"Sound Doctrine," "Pattern," "Timothy:" Reflections on Restoration Hermeneutics #2Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Church History, Hermeneutics, Jesus, Patternism, Restoration History, Unity
The Problem of NOT Distinguishing Doctrine & Good News/Gospel
It should come as no surprise that Paul roots “healthy” (i.e. sound) teaching in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One proceeds out of the other. For Paul, it seems, everything that can claim to be uniquely Christian is Christocentric. Scripture itself, Paul says, is ultimately Christ-centered for its function is to makes us wise unto salvation by focusing our faith onto the Christ (2 Tim 3.15). Bernard Ramm in his semi-classic work The Pattern of Authority said it nicely,
“Christ is the supreme object of the witness of the Spirit, and Christ is the supreme content of the Scriptures. The Spirit who bears his chief witness to Christ also inspired the Scripture. The Scriptures are inspired of the Spirit and they witness supremely to Christ, the personal Word of God. Such is the pattern of authority.” 
Yet the Stone Campbell Movement has not been Christologically focused but rather ecclesiologically focused. We use the Pauline language of “sound/healthy doctrine” to refer to dogma about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, instrumental music, elders, deacons, role of women, etc, etc. However we never use “sound/healthy doctrine” to refer to having a gentle spirit, loving our enemies, commitment to the unity of the body or being joyful in the Spirt. We have turned Paul’s language quite literally on its head and used post-biblical notions of dogma to make “sound doctrine” mean everything but what it actually means in the “Pastorals.” Even more we have often made our notion of dogma (our redefined “sound doctrine”) equivalent to Gospel itself. The Gospel is just another doctrine instead of being that which healthy teaching is built upon and in accordance with!!!
The Eclipse of Christ
When the Bible (or the New Testament) becomes the pattern, Christ’s supremacy is eclipsed. When Christ is eclipsed Christianity is perverted into what some Pharisees had made the Law of Moses – a perversion, a mere caricature of the Gracious Word (and God’s Torah was/is gracious too). It becomes a religion based upon human performance rather than the achievement of the Cross of Christ. This is not as God established it but as humans have practiced it.
Many have noticed the confusion that results when the Bible replaces Christ as the pattern under the reign of God. J. D. Thomas himself argues that the controversy over pattern hermeneutics is ultimately the outgrowth of the “Man or the Plan” controversy. Thomas admits that most of our problems in Churches of Christ stem not from hermeneutics per se but from legalistic tendencies. I, myself, would argue that the hermeneutic drives the legalistic confusion. Thomas singles out as “major doctrinal” weaknesses as our failure to understand the Gospel of Christ Crucified and the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Thomas is hardly a “new hermeneutic” advocate, yet he is perceptive and open enough to see that “Back to the Bible” movements have often let their allegiance to the written word eclipse the Living Word with their own agenda. Don’t misread me here … we are committed to the written word but the written word is NOT an end or the end … the written word is a vehicle, a sacrament if you will to come to the Living Word – Jesus the Messiah.
In our own Stone-Campbell Movement the process of moving the focus of our faith from the Living Word and Patterned life under the reign of God has been gradual but steady. It did not happen overnight. This movement has almost always come as a result of some conflict in our history. One of the earliest prophets came from the Founding Generation itself: Robert Richardson. After a series of conflicts in the late 1830s that resulted in the production of lists (for the first time!) of marks for the “one true church,” Richardson believed many had fixated on upon the Bible and not the Gospel. He said it is true to say the Bible is our religion in that it contains Christianity but it also contains Judaism. He pointed out the lack of clarity in our thinking that sometimes resulted in unhealthy teaching and even sicker division …
“men seem to have lost the obvious distinction between the Bible and the Gospel … it should never be forgotten that the Apostles and the first preachers of the gospel had no Bibles or New Testaments to distribute.”
The preaching of the gospel was around long before there were New Testaments. The Bible is our spiritual library but the “Gospel” is our “standard of orthodoxy”Richardson declared.
A couple generations later, two writers called attention to our confusion in our preaching over the Gospel and “healthy” teaching. K. C. Moser and G.C. Brewer questioned if we were truly preaching gospel sermons. Brewer wrote in the publication, Gospel Advocate, he feared (along with Moser) that “we” were putting to much emphasis on a “plan” or conditions of salvation which made our preaching biblically “off key.” Brewer would return to this theme throughout his career. He voiced his concern that a plan/pattern replaces Christ as Savior. In response to a question about the role of confession in the “plan of salvation” he said quite pointedly,
“to put stress upon a PLAN and specific items and steps of that PLAN may lead to a wrong conclusion. We are saved by a PERSON not by a plan; we are saved by a Savior, not by a ceremony … our faith is in Christ not FAITH IN A PLAN.”
