Beware the Pattern! (Mar-Jun 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jay Guin
March – June, 2010

PatternismThe gospel is what we must believe and confess to be saved. We are saved through faith in Jesus and commitment to him as Lord (repentance). And that doesn’t change just because we’ve been baptized. The faith and repentance that brought us to Jesus will keep us in Jesus—so long as we don’t attempt to improve on God’s new covenant.

We worship God because he deserves our worship and because of what he did (and does) for us! True worship comes from love and devotion, not fear of damnation. And when we teach that we must worship according to a pattern to stay saved, we replace the new covenant with a man-made covenant that has the same defects as the Mosaic covenant. Indeed, we teach another gospel.

Galatians: salvation not through law

Paul teaches in Galatians that Christians may not seek salvation through obedience to a law. You see, Paul writes,

You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope (Galatians 5:4-5).

By adding circumcision as a requirement to be saved, the Galatians chose a salvation based on works rather than faith — and if you seek salvation through works at all, you must get all works right (5:3), and no one can meet such a test. To quote Adam Clarke, “It’s either law and no Christ; or Christ and no law.”

However, in the Churches of Christ, we’ve traditionally taught that the New Testament establishes a pattern of name, worship, organization, and such that we must correctly replicate to be the true church. Thus, we become saved by believing, repenting, confessing, and being baptized, but stay saved by also being a member of a church that replicates the New Testament pattern of name, worship, and organization, among other doctrines. But how is seeking salvation through pattern-keeping—plainly a form of works—any different from seeking salvation through circumcision?

Hebrews: not fleshly regulations

The author of Hebrews also rejects any notion that pattern-keeping might be the path to salvation. The theme of Hebrews is the contrast between the covenant of the Law of Moses and the radically different covenant of Christ.

Hebrews demonstrates the weakness of Mosaic worship and the necessity to replace it with something vastly superior by comparing worship under the two covenants.

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary (Hebrews 8:13-9:1).

Characteristic of the “old,” “obsolete,” and “aging” covenant are “regulations for worship” and an “earthly sanctuary”! Somehow, the need for “regulations for worship” is evidence of the inadequacy of the Law of Moses.

External and imperfect. The writer then describes the worship laws of the Mosaic covenant, concluding—

They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order (Hebrews 9:10).

The Greek word translated “external” is usually translated “fleshly” in the King James Version. Now, God himself commanded the regulations for the temple service. The practices weren’t fleshly because they were contrary to God’s will; they were fleshly because they were physical, made up of things here on earth (Colossians 2:22: “destined to perish with use”) and so cannot be perfect. Only a perfect temple, worshipped in perfectly, with a perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice will do. And we can’t meet such a test.

Therefore, we are no longer to try to imitate perfection by following a pattern, as patterns can only be imperfectly imitated—

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-14).

The only perfect sanctuary is in heaven. The only perfect worshiper is Jesus. Nothing man-made and nothing that is a part of this creation is good enough. We are part of this creation, and so we aren’t good enough.

The Hebrews writer’s point is critical. How do we know that the Mosaic pattern is obsolete and inadequate? Because it is imperfect. And how do we know that? Because it’s something humans do on earth and hence is necessarily imperfect. And how else? Because it is governed by “external regulations”—even though they are regulations from God himself.

Earthly, not heavenly. Rule-keeping, ritual, and pattern following cannot save. We cannot worship our way into heaven. We cannot perform any Sunday ritual that will satisfy God. But (praise God!) we don’t have to. Jesus has gone into the ultimate temple and presented the ultimate sacrifice, doing the perfect act of worship so that we are freed from having to seek salvation in honoring external regulations in an earthly sanctuary.

The author re-emphasizes the point—

[The priests under the Law of Moses] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5).

The writer’s contrast is between “what is in heaven” and what is on earth. What is on earth is only a “copy and shadow” of heavenly perfection. The very fact that the tabernacle was made according to a “pattern” shows that it’s only a copy, imperfect and insufficient. Only the original is good enough to save. Therefore, following a pattern is necessarily inadequate, and therefore, God in his mercy replaced it with a new and better covenant.

It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these (Hebrews 9:23 KJV).

“Patterns”! What could possibly be wrong with following a heavenly pattern? Everything. Flawed humans make copies from patterns, and seek to earn salvation by replicating something that is perfect. It can’t be done. Pattern theology is necessarily a works-based theology. And if the Law of Moses was proven inadequate by its insistence on pattern-keeping, surely the same is true of any pattern-keeping. After all, the problem isn’t the inadequacy of the pattern—the pattern has always been perfect—it’s the inadequacy of humans to truly replicate the pattern! And we’re just as imperfect now as the Israelites were then.

Joshua: a text misused

I must digress only slightly to refer to a badly misused passage, Joshua 22:24, which declares, “Behold, the pattern!” (KJV). This passage has become something of a rallying cry for many in the rightward congregations of the Churches of Christ. But the passage confirms the point of the Hebrews writer and is very likely the inspiration for the writer’s opposition to patternism.

Joshua led the Israelites in conquering the promised land. He divided the land among the Twelve Tribes, with some tribes—Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh—remaining on the east of the Jordan River, while the others divided the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.

As the remaining tribes crossed the Jordan River, they discovered that the eastern three tribes had built an altar following the pattern of the tabernacle’s altar. They assumed that the eastern tribes intended to worship at their new altar rather than at the tabernacle with the rest of the tribes. This so contradicted the Law of Moses, which permitted but one tabernacle, the nine tribes were ready to put the three eastern tribes to death!

The three eastern tribes defended themselves, saying,

“And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica [KJV: Behold the pattern] of the Lord’s altar, which our fathers built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’

“Far be it from us to rebel against the LORD and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle” (Joshua 22:28-29).

The point of the passage is that the altar was a mere copy of the original — it followed a pattern — and therefore was inadequate and could not be used! It was only a reminder of the real thing. Had the eastern tribes intended to worship using the “pattern,” they would have all been killed!

Therefore, if we who are a part of the Restoration Movement wish to truly restore New Testament Christianity, there is no sin in worshiping as the First Century worshiped — but we cannot impose such practices as requirements to become saved or to stay saved.

Adapted from Do We Teach “Another Gospel?” by Jay Guin.New Wineskins

Jay GuinJay Guin grew up in northwest Alabama where he learned both the joys and tribulations of the Churches of Christ first hand. He attended David Lipscomb College (now University) in Nashville, majoring in mathematics. At Lipscomb he met, wooed, and married his wife Denise. Jay and Denise have four sons, two of whom graduated from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Jay’s oldest son, Chris, works in Boston, where he’s part of a church plant. Jonathan is in law school at UA. Another son, Tyler, is attending Auburn University, studying chemistry, and the youngest, Philip, is still in high school. After clerking for a federal judge for a year, Jay returned to Tuscaloosa (and the University Church of Christ) to practice law, founding his own firm, Tanner & Guin, LLC, in 1984. Jay has been very active in church, as a deacon and in leading the effort to merge his congregation with the Alberta Church of Christ, the relocation of the congregation, and two major building programs. Jay has recently spoken at the Pepperdine Lectureship, ACU Lectureship, the Harding University Lectureship, the Lipscomb lectureship (called Summer Celebration), and at ElderLink programs in Atlanta. You can read his bio on his site at [http://oneinjesus.info/about-the-author/] and contact him through the information there.

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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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