Jesus is the logos (word) of God; he is our pattern, the speech of God. His life is the word of God. He embodies all that God desires.
Disciples of Jesus follow Jesus. They follow him into the water, and are thereby baptized. They follow him into the wilderness, and thus seek solitude with God in the midst of their trials. They follow him into intimacy with other disciples, and thus they seek honest relationships with other believers. They follow him to the table, and thus experience relationship with others and commune with God. They follow him into the world as missional people, and thus are heralds and practitioners of the good news. They follow him into the assemblies of God’s people to praise God, and thus they gather as a community to celebrate the good news of the kingdom. They follow him in pursuing mercy and justice, and thus seek to embody a righteousness that declares that the kingdom of God has arrived. Disciples of Jesus do not follow the church, they follow Jesus and thus become the church–the outpost of the kingdom of God in this broken world.
Patternists are generally concerned about “authority.” I suggest that what Jesus does is our authority. His actions, teachings and practices authorize as they model how God incarnates himself as the presence of the kingdom of God in the world. We follow Jesus to become kingdom people. We are called to be Jesus in the world for the sake of the world.
The Gospels provide the pattern, that is, the ministry and life of Jesus. Acts illustrates how the early church lived out that pattern. The epistles interpret and apply the meaning of the good news of the kingdom for believers living in community. The Hebrew Scriptures give us the lens to read the story of God in Jesus within the frame of God’s story among his people and see the depth of Jesus’ life and teaching.
For example–and issues that are often the focus of patternistic discussions, we are baptized because Jesus was baptized; we eat and drink at the table of the Lord because Jesus did. We discern the meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper thorugh the lens of God’s relationship with Israel, what it meant for Jesus within his own ministry, and how it was continued and interpreted in early Christian communities (Acts and Epistles). This is the approach I (along with my co-authors) utilized in my books on table, baptism and assembly.
The pattern for the church is not the historical descriptions in Acts, but the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus. The pattern for the church is the ministry of Jesus. What Jesus began to do and teach, the early church continued.
Some patternists divorce the church from the ministry of Jesus and seek their patterns solely in Acts and the Epistles. Indeed, this was Alexander Campbell’s patternism. But to say that the pattern for the church of Christ cannot be located in Christ’s ministry seems counter-intuitive to me. It is like saying that the church can’t be like Jesus or that Jesus is not the model for the church. How can that be? The church is the body of Christ!
Simply speaking, I would suggest that the pattern for the kingdom of God is anticipated in Israel, fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus, continued (applied and interpreted) by the early church, and brought to fullness (completion) in the new heaven and new earth. For a more detail explanation of this approach, interested persons can read my series on “Theological Hermeneutics” and the series entitled “It Ain’t That Complicated“.
The pattern for the kingdom of God lies on the surface of the story of God–it is the narrative of Jesus’ ministry in a broken world. But that narrative is rooted in the theology and redemptive history of God’s story among his people–first in Israel, climaxed in Jesus, and practiced by the early church. Rather than constructing patterns through stringing together isolated texts, I suggest we live out the pattern which is given to us in the narrative of Jesus’ own life.