Issue #577 -------
June 14, 2013
It is certainly no part of
religion to compel religion
Tertullian (c. 155-225 A.D.)
One of the fundamental misconceptions of the militant legalists is that those of us who reject their restrictive theology also reject the concept of a revealed "pattern" for God's creation. For example (as noted in my previous Reflections), Carrol Ray Sutton, in the April, 2013 issue [volume 50, number 4] of "The Instructor" (in an article titled "If There Is No Pattern"), wrote, "apostates (and other false teachers) like Edward Fudge, Al Maxey, Max Lucado, Leroy Garrett, Rubel Shelly, Randy Harris, Royce Ogle, Jay Guin, Lynn Anderson, etc. contend that there is no pattern in the New Testament for us to follow" [p. 2]. This is demonstrably untrue. I have repeatedly acknowledged the presence of divinely prescribed "patterns" for the people of God to follow. In the March, 2010 issue of New Wineskins, by way of a singular example, in my article titled "Pondering Patternism," I clearly declared, "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."
The problem I have with the legalists is not the presence of a pattern; rather, my problem with them is in the identification of the specific particulars of that pattern, as well as in the stated purpose and end result of following said pattern. The legalistic patternists firmly believe, as Mr. Sutton stated in his article, that the particulars of the pattern must be practiced precisely "in order to please God and thus be saved eternally." This is the problem. These legalists have searched the NT writings for rules, regulations, practices and precepts (many of which have been inferred/deduced from what God didn't say -- the argument of "silence") to impose upon themselves and others for the purpose of pleasing God and thus being saved. Eternal salvation, therefore, is tied to identifying the particulars of some pattern contained within the NT writings and then following that pattern precisely. That is a salvation based on human perception and performance, which is contrary to God's grace. Our salvation is found in a Person, not in the particulars of a pattern. This is the same mistake made by the legalists and religionists of our Lord's day: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). The Jews were looking for the particulars of some legalistic pattern, the perfect performance of which would secure their salvation, and yet the path to their salvation stood right before them in the person of Jesus! Men make the same mistake today! I like the way The Message worded this passage: "You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you'll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about Me!" The legalists, in searching for a salvation that is based upon the perfect perception and performance of the particulars of a pattern, have missed that graciously proffered salvation through faith in the propitiation of Jesus Christ. The Bible does not reveal a saving pattern, but a saving Person! Too many search the Scriptures for the former, and in so doing fail to find the latter.
Yes, our Father has expectations of His children. He has clearly stated that some things are right and some things are wrong, and He fully expects those who love Him to conduct themselves accordingly. We have been created in the image of our Father, and He longs for His sons and daughters "to look like Him." To help accomplish this, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) so that we might perceive how the divine nature behaved in human form. Jesus told His disciples (and, by extension, us) that by seeing Him they had seen the Father. How do we know what God expects of us as we walk in fellowship with Him in this present world? Look to our example, our pattern: Jesus. How are we to behave in the various circumstances of life? Look to our example, our pattern: Jesus. As the words of the old hymn by William Ogden suggest so beautifully, "HE the great example is, and pattern for me" [Where He Leads I'll Follow, written in 1885]. Just as Jesus was the visible reflection of the Father, so are we to be transformed by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit into visible reflections of the Son. Paul, in Rom. 8:29, speaks of the reality of being "conformed to the likeness of His Son." He, therefore, is the Pattern for our lives. "This is how we know we are in Him: whoever claims to live in Him must walk just as Jesus did" (1 John 2:5-6). "Just as/like" (Greek: kathos) is a comparative adverb that is used 182 times in the NT writings (71% of the time by the apostles Paul and John). We are to purify ourselves, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3). We are to be righteous, just as He is righteous (1 John 3:7). We are to be merciful, just as He is merciful (Luke 6:36). We are to forgive others, just as He forgives us (Col. 3:13). We are to accept one another, just as He has accepted us (Rom. 15:7). We are to be united as one, just as the Father and Son are one (John 17:21f). We are to serve one another (example: foot-washing), just as He served His own disciples (John 13:15). We are to love each other, just as He has loved us (John 13:34-35; 15:12). Yes, there is a pattern revealed in the Scriptures we must follow/imitate -- JESUS. Paul sought to follow the example/pattern of the life of Jesus, and urged those who looked to him to do the same: "Follow my example of following the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1).
