by Al Maxey

Issue #572 ------- April 12, 2013
I hate a fellow whom pride, or cowardice or
laziness drives into a corner, and who does
nothing when he is there but sit and growl;
let him come out as I do, and bark.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

A Vast, Complex NT Pattern
Do the Apostles Paul and Peter Proclaim
Patternism and the Regulative Principle
in 1 Corinthians 4:6 and 1 Peter 4:11?

I would imagine the church sign pictured at left got your attention, as it did mine when I found it on the Internet. I don't know where this congregation is located, or exactly why they felt compelled to make that statement about Jesus, but if they truly believe the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 endorses legalism, then they understand neither the meaning of legalism nor the message of the Sermon on the Mount. Unfortunately, such woeful ignorance has plagued the church and our faith-heritage in particular from their two beginnings (one two millennia ago, the other two centuries ago).

As those of you who have followed my writing and speaking ministries for a number of years know only too well: legalistic patternism, and all the sectarian silliness associated with it, is a pestilence plaguing the people of God that I have devoted my life to exposing and opposing at every possible opportunity. In 2008, over a four month period, I engaged in an extensive debate on this topic with Darrell Broking (a minister and elder in Tennessee at the time, and a leading figure in the Contending for the Faith camp -- although he has since fallen out of favor with that bunch; nothing unusual there, as they tend to turn on their own in time). That debate may be read online at: The Maxey-Broking Debate, which one author and church historian characterized as being "probably the most powerful and convincing refutation of legalism published in the 20th century." There were thousands of people who wrote in about this debate (hundreds of those letters may be read by Clicking Here). As the debate was unfolding, it was being published on the Contending for the Faith web site (hosted by the church in Spring, TX) and repeatedly publicized within several issues of the magazine. In addition to this debate, I have also done extensive writing in my Reflections on this subject, and those articles may be found listed on my Topical Index page under the headings "Patternism" (30 articles), "Law of Silence" (28 articles), and "Requesting Legalism's List" (6 articles).

As a result of my work in this area, and my rather public stand against the evils of this false doctrine, I get a lot of letters, emails and phone calls from people: some asking questions, some expressing their appreciation, and some pouring out their condemnation upon me. Frankly, I appreciate all three, for the first group keeps me studying, the second group keeps me encouraged, and the third group keeps me grounded and focused. All three are needed for balance in one's ministry. As an example of the first group, I received the following email last week from a reader in Texas: "Last night in our Wednesday evening Bible class, our preacher was lamenting the practice of 'certain elements' who are speaking critically of the NT pattern by labeling it 'patternism.' He quickly quoted two passages as proof of the vast and complex pattern -- 1 Cor. 4:6 and 1 Peter 4:11. These have been quoted my whole life to prop up the idea of a NT pattern and the regulative principle. Yet, I have long believed that it is an overreach to do so (although I haven't been able to explain why). I notice you haven't devoted much space in your writings to these two passages, and was wondering what your thoughts are on them. Thanks in advance." In this current issue of Reflections I hope to demonstrate, by a careful examination of each of these two passages, that neither text has anything to do with promoting a legalistic, patternistic theology for the church, nor do they endorse the regulative principle or the so-called "Law of Silence."

PAUL - 1 Corinthians 4:6

There were some serious problems within the church at Corinth. One of the most glaring, and Paul confronts it before any of the others, was the quarreling among the members over various personalities (such as Paul, Peter and Apollos): a situation that could easily result in the dismemberment of the Body of Christ in that city. Their foolish wrangling over the merits of various men, whom they had elevated to pedestals, had the potential to destroy them and/or any efficacy they might have in sharing the gospel with those around them. Thus, in the first several chapters of this first epistle to the brethren in Corinth, Paul spends a significant amount of time discussing the nature of his ministry, and how he and others should be perceived. They were just servants; mere men who had been gifted by God for their individual ministries. They were not worthy of the veneration being shown them; the glory belonged to God alone, who had given them their abilities and opportunities. Paul then declares to them, "Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, 'Do not go beyond what is written.' Then you will not take pride in one man over against another" (1 Cor. 4:6).

