Sunday, July 31, 2011
Quest for THE Pattern
Wal-Mart, Dresses and Patterns
So knowing full well that many will totally disagree with what I am about to write I offer these thoughts on "Sound Doctrine," "Patternism," and Timothy. I ask that you read carefully and prayerfully ... and if you disagree let me know ... after you have read it AGAIN to make sure I am really wrong.
Introductory Matters: Conundrums and Ironies
One of the great strengths of the Churches of Christ has been our commitment to be a "people of the book." It is a commitment that I am personally at peace with and give my life and heart too without reservation. We, "our people," have held tightly onto the belief in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God. This quality has become a trademark of "our" identity. We have consistently called upon others to come and join us "on Bible ground" and I am happy to continue to do so. Sometimes we even use lingo that says "The Bible is our Creed" or more likely "the New Testament is our creed." While I do not like that language I understand the sentiment. Christ is our Creed ... but more on that as we reflect ...
Yet by being a "Back to the Bible" movement that focuses so intensely on the Scriptures (even if uneveningly in practice) it is possible that the Bible has displaced the true object of our faith. Although our motives have been pure, and holy, we may have forgotten the biblical truth(!!) that the Bible is NOT an end to itself. The Bible is a MEANS of grace (i.e. can I say "sacrament") to THE end ... the end being Jesus the Christ (Jn 5.39f). This does not diminish the importance of the Bible. It enhances it. We really need to think through these challenging words of N. T. Wright as he reminds us that all authority is actually quite personal and en-fleshed in Jesus ...
"The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew's gospel, does not say 'All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,' but 'All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me." This ought to tell us, precisely if we are taking the Bible itself seriously as we should, that we need to think carefully what it might mean to think that the authority of Jesus is somehow exercised through the Bible. What would that look like in practice? In particular, what happens when we factor in Jesus own redefinition of what 'authority' itself might mean?" 
Most of us would deny seeing the Bible as an end to itself but our language and practice at least reveal that often we are not clear as we ought to be. The current, ever present, debate over "patternism" in our fellowship is, I believe, a case that proves the point. Roy Deaver, for instance, wrote "the divine rule-book by which he [God] seeks to govern man is the New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The New Testament is the pattern." Deaver goes on to say "There are certain (perhaps "uncertain" would be a better word) brethren among us who very definitely and vehemently REJECT the idea that the New Testament is our PATTERN" .
A fairly recent tome, Behold the Pattern, defends the notion of the New Testament being the perfect pattern for the church in name, belief, form and frequency of worship, organization, mission, structure, etc. Goebel Music, the author, cites as his proof the many times the NT uses the Greek word tupos. This book is seriously, fundamentally, flawed by simply assuming the conclusion it seeks to prove. For example that that there appears a nail "pattern" (tupos) in the hand of Jesus hardly proves that a series of 27 books called the New Testament is the pattern.
J. D. Thomas in his Heaven's Window, though far more restrained and gracious than Music, assumes his conclusion as well. For example Thomas quotes Romans 6.17 "But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves to sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted." Our word "tupon" is rendered "form" here. From this text Thomas concludes "the Bible does present pattern requirements". Thomas, earlier in responding to an objection to "patternism" that humanity's salvation cannot rest upon human deductions and logic. He says, "correct, salvation is not a reward for cleverness." He then moves on to say, "the common man can learn from the Bible himself how to become a child of God and live a godly and acceptable life ...". This is, in my opinion, simply evasion. Few folks mean, in our contemporary setting, by the word "pattern "simply becoming a Christian and living a godly life!" It is, in fact, a far cry to say that ordinary people can read the Bible and come to faith in Jesus and that same ordinary person discern all the dotted "i's" and crossed "t's" of the "pattern of ecclesiology" (which is exactly what is meant by "pattern" by these brothers) nor does it follow that because the Bible contains "pattern" requirements to saying the NT is itself the pattern.
