Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 13, 1950
NUMBER 10, PAGE 2-3a

Is There A Divine Pattern? Pat Hardeman, Florida Christian College

God has had a pattern for everything he has done. The great globe itself manifests the pattern that existed in the Divine Mind before creation. David said of the pattern for the human body: "In thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them." (Ps. 139:16) According to the writer of Hebrews both the old and new covenants were made according to a divine pattern. "As Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, see, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount." (Heb. 8:5).

There is a decided trend among some churches of Christ to ignore the divine pattern by which God intended that New Testament evangelism should be carried on. And some have gone so far in their disregard for the pattern that they have begun to call in question even the existence of such a pattern. They are not willing to accept the extreme implications of their position, but they deny either the existence of authority of such a pattern in order to justify the degree of departure of which they happen to be guilty. Is it possible that we have forgotten so soon the powerful arguments which the pioneers of the restoration movement forged from the scriptures to prove, for example, that there is a divine order for worship. They asked the question: if there is no divine order for worship, how can there possibly be any disorder? If there is no disorder, then is not anything and everything permissible in worship? Again, their opponents were not willing to accept the extreme consequences of their position, but they argued against the established divine order in worship only enough to justify the degree of their departure from it.

If we apply this reasoning to the work of 'the church, it should clarify the issue as to how such work is to be done. First, we ask: is there a divine pattern according to which the work of the church is to be done? If the answer is no, then there can be no possible violation of a pattern. Remember, if no order, then no disorder. Thus, if there is no pattern for doing mission work, no one can argue against a missionary society. The reason is: such an argument would necessarily be based on some pattern or plan of which the society was a violation. Therefore, if our conviction against missionary societies are based on anything more than expediency (and convictions are based on much more than expediency), there is a divine pattern for doing the work of the church. Even those who are trying to justify departures from the New Testament plan recognize that there is such a plan. Not long ago, a brother who is taking the lead in planning a campaign in a foreign land said to another brother and me: "we can do it that way (referring to one of his plans), or we can do it the way they did it in the New Testament:" He saw that there is a New Testament pattern, but he believes other plans were equally acceptable. Now if brethren may substitute human plans for the divine plan in the realm of mission work, what is to keep them from doing the same in the realm of worship? Once such a principle is adapted, only expediency would ever hinder its universal application.

The next question, after proving that there is a divine pattern for the work of the church (there are many other proofs besides the considerations above) is: what is the divine pattern? If we can present this pattern in scriptural words and principles, we believe that there are still many, many brethren who are anxious to do things "according to the pattern." First, the fact that the New Testament mentions no other organization save the local congregation would suggest that that organization is the agency through which the work of the church is to be done. It is true that the local congregation is the only "missionary society" the Bible mentions. Second: how far did the local congregations cooperate (they were never organically connected) in carrying on this work? The divine pattern is diagrammed below:

Antioch—sent relief—to the elders—for Saints in Judea.

Philippi—"sent once and again," to Paul—in Thessalonica

Other churches—"I robbed"—Paul—in Corinth.

The scriptures involved are Acts 11:27-30; Phil. 4:14-20; 2. Cor. 11:7-11. Now let us consider the first example. My good friend James D. Bales thinks he finds here an example of a church (the Jerusalem church) supervising the relief work of other churches (Antioch) in still a third area (Judea). There are several considerations needed to clear up this misconception. First, there is absolutely no proof that the relief was sent only to the elders of the Jerusalem church. Why might not "the elders" in Acts 11:30 be the "elders in every church" (Acts 14:23) in Judea, since the relief was "for the saints in Judea?" Second: The fact that Acts 12:25 says, "Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission," does not imply that Jerusalem was the only church they had visited. The relief was "for the saints in Judea" and the church at Antioch sent it to "the elders" (it does not say "the elders of the Jerusalem church"). The idea is that Paul and Barnabas had a mission to perform in Judea, and when they had fulfilled that mission, they returned. And it will help us to remember that, as the Revised Standard margin suggests, "many ancient authorities read 'to' Jerusalem, instead of from' Jerusalem in Acts 12:25." This would make it read, "Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission." This reading, in harmony with the considerations above, completely upsets the argument that the Jerusalem church supervised the Antioch relief supplies throughout Judea.

Now in keeping with the knowledge that the divine pattern is for each congregation to supervise the preaching of the gospel in its own community or to send out men to other places, or in the case of relief work in Acts 11, to send the relief supplies to the community where the relief was needed, consider next the pattern for supporting the preacher in a "mission field." Philippi and other churches sent to Paul's necessity in Thessalonica and Corinth. And this support was sent by Epaphroditus (to Philippi). A brother recently suggested to me (facetiously I hope) that Epaphroditus might have gone around by Antioch. But in a case like this at Philippi, brother' Bales argues that when other congregations contribute to the preacher's support in the "mission field," that makes the money they contribute to the preacher's support pass under the oversight of the elders that sent him out. This idea rests on the false assumption that the elders that send the preacher out have the oversight of the spending of his personal support simply because they have the oversight of his work in preaching the gospel. No, the elders of the church that send the preacher out have the oversight of his work in preaching the gospel, but other congregations may support the preacher directly without interfering with the jurisdiction of the elders that send him. The elders that oversee my preaching the gospel have a right to expect me as a Christian to spend a part of my money for the Lord's work, but they do not oversee my personal business nor the spending of my personal support. My prayer is that these considerations will do good in checking the definite trend toward "bigger organizations."