No Patternism

By Cecil Willis

After several years of virtual brain-washing on “there is no pattern,” brethren in several areas have now taken upon the cliche, and are making use of it to the fullest. Brother A.C. Pullias, President of David Lipscomb College, published a booklet several years ago entitled, “Where There Is No Pattern.” It is hoped that those who have sown the seed of this “No Patternism” are now ready to gather in their harvest.

We have brethren that are fairly conservative on some things that are advocating that there is no pattern as to how churches may work together, that there is no pattern as to how to do benevolent work, and that there is no pattern as to how preachers are to be supported. They have just gone the first few yards down the long, tortuous, and devastating road of “No Patternism.” They have some rather difficult crooks and turns yet to negotiate. But unfortunately, once you have started down the road of “No Patternism,” it is difficult to right your course.

Brother Mack Langford, “new minister at the Collingwood, New Jersey congregation of saints in the Church of Christ,” has proceeded further down the road of “No Patternism” than some of his cohorts and contemporaries. But where he is now enables him to show where you have yet to go, if you are one of the “No Pattern Advocates,” or to enable you to see where your preacher is headed if he is one of the now popular “No Pattern” preachers. Brother Langford says:

Recent scholarship, German and American, has stated over and over that we know little about the first century Church, and there is no such thing as a final pattern for worship, polity and missions, yet we in the Church of Christ continue to insist that the New Testament is a blueprint which must be exactly reproduced. We think, or so it seems, that to recapture the way the early church did something is to recover the true faith. But this breeds a new legalism which would confine God’s grace and stifle freedom and openness.

How in the world can a man unburden his heart to the Lord and become open to love if he forever must be looking about, checking his posture and his words lest he step out of range of the hearing or favor of his deity, because he has deviated from the formula? It is time we have done with such neurotic compulsiveness (quoted from Riverside Church of Christ Weekly Bulletin, Wichita, Kansas, April 3, 1966).

You see, Brother Langford thinks there not only is no pattern for “missions” (which is the position of all our church supported orphan home, and sponsoring church defenders), but that there also is no pattern for worship or polity. According to him, we can worship any way we please, and organize the church in any fashion that pleases us. This is the logical path of “No Patternism,” brethren. The only difference between brother Langford and our institutional defenders is that Langford is more consistent. He is ready to junk not only the pattern for “missions,” but the pattern for church organization and worship as well.

Brother Langford has committed himself to a premise that is identical to that commitment of the Christian Church nearly one hundred years ago. There is no logical reason he now can give to stay in the church of Christ, rather than to join the Christian Church. And if he does like about a score of earlier, “No Pattern Advocates,” he will end up in the most liberal wing Christian Church.

But those mumbly and lack-courage brethren that want to travel along in the trails of bolder “No Pattern Advocates,” like the Christian Church and now brother Mack Langford, had better begin to stir up their courage. For they must also advocate his “No Pattern” doctrine in church organization and worship, as well as in “missions” or the work of the church, if they are going to be consistent. They have but two alternatives; to maintain their consistency and go the full route with Langford, Meyers, and others like them, or to maintain their inconsistency by maintaining there is no pattern as to how the work of the church is to be done, but remaining dogmatic that the pattern of worship or congregational polity must be maintained. It will be interesting to see which alternative they will choose.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Josh. 24:15), and continue to “build all things according to the pattern” (Heb. 8:5). (Excerpt from “Modernism of All Sorts,” Truth Magazine, Sept. 1966, p. 272.)

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 13, p. 389
July 5, 1990