I am apostate

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

Or at least abstained from gathering with the saints.

It has been six months, two weeks and two days since I have been to church.

I have forsaken the assembly.

Well, not totally. I still pray for my church family. I still pray for people who are not in my church family, but who feel like family. Surely they need Your help as much.

You see, that’s where I’m having this problem. I haven’t lost faith in You, Father; nor your Son; nor your Holy Spirit. I’ve lost faith in your church. The Bride of Christ. At least, I’ve lost faith in the way we’ve conducted ourselves.

As if we’re just married one or two hours of one day every week.

But that’s not all, either. I also feel like when we gathered to worship, it’s all about us. The songs we like to sing. The scriptures we like to read. The prayers we like to repeat. The sermons we like to hear. The gifts we like to put in the collection plate. The potlucks and activities we like to participate in. All in the building we like to have around us with the pews we like to sit in.

I’m just not at all sure that’s what You meant by “church” or “assembly.” I’m not convinced You intended for it to happen once or twice a week, every week, with the same rituals played out over and over with the same words spoken and sung and prayed. I’m not positive that the gifts we give should be largely funding a building and its expenses or even a ministry staff. I’m not certain any of that equates to worship.

Because it feels like, if that’s what worship is, we can only do it then and there and when we’re all together, and I don’t find that to be the case in scripture.

And I have to wonder if the time of worship in a specific place at a specific time with everyone gathered was supposed to end when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed just as Jesus of Nazareth, your Son, predicted. That worship was to be constant, and prayer was to be constant, and singing was to be constant in our hearts — whether we’re alone or together in our homes or a borrowed place or on a seashore or a mountainside or a plain or wherever.

I get the picture that our gifts should be blessing the hungry and sick and poor and homeless. That there wouldn’t be as many of them and the destitution wouldn’t be so extreme if we weren’t spending our gifts otherwise. Mostly on ourselves.

I’m just not comfortable with the way we’ve been conducting ourselves as your family and the Bride of your Son.

I don’t preach anymore because it feels that my life should be the sermon seen and heard by those who aren’t familiar with You, or have had an awful experience with people like me who preached You but didn’t live You or love like You or bless others like You do.

I can’t see myself doing it the old way anymore. I’m spending more time, I think, with people who don’t really know You; people who feel like family whom You would love to hear calling you “Father,” and trying to drop hints to them that they’re loved and You’re listening and that You care.

I feel more at home among my fellow sinners, Father; You know I do.

And I don’t even know whether to be sorry about that.

I know that your family still gathering will be fine without me there. They don’t need to see my doubt and hear my lack of faith in church as they love it. I still love them, and I miss them, and I just can’t be there for them the way I used to be any longer. It’s not their fault or your fault or anyone’s fault, as near as I can tell — not even mine.

I’m just different in my doubt now.

I still believe in them, too; and that they will do much good and their hearts will worship You and people will be blessed.

That’s what I needed to confess. I will never forget what your Son said or did or gave for us, nor cease to be grateful for it, nor will I ever give up on church altogether.

I’m just with a different church now. The one that doesn’t really know You yet. The one willing to shake any preconception of the way church is or must be in order for You to be pleased and worshiped.

I want to hang with them, and be less of myself and more like You. Loving. Accepting. Gracious. Forgiving. The nonconformist who fishes for men and shepherds people and shares meals and tries to help heal brokenness.

That’s my confession, Father. I may be totally wrong and off-base, and if so, I’m doubly triply sorry. But I can’t believe in church as church is done right now, and I have to try something else.

Lord, help my unbelief.

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.

I Will Get In Trouble For This

I just read the first two sections of Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways, and I know I will have a difficult time proceeding.

There are plenty of books in the market today which analyze the market in which Christianity currently finds itself and each one’s author feels certain that he or she has discerned the way in which Christians need to conduct the commerce of Christ in it.

The way.

And that’s where I have the problem.

Superimposing what may have worked in one culture, time, or place – even in the first century – and concluding that it is the way for the church to work here and now.

As managing editor for New Wineskins, as a blogger, as a member of the support staff for the ministry at a good-sized metro church, as a dad and a husband and just as a follower of Christ … I have read a few of these books. Many have superb points to make. Some may even be inarguable. A few might even be, dare I say, inspired – in some way, at least. Not all of them claim to be the way to do church in 21st century America, but virtually all leave that strong implication.

