The German theologian Helmut Thieleke tells the story of a young man walking through the countryside one summer’s day. He is feeling hungry. As he walks along he sees a beautifully y painted sign advertising a meat pie, so realistic it makes his mouth water and his stomach grumble.. He thinks there must be a town up ahead soon where I can buy a nice fresh pie for lunch. He comes to the village and sure enough there is a shop and outside is another beautifully painted sign of a pie. He enters the shop and in hungry orders a pie. But the lady behind the counter says: “Oh” she says, “we don’t sell pies we only sell signs, we are a sign shop. Try the next village.”
His point was that when the Churches retains the signs and symbols of classical Christianity but changes or empties them of their first order of meaning then it becomes just a sign shop, selling the symbols but not what they signify. There is no nourishment in such signs.
The Gospel is the living voice of God and the message of salvation that is to be heralded throughout the world. It is good news and a good story Luther said proclaiming a victory over sin death and hell. When the church delivers any other message above this it is a sign shop. There are many other messages that the church delivers but they all stem from this one message. When it is lost the church is no longer the church.