Patternism in Churches of Christ: A Template for Sin

By Matt Dabbs

by Royce Ogle
March – June, 2010

PatternismToday I did a Google search for this term, “What is the Church of Christ pattern?” The search returned 905,000 hits. In most every case, the churches and individuals that came up in my sampling insist that the New Testament provides a pattern for worship which must be followed.

Interestingly, I could not find many who stated what the pattern is. Those in my sample who did define it included components different from each other. The problem with patternism is the “pattern.” Wouldn’t it make sense that it would be relatively easy to find? I am well aware of many of the proof texts but I must ask, “Is everyone reading the same Bible?”

No agreement as to definition

One Church of Christ insists that the five acts of worship (singing, praying, preaching, giving, and the Lord’s Supper) are the pattern. That church will quote verses that support those five things. Another Church of Christ adds baptism for the remission of sins and singing a cappella only as items in the pattern of “the one true church.” Still another adds to the pattern a requirement that only the King James Version of the Bible be used in public readings. The width and breadth of the supposed pattern is limited only by the number of people who define it.

What about those earliest Christians who, for perhaps two generations, got along quite well before many of the patternists’ proof texts were written, and certainly before they were widely distributed? Were those early believers not able to worship God acceptably?

When patternism becomes sin

The title of this article is rather strong indictment. Tell me I’m wrong! At least one book has been written, plus scores of articles in periodicals and on blogs, condemning North Richland Hills Church of Christ in Texas, for its decision to include instrumental music in one of many Sunday services.

The attitude of those passing judgment is simple: Forget all the Christian service this church provides in its community, forget its faithfulness to preach Christ, to baptize believers and to live holy, loving lives. No Sir! These Christians went outside the supposed pattern and are damned because of it.

It is one thing to decided what is permissible individually or for my congregation, but when I apply that standard to every other Christian, and then teach that they will be lost if they do not comply, I am guilty of teaching “another gospel” and commit a grievous sin.

I recently listed over 40 different issues about which some Churches of Christ have divided, refused to acknowledge each other as brothers, and condemned each other to hell-fire. In each case, one group insists the other violated “the pattern.” In each case, the folks condemning have concluded that what the other people are doing is “unauthorized,” which puts them in open rebellion against God and means they are lost.

When this happens, patternism becomes a template for sin! Those who design the template require everyone who claims to follow Jesus to fit their exact template or be lost. In Jesus’ day, the patternists were called Pharisees. Among some Churches of Christ today, they are called “elders” and “preachers,” but they are cut from the same cloth.

Yes, there is one “pattern” we should apply to our lives as believers. His name is Jesus.New Wineskins

Royce OgleRoyce Ogle recently retired from the real estate business and blogs at [Grace Digest] from Monroe, Louisiana. He is married to Carol, and says that he “specializes in creative loafing.”

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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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