Some were taking pride in the fact that they were converts and/or followers of Paul or Apollos or Peter (Cephas), and were, thereby, depreciating the discipleship of others who were not of their particular party. This was arrogance, and it was forming factions within the Family of God in Corinth. Paul, in his denunciation of this schism, used himself and Apollos as examples to show just how much they had failed to perceive the true nature of each man and his ministry. Had they grasped the grace of God bestowed upon each in their individual ministries, they would have realized that one was not above the other, but that both were merely servants (each in different ways according to the gifts given them) with a common purpose: the building up of the Body of Christ. "So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ" (1 Cor. 4:1). "So then, no more boasting about men ... whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas" (1 Cor. 3:21-22). "What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe -- as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers" (1 Cor. 3:5-9).

Rather than glorying in men, the Corinthians should have been glorifying God. Instead, they were displaying a party spirit -- "you are taking pride in one man over against another" -- which can only lead to division. "This is the rule with partisans. They are 'for' the one and 'against' the other" [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. "With arrogant pride, they were aligning themselves with a favorite leader and looking with disdain on others" [Dr. T. R. Applebury, Studies in First Corinthians, p. 72]. Partisanship, by its very nature, is aggressive (and thus divisive): we are militantly for the one, and militantly against the other. Peace will not long prevail in the presence of a party spirit. "The exaltation of one set of teachers is almost invariably accompanied by mean and unjust depreciation of any who could be supposed to be their rivals" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 134]. "Those who cried up Apollos cried down Paul, and vice versa" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 800]. Thus, Paul attacked this prideful party spirit immediately, as the first order of business, in his first epistle to the Corinthians.

All of this is pretty clear, and few will take exception to this analysis of the circumstances underlying the passage before us. However, there is a statement in the text (1 Cor. 4:6) that has led some to perceive "patternism." Paul tells them they must learn the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Some see here the basis for their dogma about the necessity of "book, chapter and verse" for everything we say and do in the church today. They also perceive here the basis for their view that biblical silence is prohibitive in nature. In other words, if you can't provide "book, chapter and verse" for something, then it is SIN. For example, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown have this to say about Paul's statement: "Revere the silence of Holy Writ, as much as its declarations: so you will less dogmatize on what is not expressly revealed" [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1195]. Although the first part of this statement could be taken as endorsement of the patternistic view, the latter half could just as easily be taken as a caution against such a view. It seems to me they are suggesting that where true biblical silence exists (where God has genuinely said nothing about something), we should not be dogmatic one way or the other with regard to our personal preferences, perceptions and/or practices. To do otherwise, it seems to me, is to not only dogmatize, but create and establish LAW where God Himself has not done so! That is hardly showing respect for His silence. In those areas where God has truly said nothing with respect to some matter, we must employ common sense in our actions, coupled with great reverence for God and love for our fellow man, so that what we may approve brings glory to our God and uplifts those around us.

When Paul said, "Do not go beyond what is written," what exactly did he have in mind? The answer is not quite as simple as some might think. Dr. C. K. Barrett, for example, writes, "Many of the details of the opening verse are far from clear" [A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 105]. The Pulpit Commentary points out that this phrase used by Paul "is of very uncertain meaning ... and, like so many others, has only a very remote connection with the sense in which it is usually quoted" [vol. 19, p. 134]. In other words, it is often used to prove a rigid reliance upon "book, chapter and verse," yet that is most likely the last thing Paul had in mind. Dr. A. T. Robertson, a noted NT Greek scholar, even confessed that "it is difficult to reproduce the Greek idiom in English" when trying to translate this statement by Paul, although he feels confident it was a well-known "proverb or rule" that Paul was quoting [Word Pictures in the NT, e-Sword]. Another Greek scholar, Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, concurs: "the construction marks the saying as proverbial ... a Rabbinical adage" [The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 2, p. 800]. He then points out: "In general maxims it is superfluous to look for particular passages intended" [ibid]. In other words, Paul, in quoting this proverbial tenet, may not have had any one particular OT passage in mind, but rather "the general strain of Scripture requiring the children of God to be modest and humble" [Albert Barnes, Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. Paul is not referring to any specific "book, chapter or verse" in the OT, but is rather urging them to live by the spirit of the OT writings, which throughout denounce arrogance and contention, and which also throughout urge men to glorify God rather than one another. Dr. Charles Ellicott states that such is "the general tone and scope of the OT writings, which ever ascribe glory to God alone, that none should be puffed up on behalf of one against another" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 299].