A truth the legalistic patternists have failed to perceive, sadly, is that we abide by these divine expectations (patterning ourselves after the likeness of Jesus Christ) because we are saved, not in order to be saved. Further, the legalists have ADDED hundreds upon hundreds of additional particulars to "the pattern." These particulars are derived from inferences drawn as to how the early disciples of Jesus practiced their faith. It is here that the legalistic patternists part company (sever fellowship) with one another, because none of them can agree on the specifics of what constituted the pattern of early church practice. Thus, they fight and divide over whether we should use one cup or multiple cups, whether we should have a church building, how we sing, how we give, etc. By seeking to formulate a pattern from the practice of early Christians (about which we know remarkably little), rather than recognizing Jesus Himself as our Pattern in how to reflect the divine nature in our daily lives, we have succeeded only in looking less like Him and more like the embittered, embattled world around us!
It greatly perturbs the legalistic patternists whenever I point this out. They hate it, and typically attack almost immediately, because they know it exposes the fatal flaws within their theology. After every article I produce on patternism I know that I will receive a rash of emails, letters and phone calls of the "you're going to burn in hell" variety. I never receive a point-by-point reasoned refutation of what I have written. Another thing I have never received, even though I have been asking for it over and over and over for almost 40 years now, is a list of the specific particulars of this NT "pattern" which must be practiced precisely "in order to please God and thus be saved eternally" (as per the teaching of Mr. Sutton and other legalists). If indeed there IS such a specific pattern -- and these people say there is (Sutton writes: "Without question there is an inspired pattern we must follow in order for us to know that we have eternal life ... it is absolutely essential that we have and continue to follow an inspired pattern") -- then WHY do they refuse to provide it?! On my Topical Index page I have documented my attempts to acquire this list of specifics (you can find them in the six articles listed under the heading "Requesting Legalism's List"). I would urge you to examine this body of evidence exposing the shenanigans of these sectarians. They declare you can't please God -- indeed, you can't be saved -- unless you follow their list of patternistic particulars, yet they REFUSE to tell you what is on their list!! The reason for this failure is simple: they know only too well that their list is filled to overflowing with personal and party preferences largely deduced from what the Bible doesn't say. In other words, they have elevated their tradition to law. This is the very thing Jesus condemned: "Their teachings are but rules taught by men" (Matt. 15:9) ... "Thus you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition" (Matt. 15:6). Like the various warring Jewish sects, the legalistic, patternistic sects today are equally divided; they can't even agree among themselves what constitutes this elusive "pattern" by which men supposedly please God and acquire salvation. And the fact that they therefore REFUSE to provide that list to those who ask for it shows, in my estimation, an inherent dishonesty and desire to deceive in order to further their own faction. Unable to justify their own list (which differs dramatically from the lists unique to the other factions), they instead attack those who request it.
The morning after I mailed out my last article (Reflections #576 -- Mutton-Munching Mugwumps: The "Apostasy" of "Educated Intellectuals") I heard from one of my regular critics, as expected. Hugh Fulford is a respected minister in the conservative wing of the Churches of Christ, and currently preaches in Tennessee. He is a regularly featured writer for the very legalistic publication The Spiritual Sword. Hugh also sends out via email a little publication called Hugh's News and Views in which he shares his thoughts and insights with those on his mailing list. I have received this for quite some time, and have corresponded with Hugh for a number of years regarding various matters pertaining to our heritage. Although Hugh and I certainly do not share the same convictions on a number of issues, he has nevertheless generally been somewhat kind and respectful in his exchanges with me (moreso than many). I have reviewed a number of his articles and teachings in the past in my Reflections (see Issue #503 -- The "Belief After Baptism" Doctrine: Sectarian Sacramentalism & the Philippian Jailer -- for a recent example).
