Church Signs Revisited

I have previously shared my thoughts about church signs—you know, the ones where you can change the letters and put up (ideally) clever or inspirational messages.

Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of them because I tend to think they have more influence in a negative sense than a positive one. In other words, people driving by are more likely to be turned off by a hokey saying on a church sign than they are encouraged by a thoughtful one.

Sometimes, though, a church sign goes beyond being hokey or lame and actually promotes bad theology. I saw an example of that this week. A church sign in my neck of the woods is currently displaying the following message:
This is yet another manifestation of a common theme that you hear these days, where people are desperately trying to divorce Jesus from the church, or separate being religious (which is supposedly a bad thing) from being spiritual (which is supposed to be the ideal). There was even a YouTube video on this topic that went viral a while back (see this article which has the video embedded along with an excellent response).

Here’s the key point though: the whole Religion vs. Jesus thing is a false dichotomy because you don’t have to (and in fact, can’t) choose between them. Jesus himself was very religious (and spiritual!). Furthermore, the church was purchased with his blood (Acts 20.28), so it has great, great value to him.

End of rant.


David L. 10/4/12, 2:52 PM  

Good thought here, Luke, and a valid "rant." I've echoed the sentiment on that marquee before, and your thoughts here will make me think twice about that.

I think the easy response is that, well, it's an easier response for us to separate Jesus and people's perception of religion. It's a better sound bite, tidier, and yeah, a pretty popular trend right now.

I think most folks who echo this sentiment ("I follow Jesus, not religion") are essentially saying we're an imperfect people following a perfect God. They're (We are ... like I said, I've done the same thing) trying to dodge the baggage that comes with the word religion.

It's a (perhaps misguided) shortcut to apologizing for the harm organized religion has done in the past, and asking people to realize that our imperfections (or atrocities, in some cases) shouldn't sully Jesus' name or message.

It may be sloppy, but I think the intention behind it is good.

Colby 10/4/12, 3:33 PM  

I'm with David on this one. Religion has an image problem in a lot of circles, and some churches want to rebrand.

Colby 10/4/12, 3:37 PM  

But it's pretty silly for a church sign to proclaim it isn't religious.

Luke Dockery 10/4/12, 4:27 PM  

Hey David,

Thanks for the comment—it may surprise you, but I basically agree with what you said (or it may not!).

I definitely want to affirm the notion of being an imperfect person/people trying to follow a perfect God. Furthermore, if I had to choose—which I don't :) —I would definitely choose 'following Jesus' over 'subscribing to an organized set of religious beliefs'. Finally, I also recognize that the word religion has some baggage that we would like to avoid.

Having said all that, as you pointed out, the 'Jesus, not religion' sound bite is just that—a sound bite that doesn't really give a very adequate synopsis of biblical teaching on the subject (primarily because it implies that you have to choose between the two).

I do think this notion is a helpful reminder for religious people: ultimately, we follow Jesus, not a set of traditions or abstract principles. But (at least theoretically), mature Christians should be able to get the reminder without turning away from the church or religion.

However, church signs aren't really aimed at religious people; they're aimed at the people who drive by who aren't religious. For that audience, I think it's a sloppy shortcut (to use your words) because it implies things which are unbiblical.

To sum up, I am perfectly comfortable talking to you about the baggage of the term 'religion' and the preeminence of Christ, but I'm uncomfortable with suggesting (or flat out declaring) to the world that religion is just a mirage.

Luke Dockery 10/4/12, 4:38 PM  


Religion has an image problem in a lot of circles, and some churches want to rebrand.

Yeah, I get that. When Harding Graduate School of Religion became Harding School of Theology, I was a fan of the change.

The term "Christian" has an image problem in some circles as well; I found it to be interesting over the last several years observing how people describe themselves on Facebook to avoid the word Christian ("follower of Jesus", "disciple", "follower of the Way", "a beggar telling other beggars where to find bread", etc.).

At some point though, I don't think rebranding is the solution so much as redemption is. If/when Christians live redeemed and transformed lives and then develop real relationships with people in the world, those people come to see that words like 'religion' and 'Christian' aren't so bad after all.

Maybe that's a form of rebranding too, but it seems less artificial than just changing a name.

But it's pretty silly for a church sign to proclaim it isn't religious.

I know, right?! It's almost like the sign is encouraging people to stay away. Or maybe it's just a Bait and Switch: “Show that you're up with Jesus and down on religion by coming into our building and joining our religious group!”

jelly andrews 1/10/13, 6:43 AM  

Nice posting! Thanks for sharing your insights about church signs. This is quite interesting.

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