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:
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.
"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?