Saturday, August 18, 2012

What is at the heart of the organic church movement?

This is the easiest question of all because it is what we eat, drink and sleep with every single day in our movement. We have always declared that the heart of the organic church movement–indeed all of church–is what we call the DNA of the body of Christ. For us the DNA stands for Divine Truth, Nurturing Relationships and Apostolic Mission.

This DNA is not just key ingredients of a model of church it is the core of our life, just as true deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is in our own bodies. So at the very raw center of our movement is love. DNA is how we relate to God, one another and the world around us.

The DNA is the start of life, the code that leads that life and develops the body into what it is meant to be. A faulty DNA produces a mutated form of Christ's body. A right DNA produces a healthy and fertile body and reproduces after its own kind and grows all by itself. The whole DNA must be carried within every disciple in Christ's body–that is what a healthy church is.


Chris Jefferies said...

Hi Neil,

It must indeed be the case that there are factors (DNA) controlling the growth and structure of church. It is also true that these factors determine whether the church is in step with Father's intentions revealed in and through the Son.

But how can we be sure we have correctly understood this DNA? There are many different models of church. Is only one of them right? Are the others all wrong?

In a living organism there are many different metabolic processes going on, all controlled in an appropriate way by the DNA and other factors.

Cancer is controlled by the same DNA as healthy tissue.

Can you identify necessary factors other than DNA in church life? What are they and how do they modify the way the DNA is processed?

Some seem obvious, for example the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Would you comment on these thoughts?

Chris Jefferies said...

Thinking this over this morning I decided to write a post on my own blog to expand on what I wrote here.

Unknown said...

Hi Chris,

I just read that article you wrote: Very good! It was nicely written.

Sometimes I wonder though (and Neil Cole is also included here) is whether we have fully grasped the concept of DNA and how it applies to the church.

It is absolutely true that DNA gives rise to parts of the body such as legs and ears. In fact, as my wife is a scientist who works with DNA, I know that scientists do not yet know how the cells know to use the correct subset of DNA that they are to use. It is still a mystery to them. In their own words: More research is required. (A common phrase amongst scientists btw ;) ).

This is where I am not sure Cole is correct: The DNA of the ekklesia is not Divine truth, Nurturing relationships, Apostolic ministry. The DNA of the ekklesia is Jesus Christ. (OK, maybe the Divine truth part is right, as Jesus is Divine truth)

Just as DNA instructs what the cells of a living organism are to do, so Jesus gives rise to us having a relationship with God and knowing divine truth; He gives rise to loving, nurturing relationships; and He gives rise to apostolic ministry, which is the predominant way that churches reproduce churches.

In other words, I do not believe that the acronym of (D)ivine truth, (N)urturing relationships, (A)postolic ministry goes to a fundamental enough level. Fundamentally, the DNA is the lowest level you can get to. A leg is not the DNA, the ear is not the DNA. The DNA produces the leg and ear.

In this regard the DNA of the church is Jesus Christ, as He is the foundation of the church.

The thing is, all Christians have this DNA. Jesus courses through the veins of every human that believes He died and rose again.

However, there are illnesses and conditions that can prevent or mutate that which the DNA is trying to produce. Eg. cancer. According to Wikipedia it is 'a broad group of various diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth.' Basically the cells do not know when to stop growing.

What has gone wrong to the church on a world-wide scale over the centuries? Things like the clergy/laity divide, the influence of Platonic dualism, and a focus on man's needs rather than on God have stunted the growth of the ekklesia to the institutions that we see around us.

It is not a transfusion of DNA that we need, as again all Christians have the DNA of the ekklesia inside them, as the DNA is Jesus Himself.

What is needed is a removal of the barriers that prevent the DNA doing what the DNA does.

Pieterlz said...

Excellent description of DNA David, even I could understand it :-). Some time back I read an article "Jesus in his fullness" (on the site There the distinction between 'The blessings of the Lord' and 'The Lord of the blessings' was made. It made a big impression on me, because we so easily make the shift to the blessings.
I take the point Cole was making, but I think the mutation starts with our focus: The Lord of the blessings or the blessings of the Lord.

Unknown said...

Pieterlz, great comment! I think so too that mutations begin when we take our eyes off of Jesus and onto something else, even if that 'something else' is actually a good thing.

Unknown said...

And, thinking about it a bit more, actually nurturing relationships can be seen as a blessing from the Lord, and so can apostolic ministry.

As you said, if we take our focus from the Lord of the blessings onto the blessings of the Lord, then we begin to mutate.

Let's keep our focus on Jesus Christ!

Chris Jefferies said...

I'm sure Neil would agree that Jesus is fundamental. Maybe he will comment here himself and explain further.

Unknown said...

Maybe, I'm looking forward to it :)

Neil Cole said...

