by Al Maxey

Issue #130 ------- June 11, 2004
The mark of our time is its
revulsion against imposed patterns.

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)

Pondering Patternism
Creating Copy Cat Christianity

Charles Colton (1780-1832) once observed, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." There is some degree of truth to that statement. On the other hand, it can simply reflect an inability or unwillingness to think or act independently. There are times when it is the path of wisdom to walk in the steps of those who have successfully led the way; there are other times, though, when it is simply a reflection of what is sometimes characterized as "herd mentality." Horace (65-8 B.C.), for example, wrote: "O imitators, you slavish herd!" Shakespeare (1564-1616), in his play King Richard II, spoke disparagingly of the manners and customs of Italy, which "our tardy apish nation limps after in base imitation." This is hardly a flattering portrayal, but it often depicts the reality of those whose minds gravitate toward mimicry.

I thoroughly agree that with respect to our walk with Christ imitation is quite often a very vital aspect of our spiritual journey. Indeed, we may even say it is essential. Paul urged the saints in Philippi, "Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us" (Philp. 3:17). To the Corinthians he wrote, "Therefore I urge you, be imitators of me. This is why I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord. He will remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 4:16-17). "Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). The writer of Hebrews gave this wise counsel: "Remember your leaders who have spoken God's word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7). Paul imitated Christ, and we are to imitate him with respect to that same devotion to the Lord. Paul would certainly not have us imitate his faults, but rather his faith (as Heb. 13:7 clearly specifies). When we consider the outcome of a godly man's life, there is great wisdom in imitating the faith evidenced by such individuals. This doesn't mean we take every discernable aspect of their daily routine and bind it as law. It simply suggests we walk in faithfulness to Jesus ... as they did in their lives.

On the other hand, as was mentioned in passing, there is a mindset among some within the One Body that suggests salvation depends upon disciples today becoming virtual clones of the first century disciples. Their actions are to be our "pattern," and we may well forever forfeit both fellowship with the family of God here, and eternal salvation hereafter, if we fail in any respect to reproduce their "pattern" in our own lives (both individually and corporately). Thus, their examples, and any assumptions some today may draw from those examples, become an authoritative standard by which all people the world over must order their attitudes and actions if they desire to be saved. This constitutes a patternistic theology which I oppose with every fiber of my being; a theology against which I have spoken out for years. For example, please take a moment to examine one of my very first Reflections --- Restoring the 1st Century Church? --- Issue #3.

I would agree with this fellow elder that it would be extremely cruel of our Father to expect us to follow some specific pattern, connecting our very salvation to such an endeavor, and then leave us to assume, infer and deduce what that pattern actually is. And yet this would seemingly appear to be exactly what has happened, IF the peculiar principle of patternism, as embraced and promoted in various factions of God's vast spiritual family, is objectively true (which I do not believe for a second). I find it more than a little interesting that I have yet to meet any two patternists who can agree among themselves 100% on exactly what constitutes God's true pattern. I have also yet to have a single one of these rigid patternists ever give me the definitive, exhaustive list of every particular of this pattern. And I have been asking repeatedly for many years. NONE will give it to me! Not a single one!! And the reason is obvious -- they can't even agree among themselves what should be on the list! Even they don't know what "the pattern" is!! (Try this test sometime --- ask a patternist to give you in writing EVERY item in their "pattern" that pertains to fellowship and salvation; tell them not to leave out a single one, since each are eternally critical, according to them. You will never get that list ... NEVER.) Nevertheless they still boldly declare "the pattern" (whatever it is) to be critical to salvation and fellowship! The result of such hermeneutical confusion is exactly what we all see far too frequently today -- countless feuding factions and squabbling siblings disgracefully dismembering the universal Body of our Lord Jesus Christ over each party's perceived particulars of some elusive pattern. When these patternists themselves can't agree on the particulars and parameters of the pattern, that ought to tell us something! In reality, the most divided and divisive bunch within Christendom are the hardcore patternists.

