Pattern Theology: When Christians Must Observe Biblical Examples

Some assert that “only commands are binding” excluding examples and inferences. Commands are certainly binding, and yet there is a perception that overlooks the necessity of examples in defining God’s commands. Examples are the same as patterns being translate by the same Greek words. The abandonment of following the pattern of sound words leaves one’s faith in the constant action of being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).

Must we follow examples? Follow the examples that define the commands. The Spirit of Christ said in Philippians 4:9, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” Here is a command to follow patterns. Christ, the Apostles, and prophets give numerous instructions to follow the pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13; Rom. 6:17; 1 Thess. 1:7; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Pet. 5:3). The examples of the Old Testament also establish examples (1 Cor. 10:6, 11). The Holy Spirit teaches in 1 Corinthians 11:1-2 to, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” How does one imitate? Well, imitating is to follow an example. Christians are to be imitators (1 Cor. 4:16-17; Eph. 5:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:7; 2 Thess. 3:7, 9; Heb. 6:12; 3 John 11). The Greek for imitate is mimeiteis, and according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to imitate is “to follow as a pattern, model, or example“. Apparently, the Scriptures teach one to follow patterns, models, and examples. Being that Christians are to imitate the Apostles and Christ, then the examples and the inferences thereof are included.

Yes, we follow patterns and examples. Yet, how do we follow examples? When would an example be bound to a command?

*Consider baptism. Water is not explicitly commanded for baptism, but baptism is a command (Acts 10:48). The command to be baptized is defined by the example and pattern of immersion into water in the name of the Lord (Acts 10:47, cf. John 3:5). Examples and patterns that define commands are as authoritative as the command. Adding or annulling God’s covenant is forbidden (Gal. 3:15).

*Examine the Lord’s Supper. Unleavened bread and unleavened grape juice are not explicitly commanded for the Lord’s Supper, but the Lord’s Supper is commanded (1 Cor. 11:17ff) and the example of Jesus Christ in establishing the Lord’s Supper “bread” and the “fruit of the vine” sets a pattern institute by the infallibility of Christ. The examples of the Lord’s Supper define the command (Mark 14:1, 25). Christians must not exceed the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9).

*Look at church government. A congregation’s government is a plurality of elders, and yet this is not explicitly commanded for church government. Elders are commanded to oversee the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-3). Timothy and Titus were told to appoint elders (Tit. 1:5, 1 Tim. 3:1-7). An example of a plurality of elders defines the overseeing of each congregation (Acts 14:23). These examples define what the Scripture mean by being led by elders. Recognizing the infallibility of Christ and His given to His Apostles and prophets, let us not add to what Christ made perfect (Rev. 22:18-19).

*Consider the Assembly. First understand that gathering into the Assembly is not explicitly commanded, but forsaking the Assembly is commanded against, and therefore assembling is commanded (Heb. 10:25). Now, look to the pattern. The examples of the Assembly and the acts of the Assembly therein define the Assembly, which is the pattern (1 Cor. 11, 14, 16). The Assembly consists of the Lord’s Supper, teaching, singing, praying, and giving to the collection of the saints. Let not our judgment of the Apostles and their doctrine go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6, cf. Acts 2:42).

*Look at the Lord’s Day. The 1st day of the week is not commanded for the Assembly, but the Assembly is to be at a specific time and that day is called “the Lord’s Day” (1 Cor. 11:18, 20, 33; Heb. 10:25; Rev. 1:10, 13, 20). The example of Christians and Christ meeting on the 1st day of the week defines the assembling to break bread (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:1-3, Rev. 1:10, etc.). Let us not add to what the Spirit has revealed since He revealed all Truth (John 16:13, cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Are there examples that are not binding? Yes. Give some attention to these expedient examples. Paul’s teaching in the school of Tyrannus does not define all teaching to be done in a school of a man named Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). How do we know this? Because there are no specific commands regarding places to teach the Gospel. Are Christians only to teach on riversides, in synagogues, in Jerusalem’s Temple, or Athen’s Areopagus (Acts 5:25, 16:13, 17:2)? Certainly not, these are not examples defining any commands though the examples present wonderful principles and the great liberties that Christians have.

In conclusion, Bible examples are binding when defining commands. It is that simple. These set the pattern for the Church’s observation of all of Christ’s commands.

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]
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18 Responses to Pattern Theology: When Christians Must Observe Biblical Examples

  1. mattdabbs says:

    Scott, the link to Wineskins is broken. Here is the right link –

    Thanks for your patience and have a blessed day.


  2. Matt Dabbs says:

    Scott, your link to Wineskins is broken. The site has been reorganized. The right link will eventually be – but will be a week or two before that link has all the right content in it as I am having to rework everything. I just thought you would like to know. Actually, I will try to get that post working right today so that it will work for you. Thanks for your patience.


  3. Eddie says:

    I’m assuming that the above link to is actually supposed to lead to the website. When I clicked on it I was sent to a strange photo of a stuffed animal. ??

    Anyway, regarding patterns – if there is a pattern, shouldn’t everyone be able to agree on what it is? True patterns are usually very recognizable. The ancient Israelites had patterns in the OT that they recognized, followed and were in agreement on. Surely if God had given us a pattern in the NT he would have been equally clear in revealing it.

    If you have the time, I would like to refer you back to this article about the matter at That’s easier than typing out my whole line of reasoning here. Guess I’m lazy. :)


    • I just clicked on the creedrehearsal link and it went to the intended site, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a stuffed animal. I guess that’s what happen when you link to a shady person.

      Many of us see the pattern of water for baptism in Jesus’ name clearly, but if someone doesn’t, then is it Jesus’ fault for not being clear? Is it the fault of those who see this pattern? Our perspective has to be the perspective of Christ.

      Again commands are the foundation, and from here, we have to apply those essential examples (patterns) that clearly define what something is. We do this with elders, with the Assembly, and with baptism. Jesus did this marriage (Matt. 19). May God help us if we bind an example of a simple occurrence of our liberty in Christ.

      Regarding that article, Jesus tells us to teach others to observe all that He commanded. I believe Him. We can obey all these and observe them though Christians like myself have a hard time do it alone.

      The writer here is an opponent of law containing commands rather than the law of Moses. Most of his list of laws are misleading and slanderous. This person uses no good sense here. If there was a word of truth in what he says, I be convinced and converted. There are some things on this list that have Scriptural commands against them. If anything should be gained from this list is that the one supported in Scripture need to be referred as such like greed should be condemn in connection with gambling. I could just as easy make such a list for the laws and liberties of progressives. It is showing of corruption when teachers who claims to be “progressive” groups ultra-conservative “non-institutional” leaders with the mainstream, and yet the “non-institutional” leaders libel the mainstream with the self-named progressives as “liberals”. If the mainstream needs to be addressed then do so, but let’s not polarize our own brethren. These defamation tactics are all throughout corrupt government politics.

      To me, this article is just irrational gibberish. The very covenant of Christ is based on laws (Heb. 8). The beauty of the Law of Christ is that our virtues of His words written on our hearts directs us. In all of this, we are not lost as we walk in the light though we may stumble in obedience whereas the Mosiacal law and the natural law cursed all men. Instead of food laws, we have liberty in the virtuous principles of Christ’s Spirit who guides us in the light through His written Word.

      If someone wants reform in the churches of Christ, then that person needs to follow the Way, lead the way, and teach the Way. Just simply quote the same Scriptures over and over and over again. People need to see what Christianity really looks like.

      God bless.


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