In his above mentioned email to me after reading my last Reflections, Hugh Fulford informed me that in his next issue of his publication (Hugh's News and Views) he would "address the matter of 'patterns,'" which he said he regarded as "a topic of immediate interest or concern," the likes of which "occasionally, even often, pre-empt another essay." He then added, "Now may be an appropriate time to do so." In other words, as I understood his statement, he had been intending, at some point, to publish an article in which he shared his thoughts on this particular topic, but, in light of what I had just written in Reflections, he felt it should be released sooner rather than later. I wrote him back and stated, "I will be looking forward to your 'News and Views' in the hope that you will provide something new and of substance." Unfortunately, his article was nothing new and contained nothing of any substance. It was the same tired old arguments that have been refuted time and again. However, please don't accept my opinion as fact without examining what Hugh had to say in that article. One thing I have always tried to do (a courtesy rarely returned by my critics) is provide a way for my readers to examine the writings I review in their entirety so that they may decide for themselves if my analysis is accurate and if I have fairly represented the author's own words (which I try to quote exactly). Thus, the article briefly reviewed below may be acquired directly from Hugh by writing and asking for a copy. The article is titled "The Pattern Principle" and was sent out to his subscribers on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Hugh's address is: email@example.com -- I'm sure he would be happy to send you a copy, or even add you to his mailing list if you would like to receive future studies by him (many of which are quite good, by the way).
I have read Hugh's article several times, carefully, and I have to admit that much of what he wrote I concur with completely. In the first paragraph (and there are only nine -- it's not a long article) he talks about God's design for marriage. Yes, God intended for it to be between a man and woman. He intended it to be for life. If one wants to characterize this as "the divine pattern for marriage," I have no problem with that. Certainly, God has established the parameters of this covenant relationship. God also had expectations with regard to the behavior of Adam and Eve in the garden. They were to take care of it, and they were also not to eat of the fruit of one particular tree. Hugh sees a "pattern" here, and, if he wants to use that word, he is free to do so. Clearly, God had specified His expectations of this couple, and He had given them some guidance (both prescriptive and proscriptive). In paragraph three Hugh talks about Noah and the ark, and in paragraph four he brings up Moses and the building/furnishing of the tabernacle. Again, in both cases, God was pretty specific in what He wanted, and specified in quite some detail what He expected. Again, Hugh sees the concept of "divine patterns" here, and that is fine, although I might differ with him on some of the assumptions he and others draw from this.
Where Hugh and I begin to part company theologically is when he shifts his focus from examples under the old covenant to statements and examples under the new covenant. Too many legalistic patternists, it seems, want to carry over the "law book" concept into the writings of the new covenant, where "breaking a rule," generally in a "worship service" (as per Nadab and Abihu -- oh, how they love this one!), results in a "fiery death" at the hands of an angry God. Hugh states, "If the inferior physical house (the tabernacle) was built according to divine pattern, how much more the superior spiritual house of Christ (the church)." What Hugh fails to do, however, is specify precisely what the individual particulars of that divine pattern are! List them, Hugh. They were certainly listed in great detail under the old covenant, so let's have that long list provided in the writings of the new covenant. I have asked for this list many, many times, and the answer from the legalists is almost always the same: "It's in the NT ... go find it for yourself."
In his article, Hugh also declares, "Make no mistake about it: God has a divine pattern to which every person must conform who would receive the forgiveness of sins!" That statement makes the pattern, and strict compliance to its particulars, a salvation issue. Since our very lives depend on following this pattern precisely (or so they claim), doesn't it make sense that they would willingly provide it? Yet, Hugh does not tell us in his article what that pattern IS "to which every person must conform who would receive the forgiveness of sins." Let's have that list of specifics, Hugh, and please don't leave a single particular out. Hugh also states, "The New Testament sets forth a pattern for acceptable worship." Okay, let's have that list of particulars for that pattern. Please be specific! List them all. He continues: "God's divine pattern for man's salvation (both here and hereafter) stands unchanged." Fabulous. If it is unchanged, then the implication is that it is clearly discerned in Scripture. So, Hugh, let's have it. Item by item. Every single particular provided; not a single one excluded. Remember, if we are to be justified by compliance with precepts and patterns (law), then to miss even one results in death. Right?! So, be thorough, Hugh. Let's have what I have been asking for these past 40 years, and which I have never received: THE definitive list of the specific particulars of this divine pattern. My life depends on it, Hugh, so please do not delay. I need to have that list so I can daily check off each box "in order to please God and thus be saved eternally" (so says Mr. Sutton).
