Monday, March 23, 2009

Marquees and Messages

On my way to speak at a college retreat in St. George Island this past February, I stopped to refuel in Carabelle, FL. It was a quaint little seaside town that was more Georgia than Florida in many ways, not the least of which being the ginormous trucks filled with rednecks aplenty. As I was walking into the gas station to pay for my overpriced octane, I happened to glance up the road and see First Baptist Church Carabelle. It was a small, red brick building with a modest white steeple. It had all the architectural features that come standard on Baptist churches, including a hand-loaded marquee out front.

I was walking at a considerable pace until I read the marquee. I stopped dead in my tracks as I read the message:
"The wicked shall be turned into hell,
And all the nations that forget God"
The only thing missing was:
"XOXO,
FBC FAMILY"
As a lifelong Baptist, I was embarrassed; as a follower of Jesus Christ, I was saddened.

When I posted this on my Facebook status and called them a "clueless Southern Baptist church," the comments were heated. One person noted that they were only "as clueless as the writer of Psalm 9" because the marquee was merely quoting Psalm 9:17. Another asked, "Isn't God's word powerful enough to reach today's younger generation?" Another commented that if the marquee reaches just one person, then it was worth it.

But these comments really miss the point, don't they? The point isn't whether or not the message was from the Bible. I can think of several Old Testament verses about stoning gays or avoiding sex during menstruation that I wouldn't place on a marquee with no context or explanation. The point isn't whether or not God's word is powerful. The power of God's word is in the message of God's word. That message is that our sin demands a Savior, and Jesus was the Savior that was sent to give us hope for eternal life and a purpose for living. Does Psalm 9:17 with no context accurately reflect that message? No. The point also isn't whether or not we can reach "just one." I can only imagine the person who made that comment going into an advertising firm and coming up with an offensive ad campaign. When she is asked if she has lost her freakin' mind, she says, "Well, if it reaches just one person, it will be worth it." That kind of logic is grounds to be Donald Trumped. Even if that marquee could reach one, and I think that would be a feat, would it be worth the masses who will be turned off to the faith forever?

The point is this: As followers of Jesus Christ, we are on this earth to share the Gospel and serve others. Sharing only about our sin is sharing a half-Gospel. In a time when people are looking for hope, preaching a half-Gospel is not only ineffective, it is poor stewardship of the message we have been given. Don't get me wrong. The fact that we are all sinners is important. In fact, it is critical because it stresses our need for a Savior. But alone, it is only a message of discouragement and condemnation, which fails to communicate the central tenet of our faith.

I love the words of Cornelius Plantinga, President of Calvin Theological Seminary:

"To concentrate on our rebellion, defection, and folly--to say to the world, 'I have some bad news and I have some bad news'--is to forget that the center of the Christian religion is not our sin but our Savior."

A marquee, a mass mailing, a web site--these are primary touchpoints for people in the 21st century. You may only get one shot at telling someone what following Christ means, and what you say might shape the way they view the Church, the gospel, and even Jesus Christ for the rest of their lives. What message will you choose? A message of condemnation or a message of salvation? Will you give them only the bad news or will you give them the good news?

8 comments:

Iam4Jesus said...

Most of the time when I see church signs...almost every one that I see in my opinion...does not accomplish its goal.

A church sign really should be for information that tells when meetings are, who might be teaching, and special events...

Many church signs today, as I pass, I think to myself "oh...that'll draw in the crowds"...

This sign here - yeah, that's a winner...they'll see the people coming in becuase they posted that sign too.

Shane "George" Lambert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shane "George" Lambert said...

Jonathan,

Great post.

To preach, with spoken words or words on a marquee, Gods' justice without also preaching God's grace is a perversion of the Gospel.

beencalled said...

Gonna have to agree with you on the marquee and the fact that the Gospel must be balanced. It is a careful line to walk. In order for there to be good news, there must be bad news. It would be a shame to share just the bad news.

Brandon Saunders said...

The problem is that no one who passes by this sign is truly going to get it. People don't believe that they're sinners, therefore they don't understand that they're destined for hell, therefore they don't see any need to pay attention to signs such as this.

It's not enough to tell a sinner that they're wicked. You must explain why they're wicked, how wicked they are, and what the consequence of their wickedness is. Then you present how God has chosen to deal with their wickedness.

Besides that, the sign just comes across as hateful. I wish we could just get rid of all these cheesy little church signs.

The Carr Family said...

"Donald Trumped" - that's funny.

Stephen said...

Don't feel embarrassed, this problem reaches beyond denominational barriers and is something that Christians as a whole need to confront.

I agree that this kind of message turns those we seek to reach away from the Good news we have for them.

Signs like this, as I see them, are an attempt to share a message with others whom they know will not be attending their gatherings. I've begun to see that as attendance numbers fall in congregations that focus only on numbers, so does their effectiveness in reaching out to those who need what they have to offer.

robert fortner said...

You hit my pet peeve, Jonathan.

Church Signs that I have seen in the past week:

From the “Thank you Captain Obvious” Category:
“Every Saint has a past, every sinner has a future.”

From the “Ummm…Sure, whatever” Category:
“If you don’t think that every day is a good day, try missing one.”

From the “Scriptural References that will make absolutely no sense to people who don’t already attend church” Category:
“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.”

And last, and most definitely least –
From the “We’re complete idiots, and therefore think that we can scare people into salvation” Category:
“Hell awaits all Christ rejecters!” (Yes, it REALLY said exactly that)

I'm too frustrated to trust myself to comment further on these pearls of wisdom at this point in time.