This sounds like it would come from what some term a conservative legalist, but surprise! it comes from a liberal’s liberal.

What is offered in the letters [of the book of Revelation], therefore, represents a pattern of affirmation and correction, challenge and comfort, supporting the weak and challenging the complacent, which is the foundation of our pastoral and preaching ministry. (emphases mine)

The quote comes from Christopher Rowland, “Revelation,” Global Bible Commentary (Abingdon, 2004): 562. The one-volume commentary is a showcase for liberation and feminist theologies.

patternThe dictionary defines a pattern as “a model considered worthy of imitation; something regarded as a normative example; something intended as a guide for making something else.”

Now, Mr. Rowland wouldn’t agree to my identification of that pattern, no doubt about that. But those pro/digressives who cry that the New Testament holds no pattern for us today are being either ingenious or deceptive. The most stringent non-patternist has his pattern which he follows and derives from Scripture, no matter how minimalist and selective.

Who doesn’t require faith in his plan of salvation? To prove the necessity of faith, where does one go? To Scripture! The pattern is searched for and found there. The problem is that too many stop short as their cloak of liberty hides the complete pattern in the Word of God.

The quote above recognizes that a pattern provides the foundation for ministry and mission. The premises we work from are those we pass on to others. It also recognizes that a pattern exists for the churches. The Asian churches, for the most part, were deviating from that pattern, and the Spirit calls them back to a strict observance of it. So not only is there a pattern to follow to be saved, but a normative model exists for one’s eternal security and for service in the kingdom of God.

Granted that people differ on what that pattern is (though discerning it is not a complicated process), those who deny that any pattern exists are talking in a barrel. Even the most liberal of liberals acknowledge it. The liberation theologists go to Exodus for their socialist interpretation to establish a pattern.

So let’s leave behind the denials, and work to discern the details.

10 thoughts on “A pattern in the letters

  1. Randal,

    I read your piece, as I often do, and I scratch my head once again. It is an exercise in smoke and mirrors that will appeal to a certain constituency but lacks compelling power to persuade. Rowland’s description of pattern clearly has nothing to do with how you use the term. Further it is simply not the case that “pro/digressives” (what helpful term for productive dialog) deny that there are patterns in scripture. Is it a “christological” pattern or an “ecclesiological” “pattern?” Rowland is not saying there is a method presented in Revelation for reduplicating the seven churches of Asia. He is saying there is a “Model” for encouraging the church within the way John constructs his message to inform and correct those congregations. I dont know anyone who denies such an understanding of pattern or model. The Exodus, btw, is one of the most prominent “patterns” in Scripture … that is neither liberationist or liberal it is a fact.

    It is interesting that you claim that the “pattern” as you understand it, which is the ecclesiastical one, is not difficult to discern but you point out that Rowland would not agree with you on how you understand pattern. Either he is blind or stupid right? Perhaps just an unbeliever! But to make the claim that discerning this socalled ecclesiastical pattern is not difficult all one needs to do is look at the wrangling among the “sects” that constitute the Churches of Christ in America. All of our splits in the 20th century have been arguments about the pattern. The issue is how and where does the first century become a blue print rather than a model.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  2. Either he is blind or stupid right? You are correct. He is. Rowland that is.

    I have not read Rowland but I would assume as well that he does not refer to any such pattern; ie. worship, organization or plan of salvation. After all being a good moral person and a believer in Christ or a good moral Hindu, Buddhist, etc. make most pluralistic post moderns feel really good about their tolerant views.

    Randal may make it a little too easy to discern and differing views on what is and is not included in the church patern have caused much grief but to say the pattern is only moral and that the church can then adopt any form it wishes and still please God is way off base. I would say it smacks of the sin of presumption. What to make of all that language where the NT says, “it is necessary…,” “…the same thing in every church,” “let the spiritual among you recognize that what I am teaching is a commandment of the Lord,” etc. in the apostles and prophets inspired writings. I guess we just toss it all out. Or, presume that the Lord did not really mean it. Hello King Saul!
    Randy Short

  3. Randal,

    The fact that some admit a pattern AT ALL, implies that (whether or not they agree with your particular usage) a pattern of some sort exists. Bobby’s suggestion that it is a “christological” pattern rather than, or other than, an “ecclesiological” pattern is itself “smoke and mirrors” (as he characterized your article). That is to say that there is such an intricate relationship between Christ and the church which He purchased with His own blood, that it is not really possible to separate them! One may certainly distinguish between them, but not separate them.

    Distinction without separation is a lesson that all of us need to learn. For instance, we sharply distinguish between the body and the spirit in our present mode of existence. The body has size, shape, mass, extension, color, etc. The spirit has none of these things. Nevertheless, we possess both of these (body and spirit) in our present form. It is necessary to distinguish them, but we cannot (and must not) separate them. The same is true for Christ and the church. Incidentally, it seems to me that He Himself made that clear in Matt. 25:31-46 when He argued that what we do to “one of the least of these my brethren” we also do to Him. By extension, the King is always related to His kingdom; the Head is always related to the body; and the Bridegroom is always related to the bride. Just so, a “christological” perspective is absolutely vital for any who seek to restore New Testament Christianity. But, so is a proper “ecclesiological” perspective.

  4. Its always been interesting to me how the bible is so simple to follow. It is like a simple pattern that someone follows when making something ( I use to love to us those pinking shears to cut the patterns). Somewhere it is said that simple things will not be seen by the men who think they are wise (my words) because they seem too simple. Pattens are always given to make it simple (Thanks God because I need simple) Wise people can [not] stand patterns because it takes away from their figuring it out. Guess What God figured it out and just gave us a pattern to follow. Anyway Im making this way more complex than it needs to be……. Oh yeah im a man and we tend to do that.

  5. All theology is pattern theology, even Bobby’s. People see a trend, a current of thought, a pattern, etc. And they begin to build their theology around it. The Liberationists, the Social gospel folk, Prosperity theologians, Moral theology proponents, all see patterns in scripture and develop their thoughts accordingly.

What do you think?

%d bloggers like this: