Principles vs. Rules

Structure is necessary for life to survive. The church needs structure to be fruitful. But much of the history of the Christian church reveals that structure has been far more important than life itself.

The gospel is taken by a missionary to a culture different from their own. They plant it like seed in the soil. They pray and teach and water this gospel seed to produce churches. The problems come when the missionaries do not replant the seed properly in the new culture/soil.

A few days ago I quoted D.T. Niles of Sri Lanka. Niles observed this point when he wrote:

The gospel is like seed and you have to sow it. Now, when missionaries came to our lands they brought not only the seed of the gospel, but their own plant of Christianity, flower pot included! So what we have to do is to break the flower pot, take out the seed of the gospel, sow it in our own cultural soil, and let our own version of Christianity grow.

Niles is not talking about what we Americans call models. He is talking about what we might better term mission principles. What are the principles we should follow to plant seeds of the gospel and then let them emerge and multiply within a natural soil environment? What we desire is truly organic growth, thus the increasingly popular term "organic church."

Organic churches are relational and flexible. They allow people and ideas to emerge that are faithful to the gospel, not human rules or cultures. If you desire to carry the good seed of the gospel into a missional context then you have to be truly willing to break flower pots and trust the seed to work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This the church has never found easy. We much prefer to control the growth, limit the problems and comfortably adopt the culture in a way that makes it harder for the gospel to actually work among us.