New Testament Pattern for Christianity

The New Testament is God’s current will for man. The New Testament makes the internal claim that all things had been given to the first century Christians that pertain to life and Godliness, (2 Peter 1:3). Paul taught us that studying the scriptures could make us complete and thoroughly furnish us toward righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16-17). From this we can rightly conclude that the scriptures contain everything required to know God’s will for us and live a pleasing life in His sight. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, (Romans 10:17). There is no other source we can depend on to provide us with a reliable means of salvation.

In fact, the New Testament contains scripture which exhorts us not to use anything but God’s word as our rule of faith.   When being confronted by the Pharisees on one occasion, Jesus was asked why His disciples did not hold to the tradition of the elders of washing their hands before they ate bread (Mark 7:3).  They called Jesus into question for not observing a tradition that had nothing to do with the law of Moses.  And in answer to this, Jesus referring back to Isaiah 29:13 said to them,  “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”  And then Jesus went on to say, “For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.  And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

Notice that Jesus immediately called them hypocrites, which wasn’t anything unusual, but why would asking Jesus why He and His disciples did not observe the traditions of the elders make the Pharisees hypocrites?  How is that being a hypocrite?  Because by trying to bind a tradition of their elders as law on Jesus and His disciples, they were displaying a religious piety they had no right to by claiming a love for God they did not have.  When the wishes and desires of men supersede the authority of God, it is because of a lack of love for His authority.  The Pharisees were using a tradition of man to try and elevate themselves in the sight of men and got accused as hypocrites for it.  The application for us today is that where we make law where there is none, we ourselves are guilty of the same thing the Pharisees were guilty of.

After Jesus labeled these Pharisees as hypocrites he went on to say “in vain they do worship me, teaching for commandments the doctrines of men“.  The application we can make from this is that if the teachings of men invalidated their worship then, it most certainly does today.  Jesus went on to qualify this a little further.  He said “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition”.  The Pharisees set aside the commandment of God so that they could keep the tradition of their elders.  When we look carefully at the text, the Pharisees did not appear to exclude any commandments of God by trying to bind the washing of their hands before meals.  However, Jesus condemned them for just that very thing.  Jesus condemned them for laying aside and rejecting the commandment of God.   From this we can rightly make the application that where the teachings of men are allowed to be taught as commandments of God, from Jesus’ point of view, the real commandments of God have been set aside, and this carries the consequences of invalidated worship to God.

So, we don’t want our worship to be vain, then how can we be assured we are not following the commandments of men?  Since there are severe consequences for this, there has to be a way to be absolutely sure we are not laying aside the commandments of God in favor of the commandments of men.  There is a way and it is so simplistic that one would think it should not have to be pointed out.

If laying aside the commandments of God and embracing the commandments of men invalidates our worship, then how about we just do the opposite of that.  Let’s lay aside the commandments of men and embrace the commandments of God?  What a novel idea!   So how do we do that?  By using the word of God only and only the word of God.   “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works”  (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  The Greek word for “perfect” means “complete“.  Throughly furnished means just that,  totally furnished through and through.  If the word of God makes us complete and furnishes us throughly to every good work, what’s missing?  What’s left out?  What do we hold in our hands when we hold the word of God?  Everything we need for every good work.  What’s left out?  Nothing.  So where does that leave the teachings of Martin Luther, or John Wesley, or Charles Spurgeon, or John Calvin and many many others where they conflict with God’s word?   Remember Jesus’ words,  “in vain they do worship me, teaching for commandments the doctrines of men“.

That should be enough to convict anyone of not going beyond what is written in God’s word, but just in case, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 4:6 “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.

The Christians in Corinth had developed into different factions, evaluating the words of men to be higher than the authority of scripture and were thinking of men more highly than they should and spurning the meekness and humility taught throughout the Bible.  Men who gave the appearance of being someone special were elevated in the eyes of the Corinthians, yet the ones who they really needed to be following were not like this at all.  Of course Paul scolded them for that and this is the preamble leading into some of the most memorable words the apostle ever wrote:  “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and we toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, even until now.  I write not these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.  For though ye have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet (have ye) not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel.”  And then he went on to say in verse 16, “I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me“.  Keep that last verse in mind.  We are going to look at it again soon.