Brewer goes on to say that trusting in a plan is to build according to a “blueprint” but we don’t build according to a blueprint (i.e. pattern) but faith in Christ the Savior. Just before he died Brewer was even more blatant stating flatly,
“I have frequently said that we sing a much better gospel than we preach. I believe with all my heart that this is true. Too many of us do not preach Christianity; we preach “Churchanity.” Too many of us instead of preaching Christ preach a creed.”
The institutional controversy, which tore the bonds of fellowship over matters not remotely related to Paul’s use of the phrase “sound doctrine,” is a sad commentary on the truth of Richardson’s and Brewer’s observation: Christ had been eclipsed by “Churchanity!” This sad affair was, and is, only possible when we change the biblical meaning of the phrase “sound teaching/healthy doctrine” in Timothy and Titus to mean everything but behavior among brothers and sisters in the family of God.
Our hermeneutic has been flawed precisely because it has not been Christocentric. It has been church-centric. If it had been rooted first in the Living Word we would never have been confused over Gospel and “Sound Doctrine.” One of the clearest examples of the eclipse of Christ through all of this is the classic series of books by R. L. Whiteside and C. R. Nichol entitled, ironically, Sound Doctrine. Through four books co-authored and the last by Nichol alone, there is not a single chapter on Jesus!! Jesus is confined to a short paragraph under the heading of “Creation” in Sound Doctrine, vol 1, pp. 22-23!! Had our hermeneutic been more Christocentric we just might have had more Spirit-filled Christians in our pews and the shalom that marks His presence.
“But do you inculcate the things which become wholesome doctrine: that aged men be vigilant, grave prudent, healthy by faith love, patience. That aged women, in like manner, be in deportment as becomes sacred persons–not slanderers, not enslaved to much wine, good teachers … (Titus 2.1ff, Living Oracles, Alexander Campbell’s version)
The Jerusalem Bible renders: “It is for you, then to preach the BEHAVIOR which goes with healthy doctrine … (Titus 2.1)
Paul told Timothy to keep the “pattern of healthy teaching.” That teaching is moral instruction rooted in and springs from the redemption we have received through the Crucified One. True healthy/sound doctrine is not a legal code of dogmas on various contemporary issues. “Wholesome doctrine” is instruction that leads to a life conformed to the image of Jesus by the power of the Spirit as we live under the reign of God. Paul, it seems, could not be clearer in what he means!
One writer on the subject of the Bible’s authority, and role, very insightfully says
“we would understand much more about the authority of the Bible if we paid more attention to its function in ordering the moral life–forming character and guiding conduct–rather than attempting to derive abstract and intellectual theological systems from it.“
The Bible must be allowed to function in the capacity that God gave it. We cannot respect God, or his word, by artificially forcing words or phrases into some preconceived pattern. Exegesis, not current controversy, defines what Paul meant in the first century by “sound teaching/doctrine.” That teaching had everything to do with the life of the community together, its peace, its harmony, it holiness and nothing to do with later dogmas formed in the heat of religious debate. Scripture reveals the ONE who is the paradigm/pattern for sound living under the reign of God: Jesus the Christ. Good, sound, healthy, biblical doctrine is teaching that is first rooted in the Gospel of Christ Crucified and second moves us to be transformed into the image (the pattern!) of Him who saves by his blood, Jesus.
 Notes Jesus’ own testimony in John 5.39-40.
 Bernard Ramm, The Pattern of Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 37
 J. D. Thomas, Harmonizing Hermeneutics: Applying the Bible to Contemporary Life (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1991), 95.
 Thomas speaks of the “legalistic mindset” ibid., pp. 82-84. He also dedicates considerable space on legalism in We Be Brethren, all of Chapters 9, 10, and half of 20 are devoted to this theme.
 Thomas, Harmonizing Hermeneutics, 89
 Robert Richardson, “Reformation, IV” Millennial Harbinger (September 1847), 508.
 G. C. Brewer, “Are We Preaching the Gospel?” Gospel Advocate (26 August 1937), 798.
 G. C. Brewer, Autobiography (Murfreesboro, TN, Dehoff Publications, 1957), 92.
 ibid., 151
 Michael R. Weed, “The Authority of Jesus, or the Jesus of Authority?” Faculty Bulletin 2 (October 1981), 55-56.