The plea of churches of Christ today is to restore New Testament Christianity into the lives of as many as will receive the gospel message. It is not sufficient to merely preach the gospel, without expecting those who claim to believe it to restore to their lives the truth that is contained within that gospel. To this end, the churches of Christ preach and teach that the gospel contains all of the information that we need to do this (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:17). This revealed information constitutes a pattern whereby those that conform to it and abide by it restore New Testament Christianity into their life. It is with this pattern that we are concerned in this particular study.
There are those today who say that the New Testament contains no such pattern and in so affirming, also must affirm the impossibility of restoration. If there is no pattern, then certainly one cannot restore New Testament Christianity. However, if the New Testament does contain such a pattern, then not only is restoration of New Testament Christianity possible, we must restore it to be pleasing to God. Hence, the plea of the churches of Christ today rests upon this one pivotal question; namely, does the New Testament contain a pattern of information, whereby when we conform to that pattern we have restored New Testament Christianity?
Jesus tells us that there is a pattern. In explaining the Parable Of The Sower, Jesus says, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). From examining this parable we take Jesus to mean that the proverbial seed refers to God’s word, and that the word of God, as illustrated within the parable, has the properties of a seed. Just what are the properties of a seed? We recognize that a seed contains everything within it to restore the plant from which it came. There is a pattern within a seed which nature follows to restore from that seed a living and breathing organism. We don’t expect that a seed with the pattern of an apple tree would restore an orange tree, and vice versa. We expect a seed that contains the pattern of an apple tree, when that pattern is followed by nature, to restore an apple tree. So is the word of God. When individuals follow God’s word, restoring to life out of that word what God put into it, they will find themselves conforming to a pattern that will create what God desires it to create, namely, a Christian. In so doing, they will find that they have restored what God placed into His word. With such, God will be pleased.
The opposite of this is that when we neglect the word of God in such a way so as to remove part of God’s pattern or even to add other things to God’s pattern, we will not get what God desires and God will not be pleased. One of the lessons that we learn in this regard comes from Cain and Abel. We remember the story. Cain was a tiller of the ground and Abel was a shepherd. Cain offered in worship to God from the fruit of the ground, but Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock. God had respect toward Abel’s worship, but God was not pleased with the worship of Cain (Genesis 4:1-5). Why was it that God was pleased with Abel’s worship, but not with Cain’s? The book of Hebrews helps us to understand the answer. Hebrews 11:4 states, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” 1 John 3:12 also helps us to understand; this passage says that Cain’s works were evil, but Abel’s were righteous. How could Abel’s works be righteous? Had not Abel sinned and fallen from God? How could Abel present a work of righteousness before God? We must conclude that God instructed Abel in how to please Him. Abel heard God’s word and presented that offering by faith, for faith comes by hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17). It was thus that Abel had a pattern from God. No doubt, Cain had been told of this same pattern; Cain simply did not follow it. By not following it, Cain offered worship that was according to his own righteousness and not pleasing to God. We learn from this not only that Abel followed a pattern, but also that fallen man needs a pattern so as not to present to God a righteousness of his own.
To illustrate this further, we turn to Adam and Eve. Prior to Adam and Eve’s fall, man was in about as patternless a state as man could ever be. There was but one law by which to abide, and as long as man abode by that law, he could do any other thing he wanted to do and live forever and never be displeasing to God. Once, however, man fell, man no longer could please God with just any behavior. It became necessary for God to tell man what to do in order for man to please God. This necessitated God’s creation and delivery of a pattern to man. This is illustrated for us in Adam’s attempt to clothe himself after the fall. Standing naked before God he attempted to cover himself and woefully failed. God, however, made coats out of animal skins and thus covered man’s nakedness and established the divine pattern for so doing. In this pattern we see man’s dependence upon God for righteousness. When we follow God’s pattern for that righteousness, man is covered. Without it, man stand’s naked.
Man’s failures at his own coverings transfer to his attempts at worship as well. We have already illustrated this in the story of Cain and Abel. Because man could not approach God with a righteousness of his own, this necessitated God delivering a pattern for worship. Fallen man cannot present worship to God without some kind of God given pattern of worship. Since that time it has been universally true that when man by faith presents the pattern of worship that God has given, man lives within God’s righteousness. However, should man step outside of that pattern and act on his own in worship to God, man creates a righteousness after his own pattern and not after God’s pattern. In so creating his own pattern, man can never truly restore God’s order of things. However, if man humbles himself, goes back to the pattern of God, and follows that pattern, beautiful restoration occurs. This is true in matters concerning worship, salvation, the organization of the church, the behavior of Christians, and many other things whereby we, as man, must approach God.
Today, the blood of Christ has dedicated the pattern of things which God has given us to approach Him (Hebrews 9:23, 24). This means that the pattern is pure and holy and that when one follows it in faith, one can approach God in purity and holiness with boldness (Hebrews 10:19-22). When we so follow the pattern we will restore the things God wishes for us to restore in our lives. When we fail to follow that pattern, we do err and like Cain, do that which is evil. Let us not be about the business of approaching God based upon a righteousness of our own, but let us hold the pattern of sound words (2 Timothy 1:13) and thereby approach God in His righteousness.