Willow Creek Pastor on Essentials of Belief vs. Convictions, Preferences

Belief operates at three levels: essentials, convictions and preferences. And to keep a church united and strong, its members should come together around the essentials while bearing with one another on differences in convictions and preferences, said a pastor at Willow Creek Community Church on Sunday.

Our convictions and preferences are not as important as the essentials, which are that Jesus died, He was buried, He raised from the dead and He appeared, said Teaching Pastor Steve Carter of the megachurch in South Barrington, Ill.

Essentials refer to matters of first importance, the pastor explained. Convictions are the strong beliefs that we hold, and preferences mean giving advantage to one thing over the others.

There's a problem when we make our convictions and preferences our essentials, he said as he continued "Stronger," a series of sermons to bring "laser-sharp clarity to what it takes to grow stronger in key areas of our lives." "We say, it's Jesus plus something … But it's Jesus plus nothing … nothing."

Our convictions cannot save us from our brokenness, and our preferences cannot redeem us in front of the Father, Carter stressed.

Carter said his sermon, titled "Stronger in Belief," deals with what's at the crux of the Christian faith.

All of our strength and energy comes from our core, he said.

To explain what essentials of the Christian faith are, Carter read 1 Corinthians 3:11, "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Jesus is our cornerstone, our foundation, our essential, he said. Convictions, on the other hand, are like the frame of a house. And preferences are like the style of a house. "We all have essentials, we all have convictions, we all have preferences."

Carter gave a biblical example of how a church can be divided over non-essentials, quoting 1 Corinthians 1:11-12: "My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul;' another, 'I follow Apollos;' another, 'I follow Cephas;' still another, 'I follow Christ.'"

The church at Corinth got divided over their leaders and teachers among other things, as they all had their own preferences, the pastor explained.

However, Paul reminds us of what's most essential to us as Christians, as found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.

"Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born," Carter read the passage.

So how do we live in harmony even when there is diversity in regard to convictions and preferences? Romans 14:1 points to an answer, the pastor said. "Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters."

Focus on essentials, and don't be a stumbling block to others for the sake of your convictions and preferences, he told the Willow Creek members, cautioning them against seeking uniformity. "Let's make a big deal about essentials, and not convictions and preferences," he concluded.