Paul told them not to think beyond what has been written.  This was Paul’s way of saying do not think beyond the word of God.  The American Standard Version translates this “that ye may learn no to go beyond what is written“.   The application here for us today is that we should not think any man higher than the word of God.  And isn’t that what Jesus said when He said “in vain they do worship me, teaching for commandments the doctrines of men“.

Is There a Pattern We Must Follow?

Paul taught the Christians at Thessalonica to “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Traditions in this usage is not the same as the traditions of men which got the Pharisees chastised by Jesus.  Traditions here simply means an established form of religious guidelines used to determine one’s actions.  In other words, there is a pattern within the writings and traditions that Paul commanded the Thessalonian Christians to follow. Since the written word thoroughly furnishes us, we know that all of these traditions have been recorded and preserved for us in the scriptures.

Paul taught Timothy to “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me” (2 Timothy 1:13). When we use a form to guide us, we use it like a mold, thereby making our lives to conform to an established pattern.  In Romans chapter 6 and verse 17, Paul wrote, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”  That form of doctrine.  That pattern of doctrine.  We need to associate these three words, “form, mold and pattern” together in our minds.  So does God’s word tell us how to follow these patterns?  Indeed it does.

Soon after Paul told the Thessalonians to “stand fast and hold the traditions they have been taught“,  he wrote, “For yourselves know how ye ought to imitate us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat bread for nought at any man’s hand, but in labor and travail, working night and day, that we might not burden any of you: not because we have not the right, but to make ourselves and ensample unto you, that ye should imitate us” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9).

When writing to the Philippians in chapter 3 and verse 17, Paul said, “Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample“.  Paul taught the Philippians to use himself and others like him as an example for how to pattern their lives.  Remember what Paul told the Corinthians, “I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me“.   The Hebrews writer wrote in chapter 6 and verse 12, “that ye be not sluggish, but imitators of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises“.  The 1st century Christians were being told over and over to use the examples of other faithful Christians as a pattern for their own lives.    And not only their examples either.  Peter wrote in his 1st epistle in chapter 2 and verse 21 that “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in His steps“.  Following the steps of our savior, stepping in the light.  The Christians were told by the inspired writers to use the examples set by Jesus Christ, the apostles and other faithful Christians as a pattern for them to live by.

Paul taught the Ephesians that we are to, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). Paul commanded the Christians in Ephesus to recognize and avoid fellowshipping those who are in religious error. In order to recognize when someone is walking in darkness, we must be able to compare them to some standard of right in order to make this judgment for ourselves.

Earlier when we looked at Paul’s teaching in Philippians 3:17 he went on to say in verse 18 and 19, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.  Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.  Those who do not follow the good examples are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” If refusing to follow the example of Paul makes one an enemy of the cross it is therefore essential that we diligently follow the patterns of faithful living and teaching as set forth by Paul and the other inspired writers of scripture.

We have seen now that the first New Testament Christians were told to be imitators/followers of the examples of Paul, Jesus and other faithful Christians around them.  Let’s look at the Greek word for “example” or sometimes translated as “ensamples”.  It is the word “tupos” which is defined as a die or a stamp; a visible mark left by some object, the mark left in history or nature by the antitype; a model for imitation or a warning.  So from this definition we gather that the Greek word “tupos” denotes an exact image to be copied, an exact model to be imitated, an example that would serve either as a warning or a pattern to be copied.

This word is translated in various ways all of which suggest something to be imitated or followed.

  1. Example (1 Corinthians 10:6; Philippians 3:17; 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Peter 5:3)
  2. Figure (Romans 5:14).
  3. Form (Romans 6:17).
  4. Fashion (Acts 7:44).
  5. Print (John 20:25).  of the nails in Jesus’ hands.
  6. Manner (Acts 23:25).  of how Lysias wrote a letter concerning Paul to Felix.
  7. Pattern (Hebrews 8:5; Titus 2:7).