On the other hand, I certainly do not deny the presence of a biblical "pattern" (if one feels compelled to employ such a term) provided by the Father for His children. I believe such a "pattern" is far more specific and limited, and certainly the particulars of it are far less nebulous, than anything produced by the patternists and partyists, however. Mankind is not left to assume, deduce or infer the Father's will or intent, debating the parameters of it endlessly. Rather, God has provided the one true pattern in the person of His beloved Son Jesus Christ, who is "the exact representation of His nature" and through whom He has "spoken to us in these last days" (Hebrews 1:2-3). As mentioned earlier, Paul declared he followed Christ Jesus, and urged us to do the same. Patterning ourselves after Paul simply suggests imitating his resolve to pattern himself after Jesus! Patterning ourselves after those who lived spiritually successful lives simply means we exhibit the same faith and faithfulness they did. We don't try to recreate every detail of their lives in our own; we don't seek to be clones; rather, we display the same devotion to the Lord they did. In so doing, we achieve the same result. The purpose of Christians in the 21st century is not to be "copy cats" of every known practice or example of Christians in the 1st century. Such is much too absurd to even seriously suggest. Instead, like the saints of yesteryear, we serve our Savior to the best of our individual abilities and understandings within the social, cultural and historical parameters wherein we each find ourselves placed by our sovereign God. Divine principles and precepts are eternal, human application is NOT. Too frequently the legalists have sought to create patterns out of the latter, and the result is the chaos being experienced in the church today.

The above beloved hymn -- Where He Leads I'll Follow -- was written in 1885 by William A. Ogden. These words express quite well the reality of the biblical "example" and "pattern" for men to follow. It is JESUS. Paul saw great value in patterning his life after the Lord's, and he urged us to do the same. If I will simply give my life to Christ Jesus, striving daily with simple trusting faith to pattern my life after the example of His, even though I will fall short of that goal in my walk, I am assured of salvation. My acceptance by the Lord does not depend on preciseness of reproduction of the "pattern" of first century disciples ... it depends upon being IN CHRIST and reflecting His attitude and actions in my own life. Has Jesus given me precepts to obey? Yes, He has. Jesus has also made it very clear that where He leads we must follow. This, however, is a natural response on the part of those who love Him. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15; cf. vs. 21, 23). It should also be pointed out that His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3), unlike those imposed by the religious elitists and separatists. The precepts and principles of Christ can be summed up in a single word: LOVE. Love for God and love for one's fellow man IS the "pattern" ... and that "pattern" is embodied in Jesus the Messiah, our eternal example.

Jesus told His disciples, after washing their feet, "I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you" (John 13:15). We must come to realize that JESUS is our "great example" ... our "pattern" ... as the hymn, and Scripture, suggests. Peter demonstrated his understanding of this principle when he stated that elders are to "be examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:3). But, examples of what ... or Whom? He provides the answer in the very next verse when he mentions "the Chief Shepherd" (vs. 4). Elders, then, are to imitate Jesus in their lives, and in so doing they become "living examples" to the flock. Examples of ....?! That's right -- JESUS. Just as men saw the Father in the life of the Son, so men ought to see the Son in the lives of His people (and especially in the lives of the spiritual leaders). Thus, every leader in the church (indeed, every disciple of Christ) should be willing and able to say with the apostle Paul, "Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). Not necessarily of specific practices and methods (such as foot-washing, which was a cultural expression), but rather of the eternal principles which serve as their foundation.

The elder from West Virginia asked, "Do you believe there is a 'pattern' left for us to follow in the New Testament with regard to salvation?" Yes! We are to follow the pattern of Jesus Christ, as I previously specified. But, in all honesty, I do know what the brother is asking. His question is really this: Are there specific acts and attitudes enumerated in the Scriptures that must be followed if we are to be saved? Is there any kind of specified response on the part of men to God's gift of grace through Jesus Christ? The answer, of course, is YES! If one chooses to characterize these cumulative actions and attitudes as constituting a "pattern," then I would not argue with them in the least. Yes, there are precepts and principles in the Bible left for us to follow with respect to our salvation.

