metaphor illuminates the fact that the body can only function when all of its diverse members cooperate. Such cooperation is the only way to ensure that the person with a given gift is applied to the problem that gift was intended to solve. Therefore each member should regard his or her personal gifts as assets of the corporate community, rather than as individual assets (Rom. 12:5). The ultimate expression of this attitude is Rom. 12:3, "do not think of yourself more highly than you ought...."

äsemann is correct in suggesting that Paul includes this section because it has come to his attention that at least some of the members of these churches have an individualistic understanding of their own gifts. The attitude of the person with a gift must be one of humility if the gift is to reach the full potential that God intended in giving it. But there are other dimensions to the problem beyond the arrogant brother or sister or the inappropriate use (or non-use) of the gift--the right attitude for a gifted individual must be one of service. Not only that, but having such an attitude is one of the marks that makes the one family of God quite different from the culture in which the church is embedded.

b. The Testimony of the House Church on Gifting

McClendon's treatment of gifting falls under his idea of "community." Just as Israel was to be a "nation of priests" (Ex. 19:5), the Christian community was to be a community of priests" an insight that Luther dubbed the "priesthood of the believer."

This doctrine, based on Martin Luther's fresh reading of the New Testament, held that the essence of (Roman Catholic) priesthood was already present in each baptized believer. This Reformation move was contextually appropriate, but the doctrine has often later been read as mere individualism in religion, or as a mere denigration of existing church leaders. Its radical counterpart today must therefore insist on the corporate nature of believing priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9) in order generate a fresh construal of church leadership--one not alien to Luther's intention.
p>Birkey's The House Church includes a full Chapter on the question of gifting, stressing its corporate context. The "body" metaphor of this section, while not as explicit in Romans as it is in 1 Corinthians, must be understood as the body of Christ--it should be a "servant" church just as Christ came as a servant. It is in building up that body that brings the "equipping" aspect of gifting into play. The process is not static, but dynamic --gifts being added as Christ directs a given local church to a new task of ministry and as the body directs its members to venture into new ministries. Finally, says Birkey, the act of using the gifts " validates them in our servanthood."

c. Conclusion

The institutional approach to church simply does not allow an adequate expression of the gifting process because it lacks the corporate dynamic that effective ministry requires. The mere fact that so much of the Apostolic teaching concerns gifts for equipping the ministry of its members is a validation of believers' church. Passages like this one in Romans may be used today as a "corrective challenge to the institutionalization of the contemporary church."

2. Equipping through an Inaugurated Eschatology

Romans includes references to past and future time that are intimately tied to the story of the works of God and of Christ that constitute the book's doctrinal development and, especially, the main message of the one family of God that is embodied in Chapters 9-11. Paul encourages the Romans to have an appreciation of God's eternal plan, of which they are a part. That appreciation is to color and fuel their work and worship, and it is for that reason that the subject is treated here under the rubric "Equipped for Ministry."

The house church does not see ministry as merely responding to social needs, teaching, and evangelism, but as a furthering God&slquo;s agenda. This is not to suggest that the activities of ministry may be divided into those that serve human needs and those that further the plan of God. Rather, believers engaged in ministry are to see each cup of cool water, each visit to a prisoner, and every instance of hospitality offered a stranger as an action that advances the redemptive plan of God.

While inaugurated eschatology did not become a formal theological position until this century, the presentation in Romans and the historical believers' church both bear its distinctive marks. Inaugurated eschatology developed as a reaction to the realized eschatology of C. H. Dodd which was based on Rudolf Bultmann's view that Jesus had come to proclaim the Kingdom. Dodd went on to locate the second coming of Jesus at Pentecost and therefore the end of God's eschatological agenda in that event. Reginold H. Fuller went beyond both Dodd and Bultmann's radical form criticism to conclude that the treatment of events beginning at Rom 8:27 in Mark's gospel marked a "turning point" in which Jesus' ministry shifted from the proclamation of the Kingdom of God to the cross. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ were, in the eyes of inaugurated eschatology, the consummate fulfillment of Isaiah‘s suffering servant and the very event that inaugurated the reign of Christ. Until Christ comes again, that reign would have its manifestation on earth through the Church. In Fuller's words,

... the Church places the decisive event exactly where Jesus placed it, namely at his death and exaltation. For the kerygma, as for Jesus himself, that is the decisive event which sets the eschatological process in motion, and of which the Church and all its activity are a part.

a. The Kingdom in the House Church

The confessions of the historical house church reveals a remarkable understanding of "kingdom," its ruler being Christ, and its presence being the "visible" church. The 1644 London Confession of Faith documents this among the early Particular Baptists:

That Christ hath here on earth a spirituall Kingdome, which is the Church, which he hath purchased and redeemed to himselfe, as a peculiar inheritance: which Church, as it is visible to us, is a company of visible Saints, called & separated from the world, by the word and Spirit of God, to the visible profession of the faith of the Gospel, being baptized into that faith, and joyned to the Lord, and each other, by mutuall agreement, in the practical injoyment of the Ordinances, commanded by Christ their head and King.

