Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 29, 1956
NUMBER 30, PAGE 2-3b

The "No Pattern" Argument Of Modernism

Irvin Himmel, Richmond, Virginia

"Reflections on Restorationism" is the title of an article by J. P. Sanders in the August 22 issue of The Christian Evangelist. Sanders joined the "Disciples of Christ" denomination in 1954. His article reflects his modernistic attitude, yet some of it strongly resembles the thinking of certain "sound" and "reliable" (?) brethren.

Sanders begins by mentioning the "agonizing re-appraisal" which the restoration plea has undergone in recent years. He lists two reasons for this re-appraisal. One of these is "the urgent demand for the Christian gospel to be made relevant to the staggering needs of our world." What does he mean by this? Does he mean the gospel is not adapted to the needs of our time? Those who have read his published statement on why he "left the church of Christ" (Gospel Guardian, Vol. 6, p. 630) know exactly what he means. In it he charges the church with endorsing what he terms "a Pharisaic Biblical literalism that blinds its members to their mission in today's world and makes it impossible for them to meet modern problems in an effective way." In other words, those of us who insist on the literal acceptance of the Bible preach things which are "unimportant and irrelevant to the world's need." For example, such details as when to eat the Lord's Supper, what kind of music to have in worship, how to do mission work, etc., are not "relevant to the staggering needs of our world." If these and similar gospel truths are not relevant to our needs, why did God give them? If only a part of the revealed gospel is important, who is qualified to point out that part? If some gospel truths are irrelevant, why are others not so? Has God tried to supply our needs but failed by giving many insignificant and irrelevant gospel details, therefore some brethren are seeking a new gospel? Indeed, many men do think they are wiser than God!

The first part of Sanders' article deals with this question: "Does the New Testament itself make claims to presenting a complete pattern or model for the church." He answers negatively because he says the New Testament "does not propose to present anything as a unit." This statement is wholly false. While the New Testament is composed of twenty-seven separate books, they constitute a single unit. The four gospels are written from different viewpoints, but are designed for one purpose — to establish faith yin Christ. The epistles were penned by various authors and were addressed to Christians in diverse circumstances, yet they picture in full the duties of the Christian life. They were not intended to be read and studied only by those whose names they bear. (Col. 4:16; 2 Peter 3:15, 16; 1 Cor. 1:2.) In spite of variation, the epistles are in perfect harmony and give a full picture of life in Christ. Acts is history, agreeing in every detail with the epistles, and filling the gap between them and the biographies. Revelation takes up where the epistles leave off, pointing to the church's future. Anyone familiar with the theme of its writers knows the 'New Testament DOES propose to be a unit, not a collection of unrelated fragments.

Sanders makes the New Testament a mere human product. He writes, "The record is, because of its very nature, too scant and its details too scattered, for us to learn from it much about the appearance of the church which produced it." The New Testament denies that it was produced BY THE CHURCH. It was produced by the Holy Spirit! Cor. 2:12, 13; Rev. 1:10; 1 Peter 1:10-12.) The members of the church who helped write it were only tools in the hands of God. It is because the Holy Spirit produced the New Testament that it presents a unit.

Quite a number of brethren now seem uncertain that the New Testament presents a complete pattern for the work of the church. They are heading in the same direction that Sanders now travels. He extends that idea to the worship, organization, and designation of the church, rather than confining it to the work which the church may do. He scoffs at the thought of Acts 20:7 being proof for uniform observance of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week. He says the reference is "incidental to the narrative." So what? Does that make it any less true? The record of the jailer's being told to "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" is incidental to the main narrative. Does that destroy its force, or make it "irrelevant" to man's needs? Details may be incidental to the main narrative, but they have been included by the Spirit for a specific purpose. We cannot regard something as unimportant merely because it is recorded in a somewhat incidental fashion to the narrative as a whole. Moreover, what would the narrative of the book of Acts amount to if it were stripped of all details and "incidental" facts? What lessons would we get from Paul's travels if we did not know where he went, what he did, what he taught, and what resulted?

Because he regards the New Testament as a product of the church, denies its unity of purpose and plan, and has no respect for its details, Sanders concludes with the following: "The New Testament does not, it seems to me, claim for itself what we have often claimed for it — to present a clear and complete picture and plan for the church by which it can be reproduced in any age." Like all other modernists, he detests the conception that the Bible is a blueprint or pattern. If it is not, pray tell me what is it? If it is not a model, we have no model. If the Bible does not give us a plan by which the church can be reproduced, it gives us no plan for the church at all! What is the Bible to these brethren who reject it as a complete and all-sufficient guide? Is it a book of consecrated counsel which may or may not be worthy of acceptance a pious and pretty piece of prudence the greater part of which has no pertinence to present problems?

To deny that the New Testament presents a blueprint by which the church can be restored is to deny that there is such a plan. If we have no pattern to follow, anything will be acceptable and nothing could be wrong. This is denominationalism and explains why Sanders joined a denomination. Yet, I doubt that even he would go along with the ultimate conclusion a his own reasoning. Most sectarians argue that one thing is as good as another, but when pressed will admit certain practices to be wrong. To illustrate, if we were to ask a Methodist about the name of his church, he would say one is as good as another. However, if we should ask why the Methodist Church does not have a pope, he would likely appeal to the Bible to prove that such is wrong. The truth is this: men do not want to accept the New Testament as a blueprint unless it agrees with their own fancies. Those who want the church to work in ways not authorized in the Bible deny there is a pattern for evangelism. Those who want the church to participate in things not a part of its God-given mission deny there is a blueprint for its work. Those who want to worship as they please deny the divine plan for worship. Men like Saunders who want to have their own way in nearly everything deny the pattern as a whole. (Another article to follow.)