The Divine Pattern

Author : Keith Sharp


During the fifties and sixties, many brethren tried to justify unauthorized practices by claiming there is no New Testament pattern in these areas. For example, Athens Clay Pullias, who was then President of David Lipscomb University, wrote a tract entitled “Where There Is No Pattern.”

Brethren sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). During the sixties and seventies a group of brethren advocated fellowship between those of differing doctrines and practices, even to the fellowship of denominations, claiming there is no New Testament pattern of authority. One wrote, “Nowhere, nowhere, do I find a consistent diagram or blueprint of what life should be or what the church should be” (Sanders. 51).

Now, those who plead for a “new hermeneutic” (new way of understanding the Bible) teach that the life of Christ is the only pattern for the individual Christian and the church as a corporate body has no divine pattern to follow.

For the individual believer, Christ’s perfect example remains the benchmark for his or her life. For the corporate body of Christ, there is no historical prototype of the church for duplication…. It is not a fixed, static institution. It has no once-for-all form (Shelly & Harris. 6).

We do not have to speculate about the practical application of this philosophy, for its authors unabashedly spell it out.

This principle has broad consequences for ecclesiology (the study of the church – KS). It says, for example, that the church need not have either explicit mandate or permission for everything it wishes to do (no need for divine authority – KS). The church may confidently ground its activities of compassion and service in the character of her head. In his passionate appeal for caring (cf. Matt. 25, et al.), Jesus not only releases but compels the modern church to find incrementally more effective ways to feed the hungry, cloth (sic) the needy, minister to the outcasts, and provide homes for the homeless…. Literacy programs, soup kitchens, drug dependency programs, and prison outreaches need no other justification than that, in such activities, the church takes on both the heart and demeanor of the one she calls Lord and Master (Ibid. 29).

Of course, this is simply the complete social gospel package with a new justification.

This leads us to inquire. Is there a New Testament pattern? If so, what is it? How may we find it? What are our responsibilities to it?

Age of the Fathers

During the age that God revealed His will to families through their fathers, the Lord God gave patterns he expected His servants to follow. For example, God gave Noah a pattern for the ark (Genesis 6:14-16), and Noah followed it in every part (verse 22). As the result he was righteous (Genesis 7:1) and was saved by faith (Hebrews 11:7). He is our example of obedient faith, and we must follow his example (Ibid).

Age of Moses

Likewise, in the age that God gave His law to Israel through Moses, He also revealed patterns that He demanded His people to follow. The Lord delivered to Moses a divine pattern for the tabernacle which he was to follow in every detail (Exodus 25:8-9,40). Moses and Israel were faithful to that pattern exactly as commanded (Exodus 39:42-43), and, as the result, “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34-35) We are to imitate Moses’ faithfulness to the divine pattern (Hebrews 8:1-5).

Age of Christ

God now speaks to all men through His Son Christ Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2; Acts 17:30-31). Has He given us a pattern to follow?

There Is a Pattern

The apostle Paul commanded His son in the faith, Timothy, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). Indeed there is a divine pattern for Christians to follow.

What the Pattern Is

The term “pattern” means “an example, pattern … the pattern placed before one to be held fast and copied, model” (Thayer. 645) or “model, example … Rather in the sense standard” (Arndt & Gingrich. 856). In past generations most women sewed their own clothing. My mother would purchase a pattern and cloth, lay the pieces of the pattern atop the cloth as instructed, cut the cloth according to the pattern, and sew the pieces together according to the instructions. If she followed the pattern, she had a dress exactly the same shape as the one pictured on the package the pattern came in (Well, make allowances for deceptive advertising).

The apostle tells us what the pattern is composed of. He commands, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words.” This blueprint is not a picture or a diagram. Rather, it is composed of words.

These words are “sound.” The term “sound” means “to be well, to be in good health … the sound i.e. true and incorrupt doctrine” (Thayer. 634). The words are conducive to spiritual health. They are true and uncorrupted by that which is false. Whole wheat flour is sound, i.e., healthful. But add to it less than one percent arsenic, and it becomes deadly poison.

Paul even identifies the source of the pattern. He adds, “which you have heard from me.” Paul was an apostle of Christ (2 Timothy 1:1). As such, he received His words, not from men, but from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12), by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:9-13; Ephesians 3:1-7). Thus, his words were “not … the word of men, but … in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

These words are true (John 17:17; Romans 3:3-4) and must be kept incorrupt from the traditions and teaching of men (Galatians 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11). Just as a little arsenic in whole wheat flour turns what is otherwise good into poison, a little human doctrine mixed with the apostolic doctrine results in condemnation.

What then is the pattern? The totality of apostolic, i.e. New Testament (2 Corinthians 3:5-6) teaching on any subject is the divine pattern on that subject.When we have diligently searched our New Testaments for all information on any biblical subject, we have found the scriptural pattern on that topic.

Our Responsibility to the Pattern

The apostle commands us, “Hold fast the pattern.” The phrase “hold fast” means to “keep, preserve” (Arndt & Gingrich. 332). It is used to denote “stedfast (sic) adherence to faith, or the faith” (Vine. 2:223). We must faithfully, steadfastly follow the New Testament pattern on every biblical subject.

Our Attitude Toward the Pattern

The inspired apostle even reveals the attitudes we must maintain toward the divine pattern. We must act “in faith and love.”

  • We must act by faith. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). To act by faith is to follow the divinely revealed pattern in all respects. Noah did this and was saved by faith.
  • We must also do this through love. To love the Lord is to obey Him (John 14:15).

Paul even identifies the object of this faith and love. He adds, “which are in Christ Jesus.” If my faith is in Christ Jesus rather than man, I will follow him, not human wisdom. If I love Him more than I love the approval of men, I will obey Him regardless of what men may say or do.


Those who have abandoned the New Testament pattern for their own ways are disobedient and demonstrate a lack of faith in and love for Jesus Christ. It is the height of arrogance to imagine that a mere uninspired man can improve on the divine pattern, the expression of the wisdom of God (cf. Isaiah 55:8-11; 1 Corinthians 1:25). “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah” (Jude verse 11).

Let us resolutely determine to follow the divine pattern in every regard. As the Lord through Jeremiah commanded ancient Judah, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see. And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls’” (Jeremiah 6:16). Be not as rebellious Judah, who in defiance to the Lord of hosts replied, “We will not walk in it” (Ibid), and received the divine punishment for their disobedience.

Works Cited

Arndt, W.F. and F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.
Sanders, J.P. “Restoration Review” (March, 1967).
Shelly, Rubel and Randall J. Harris, The Second Incarnation.
Thayer, J.H., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.
Vine, W.E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

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