I admire the credentials of many of these authors. I cannot help but salute their attempts to write toward that goal. And I tend to believe that the motivation of most of them is pure – they truly, deeply want to help promote the story of Christ in a world that is increasingly unfamiliar with Him and uncaring about Him. Most are not in the business of writing these books to be in the business of making money writing these books.

Part of the problem is that I have a background in marketing, advertising, public relations, and journalism.

There is no such thing as a single, contiguous, uniform, universal, predictable, cross-sectionable, profilable, 21st century America. (Hirsch’s work recognizes this, but it does not seem to deter him from coming to his conclusions – many of which I happen to agree with, so far.)

So the attempt to lock down the way to do church in 21st century America is like trying to manufacture one-size-fits all unisex underwear, or a single-color skin-tone adhesive bandage.

And the other main part of the problem I have with this genre of books is that I feel not only is the target missed, but that the wrong target is being aimed at.

The target they’re aiming at – one way or another – is “doing church.” Not always, but often. The emphasis is on analyzing and contextualizing and revolutionizing and rethinking and reparadigm-ing and reimagining.

What’s the right target?

I think it’s being Christ in the world. And many of the books I’ve read refer to this, though too many refer to it as a way that should form and inform doing church, as if that were the target – just as too many books of a previous generation refer to doing church right as the way to be Christ in the world. There’s nothing essentially wrong with reading – or writing – about those things. But reading, writing, thinking, pondering, discussing, and debating is time-consuming. Could that time be better spent?

My friend David Underwood is always encouraging me to write a book. The reason I haven’t been able to, David, is that I am afraid I will end up writing a book that is essentially no different in its target than any of the ones I’ve already read – and far less informed. Far too much of what I’ve written on this blog has been concerned with the way of doing church right.

There is one Way; one Truth; one Life.

We need to be living it.

I need to be living it.

If we do, church will follow. We’ll gather because we can’t help ourselves. We love each other; we love God through His Son Jesus, the Christ. Getting those two life passions together in our lives will be inevitable.

We’ll worship Him because we simply can’t avoid it. We’ll spend time in His word in order to know how; what pleases Him most and we’ll do it because it will become second nature to us. We’ll accommodate what speaks to others in worship and they’ll participate in what speaks to us in worship because we are completely given over to our love for God and His children. We’ll get together in groups with whom we naturally communicate, and we’ll be driven by our love for others with whom we don’t – to the point where we’ll get together in groups with them, too.

We will be unable to NOT worship, because our lives will be continual worship – giving of self to others out of devotion to them and to God.

This “method” isn’t reductionism. It’s just simple. It isn’t doctoral-thesis-in-ecclesial-missiology stuff.

It’s the nature of Christ and you can find it in any Bible.

And it’s what we need to be all about.

The church at Philippi began differently from the church at Ephesus, or Jerusalem, or Corinth. They worshiped in different places: by the river then at Lydia’s house; at a synagogue and then at a lecture hall; at the temple and from house to house; at a synagogue and then at the synagogue ruler’s house. They may have worshiped differently: how often they shared the communal meal, in what way, how many spoke and for how long.

The plain fact is, there are modern ways of being Christ that work for modern people. There are post-modern ways of being Christ that work for post-modern people. The measure of effectiveness for any way of being Christ is not solely quantiative, nor is it solely qualitative. There are right ways to worship God, and there are wrong ways. There are right ways to communicate His Story to others, and there are wrong ways.

There is no single “right” way to “do church.”

I know this is not the position that a lot of folks will want me to take. Some will want me to say that God has spoken clearly, we have understood perfectly, and if we do not worship Him as a church in the way we have “always” worshiped, we will go to hell and take innocent converts with us. Others will want me to say that we should be open to any way that one can worship – whatever works for any given person is okay with God even if it seems absurd to others; and too many souls are being lost because we don’t encourage them to worship any way they want to – for instance, as gatherings of gay pride.

I can’t say either of those things.

I can only recommend constantly referring to scripture – not as a cookie-cutter pattern, but as a guide revealing as much of God’s will for us as we must have – and constantly supplicating the Holy Spirit – not as a magic 8-ball – but as the very presence of the God who wants us to have answers to our questions about serving Him, and also wants us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

On this Independence Day, I wish we could declare independence from the tyranny of both the idea that “the old way isn’t working and must be changed” and the idea that “the way we’ve always done it is the only right way.”

That’s all I can recommend, whether I write a long, expensive book about it or a medium-long, free blog post:


And I will almost certainly get in trouble for it.

