You May Not Believe This, But …

… I just finished reading a book titled Behold the Pattern by Goebel Music night before last.

It’s not a book you’ll likely find advertised on the Web pages of New Wineskins, to be sure. It’s not a book you’d see on a recommended reading list on my blog, if I had such a list.

I wanted to read it because it espouses a point of view I find difficult to understand, and I thought it might help me understand that point of view better. I’ve tried a couple of times before, but kept getting bogged down in it. This time, I’ve completed reading it.

It was an eye-opener – when I wasn’t cringing.

I grew up attending at a church in Indianapolis that was considered liberal and lost by at least a couple of other congregations in the same fellowship, you see. I heard sermons about grace from the time I was old enough to pay attention. I also heard sermons about obedience there, and those sermons were one and the same. But grace was the complete gift of God, including the faith that was its catalyst and the works that channeled its power. It all balanced out.

In fact, I think that balance in what I heard was a strong factor in my decision to put on Christ at the tender age of nine – a time when Edmund Gwenn’s Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street might have observed that I was “too young to be guilty of much of anything.”

I find that balance to be something the author seeks to claim, if not to achieve, but cannot get over his own extremism and certainty of belief in order to do so. That he is an extraordinary Biblical scholar, I could never deny – but neither could I deny that his work is riddled with logical fallacies which arise from his predispositions. They call into question his judgment in other areas of the book which, in another work, would appear quite sound.

And I have no doubt that at least some of the “false prophets” he is eager to call out five chapters into the 660-page volume are guilty of some extremism in their views as well. It’s been my experience that when the pendulum has swung way too far in one direction, it often swings way too far in the opposite – and the folks that the author “marks” for their “uncertain sounds” are reacting to years of unyielding legalism.

Uncertainty is not something that characterizes the author. He is certain of every conclusion he has reached, no matter how tenuously rooted in scripture or the very nature of God, from the very title and concept of the book to each speaker or author he decries. Patternism, you see, is simply a way of creating a new term for the practice of regarding everything in scripture as law, (p. 627) requiring authority for every action a Christian might pursue, and weighing each possible action as intrinsically right or wrong, pleasing or displeasing to God (p. 358, p. 450).

On that same page, for example, he can confidently state that “The world is not divided over what the Bible says, but over what it does not say (cf. Exod. 3:1-3; John 8:1-11; John 3:1-3; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).” Though none of the scriptures he cites, for the life of me, can I in any way see as helping support his statement. People have always divided over what the Bible says as well as what it does not say. Citing a number of apparently unrelated scriptures is as common to this author as is not using one word where five or six synonyms will do.

Unity, he maintains, can only be achieved by “speaking the same thing” (p. 568) – but to those scriptures he cites you apparently must read in the words “about every possible question or issue.” And that becomes a problematical addition by the time you get to Romans 14 and there are issues man has raised that God doesn’t consider issues. The author simply doesn’t deal with it.

This is not a book in which you will often read of God’s love, mercy or kindness – except in transcriptions of “strange and uncertain” presentations derided by the author – but you will find a constant undertone of His righteousness, jealousy, wrath, displeasure, and justice. Few words are devoted to Christlikeness, devotion, spiritual growth, benevolence, sacrifice and day-to-day discipleship in the explicit decryption of scripture in this volume. There is a short chapter about grace (chapter 15, page 499), but it is a grace that is paired co-equally with law and the author’s logic differentiates between saving works and non-saving works. The next chapter explicitly puts women in their place (p. 516).

In it you will find the classic foundations of patternism: detailed descriptions of the gopher wood argument (p. 368), the Nadab and Abihu argument (p. 101), and the only authoritative hermeneutic (explicit statement, implicit statement, approved example, expediency – pp. 356-358).

I must credit the author with attempting to contact many of those with whom he disagrees before publishing his work … though not necessarily all; he maintains that Matthew 18:15-17 describes only private conflicts (p. 216), pending heavily on the presence of the words “against you,” which your footnote will tell you is not in all original manuscripts. At the same time, I am not sure that some of the methods of contact he endorses are especially effective. Is an invitation to a public debate – with the affirmative and negative positions already phrased to be accepted or rejected, but not revised (p. 335, 627) – the best way to approach someone with whom you disagree? I think not. Nor is sending them a questionnaire on doctrinal soundness (pp. 210-212). Nor is heavy sarcasm (p. 135, pp. 220-221, pp. 234-244) a gently persuasive tactic, in my opinion. (I would tempt sarcasm to point out that on page 447, the author maintains “I am in the pulpit of God, not to … (a long list of items, then) be a comedian” and one sentence later relates a preacher story with a mildly humorous punch line. Okay, now I’ve tempted sarcasm and fallen prey to it. So sue me.)

The fact that the author takes on Rubel Shelly in three different sections of the text indicates to me how deeply betrayed he must have felt at Shelly’s transition in belief.

Al Maxey has said that the author’s book never really does reveal the “pattern” – but I think you can deduce a pretty accurate picture of it from this passage from Behold the Pattern:

But I often have made this challenge, it is only in the New Testament church, the Church of Christ, that a person can believe and practice all these things at the same time. I know of no other group where you can believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, understand the complete difference in the Old and New Testaments (law, rules and regulations), worship in song without mechanical instruments of music, commune upon the first day of every week, practice baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, an immersion into Christ for the remission of sins, be organized by the scriptural government as the New Testament has outlined, have the scriptural name for both the church and the members, having Christ as the only head (no earthly hierarchy or headquarters except in heaven), teaching the relation of the church to the world, being benevolent and evangelistic, etc., etc. As I said before, some may practice one, two or more, but only in The Church of The New Testament, The Church of Christ, can you believe and practice all of the pattern at the same time! (pp. 425-6)

The better side of my nature nudges me to try to contact the author with my observations, as Al has unsuccessfully attempted to do, but I suspect that anyone who publishes a book would naturally expect it to be reviewed from time to time. There was a time many years ago, you see, when he preached for the congregation I now attend. (The two copies I have are gifts from fellow members who respected his scholarship.) I mail a copy of my church’s weekly bulletin to him at the address on the inside back fly of the dust cover. At one point in the book, he fondly recalls a minister whose daughter I married. Despite all of our differences, I feel a kinship in Christ to this often-militant defender of the faith-as-he-sees-it.

And I do owe him a great debt of appreciation for helping me better understand a mindset that I did not often encounter in the environment that reared me. I respect the zeal for scripture and God’s pleasure that so many proponents of patternism display. I wish it found more productive avenues for expression than constructing arguments, denouncing opponents, attempting debates and insisting on its own way.

But the innate self-righteousness and compulsion to attack any dissenting view – both of which seem to accompany patternism in quantity – have the same effect on me as that moment in Miracle on 34th Street when Kris Kringle pops Mr. Shellhammer on the forehead with his cane, hard enough to raise a lump: I cringe. Assault is assault, whether physical or verbal; whether the assaulted is willing to listen first – or not.

The title of the book comes from an obscure passage, Joshua 22:28, in which the two-and-a-half tribes that were distant from the rest built an altar that was a replica of the one at the tabernacle, and it almost caused internecine war. This strikes me as sadly ironic, for the author of Behold the Pattern and those who share his view of scripture would almost certainly have to admit that God never authorized that altar.

Would He have authorized such a book and a way of viewing His Word which sees only His justice, but not His mercy?

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14 thoughts on “You May Not Believe This, But …

  1. I’ve read that…and lived it.So much to say, but I don’t want to hijack your blog.there are these passagesPhp 3:17 – Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 2Ti 1:13 – What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.Of course they have received a poor interpretation in my experience.The passage from the book that you quote sums up what I believe would be agreed to by the majority of the rank and file members of the Church of Christ if asked do you agree with this. The reason for many probably is that is what they have been taught. Maybe I’m wrong on that. I hope I am. I really like that “understand the complete difference in the Old and New Testaments” is core part of the creed. Yet the gopher wood argument and the unauthorized fire arguments always come up. sigh.

  2. I was born in Little Rock and my family attended the church that you now attend until I was 7. Goebel Music was the preacher during that time and in fact he baptized my Dad.When the book first came out while I was in college, I picked up a copy for my Dad. Dad only made it about half-way through before giving it up in sadness and disgust and saying, “I can’t believe that Goebel wrote this.”Of course, I don’t remember what he was like because I was too young. But my parents insist that the man they knew must have gone through something that changed him before he wrote that.It’s just sad to me that anyone can have such a small view of the Creator of the universe. I commend you for getting all the way through it…that’s some fortitude on your part, brother.

  3. Wow, what a post. Thanks for your courage to trudge through this and then share with us your journey. I believe this is the stance my parents, and my husband’s parents to a degree, have taken. I have always believed that partially, their stance came from the times of their lives. Living in the Depression gave them concern for always being “right.” After all, if you were wrong, it could doom you economically, so it only made sense that you had to be right in your religion as well. This has clarified much of this stance for me. We will be visiting my in-laws over the holidays. I plan to take a copy of this post with me to think and re-think through this information to understand better where they are coming from. Fortunately, unlike my parents, my husband can discuss these types of topics with his parents and have a fairly decent discussion. With my parents, it would only rain down “shame” on me because of their disappointment that I have “left the faith.” Who knows, the next visit with my parents may bring courage to discuss with them this topic once again. Thanks again for your courage, wisdom and insight you bring to me that gives me pleasure in knowing that I am forgiven and loved by my Lord because of who He is, not because of what I have (or have not) done. Happy Holidays to you and yours.

  4. I have a copy that sits on my bookself next to the Max Lucado books. Great contrast, hua?I appreciate the review. I’ve read it once. It’s all I could do to read through it once. I appreciate your review and your thoughts on the book.Well done.

