Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 7, 1959
NUMBER 1, PAGE 13b-14,16b

Brother J. D. Thomas' "Pattern Principle"

Robert H. Farish, San Bernardino, California

Brother J. D. Thomas, in his book "WE BE BRETHREN", has attempted to brush aside some rules for distinguishing between the essential and incidental actions found in the examples of the New Testament. In the place of these rules, which formerly were set forth in the GOSPEL GUARDIAN, Brother Thomas offers his rule that "an example of a thing which the context and common sense indicate to be merely incidental or purely optional matter to the exemplary person, cannot possibly be binding upon us today or establish a pattern! By the same token an example of what exemplary Christians of New Testament times were required to do cannot possibly be optional for us today!"

The purpose of this article is to point out the inadequacy and weakness of Brother Thomas' "pattern principle". Another article will show that the rules which Brother Thomas attempted to set aside still stand; that they are based solidly on scriptural requirements and cannot be moved. It will be shown that these rules eliminate the optional or incidental actions and leave us with that which is essential. When all the scriptural tests have been applied, those things which cannot be shaken will remain. Their abiding and binding character will have been established.

We need to be reminded that any action which is not required by expressed statement, necessary inference or approved example is neither essential nor optional; it is unscriptural!

"The Role Of Common Sense"

Under this heading Brother Thomas attempts to show the place occupied or the use to be made of common sense in interpreting the Bible. He writes, "There is no way to interpret the Bible without the use of common sense! By this statement we do not mean to imply that there are no good objective reasons for certain decisions — Never could an objective revelation be turned loose, however, to the fancy of a totally subjective or perhaps `intuitive' method of interpretation". This last statement is the "Paris' arrow" which strikes the "Achilles heel" of Brother Thomas' "pattern principle". The inability of so-called common sense to free itself from subjectivity disqualifies it for the prominent role assigned to it by Brother Thomas in his "pattern principle". Now, as in former times, so-called "common sense" provides a temporary holding and re-grouping ground for those who are going out from us. In the former digression "sanctified common sense" had a prominent place in the vocabulary of those who were determined to have the missionary societies and instruments etc. BRETHREN need to be re-impressed with the revealed truth that in religious matters, "We walk by faith, not by sight (appearance)". (2 Cor. 5:7) Despite all of Brother Thomas' efforts at paving the way for his use of "common sense" in the leading role in his "pattern principle" there remains the fatal weakness — it is too latitudinous! It fails to provide the definite and positive guidance in "interpretation" which an "objective revelation" requires. In the final analysis it allows every one to do that which is "right in his own eyes". The results obtained from the application of his "pattern principle" are not certain and sure. So, after all Brother Thomas' labored efforts on his "pattern principle", "there still cries out to be heard a clear, simple 'statement of how and when examples teach us with `binding' authority, and how we can know unquestionably when we have a 'pattern' of authority from God's word to use Brother Thomas' words. We cannot "know unquestionably" when an action is binding by testing it with Brother Thomas' "pattern principle". How are we to distinguish between the essential and the optional actions of the exemplary characters? This is the real problem and how does Brother Thomas deal with it? Why, he says, "The way we discern the difference is by the context, through the use of logical inference and plain common sense". p. 57 and on page 70 he adds, "plus all of the usual techniques of Biblical interpretation". The author should have included in his "GLOSSARY" the term "common sense". If he had and had defined it, as he uses it, in those cases where he applies his "pattern principle" to some of the examples of the New Testament, he would have had to define it as, "the court of last resort for practices which have been condemned in every trial where they have been tested by sound objective (scriptural) standards".

"Common sense" causes Brother Thomas and those who are in sympathy with the things he is defending to press their "sponsoring church", recreational activities, benevolent societies, church schools (schools supported by the church) and other fruits of the social gospel concept to the alienation of BRETHREN and this same "common sense" caused BRETHREN of a century ago to press their missionary societies, benevolent societies, instruments of music in worship etc. to the alienation of BRETHREN.

The truths which Brother Thomas expressed in his "pattern principle" were expressed by Brother L. B. Wilkes eighty-eight years ago. For all these years, at least, all who were familiar with "restoration" literature have had these truths to aid them in understanding what the will of the Lord is. Brother Wilkes wrote, "They doubtless did many things with the divine approbation which were right and were made necessary by the circumstance that surrounded them, which are not required of us. But all their conduct that grew out of the circumstance of their discipleship and that was not local and temporary in its nature, having the approbation of God, is evidently law to us." Brother Wilkes was not attempting to treat in a detailed way the problem of when do examples bind but in this brief paragraph he expresses all that Brother Thomas expresses in his "pattern principle". Brother Wilkes says that the examples of actions which grew out of the circumstance of their discipleship is binding on us. Brother Thomas says that what was binding on exemplary New Testament Christians is binding on us. The recorded claims of God's impartial justice require that his requirements of a disciple of Christ must be uniform. The same thing is true with regard to the conduct of first century Christians and twentieth century Christians. The whole problem is to determine what grew out of the "circumstance of their discipleship" or what was "required" of "exemplary Christians". As Brother Wilkes was not attempting to deal specifically with the problem of distinguishing between the optional and essential he was not obligated any further than the general statement which he made. Brother Thomas, on the other hand, claimed as one of the major objectives of his book, "WE BE BRETHREN", — "an easy-to-understand principle that some have overlooked — for knowing when and how examples teach us". Evidently the principle that what was binding on first century Christians is binding on us is not the easy-to-be-understood principle for we have shown that this was not overlooked — it has been in print for eighty-eight years and has been a necessary inference all along. Brother Thomas' "principle" must be — "the way we discern the difference is by the context, through the use of logical inference and plain common sense". This BRETHREN is the "easy-to-be-understood principle — for knowing when and how examples teach us"! We have already seen that the principle is invalid by reason of the subjectivity of so-called "common sense" which plays the chief role in the principle. What about the context? That people sometimes fail to understand the will of the Lord by reason of failure to consider the context is recognized but, this is, of course, a mistake made with reference to all Bible teaching — the context must be considered and every passage taken in its proper context. The apostle Peter warned against wresting the scriptures in these words — " — as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unsteadfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction". (2 Peter 3:16) Brother Thomas' pattern principle also recognizes "logical inference" as necessary to distinguishing between the optional and the essential in New Testament examples. No objection is filed against this if by logical inference he means that which is NECESSARILY inferred. Now it is plain to all that no passage of scripture reveals facts which considered in their context require the sponsoring church as a necessary inference. The context plus necessary inference is not sufficient to authorize the "sponsoring church". The "sponsoring church" must be found in "common sense"! I conclude this article by presenting a "pattern principle" that still stands after all Brother Thomas' efforts to overthrow it. FACTS REVEALED IN NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLES, WHOSE OPTIONAL CHARACTER CANNOT BE ESTABLISHED BY THE SCRIPTURAL RULES OF HARMONY, UNIFORMITY, UNIVERSAL APPLICATION AND LEGITIMATE EXTENSION ARE TO BE REGARDED AS BINDING. More detailed treatment will be given in another article to these rules whereby one can discern between the optional and the essential.