Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The gospel truth

Have you ever been going along pleasantly, living your life, everything perfectly normal, when suddenly something happens that is a trifle unsettling, that strikes you as being slightly askew? Nothing major, mind you, just something that jars you for a second and makes you wonder, however briefly, whether you might have entered an alternate universe or some sort of parallel existence? Not as extreme as the one Neo encountered in The Matrix, but there nevertheless.

It happened to me last Sunday afternoon. Twice. Mrs. RWP and I had driven 45 minutes to another town to attend a mid-afternoon church service in which one of our grandchildren was going to be baptized, confirmed, and, as we discovered, become a member of that particular local church congregation along with his parents. We arrived a few minutes early, settled in, and waited for the service to start. The bulletin listed 58 children who were being confirmed and 11 who were being baptized. The young pastor came and tested the microphone, and the program began.

Along with everyone else, we were singing the grand old hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ, Her Lord.” The words were displayed on a big screen at the front for the benefit of those who needed them. I didn’t; I memorized the entire song about fifty years ago. I decided to sing the tenor part:

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation
By water and the word.
From heaven he came and sought her
To be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her,
And for her life he died.

The person controlling the projector or PowerPoint or whatever it was changed the screen from verse 1 to verse 2, and we continued:

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The projector/PowerPoint person (don’t you love alliteration?) changed the screen from verse 2 to verse 4, inexplicably leaving out verse 3, a perfectly good verse, and we began to sing verse 4:

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,

And then it happened. My eyes took in the final two lines in one fell swoop, and I thought, “Oh, no!” There was a typo!

Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may swell with thee.

WHAT? “SWELL with thee?” I felt a little off-kilter, like Alice just after her arrival in Wonderland.

The congregation continued singing, and when we reached the last line, I sang the correct word. But I heard enough sibilant sounds around me in the sanctuary (there’s that alliteration again) to realize that many people had sung the word displayed on the screen with no clue that someone had made a typographical error, no clue that Samuel Wesley had really written:

Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with thee.

I felt slightly disoriented. Everybody out of step but Johnny. It was a strange feeling.

Later, as the young pastor was concluding his remarks, he encouraged the young people to bear one another’s burdens because one of the things we should all be doing is helping one another. He began to read from Acts, the second chapter, that the early believers lived together in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common; and that they sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met; and that they followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. He ended by saying, “And every day their number grew, as God added to the church those who were being served.”

I did another mental double-take. It had happened again. “Those who were being served?” No, no, no. Those who were being saved. When I got home, I checked every online English version of the Bible I could find. Not one of them said, “those who were being served.” It was just a slip of the young pastor’s tongue, to be sure, but it caught me off guard when I least expected it, and I was momentarily thrown for a loop.

Now, we happened to be sitting in an old, historic, mainline Protestant church on Sunday afternoon where only a typo and a slip of the tongue occurred, but I think this is how new denominations often start. Someone says something that sounds good and someone else, without checking it out, thinks it sounds very good indeed and begins to teach the uninformed that one day we will swell on high with God, begins teaching people who don’t bother to read such an old-fashioned book as the Bible that God will add to the church those who are being served.

And the world may get another new denomination, but because it will be the blind leading the blind, they will both end up falling into the ditch.

You don’t have to take a red pill to know that’s the gospel truth.


  1. most people don't even notice swell or dwell served or saved...i teach doctrine in my church and everyone is asleep and wether or not a gospel truth is being taught is slept through.....people are so trusting of my words, and i am sure your pastor's words are like spun gold

  2. Ah, you have the soul of an editor. Most people really don't notice stuff like that, but to a language person, they are indeed disorienting.

  3. I agree that most people don't pay attention or notice those things. I guess it might have stood out more if it had said swill. You know, "On high may swill with thee". But then I was raised in a cat litter box so perhaps that is why it takes a hammer to the head.

  4. Oh, my goodness that's funny! And I firmly believe that God has a sense of humour. I think sometimes He needs it.

  5. oh egghead, you really are an egghead from the farm, aren't you?????

  6. I love typos.....he who has ears let him hear, or eyes, let him see:
    We will swell if served too much.

    You deserve an award for being observant!

  7. Thanks, everyone, for commenting!

    Putz, if you make a tape recording of your lessons, the students wouldn't even have to come to your class, they could just turn the tape on by their pillows when they go to sleep each night. Kill two birds with one stone, that sort of thing. Very efficient.

    Ruth, your comment inspired my next post! Hope you enjoy it.

    egghead (Vonda), "On high may swill with thee!" :) Very funny!

    Jay, and He gave us one also because we need it more.

    Jeannelle, you connected the two faux pas into a truly incisive observation yourself: We will swell if served too much. It's true in both the physical and mental realms. I like it!