The Perfect Church Sign

I must admit, my gentle snowflakes, that I have never understood the amusement usually generated by trite church signage. For me, each and every encounter with these  one-liners of doom is a profoundly distressing experience, since behind every saccharine and/or heretical utterance stands a confused soul utterly convinced that cranking out weekly maxims for the edification of ongoing traffic is their own pivotal contribution to the eschatological fulfillment of God’s Kingdom. (As an aside, I should like to note that the quality of the content of the average church sign is a direct result of the quality of the theology dispensed at the average Sunday School, which, as the late Charles Merill Smith observed, “ranges from fundamentalist pietism to salvation by thinking gorgeous thoughts, with both extremes frequently included in the same lesson by the same teacher, with no one bothered in the least by the inconsistencies”1.)

Surely you will understand my chagrin, then, when I spotted a church roughly a half mile from the interstate exit that I would usually take on my way to work whose transgressions in this regard are beyond number. (Their most recent offering: “Smile. It increases your face value.”) Since I have often come perilously close to crashing into oncoming traffic upon seeing each new weekly message, it is doubtless in the interest of my personal safety that I have found a new, more pleasant route to work that also mercifully avoids the offending sign. As is my wont, however, I have thought long and hard about what sort of message I would like to convey to the masses were I in charge of such a sign. Needless to say, vapid platitudes would be right out; but then so much of what one can say in a single declarative sentence is necessarily vapid. How to convey in a single short sentence the greatness and awesome holiness of God, the terrible foulness of sin, the ineffable saving, cleansing, and transforming power of God, his glorious rule and ultimate victory over sin and death? And then it hit me: it’s right there in the Bible. Thus I’ve come to the conclusion that I would probably echo the author of Hebrews2 in saying:


And if I were in charge of such things, my friends, that sign would stay up until Kingdom come.


1 In How to Become a Bishop without Being Religious (Garden City: Doubleday, 1965), page 95. I can say without danger of exaggeration that this is the best book ever written.

2 Cf. Hebrews 12:29, which in turn is quoting Deuteronomy 4:24.

8 responses to “The Perfect Church Sign

  1. Perfect. I might have chosen ‘Be still and know that I am God’, but that kind of loses the sin and judgement edge. It might also contribute further to traffic problems if taken literally.


  2. I’ve precisely the same problem on my way to our parish. I have to drive past a ‘Unity’ church that insists on posting such gems as “If the Christ is not alive in you, then it is not risen.” Uh, right. I’ve been tempted to dust off the old anagram generator and assail that woebegone altar to narcissistic pseudo-spiritual self-motivation in the dark hours of the night, but I need to find the right ski mask first.


  3. Great post! You’re so right. There should be some sort of law against sappy church signs, but then again, just about any kind of sign can be posted in public today. But they are a good indicator of what churches to stay away from.


  4. Aaron> Yes, the sin and judgement edge is crucial! Besides, in my mind, Ps. 46:10 is irreversably connected to the hymn Be Still My Soul. I think a viable alternative would be Hab. 2:20, but that’s not as immediately striking.

    Lucas> Wow. I don’t even know what that means! I feel your pain, and, um, encourage you to do as you must. ;-)

    George> You have done a good deed. The book, though hopelessly dated, deserves a wide readership.

    Forrest> Well, I suppose there’s a silver lining, after all! :-)


  5. Surely these are the words of God and not man! What a wonderful church sign that would make!

    Generally the signs I see say something like, “Sunday Morning Service – 10 AM” and such. I, unfortunately, never get to see the cleverly ridiculous (and oft heretical) signs that you speak of. :-(


  6. Nick> I know, right?

    Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about this a little more, and it occurs to me that putting up this awe-striking utterance in a changeable board might trivialize it a bit. I think I would start pushing for a new, solid marble or granite sign with these words engraved on it.

    As for saccharine and/or heretical signs in general, count yourself blessed that you haven’t ever seen one! I’ll try to take a picture of one for your benefit, though. ;-)


  7. Esteban: But then you’d run the risk of people thinking that the sign was actually written by the very finger of God like the Ten Commandments. Then it would surely be idolized. ;-)


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