Issue #199 -------
July 15, 2005
Happy slaves are the
bitterest enemies of freedom.
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916)
Patternists, those who are legalistically extreme in their theology and practice, draw deeply from a seemingly bottomless well of absurdities! About the time one thinks they could not possibly find anything else to impose as law upon the people of God, up comes another bucket filled with folly. The bucket I hold before you, figuratively speaking, is filled with the doctrine which suggests it is sinful in the sight of our Father for His beloved children to mix together acts of worship. Each "act of worship" -- and most patternists believe there to be only five: singing, praying, preaching, giving, and observing the Lord's Supper (all of which must occur only within the context and confines of a Sunday "worship service") -- must be performed separately from the others. Mixing them, or overlapping them, is regarded as an abomination to God.
Some of you are probably already thinking I'm simply "making this up" to paint the patternists in a bad light. After all, you may well be reasoning, "Nobody in our enlightened, well-educated society could possibly believe such a thing! This is silly! We are far too mature for that." I agree; it sounds completely unreasonable and irrational, but there are those disciples among the ultra-conservative, legalistic patternists who do believe this with all their hearts. Indeed, they are militant about it; condemning those who differ with them to the same fires of hell that will consume the devil and his angels. This is not insignificant to them; it is a matter of eternal life or death. If you have a song during the passing of the communion trays, you will be tortured for umpteen zillion years by our merciful Father. Messing with the Pattern is messing with one's destiny.
Lest you think I'm simply making this up, consider the following. Kevin Cauley, who is the preacher for the Berryville Church of Christ, in Berryville, Arkansas (the state where I was born), has an article on his congregation's web site titled "Is Singing During The Lord's Supper Scriptural?" At the end of the article, Bro. Cauley writes, "My conclusion is that it is not a scriptural practice." In the course of his article, he explains why this is so. The bottom line is: "There are no scriptures that suggest that singing during the Lord's Supper is something that the early church did." In other words, if they didn't do it, then neither may we. Book, Chapter, Verse! Command, Example, Inference! LAW! PATTERN!
Thus, for a congregation to sing a hymn during the passing of the communion trays brings chaos and disorder to the assembly, and does not serve to further Christian unity, but disunity .... or, so declares Kevin Cauley. Therefore, Supper + Song = Sin. On a Non-Institutional Church of Christ Bible discussion group on the Internet known as Mars-List, the members debate endlessly the parameters of their elusive pattern (for example, some have recently gone round and round over whether one may utter an "Amen" in the assembly during a sermon as well as after a prayer, and whether this is for men only, or if women also may say "Amen"). Interesting, is it not, that the most divided and divisive group in Christendom is the legalistic patternists; they can't even agree among themselves what that pattern is. Anyway, in recent days one of the discussions has centered around the sinfulness of mixing acts of worship. An editor of one of their party publications wrote to another member, saying, "Now, if you have a Bible verse that suggests we have the Lord's Supper and singing at the same time, prance it out." It's the same tired old BCV (book, chapter, verse) mantra of the CENI hermeneutic. Another member sarcastically commented, "I am so amazed the liberal element is taking this stuff up again. Why not grab your wife and give her a kiss while partaking in the Lord's Supper? Jesus died for both of you; show me the verse where the Bible says you can't do it?"
Mixing acts of worship! Oh, the horror of it all!! Just think of how shocked some of these "liberal" brethren will be when they open their eyes in torment, discovering the cause of their eternal misery was that they dared to sing a hymn of praise to their Father while partaking of the elements of the Lord's Supper. I can just imagine God will stoke those fires a bit hotter for such apostates!! What Nonsense!! Brethren, if you have ever wondered why I take such a firm stand against the theology of patternism, this should serve as a perfect example. It is a theology of blasphemy against our God. I simply can not ... I will not ... stand by while the holiness and goodness of my Father is mocked in such manner! I will expose and refute this darkness wherever and whenever I can. Precious souls are enslaved to this patternistic perversion, and all it takes for that bondage to continue is for a few good men to do nothing. I must speak out, and I pray that more of you will also.
