Friday, 2 March 2012

The DNA of Christ's Body

There's a way of looking at church that extends the 'body of Christ' metaphor in the New Testament into the language of cells and DNA. Just like each cell in an organism has the same DNA (well, except the sex cells), the idea is that each cell or unit of the church should also have the same driving force. Here is one neat little way of describing this driving force:

Divine truth
Nurturing relationships
Apostolic mission

I got this from a book called 'Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens', by Neil Cole. He explains the three elements of the DNA of Christ's Body, the church like this:
A life changed by the power of divine truth lays aside the old corrupt things of the flesh and puts on the new ways of Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). This then affects the personal relationships of the Christian as love begins to flow our of a changed heart. Empowered by truth and love, the Christian is unable to contain this energy and follows the Lord's command to take the Gospel to others on apostolic mission in hope of changing this world.
Now each individual Christian is likely to have a preference for one or maybe two of these elements. Those of us with a pastoral, caring nature can do much to nurture relationships within the church; those with an outgoing, networking character will contribute to the apostolic mission element; and people with a prophetic or teaching talent will bring divine truth to the community of believers. But Neil Cole's point is that each 'cell' of the Body of Christ must have all three of the components at the same time. This is his warning of the danger of unravelling the church's DNA:
DNA is only potent when it is together... Most churches will gladly exclaim that they have all three portions of the DNA, but they have unraveled it into separate components and so lost its power.
Cole then notes that churches might have 'excellent preaching on Sundays', 'small groups during the week', and 'a strong missions committee'; handling in turn the divine truth, nurturing relationship and apostolic mission that make up the DNA of the church in this metaphor. Cole says the three elements mustn't be separated like this; they must be 'whole, intact, and in every cell'. Each element on its own can have disastrous consequences:
Mission without love is dead and can actually undermine the cause of Christ (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Relationships without truth are dysfunctional and toxic. Truth without application in relationships and mission is delusional (James 1:21-25). To separate each part [of the church's DNA] is to destroy the whole thing.

I've come across a couple of other illustrations that make the same point as Neil Cole is in his 'Organic Church' book. There's the 'Inward, Upward, Outward' idea which many people have used in different ways, that I first came across in Richard Foster's book 'Prayer'. Closer to home for me, is this diagram showing the values, purpose and direction of the church that I'm part of. This model nicely captures the union between our efforts and God's work in the transformation of our character, and our dual mission to 'make disciples of all the nations' and to 'do the same works... and even greater works' than Jesus did during his time on earth.

I'll stop there for now, but the 'Organic Church' book goes into much more depth about what this DNA metaphor means for how we should be church. I may well post again soon with some practical implications that follow from this idea. Obviously, it would be no good at all if I stopped at the theory part. Not to mention hypocritical, given what I wrote recently about the buzz of new ideas!

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