THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF NOVEMBER IN THE YEAR OF GRACE TWO THOUSAND AND SIXTEEN.
The New Testament provides the pattern for each of us as Christians, and that pattern is Jesus Christ himself (Matt. 16:24; Phil. 2:5; 1 Pet. 2:21). When God’s people follow Jesus, they also become a pattern for each other (1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17; Heb. 13:7). Healthy teaching that is consistent with trusting and loving Jesus can also be called a pattern, and it also deserves to be followed (2 Tim. 1:13). In short, Jesus is our pattern, though he is also much more, and to say that we should follow his steps is “patternism” of a good kind.
That said, Scripture nowhere suggests that our salvation depends on the ability to discover somewhere from Acts through Revelation, pieces of a detailed pattern for restoring the New Testament church, then to put the puzzle together in perfect order and with no mistakes. To say that salvation does depend on such a pattern is “patternism” of a bad kind.
This hurtful kind of patternism interests me because it has often appeared in the Churches of Christ, which is my home address on the ecclesiastical map. The Churches of Christ flowed from the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement (RM) a merger of two 19th-century, back-to-the-Bible movements led by three Presbyterian preachers. The smaller movement was the work of Barton W. Stone, who had been a participant in the famous Cane Ridge Revival as part of the Second Great Awakening. The “pattern” that Stone advocated involved the heart. Most significantly, his “pattern” was largely a matter of Christlikeness.
The larger movement was initiated by the father-son pair, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, who had immigrated to America from Scotland and Ireland. The Campbells called for the restoration of “primitive Christianity,” which they defined primarily in terms of external details of the institutional church. They did not realize how easily such a “pattern” would turn into a competitor with Jesus Christ himself, not only as a pattern but also as Savior and Lord.