The Kingdom of God was not some future hope for the signers of this confession, but a kingdom in which they had a present membership. They viewed it precisely as did the writer of the letter to Diognetus. Through its being composed only of confessing members, it was seeking a "visible" church that

... seeks to influence the world by being the church, that is, by being something the world is not and can never be, lacking the gift of faith and vision, which is ours in Christ. The confessing church seeks the visible church, a place clearly visible to the world, in which people are faithful to their promises, love their enemies, tell the truth, honor the poor, suffer for righteousness, and thereby testify to the amazing community-creating power of God.

This understanding of the Kingdom of God, of course, goes beyond the tactics of its immediate time and place in history. It necessarily also has access, through the discernment that comes from the binding and loosing power of the community of faith, to the strategic vision of God. Therefore, it must approach its function in the kingdom not so much as a provider of static services to its members and its community, but more as what Vernard Eller called a dynamic of "caravan"--

... a group of people banded together to make common cause in seeking a common destination.... A caravan is a caravan only as long as it is making progress.... Once the caravaners stop, dig in, or count themselves as having arrived, they no longer constitute a caravan.

The idea of the caravan is implicit in the definition of the "storied" community. According to McClendon, the community comprising a church "are justified only if they serve as a provisional means toward that one great peoplehood that embraces all, the Israel of God, the end toward which the biblical story moves." He likens this to having a "map" because of its focus on the rule of God, the centrality of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit:

Christians are not yet in possession of the promised home. In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, "Here we have no lasting city," for "we are seekers after the city which is to come" (Rom. 13:14). Yet this does not signify that we must travel without a map. The rule of God requires church members subject to that very rule. The centrality of Jesus Christ demands church leaders led by Christ crucified and risen. The fellowship of the Spirit implies a common life whose practices suit, not this present age, but the age to come--a community at once redeemed and redemptive.

b. Eschatology in Romans in the Light of a House Church Hermeneutic

Eschatology is certainly not an obvious category in Romans. There is nothing like 1 Corinthians 15 or 1 Thessalonians 4 in the book. This paper has argued, in fact, that the purpose of Romans is to solve a problem of disunity in the Roman church by implanting the doctrine of church that is house church ecclesiology, so a discourse on eschatology would not normally be expected. But Paul provides many appropriate glimpses into his eschatological thought in Romans precisely because he sees the dysfunction of the Roman churches as being incompatible with the eschatological intentions of God. That Paul's understanding of inaugurated "kingdom" is compatible with the house church hermeneutic is evident in the appearance of "kingdom" in Rom. 14:17, precisely at the point that Paul turns to the "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" that characterizes love within the church (see the chiasm in Table 5 and the related text). This is very clearly inaugurated eschatology because it is in the present tense (ou gar estin ha basileia).

Rom. 6:1-10, already treated under "Convictions Shaped by Baptism," speaks of being "baptized into Christ Jesus," being "buried with him," and being "raised with him" (Rom. 6:3-4). Paul was not simply engaging in clever rhetoric here. While he was enriching the rite of baptism with symbols, --he was also actualizing baptism as a grafting of the new believer into the eternal olive tree of Chapter 11 --a tree that had its roots in the eternal past (Rom. 8:29-30) just as it has its peak in the future (Rom. 11:26). In Rom. 9:23 the entire tree is visualized--it was "prepared in advance" (past) "for glory" (future).

Here is where the images of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ became the centerpiece of Paul's treatment of Baptism in Romans 6. The cross had inaugurated a new era in God's agenda--an era marked by hardening of Jews, but also a magnificent opportunity for the Gentiles.

In baptism the focus is on the past, but the tree also points to the future. That is the essence of the "so all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26) at the heart of the epistle's main message. Once Gentiles understand the abiding love that God has for the Jews, even as he has temporarily hardened them for the benefit of the Gentiles, they will then be able to express the same sort of love for them that God has, and that will work itself out through their ministry both inside and outside of the church. Paul is thus attempting to shape a conviction among the Gentiles that is based on God's eschatological promise to the Jews in order that the Jews might stand among them, and all the other ethnic groups of the creation, in heaven.

c. Conclusions

During his many years of ministry, Paul had heard of the growth of the church at Rome. It was a church that had somehow lost its vision, being caught up in divisions and disharmony. He needed to move their focus from their own personal agendas to the agenda of the one family of God--not a static agenda, but an agenda on the move. With regard to the way the Gentiles supported their brothers and sisters of Jewish ancestry, the vision of the book of Romans was the heart of the central message of the letter: "so all Israel will be saved."