Observing Pattern Theology

Some assert that “only commands are binding” excluding examples and inferences. Commands are certainly binding, yet there is a perception that overlooks the necessity of examples in defining God’s commands. Examples are the same as patterns being translated from the same biblical 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).

Observing Biblical Patterns

Must Christians follow examples? Christians must follow the examples that define the commands. In Philippians 4:9, Paul revealed, “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.” This is a command to follow patterns. Christ, the apostles, and prophets give numerous instructions to follow the pattern of sound words (Rom 6:17; Phil 3:17; 1 Thess 1:7; 2 Thess 3:9; 2 Tim 1:13; 1 Pet 5:3). The examples of the Old Testament also establish examples (1 Cor 10:6, 11). In 1 Corinthians 11:1–2, Paul instructed, “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.

When Examples Are Binding

How do believers follow biblical examples? When would an example be bound to a command?

Baptism

Water is not explicitly commanded for baptism, but baptism is a command (Matt 28:19–20; Acts 2:38; 10:48). The command to be baptized is defined by the examples and the pattern of immersion in water and 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 testament is forbidden (Gal 3:15).

The Lord’s Supper

Bread and grape juice are not explicitly commanded for the Lord’s Supper, but the Lord’s Supper is commanded (1 Cor 11:17–34). Paul referred to the example of Jesus establishing the Lord’s Supper as an authoritative example. Jesus blessed bread and they ate, and then He blessed the cup and they drank. Jesus’s example defined what the Lord’s Supper is. Biblical Christians assembled on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor 11:17–34). 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).

Organization of the Church

A plurality of elders to oversee the church is not explicitly commanded for church oversight. However, Paul and Peter commanded elders to oversee and pastor the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1–3). Paul gave qualifications for elders and deacons to Timothy for the conduct of church (1 Tim 3:1–7). Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders (Tit 1:5). 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 (Acts 11:30; 14:23). 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).

The Assembly

First understand that gathering of “the assembly” is not explicitly commanded, but the writer of Hebrews forbid forsaking the assembly (Heb 10:24–25). In this sense, the reader can understand that meeting for the assembly is a command. Paul set a model and wrote specific instructions for the assembly in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14. Paul’s principles and examples define the assembly. The assembly consists of the Lord’s Supper, teaching, singing, praying, and giving to the collection of the saints (1 Cor 11; 14; 16). Paul’s commands came from God (1 Cor 14:37).

Jesus rose one the first day of the week (Mark ; John 20:11). The first day of the week is not commanded for the assembly, but the assembly is to be at a specific time and John called the day of the assembly as “the Lord’s Day” (1 Cor 11:18, 20, 33; Heb 10:25; Rev 1:10, 13, 20). The example of Christians meeting on the first day of the week to break bread defines the assembly (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1–3, Rev 1:10). No one should add to what the Spirit has revealed since He revealed all truth (John 16:13; cf. 2 Tim 3:16–17).

Examples that Are Not Binding

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.

Conclusion

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.