Almost a month ago, I posted about my church's Christmas sermon series, This is War. My problem with it was what I saw as the over-emphasis on sin reduction with little talk about the transforming power of love. At the core of the Gospel is love.
I debated about even posting something about my disagreement with the series. A couple of weeks before, I asked the question about whether or not it is helpful to criticize public pastors. I explained that I thought it was rarely helpful. At the same time, expressing disagreement can be a way to check ourselves so we don't become dogmatists who live in a bubble.
This was my motivation for finally posting something. Over the past several months, I've really been struggling with the messages I've been hearing from my church. They seemed to be so focused on rigidity and sin reduction, missing the transformational point of the Gospel.
Frankly, the post was less about changing anyone's mind (how often does a blog post do that, really?). It was more for my own process. Ultimately, there was a lot of confusion and intellectual pressure built up inside my head that I had to get out. I didn't know any other helpful way of getting it out besides blogging.
This has been true for many of my posts--it's a sort of spiritual journal. However, I've found that it's difficult for me to journal for myself. I feel the need to make it have a larger purpose--perhaps my struggles can give insight, validation, or direction to others. I truly believe the journey of seeking truth and power of the struggle is transformational in itself. And in this case, when I kept hearing so much praise for something I didn't like, I felt the need to stand up and say, "I disagree."
I'm not sure it was the right thing to do ultimately. As the anonymous commenter on my post on public criticism noted, a message (or a blog post) is often not the full context of someone's (or a church's) beliefs.
Having been a part of Sandals for a little over a year, my wife and I have gotten a good sense of the group, but there are still significant questions. We fell in love with the church because of its focus on authenticity. Yet I was feeling increasingly confused as I heard less and less about it (from my perspective) of the past several months. In some ways, I think my post was a desire to hope for the return of what I originally saw in Sandals.
Last week, I met with the primary speaker, Derek, in that sermon series. He agreed that the core of that message of sin reduction is not the whole story. There's another piece--love, transformation, and redemption. In the point of time of that sermon series, ultimately they could only focus on piece of the story.
On Sunday, I heard one of the best messages from Sandals I've heard in quite a while. And it restored my faith and connection to Sandals. While the point was about one of the core values of being "Real with Self," Pastor Matt Brown emphasized that we can only be authentic when we can trust others, which occurs when we are loved. And that God loves us through others.
It couldn't have been a more perfect answer to my questions. I know Matt doesn't know who I am (we've said, "Hi," in passing once--no exchange of names even), so I'm sure he does not know about my blog let alone that one post. In a service where there were hundreds in attendance and the speaker knows how to give appropriate eye contact around the audience, it often felt like he was looking straight at me. It's interesting how God can send us messages through someone when they don't even know they're the messenger.
All in all, the anonymous commenter was right: I didn't get the full context. The heart of Sandals does seem to be in the Gospel of Love, not the Gospel of Sin Reduction.
Was it wrong to write and publish the first post? I'm honestly not sure.
I'm sorry if it caused any harm or hard feelings (although I don't know if anyone reads this to make it worthwhile anyway).
At the same time, it provided an opportunity to have a good conversation with Derek about what he meant. Clarification is a great thing. I should have probably asked him first. Although I didn't know him. I didn't know who to ask. I have that opening now, at least.
But what about others? If you're in a place where you have a significant struggle with your (large) church, but don't have any contact with someone who has the answers, what is an appropriate way to get them? I wanted to ask Derek, Matt, or someone else. I didn't know how to approach it. "Oh, yes, here's an email asking if you're as 'Hell, fire, and brimstone' as I thought." Great way to start a conversation... A public blog post may not be as great a way, either.
So, sorry, Sandals and Derek.