The New Testament Church Had a Pattern

By Joshua Gurtler

To view the divisions and disagreements in biblical principle and practice is but to venture a little piece up the road, discovering a wide array of denominational representations seen on their signposts and meeting facilities. “There is no pattern,” they may say, “only a diversity of bodies and beliefs united through the blood of Jesus Christ.” Is this true? Is there no pattern?

What Is a Pattern?

Though Webster defines “pattern” in a number of terms, the two we will deal with are: (1) A model, guide, plan, etc. used in making things, and (2) Definite direction, tendency or characteristics. These definitions will be especially applicable in this study as we will see God does have a model, guide, plan, and pattern today for his church so that we may be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).

God’s Covenants: Patterns

The Old Covenant under which the children of Israel were accountable was delivered by God so as to be a pattern for his people, to be kept with out exception. Hebrews 8:5 is a reminder of this warning given to Moses by God. “See. . . . that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” Every aspect of worship and service to Jehovah was thus to conform to the divine standard; yet verse six declared the establishment of a new covenant, “He has now obtained a more excellent ministry… a better covenant.” This is a covenant unto which “all men” (Acts 17:30) are now accountable, and by which all men have received “a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (1 Tim. 1:16).

Authority of Christ

This approved pattern, therefore, must be delivered by Jesus Christ to whom “all authority has been given … in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:1820) and who is “head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22). God’s people today, being Christ’s church or body (Eph. 4:7), may only act in worship and service to him as far as it conforms to the authorization of the guide, plan and definite direction of Christ. As we have seen established in the New Testament, a “body” under the direction of a “head,” Jesus Christ (Col. 1:17) is the pattern established by God.

Authority of the Apostles

Before coming under this direction, though, the first century believers undeniably had to receive the instruction of Christ. Some might argue that this is impossible. They say Christ’s mission failed insomuch as giving further directions to the church because he “was received up into heaven” (Mk. 16:19). “Since there is no God-given order then there is no disorder; the organization and operation of the church is left up to the opinion of man,” they also say. Is this logical reasoning?

The foresight and wisdom of God is now seen in the refutation of such arguments. God did, in fact, plan the teachings and instructions of the church to continue, even after Christ’s ascension. Christ predicted this time would occur to his apostles, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes He will guide you into all the truth for He will not speak on His own initiative but whatever He hears He will speak and he will disclose to you what is to come” (Jn 16:13).

This word delivered to them was to be preached with power and the authority of Christ as the apostles were given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19; 18:18). After which the apostles were to “sit… judging” and executing the word even as Christ did from his throne in heaven. “The Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28). The apostles now had the authority (1 Cor. 14:37).

Uniformity of Their Teaching

From this apostolic authority we see a number of applications and instruction for the first century Christians. “We are of God. He who knows God hears us” (1 Jn. 4:6); “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:78); “And they “… God does have a model, guide, plan, and pattern today for his church so that we may be `perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment.’ continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42); “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you” (l Cor. 11:23); “Prove all things” (1 Thess 5:21); “Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching that he may be able to. . . refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9); “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1); “We are no longer. . . tossed here and there.. . by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).

This teaching points toward a oneness, uniformity in conformity to the pattern. Without a pattern such stern admonitions as “hold fast,” “speak … sound doctrine,” and “prove all things” would be nothing short of contradiction within the word itself; for without a pattern what is there to “hold fast”? What doctrine (teaching) would be sound? And what in the realm of scriptural practice would there be to “prove”?

We know in the New Testament churches there was a pattern, a standard for uniformity and unity among the saints and that the apostles taught this uniformly to all the churches. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians stated, “He (Timothy) will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17). Peter later commended Paul and all other inspired writers as those of truth (2 Pet. 1:20,21), even after being openly rebuked by him (Gal. 2:1114). One gospel was preached by these men, not a Pauline gospel nor a Petrine gospel but a universal gospel given “once for all” (Jude 3) “in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17).

Is That Pattern Binding Today In answer to the question “Is there a pattern today?” we must, as honest truth seeking individuals, proclaim an unwavering “yes.” Ephesians 4:36 states, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Not 2 or 3 or 3000 bodies, doctrines or practices but one. This teaching delivered by the “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20) ought to be clinged to and proclaimed. We need to “test the spirits”. . . because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).

Let us then conform to this pattern in the church “which he purchased with his own blood,” (Acts 20:28) and refute any unauthorized organization, innovation or misrepresentation, for, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:33).

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 19, p. 8-9
October 6, 1994