I am a Patternist; Yes, Really!

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.

16 Responses to “I am a Patternist; Yes, Really!”

  1.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    I have confessed this too.

  2.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Yes!!! This is a very well put summary of the hermeneutical approach you have articulated in the past. Thank you very much for this.

    Grace and peace,


  3.   Tuck Says:

    The “problem” with a pattern based on Jesus (rather than CEI) is that you and I can both be committed to that pattern and end up not looking much like each other in our specific choices– how we do communion, baptism, worship, etc. In our history, if two people look different, a least one of them is wrong. Looking like Jesus wasn’t enough; we all had to look more or less the same.

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    You are certainly correct, Tuck. It is much easier to conform to a propositional and legal pattern than it is to live out the narratival life of Jesus as the image of God. But the problem with the propositional model is that has to be constructed (CEI) from isolated texts since the “pattern” is nowhere explicitly provided.

  5.   Mike Deaton Says:

    This is a wonderful post. To be a Christian is to be a patternist, where my “pattern” is the character and life of Christ. I think also that the early restoration notion of “unity” was possibly a rather flat, narrow view of unity…based primarily on consistency of practices in the assembly and in the practice of baptism. I wonder if the real “unity” to which we are called is based less on such uniformities, and more on a common purpose – the mission of Christ – the mission to be “God’s presence” in the world, bringing healing in dark places.

    •   Larry Kinsler Says:

      Yes. Think about this. If Jesus were on earth today preaching the same message that He preached during His ministry, He would be accused of being a false preacher by patternists because His message would not include be baptized to be saved.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        Well, that would depend on how one reads John 3:5, how you understand the example of Jesus’ own baptism, whether you think Mark 16:16 is part of the Gospel of Mark, and what the implications of Jesus mission in “baptizing” in Matthew 28. At bottom, we follow Jesus into the water as disciples of Jesus.

  6.   Terrell Lee Says:

    If a legal pattern is the model then no one has to think about what to do, how to act, etc. Just check the box. But if a relational pattern (to imitate Christ) is the model then one must constantly ask “What would Jesus do?” and, as Tuck noted, that will look differently from one person to another. I have two kids and they’re nothing alike–except that I love them and they love me and we’re on the same team which has its healthy level of chaos at times. Same is true about my five siblings and me. Same is true about my mom and her nine siblings. Who knows but what the same just might be true about God and all his kids! Is that such a radical thought?

    Weird huh? Many of us spend our lives looking for an objective pattern for all to adhere to, only to find division, judgment, and opninion dividing and tearing us apart. Maybe it’s time to look for more of a subjective pattern laced with the Jesus-model that gives all of us the freedom to be like Jesus to the best of our ability and allow our siblings to do the same. Who knows but what that might actually put us on the same page? Except for those siblings who have control issues . . . (which we all have!).

    Thanks John Mark. I always find your thoughts helpful.

  7.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Mike. Campbell’s search for unity was both character and “ancient order,” though he though character was the essential part of being a Christian rather than the “ancient order.” He thought it would be means to an end, but his main object was the destruction of creeds which bind people to the opinions of others. That, more than anything else, would bring unity through character, faith and a common search for the “ancient order.”

  8.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Terrell, I always appreciate what you bring to the discussion. The family analogy is very helpful one. A more relational and communal pattern is better suited to being one as the Father and Son are one rather than a legal and form-based pattern.

  9.   David P Himes Says:

    It seems clear to me that Jesus calls us to pattern ourselves after him. In my view, the most compelling passage in the New Testament is John 13.34 — In the same way I have loved you, love one another.

    Jesus tells us to model our behavior towards each other based upon how he behaved towards us.

    Now, there is a standard to reach for.

  10.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    David, it is a joy to reconnect with you, my brother. It has been many years since my Springfield, VA, days. Blessings, and I appreciate the comment.

    Since the standard is so high, any kind of perfectionism reduces to legalism. Grace empowers transformation, forgives our shortcomings and enables mutual acceptance as we all strive to be like Jesus.

  11.   David P Himes Says:

    Amen, brother … it has been many years … but, then, it’s only a blink of the eye!

  12.   rich constant Says:

    now then john mark
    i think we should pray for a little help…
    john mark
    i know this might sound corney
    is there any reason why we as a body of believers don’t seta time like next sat. 22ed 10am east
    standard time and all of us say a little prayer???

    sorta kinda together…

    sence you are our Fearless leader (from the rocky and bullwinkel show) maybe you compose a prayer for all to think on at that time designated according to YOUR time zone.
    might give god something to smile about…

    blessings john mark
    what a great read wish the last four or five were a Lot longer…
    seems so easy when you do it 🙂


  13.   Zach Cox Says:

    This little post and few short comments have been pregnant with more meaning and relevance than anything I have read in a while. Thanks John Mark.

  14.   Keith Brenton Says:

    I think I’ve confessed to this, too, Bobby – in a post about patternism, if I remember correctly!

    Isn’t there a great old hymn which declares “He the Great Example is, and Pattern for me”?

    All due respect to the apostle Paul (“Follow my example as I follow Christ”), but why follow a pattern that’s less than perfect, when there’s a perfect One available?


  1. Topics about Christian life and Bible readings » Archive » I am a Patternist; Yes, Really!
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  3. When Patternism Subverts Grace « John Mark Hicks Ministries

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