By Mike Willis
The teaching that the New Testament is a “love letter” rather than a code of law has the implication that the restoration plea is not valid because there is no pattern to be restored. Max Lucado was quoted by the Tulsa (OK) World as follows:
He said, “I have a gut feeling that we (the Church of Christ) have approached the Bible as an engineer, looking for a certain design or architectural code. And I think we find that everyone finds a different code. As a result, we split into 27-28 splinters or factions.
“There is no secret code. The Bible is a love letter as opposed to a blueprint. You don’t read a love letter the same way you read a blueprint” (quoted in Behold The Pattern by Goebel Music, 114).
By saying that the New Testament epistles are “love letters” rather than law, the writers imply that matters of revelation can be disobeyed without jeopardizing one’s soul. This teaching raises the question, “Is there a pattern to be restored?”
There can only be one answer to the question posed. Either there is a pattern or there is not. If there are no patterns to be restored in the New Testament, there are no objective truths, no right or wrong ways to do anything in religion. All things are left to subjective judgment. If there are patterns revealed in the Bible, there are objective truths and those patterns must be respected. The conclusion then follows that all of the innovations and changes which have occurred since the first century must be carefully removed to return to the patterns of God’s word revealed in the Bible. The purpose of this article is to show that the New Testament does contain patterns for Christians to restore in the New Testament.
The Old Testament Patterns
The Old Testament was written “for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The Old Testament reveals patterns for God’s people to follow.
1. The story of Cain and Abel’s worship reveals that there was a pattern for worship from the beginning (Gen. 4). This familiar story reveals that Cain’s worship was not accepted by God. Whatever reason a person identifies for God rejecting Cain’s worship (whether it was not a blood sacrifice or it was offered with a wrong attitude, etc.) that reason identifies a pattern which had to be followed.
2. God gave Noah a pattern for building the ark (Gen. 6-8). The Lord revealed how the ark was to be built and Noah was expected to build the ark according to the divinely revealed pattern.
3. The Lord gave a pattern for the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings (Exod. 25:9,40; 26:30). Noah was approved of God only when he built all things “according to the pattern shewed thee in the mount. ” The details were minutely revealed.
4. Nadab and Abihu sinned when they departed from the pattern (Lev. 10:1-2). When these two sons of Aaron brought “strange fire, which the Lord commanded not,” they were immediately stricken with fire for their sin.
5. King Jeroboam of Israel sinned in departing from the pattern of divinely revealed worship (1 Kgs. 12:26-33). Jeroboam departed from the pattern of divine worship by erecting graven images to worship God, erecting altars in Bethel and Dan, changing the priesthood so that men of all tribes could serve, and changing the feast day. The Lord plainly said about this apostasy, “This thing became a sin” (1 Kgs. 12:30).
6. The message of the prophets confirms that the Lord revealed a pattern by which Israel was to be governed. Jeremiah’s familiar words emphasize this truth: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (6:16). The “old paths” were the revealed pattern for worship.
The Old Testament reveals that God gave a law or a pattern to govern his people in Old Testament times. Some admit that the Old Testament was a law governing God’s people but deny that the New Testament is a law for men today.
The New Testament Patterns
That the Lord has revealed patterns for the Lord’s church is evident from the following facts:
1. The Lord gave the apostles the task of revealing a pattern. The Lord sent the Holy Spirit to them to guide them into all truth (Jn. 16:13). They were to preach “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Whatever they “bound” on earth was first bound in heaven and whatever they “loosed” on earth was first loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:18-19; 18:18). Consequently, the early church adhered to the “apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). What came from their hands should be passed down from generation to generation (2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Tim. 2:2).
2. Every commandment and instruction warning about false doctrine operates upon the presupposition that there is a uniform pattern of doctrine from which men are not to depart. The New Testament warns against false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1; Matt. 7:15). When Paul wrote about the worship assemblies, he said, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). He warned against departures from the revealed doctrine (Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rom. 16:17-18; cf. 2 Jn. 9-11).
3. There was uniformity in the teaching to every church. Paul wrote the “same things” to the Philippians that he wrote others (Phil. 3:1). To Corinth, he said that Timothy would teach his “ways, which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17). What he taught the Corinthians about giving on the first day of the week, he taught the churches in Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1-2). He laid down the same organizational arrangement in all churches (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim, 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-11; Phil. 1:1). Although the people were located in different geographical regions and cultures, all followed the same pattern.
4. The manner in which the kingdom is spread necessitates a divinely revealed pattern. The kingdom is spread through sowing the seed of the kingdom, the word of God (Lk. 8:11). The same seed produces the same fruit wherever and whenever it is sown.
5. The Lord has revealed a law for the kingdom (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2; Jas. 1:25). Passages which speak of “lawful” things imply the existence of a law (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). Passages which speak of “lawlessness” imply the existence of a law (Matt. 7:23; for many other passages, consult anomia in a Greek lexicon).
6. When men departedfirom the law, they were called to repentance. When the Corinthian fornicator departed from God’s revelation, he was called to repentance and the church was to withdraw from him if fie chose not to repent (1 Cor. 5:1-11). When false teachers at Ephesus were teaching “strange doctrines,” they were called back to the pattern of sound words (1 Tim. 1:3-10).
All of these passages imply the existence of a divinely revealed standard of authority from which men were not to depart. Calling men who have departed from God’s revealed word back to that standard of authority is what is meant by the restoration principle.
Problems of No-Patternism
No one can consistently apply his no-patternism. At some point or the other, all men revert to an appeal for patterns. We are hearing some who do not like the implications of a revealed pattern on the organization and work of the church say that there no patterns. However, these same men appeal to a pattern for worship when some of their own number began to seek fellowship with the Christian Church. Those who are seeking fellowship with the Christian Church will look for a pattern of conversion to tell the Christian Church that they cannot fellowship the pious unimmersed. The pious unimmersed who have a broad view of fellowship will appeal to the pattern of God’s word to argue that homosexuals cannot be ordained to the ministry. The broad-minded evangelicals will appeal to the pattern of New Testament authority to argue that ecumenical fellowship with pagan religions is wrong. Most ecumenicals are not willing to extend fellowship to humanists and other atheists.
At some point, every person who claims allegiance to King Jesus is forced to admit that there is a pattern. The alternative is moral relativism – everything is acceptable to God. Antinomianism, libertine belief, is self-contradictory and wrong.
There is a divinely revealed word of God which governs the worship, organization, terms of admission, moral conduct, etc. of the Lord’s people, his church. Departures from that revelation are sinful. The restoration plea calls men back to that divinely revealed standard.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 11, pp. 322, 328
June 4, 1992