I also freely acknowledge that the Bible lays out a clear "pattern of behavior" for the disciple of Christ. It is contained in specific precepts and principles that portray the nature of our walk in the light. We are to be loving. We are to be benevolent. Kind. Forgiving. Compassionate. Merciful. These, and others which could be listed, constitute a "spirit" we are to possess as His people. But, again, it takes us right back to our great example and pattern: Jesus Christ. When we examine His "pattern of behavior" during His earthly walk, we are then urged to "make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). Why? Because HE is our "pattern."

There is a vast difference in this type of "patternism" and the patternistic theology, and subsequent inconsistent application, of the legalists that I so frequently and firmly denounce. The nature of the difference lies primarily in Scriptural specificity. Those patterns that I willingly embrace are clearly, unequivocally, unambiguously specified by the Lord as applicable to His people; they are not imposed based merely on human assumptions and inferences or party preferences. Personal deductions should never be elevated to divine decree. It is such imposed patterns as these that I totally reject as having any authority to govern the family of Christ. Such personal assumptions and inferences may legitimately govern our own individual behavior, but such must never be bound upon others beyond what they themselves are able to perceive or accept as true, as Campbell astutely observed in his masterful Declaration and Address.

When I speak out against "patternism," one should not assume that I thereby deny any type of legitimate pattern specified in Scripture. I do not, as I have noted above. What I deny is the so-called "authority" of human assumptions and inferences, and the elevation and imposition of such upon others as if these deductions were declared, decreed and delivered directly by God Himself to the minds of these rigid religionists. They were not. The horrendous division that has occurred within the church of our Lord Jesus Christ has come primarily from these countless assumed patterns, about which our God in Scripture specified little or nothing at all.

In 1991, Goebel Music wrote a book, very popular among the ultra-conservatives, titled Behold The Pattern, "in which he meticulously documented the uncertain sounds of ten preachers and/or college professors" (Jim E. Waldron, from an article in Firm Foundation, Sept. 1996). Frankly, it would have been more accurately titled Behold The Party, for it was filled with religious partisanship that was, quite honestly, shameful to behold. When men impose their assumptions upon their brethren, and castigate with harsh pejoratives those brethren who refuse such imposition, these sectarians not only violate the teaching of Scripture, but they foster factions in the One Body. In so doing they prove themselves servants of satanic sectarianism rather than servants of our Savior. This type of partisan patternism -- "authoritative" assumptions of fallible legalists -- impious imposition of inferred injunctions -- I shall oppose until my dying breath. It is a foul, festering, fatal fistula eating away at the precious Body of Jesus Christ, and it must be dealt with quickly and decisively.

Through the imposition of such "patterns" a type of "Copy Cat Christianity" has been created. For instance, if someone infers that a first century disciple observed the Lord's Supper with only one cup, then you and I had better do the same or face the eternal consequence of hell. Patternism. If there is no verse in the NT writings that says the first century disciples clapped during the singing of a hymn, then God help that poor teenager who dares to violate the "proper procedure" governing praise! Patternism. There is no verse in the NT documents that says any first century disciple used instrumental accompaniment to his/her singing of praises. Therefore, those who use such today are going straight to hell. Patternism. Separate Sunday School classes for the kiddies? Not if you value your soul. Patternism. Eating a meal in the church building? God forbid! Patternism. Making an announcement "from the pulpit" before the "closing prayer" that there will be a pizza party for the church at a member's home ("unauthorized use of the pulpit")? Have mercy!! Patternism. Small group meetings on Sunday nights? Heresy! Patternism. Take money from the church "treasury" to help support an orphan or a widow? Absolute apostasy! Patternism.