What Paul appears to be advocating, and which he employs this maxim to bolster, is that God's people should be aware of the basic messages of His divine revelation, a key aspect of which is that we are to be loving, kind, humble, merciful, compassionate, etc. This was NOT happening in Corinth, and thus the disciples were "going beyond" the parameters of godly behavior established by God. Yes, God has established boundaries with regard to our behavior, and when we step beyond those boundaries bad things happen. This truth, however, hardly establishes the kind of "legalistic patternism" being promoted by rigid religionists today, who tend to draw their "circle of acceptance" far more narrowly than does our Father. By leaving the statement rather general, rather than specific, Paul is focusing the minds of his readers on the spirit of law, rather than the letter of it: on principles, rather than precepts. Even in the OT passages previously quoted by Paul in this epistle, and to which, collectively, he may also have been alluding, "taken together, they are a strong protest against the conceit that was causing men to boast of their own wisdom" [Dr. T. R. Applebury, Studies in First Corinthians, p. 72]. "All his Old Testament quotations so far have referred to humility" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 134]. Thus, Paul is simply showing "the sin and futility of partisanship" [ibid, p. 133], and also the need for humility, which will lead them to glory only in God, rather than in one another (or in themselves). This passage has nothing to do with a "regulative principle" or with the "Law of Silence" or with any kind of system of "church law" based on "book, chapter and verse."

PETER - 1 Peter 4:11

Well, then, what about the apostle Peter's statement in 1 Peter 4:11? Can we detect "patternism" there? Notice what he wrote: "If anyone speaks, his speech should be like the oracles of God; if anyone serves, his service should be from the strength God provides, so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen." It's interesting that in this passage we see much the same emphasis as in the previously discussed passage from Paul's first epistle to the brethren in Corinth. In all things, whether in our speech or in our service, it is GOD who is to be glorified, not those who are doing the speaking or serving. The mistake the Corinthians were making was that they were elevating and glorifying (and glorying in) mere men, which very quickly led to squabbles and schisms. Peter shifts the emphasis somewhat from those who hear and see our words and actions, to those actually doing the speaking and serving. But the message is essentially the same: God has blessed us each, individually, with certain gifts and opportunities, and these are designed to be employed to the benefit of others and to His glory, not our own. This prevents us from developing a sense of self-importance and self-sufficiency. It is His strength that empowers us in our service, and it is His message we ought to be speaking. Thus, focusing on the first element in the verse, when we presume to speak for the Lord, let us make sure we are declaring that which He has revealed to us in His Word, and not our own assumptions and agendas.

The phrase the "legalistic patternists" latch on to in this passage is: "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (KJV). Again, this is declared to mean: when we preach or teach, regardless of the venue, we must give "book, chapter and verse" for everything we proclaim. This additionally is said to mean: where God is "silent," we must proclaim divine prohibition of whatever it is that God chose to say nothing about. In other words, what God doesn't mention He hates! In this way we are said to comply with the injunction of Peter in this passage. I beg to differ. Peter is simply stating that when we presume to speak for our God, those who hear us should recognize that the message is His, not ours. Or, to quote Guy N. Woods on this passage, "the utterance was to be readily recognizable as of divine origin" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles of Peter, p. 114]. It is thus in complete conformity with His nature and His purpose as perceived in His revelation. "That which was said was in harmony with the oracles of God" [ibid]. It may very well not be a direct quote from a specific passage, but it is clearly consistent with His will for His creation. We must recognize our obligation: "to declare the mind and will of the Divinity. ... To bring the holy and gracious God near to those who listen, that they may understand" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 189]. And this we do by the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us in the understanding and proclamation of His inspired revelation; and this we do to the glory of the Father and the Son. When our teaching and preaching and speaking forth for the Father "issue out of a heart cleansed by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, then they are His utterances" [ibid, p. 180]. Such a one "was so to yield himself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that his teaching should be the teaching of God; he was to seek no praise or reward for himself, but only the glory of God" [ibid, p. 174].

Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, said, "Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Paul emphasized the same principle: "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). Both Peter and Paul, in the two texts being examined in this Reflections, have sought to draw our focus away from ourselves and place it upon the Lord. It is HE who is to be glorified, not us. When we lose this focus, everything begins to fall apart around us. Thus, the need for humility in all our dealings within the One Body, and the need for the Spirit to help us all grow in our understanding of the nature of our God and His will for mankind. "When tempted to use their gift of speech for the purpose of advancing their own interests or displaying their own powers, such men have been checked by the recollection of this just and holy requirement: that they should speak as God's oracles" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 189]. "Peter's wish is that every message and every ministry in the congregations of Asia Minor may 'glorify God'" [J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 49, p. 252]. The biblical scholar and commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) stated it this way: "In all the duties and services of life we should aim at the glory of God as our chief end; all other views must be subservient to this, which would sanctify our common actions and affairs" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

Frankly, I find absolutely nothing in either of these passages that would in any way give any credence to the view that Paul and Peter were promoting some form of rigid religiosity or legalistic pattern of perception, proclamation or practice in the church. Rather, both simply sought to encourage brethren to perceive the nature of their Father and conduct themselves in such a way as to reflect that nature in all they say and do. In so doing, they give glory to Him, rather than magnifying themselves (which inevitably leads to interpersonal conflict). In all we say, and in all we do, we are to be visible representations of His divine will. Is this "patternism"? Well, if you mean by that term that we are to "look like Jesus, His Son," then I would agree with that definition of "patternism." After all, in the hymn "Where He Leads I'll Follow," we sing: "He the great example is, and pattern for me." Yes, Jesus is my Pattern. Some person's or party's perception of Jesus, and their sectarian expectations for His church, can never rise to that level. I will gladly bow to the former's "rule of love;" never to the latter's "rule of law."

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Readers' Reflections


After I sent out my article "The Bottle-Fed Church: Moving from Milk to Meat" (Reflections #570), I received quite a few responses. One such response was from a very well-known leader in Churches of Christ, a man whom I have respected for many, many years. He is both a minister and shepherd, has authored over 70 books, holds seminars and workshops all over the world, has served in administration with four different Christian colleges, and has touched the lives of countless thousands for Christ for almost half a century of public ministry. He, through his writings, was one of the early encouragers of me in my own budding ministry many years ago, although he didn't know it at the time (I have since thanked him for that influence). Therefore, when he offers an insight or asks a question or makes a suggestion, I listen. After my above mentioned article, he wrote me the following:

I would like to ask each of you to think seriously about what this brother has requested, and then share your insights with me. The concern presented in my article "The Bottle-Fed Church" is one we have probably all encountered, and one with which we have probably all struggled. But, what is the solution? IS there a solution? Not just from a theoretical, ideological perspective, but from a practical perspective. What can we DO to address this problem? Again, I would love to hear from you on this. Hopefully, at some future date, I can put your thoughts together with mine and present them in a special Reflections. Thank you in advance for your input.

From an Elder in Massachusetts:

I have just finished reading your book One Bread, One Body, and I found it to be a most enjoyable read. I read it after first reading your latest book Immersed By One Spirit, which I enjoyed as well. Al, keep up the good work. I always enjoy your Reflections. You are a bright light to many of us, helping to show the way to a better understanding of God's plans for His children. Grace and peace to you and your family.

