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There are some in the Christian world who look upon the idea of a pattern (a correct way to do things) in religion as being something to be dismissed. In fact, some call this legalistic, and that it is in part and whole contrary to the New Testament. Is this true? It is not!

The idea behind a pattern finds its way into religion from God. To Moses the Lord said, “And see to it that you make them [articles of the Tabernacle] according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40, NKJV). As the children of Israel made their way from Egypt to the land of promise (Canaan) and embarked on clearing the land of its evil, it was finally the case that the Israelites were able to “rest from their labors” and go home. Joshua gave the departing ones a word of exhortation, “But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5). You will note in this word from Joshua two important ideas. First, the Israelites were to pay attention to the Lord and do exactly what He said. Second, they were to have their motivation (love) properly in place. This is the idea behind what some people disparagingly call “pattern theology.” Those who do so speak about that which the Lord set in place!

So important was this concept that the people of Israel were alarmed when they heard of a compromise existing (Joshua 22). After having laid down their arms they were prepared to take them up again because of the perceived compromise. In other words, they were prepared to do battle with their brothers (22:13-21). After some conversation it was learned by the leaders of Israel there was no attempt to compromise the Lord’s way (22:29), but that which was built was done as a witness (a replica, a pattern) for later generations (22:26-28).

In this there is a lesson. What some ridicule as “pattern theology” actually got its origin from God, not any man. Whatever failings man may have had in implementation of the Lord’s pattern, let us not be guilty of doing the same. There are two things to keep in mind: first, when the Lord said something on a particular topic, that which the Lord said (commanded) is that which is to be done in the way He said to do it. He did not give to man the option to alter what He said, only to choose to obey or not. Second, those who serve the Lord faithfully understand the Lord’s mercy and its underserving quality. Because this is understood, the love that is expressed to the Lord brings about obedience. Joshua understood this and, when he was preparing to pass from this life, set before the people of Israel the alternative to the Lord’s way (Joshua 24:14-15). In the Lord’s church, those who are faithful to the Lord understand the same. The structure of the church, the structure of worship, the behavior in life—these are things the Lord addressed for His saints to understand and to submit to.