As the 19th century began, many Christians across the spectrum believed that the original church had become corrupted and must be restored to its original purity and beauty. Thomas and Alexander Campbell believed they had found the key to doing that in the history of Israel. Just as God provided Moses with an exact pattern for building the Tabernacle, the Campbells believed that he also provided an exact pattern in the New Testament for his people to follow while restoring the apostolic, first-century church.

This kind of thinking is not limited to the Old Testament, the Campbells reasoned. For example, while discussing the Tabernacle’s fulfillment, the author of Hebrews quotes God’s instruction to Moses: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain” (Heb. 8:5). Campbell insisted that people will use their common sense, they will easily spot the divine pattern they need to restore God’s church.

Looking back over two centuries, we can now see a number of flaws in the Campbells’ proposal. Yes, God gave Moses many exact details for building the Tabernacle and its furnishings (Exodus 25-40), just as he did concerning the priests and the sacrifices (Leviticus). However, if we read the New Testament from cover to cover, we will not find a book that even slightly resembles the books of Exodus or Leviticus.

Indeed, when the writer of Hebrews refers to the “pattern” that God gave to Moses, he is making a contrast with the Christian order. He is not suggesting that Christians also have such a pattern for the church (Heb. 8:1-6). Nor does the author of Hebrews suppose that Christians will ever build or reconstruct God’s spiritual house. They should not even try to do that, for the “true tabernacle” is built by God and not by man (Heb. 8:2).

If that were not problem enough for pattern-seekers, the difficulties created by their position becomes even worse. For some reason not yet fully clear, people who set out to restore the visible or external marks of the New Testament church, often disagree on which details revealed in the New Testament are supposed to be restored. In the case of the Campbells and their followers, the “common sense” in which they had placed so much confidence, proved to be far less “common” than previously anticipated.