One of the major conundrums of the "inductive" approach to Scripture is the illusion of objectivity. Many historians, not to mention biblical scholars, have noticed this great irony - it is greatly subjective while pretending to be objective. Richard Lints notes,
"the inductive Bible study approach may encourage individuals to read the Bible as they never have before, but it will also encourage them to read the text according to their own subjective interests."
He goes on to note that when readers reject (sometimes outright!) the aid of interpreters throughout Christian history, or biblical commentaries or other scholarly sources "we have not succeeded in returning to the primitive gospel; we have simply managed to plunge ourselves back to the biases of our own individual situations."  This can be seen in the controversy over patternism.
I hope to examine one widely quoted text in the "sound doctrine" and "patternism" debate that the New Testament is itself the pattern. Second Timothy 1.13 reads, in part, "follow the pattern of sound/healthy teaching/doctrine" ... this is taken as proof positive of the point at issue. The question is typically framed in the form of this question: "Is the New Testament the Pattern?" Perhaps we should re-frame this to What is the pattern? Does the Bible actually point to itself as the pattern or does it testify to something else??
Pattern of Sound Words
What are traditionally called the Pastoral Epistles, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, figure prominently in discussion of church order and patternsim. The fact that these short books are even called "Pastorals" reflects a higher critical Protestant tradition that these books testify to an early form of "Catholicism" (i.e. patternism) in regard to church structure. In fact many liberal Protestant scholars reject Pauline authorship because of this notion of early Catholicism they believe they see (there are other reasons but this is a big one). The church manual theory makes it too late to come from Paul.
Thankfully more recent scholarship has stressed the occasional nature of the "Pastorals." They were not written, I believe, to be a "Roberts Rules of How to Do Church" but to combat real live false teachers in Ephesus (1-2 Timothy) and get Titus on with his job (Titus) . The "Robert's Rules" approach has given only lip service to two iron clad rules of reading the Bible: Context and Context (historical and literary)!. These works are occasional documents ... they address specific and concrete situations in the life of Paul, the life of Timothy and the life of the Ephesian church. Paul, if we take the letter (as a letter) seriously states exactly why he left Timothy in Ephesus, "to command certain men not to teach false doctrines" (1 Tim 1.3). Without discussing the nature of that teaching at the moment but recognizing the danger of the false teachers the so called "Catholic" (especially in the pejorative critical use of that term) nature of these epistles is greatly diminished. Timothy is to deal with the false teachers that are tearing this congregation literally apart by upholding the "pattern of sound teaching." That is the pattern of teaching that promotes the well being and health of the disciples within it ... as we shall see.
The word translated "pattern" in this text is hypotyposis and means something like example, standard, pattern, paradigm or the like . This "pattern, paradigm, example" is something Timothy possesses and Paul calls it the "model/example/paradigm of healthy/sound teaching." We can get a firmer grasp of what Paul means by this unique expression by looking at the context and the "Pastorals" themselves.
From the opening line of "First Timothy" Paul's "logic" seems to be heading to a crescendo of for intense focus on God's saving work for creation through the work of Jesus the Christ. Paul gives Timothy a "trustworthy saying."
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an EXAMPLE for those who would believe and have eternal life" (1.15-16, NIV)
The word rendered "example" in the NIV is hypotyposis, the exact word translated "pattern" in 2 Tim 1.13 ... these, by the way, are the only two occurrences of that exact word in the New Testament. Two things emerge from the immediate context. First, Paul's former life is described in ways that are remarkably similar to the descriptions throughout 1 & 2 Timothy to the false teachers ... these descriptions are behavioral (persecutor and violent man) and his misunderstanding/misuse of Scripture (blasphemer and ignorant). The purveyors of unhealthy teaching (false doctrine!) are men that "want to be teachers" but do not understand (1.7). Or as the NIV renders "they want to be teachers of the law but they do not know what they are talking about" This is followed by a series of community destroying behaviors based on the second half of the Decalogue (1.8-11). It is here that Paul explicitly defines "sound doctrine" in terms of ethics ... NOT PROPOSITIONAL STATEMENTS (v.10, 'and for whatever else is contrary to sound/healthy teaching/doctrine") The second thing crystal clear from the context is that God has taken Paul (the proto-typical false teacher zealot who violently misused the Bible!) and made him the paradigm, indeed the pattern(!!) of the saved sinner to not only Timothy but all the saints in Ephesus. Paul is not the pattern of how to "do church" per se, but of the gospel of grace resulting in one transformed into a "new creation." From this context it becomes clear that the high sounding phrase "sound doctrine" means teaching that results in spiritually healthy followers of the Messiah who live in harmony within the community of God.