Under the old covenant, there most certainly were a vast number of legislative requirements, and they were quite specific. That is no longer true under the new covenant. Perhaps this is nowhere stated more clearly than in Hebrews 9:1-10. Hugh spoke of a NT "pattern for acceptable worship." We know there was such under the old covenant, for Heb. 9:1 states, "Now the first covenant had regulations for worship." The assumption of the legalistic patternists, of course, is that this restrictive patternistic regulation of worship continues under the new covenant. It does NOT. Heb. 9:10 informs us that such "external regulations" were only in force "until the time of the new order." Under the new order of things (our covenant of grace in Christ Jesus, in which we are free of such restrictive regulation of worshipful expression) our worship is from the heart and offered in the genuineness of love and devotion to Him. The limitations of law have been lifted; we are free to worship as our Spirit-filled hearts lead us. It is this that Jesus spoke of in John 4:21-24 (see my thoughts on this in Reflections #112 -- The Nature of True Worship and Reflections #33 -- Worship Reformation; also, I respond to questions regarding this latter article from two well-known ministers [J. D. Tant and T. Pierce Brown, the latter of whom is now deceased] in Reflections #33a).
When people like Hugh speak of the "NT pattern for acceptable worship," what they really mean is this: if a group does not follow their tradition for a "worship service," then that group is "apostate" and bound for hell. Specifically, they are concerned with a number of party particulars associated with the Lord's Supper (on every Sunday, and only on Sunday; how many cups; fermentation of the juice; what grain is used in the making of the bread; etc.) and with singing (acappella or accompanied). Their personal and party preference, of course, IS "the NT pattern." Yet, there are as many official "NT patterns of worship" as there are schisms and factions and parties, each of which insist only their pattern is God's revealed pattern (although "revealed" is a bit misleading, since most of these pattern particulars are assumed and deduced by mere men from what God didn't reveal in the NT writings). This is precisely why these people will REFUSE to reveal or release their list of pattern particulars. They know it consists of tradition rather than Truth, thus you will never, ever get that list from them, and if you persist in your efforts to do so they will attack you without mercy. Their survival as a peculiar party (which, in their view, IS "the one, true church"), whose identity is largely based upon following their own perception of "the pattern" (primarily as it pertains to the "worship service"), depends upon shutting you up and avoiding such exposure. How our Father must grieve over such shameful sectarianism! He called us to loving fellowship in a Person, and we tear one another apart over some elusive pattern. The next time you sing the hymn "Where He Leads I'll Follow," take a moment to seriously consider the words coming from your lips and try to plant them deeply within your heart: "HE the great example is, and pattern for me." We have been called to a relationship with the Father through the Son, and into relationship with one another as a result of that divine union. It was this Jesus came and died to establish, not another rules-based religion. Brethren, it's all about a Person, not a pattern, and it's time we woke up to that fact.
SPECIAL BOOK RELEASE -- A good friend of mine, and a very dear brother-in-Christ, Stanley W. Paher of Reno, Nevada, with whom I have been privileged to spend quality time face-to-face over the years sharing our hopes and dreams for the Body of Christ, has just released his new book, and I am happy to be able to use this venue to tell you about it. The title is: "The Church Shark: A Pernicious Dogmatism Revealed." This work deals decisively with "the evil of authoritarianism," as well as suggesting a practical "program for recovery." This book is just under 300 pages and normally sells for $19.95. However, Stanley writes, "I have a special offer to your Reflections readers. If anyone orders this book before July 5, I will reduce the price for them to $12 (plus an additional $3.60 for shipping)." That is a savings of roughly 22%. Stanley sent me a signed copy of this book, and I am really appreciating reading his insights, as well as enjoying his writing style. I believe you will too. You may contact him at: 4135 Badger Circle, Reno, NV 89519. Phone number: 775-747-0800. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
It has been a while since I have written to you, yet I continue to wish God's wonderful blessings upon you and your family. I am always reading your Reflections and praying for you. Over the years, your writings have enlightened me with regard to my thinking on God's Word. Thank you for all you do. You are loved in this household in Tennessee!
