Discussing principles and outworking
Principles are encased with stone. They are set in concrete. They are the foundation upon which a society functions. Principles stand alone. Principles are like a beacon on a hill.
But, because Principles are such edifices, Principles require a multitude of ‘Practitioners of Principles’ to assist in their interpretation for the rest of us who understand the concept of a Principle, but struggle with the outworking, the practise, the good functioning of Principles.
Then there is a third group, these hapless souls are those who know there are Principles, they get lectured and pillared and bullied from on high about their practise, but for love or money, stare at them in bewilderment, wondering how their situation could ever acquiesce to such Principles.
In the 1987 BBC television mini-series Fortunes of War the leading character, Professor Guy Pringle (Kenneth Branagh) who is for want of a word, an English language boffin, is lecturing English in Bucharest in the immediate months prior to the start of WWII. With him in Bucharest is his new bride from England, Harriet Pringle (Emma Thompson).
When war breaks out in Europe a retired British military boffin, Commander Sheppey, turns up and gathers these British academic non-combatant types with an astonishing plan to blow up several dams along the Danube as Romania the previous year had shipped a mammoth amount of grain to Germany – alas along the Danube.
Pringle's boss, the even more boffin type aristocratic Professor Inchcape, accidentally learns of this military adventure from none other than Harriet Pringle, in that his personnel, these 'special case' non-combatant academic personnel, are involved in this military adventure, and he immediately sets about to put an end to such escapades and I quote: “There is a very important matter of principle here”.
There's that word – Principle. What did it mean in this story (related above), and why was it important and who established its rules?
In the first instance the Principle invoked is that these academic personnel had a legal authority to be in Romania lecturing English as part of the British Government's English Exchange Program. Professor Inchcape is the Director of the Program and recognises how critical it is that these programs operate on strict agreed formal arrangement between the two countries and as such were deemed non-combatants 'along with a degree of immunity'.
They were not permitted to engage in any military involvement, that was another branch of the British Government's activities (Army, Navy and Air Force) and these were separated by a great gulf of Principle. These ambassadorial rules were sacrosanct and functioned providing decades of cultural exchanges enhancing the peoples of both countries. These arrangements exist with most countries.
The on-line dictionary has a list of definitions for the word Principle, including this one: “A fixed or predetermined policy or mode of action.”
Discussing principles and outworking – the chair is important
Defining what it means
For Principles to work efficiently and effectively, then someone or a group of people need to explain them and define them in order for them to be put into practise. We might even think of it in terms of the Public Service, who develop the legislation that the Government of the day requires to be bought into law.
An example as such - the Principle, is that the Government believes that social services to its people is an essential role of Government. The Public Service then has the task of developing that Principle into a workable and functioning process in order for the Principle to be effective. One might imagine the drama involved in creating such legislation with every 'i' dotted and every 't' crossed.
In our story above from the television series Fortunes of War, Professor Inchcape met with this military man Commander Sheppey and made it abundantly clear that his authority, whatever it was, did not include his academic personnel who could not and would not be involved in his military objectives.
Professor Inchcape then fronted each and every one of his academic personnel including Guy Pringle and laid down the Principle and that such military activities were strictly forbidden. As he explained, he Professor Inchcape gave the orders, and you, Guy Pringle, was required to follow them.
The hapless souls
From our Centrelink examples above, we find the financially struggling unemployed person or single mother, having to fill-in a multitude of Centrelink forms detailing every 'determined' relevant piece of information so as to get their tax payer funded few dollars of social security. It may takes weeks for the process of run its course from making an initial appointment, to when those few dollars come through the system.
In this other illustration from Fortunes of War, Guy Pringle, no longer able to become a part time saboteur, speaks up at a staff meeting encouraging almost pointless gestures of political defiance which seem ridiculous in the circumstances, and he then visits political prisoners in jail which in some ways, is a dangerous proactive political statement to his station (in Romania).
The frustration experienced in both these illustrations demonstrate how the outworking of a Principle has many pitfalls and is no easy thing at all.
Discussing principles and outworking – those who have implement them – three sport writers for Christian Today
Biblical scholarship has likened this process in the way that the New Testament is set out. The four Gospels through Jesus' teaching, such as the Sermon on the Mount, set out the Principles. An example in Matthew 5 is if your eye sin against you pluck it out.
The Apostle Paul in his many Letters to the various Churches sets out the theoretical applications of those Principles (examples, Romans on Theology, Galatians on Freedom in Christ) while the Epistles reveal the practical out working of it all. Example of this is I and II Timothy, where lessons are given in what it means to be a Pastor and hold leadership roles in the congregation. Peter's and John's Letters similarly illustrate the ministry of service and practical love within a congregation.
Getting an understanding of how all three inter-relate is part of every follower of Jesus' daily challenge and struggle. This is not simple by any means. Every one of us confront these issues in a myriad of ways every day and why Christian people come up with quite different answers and responses to the same 'in principle' original information.
Discussing principles and outworking
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at