By Ron Halbrook
The only sure and safe way to avoid all forms of religious idolatry is to follow the New Testament pattern of faith and practice. Unity blesses those who adhere to that standard. Naturally, they will be separated from all who act upon some other principle. The Holy Spirit admonished first-century Christians to hold fast the form or “pattern of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13). The pattern was binding and exclusive, not optional. Timothy was to charge hearers to “teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3).
The message inspired by the Holy Spirit was first proclaimed through apostolic men, then presented in writing. This inspired Word constituted the pattern. “These things write I unto thee . . . that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:14-15). The things proclaimed by apostolic men and presented in writing by them were all-sufficient, and binding for all ages (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:12-15). The pattern of sound words revealed the will of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the life and work of Jesus Christ; the scheme of redemption; the conditions of pardon; the graces of godliness to be developed in our lives; the origin, work, worship, organization, doctrine, and discipline of the church; and the hope of eternal life.
Many churches of Christ are slipping away from the New Testament pattern and separating themselves from the Lord (Rev. 2:5). An excellent tract by Cecil Willis identifies “The Taproot of Digression: No-Pattern-Ism.”
The history of man is the history of his digressions from God’s divine will. Man has, at one time or another, perverted and polluted every divine provision of God. He has corrupted the sacred worship, distorted the organization of the church, and perverted the divine mission of the church. Again and again, man has changed the unchangeable. Herein has been the source of a multitude of digressions.
Brother Willis then explained, “The basic assumption of the digressive is that there is no New Testament binding pattern.” The question of “freedom” and “unity” are always raised by the digressive. He wants “freedom” to change the New Testament pattern, and considers those who deny this freedom as disturbers of the peace. Faithful men recognize that in adhering to the pattern there is freedom from the chaos of idolatry. Either there is a pattern or there is not; here are two irreconcilable concepts of what it means to serve God.
Leroy Garrett argues, “Those who look for a ‘fixed pattern’ might well give up their search. There is no pattern of Christian worship in the Scriptures.” There being no pattern of what must be done, none of the following can be excluded: “coffee and doughnut session” as part of “social or corporate worship,” “children’s church,” “a symbolic candle-lighting to enhance the Supper,” “choirs,” “counseling and group therapy,” and, of course, instrumental music (Restoration Review, October, 1978, pp. 142-146). Garrett thrilled to report, “A church of Christ in the Dallas area recently had a candle lighting as part of its worship and edification” (p. 160). It is not deviation from the pattern which causes division, he says; rather, the “fatal error” is “restorationism, ” the idea that “the New Testament constitutes a fixed pattern,” also called “legalism” (p. 148). Carl Ketcherside reports that he had a private, true conversion experience 27 March 1951, escaping “legalism and tradition,” while Robert Meyers explained that he only gradually reached “the wisdom of uncertainty,” “Christian” agnosticism, the concept that “one can never know very much for sure” (pp. 152-158). These men have tested the heady wine of no-pattern-ism and gotten gloriously drunk on it.
In discussing “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things,” a young preacher named Alexander Campbell (17881866) wrote in 1825 that before inquiring “what was the ancient order of worship . . . it may be expedient to consider whether there be any divinely authorized worship in the assembly of the saints.” He saw two irreconcilable answers: ‘Either there is a divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies, or there is not. ” Campbell then reduced no-pattern-ism to its logical absurdity, as follows:
On the supposition that there is not, then the following absurdities are inevitable. There can be no disorder in the Christian assembly, there can be no error in the acts of social worship; there can be no innovation in the department of observances; there can be no transgression of the laws of the King. For these reasons, viz. Where there is no order established there can be no disorder, for disorder is acting contrary to established order; where there is no standard there can be no error, for error is a departure or a wandering from a standard; where there is nothing fixed there can be no innovation, for to innovate is to introduce new things amongst those already fixed and established; and where there is no law there can be no transgression, for a transgression is a leaping over or a violating of legal restraints. Those, then, who contend that there is no divinely authorized order for Christian worship in Christian- assemblies, do at the same time, and must inevitably maintain, that there is no disorder, no error, no innovation, no transgression in the worship of the Christian Church – no, nor ever can be. This is reducing one side of the dilemma to what may be called a perfect absurdity (Christian Baptist, Vol. 2, pp. 239-243).
If there is no pattern, Campbell pointed out that various assemblies of worship could be devoted to nothing but dancing, singing, shouting, running, lying prostrate on the ground, reading, listening to a speaker, sitting silently, waving palm branches, crying, or playing an organ. To exclude any act from worship, a person must refer to some fixed standard.
Ephraim’s idols originated in a spirit that refused to be restrained by a set pattern of teaching. The same spirit is producing the same results today. Ultimately, nothing revealed in the New Testament can escape the destructive hand directed by the spirit of no-pattern-ism. The only way to avoid the total destruction of New Testament faith and practice is to hold fast the pattern of sound words (Truth Magazine, 8 Mar. 1979, pp. 165-166).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 13, pp. 404-405
July 5, 1990