An Even Closer Look
It has long been recognized the interest the "Pastorals" have in "sound teaching." Indeed this interest is one reason some scholars deny Pauline authorship as pointed out above. This denial is rooted in the unproved assumption that "sound doctrine" refers to church order and the like! The word translated in our English Bibles as "sound" ... which by the way means something like "sound mind" "sound heart" or "healthy mind" or "healthy mind," this is the meaning of the term. hygiano (from where we get our English word hygiene!) along with related terms in these epistles confirms (IMHO) their occasional nature. hygiano occurs eight times in the "Pastorals" (1 Tim 1.10; 6.3; 2 Tim 1.13; 4.3; Titus 1.9; 1.13; 2.1-2) and does not occur outside of these letters anywhere in the NT. The word refers to health. The false teachers are unfit because they are "unsound" in mind, in conscience and in heart. It is a term we import other meanings for so it is better to say they are unfit because they are UNHEALTHY. Their minds and their behavior is unhealthy for the well being of the church. Timothy is charged with stopping the spread of gangrene.
Abraham J. Malherbe has shown, convincingly, that the medical terminology that peppers the "Pastorals" was par for the course among popular "street philosophers" in the first century. Paul knew this language as did everyone hearing First Timothy read in the assembly for the first time. Paul adopts this language to describe the troublers of peace in the Ephesian church (I believe a strong case can be made they were some of the "elders" in the congregation) and those who hold fast to healthy apostolic tradition. In using this language Paul does not so much describe the content of the unhealthy teaching rather the cause of such teaching and the deadly results of it.  Reading through the letter itself reveals this taxonomy of the false teacher in Ephesus:
1) Their conscience is seared (1 Tim 2.4)
2) They lust lust/crave money and influence (1 Tim 6.9)
3) They are embroiled in "stupid and senseless" controversy (2 Tim 2.23; Titus 3.9f)
4) They wrangle "about words" (2 Tim 2.14 & 1 Tim 6.4-5)
5) They are harsh and anti-social (2 Tim 3.2-4)
6) They are arrogant (Titus 1.16)
These descriptions surely bring to mind not only Paul's own self-description as one who was an enemy of Christ but of that summary of items "contrary to healthy teaching" to which I have already referred (1 Tim 1. 6-10). These false teachers mishandle the Word of Truth as they use it as occasion for strife ...
Is it any surprise that the command to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Tim 2.15, KJV) occurs in a context that separating the so called Old Testament from the New Testament is not even on the radar screen! Rather the statement occurs in the middle of relating to people in in the community in healthy ways. Some so abuse the "word of truth" that they bring ruin (lack of health) to those who listen because they are doing nothing but arguing (v.14). The words immediately following the statement refers to empty talk, godless chatter and a verse or so down to "stupid arguments." Rightly dividing ... done by a spiritually healthy teacher ... leads to a healthy environment with the local body of believers. False teachers use the Bible as justification for their extreme harshness, judgmental attitudes, and they kill and divide the local church. Paul is calling Timothy on the carpet because he did not have the courage, it seems, to kill the disease.
Paul also draws on the terminology of these street philosophers to talk about those who are the opposite of the unhealthy, unsound, ignorant, and arrogant dogmatists. Those who are given to "healthy" teaching prove so by their behavior in the body. They are healthy because ...