Anyone familiar with our training or my books will know that we place Jesus at the heart of everything. Absolutely. We define church as "The presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet." When we say Divine Truth we know that Jesus is the way truth and life. We actually use Him as the example of divine truth. So the question is should we also include nurturing relationships and apostolic mission as part of the DNA. I think we need to. I think that adds the context where Jesus makes a difference. For us the DNA is summed up in: 1. The greatest commandment (love God–connect with Divine Truth), 2. Second greates (love your neighbor–nurturing relationships, and 3. Great Commision(make disciples of all the nations–apostolic mission).

I do believe that there is an order, even Jesus gives us one, but that doesn't mean we should eliminate the context for Christ's influence.

Hope that sheds some light on what we mean.

Unknown said...

Hi Neil
Thanks for the reply! I am very happy to hear that you place Jesus as fundamental and I like your definition of organic church: “The presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet”.

I am aware of your book on organic church, but have not read it, sorry! I am very familiar with Frank Viola’s writings however, and have been part of a fledgling ekklesia for the last 6 months or so. So I understand that at the heart of organic church is Jesus Christ.

It is here that I am still not sure that the use of DNA as an analogy between the physical and spiritual is fundamental enough. (Forgive me if this gets too long!)

Biologically speaking, after conception there is 1 cell in the womb containing DNA. It is just a living cell, nothing specific yet. This cell duplicates into 2 cells. So now you have 2 living cells, both containing a full set of DNA. They are still just cells. These 2 cells duplicate and you have 4, which duplicate giving 8, then 16, 32, 64...

At some point one set of the cells begin to use a certain subset of the DNA and become, for example, liver cells; while another set of the cells use another subset of the DNA to become heart cells, or lung cells, etc. This is the part that the scientists are still unsure of how it works. This reminds me of Jesus words, when He said that the kingdom of God is like when a man plants a seed. It grows but he doesn’t know how it does it. (Mark 4:26-27)

So it is the DNA that gives the instructions on what the cell is to become and do. Without the DNA, the cell would not know what to do. In fact DNA is just information. The molecule takes the shape of the infamous double-helix with genes on it. The gene alphabet consists of 4 letters. So the DNA strand spells out instructions for the cells.

It is kind of like a book: It consists of a stack of paper (usually white) with black ink on it. The ink forms letters which form words. The length of the book may vary and the information contained within may be very different, for example one book may be on mechanical engineering, while another on the Book of Revelation. But the format is the same, to find the difference one must read the books.

The same is true for DNA. The DNA molecule of a giraffe and of a human or a bison take on the same form: Double-helix containing genes; they will only differ in length and content of information. To tell the difference one must read them. Of course when in action they will also produce different things. (Of course this is a very, very simplistic description of the DNA molecule!)

Unknown said...

The same is true for a believer: When a human being realises they have need of Jesus, converts and is baptised, then they are born from above. They are translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son. Old things pass away and they become brand new. In fact, they are a new creation. The Spirit of Jesus comes to live in them. They die and their life becomes hidden with Christ in God.

This change of heart forms new behaviour in them: Grumpy people become happy, hateful people become more loving and humble, and sexually immoral give up their sinful ways. It is the result of the Holy Spirit being active in their lives. To use DNA as an analogy in this place, one realises that Jesus Christ is the DNA.

But it is also Jesus who forms the church, which is His body. Contained within Jesus is everything that the church needs to become that which Jesus wishes the church to become.

We have established that as Jesus is the Truth, then it is correct to say that the DNA consists of Divine truth. However, I think the other two words used in the acronym are misleading: They are not what the DNA consists of; they are the result of the DNA at work.

A nurturing relationship is a loving, kind, humble, placing-the-other-first type relationship, is it not? Jesus produces this in the life of the believer. He is the DNA that gives instruction and form to the cell.

Apostolic ministry is the sending out of a mature believer to start a new church, is it not? This is very analogous with reproductive mechanisms in living organisms. Every living organism waits until a certain maturity level is reached before it begins reproducing. So although all the information for this is already contained within the DNA it takes time for it to be produced. Over time Jesus produces apostolic workers, but it takes time for them to emerge. He is the DNA that gives instruction and form to the cell.

(Please don’t confuse the duplication of the cells I mentioned earlier (straight after conception) as reproduction of the organism. The organism as a whole is still very much in embryonic form, while, over time, the reproductive organs are produced by the DNA.)

There are actually other things that Jesus produces in the church as well: Prophets, pastors, elders, healers, etc. But they all spring forth from Christ. Only Christ can form them. Only Jesus can produce them. They are contained within Him. So the DNA of the ekklesia is Jesus Christ.

He is the source of the body’s life. He is the head of the body. He is the first-born son. He is the bridegroom. He is the corner stone of the building. He is the beginning and the end. He is the seed, and in terms that only makes sense post-1953 (when the DNA molecule was discovered): He is the DNA of the church.

Contained within the DNA is all the information required. Jesus is healer, He is wise one, He is prophet, He is pastor, He is evangelist, He is teacher, He is apostle, and amongst other things the fullness of God dwells in Him. He is all that is required for church. Jesus will produce nurturing relationships and apostolic ministry, but nurturing relationships and apostolic ministry are not part of the DNA, they are a result of Jesus at work.

I say the DNA is summed up in Jesus Christ.