Speaking the Truth in Love

A Pattern for the Church

Some false teachers suggest that the Lord has no pattern for the modern church. They may justify this opinion on the basis of the imperfections of the first century congregations described in the New Testament. Since no church is perfect, they say, Christians must serve God as they think best or as modern culture dictates. The important thing is to be loving and compassionate like Jesus.

This line of reasoning is flawed. The New Testament most certainly does uphold a pattern. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul thanks God that his readers “have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching” to which they “were committed” (Rom. 6:17). The Greek noun translated “standard” means “mold” or “pattern.”

If the Lord pressed the Romans into a mold of teaching, then we should be able to find biblical evidence suggesting that the apostles taught the same things in every place. And this is the case. Paul tells the Corinthians: “Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17).

Even the imperfections in the early church testify to the biblical appeal for doctrinal consistency. False teachers inadvertently admit this when they identify the flaws. How can anyone maintain that early churches were imperfect unless a perfect standard is understood? Strife in the Corinthian church is wrong (1 Cor. 3:1-4). And how do we know this? Because Paul urges unity as the ideal (1:10). The church’s frivolous observance of the Lord’s Supper is wrong (11:17-22). How do we know? Because Paul demands that the church make this weekly memorial a proper remembrance of the Lord’s death (11:23-26).

The suggestion that the New Testament contains no pattern for the modern church is really just another way of refusing to come to God on his terms.

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