Does the New Testament Contain a Pattern? (2)

by Richard Mansel

2 Timothy 1:13 says, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (NKJV). The word “pattern” means “an example, mold or outline.”/1 It refers to a “pattern placed before one to be held fast and copied, a model.”/2

It is like a teacher who writes down the alphabet so that her students can copy the letters she has written. They may not do so perfectly, but that is immaterial. They are learning, doing the best that they can, and the teacher is pleased with their efforts.

The pattern is a standard to guide someone in the construction of something or to aid in completing a task. We understand this completely in secular life. We follow patterns, guidelines in driving, in our jobs, and in our home projects. We employ rulers, mathematical equations, gauges and measuring cups in order to have a standard of measurement. Everything has instructions in our culture. If it is necessary to put directions on shampoo, surely God would have guidelines in order to allow us to live righteously and safely in him. It is only when we come to the Bible that people suddenly fail to understand the pattern.

People claim that Jesus is our pattern, not the New Testament. Jesus cannot be separated from the Word of God. Jesus is indeed our pattern. However, Jesus said to deny ourselves and follow him (Mark 8:34). Jesus said that he never spoke of his own authority, but that which he heard from God (John 14:10). Likewise, the Holy Spirit also yields to God’s authority (John 16:13). Therefore, I have no right to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus always directed people to “what is written” in God’s Word and to the Father. To separate the Godhead from the Bible is to render the latter useless. Without God, it becomes just another book and we lose all of its blessings and promises.

The purpose for the pattern is replication. That is, it allows everyone the same opportunity to hear the truth and to follow its tenets. God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Accordingly, God has fashioned a system where each person regardless of locale, culture, language, or era can open the same book and receive the same message. Therefore, Christians can be made who believe and follow the same doctrines regardless of the factors above. It is a beautiful, timeless plan and an example of the loving grace of God. We cannot merit the Word of God and the way of salvation. God gives it to us out of pure love. To follow the path he has built is not to merit salvation, it is to rejoice in his arms.

God’s plan has always been the unity of believers (John 17; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Yet, pride, selfishness, and false teachers conspire against the plan and disunity reigns throughout the religious world. This fact is falsely laid at the feet of the New Testament pattern. This is akin to the belief that since we have so many divorces that we must change what we believe about marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

These results-oriented doctrines are dangerous. They are coming at this from the wrong direction. The goal is obedience to God, not in the reorientation of his Word.

What is the pattern? It is the teaching within the New Testament on all manner of doctrines. God’s Word breathes with these guidelines in areas of worship, the Christian walk, salvation, church leadership, Christian marriages, etc. To enumerate these items would be to copy the New Testament itself. To determine what God desires on any topic, study and find what the Bible says. Christ will then lead us to the joys of heaven and keep us from the evil one (1 Peter 5:8; James 4:7).

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1/ Gerhard Friedrich, editor. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 8:247.
2/ Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1977), 645.

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Richard lives in Florence, Alabama and is married to Deirdre. They have three daughters. He is an avid reader, devoted writer and lover of history and research. He is the author of "The Most Important Question" and is working on more books.

20 thoughts on “Does the New Testament Contain a Pattern? (2)

  1. Richard wrote in Part Two: “What is the pattern? It is the teaching within the New Testament on all manner of doctrines. God’s Word breathes with these guidelines in areas of worship, the Christian walk, salvation, church leadership, Christian marriages, etc. To enumerate these items would be to copy the New Testament itself. To determine what God desires on any topic, study and find what the Bible says.” In other words, “Read the Bible and figure it out for yourself!” This is the answer of the patternists when asked, “What must we do to have salvation, unity, fellowship?” Richard says the pattern is to be found WITHIN the NT documents, but then says to enumerate them would require copying the NT itself. The problem, of course, is that no two patternists can agree on exactly WHAT “within” the NT constitutes the “pattern.” That is why there is no more divided and divisive bunch in Christendom than the legalistic patternists. They can’t agree on anything, and thus we have the countless warring factions that plague the church. Unity, fellowship and salvation are NOT to be found in a PATTERN, but in a PERSON. Bro. Matheny suggested I have “made my point.” Indeed, I have … but I fear Richard and others like him did not GET the point. The evidence of such is that they still promote a pattern as the path to unity, fellowship and salvation, but WILL NOT PROVIDE THAT PATTERN. “Figure it out for yourselves,” is their motto. Thus, I simply call upon the readers to use the common sense God gave them and note this failing on their part. It speaks volumes to the validity (or lack thereof) of their theology.
    Al Maxey, Pulpit Minister/Elder