When determining such "weighty matters" as whether or not one may acceptably mix acts of worship, the solution is not found in poring over every sentence of the New Covenant documents to see if we can find an example of such, but rather in using our God-given powers of discernment and sound judgment to determine if such an act would be beneficial or detrimental. The apostle Paul gave us the principle when he wrote, "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Cor. 10:23). Several verses later he pointed out to these brethren, "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (vs. 31). The CENI hermeneutic of the ultra-conservative legalists leads them to seek out lawful patterns; a far more rational hermeneutic leads discerning disciples to seek out divine principles. May we sing a hymn during the observance of the Lord's Supper? Don't go picking apart verses looking for a pattern; seek out a principle! That principle is provided by Paul in the passages above.
In seeking to determine if singing during the Supper is an acceptable practice, we need to ask some very pointed questions: Does such glorify our Father? Does such edify our brethren? Does such help or hinder the unsaved who may be visiting our assembly? Does such draw us closer together as family, or does it drive us further apart? Does such consider the feelings and sensitivities of others, looking to their ultimate good, or is such a selfish act? The answers to such questions will guide us in determining whether such acts would be "profitable." Thus, it is not a matter of being "lawful," as Paul clearly declares; it is a matter of being beneficial. Frankly, these questions will be answered differently depending upon the spiritual personality of the congregation considering them. In some congregations, singing a hymn during the passing of the elements would be so contrary to the cherished tradition of the group that it could prove disruptive. In such cases, much more study and dialogue among the members may be required. In other congregations, however, such an act would be edifying. Therefore, they do not sin by engaging in such an act to the glory of their God. Principle over pattern is a far better approach.
Further, there is very little consistency in this opposition to mixing acts of worship. After all, are not some psalms and hymns actually prayers? Thus, when we sing these prayers are we not also mixing acts of worship? The book of Psalms is literally filled with melodious prayers, penned to be sung by worshipers in the assembly of God's people. Psalms were also sung by the early disciples (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Is it just possible, therefore, that on occasion these early church members (who are supposedly the basis for our pattern) actually sang prayers?! Would not "the pattern," therefore, actually support mixing acts of worship?
Have you ever noticed that many congregations will usually try in some way to separate the collection of funds from the Lord's Supper? This again goes back to the notion that one must never mix acts of worship. How many times have you heard the man at the podium say, "Now, separate and apart from the Lord's Supper, we will take up a collection"? Most disciples who hear this week after week probably don't even realize this comes largely from the influence over the years of this patternistic way of thinking. Some will even sing a hymn between the Lord's Supper and the offering just to be absolutely certain that the two don't overlap in any way.
May the members bow their heads in prayer during the passing of the elements, or is this also mixing acts of worship? Is it only a sin if they pray out loud, or is it also a sin if they pray silently? May the preacher pray during his sermon? Or, must he stop his sermon, say the prayer, and then resume his sermon so that no "mixing" takes place? I had a preacher tell me once that during his sermon he witnessed a family holding hands, with heads bowed, and the man was leading a whispered prayer. He asked them later what was going on, and they informed him that they were praying for a friend who was there that day; praying that the sermon would touch this man's heart and he would accept Christ Jesus. Were these people sinning by praying during the preaching? Isn't that mixing acts of worship? What if the friend of that family responded that day to the Lord's invitation? Would he be saved, but the family who prayed for him be lost?!! Probably, if we press the patternists to be consistent with their legalistic teaching.
