by Peter Corney
The German theologian Helmut Thieleke tells the story of a young man walking through the European countryside one summer’s day. It is nearly lunch time and he is feeling hungry. As he walks along he sees a handsomely painted sign advertising a meat pie, it looks delicious. He thinks there must be a village up ahead soon where I can buy a nice fresh pie for lunch. Soon he comes to the village and sure enough there is a shop and outside is another beautifully painted sign of an appetizing pie.
He enters the shop and in hungry anticipation orders a pie. But the lady behind the counter looks puzzled: “Oh” she says, “we don’t sell pies we only sell signs, we are a sign shop. Try the next village.”
When the Christian Church retains the signs and symbols of classical Christianity but changes or empties them of their first order meaning then it becomes just a sign shop, selling the symbols but not what they signify. There is no nourishment in such signs.
If, for example, you retain the Lord’s Supper and its rich symbols of bread and wine but you no longer believe in Christ’s death as an atonement for our sin nor believe in his real bodily resurrection to give us new and eternal life and you do not even believe that he is the unique divine son of God, then you will become just a sign shop peddling symbols of the real thing – signs without substance, the wrapper without the reality. In the end everyone who turns up is left hungry and if you come regularly you will starve to death.