Titus 2:7 is an interesting verse for the use of the word pattern.  Let’s consider it, “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity”.  Paul commanded Timothy to live his life a pattern for others to follow.  Doesn’t it stand to reason that if Timothy was to live his life as a pattern, there must be one?  Doesn’t it stand to reason that since Timothy’s life was lived as a pattern for the Ephesian church that it should be followed?  Wasn’t it the intent of Paul that the Ephesian church follow the pattern he told Timothy to live his life by?  And now to make an application for us today, if those in the first century were required to live their lives as patterns and others were to imitate/follow those patterns, that it would apply for us today the same way?  Where do we find these patterns?  In the teachings of men?  Certainly not.  We already know that following the teachings of men over scripture result in vain worship to God.    So then what if we do the same thing the Christians in the first century were told to do.  Instead of patterning our lives after the teachings of men, why don’t we pattern our lives after the approved examples of the faithful first century Christians living and working and worshipping?

Another novel idea.  There were faithful Christians in the 1st century, let’s follow their examples.  Let’s use their lives, their faith, their successes, their failures and their service to God as a pattern today for us to live by.   Following the approved examples, and avoiding the bad ones we can follow their footsteps home to heaven.

What are some of the patterns in the New Testament?

There are some patterns that are obvious.  There are some that require diligent search.  We’ll not have the time to go into all of them in detail here, the primary goal of this lesson being to establish that there is a pattern in scripture by which the Christian is to order his, or her life by.  God has promised us that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him so it stands to reason that diligent search is required in some areas.  This should not be a cause for alarm, rather, it should be,  and is, a call to action by the diligent who really want to serve God.  This is God’s way of sorting out His diligent servants from the ones who don’t care enough to seek, or from those who don’t want to live their lives ordered after the precepts of God.

Those who do not want to live their lives after a pattern of righteousness are not going to want to accept one, let alone search for it.  They want what I call their “Burger King Religion”  They want God their way.  They want God made in their image and they want to serve God the way they want to serve Him.  And to that, I like to quote what Paul wrote to the Romans about the Jews who rejected Christ as the messiah, “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:2-3).  Applying this to us, those today who seek their own righteousness are in no better shape than the Israelites who rejected Christ.  They can be zealous, but still unsubmissive to God’s righteousness.  All the zealousness in the world is to no avail if we have not submitted to God’s righteousness.  Paul was zealous in his persecutions of the Christians, did that make him right?  No!  Paul had to submit to God’s righteousness and so do we today.

The easy patterns to see are the ones for Elders and Deacons, found in 1 Timothy chapter 3 and Titus chapter 1.   We won’t go through all these in detail, but it can scarcely be denied that the office of the local congregational leadership is to be patterned after the ones given by inspiration.

What about the pattern for Christian husbands and wives toward each other?  Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave His life for it.  Wives be in subjection to your husbands.  And while we’re on the subject of the pattern for the home, how about “children obey your parents in the Lord“?  How about “fathers provoke not your children to anger but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord“?  Is there not a pattern for the home found in scripture that the faithful Christian can turn to follow?  Nobody is going to deny a pattern exists in scripture for the home.  Is this pattern for the home found in one place?  Or do we have to look in multiple places and assemble it together from numerous sources in scripture?

How about the pattern for the Lord’s supper?  Do we not pattern the Lord’s supper today after the examples we have in scripture?  Is this pattern found in only one place or is it found in different places in scripture?  Do we not take all of the scripture pertaining to the Lord’s supper and use it all to follow the Biblical example?  Is that not a pattern?  Observed on the first day of every week…  unleavened bread for the loaf and fruit of the vine for the cup…  done in remembrance of the death of Jesus on the cross every time…  If that is not a pattern, then what is it?

The scriptures are filled with patterns we are to follow:  Prayer, singing, worship in general, benevolence, entry into the kingdom of Christ, and a pattern for the organization of the local church just to name a few.  They are all over scripture and none of them are ever found complete in one place.  We have to diligently seek throughout the New Testament, correctly identify and apply them to our lives.

There are those within the Lord’s church today who are denying there is a pattern for the church and for worship found in scripture.  They have labeled this belief “patternism” and basing it on the fact that there is not an all inclusive checklist all found within one place in scripture which spells out the pattern for church organization and worship.  What they are trying to do is to justify their own manmade innovations introduced into the worship offered to God.  They want the freedom to worship God as they see fit.  They want the freedom to decide how God will be worshipped and to decide what kind of worship God will accept.  What they fail to realize is that if there is not a pattern for worship in the NT then it is not possible to know how to reject the teachings of men.  If we can’t use the approved examples of NT worship as a pattern for our worship today then there is no mechanism in place for us to assure ourselves of worshipping in spirit and in truth.

