This last Sunday I attended the Urban campus of Willow Creek Community Church in downtown Chicago.
The message by evangelism pastor Steve Carter was streamed to all the Willow satellite campuses, including the Urban campus down in the loop.
Carter spoke on “Belief,” spending the bulk of his message talking about this question: “What are the essentials?”
Now of course pastors and denominations have been talking and arguing and debating that question since the day Lutheran theologian Meldenius (1582-1651) said: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
For his answer Carter pointed us to I Corinthians 15 and read:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
That’s essential, Carter said. Nothing else. Not ultimately.
We all have our convictions, yes. But convictions are not necessarily essentials. Each of us has some strongly held beliefs. Down through the years the Church has had big and long-standing disagreements about those convictions, disagreements that usually center on how we interpret Scripture. There has been a lot of blood spilled over those disagreements, sadly.
Now, we certainly have our preferences, as well. But are our preferences essentials? No, they aren’t. Preferences often are matters of personal choices and usually center on how we apply Scripture.
But if you want to get to the bottom, bottom, bottom line I would agree that I Corinthians 15:3-7 is pretty good as the test for the essentials of what it means, at the core, to be a Jesus follower. I believe those words of Paul. If you believe them, too, then we are in fellowship with each other.
If I had to really pare the essentials down to a very few words I think I would simply say: “Jesus is Lord.” (… from one of my favorite Pauline passages in Philippians 2:5-11)