From a Missionary in Latvia:

I am currently taking the congregation on a journey through the book of Galatians. Obviously, Gal. 5:4 spells out the false gospel that was being advocated by the Judaizers. This passage ("You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace"), in principle, applies to any law system. I am wondering whether the corollary to the message of Galatians wouldn't be, as Danny Dixon states in his book, "This was the principle Paul was establishing: no command or requirement not set forth by direct apostolic inspired instruction as necessary to salvation can be made a test of salvation. If it is so set forth, there has been a fundamental breach of the truth of the gospel. And the consequences are severe for the person who does so (Gal. 1:8-9)" [Danny Dixon, Standing to Change, Star Bible Publications, 1993, p. 92]. Do you have any comments concerning the quote from Dixon's book?

From an Evangelist in India:

Brother, I am writing this email to you from Andhra Pradesh, India where I am involved in full-time gospel work and Bible teaching with an outreach program ("Word of Truth Ministries - India") carried out by the ------ Church of Christ. I came to know about you and your writings as I was reading Samuel G. Dawson's wonderful article titled "Jesus' Teaching on Hell," in which he made mention of you and your work, citing several quotes from your writings. Through the use of Google I was able to find you and your work, and was able to read the rest of your studies on this subject. They were very enlightening and thought-provoking. Thank you so much!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Thanks for bringing up the Christian Anarchists in your article. I had never heard of them, and it's definitely a great "talking point." In many cases, as George Orwell famously said, "Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist."

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

I recently shared one of your articles with my e-mail friends, and one of the "bottle-fed" variety (as per your article "The Bottle-Fed Church") dismissed it with the thought that "some people study too much!" Ignorance is bliss!!

From an Author/Leader in California:

There are numerous aspects of Christian Anarchism in David Lipscomb's book titled "Civil Government." The ideas presented in this book shaped the thinking early on of many within the One Cup sect, and those ideas still prevail to a great extent to this day, although many who embrace them probably haven't read the book and thus haven't a clue as to their source. Carl Ketcherside once told me that there was a book written in reply to Lipscomb's book, but he had loaned his copy to someone who hadn't returned it, and thus he wasn't able to loan it to me. If I remember correctly, it was by a man named Rowe. I would like to read that book!

From a Reader in Canada:

It is a challenge for some to be consistent. For example, would those who refuse to pay taxes seek the assistance of the police, fire department, hospital, or other tax-paid-for service, if a need arose for such in their lives?! I don't object to paying taxes (though we pay higher taxes in Canada than some places) because of the benefits to society as a whole (although I do dislike seeing so much of the money going to waste).

From a Reader in Texas:

Thank you for another great article -- "Christian Anarchism." I believe David Lipscomb had some similar beliefs, and that he refused to vote. I am a relatively new reader of your Reflections, so I have not made it through all of the wealth of material contained in your earlier articles, but this week you made reference to Reflections #345 -- Concealed Carry Christians: Pistol Packin' Pastors and Parishioners, which I found to be a very interesting and thought-provoking article, and something I've wondered about myself. In general, I follow your reasoning, but I still have a hard time reconciling what Jesus says in Matt. 5:39-41 and Luke 6:29-30 with your point of view on this topic. I believe Jesus' example is that we are to trust God ... no matter where that leads. I really struggle with this, and was wondering if you could expand on your thoughts. We have a right under our Constitution to self-defense, yet that is irrelevant. I'm only interested in our rights granted by God in His inspired revelation.

From a Reader in Georgia:

How timely!! I just had my first experience with this philosophy (Christian Anarchism) today! I guess I can understand the conviction one may have in this matter, and I'll leave it to that person to work it out for themselves. I can also understand the attitude of a person who just can't bring themselves to kill another human being based on their understanding of the Scriptures (as long as this isn't just an excuse for being a coward). I think this is an area where I must give them the freedom and grace to be who they think they should be, because this is their conscience, which they must adhere to before God. Nevertheless, the freedom these people enjoy from tyrannical oppression and violence of all kinds is theirs to enjoy because others have paid (and continue to pay) the price for that freedom -- men and women of honor who willingly serve that all the rest of us may be free. I would prefer that such persons of this Christian Anarchist philosophy let me know in advance how they feel before I get in a situation where I might need to rely upon them to help protect me or my family ... just saying!!

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