Gonna Need More Fingers

Some time back when I blogged about being “written up” in a neighboring church’s bulletin (it was just a mention, mind you), I didn’t understand at the time that my critiqued comments violated a standard tenet of belief for some of my ultraconservative brothers and sisters in Christ …

Namely, that there are only five acts of worship that are authorized by God in scripture, and any more or less than those, performed in gathered worship, is an abomination guaranteed to incur His displeasure and wrath:

Let me hold my hand up before you and let the palm of this hand represent man’s soul – the soul of man lifted up to commune with God in worship. Just as God saw the palm needed something else, and added the fingers to it, so God in the New Testament, seeing man’s condition, said, “Man’s soul as it reaches up to adore me and my son needs some avenues and I am going to point out what these are.”

He did just this very simply and very clearly. Just as there are five fingers there, so in the New Testament the soul of man reaches up in worship and communion with God through five channels, (1) singing, (2) praying, (3) studying, (4) giving of means, and (5) partaking of the Lord’s Supper. All five of these are specified in the New Testament but these are the only five. And, I am sure we will say that as the One who made the palm best knew how to make the fingers, so the one who made man’s soul knew best the avenues which this soul needed to commune with God.

~ James Baird, “Why Do Churches of Christ Use Only Vocal Music?”,
Oft-Asked Questions, p. 122
(Western Christian Foundation, Inc.; Wichita Falls, Texas)

You’ll find the same view propounded by James E. Laird in the same book of sermons, p. 152: “The Savior … made it clear that their worship should consist of singing God’s praise, giving of their means, praying unto God, teaching his Word and observing the Lord’s Supper. But that worship had not much more than been given until the devil counterfeited it.”

And, of course, you’ll find it on pp. 393-4 of Goebel Music’s Behold the Pattern.

Now I understand why part of my writing in my own church bulletin was criticized. I had said:

Some ways that you worship God are probably really different than some ways I do. A few of mine wouldn’t make sense to you or ‘speak’ to you at all; and vice-versa. My guess is that I don’t have a right to require you to adopt mine any more than you should expect me to adopt yours.

Simple logic and the five-finger rule will lead you to the conclusion that there are five and only five ways to worship, and if you’re not doing all of them or doing more than five of them, you are sinning, so there can’t be ways that I worship but that you don’t.

That’s probably why my partial quote was labeled a “counter-view”; oppositional to the critic’s “truth.” (See this or this and decide for yourself if I’m guessing correctly.)

There’s an attraction, admittedly, to having only five things to do and being able to check them off on one day out of the week and feel confident you have done all that God requires; that you’re right about it; that you’re saved – and that you don’t have to do anything else because you really shouldn’t.

Plus, you can oppose anything you don’t like – pictorial powerpoints or worship leading teams or videos or drama or clapping – because they are not “authorized.”

But worship is not that simple or easy.

If you’ve read my blog for long – especially the post A Life of Worship – you understand that I cannot accept all worship as being limited to the fingers of one hand nor to only one day of the week.

As Christians, I believe, we are to live out our sacrificial worship all the time (Romans 12:1). If we take that literally – and I believe we’re meant to – then whatever we do in word or act, we are to do it in the name of Jesus and with thanksgiving to the Father (Colossians 3:17. That’s the back half of one of the verses quoted so much about singing. Isn’t our service to God also worship?)

Christians of century one met and served and grew daily (Acts 2:45-47, 6:1, 16:5, 17:11, 17:17, 19:9). A single reference, Acts 20:7, suggests Christians met on the first day of the week to break bread but actually celebrated the Lord’s Supper after midnight on the next day; another, 1 Corinthians 16:2, only advises that “each” set aside a sum of money on that first day, not “all together” or “as an assembly.” Meeting on the first day has a special significance, reflecting Jesus’ victory over the tomb, I grant – but it was not the one and only day Christians met in century one.

I read that we are to continually confess His name and offer a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). In fact, I believe the verse implies that confessing – both our own sins and His sinlessness; our lacks and His sufficiency – is praise and worship to God.

Romans 15:7 leads me to believe that imitating Christ by accepting each other as He accepted us brings glory to God, too. So it would seem that practicing unity is worship.

You’ll find that fasting is connected with worship in the life of the church as well, whether commissioning missionaries (Acts 13:2-4) or appointing elders (Acts 14:23), as well as being something which the Lord practiced (Matthew 4:2), gave instructions about (Matthew 6:15-17) and predicted that His followers would do (Matthew 9:14-15).