  2. Al, please tell all of the readers why those who DON’T believe in the New Testament pattern aren’t completely united? Surely, if the “legalistic New Testament Patternists” are the true source of religious disunity then everyone who doesn’t believe in it will be as one. Surely. Yet, I see about a thousand religious groups in the United States who don’t believe in this evil pattern who are still hopelessly divided. Please, explain this to us.
    Richard Mansel

  3. Richard, I will accept your effort to direct the focus away from your failure to respond to my plea to simply provide the particulars of the pattern, and will do what you have not — I will respond. I firmly believe there IS a very basic “pattern” the Lord has provided, but, unlike you, I am willing to provide it … and have done so. Unity CAN be achieved based on compliance with these essentials. The reason that Christendom is so divided is that men have added to and taken from these divine essentials (Roman Catholicism’s many traditions, for example).
    I have also provided insight into exactly WHY you and other LEGALISTIC patternists have repeatedly shown an unwillingness to provide YOUR list (which you are STILL refusing to provide, by the way). I would encourage you, and the readers, to examine this information and refute it if you can.
    Now, Bro. Richard, I issue again my plea for you to simply provide the particulars of this pattern that we are obligated to follow precisely in order to achieve unity, fellowship and salvation. Since these realities apparently (according to the legalistic patternists) depend upon the observance of the particulars of this pattern, those particulars should not be too difficult for you to list. I await that list … as I have been for 30 years! Will you simply provide it, or will you continue to try and divert attention away from your refusal? We shall see.
    Al Maxey, Pulpit Minister/Elder

  4. Al, I am not going to fall for this. That is why no one else will answer you. It is clear why you want an answer. You want this list so you can pick it apart like a hungry buzzard. You can read the New Testament as well as I can. Your false doctrine is condemning you.
    There is no reason for me to list the entire New Testament for you. If you can’t afford a Bible, I can send you one.
    Never forget Al: The errors of men do not negate the commandments of God. The fact that men disagree on issues DOES NOT mean that there is no pattern. It means man is sinful. There is and will always be only one right answer when it comes to following God and being saved.
    If everyone leaves God, the truth will still exist. It was prepared before the world ever began. Like Jehoiakim before, we can’t destroy it. It will live on long after we are gone.
    You have made your point and advertised your writing, so let it go.
    Richard Mansel

  5. Yes, Richard, you are correct. I have indeed made my point. And have been making it (or, rather, YOU guys have been making it for me) for 30 years now. You declare unity, fellowship and salvation via compliance with a pattern … but you absolutely REFUSE to provide the specifics of that pattern, and even become upset when pressed to do so. “Read your Bible! Figure it out for yourself!!” has ALWAYS been your best response. Thank God Peter didn’t use that tactic when questioned on the day of Pentecost. Yes, I shall “give it a rest,” because it is obvious to all concerned that you, and those like you, will NEVER, EVER provide the particulars of your pattern, even though you claim compliance with those particulars to be necessary to unity, fellowship and salvation. How sad!! I shall keep looking for that one honest legalistic patternist who may yet dare to specify the particulars of this pattern rather than fleeing to some cave to cower there. I’ve been looking for that person for 30 years now … surely he’s out there somewhere!
    Al Maxey, Pulpit Minister/Elder

  6. Mr. Maxey, we asked you politely to refrain from your comments, since this is not a forum but a site where one may react to an article — not harp on one’s point. You have your site, continue there as you see fit.
    Your future posts will be deleted.