None of the other patterns found within NT scripture are all organized in one all inclusive checklist, why would anybody expect the others to be?  Those who deny the existence of a patterns in the NT scriptures need to apply this thinking to the whole spectrum of the Christian life and observe what the results are.

If there is not a pattern in scriptures for the home, then wives, husbands and kids have no obligations to one another.  Parents are not responsible to raise the children. Children are not responsible to obey their parents.  Men can have any number of wives and wives can have any number of husbands.  Family members no longer have any responsibilities to the government they live under.  Each member of the family does what’s right in his own sight.

What about the pattern for the qualifications of  Elders and Deacons for the local church?  If there is no pattern there, no standard, then anybody who wants to can be an elder or a deacon.  We would have the local congregations being run by members of families who did what’s right in their own sight.

If there were no patterns for NT worship, then we could use steak and Coke instead of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine for the emblems.  We could cook us up some steaks and chop them up into little cubes and stick toothpicks in them.  Everybody could just grab one on a stick as the plate went by.  Wouldn’t that be yummy?  Well done or rare?  What kind of sauce do we want to serve with the steak bits this Sunday?  And instead of fruit of the vine, let’s have a selection.  Maybe the servers could carry a tray and pass out different beverages depending on each person’s wants.  Tea?  Sweet or unsweetened?  A slice of lemon?  I’m quite sure God would not look favorably on that kind of worship.  The point here is that if there are no patterns for worship, then any worship would suffice in the site of God.

Patterns provide a guide for Christians to order their lives by.  Patterns provide order for Christians to live their lives by.  Patterns provide consistency for Christians to be confident in.  Patterns are the only way we can be assured today we are adhering to God’s righteousness instead of man’s.  Why would anyone think that God would condemn the commandments and doctrines of men and then turn around and not leave us a pattern of His commandments to go by?   It’s by identifying and following the patterns we find in the New Testament that prevent us from laying aside the commandments of God in order to keep the traditions of men.  The patterns are there, it’s up to us to seek them out, and follow them.

How Do We Determine What Is A Pattern and What Is Not?

On one hand we have those who deny patterns in the NT and on the other, we have those who bind things in the scriptures as patterns which are not.  We need to look at some of the general ways of determining whether something in scripture is part of the pattern or not.

When one thinks of a pattern, they associate it with the imagery of a design consistently applied throughout. For anything to be identified by its design, it must have a pattern or a form that is universally applied and recognized.

In order for a new testament tradition or practice to be a pattern for us today it must apply to everybody written about in the first century. If it can be proven from scripture that something done by any New Testament Christian was not done by all of them, then we cannot bind it on the church today. For example, in Acts 2:44-45 we read of some Christians who “had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” So we have here an example of Christians selling all their possessions and giving the money to those in need. We can rightfully conclude from this example that it is perfectly ok for us today to sell everything we have and give the money to the needy. But in order for this to be part of the pattern we bind on the church today, this practice must apply universally to all the Christians of the first century.

A study of scripture reveals that it was often times the case that the first century Christians assembled in certain houses belonging to some of the saints. Aquila and Priscilla owned a house where the church congregated, (Romans 16:3-5, 1 Corinthians 16:19); Nymphus owned a house where the church congregated, (Colossians 4:15) and Philemon as well, (Philemon 2). Philip the evangelist owned a house and provided lodging for Paul and company while they were in Caesarea, (Acts 21:8). So we see that there are examples of numerous faithful Christians in the first century that owned their houses. If it were a requirement to sell everything as the Christians in Jerusalem did after Pentecost, then these other faithful first century Christians would not have owned their houses. It is very easy to see that the selling of all possessions was not part of a pattern bound upon all the New Testament Christians of the first century.

Any first century religious practice that was not universally bound to all the Christians then, cannot be rightfully bound to all Christians in this century. Such a thing would be comparable to a preacher teaching that everybody on the left side of the congregation had to do something that nobody on the right side had to do.

