The New Patternism?

I just commented on Jay Guin’s excellent blog (on the topic of George Barna/Frank Viola’s Pagan Chrisitanity? and church autonomy):

Is it morally wrong to have (or serve under) a hierarchical system of church government? Is congregational – or even city-wide – autonomy morally superior?

I have another problem, and it’s with Pagan Christianity? (the new version; the only one I’ve read).

Why is the church model that Barna and Viola insist upon the one at Corinth? If we want to resort to true first-century primitivism, why not the church at Jerusalem at the end of Acts 2? Why not meet every day – at homes and at our places of worship? stick to the apostles’ teachings, have fellowship, pray, break bread, and even sell our possessions and give to the poor?

To me, all of the debate over church structure falls into the category of time misspent. Go be Christ to the world, and let church be church … whenever, wherever Christians gather to worship and serve God. Let the shepherds lead by following Christ, and let the flock follow.

Apologies to Dr. McCoy in Star Trek VI, but this ain’t rocket surgery.

Yes, I think it’s very interesting that all kinds of writers are returning to scripture – even at the cost of cherished church tradition – to seek out the way God wants followers of Christ to gather, worship, self-govern, structure hierarchy and a gazillion other things. And that some are coming to conclusions that are similar and sometimes identical to conclusions that Restoration leaders of more than a century ago formulated.

At the same time, I see a gathering danger that all it may lead to is Patternism, Wave II. (I pray I’m wrong.)

Face it folks, if we try to use scripture as some sort of blueprint to build a structure on our own foundation – or as a roadmap to a destination short of the one God intends for us, which is at home, with Him forever – we are tempting failure and arrogance and the lure of having the knowledge of good and evil … and sin.

There is one pattern. He is Jesus, the Christ.

We are to follow Him. If that seems too difficult, we can follow evangelists like Paul, or shepherds who follow Him. They are to lead us to Him.

That is the purpose of scripture, too. If we can come closer to being Christ in this world, I feel confident that the rest will fall into place: God will govern us. He will be our King. We will serve in His kingdom. Absent clear, specific commandments in scripture – however we do that under His Kingship seems to have been left up to us, hasn’t it? (It is a simple plan that has the virtue of never having been tried … for about the last 1900 years.)

Trying to make a blueprint or roadmap out of scripture leaves us with a document that is full of holes and blank spaces, because that isn’t its purpose. God could have easily filled in all the specifics we want to know about what to do, and how, where and when. (It would have been a GARGANTUAN document, yet He could have.) But He doesn’t. He tells us who He is, and expresses His desire for us to seek Him.

The holes and blank spaces are part of His design:

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. – Genesis 2:19-20, emphasis mine

God could have foreknown what the man would name the critters, but He wanted to see. From the beginning, He gave us choice, in order to see what we would choose after having become aware of His goodness and love toward us.

So He doesn’t answer every specific question about who, what, when, where or how we are to do.

He shows us Whom we need to be.

At the same time, God didn’t give Moses a map of the wilderness and turn him loose to make the best sense of it that he could and somehow reach the promised land. No, God went with Moses and Israel (and led them in circles when they disobeyed) until He brought them where He wanted them to be all along.

He does the same with us – He gives us His very Spirit within to help us find His nature within a volume of collected works that is neither blueprint nor roadmap – but biography … the story of God and us.

Why do we still think that searching the scripture in order to “do church right” will somehow lead us closer to God, rather than trying to be more like God in Christ, and just seeing where it leads us?

If we start filling in the holes and blank spaces the way we think they should be filled, where will that lead us?

Patternism presumes that there is only one “right” way to “do church” or anything else, and that God has encrypted it in scripture, and given us rational minds to correctly decrypt it and then follow it or else. There are no holes, no blank spaces. And silence gives condemnation.

Was there only one “right” name for each animal that Adam named?

Is there only one “right” way for groups of God’s people to be governed under His sovereignty – centralized or autonomous? If so, which one is it?

On questions like these, patternism says we can and must know – and must condemn all dissenters – or be damned ourselves.

Grace says we can and must reflect God’s love and righteousness.

We’ve been given choice. It’s a simple one to make.

Ain’t no rocket surgery.

17 thoughts on “The New Patternism?

  1. Thanks Keith great post! If we consider Scripture through the eyes of Jesus we might arrive at different conclusions. If we look at Scripture through Jesus eyes we see Scripture introducing the Lamb of God. Maybe we ought not trust our own understanding but rather put faith in Jesus.

