Observing Pattern Theology

The following contains scriptures followed by exerts from New Wineskins Magazine about following the examples of Christ, His Apostles, and the New Testament church.

The Spirit says in 2 Timothy 1:13, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”

‘Patterns’! What could possibly be wrong with following a heavenly pattern? Everything. Flawed humans make copies from patterns, and seek to earn salvation by replicating something that is perfect. It can’t be done. Pattern theology is necessarily a works-based theology. And if the Law of Moses was proven inadequate by its insistence on pattern-keeping, surely the same is true of any pattern-keeping. After all, the problem isn’t the inadequacy of the pattern—the pattern has always been perfect—it’s the inadequacy of humans to truly replicate the pattern! And we’re just as imperfect now as the Israelites were then”, (Guin, Jay. “Beware the Pattern!” New Wineskins. March – April 2010. emp. added).

Christians do have a perfect pattern to follow, of course, and his name is ‘Jesus.’ We therefore also stress the importance of imitating Jesus, who IS our ‘pattern’ (Charles Prince), and we consider what that means on the ground in the course of everyday life (Charme Robarts)” (Fudge, Edward. “About the Issue.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010. emp. added).

Jesus said in John 13:15, “For I have given you a pattern, that you should do as I have done to you.”

Even talking about Jesus as our pattern gives me some pause because our interpretations of his life are limited at best, but perhaps the even greater problem is that it is so easy for us to blithely suggest that Jesus is our pattern, as if we actually do pattern our lives after his. Since I am writing this during Lent and have chosen to think on humility during this season, I am painfully aware of the fact that extolling and admiring the life of Christ is not the same as doing what he did…So, I am a little timid about calling Jesus my pattern. Jesus does what I cannot do. He saves. Thanks be to God”, (Robarts, Charme. “Hosanna – Jesus, Save Us! – A Pattern We Cannot Imitate.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010. emp. added).

The Spirit of Christ said in Romans 6:17-18, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that pattern of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

It would be extremely cruel of our Father to expect us to follow some specific pattern, connecting our very salvation to such an endeavor, and then leave us to assume, infer and deduce what that pattern actually is” (Maxey, Al. “Pondering Patternism.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010. emp. added).

I certainly do not deny the presence of a biblical ‘pattern’ (if one feels compelled to employ such a term) provided by the Father for His children. I believe such a ‘pattern’ is far more specific and limited, and certainly the particulars of it are far less nebulous, than anything produced by sectarians and partyists, however. Mankind is not left to assume, deduce or infer the Father’s will or intent, debating the parameters of it endlessly” (Maxey, Al. “Pondering Patternism.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010).

John spoke by the Spirit saying in 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

I’ve been uneasy with the idea of patternism for most of my adult life. As my co-writers have shown, the glowing picture of patternism is at odds with the results. The idea that there are patterns in Scripture that every (pure-hearted!) person can and will accept as templates for church polity and everyday Christian living for all times and places has just not worked out”, (Robarts, Charme. “Hosanna – Jesus, Save Us! – A Pattern We Cannot Imitate.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010. emp. added).

The theology of patternism essentially contends that we today must of necessity imitate the specific practices of the first century disciples of Christ in order to enjoy both fellowship and salvation. Yes, there are times when it is the path of wisdom to walk in the steps of those who have successfully led the way. I agree that, with respect to our walk with Christ, imitation is quite often a very vital aspect of our spiritual journey. Indeed, we may even say it is essential” (Maxey, Al. “Pondering Patternism.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010).

“Just as God provided Moses an exact pattern for building the Tabernacle, said the Campbells, so he had provided an exact pattern for his people to follow when restoring the apostolic church of the first century. And if people of good will would only use their common sense, the Campbells believed (following the steps of the English philosopher John Locke), they would soon discover that divine pattern and agree on its details. [New paragraph] But there was a flaw in the Campbells’ proposal.” (Fudge, Edward. “How It Happened: Some Historical Perspective.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010).

The Holy Spirit teaches us 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.

“Paul urged the saints in Philippi, ‘Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us’ (Philippians 3:17). To the Corinthians he wrote, ‘Therefore I urge you, be imitators of me. This is why I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus’ (1 Corinthians 4:16-17). ‘Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:1). The writer of Hebrews gave this wise counsel: ‘Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith’ (Hebrews 13:7)” (Maxey, Al. “Pondering Patternism.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010. emp. added).

“As mentioned earlier, Paul declared he followed Christ Jesus, and urged us to do the same. Patterning ourselves after Paul simply suggests imitating his resolve to pattern himself after Jesus. Patterning ourselves after those who lived spiritually successful lives simply means we exhibit the same faith and faithfulness they did” (Maxey, Al. “Pondering Patternism.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010).

Christ’s Spirit says in 1 Corinthians 4:16-17, “Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.”

Of all the patterns and paradigms we (the Churches of Christ) could have chosen to emphasize, it was the first-century-church-model that became the blueprint on which we built our church. We became students of the church in Jerusalem, Corinth, and Rome. We modeled ourselves and our congregations after those congregations. We set about the challenging work of replicating in modern times the ancient and primitive rites of first century faith and practice. We identified and catalogued the early churches’ modes of worship, methods of outreach and cooperation, their structures for leadership, the names by which they called themselves, the ethical standards by which they lived, and the means by which they expressed and maintained community”, (Woodroof, Tim. “A Pattern to Lean On.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010).

In fact, the New Testament does not show us a uniform picture of church life, organization, worship, steps of salvation or names of the church. Instead, it presents us with a variety of expressions of community life in the Spirit”, (Fudge, Edward. “About the Issue.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010).

I also freely acknowledge that the Bible lays out a clear ‘pattern of behavior’ for the disciple of Christ. It is contained in specific precepts and principles that portray the nature of our walk in the light” (Maxey, Al. “Pondering Patternism.”New Wineskins. March – April 2010).

Listen to Paul’s divinely guided words in Philippians 3:12, 17, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me…Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.”

Here are more flawed characterizations of the teachings from the churches of Christ:

“By their reckoning, silence does not mean consent. It means absolute prohibition (‘S’)” (Fudge, Edward. “How It Happened: Some Historical Perspective.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010).

“If there is no verse in the New Testament writings that says the first century disciples clapped during the singing of a hymn, then God help that poor teenager who dares to violate the ‘proper procedure’ governing praise!Legalistic Patternism. There is no verse in the New Testament documents that specifically states any first century disciple used instrumental accompaniment to his/her singing of praises. Therefore, those who use such today are going straight to hell.Legalistic Patternism” (Maxey, Al. “Pondering Patternism.” New Wineskins. March – April 2010).

“For example, most patternists dismissed as irrelevant some commands that were inconvenient (such as feet-washing) or shaped by culture (such as a holy kiss or a woman’s veil). They made other commands, which were originally intended for limited application (such as Paul’s Gentile collection for poor Judeans), into permanent, universal law. They declared some historical events, however incidental, to be binding as ‘approved examples (such as Paul’s weekend bread-breaking at Troas). But they dismissed as unimportant other events recorded in the same biblical context (such as eating in an upper room)” Edward Fudge’s article “How It Happened: Some Historical Perspective” (New Wineskins. March – April 2010).

The Spirit of Truth says in 3 John 11, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.”

Patternism