What is the Grace Encounter Conference?
Willow Creek Church is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America. We are a Reformed and Presbyterian church, one affirming the historic, orthodox creeds of Christianity, as well as the Westminster Confession of Faith. Our partner and co-sponsor for the Grace Encounter Conference, Christian Family Worship Center, is a Full Gospel Baptist church. Needless to say, when it comes to theological perspectives and ministerial practices, we are very different congregations.
The differences aren’t only theological though. We are also different ethnically. Christian Family Worship Center is a predominantly African-American congregation. Willow Creek Church is predominantly white.
Although we can’t say with absolute certainty, our respective congregations probably tend toward opposite ends of the political spectrum, too - at least for the most part. African-American Christians tend to affiliate as Democrats. White Christians, at least older evangelicals, tend to affiliate as Republicans.
Our churches also have very different pastors. Pastor Jerry Q. Parries, senior pastor of Christian Family Worship Center, and I have grown to be good friends. However, we’re not oblivious to our differences. They are significant and numerous.
However, despite all that differentiates us as churches and pastors, we are not divided. Personally and corporately, and despite whatever might otherwise differentiate us, we rest on the shared foundation of the finished work of Jesus. Together, we affirm that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. This common theological foundation makes unity possible in practice, even with our great diversity.
An expression of this is our new Grace Encounter Conference. We’re not partners in this great work because we agree on every matter of theology, politics, etc. We’re partners because we agree on what matters most. We know that, because of Jesus, our differences on secondary matters do not need to divide us. We can keep the “Main Thing” i.e. the gospel - the main thing. We understand that all children of God see as "through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). We therefore shouldn't expect to see eye to eye on everything.
The Grace Encounter Conference is not a conference about the confessions of a particular congregation or denomination. Rather, our churches, pastors, and teachers are united in affirming the creeds of historic, orthodox Christianity.
This creedal focus should not be mistaken for a shallow and cheap “let’s sweep all of our differences under the rug, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya” ecumenism either. We talk openly about our differences, but within the context of a shared desire to press deeper into the gospel together, even as the Spirit presses the gospel deeper into us. This year, we took the opportunity to talk deeply about the Spirit’s work in reconciling us to God and one another across every worldly line of needless division - ethnic, economic, political, gender, and so on. We hit many, many difficult issues - but with love, gentleness, and respect. The result was light not heat.
Our culture is increasingly divided, even polarized. A breakdown in civil dialogue has given way not only to strident demonstrations, but even violent and murderous clashes. The Church cannot remain silent or indifferent. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and part of loving our increasingly divided communities means offering them the reconciling power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not enough to declare the power of the gospel. We must demonstrate it as well, and by God’s grace we can. Together.
Please make plans to join us for Grace Encounter 2018 (February 22-24, 2018). Watch GraceEncounterConference.org over the next several weeks for updated conference information.