1) They apply their minds to receive understanding from the Lord (2 Tim 2.7)
2) They let the grace of God instruct them in gentleness (2 Tim 2.25)
3) Their teaching results in peaceful godly ways (1 Tim 2.2)
It would seem that whatever this "sound" or "healthy" teaching is it is not primarily church order nor creedal orthodoxy. If we let Paul define the meaning of the terms he uses we have a hard time agreeing with the notion that phrase "sound doctrine" as used by Paul refers to an itemized list in the fashion of Why I'm a Member of the Church of Christ! Unbelievably some have acted, and even said outright to me, that this contextual information is "irrelevant." Our contemporary interests and biases have been allowed to dictate what the text actually "teaches." This is not, I submit to my readers, respect for biblical authority but is exactly what Richard Lints warned about ... what we have is the authority of the individual! This phrase does not refer to propositional creedal statements but to teaching that results in a healthy (loving!) Spirit filled community - the beachhead of the New Creation. Francis Young writes of Paul's usage "the predominant concern is about correct relationships, duties and obligations in a community which regards itself as a teaching environment with a pattern of virtuous behavior"  God has revealed "healthy" teaching that results in a proper God honoring, community building, way of life.
It seems clear that the word "doctrine" as in "sound doctrine" cannot be simplistically reduced to items regarding church structure or organization. That notion is untenable in the historical situation of Timothy and the Ephesian church. "Doctrine" does not mean what what it would later develop into ... a way of saying "dogma." Rather in the context of 1-2 Timothy it refers to teaching that results in a certain kind of healthy (sound!) behavior among the family of God. This spiritually healthy, this sound in health doctrine, has to do with a new creation lifestyle under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is life in, and for, the Body. One scholar put it like this, "the concern of the metaphor [i.e. sound doctrine] is not with the content of doctrine. Rather it is with behavior." 
When 2 Timothy 1.13 is read in light of its situation (historical context) and its literary context it takes on a different character than the one it has had on the polemical platform. We notice that the statement comes at the end of a "gospel summary" just as did our other occurrence of our word "pattern" in 1 Timothy 1.16.
Paul just announced in 1.8 that he is not ashamed of the gospel and exhorts Timothy to join him in "suffering" for it. Timothy is to model himself after Paul ... his behavior is in question! In verses 9-10 just prior to our contentious text Paul writes
"God has saved us and called us to a HOLY LIFE -- not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."
Paul was appointed a "herald" of this gospel for which he suffers. In language reminiscent of 1 Cor 15.1, "I remind you of the gospel ... which you have received," Paul reminds Timothy what he heard from the apostle. That glorious gospel provides the grist for healthy teaching (Paul says explicitly that spiritually healthy congregations result from emphasis on the glorious gospel of grace, Titus 3.3-8, note v.8). Healthy teaching "conforms" to the gospel, it is rooted in the gospel ... the gospel Paul said he was in chains for in v.8. But sound teaching and the gospel are not one and the same thing. Rather sound doctrine is teaching that applies that astounding message of grace - applying it to God's people in order to transform them into models ... patterns ... of the New Creation! Healthy teaching promotes the unity, harmony, and love of the disciples for one another. Sound Doctrine is teaching that "conforms" us to the likeness of Jesus Christ. That is healthy teaching.
In Part 2 we will look at distinguishing "doctrine" and "gospel." A perennial problem. Blessings ...
 N. T. Wright, The Last Word (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), xi-xii.
 Roy Deaver, "We Must Recognize that the New Testament Does Set Out the Divine Pattern," Firm Foundation 102 (22 October 1985), 626
 Goebel Music, Behold the Pattern (Colleyville, TX: Music Publications, 1991), 19-22.
 J. D. Thomas, Heavens Window (Abilene, TX: Biblical Research Press, 1974), 73.
 ibid., 46.
 Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmens, 1993), 93.
 J. D. Thomas, Heavens Window, p. 73.
 Gordon D. Fee, "Reflections on Church Order in the Pastoral Epistles, with Further Reflections on the Hermeneutics of Ad Hoc Documents," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 28 (June 1985): 141-151.
 H. Muller, "tupos" in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 3: 903-907.
 Francis Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Epistles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 54.
 D. Muller, "hygies," in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 2: 169-172.
 Abraham J. Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 122.
 Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Epistles, p. 83.
 Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1984), 46.