A Case Study in Church of Christ Exegesis

Daniel E. Shumaker

A few months ago, at a lectureship given at the Church of Christ where I used to be a member, I purchased a book that was being much hyped at the time. It is Behold The Pattern, by Goebel Music. The title of the book, and the fact that it appears on the jacket cover over a picture of a Bible seems a dead giveaway towards the basic error of the book, namely that the "pattern" for the "church" is the Bible, or more accurately – our interpretation of the Bible. I want to state at the outset of this book review that I do not know Mr. Music personally, and therefore cannot be accused of having anything against him personally. I understand at the time of this writing that he is in poor health and my prayers go out for him in that regard. I hope that having read his book to have the pleasure of meeting him.

In the book's introduction Mr. Music expresses a fear that "...many will say it is negative because the 4 chapters (5-8) that quote 10 of our men in the very rank liberalism they set forth." On the four "negative" chapters it will be sufficient to say that they are more of the same trashing of individual reputations that has been made popular in recent years by various "brotherhood" publications. This type of thing is a result of a misapplication and overemphasis of "marking" and "avoiding" of Romans 16:17. A careful analysis of this verse shows that, in context, it was meant to prevent division and slander, the very activities it is often quoted to support. By including the names of several "false teachers", the author merely follows the example left by many before him. Many do not feel "spiritual" until they have dragged a brother or two through the mud. Often "Church of Christ" (hereafter referred to as C of C) preachers feel that they have not preached a "gospel" sermon or written an effective article unless they have exposed or attacked someone. But in all fairness, the four "negative" chapters do not make the entire book negative.

In fact, Chapter Two, entitled "The Pattern - And A New Testament Word Study" is very scholarly, and I would highly recommend it for reading and consideration.

As to the rest of the book, if one bas a background in the C of C denomination he will find it very recognizable. If one does not have such a background, Pattern is a classical work of C of C theology and doctrine and worthy of your time for familiarization purposes. The unwritten C of C "creed" is all too clear.

The basis for the title is from Joshua 22:28, "... Behold the pattern of the altar of Jehovah, which our fathers made, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice; but it is a witness between us and you." (ASV) It is sad that, although the author quotes the entire chapter, he fails to recognize the context of this verse in order to relate it to establishing his doctrine of "patternism". First in importance is the larger context of this verse as an "Old Testament" verse. It is important to note that the concerns about worship, in the context of Joshua 22:28 had to do with Old Testament worship. Under the law, the children of Israel were commanded to worship at a specific place (Jerusalem) at specific times and specific ways, all external factors of Old Testament worship, under law. So it is important to realize that this passage does not apply to us, under the New Covenant and grace. Jesus made that plain to the woman at the well.

"The woman said to him, 'Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.' Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.

"God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.'" (John 4:19-24)

Actually, the use of Joshua 22:28 is a classic example of using a text as a proof text that has the sound of what we want to say, but not the sense. It is obvious that this verse was plucked out for the phrase, "behold the pattern" because of the author's wish to make his point. When taken in context, the "pattern" of Joshua 22 does not support the idea of "patternism". The doctrine of patternism is the idea that God has laid down in the New Testament Scriptures a detailed blueprint for an institution known as the church, with specific bylaws as to its organization, work, and worship, and that our salvation depends upon following that pattern to the letter. The "pattern" is something allegedly handed down by God. However, the "pattern" of Joshua 22 was something entirely human in origin. The word in this context can more correctly be translated "copy" (so translated in the New Revised Standard Version) or "replica" (New King James Version). Such renderings shed an entirely different light on what is being said. The tribes of Reuben, Manasseh and Gad, entirely on their own, with no command, example or "necessary inference" built a replica of the Jerusalem altar, not for the purpose of sacrifice, but for the purpose of being a monument to Israel's solidarity. After conferring with the rest of the nation, it seems this innovation is totally acceptable to God. Far from supporting the idea of patternism, it deals the false doctrine a death blow. By the way, the "pattern" of this altar is the Jerusalem altar, which is not symbolic of any institutional church but is a type of Christ. He is our solidarity, the altar around which we rally. Our fellowship with each other is due to our fellowship with Him. We should allow the Bible to speak for itself rather than pulling verses out of context for doctrinal slogans.

Another verse used is Hebrews 8:5, where Moses was commanded in regards to the construction of the tabernacle, "See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain." This verse at least comes a little closer to proving the point in that at least the "pattern" symbolism is partially correct. The tabernacle is a recognized type of the ecclesia, the Christian Community. Moses was indeed given a replica guide from which to build the tabernacle. However, we Christians do not fulfill the type of Moses - Jesus Christ does! Even in context we can demonstrate that. We learn from Hebrews 8:2 that our High Priest is "a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that THE LORD AND NOT ANY MORTAL HAS SET UP." Jesus said that upon the "foundation rock" of the confession that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God that He would build his called-out people. (Matthew 16:18). The Lord builds the ecclesia, the assembly, by saving people (Acts 2:47). He has not commissioned us to build anything, "by a pattern" or otherwise. No command was given, neither was there any detailed blueprint (and Jesus certainly needs none.)

Patternism is nothing more than legalism under a different name. It places our salvation as dependent upon our being shrewd lawyers and clever detectives, picking and choosing from the faint scriptural clues, with the blanks filled in with our own logic. We must fulfill this law to precision or face the fires of hell. This takes the focus off of Christ, His Grace, and our personal relationship with Him.

"For by Grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8). If patternism is true, and you can discover that pattern and get to heaven - by all means you have the right to boast! The frightening thing about it is that Patternism (Legalism) is the "other gospel" warned of in the Galatian letter. There it still says, "You who want to be justified by law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace."

The fact that there is no pattern for an institution is obvious. Where is the pattern? What are its essential points? How detailed must our pattern be? Must there be a command for each detail? Which historical details are necessary and which are incidental? The fact that none of the Patternists can agree as to the answers to these questions assures us that there is no pattern. The plain truth is that none of our churches practice all the things that the early Christian Community practiced, and all of our churches practice some things not practiced by the first century Christians. There is no command or precedent for church incorporation, church owned property, orphanages, "placing membership", "invitation songs", "closing prayers", on and on the list could go! We see an endless debate as to what is the "simple New Testament Pattern". This sincere, constant debate has resulted in the many divisions in what originally was a unity movement.

And so, the appropriate question for Mr. Music, when he asks us to "Behold the Pattern, is WHAT PATTERN? In a well known children’s story, an emperor was swindled into buying non-existent clothing. Told that only those who were worthy could actually see them, everyone pretended to see magnificent robes that were actually not there. When an innocent child observed the obvious, that the emperor was naked, the ruler was exposed as the truly vain and foolish man that he was. I am afraid that many in the religious world are like the emperor in the story, and have fallen prey to a vicious con job. We are saved, "not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy," (Titus 3:5). We are not saved by a "pattern" of what we read into the Scriptures. Our righteousness does not come from what we do for God, but from what He has done for us. Trying to behold an imaginary pattern is like looking at the emperor's new clothes. Let us behold instead our Pattern, Jesus Christ, that on judgment day we will truly be clothed in his righteousness, and hope that the patternists will come to their senses and not be found foolish and naked, in the filthy rags of self-righteousness.