The Power of Patterns

Leslie Diestelkamp
Brookfield, IL.

The purpose of this article is to show the authorizing and the limiting power of Bible patterns. Certainly patterns do not in any sense overshadow law, but law is often illustrated by examples, and when this is so, then we must be willing to accept the directing power of the example just as we do that of the law.

In Material Things

A lady gives a directive (law) to her dress-maker. She says, "Make me a silk dress, size 14." Then she gives the dressmaker a pattern. How, thereafter, will the dress-maker proceed? Will she know how to make the dress? Suppose the pattern calls for a two-piece dress, with short sleeves. How much liberty does she have in making the dress? May she make long sleeves? Though the original directive said nothing about sleeves at all, everyone knows she must make short sleeves. On the other hand, she must not make the dress without sleeves. Thus we can say that she is licensed to make a dress with sleeves, but she is also forbidden to make one with long sleeves. However, she would be at perfect liberty to choose her own needle, and then make the dress either in the daytime or the night, and on any day of the week.

We could summarize the dress-maker's authority thusly: She is told what to do and the pattern furnishes all the essentials to the doing of it. The pattern becomes a law to her, in that she is, by it, forbidden to do either more or less than it requires. That is, she must be directed by the pattern in everything with which the pattern deals. She has complete liberty in everything with which neither the directive (law) or the paLtern deals.

The Lord's Supper

Jesus gave the directive (law) that his disciples eat bread and drink the fruiL of the vine in memory of him. He said, "This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me" (I Cor. 11:25). In this directive, Jesus requires bread and fruit of the vine, and by the same directive forbids all else. No pattern is needed to authorize use of bread and f,uic oi the vine. Shall the bread be dark or iight in color? Neither the rule nor the paLtern specifies, so we have perfect liberty in that matter. Shall the fruit of the vim be sweet or sour? We are not told, either by law or by pattern, so again we have liberty. Shall we sit or stand while we eat and drink? Both law and example fail to specify, so we may choose for ourselves. How much shall we eat and drink? The command does not say. Then are we in any way limited? Indeed! For the example given in 1 Cor. 11 shows that we are not to eat and drink enough to satisfy fleshly appetites.

But the command of Christ says, "As oft as ye drink it . . ." This suggests a time element, but it does not specifically say what the frequency is to be. how then can we know "how oft" we should eat and drink at the Lord's table? The pattern in Acts 20:7 gives the authority on this matter. There it says, "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread . . . " Thus the directive (law) says, "As oft as ye drink" and the pattern says, "upon the first day of the week." Unquestionably then we are authorized to take the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week. But since the only directive we have on the matter of the time or f requency of taking the Lord's Supper is: "As oft as ye drink it" and the pattern says "upon the first day ot the week," then we can only take it on Sunday with authority. The hour of the day is loosed, but the day of the week is bound-not by command, but by pattern.


Jesus said, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4:24). This is the directive-law. Among the things authorized in worship is singing (Eph. 5:19, etc.). The positive law of God only authorized singing -- not playing. But suppose we could find a pattern -- an example -- of the church singing and playing instrumental music in the New Testament. 'Everyone would admit that such pattern would immediately license us to use the instrument. In the absence of such authority, either in the command or the examples, we are for, bidden to play ("That ye might learn not to go beyond what is written" - I Cor. 4:6-R.V.).


As Christians we are to "visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction" (Jas. 1:27). Does this make the church responsible for the care of all of the earth's unfortunates? Actually the statement written by James can only be applied to individuals. On the other hand, the New Testament does give us patterns of church action in such benevolence. (Acts 6; Acts 11; 2 Cor. 8 & 9). In each case the church is only responsible for needy saints. So, if the "rule" to visit the fatherless and widows is applied with the patterns in mind, we will find the church caring for its own, and all other benevolence will be done -- as far as Christians are concerned-by individuals. We will not involve the church in caring for the world's needy.

Some may think this is out of harmony with the spirit of Christianity, but il is not. It will not minimize benevolence! It will simply keep the church engaged in its primary work of teaching truth, and it will encourage real benevolence on the part of each one of us - benevolence that is more than merely the sending of a few dollars to some other people so that they can do it for us!


In current controversies among brethren, two misleading statements are often made: (1) That everyone agrees that the church is to help all the needy it can care for; (2) And that differences just exist over "how" to do it.

But if we are limited by Bible examples (in this case just as we are regarding the Lord's Supper) we will not find the church knocking upon doors to find the world's needy to care for. Nor will we find Christians shifting their own responsibility to help the unfortunate by urging the church to send a few dollars to some benevolent work. For instance, let the church always be limited in caring for widows by 1 Tim. 5, and let Christians be charged, by the same chapter, to care for those who should not be the burden of the church.

Even with regard to those for whom the church should care, it is not simply a difficulty about "how" to do it. That is, it is not a matter of whether or not the church care for its needy under one roof or under many roof s. It is not a question as to whether or not the church may pay a hospital f or care of a saint. or may pay a furniture store for a bed or a grocery store for food. But the question is: can the church contribute to a hospital, a furniture store or a grocery? Likewise, can the church turn its benevolent work over to some human institution? If we follow patterns in this matter as we do in others, we will find the church making contributions to no human institution. Benevolent, educational and cultural organizations may be supported by individuals as part of our duties and privileges in the home and the community, but those institutions cannot be scripturally supported by the church for they do not engage in the work of the church.

Objections Considered

Some brethren object to the reasoning in this article by saying that patterns cannot always be used to limit us, and the favorite illustration is that Jesus said, "Go", but didn't say how, and since the examples permit only walking, boating, or travel by carriage or on horseback, it would be ridiculous to suppose we are thus limited. But the illustration doesn't illustrate! The means of travel is loosed. We can know this f or two reasons: (1) More than one method of travel is patterned; (2) The means of travel has nothing to do with what is being done. Or, to say it differently, the means of travel and the action are not related except that the means of travel is incidental to obedience.

Now the command is f or the church to care f or needy saints. Whether that is done in their own homes or in a public place is not important. Whether they are given cash or commodities is also incidental. However, it is not incidental when the church delegates its work to another organization. Nor is it incidental when the church begins to contribute to institutions instead of to people.

Nothing but "going" will constitute obedience to Christ's command. Likewise, nothing but the church can do its work, and the church cannot do that which is not its own work. In the case of benevolence it is not really a matter of "how" the work is done, but "who" does it. The church is not doing its work when a human organization does it (though the church is doing its work when it pays such an organization for services rendered to one for whom the church is obligated). Nor is the church doing its work when it assumes responsibilities that do not belong to it.


With regard to evangelism the pattern is simple. The church (and several churches) sent directly to the evangelist. (2 Cor. 11 and Phil. 4). In no case did a church contribute to another church (except to meet a physical need of the receiving church). Each church did its own work and sent unto the needs of the gospel evangelists. The following illustrations will simplify understanding of this truth and also will show clearly how this is abused today.

(Webmaster's note: The original article had a chart here.)

"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Tim. 5:21).

Truth Magazine I:4, pp. 4-5, 19
January, 1957