by Richard Mansel, assistant editor
Is there a pattern in the New Testament? Does Scripture provide man with what he needs in order to be faithful to God? The answer is yes, to both questions. People ridicule this notion saying that the New Testament does not contain a pattern and that this doctrine fosters division, legalism, and the
impossibility of unity. They fail to understand the purpose for the pattern.
Teaching that the New Testament has a pattern does not mean the following:
First, the presence of a pattern does not deny grace. Ephesians 2:8,9 says, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (NKJV). No one can live good enough to be saved on his own merit./1 We must have the grace and blood of Christ to cleanse us from our sins (Romans 5:1,2,9)./2
“Works are an essential part of faithfulness to God. They are fruit of an active faith committed to bringing glory to God (Ephesians 3:20,21; John 15:1-8).”/3 Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). He said that we “must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). He also established the Lord’s Supper for man to partake of in order to remind him of the remitting blood shed on the cross (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:23-25; Luke 22:15-20). Many more examples could be given. Jesus told man to follow him and to obey his commandments.
To obey these commands as God has given them is not to merit salvation. Paul said, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith, and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). We humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God and follow the Scriptures in order to follow
God. We do so because we have faith in Christ’s plan as a child who has complete trust in a parent. We follow Jesus, the perfect example, who was always humble and obedient before God (John 14:10; Hebrews 5:8,9).
The presence of grace verifies that we cannot be perfect in our efforts. However, God has not asked us to do anything within the New Testament pattern that is beyond man’s abilities./4
Second, the presence of a pattern does not destroy God’s plan for unity. One writer has said, “The germ that seems to be the culprit of division within the Churches of Christ is pattern theology.”/5 On the contrary, the pattern is specifically designed to facilitate unity. What man does with it is a different matter. The failures of men do not negate the commandments or plans of God. The problem lies in the pride of men, not in the will of God.
Jesus said that his children would be set apart from the world by the truth of God (John 17:17). Ephesians 4:3 says that we are to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Then in 4:13 he pleads for us to “come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.” Therefore, we should be able to understand God’s plan in order to be united.
Unity is attained when we gather around and in something perfect. We gather in Christ’s body and around the Word of God. To attempt to unite in anything man-made or imperfect is futile.
Following Christ is indispensable to salvation. Paul said, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). We cannot all speak the same things and be of the same mind if we do not have a standard that all can emulate. With God’s help we can.
4/ There will be more on this in the second article.