By Dick Blackford
When a new theory is being advocated, its proponents don’t always look down the road to see the end result of what they are advocating. If an argument seems to meet the present need, that is enough. It is when someone carries the matter a step farther that we often see the consequences. When this occurs it is nearly always too late to go back and undo the damage. On no other theory has this been more true than the doctrine of no patternism.
The Work of the Church
In seeking to justify church support of human institutions from the treasury, some institutional brethren have said there is no pattern regarding the benevolent work of the church. A tract widely circulated in the 50’s and 60’s advocated this. The author “proved” his point by simply omitting all the Scriptures which deal with the church’s benevolent work. In 1976 I had a written debate with an institutional brother who argued that there is no pattern for the evangelistic work of the church.
Now, if you ask whether there is a verse all neatly packaged which gives God’s pattern for the work of the church, we must answer “no.” God’s pattern consists of whatever he has said on the subject. A church cared for its own under its own oversight (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 5:16). No mention is made of a man-made benevolent organization that is separate and apart from the congregation, and which solicits and receives funds from numerous churches and oversees the work. The church was its own benevolent society. On some occasions churches sent to needy saints in other Places (1 Cor. 16:1,2).
In evangelism, churches sent wages to a preacher (2 Cor. 11:9). There is no example of one church sending to another church that did not have a benevolent need. The modern “sponsoring church” in which large, wealthy churches solicit from others to support their projects was unheard of.
The Worship of the Church
In “justifying” the use of musical instruments in worship, some brethren in the Independent Christian Church have said there is no pattern to the worship of the church. ” Worship is a right thing to do and there is no wrong way to do it. . . There is no such thing as ‘acts of worship'” (Given O. Blakely, Blakely-Highers Debate). Thus, instruments are used. If there is no pattern to follow when we worship, then brother Blakely is right in saying there is no wrong way to do it. Of course this would allow tongue-speaking, burning incense, the rosary, “holy water,” wearing clergy garb, hamburgers and coke on the Lord’s table, and religious dancing. And who could deny that those who handle snakes in worship are every bit as sincere as those in the ICC? Snakes would have to be permitted in worship for if “there is no pattern,” then truly, “there is no wrong way to do it. ” (Nor would there be any wrong way to do the work of the church.)
Now, if you ask whether there is a verse all neatly packaged which gives God’s pattern for five acts of worship in the assembly, we must answer, “No.” God’s pattern consists of whatever he has said on the subject of worship. Primarily he has revealed that when Christians came together to worship, they sang (1 Cor., 14:15f; Col. 3:16), prayed (1 Cor. 14:15f), ate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20-34; Acts 20:7), gave of their means (1 Cor. 16:1,2), and preached and studied (Acts 20:7; 2:42).
The Plan of Salvation
Many modern denominations have difficulty giving a specific answer when asked, “What is God’s plan of salvation?” The reply is usually a nebulous “acceptance” of Jesus. When asked how one does this, we are told that we must “rely” on him. When asked how one relies on him, we are told by “receiving” him. But how does one receive him? By “accepting” him! On and on the cycle goes in which one is never told any absolutes about God’s plan. Some have also said that sprinkling and pouring are just as pleasing as immersion for baptism (Methodist Discipline, p. 545). In other words, there is no pattern for baptism.
Now, if you ask whether there is a verse all neatly packaged which gives God’s pattern or plan for salvation in five steps, we must answer, “No.” God’s pattern consists of whatever he has revealed on the subject. Primarily, he has revealed that one must hear the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believe the gospel (Rom. 10:10), repent (Acts 3:19), confess (Rom. 10:10b), be immersed in water (Acts 22:16; 8:38; 1 Pet. 3:21), and be faithful (Rev. 2:10).
“No Pattern” In Morality?
Advocates of the New Morality” says there is no pattern in the Scriptures regarding one’s moral behavior. Outside of the fact that we should do the “loving thing,” it is pretty well up to you how you conduct yourself. There are no absolutes, for they would constitute the dreaded pattern. There may be circumstances that would justify stealing, lying, adultery, etc. What the Bible means is “Thou shalt not commit adultery -ordinarily! ” It just depends on the situation. Joseph Fletcher, theological father of the modern movement, “plains it all in his book, The New Morality and Situation Ethics.
Now, if you ask whether there is a verse all neatly packaged which gives God’s pattern for morality, we must answer, “No.” God’s pattern consists of whatever he has revealed on the subject.
And so it goes. But before we complete our look at. this pattern of digression, let us consider a quote worth repeating from a most unexpected source:
Restoration assumes patternism. If there was no pattern to lose there is none to restore. The very validity of the Restoration principle rests upon the preclusion that God wanted certain things certain ways, and men have ignored what God wanted. What is it that we are going to restore? Is it not the restoring of doing Bible things in Bible ways? It seems to me that if this principle is ignored then we have no real reason for trying to restore anything.
. . . Is God a God who deals in patterns? He did with Noah. He did with Moses in the building of the tabernacle. Unless he changes his nature he still deals in patterns with us. His patterns must be respected.
We must go to pattern theology for our very concept of the church. . . . Everything we read in the Scriptures enforces the pattern concept. . . . Redemption follows a pattern or it doesn’t. Worship follows a pattern or it doesn’t. Church government follows a pattern or it doesn’t. The Christian life follows a pattern or it doesn’t. If there is no pattern then one way to be saved is as good as another, one may worship anyway he pleases, govern the church any way he chooses and live any kind of life he wishes to live.
If we assume such a thing as pattern theology, or even admit to the existence of patterns, we are forced to accept limitations, for patterns limit. They restrict to both right and left. This forces us to accept God’s authority in areas of silence as well as in areas of revelation (Reuel Lemmons, One Body, Symmer/88, p. 4).
Already some have crossed from the “no pattern” in the work of the church to “no pattern” in the worship. And some have crossed from “no pattern” in the worship to “no pattern” in the plan of salvation. Walking down steps is easier than walking up. The next step is a little easier. Remember, the college president who wrote “Where There Is No Pattern” eventually left the faith and joined a denomination. It is becoming more and more difficult to put on the brakes. Brethren, where will it all end?
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 23, pp. 705, 727
December 1, 1988