  2. You should check out what Ben Witherington has been writing on Pagan Christianity. You would really get a lot out of his three or four blog posts on it. Really, really well done over at his blog.I think there are some really refreshing things coming in church leadership in order to meet growing needs and concerns. We also have a generation of young people who didn’t grow up in the church and when they become the leaders there will be some interesting happenings and I have a feeling a lot of it will come straight from scripture.

  3. Great post! You are right, God could have given us a rule book! But why would he? I thought of my children as I was reading your post. They could have done everything I wanted them to do to the letter! But would they just be carbon copies of me and not themselves in that instance? Why can’t they be themselves and take what I give them and learn on their own and be their own within boundaries I set for them! Then when they tell me they love me, I know it is from their heart. I think God is the same way. He could have made carbon copies of himself in each one of us. But what fun would that be to see us grow up all the same, without our own personalities? In this instance, when we tell him we love him, wouldn’t it be just part of the rule and not from our heart? I think God gives us his Spirit and some guidelines in scripture, but not a rule book. When I quit trying to make scripture a rule book and only guidelines with His Spirit, I have found peace and fulfillment and freedom in Christ. He works through me everyday and I worship him in all I do, not just the two hours on Sunday morning! Keep the posts coming! They are incredible.

  4. Good post. There was a lot of “buzz” about Pagan Christianity when it came out, but a lot of the reviews have left me cold. I decided I would waste a precious shekel on it, since it seemed to really only be more of the same.Jimmy Allen was one of my professors at Harding School of Biblical Studies, and he sometimes said “you’re going to follow some pattern.” His point was that even those who criticized “patternism” had a pattern in mind.I do look to Scriptures for guidance on faith and practice, including church organization and leadership. I just don’t take my conclusions about these things as seriously as the Good News itself any longer. I’ve been wrong, and could be wrong now, about a lot of things.I loved your point about God going with us. Excellent.

  5. Keith, great thoughts…… usual! I concur with you completely. Here were my 2 biggest take-aways from the book.A) I hate that SO MUCH time and ink was spent on something that SO LITTLE scripture is dedicated to……the corporate worship time. But then again, haven’t we also put SO MUCH of our time on this subject and built our doctrines based on this same conversation? I think so. B) The thing I appreciated about the book is that these men took the time and energy to really research WHY we do most of the things we do in regards to the corporate worship time. It’s not a pretty picture, and nobody usually takes the time to ask WHY we have these practices. So, I think it’s a good thing to stop from time to time and recalibrate and ask important questions……and then make changes if we need to. We do that in our personal lives, don’t we? That aspect of the book I am thankful for. Thanks for bringing up this discussion, bro!DU

  6. “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”I believe this statement may well apply to the CoC of today.Isa 44:6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I [am] the first, and I [am] the last; and beside me [there is] no God.CoC Christian reply; “God you know very well that there are three of you, and all are equal.” THE TRINITY “why would you tell us there is only one God?”Jn:14:28: Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.CoC Christian reply; “ Jesus you may tell us that God is greater than you, but we know you are just being modest, Why would you tell us that? When all along we know you are Jehovah in the flesh not just an image”It has gotten to where the CoC Christian will argue with anybody, even God or Christ

  7. laymond,Actually, it seems to me that using a couple prooftexts out of their context in a way that sets us at odds with the rest of the church universal would be more in keeping with Church of Christ tradition than anything else.

  8. Adam I don’t believe the following statements are ever out of context, when spoken by the quoted speakers.“and beside me [there is] no God” Jehovah “for my Father is greater than I.” Jesus Christ

  9. Awesome post! I especially loved the part where you talked about God leading Moses and Israel-something I really needed to read right now.Thanks for continuing to challenge us and make us think deeper!

  10. i am glad some people recognize this, within a generation or two, emergentism (for example) will be codified and crystalized (against the wishes of many in the “conversation”), but it will happen nonetheless.what is new will become old, and the church will seek out what was once old

  11. blogprophet,People will “codify” (make rules) the Christian experience as long as they believe that their right standing with God depends primarily upon what they do and how and when they do it rather than being dependent upon what Christ has already done.Some understand and some do not. I trust that God is more gracious than the enormity of our pooled ignorance.His peace,Royce

  12. The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at < HREF="" REL="nofollow"><>It’s also available on Frank is also blogging now at < HREF="" REL="nofollow"><>

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