Legitimate patterns I support; legalistic patterns I do NOT! What is the difference between the two? GOD specified one, MAN assumed the other! I will submit to the former, but I will not yield for even a second to the latter. The message of God's grace, and our freedom in Christ, demand nothing less from those of us devoted to promoting Truth over tradition. The type of patternism I oppose is nothing other than a return to LAW, and an inferior form of law at that, for it is merely an assumed law. Aside from the inevitable splits, splinters and schisms, with which we have almost become desensitized by their vast number, such return to law (legalistic patternism) has an even more deadly result -- it severs its adherents from Christ and causes them to fall from grace (Galatians 5:4). This is a serious matter. We can afford to remain silent no longer. It is time to speak up and speak out against this threat to Truth, regardless of personal cost (which may well be high). That is one of the declared purposes of these Reflections. May God continue to use them to open the eyes of the oppressed, as well as the eyes of their oppressors, and to bring responsible reform and freedom to a people enslaved far too long to rigid regulation.

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in (Unknown):

For whatever reason, I haven't received any of your Reflections since February. I really miss your insights into our church problems. Having grown up in the traditional Church of Christ, I have appreciated the things you have said to waken me from my acceptance of "the way we have always done it" mentality. I hope to get back on your mailing list.

From a Reader in Texas:

Thank you, Al, for bringing clarification to yet another misunderstood portion of scripture. That helps a lot! I'm so glad to get poor Elisha exonerated from being judged as a harsh, cruel, bad-tempered individual who did not show patience to those poor "children" who were teasing him. What an encourager you continue to be, my brother!! I'll keep letting others know about your web site so that they may have nourishment to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thank you for shining light on the truth of the Word! I pray God will give you continued health, strength, and always more wisdom to keep those good Reflections coming. You are such a blessing to us!! Also, we may be going to Ruidoso for the "Mountain Family Fellowship" July 8-11, so it may be that, while we are that close, we could come to Alamogordo and meet you and your lovely wife, Shelly, in person.

From a Reader in Michigan:

When I got to the finale of your last Reflections I cringed a little! Bears 42, Raiders 0. As a Packers fan, the Bears are our arch-enemy, but I guess I have to make an exception in this case! Excellent exposition.

From a Reader in Florida:

Wanted to tell you something about your article: Baldy, the Brats, and the Bears. Have you heard of Lee Strobel? His second book, The Case For Faith, has a most interesting section on this very incident. I believe he was interviewing Norman Geisler (whom I personally believe to be one of the greatest Christian apologists in our century), and Geisler pointed out that when you study the original syntax of this passage, you get the definite impression that the "youths" may have been preparing to attack Elisha (gang style). Just wanted to share that. Enjoyed your article immensely.

From a Reader in Virginia:

Al, I was sent a copy of your article God's IDEAL For Marriage. Please add me to your mailing list. Thank you!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Brother Maxey, I would really appreciate being added to your Reflections subscriber list. I am 52 years old and have been associated with mainstream Churches of Christ my entire life. For several years now I have been struggling with lifelong beliefs that, frankly, don't seem to fit too well with what I read in Scripture. I have discovered, thanks to the Internet, that I am not alone; that many are in the same boat. A brother and friend who has experienced similar struggles recommended your web site, as well as a few others. I deeply appreciate your kind, loving approach. I am looking forward to reading your Reflections.

From a Minister in Washington:

I was reading through some of your past Reflections, as I often do, and I was reading more specifically issue #119 where you responded to a reader's question about role-playing games and Harry Potter. I thought your answers were very good. I have been praying about his situation and for his son.

From a Minister in (Unknown):

Brother Maxey, I'm a member of a congregation that has no elders, but I am one of the preachers here. I have noticed in your Reflections how your words are seasoned with grace. I need your help. There is a discipline problem here -- a brother is refusing to walk according to God's will. This brother has been going into members' homes and property without permission. He has made statements to cause personal pain to certain members of the congregation, such as homosexual remarks toward a brother and hurtful statements toward his own mother. This brother was confronted about the statements he made, but he has never made things right. Does this type of behavior deserve church discipline? I really don't know what to do. I am a member of the Church of Christ and have been too guilty in the past of being overly legalistic. There are other well-learned brothers in the area I could ask, but they have the same legalistic mindset I once had. I don't like that type of thinking, and just want to do the right thing. Could you please guide me?!

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