The Rotting Corpse of “No Patternism”: The Disciples of Christ (Christian Church)

By Dick Blackford

Here is a lesson from history that needs to be learned by the Independent Christian Church, institutional, and non-institutional brethren alike. It has been said, “About the only thing we learn from history is that we refuse to learn anything from history.” A shame, but often true. Israel refused to learn from their history. Things written aforetime were written for our learning.

1. “No Pattern” in the work of the church. The Missionary Society had its inception in 1849. It was argued that the Lord did not tell us “how” to do our evangelism and benevolence, therefore, whatever seemed expedient should be used. The Missionary Society (which also had an arm for benevolent work) violated the pattern God gave for evangelism (Phil. 4:16-18; 2 Cor. 11:8) and for benevolence (Acts 6:1-7; 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16:14; 2 Cor. 8,9).

2. “No Pattern” for the organization of the church. The Missionary Society affected a change in organization. A centralized organization sought to oversee the “brotherhood.” Today, the Disciples of Christ (D of Q are in the process of electing a President for that body.(1) Since Jesus is the only officer in the universal church and he did not ordain “brotherhood” (actually, a “churchhood”) oversight, this violated his pattern for local churches (I Pet.5:2; Acts 20:17,28; 14:23).

3. “No Pattern” in the worship of the church. Instrumental music became an innovation into the worship in the late 1850s. One of the earliest cases was when the melodeon was introduced into Midway Christian Church, Midway, Kentucky (1859), since “the Scriptures did not forbid it.” In a 1987 debate, a preacher for the Independent Christian Church argued that there is no pattern to the worship. “Worship is a right thing to do and there is no wrong way to do it.”(2) This violated the specific teaching of the Scriptures that we worship by singing (Eph.5:19; Col.3:16, etc.). The Scriptures did not say sing only, but they only said sing. We have no right to generalize where God specified, and no right to specify where God generalized.

The D of C also have a number of ordained women preachers.(3) This violates the Lord’s pattern that preachers be men (1 Tim. 2:11,12; Tit. 2:15).

4. “No Pattern” in the plan of salvation. The D of C have become one of nine denominations which formed the Consultation On Church Union (COCU). The COCU-nuts (as they whimsically refer to themselves) have a total membership of 23 million. Each, in their ecumenical way, has accepted the baptism of the others, which includes Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians.(4) The D of C now accepts those sprinkled in infancy. Their position is that there is no pattern to the plan of salvation (one may be baptized without believing) and there is no pattern to baptism (sprinkling and pouring are as acceptable as immersion). This violates God’s pattern on the purpose and nature of baptism (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom.6:4; Col.2:12; 1 Pet.3:21).

Their ecumenical error has led the Lexington Theological Seminary to form an alliance with the Catholic Diocese of Covington, Kentucky. The seminary offers a Master of Arts degree in Catholic subject matter to those who will use the degree to teach the Catholic faith. The material covers the Sacraments of Initiation, Eucharistic Rites, Doctrinal and Moral Teachings as well as a History of the Roman Catholic Church.(5)

5. “No Pattern” in morality. At the 1987 biennial general assembly of the D of C that body refused to pass a resolution that would call homosexuality a sin.(6) Michael K. Kinnamon, dean of Lexington Theological Seminary, is all but a shoo-in -to be President of the D of C at their election in October, 1991. He is being opposed by a small minority because he feels that homosexual behavior is acceptable before God. Said Kinnamon, “My own concern is not to condemn homosexuals, but to stand where Jesus stood. In a society that tends to exclude and reject them, the church needs to stand with them . . . I would advocate ordination of any persons called of God, whether heterosexual or homosexual, who are prepared to carry out the tasks of ministry.” This is saying God has no pattern for morality. It violates God’s pattern of one man and one woman (Gen. 2,3; Matt. 19:3-9; 1 Cor. 7:1-5; Eph. 5:22-33).

6. “No Pattern” on the number of saviors or the number of bodies. Also at the 1987 general assembly, the governing body refused to pass a resolution declaring that “there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ. . . Many Disciples said they believe that calling Jesus the only Savior would be detrimental to ecumenical relations.”(7) They want to leave room for Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Judaism, etc. This violates God’s pattern, for there is one body (Eph. 4:4) and one Lord (Eph. 4:5). He is the only way to come to the Father (Jn. 14:6). There is no salvation in any other name (Acts 4:12).

7. No resurrection. When I preached in Owensboro, Kentucky, I lived three blocks from a D of C group whose minister did not believe Jesus was literally resurrected. He said it was “a resurrection of the cause.”

