Please No Explanations Inside the Church

I’ve always enjoyed the ironic double entendre of the large notice at the top of this sign at the Church of All Nations next to the Garden of Gethsemane:

Another version of it became something of a meme a while back, and I even blogged about it before having been to the church where it was found.

The point of the sign is to keep the church as a place of worship, a place for silent meditation and prayer, when it has the potential to be treated as a museum exhibit with tour guides commenting on it in a manner that is not conducive to worship. It is a tension that runs throughout the Holy Land – a place that is of historical as well as contemporary religious significance, where the historian struggles to make it through a crowd of pilgrims to catch a glimpse of something, and both feeling frustrated by the hindrances resulting from the presence of the other. This feeling is not diminished even when the same person is both historian and religious adherent. It is just that then one feels like one is constantly getting in one’s own way.

But thinking about the other possible meaning of the sign, there are two ways one could respond to it. One is to say that the church is indeed about silence, awe, meditation, and explanations in the sense of scientific and historical information need to be sought elsewhere. The other is to acknowledge that the church is in fact a place where explanations are offered, and sometimes in certain circles those explanations are at odds with the best data available. And so let us have explanations inside the church – but let them not be deceptive ones driven by ideological concerns which aim at distorting, but genuine explanations which take seriously the available evidence and relevant considerations.

Let me conclude on a less serious note. The sign also illustrates that Israel is full of signs in English, written by people whose native language is not English. Often the results are entertaining, as in this example from my recent trip to Israel:

The gate most definitely was open, and I am quite certain that it did not lead to Mars even in October.

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  • “Please no unfolding and folding of maps inside the Church.”   As distracting as someone suddenly overcome with joy and vocalization I suppose.

    “Please no exultations inside the Church.”  

    Dr. McGrath, did you get to tour inside the Mar Saba Monastery?  🙂

    • No, I didn’t get to go in. Since the location is aimed at being recluses, I’ve heard they aren’t thrilled when tourists show up, although they are not necessarily inhospitable.

      • Thought it would be funny, to walk up to the door and ask for a bowl of soup.

        Your photo from a distance of the Monastery is very nice.  But yuk, take a look inside from this 1982 film clip.

        Does the (Eastern) Greek Orthodox fund this resort or is it self sufficient?

        • Excellent video! Worth watching even just to see the giant key! 🙂  

          But seriously, that’s a fantastic chance to visit inside the monastery, even if only via someone else’s video!

  • Brettongarcia

    This might relate to some limits on “speaking in tongues,” as Paul noted, in church. 

    Probably the original meanings: 1) don’t speak in other languages – “tongues” – in the church service.  Since it confuses things, without an interpreter.  1 Corin. 14.1-10-11-23-29.   And 2) don’t just talk for the sake of talking.  Because just talking is not enough:  you must have something good (a “prophesy,” an intelligent thought from the “mind”) to say.

    Though the first prohibition was dropped?  To the extent that Christian church services were eventually allowed in languages other than Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, or Latin.