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A wonderful e-friend of mine named John asked me if I had any comments on an analogy that he heard a preacher preach. The preacher explains his analogy like this (for my readers who aren’t from my unique tribe of Christians, Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone are acknowledged as forefathers of the Restoration Movement in America, a movement that believed unity of all believers could be achieved if all churches would use the Bible only as their creed):

My sermon was about doing what God says do the way God says do it.  Man has never been faithful to God very long.  Man is in constant need of restoration.  Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone did not invent the concept of restoration.  That has been a constant in the Bible since the fall in the Garden of Eden.

Jesus had that emphasis in His life of doing what God says do the way God says do it.  The disciples of Jesus recognized and taught this principle.

I used the illustration of supposing that baseball were not played for 2,000 years.  If someone found a baseball rule book and wanted to play the game, how could they do it?  What would be the result?  If they went by the baseball rule book, they would have unity.  Jesus prayed for the unity of His followers.  Paul taught that principle.  Why do we not have unity today?  Could it be that we are using different books?

This analogy stirred something in me enough to respond with this:

To most Church of Christ restorationists, “doing what God says the way God says to do it” means “do church the way the 1st century church did it.” I know where this idea came from, and the very good heart and motive behind it, but I can’t find this anywhere out of Christ’s mouth, or written in the Bible by any of his followers.

To me, “doing what God says the way God says to do it” means “become like Jesus Christ in heart, character, mission, and priorities.” I found this idea in the mouth of Jesus (Jn 20:21; Mt 28:18; Jn 13:15, etc…), and all over the writings of the Bible by his followers (1 Jn 2:6; Php 2:5; Eph 5:1; 1 Cor 11:1; 1 Pt 2:21, etc…).

That baseball analogy works for baseball because baseball is an outward exercise that can be followed and practiced based on rules that govern outward behaviors. As a matter of fact, baseball is an exclusively outward game, and it can be played by any “kind” of person.

That’s why it breaks down as an appropriate analogy for discipleship. Christianity is based on character, mission, and priorities. Sure, it has it’s outward expressions, but they are measure not by how they align with outward expressions from the 1st (or any) century, but by how those expressions line up with the heart, character, mission, and priorities of Jesus Christ. The outward expressions are judged on their fruit (Mt 7:20). As a matter of fact, Jesus goes on to say that, even though genuine Christianity will always produce outward expressions, outward expressions alone are not enough to judge whether it is true Christianity or not (Mt 7:21).

Baseball can’t change it’s outward expression and still be called pure baseball. Christianity, however, certainly can change in it’s outward expressions and still be called pure Christianity. Why? Because baseball is based on rules expressed outwardly. Christianity is based on the Christlike heart that exists inwardly.

I am still a “patternist.” And a restorationist. But rather than using the 1st century church as my pattern, I use the person of Jesus Christ (like the 1st century church did, by the way – 1 Th 1:6). And instead of thinking that God wants to restore the 1st century church, I join in him in restoring people’s hearts to their original oneness with God (which is what was lost in the Garden – Lk 19:10).

God is after a Christlike “kind of person” being developed that leads to the most abundant life available to a human being daily, not a certain set of worship practices being exercised consistently by a group of people on Sunday (which WOULD be like baseball).

As far as following the same rulebook…Jesus himself said that salvation does not come from following the Bible. It comes from him. And that is purpose of the Bible. To get us to him for life. (John 5:39-40).Too many try to squeeze some set of rules out of the Bible to follow unto salvation, when according to the Bible, being in relationship with Jesus is what brings salvation. And I would suggest it brings about a much more holy, spiritual, and devoted Christianity, too.

According the Bible, even the Bible is not the point. It’s the pointer. When I want to take issue with a baseball umpire on whether I am safe or not, I would take the baseball rulebook to him to show him how I followed the rules that make me safe. When I go before God, I do NOT want to take my Bible in my hand up to Him and show him how I followed the rules that make me saved. I would much rather have my hand in Jesus Christ’s hand, and let him tell his Father that I am safe, because I was in genuine love relationship with His son in a way that triggered forgiveness and made me look more and more like him on earth.

This is where our confidence comes from according to scripture (1 John 4:17).

Does this make sense? I’m sure I’m not getting it all right, but this seems to make more sense, both in doctrine and practice, to me. I have not been able to EVER find unity in or among churches by trying to agree on what the “rule-book” says is imperative as religious practices. But I am finding PROFOUND unity in and among Christians who are focused on loving and living like Jesus Christ in heart, character, priority and mission.

And on top of that, it is a message that people in the world seem attracted to, too. Not many of my un-churched (or de-churched) friends seem to want a certain set of religious practices. But all of them seem to want what Christ offers – life to the full (Jn 10:10).


I haven’t posted a whole lot lately. But it is because I am so full that I can hardly bare it. Every time I sit to write, I can hardly be with all the thoughts and excitement inside of me.

Thank you for sharing life with me in this way, friends.

Christ vs. Church

6 Comments to “Patternism”

  1. Melanie Morales

    Beautifully addressed. Thanks for sharing, Brian.

  2. On the surface the baseball rule book thing looks good. But I think you are right that the analogy does end up falling apart on so many levels. And I agree with you in that I would rather stand in front of God hand in with Jesus than Bible in hand. But there is still something in me that cringes with the “idea” because it sounds like (though I know this is not truth in what you say or what your heart is) you are saying the Bible does not matter. Maybe I have just seen too many people who take the road of “I am in a personal relationship with Christ” and still outwardly look like the world in ALL that they do and say (this is not to say that I never look the world because I do, often). The fact is a true personal relationship will drive a person to the Bible to learn more about Christ and will drive a person to become more holy, more devout, more like Him. The Bible matters, maybe just not in the way my tradition taught me and this “cringe” that I experience is necessary, good and holy in and of itself.

  3. Reading the baseball rule book would not teach you how to knock one out of the park or pitch a no-hitter. Watching films of Babe Ruth or Sandy Koufax might, though, because you would see them in action. That’s what New Testament scripture does: show you the perfect Example in action. The rules were already communicated in the Old. That wasn’t enough! And neither is just an Example … we needed a perfect Pinch-Hitter when our arms and legs and eyes and skill and will all fail us.

  4. Brian, may I have permission to post a link to this post on my own blog? I think you have wonderfully articulated a disparity I had noticed but hadn’t been able to put into words. I’d love to share it with others.

  5. Please do, Sammie, I would be honored. I hope it is useful to your readers.

  6. Your article is very refreshing and thoughtful, and most importantly, Biblical. There is no congregation on earth today that follows the ” patterns ” of the congregation found in Acts 2-7. There are, however, Christians all over the earth that seek to follow the ” mind ” of Christ (1 Cor.2:16,Phil.2:5 ).

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