8. No atonement. I have no evidence that the “figurative resurrection” view is widespread among the D of C. If it is, how could there be any atonement for sin?

This is just a step from agnosticism and then total atheism. The alarming thing that should grab Independent Christian Churches, institutional, and non-institutional brethren, is that a little over 100 years ago these would have been our brethren! While we often think apostasy occurs slowly, this one has occurred at breakneck speed.

We do not charge each member of the D of C with approving all these doctrinal changes. But because of the pyramid structure (President, General Assembly, etc.), the rank-and-file are helpless to stop it. Caught in their own trappings.

What This Means to Independent Christian Churches

Some of them are already on the fourth step downward, a few steps behind the D of C, having accepted denominational baptisms, the social gospel, instrumental music, conventions (though not identical to some denominational conventions they assemble to partake the Lord’s Supper, something that only local churches are authorized to do).

What This Means to Institutional Churches of Christ

They have lectured and written tracts advocating that “there is no pattern” to “the work of the church.”

By their “brotherhood” elderships in the Sponsoring Church and their boards for doing benevolent and evangelistic work, they have said there is no pattern to “the organization of the church.” Some who are leading the way are on the same step with Independent Christian Churches. They believe instrumental music is premissible, thus no pattern to the worship. Freed-Hardeman University has volunteered to be a battleground by hosting a discussion from men on both sides of this controversy on October 12, 1991.(8) Women have been singing solos and teaching classes over men, such as at the “Nashville Jubilee” (1989-91).(9) Some are teaching that we are saved by grace alone, totally apart from any human activity.”(10)

Two groups are emerging. Some are trying to hold the line at the second step. They are now teaching “Pattern Authority.” Robert Taylor spoke on this topic at the Southwest Lectures (reprinted in In Word and Doctrine, July-September, 1991). Sounding like an “anti,” he said “Pattern authority undergirds every fundamental facet of the Lord’s church.” He then enumerated the areas: the Christian life, our worship, the organization of the church, the names we wear, the mission, our fellowship, the plan of salvation, etc. But he forgot to tell us about a pattern of cooperation in evangelism and benevolence. Since he believes “pattern authority undergirds every fundamental facet of the Lord’s church,” he must believe there is a pattern for church cooperation. None of them has ever told us what that pattern is. They have always denied that there was one. Brother Taylor will have to go against a whole line of institutional brethren, tracts, and articles who have argued that “there is no pattern.”

Brother Taylor and others are trying to put the brakes on, but they are too late and their opposition is weak. The brakes are greased with a little “liberalism” and won’t hold. They can’t afford to argue too strongly that there is a “pattern for every facet of the church” without having to give up their sponsoring churches, benevolent societies, “fellowship” halls, day care centers, kindergartens, etc. If brethren are going to preach “pattern authority” they need to begin with the work and organization of the church. This is where apostasy began for the Disciples of Christ and it is where it began for institutional churches of Christ.

What It Means for Non-Institutional Churches of Christ

I don’t know of any non-institutional brethren who are headed down these steps at the present, but some who have gone out from us are on step number four and are engaged in ecumenical relationships.(11)

It means we must not grow weary in pressing the issues with institutional brethren if we are to salvage any of them. It means we must put ourselves and our people in remembrance, though we may have grown tired of preaching these truths “lest haply we drift away from them” (Heb. 2:1). It means we must be more militant in attacking error and pointing out where some of these “seemingly harmless” views lead. Each step downward represents a degree of unbelief in the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures to furnish us completely.

Before you head down these steps, take a look at the bottom one.


1. George W. Cornell, “Theologian Is Tapped for Top Church Office,” Associated Press, Jonesboro Sun, Jonesboro, Arkansas (Aug. 9, 1991).

2. Given O. Blakely, The Highers-Blakely Debate (Apr. 12-14, 1988).

3. George W. Cornell, ibid.

4. George W. Cornell, Associated Press, Owensboro MessengerInquirer (May 16, 1987).

5. Intercom (Apr., 1987).

6. Carol Elrod, “Church Rejects Stand Against Homosexuality,” Indianapolis Star (Oct. 22, 1987).

7. Carol Elrod, ibid.

8. From the Calendar, Gospel Advocate (Aug. 1991).

9. The Spiritual Sword, published by Getwell Church of Christ, Memphis, Tenn. (Apr., 1991), pp. 45,46.

10. Yokefellow, published by Memphis School of Preaching (Apr. 15, 1991).

11. Edward O. Bragwell, Sr., “Where Are They Now?”, Guardian of Truth (Jan. 7, 1988).

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 22, pp. 684-686
November 21, 1991