Brethren, this is religious insanity. Yes, I oppose with all my being the theology of legalistic patternism. It is pernicious and perverted; deviant and demonic. It is blasphemy against the fair name of our merciful God, and an insult to His Spirit of grace. It is a swarming infestation of the church, and it needs to be eradicated forever from our midst. May God open the eyes of those who have fallen under the spell of such folly, and may we who live in grace reach out to our brethren who suffer, perhaps unwittingly, under the tyranny of this satanic spirit.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I Love This Movie!! I recommend it highly. Thanks, brother.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Brother Al, What an excellent review and thoughtful interpretation of the movie Chocolat. It is one of our favorites and we have watched it several times, each time remarking on the similarities between it and our church experiences! In fact, the first time we watched it, we were in the throes of being "spied upon" and critiqued at every turn, and the Comte reminded us so much of the brother doing the spying that it was (almost) comical! When we shared it with my parents, they too thought of that brother in the congregation. We enjoy the movie very much, and it always brings up discussions of those "lords within the Lord's church" who think it is their responsibility to keep everyone on the "straight and narrow." Blessings to you as you continue your work. And don't forget to enjoy a little chocolate every now and then. It's good for the body and the soul!
From a Reader in California:
Dear Brother, As always, I enjoyed this week's Reflections, and especially "felt" for the preacher from California who just wanted to lay it all down and walk away. We finally did as the Preacher from California wanted to do. We "laid out" for a while. But "laying out" of church services was not really the desire of our hearts, so we eventually started back. While we wanted to just "sit quietly on a bench someplace, soaking up what some truly spiritual preacher and teacher had to say," and while we did that for a time, not becoming involved, we realized that we were very lonely people. So now we attend and often sponsor small group meetings in our home where we have met many new friends, and we go one Thursday a month, along with our other small group members, to the Gospel Mission to help prepare and serve meals. It is all good, but sometimes you do just need a spiritual breather to see where you are (or maybe WHO you are)!!
From an Elder in Washington:
Al, I am a product of anti-movies, -smoking, -chewing, -petting ... you name it. If I went to a movie, I had a guilt feeling of a major sin. Mother used to tell me, "What if a tornado hit the theatre and you were killed, how would you explain to God where you were?" So, it has only been in recent years with cable that I have watched movies and analyzed them. So, I want to thank you for Reflections #198. Our preacher used movies as illustrations, and I had always thought, "Why is a preacher going to the movies, doesn't he know they are sinful?" Since then I have changed. By the way, when my daughter and wife watched Chocolat, I left the room and got online for something to do ... maybe I should watch it now; I do have the soundtrack CD, though.
From a Minister in India:
Dear Brother, Thank you very much for the posting in Reflections about the church here. Your articles are enlightening and uplifting. Although I have been studying Bible ever since my childhood, I am now learning many, many new things through your Reflections. Please keep up this good work. God bless you and your great work for Him.
From an Elder in Texas:
After reading your review, I drove to the video store and checked out "Chocolat." My wife and I watched it and liked it very much. I'm not sure we see everything you do in the film, but it is evident that it is a commentary on formal religion as opposed to natural kindness. We were a little surprised by the happy ending, though. Is that realistic? Last week we checked out "Hotel Rwanda." Now that's a moving film. Hard to watch at times, but all Christians interested in African missions probably ought to see it. I am now rereading John Stott's "Between Two Worlds: Preaching in the Twentieth Century." I presume you may be familiar with the book. All preachers should read it (and anything else by Stott, in my view).
From a Reader in Oregon:
Dear Brother Maxey, I listen to a local Christian "call in" radio talk show regularly. Yesterday I got into a discussion with the host concerning this matter of the Nicolaitans in Revelation. In my circle of Christian fellowship I have been taught that the Lord was speaking about the origins of the clergy/laity system, although I have been aware also of the possible explanation relating to this "Nicolaus" in Acts. I found your web site on the Internet, and your Reflections article -- The Nicolaitans: A Case Study In Compromise -- while researching this matter. I appreciate your much more thorough answer concerning this. God bless you in your distributing His Word to others.
If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. I would also welcome
any questions or comments from the readers. A CD
containing these articles may be purchased. Check the
ARCHIVES for details & past issues of Reflections: