… 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?