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, I thank my Lord Jesus Christ for you daily! Having grown up in all the entanglements of the legalism you so powerfully and regularly describe, I praise God for your commitment to remain within our "fellowship" and challenge us to "dare to think and ask questions." My 72nd birthday is next week, and I will have been preaching for 52 years in August. I am so thankful for your influence upon my thinking and my ministry!
From a Reader in Alabama:
As one who grew up among the Non-Institutional brethren in northern Alabama, moved away for 24 years, and is now back there, I can speak with some knowledge of this preacher (Carrol Ray Sutton) whom you mentioned in your latest Reflections. He is way too "conservative" for the tastes of a good number of us, believe me. I've always seen him as a legalist, an extremist, and one who is totally focused on rule-keeping and binding things on folks that God doesn't bind. There are many others around here who share this assessment. The East Albertville Church of Christ, where he has been preaching for 50 years, hasn't grown in any significant way to my knowledge, and it isn't hard to guess why. Believe me, I have much more respect for you, Rubel Shelly, Jeff Walling (a personal friend), Lynn Anderson, Mike Cope, etc. than I do for Mr. Sutton. May God bless you, brother, and please keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your Reflections.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
I hope you enjoyed your vacation, although I did miss your Reflections. It's good to have them coming again. As for Carrol Ray Sutton, I had a debate with him in 1978 on the orphans' home question. It was my first on the subject, and I found Carrol to be a Christian gentleman in that discussion. It was well-attended, and we kept the debate on a high plane. I think Carrol is sincere and honest in his position, it is just that he is trapped in a mindset that originates with man rather than God. As to style, Carrol is a stand up, no movement guy; not a lot of emotion, just matter-of-fact, take it or leave it style. Thanks for your ministry, brother.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Thank you so much for your bold approach to Truth. You equip us all powerfully with your Reflections, which obviously are products of much prayer, study and meditation. Again, thank you.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
A few minutes after reading your Reflections for this week, I came to this verse in my daily study: John 13:35 -- "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." That is the "pattern" that seems so difficult for some to grasp, as they consistently fail to show this love to the world. Somehow, you have been given grace to confront in love those who seem to be not at all concerned with this verse. Keep it up, brother!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
It appears to me that the NT "pattern" is: Love God with your entire being and love your neighbor as yourself. If we used this pattern to mold all behavior, what a different church we would see ... and be.
From a Reader in Canada:
I loved this statement in your last Reflections: "Unfortunately, there are many 'Mug Wumps' in the churches these days. They sit with their 'wumps' in a church pew, but their 'mugs' are in the world." I almost fell off my chair laughing when I read this. Yet, it presents a very serious problem. We all need to keep our "mugs" in the Messiah, and not in the world. Keep on keeping on, brother. I really appreciate all that you do.
From a Reader in Virginia:
The topic of women leading singing came up the other night. I have been in the church for over 40 years, but I can't remember a time when I ever saw this done or even heard about it being done. Is a female song leader something you are aware of or familiar with? As you might expect, along with this, the subject of women's roles in the church came up also. I personally can't see any reason that women can't participate in this manner, other than it goes against our own heritage and tradition. If I'm mistaken, please point me in a direction for further study. I really enjoy your Reflections, Al. I hope you had a good vacation and that you enjoyed a time of relaxation and refreshing.
I believe your assessment is exactly right. Women leading singing in a mixed assembly most certainly goes against the tradition of some religious groups, but I find absolutely nothing in Scripture that even remotely suggests it is a transgression of eternal Truth. I have dealt with a number of issues pertaining to women and their role in the church in past Reflections. These are listed on my Topical Index page under the heading "Role of Women." I believe you will find them both enlightening and encouraging. -- Al Maxey
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