Ruminations on the Pattern

I was taught growing up that there is a pattern to be discovered in the New Testament that would outline for the modern church all of the things we must do in order to be pleasing to God. I was taught that if there is something that cannot be found to be a part of the pattern, then it is forbidden for us to do while we are in our one-hour worship service. This pattern has shaped much of the theology of Churches of Christ.

The discovery of this pattern is called hermeneutics – the science of Bible Study and interpretation. I wrote a paper about hermeneutics a few years ago. It is located HERE. I guess what bothers me about beholding the pattern is that this pattern must be assembled from various fragments of information discovered by poring through the Scriptures, doing background studies, word definitions, uncovering first century customs, and attempting to attach the original meaning of an ancient letter to modern situations. I’m all for Bible study and we can certainly learn a lot from these things.

But what becomes apparent if we open our ears and listen is that several people have come up with several different patterns. Each one can tell why the other one’s pattern isn’t what it ought to be. So various preachers throughout the years purport to have found the goose that laid the golden egg, and expend much energy declaring that they have arrived at THE TRUTH.

Like all sincere Christians, I want to know THE TRUTH. But before we start labeling postitions on instrumental music, weekly communion, end of time roadmaps, and acceptable items of worship as TRUTH, we need to ask God an important question. Is this what HE wants us to do with The Bible?

Did God use 40 ancient authors over several centuries to compile a resource of 66 books so that we could be spiritual sleuths, discovering truth from the shadows? Some of the things we have declared as “pattern” are not exactly things about which we have much information. And culling from the practices of the early church all of the cultural icons is tough work to do a couple of thousand years later.

For example, most of our hermeneutical wars center on what can happen during that one hour a week we call ‘worship’. Just how much information is there in Scripture about what can / cannot happen during that one hour? The truth is, not much. Yet we have filled volumes with assurances that the truth has been sewn together to create the fabric of the kingdom. So much so that many of us received instructions not to pray the Lord’s Prayer – or at least the part about ‘your kingdom come’ because the kingdom has come and we would be asking something silly of God. I feel assured that the Son of God was aware of the timeline of all of this and could have included a caveat for us if one was needed.

But my bigger point is that I’m not sure God intended for us to take a piece here and a piece there and put them together and then proclaim that all REAL believers must accept that as TRUTH, or we can reject them as brothers. He certainly never instructed us to do such a thing. I’m not saying that truth is elusive. If anything tripping over ourselves to create a pattern has made truth more elusive than ever – reserved only for the smartest and most logical among us. I believe that truth is plainly taught in Scripture. Any patterns that emerge are those that are clearly given to us in one piece. Things that have to be matched up and given alliterative names may be true, but they do not compose a pattern.

If they do, then we have God giving us a book and sitting back to see if we’re smart enough to detect the truth he planted deep within the subtexts of its pages. For instance, instrumental music was accepted and commanded in the Old Testament. But in the New, there is a surprising lack of command for it. If God changed His mind, but chose not to tell us, that creates an interesting scenario. If God didn’t change His mind, but simply gives us a historical line of approval (Psalms  in the OT, the command to sing Psalms in the NT, and the appearance of music in the afterlife) without a redirect, that creates an interesting scenario as well.

Either way some interpretaiton is required. But does a pattern emerge that everyone has to follow? I believe it is easy to make mistakes with this kind of theological quilt making. I’d like to know your opinion.


Blogger Al Sturgeon can’t get enough blogation. It does happen. He has started another blog called My Ocean Springs, where he hopes to post pictures throughout 2007.  Today’s picture is of two of my favorite people.

Al Maxey on the subject of ‘Behold the Pattern’.

JP Manzi on Patternism.

My Sunday Sermon podcast is now posted HERE.  It’s called “Creating A ‘Come As You Are’ Church.” Let me know what you think!

Comet McNaught Flies Through The Skies. Photos from Chile. Is this astronomy or a new sammich at McDonalds?

CarTalk finally gets a podcast. Click and Clack have a super radio program on NPR Saturday mornings. I don’t know how to link to the podcast, but you can find it by a search at

JP Manzi investigates: Barak Obama.

Justin doesn’t like American Idol.

Wade Hodges and Greg Taylor Explore Garnett Church’s Future.

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