The pattern for Christian living and church life outlined in the Bible is the imitation of God. By Apostolic authority, the pattern revealed in the New Testament had little to do with the form of worship, recognition of a fixed liturgy, principles of the outward adorning of clothing or church attendance. Rather, the teaching to live as godly people, imitating those who demonstrated the characteristics of holiness, was the emphasis. The aim of the teaching of the New Testament was and is the development of character. Through sober-mindedness, purity of thought, gentleness in demeanor, kind-heartedness, patience with the weak, the slow, the infirm and the young, temperate in all things, serious in living, being genuinely personable, and caring enough about others in the world to love them, Christians were to conform to the image of Christ.
The righteousness imputed by Christ’s sacrifice was to be matched by righteousness in living. Disciples were told to live spiritual lives by yielding their physical bodies to the benefit of others. Christ was to be reflected in their lives through personal integrity and responsible decision making in all matters. While the purpose in being alive was to be expressed in a daily joy, life was not to be taken for granted and the admission of personal sin was to lead to a renewed thinking. This was to be seen in godly living. Christian morality mirrored the Old Testament laws, unlike the legal demands of those laws to be sinless, Christians were taught that by loving others as themselves they could attain that perfection in life, fulfilling what the law required without the mandates it proclaims to do so or die.
The Bible teaches a pattern of living as a disciple of Christ. This pattern has little to do with how or when or for that matter, what to do when the church met. They were taught to engage in hospitality and enjoy their new found friendships in Christ. The simple things that took place among them in their gathering are highlighted, no definite pattern as to how these meetings were to be managed except that their meetings were to be orderly. Could you imagine opening your home to a New Year’s celebration and being told what had to take place in order to enjoy the company of close friends? The apostles taught the early disciples to meet and meet as often as they could because those days were going to be very hard to live through. Persecutions from the Jews and rumors among the free Roman citizenry flowed freely and threatened to take property, freedom, and lives of the early disciples. Choosing Christ had a high price to pay in those days.
Nevertheless, when they came together it was not for worship service as so many today would have us believe. Their lives had become a worship service or service for worship in honor of God and the Christ in daily living. Sacrificing the use of their material substances and their bodies to the work of care of the less fortunate, the hungry, the widow, the orphan and their colleagues was their new aim in life. We have a good idea that when they came together the time spent was in reading the scriptures, sharing food, singing songs, discussing the fulfillment of the Jewish Bible by the Messiah and preparing their minds for the continued fulfillment of the last days of the Jewish nation. They were in school for becoming holy people, understanding the plans of God and engaging in fellowship. It was known for centuries that the Jewish Nation would be visited by the son of David and he would be Messiah and judge in these “last days”. In his coming and appearing, the fulfillment of Daniel’s dreams and visions of the end of world powers and the establishment of a spiritual kingdom of God over the whole world was understood among the Jews. The message included the Gentile nations as well as a remnant of Jews that accepted Jesus as the savior in this new covenant. Jesus was the one to forgive sins and bring judgment on the Jewish people for their disobedience to Moses’ laws. The Jews as a nation were coming to an end and the world was becoming educated to the presence and expectations of the Creator. This all gave the early followers great joy in living, in spite of trouble.
The pattern they were to follow was not their outward appearance or their church attendance but the inward man of the spirit. In living spiritual lives, the first disciples were to conform to the likeness of the manners of Christ.
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Jesus loved his followers even to his death. He protected them, taught them and in the end died for them so that when he ascended to the Father, where he would make places for them to live forever with him. The pattern that Paul taught one of his own early disciples was in the imitation of the words he had taught him over the years of their friendship.
2 Timothy 1:13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
The apostles taught that to live holy lives was to imitate those who had set the example. Jesus was the perfect example of holy living. He did not live to please men. He taught correctly the love of God and the kindness he had for his creation. Jesus contrasted the lives of the hypocrites with the truly contrite lives of honest men. Jesus saw the brokenness of the world. Women forced into prostitution. Men grumbling over their wages or using their office to steal from others. Children who cared little for their parents and parents casting out their own children; too young to fend for themselves. Paul said:
“ Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us.” Phillippians 3:15-17. This was the pattern for Christianity.
The followers in Thessalonica were praised for their faith and fidelity in living and teaching the life of Christ 1 Thess. 1:7-8. The men Paul sent out to establish churches and to direct the leadership there were themselves to show
“… every way be an example of doing good deeds. When you teach, do it with honesty and seriousness. 8 Speak the truth so that you cannot be criticized. Then those who are against you will be ashamed because there is nothing bad to say about us.” Titus 2:6-8.
Any argument that places emphasis on the outward pattern of church life over the personal responsibility of people to live godly lives has missed the message of the gospel of Christ. He did not come to establish a pattern of worship but a pattern of personal responsibility towards God and all men and to live lives of holiness and to be a peace with all men. Anything more places an institution above human need.