Friday, March 17, 2006

Formless Christianity?

Recently a speaker argued that Christianity was amorphous (formless). His point was that the New Testament did not provide any patterns for the church to follow, so that he felt free to exercise his faith any way he felt would cause the church to grow. He said that form matters little, but function matters much.

This is an interesting perspective. If the church is patternless, it is the only thing God ever created that is!

God took a formless and void universe and organized it (Genesis 1). We can see God's wisdom and purpose for everything He has made. We can see design in the leaf of a tree, in the paths of the sun and moon, in the precision of the movements of the earth, and in our own bodies. Every cell in our bodies has an extremely complicated DNA pattern that defines and controls its functions. Every leaf on a tree has a vein pattern to match the other leaves on that tree.

When God created the world both plants and animals were given a seed that produces after its own kind--and only after its own kind.

The seed of the kingdom was designed to produce after its own kind too (Luke 8:11; 1 Peter 1:22-25). It was not amorphous; it had standards and boundaries, form and function.

Our obedience to the gospel was from the heart to a form (pattern) of teaching. We died with Christ, were buried with Him, and raised with Him (Rom. 6:3-18). Our response of obedience to the gospel unites us with Him, giving us a pattern to follow, a pattern which culminates in baptism.

When Paul returned to visit the churches, he appointed elders for them in every church--that looks like a pattern to me (Acts 14:23). In 1 Tim. 3:1-13 there are qualifications of elders and deacons. These qualifications lay out the kind of person God wants in leadership roles in His church. The same pattern was to be followed in every church.

When Jesus instituted the Lord's supper, which was observed on the Lord's day (Acts 20:7), He laid out a pattern of remembering His body and blood with unleavened bread and fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:26-29; 1 Cor. 11:23-31).

Paul said, "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:13 ESV). These sound (healthy) words deal with many things: life, morals, and the church. It is pretty hard to say we don't have to observe the patterns for the church, and then insist we are to imitate Jesus in His love, forgiveness, purity and devotion! Carrying a cross is itself a pattern for us, is it not?

It seems only natural that if God had a pattern for the ark and a pattern for the tabernacle, that He would also have a pattern for His church. Indeed, if the Old Testament had types for the New Testament, then patterns are a necessity.

Now, we admit that the Lord's Supper isn't anywhere near as complicated as observing the Passover meal; but that doesn't mean there is no pattern to it.

It is not wisdom that mocks patternism; it is foolishness. Wisdom hears the words of Jesus and does them; foolishness hears the words of Jesus and does not do them. Foolishness disrespects the words of Jesus, builds where it wants and does what it wants. But look at the difference between the results (Matt. 7:21-27). Calling ourselves disciples but failing to do the will of the Father and failing to do the words of Jesus is self-deception.

There are indeed forms, patterns, and standards to Christianity, and those who will not observe them do so to their own harm.


No comments: