Saturday, August 12, 2006
Wal-Mart, Dresses and Hermeneutics
I am sorry for my gap in posting on Stoned-Campbell but this past week we have had many other matters going on: Weekend guests, Lake Geneva Family Encampment, and band camp that kept me busy with my daughter, Rachael. I hope to make it up to you.
Since it is time for back to school (it felt like Fall here in Milwaukee last night!) I thought I would offer a post in that spirit, a reflection on dresses and biblical interpretation.
We in the Churches of Christ have always claimed that "We do things in Bible ways and call things by Bible names." A worthy and holy goal too I might add. What this statement means, however, is that we want to worship according to the "New Testament Pattern." This is code language for organizing ourselves as we think the NT congregations did, we want to do everything by the "pattern." But the question is rarely asked and even less frequently critically reflected upon: "What do we mean by pattern?"
I have learned something about patterns by watching Pamella make dresses for Rachael and Talya. We went to Wal-Mart, looked through seemingly hundreds of catalogs, picked a "pattern," bought material (all while I waited patiently!). When we got home I soon discovered that several different dresses could be made from the same pattern. You can have long sleeves, short sleeves or no sleeves. You could use several different types of fabric and colors. The hemline and the shape of the neckline could differ radically. I was amazed because I had been programmed to believe that the term pattern meant "identical!" I would have thought it impossible those dresses could come from the very same pattern. There was nothing wrong with the pattern, only my idea and definition of pattern was wrong.
Some Christians believe that the "pattern" requires cookie cutter churches (but my experience with dresses show how diverse a pattern can be). You see what is at issue is a definition of "pattern." If by pattern I mean architectural blueprint, then nothing can possibly vary. But no one, and I mean no one, is consistent with this view (we do not eat the Lord's Supper in upper rooms and only at night, we don't use one cup, don't wash feet, don't practice holy kisses, don't enroll widows, etc). But "pattern" also means model, example or guideline all of which carry significantly different connotations than blueprint.
I am convinced the scriptural pattern functions far more like Pamella's dress pattern. In fact I believe the blueprint notion is simply false and contrary to the diversity that is plainly revealed in the New Testament itself.
In conclusion not every congregation that is cut from the New Testament pattern will look exactly the same in all its details any more than every dress made from the same pattern will look the same. But they are the result of the same pattern.