I also believe that, in New Testament scripture as well as Old, worship is a verb which stands on its own, as well as being the intention of other verbs like “to pray” or “to sing” or “to confess/share the word.” People in the Bible sometimes felt compelled to worship – and other than the kneeling or prone posture they took, we have little clue what that might involve. These exceptional moments of intimate, private communion with and obeisance before God may well be worship at its purest, since there are no other words describing them. (The New Testament references alone in which the word “worship” is used without modification are too numerous to list here.)

(And while we’re talking about a posture of prayer, is there anything that is prohibiting us from fulfilling Paul’s desire that at least the men among us lift up holy hands while doing so, in every place, whether a place of worship or not (1 Timothy 2:8?)

In larger measure, though, it makes sense to me that whatever we choose to do, whether we all agree on it or not (like eating and drinking or abstaining, I Corinthians 10:31), we should do all to the glory of God. It makes sense to me that when we use whatever gifts He has given, serving Him in any way, we should – and do – give God glory, and it is therefore worship (1 Peter 4:10-11).

So if we’re going to start enumerating all of the possible “acts of worship,” we’re gonna need more fingers than five.

And more than one day out of each week.

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?

Is Patternism Scriptural?

There’s a school of thought which holds that the church today should conform to the pattern of the New Testament church of century one – exactly, precisely, explicitly, with no variations and no questions asked. If the church of century one did it, we must do it. If the church of century one did not do it, we must not do it.

It sounds simple. It sounds scriptural.

But is it?

I’m not a fan of nitpicking phrases or counting words, but I gotta tell you that I only count a little over a dozen times in the Bible that a word translated “pattern” is used. Most of those uses are with reference to the temple, its fixtures, or other edifices. (Exodus 25:9, 40; Numbers 8:4; Joshua 22:8; 2 Kings 16:10; 1 Chronicles 28:11-19; Ezekiel 43:10; Hebrews 8:5 and 9:24.)

The only two times it is used in reference to doctrine are 1 Timothy 1:16:

Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

and Titus 2:7-8:

In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.

The latter appears only by virtue of the King James Version, which is usually the favored version of those who hold for the patternism school of thought; other translations render the word differently (“example”). And the sense of its use in Titus is Paul encouraging the young minister to teach sound doctrine (v. 1) and be an example of it – a pattern – to others (the verses quoted).

Similarly, in 1 Timothy, Paul opens this epistle with thanksgiving that through Paul Christ has shown His patience, by sparing him and making him an example of exorbitant grace.

In neither instance is the word used to endorse churches imitating other churches of the day. In fact, a word translated “imitate” is used sparingly in scripture. In the New Testament, Paul will ask others to imitate him, but only insofar as he imitates Christ – or to be imitators of God Himself. And even though Corinth is commended for its generosity, the commendation is seen in the second letter to Corinth – not to other churches, to shame or encourage them to imitate it.

Nowhere in scripture is any church, group of churches or the universal church of Christ held up as a pattern to be imitated. Nowhere in scripture is doctrine elevated as something to be used as the goal for building churches from, as one would build a temple from the instructions God gave to Moses.

Instead, Jesus is the pattern implicit in the teachings of the writers in the New Testament. Ultimately, no one and nothing less than His perfection will do as our pattern.

Can we, as individuals, achieve perfection by our fastidious observation of doctrine?

Oh, come on. Ridiculous question on its face, isn’t it?

Then how could anyone hope to build a perfect church by the same method?

And are any of the churches in the New Testament perfect examples of what a church should and must be?

A quick perusal of the epistles to churches and regions – including the seven in the book of Revelation – would have to yield the answer, “no.”

So, if you’re instructed by someone to “Behold the Pattern!”, ask them pointedly where they get that. Ask them to point out to you where in scripture churches are instructed to use other churches as patterns. Ask them to cite book, chapter and verse for a command, an example or a necessary inference that doctrine is to be used to build and perfect churches.

Then show that person verse after verse about the commands Christ gave; the example Christ was; and the necessary inference that we are to be like Him in this world if we would be wondrously like Him in the next.

The Restoration Movement should never be focused on making the church of century one the pattern for the church of century nineteen or twenty or twenty-one. It should be focused on Christ, and restoring the relationship of souls to God through Him by letting Him perfect them – and their churches – through His blood.

That’s scriptural.

You can prove it.