Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Followers of Christ are told in this statement that loving Christ creates people who are willing to DO WHAT JESUS COMMANDS as a result of their love and gratitude. There is no genuine Christian faith that is not willing to obey Christ.
George Patterson, an early missionary among the indigenous people of northern Honduras, developed a program that was oriented to obedience. Such a program is now often referred to as Theological Education by Extension (or “T.E.E.”). Patterson was sent out by the Conservative Baptist Home Missionary Society, and spent many years mentoring the indigenous people in Honduras. He trained pastoral students on the job, who in turn ministered to congregations, and who went on to plant over one hundred churches in northern Honduras.
New believers in Christ, most of whom were illiterate, were given the seven basic commands of Christ, with the pertinent Scripture texts, to memorize. They memorized the key texts so effectively and thoroughly, that they were able to witness to others by reciting the verses without usually having the ability to read them. Some of the people they taught were literate and could follow along, reading the verses, in the Bible provided to them. The principle of “each one teach one”, developed by literacy pioneer Frank Charles Laubach (1884-1970) was followed. This was in fact, of course, the example and imperative Christ gave to his disciples.
The seven commands of Christ found in the New Testament are these:
1. Repent (and believe the Good News). Mark 1:15
2 Be baptized. Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:38
3. Love. John 13:34, Matthew 22:37-40
4. Celebrate the Lord’s supper (take communion). Luke 22:17-20
5. Pray. John 16:34, Matthew 6:5-15
6. Give Matthew 16:19-21, Luke 6:38
7. Witness (make disciples). Matthew 28:18-20
Patterson also distinguished three levels of authority, that we today would be wise to differentiate and properly prioritize:
1. God’s commands-which have all the authority of God.
2. Apostolic practices-which are not commanded, but have the authority of apostolic example.
3. Human customs, in which a local congregation is united in agreement on keeping particular traditions.
It is sad, but usually true, that most church divisions develop because second and third level practices and customs are treated as if they were first-order commands. Christians must be careful to keep “the main thing the main thing.” Christ’s commands must be the focus of the Christ’s church, those who are ardent disciples of Christ and of His word, the Bible.
Patterson, George, “The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, Ralph D. Winter and Stephen C. Hawthorne, editors, Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1981, 1992.