The sermon was from Galatians 4:21-31. It focused on why it is important to wait for God’s timing and methods instead of trying to do things in our own way and in our own time – an important message for the church to hear. In that passage, Paul builds an illustration based on the relationship Abraham had with Hagar, which produced Ishmael. That particular story is not well-known among many Christians, so I decided to tell the story as part of the sermon.
The problem was that since I did not have access to any of my reference books, I decided to tell the story from memory. My memory failed me and I got the characters wrong and told the story as if Esau, instead of Ishmael, was the son of Hagar. Though I got the point across adequately, the details were not very accurate. Most of the congregation never realized I had messed the story up. But about 10 percent of the congregation caught the error.
Some realized my mistake the moment I made it. Others knew something about the story seemed off, but they did not know what it was until they got home and looked it up. Needless to say, we had a great laugh about it afterwards and I sent out an email to the congregation correcting my mistake.
But all week I have not been able to get out of my mind how “easy” it was to tell a “messed up” biblical story and have 90 percent of the congregation go along with it. Thank God for the 10 percent who caught it and pointed it out to me. Though we might chuckle about having a name wrong, what if it had been a key theological point? I suspect many people still would not have caught the error.
Regretfully, most Christians sitting in church today are biblically illiterate. They do not know the Bible well enough to spot an error when a pastor or Bible teacher makes one. Though one error might not make a church fall apart, imagine weeks, or months or years, of errors built on each other. Sadly, that is exactly where many churches are today.
I learned to study a bit harder from this experience. But I was also reminded that we need to help people in the church study the Bible on their own so they will be able to spot an error when it happens. Each of us needs to spend time in the Bible each day. We must be good students of the Word. Otherwise, what starts as a small mistake, if not corrected, can grow into a big problem.