Those of us in the churches of Christ generally do not wash each other’s feet.  Jesus washed the feet of His disciples the night He was betrayed.   Upon finishing Jesus said, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet“.  Foot washing was a custom of the day.  The primary means of transportation was by foot and they got tired and dirty along the long roads.  There is certainly not anything wrong with washing each other’s feet.  However Jesus was teaching a principle to His disciples who had earlier been arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom.  What Jesus was teaching them was that the masters are not greater than the servants and that they should be willing to serve their brethren in humbleness and meekness.

Today when we in the body if Christ tend to the needs of the aged, the sick, help the afflicted and serve each other, we have done the same thing as Jesus did when He washed the feet of his disciples.  For example, there are a lot of our members who depend on others to get them to services.  When we help bring these members to services, we have, in the sense that Jesus taught His disciples, washed their feet.   Suppose we just picked up a bucket of water and scrub brush and went over to one of our aged sisters houses on Sunday morning, washed her feet and left her there at home while we went to services?  Suppose she was hungry and without food and a way to go get it and we show up with the bucket and the scrub brush and leave her hungry and stranded with shiny feet.  Did we learn the lesson Jesus was teaching His disciples that night?  No.

What about raising holy hands while we pray?  “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands , without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8).  Is this a binding posture for prayer?  If it is, then it is equally as binding for us to stand when we pray (Mark 11:25) and with uplifted eyes (John 17:1), on our faces (Matthew 26:39), all at the same time.  Obviously, a particular posture in prayer was not a binding pattern.  Again, we cannot bind as part of a pattern what is not universally and consistently done throughout scripture.

The Patterns to Look For

Paul wrote in Romans 6:17-18;
But thanks be to God, that, whereas Ye were servants of sin, Ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto Ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, Ye became servants of righteousness.”

So what is this “form of teaching” or pattern we must be obedient to? Scripture teaches that Jesus became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:9), and that God’s wrath abides forever on the disobedient, (Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). It is therefore vital that we diligently seek out the pattern of obedience the faithful first century Christians lived and conform ourselves to it and no other.

This pattern of obedience contains within itself all the things a Christian must do in order to live an acceptable life before God and receive the promise of eternal life. Within this pattern we can find the steps the first century Christians followed to be placed within the “body of Christ”. Jesus taught that we “must be born again” to be in the kingdom of God (John 3:3). So it is important that we determine how the first century Christians were “born again” and conform ourselves to the same pattern they followed.

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). There are two commandments here. We must worship God and it must be in spirit and in truth, meaning from the heart and correctly. The Christians at Corinth deviated from the pattern and were abusing the Lord’s supper. They were sternly rebuked by Paul for this, (1 Corinthians 11:18-21). We find that Paul rehearsed the original example for them in order to show them the right pattern, (1 Corinthians 11:24-29). It is therefore important that we seek from scripture the pattern of worship that the faithful first century Christians engaged in and follow that pattern ourselves today.

By studying to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15), and diligently seeking (Hebrews 11:6), we can determine how the first faithful Christians patterned their lives obediently after Christ and the Apostles. And by molding ourselves to that pattern and that pattern only, we can be assured that we are in every way living a pleasing life in the sight of God. If we want to be faithful Christians we have to follow the examples we have of faithful Christians in the scripture. If we want to receive the blessings they received, then we have to live like they lived. If we want the forgiveness of sin they had, we have to follow the pattern they followed to obtain it. If we want to avoid the pitfalls they encountered, we have to avoid the sin they were taught to shun. By studying and learning the pattern the first faithful Christians lived in Christ, and by diligently following that pattern, we can be assured that we are just what they were; Christians.  And that is really all we want to be.

An example of a pattern that is bound to all accountable Christians in the first century and today is that in order to inherit the promise of eternal life they must:

1)  believe:  John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

2) Repent:  Luke 13:3, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

3)  Confess Jesus as the Son of God:  Matthew 10:32 “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

4)  Be Baptized:  Mark 16:16 “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

5)  And then live faithfully till death:  Revelation 2:10 “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

There is not a single exception to that pattern anywhere in scripture and if we want to go to heaven, that is the pattern we must follow.  If anyone here tonight wants to become a Christian then the invitation to do is yours at this time.  If anyone needs the prayers of the congregation then please make that need known as we stand and sing the invitation song.


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