  7. Jonathan, I will let Randal speak for himself. But, I want to make some comments. To adequately answer Maxey’s question it would require the publishing of a book almost exactly the size of the New Testament. God’s pattern is from Matthew to Revelation. It would be superflous to rewrite it.
    If he wants to know what I believe the New Testament pattern is for worship and salvation, for instance, I have 85 articles on this site that he can read.
    I appreciate your concern here and I am not discounting it. However, we must examine the larger problem.
    Maxey wants someone to list the pattern so he can pit brethren against one another and pick it apart. He is wanting to “prove” his false teachings. I assure you, his task is not noble.
    There are some disagreements, for example, in the church on whether there should be one cup or multiple cups or whether there should be Sunday School or not, fellowship meals or not. What he will do is use these disagreements to prove there is no pattern. He has told me as such. We continue to discuss these topics as brethren. But, as I have said, the errors of men do not negate the commandments of God.
    To say that there is no pattern within the New Testament is to say that there is no standard that we can all unite on. That truth is relative and we have no right to say anyone is wrong. It will cause us to say that all “Christians,” regardless of what they believe, are brethren. The church of our Lord becomes simply another pebble in a field of rocks. I know you don’t want that to happen. However, it is the logical extension of Maxey’s doctrines.
    To say that no one can agree on what the New Testament says is to say that God failed. He wasn’t smart enough to give us a book we could all understand. If He failed, then He is not God and we will die in our sins. That is the most terrifying thought imaginable!
    Richard Mansel

  8. Good Afternoon Jonathan,
    I appreciate your honesty, brother. Also, your willingness to present the question to those ministers on your list. I am not surprised that you received no response. I have NEVER been able to get anyone to answer it. They will get mad, they will run, they will call names, they will threaten, they will inevitable say, “You have a Bible. Read it for yourself. Figure it out for yourself.” Doesn’t this TELL a person something about such a theology?!!!!! When NO ONE … decade after decade … will dare to respond to a simple question, there is a genuine problem!!!! If our unity, fellowship and salvation really DO depend on getting the pattern right, then they have an obligation to TELL PEOPLE exactly what that pattern IS. I had a person inform me that to violate ANY aspect of this pattern was a soul-damning sin. Yet, when I asked him to simply provide me with the complete list of these items so I wouldn’t accidently violate one and be lost, HE REFUSED. Brother, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see through this legalistic nonsense. As you stated, brother, this is Pharisaism gone to seed.
    May God bless you, brother. Keep thinking!!
    Al Maxey

  9. Jonathan, I never said I wouldn’t answer you. This just isn’t the place for it.
    Richard Mansel

  10. Please! What elements of the N.T. pattern are essesntial to salvation. The war question? The one cup issue? The eating in the building issue? Covering? The Sunday school question? The offering issues? If you know let us know! Or, do you secretly belive in unity in diversity?

  11. Cole, thank you for your question and I will keep it in mind for future articles. In the meantime, I have many articles in the Square One archives on worship where you can see what I believe the New Testament teaches on worship.
    Richard Mansel

  12. “Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13).
    “If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
    There is no doubt in my mind that the New Testament is our pattern for living today. To demand that someone make a list of essentials and non-essentials is equivalent to creating a creed or confession of faith. It takes the focus off of the scriptures and puts the focus upon the words of men. Such an action is symptomatic of the very things we oppose and a sure fire way to division!
    The New Testament is sufficient for providing all of the information that we need to be faithful followers of Christ. Those who read it and study it don’t have to be given a list of essentials and non-essentials, because they will know what those are based upon their study.
    Ultimately, each individual is directly responsible to God to understand and practice the Lord’s message and because that is the case, no man is obligated to give any other man anything in addition to what is taught therein, despite Al Maxey’s requests otherwise.
    It is clear to me that Al Maxey and his followers are exactly what Paul describes in 1 Timothy 6. He is only interesting in doting about questions and disputing about words to stir up strife. For that, he has his own web site. He doesn’t need to use the web site of others to accomplish this goal. This site, however, is under the authority of the elders of the Berryville church of Christ and its resources will be relegated according to their policies.

