Preachers are notorious for fudging on details when giving an illustration, often to move the hearers to an emotional response.
Take, for instance, this excerpt from a speech the British Prime Minister gave to the students of Harrow School on October 29, 1941. You don’t have to be a history buff to know from the date that England was fully vested in war against Germany at the time and Winston Churchill was its fearless leader. Against such a backdrop, this is how Churchill’s speech actually went down:
You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period – I am addressing myself to the School – surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.
Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer.
But this is how I and other speakers have quoted the renowned orator’s famous speech at the Harrow School for Boys. Please note, before I had the ability to “google” it, I believed this was the actual text. Now that I know the truth, I will never tell the story this way again.
I’m thinking you’ve heard it this way too:
The great man Churchill was invited to give the commencement address at his boyhood school at Harrow. Many came from all around to hear the famed leader with the golden tongue. They sat on the edge of their seats when the great orator strode to the podium. There was not a sound in the audience. All awaited with barely restrained excitement at what the great man would say. Mr. Churchill eyed the boys, pausing for effect, then uttered these words: ” young men, never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never, NEVER give in!” The he turned and walked to his chair where he sat down.
It’s more exciting that way, isn’t it?
Only, that’s not exactly the way it happened. Those famous words, plus or minus an extra “never”, were surrounded by some equally stunning paragraphs that need no embellishment.
We’ve done that to Jesus too. We’ve said things like, “Jesus helps those who help themselves” or “money is the root of all evil” (the love of money is), and “cleanliness is next to godliness”.
We preach a gospel with the hook: “pray this prayer after me…” when there is no such “salvation prayer” documented and we instruct people to “accept Jesus into your heart.” Jesus did not come to be accepted, He only left us with the option to follow Him. Don’t even get me started on un-conditional eternal security, succoring (suckering?) people with an inane promise that if they’ve prayed the aforementioned salvation prayer, they are IN, no matter what they do or how they live.
It may be revisionist, but harmless, to fudge a little on the circumstances of Churchill’s speech at Harrow, but it is eternally dangerous to tweak the words and Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are much too eloquent to mute or distort.
Don’t put things in King Jesus’ mouth. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t take things out of His mouth either.