Pinchbeck

I remember learning about alloys in junior high. As you may recall, these babies result from the combination of two or more metals to form a new, distinct entity. For example, bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Recently, I learned of a new alloy. Well, let me correct that statement. I learned about an alloy of which I’d never heard. Its name is pinchbeck.

Pinchbeck is an alloy of copper and zinc. It’s often the prime ingredient in things like watches and costume jewelry.  It’s big claim-to-fame is the fact that it’s cheaper than gold. If someone wants to make an inexpensive version, they are likely to use pinchbeck.

To give you a better idea of this unseemly, metallic amalgam, here are a few other definitions given my Webster and a few of his cohorts—appearing valuable, but actually cheap or tawdry. Synonyms: poor-quality, second-rate, substandard, low-grade, inferior, common, vulgar, shoddy, trashy, tinny, and worthless… There are several more synonyms, but I’m guessing you get the picture by now. Apparently, it’s used to make the kind of jewelry that turns your skin green.

Pinchbeck was first named after the English watchmaker, Christopher Pinchbeck. He died in 1732, but his name infamously lives on in the tawdry jewelry that even I can afford. I wonder how he would have felt about that. In any case, the term pinchbeck has become an adjective describing not only second-rate jewelry, but low-grade anything. If “low-class” is your motto, pinchbeck is your theme.

Paul and Pinchbeck

This leads me (as many things do) to the Apostle Paul. While I’m sure he never heard the term, pinchbeck, I’m guessing he would have used it had it been around in his day. It could have been a part of his letters to the Corinthians, for example. He chided them for receiving a gospel other than the one he had originally preached to them (2 Corinthians 11:4). Pinchbeck would have fit quite nicely there, as in, “You’re listening to a pinchbeck gospel.” He would have been totally correct in his statement, because this is easily done. We know that, because we see it running rampant in our own time. People everywhere are easily snowed by a good-sounding but worthless gospel submitted to them by preachers whose last names may as well be Pinchbeck.

They replace the sacrifice of Jesus with high-sounding platitudes and discipleship with positive feelings. Their goals seem to be putting fannies in the pews and silver in their pockets. The results are followers who feel good but have little or no knowledge of the truth. While fannies in the pews could be a good thing, without hearts and minds that follow Christ, they are simply taking up space.

The Gospel preached by Paul was (and is) hard to swallow. It is so because there is a price to be paid for discipleship. It’s not an easy-peasy road upon which to meander through life. Look for the pure gold. Pinchbeck will leave you green around the gills.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

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