  5. Thanks for the review. I agree with most of your observations, Keith, but reading through <>BtP<>, I found this diamond in the. . . rough:“Preach boldly, preach negatively, preach as if you were expecting a response, preach to move the people, preach to rebuke and reprove, preach to the elders, yea, preach on specific sins, preach on the New Testament charge of discipline, etc., etc., and when you do, preach with your bags packed as you will have stirred the people and those under whom you serve!”Peace.

  6. Thanks for the insights, folks!I’ll tell you what, milton, those lines aren’t the only ones in the work which have some real value. I also find myself agreeing with the author’s uncompromising portrayal of the Holy Spirit as a being of the Godhead who literally dwells within us, as opposed to some folks’ notion that the Holy Spirit is no more than a synonym for scripture – a notion he obviously rejects.I understand he wrote an even larger volume about that, and would be interested in reading it … or at least perusing it!

  7. Keith,Many of us have made the mistake of perverting the gospel of Christ. Have you ever considered how alike more traditional churches of Christ are to the Catholics? The things we have made holy essentials have different names but serve the same purpose, they must accompany faith in Christ for one to truely be saved.Sadly, some in our fellowship put teaching about the coC on almost the same level of importance with the story of the passion of Christ. Since we are Restoration folks perhaps we should re-read the book of Acts and see what the gospel message really is. Or better, Who it really is.Thanks for a great post and for your fairness and objectivity, both oft’ weakness of mine.His peace,Royce Ogle

  8. Keith said “Would He have authorized such a book and a way of viewing His Word which sees only His justice, but not His mercy?”One question, who are Christians really hiding from, God or Satan?

  9. The reason Mr. Music cited those passages which you said you can’t “for the life of me” understand is as follows:1. Exodus 3:1-3. People discuss and even debate that type of bush this was and how this miracle was performed. We are not given enough information about the bush or the miracle to draw any definite specific conclusions.2. John 8:1-11. People always ask and want to talk about what Jesus wrote on the ground. It doesn’t say what he wrote on the ground. Why discuss what he might have written?3. John 3:1-3. People often ask and discuss why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. It doesn’t say he was trying to hide his visit to Jesus from the rest of the Pharisees. It is possible that the apostle John implied such, but we can’t really be sure.4. 2 Cor. 12:7-9. People often debate what Paul meant by “thorn in the flesh”. We are not told exactly what it is and it is useless to be dogmatic about it.I hope this helps you, but I honestly doubt you really care. If you really did care, you could have figured these things out for yourself. I guess this is why you don’t understand THE PATTERN. Sigh.

  10. dan22, thanks for clearing that up for me. I do care. If Mr. Music maintains that people who “always ask” and “often debate” these items, as you say, are wasting their valuable time on this planet, I would certainly agree with him.I can’t remember encountering people who have made these arguments over these scriptures – let alone parted fellowship over them – and I’m afraid the arguments you cite did not occur to me when reading these passages. (Maybe we hang out with different people.)If the author had been good enough to take a moment to explain what he meant by citing them, I might have understood.I still maintain that his proposition is fallacious and would repeat: People have always divided over what the Bible says as well as what it does not say.If you feel compelled to sigh at my ignorance of THE PATTERN, may I suggest that THE PATTERN is Christ (< HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=67&chapter=2&verse=21&version=9&context=verse" REL="nofollow">1 Peter 2:21<>), not some logically-decrypted collection of “laws” constructed from New Testament scriptures that were not even settled upon in canonical form for hundreds of years after their writers wrote them. (Did those Christians who lived before this blessing have no hope? Or was it sufficient for their salvation to live like Christ – and, often, to die like Him, too?)And please take note that the pattern written about in these scriptures includes not only teachings (< HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=62&chapter=1&verse=13&version=50&context=verse" REL="nofollow">2 Timothy 2:13<>), but also examples of Christian living (< HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=57&chapter=3&verse=17&version=50&context=verse" REL="nofollow">Philippians 3:17<>, < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=61&chapter=1&verse=16&version=50&context=verse" REL="nofollow">1 Timothy 1:16<>, < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=63&chapter=2&verse=7&version=50&context=verse" REL="nofollow">Titus 2:7<>, < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=59&chapter=1&verse=7&version=9&context=verse" REL="nofollow">1 Thessalonians 7:9<>, < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=60&chapter=3&verse=9&version=9&context=verse" REL="nofollow">2 Thessalonians 3:9<>, < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=67&chapter=5&verse=3&version=9&context=verse" REL="nofollow">1 Peter 5:3<>).I must admit that it is difficult for me to understand and see the faint glow of teachings <>alone<> as THE PATTERN when I, like Paul, am blinded by the overwhelmingly brilliant splendor of Jesus Christ’s example, and the example of those who live and sometimes die in the attempt to reflect His glory.

  11. Pingback: Gonna Need More Fingers | Blog In My Own Eye

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