By Larry Ray Hafley
In every age and on every stage of human history, there are those who contend that the Bible does not contain a pattern for believers. We are “free,” they aver, to worship and serve the Lord without worrying about a pattern. They rail against legalism and plead for “the spirit” rather than “the letter” of the law. They argue that “the church of Christ” has exchanged one law (O.T.) for another (N.T.). They say that demands that we follow New Testament examples (such as the weekly Lord’s supper – Acts 20:7) are but another “yoke of bondage” that excludes many believers from fellowship.
Without being exhaustive, consider these responses.
First, what says there is no pattern? Does the Bible teach that there is no pattern to follow? (A) If so, does the Bible’s teaching that there is no pattern constitute a pattern for us to accept? (B) If there is no pattern, am I “free” to reject the teaching (the pattern) that says there is no pattern? (C) Or, am I bound, legally, to believe there is no pattern?
Second, if there are no patterns for worship and service, are there any perversions? (A) Can, for example, the Lord’s supper be corrupted and made void? Paul said it could be (1 Cor. 11:23f). (1) Were the Corinthians bound to obey Paul’s instructions? (2) Were the Corinthians free to ignore Paul’s corrections (1 Cor. 14:37)? (3) Would the Lord accept the Corinthians’ worship and service if they continued as they were? If so, who says so? (B) Can organizations or ecclesiastical governments be a corruption of Jesus’ authority and headship? (1) If so, there is some kind of organizational or governmental pattern beyond which one cannot go. (2) If not, could a human leader of believers overturn the headship of Christ and proclaim himself head over all things to the church (cf. 2 Thess. 2:1-12)? (3) Does Paul’s remonstrance against “the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” constitute a pattern of teaching that we must obey? (4) Or are we free to appoint such a ruler?
Third, is there a pattern of moral behavior? (A) Does the Bible teach or give limits to moral behavior? Is there immoral behavior? (1) If so, cite an example from the Bible. (2) If not, how does a man differ from a bull, a dog, or a rooster? (B) May I kill a man who says there is no pattern of moral behavior? Would I be immoral if I did?
Fourth, is Jesus a pattern for salvation? Frequently, those who claim to be disciples of Christ argue for “no-patternism.” (A) So, does the Bible present Jesus’ life and death as a pattern of salvation, or are we free to follow Buddha rather than Christ? If Jesus is Lord in any sense, must we do what he says (Lk. 6:46; Matt. 7:21; 28:18-20). (B) If Christ’s blood is the basis and a pattern for salvation, how do we determine that it is? (C) If Christ is the ground of salvation and is a pattern of deliverance, by what process do we learn that there is no pattern for the conditions of salvation?
Fifth, God speaks to us “by his Son” (Heb. 1:1,2; Lk. 16:10; Acts 3:22,23). (A) It is dangerous to refuse to hear Christ (Heb. 2:1-3; 12:25; 1 Jn. 2:24; 4:6; 2 Jn. 9). (B) We are not to hear or believe everyone (1 Jn. 4: 1; Rev. 2:2; Tit. 1:9-13; 2 Cor. 11:3). (1) We are to avoid human traditions that make void the commandments of the Lord (Matt. 15:1-9; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). (2) We are to hold fast to “the form” (mold, pattern) of sound words and teach them to others (2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2; 3:15-4:4). (C) Is there a pattern of acceptable teaching? If not, what do the passages cited above teach (cf. Rom. 16:17; 1 Tim. 1:3; 4:16)? (D) If the passages do not indicate a pattern, does whatever they do teach comprise a pattern?
Finally, if a “no pattern” advocate answers these queries and still rejects a pattern of worship and service, will his answers be a model, a pattern, for us to follow in order to escape the doctrine of patterns?
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 7, p. 196
April 4, 1991