About This Issue (Mar-Jun 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

by Edward Fudge, guest editor
March – June, 2010

PatternismIn many Churches of Christ today, the generation of young adults has never heard of it. That is very interesting, since until the time my generation came along in the 1940s-1950s, it was practically the defining message of Churches of Christ everywhere. And what is “It?” someone asks. It is what, for lack of a better term, we are calling “patternism” – a doctrine that not only determined bounds of fellowship but in many cases was considered the way of salvation. “The New Testament provides the pattern which the true church must follow,” we heard. That pattern was revealed by “commands, examples and necessary inference.” Anyone who respected Bible authority, we were told, would never depart from the pattern.

In fact, the New Testament does not show us a uniform picture of church life, organization, worship, steps of salvation or names of the church. Instead, it presents us with a variety of expressions of community life in the Spirit.

Nor does the New Testament ever tell us to follow some interpretative system of commands, examples and necessary inferences. Those terms and that approach spring from Scottish philosophy and the English common law. That whole system is lacking in biblical support, and, as history makes plain, it is legalistic when used as a standard of righteousness and divisive when made a basis for unity. As commonly applied, this system of interpretation binds what Scripture leaves loose and ignores what Scripture seems to bind.

Most importantly of all, the Bible never suggests or even hints that our salvation or right standing with God come through our own efforts and ability to decipher some “pattern” of the “true church,” and then to measure up to these theoretical details. Scripture always points us to Jesus Christ, who has already done all that will ever be necessary to set us right with God, and it always urges us to rely wholly and exclusively on that saving work.

In this issue of New Wineskins, a crew of gospel-based authors explores the notion of patternism from many angles. You will find discussions of when imitation is good and when it is not (Al Maxey); the misuse of a pattern that becomes a template for sin (Royce Ogle); and what we can learn on this subject from Galatians, Hebrews and Joshua (Jay Guin). We explore the roots of patternism in the founding ideas behind the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement (Edward Fudge).

However, the Restoration Movement has no exclusive claim on patternisms, as we learn from Christian brothers in two other Christian “tribes.” A Baptist brother from the fundamentalist “Landmark” tribe (Rick Presley) tells how he pursued a patternism of personal righteousness, until he realized that it had more in common with Jesus’ adversaries, the Pharisees, than it did with the Savior. And a Seventh-day Adventist brother (Jim Ayars) shares a fresh perspective from a different “restorationist” movement which, like ours, also had roots in the rich intellectual soil of 19th-century America.

Christians do have a perfect pattern to follow, of course, and his name is “Jesus.” We therefore also stress the importance of imitating Jesus, who IS our “pattern” (Charles Prince), and we consider what that means on the ground in the course of everyday life (Charme Robarts). Finally, a review of – and perspective on – the controversial work Facing Our Failure by Todd Deaver (Nick Gill).

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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