  13. Todd wrote: “…the essential pattern is something contained in–but less than–the entire NT.”
    Nevertheless, it is not any one person’s (or group’s) prerogative to say “this is the exhaustive and authoritative list.” That is essentially a creed. It is only our prerogative to speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11) which is why when we consider the pattern, the New Testament must be the only authoritative document for Christian practice.
    Al Maxey stated, “If our unity, fellowship and salvation really DO depend on getting the pattern right, then they have an obligation to TELL PEOPLE exactly what that pattern IS.”
    From the context, it is obvious that brother Maxey is expecting something in addition to the New Testament to serve as some kind of authoritative list and that one is obliged to provide such a list. I disagree. No man is obliged to teach anything more or less than what the New Testament teaches and each individual is singularly responsible (2 Corinthians 5:10) for understanding what God has or has not mandated. God has, in fact, already met brother Maxey’s demands in providing for us the New Testament.
    The New Covenant was not designed like the Old where there are “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” spelled out in precise detail. Rather, it is a covenant of the heart (Hebrews 8:10). There are essentials, no doubt, and those essentials must be observed. However, there is not attached to those things an immediate death penalty as there once was (Hebrews 10:28-31). Instead, God allows each person to personally discern what is essential and what is not with the promise that God Himself will judge each one based upon his or her own personal actions. Those with the right heart, the heart of the New Covenant, will make their discernments with God’s ultimate judgment in mind and will act appropriately. Such don’t need an authoritative list per brother Maxey’s demand because that list is written upon their heart and mind and for them, that is sufficient.

  14. Todd,
    People say that Jesus is our pattern and that there isn’t a New Testament pattern. These two articles have been dealing with the fallacy of that argument. I am seeking to establish that there is indeed a New Testament pattern.
    Once that is established, then you move to how to properly handle it. So, whether there is a pattern and how it is to be handled are two separate issues. The latter is more complex. Yet, it is outside of the scope of these two articles.
    There does need to be a discussion of these issues once we can establish that there is a pattern that extends farther than Jesus.
    Richard Mansel

  15. Todd wrote: “Kevin emphasizes that the Bible must be individually interpreted; no one has a right to bind his own list of essentials on another. But isn’t that what we do?”
    I don’t think that is what we do in the sense that I, as an individual, expect other individuals to conform to what I have concluded based merely upon the fact that I said it. I am not the authority. My conclusions are not the authority. The New Testament is the authority and that is what is binding. If my conclusions are in accordance with the New Testament standard, then believe them, not because I’ve concluded them, but because the New Testament teaches it. If my conclusions are NOT in accordance with the New Testament standard, then reject them.
    Each individual has an obligation to understand what the New Testament teaches and what it doesn’t teach. My conclusions are my own and I act based upon what I have concluded. I believe that instrumental music is sinful. That’s my conclusion. Hence, based upon that belief, I act. I don’t fellowship those who use instruments. I haven’t bound my personal conclusion upon them in the sense that I force them to give up their instruments. I don’t have the authority to force someone to do something that they don’t want to do. I’ve simply made an individual choice to act based upon what I’ve concluded and believe. If my conclusions are in harmony with the Lord’s will then one OUGHT to act the same way that I act, but not because I am the one who is acting that way, but because the Lord expects us to act that way.
    Moreover, there is a fundamental sense in which I can’t bind anything upon anyone. No one has any obligation to believe what I believe merely because I believe it. I may exercise my prerogative to fellowship someone or not to fellowship someone, but that, again, is a personal choice for which I personally will be held accountable. Each individual chooses, based upon his or her knowledge of God’s word, how to act and one day we will all be judged. The goal is to choose to act according to God’s standard of behavior so that in the judgment our actions will have already been approved by God.

  16. Greetings brethren,
    I’ve been following closely what has been said regarding the pattern & fellowship issues.
    I grew up in the segment of our brotherhood where we drew a fellowship line on issues such as the 1 cup; each communicant breaking their piece from the 1 loaf; anti-Sunday school and anti-instrument; no support of colleges or Orphan homes out of the collection. All of these are taught as being contrary to the New Testament Pattern. These are also looked upon as salvation issues, spoken directly against from the scriptures.
    In the 1 cup fraternity anyone who advocates the use of any of the aforementioned are considered digressive. Could it be our interpretation of what the New Testament teaches about these matters that put us in conflict? Many of these issues are disputable matters but we have debated them as essential to salvation and fellowship. So there needs to be a forum to discuss this.
    Keith Brown

  17. Desp?te repeated warnings after his attempt to propagate his views, Mr. Maxey’s latest post, which basically was a spam for his own site, has been removed. Further posts of his, as was noted by a reader that his approach is abrasive and belligerent, will also be removed. We’re happy to have readers’ comments on Forthright; we will not tolerate people using our site to insist constantly and harshly on a deviant teaching of Scripture. Mr. Maxey has his own site and list and he is welcome to pontificate to his heart’s desire.

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