Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sermons and Their Delivery #3: Plagiarizing Sermons

The preacher was expounding Philippians 2:5-8 for his congregation. He proclaimed:

The fourth thing He set aside were His eternal riches. It would be impossible for me to explain how rich He was but I know what 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, it says He was rich but for your sakes He became … what? … poor. He was so poor, He said the foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head. I always think about John’s gospel where it says, "And every man went to his own house and Jesus went to the Mount of Olives." Why? He had no house. Poor.
What a great exposition! Maybe you are thinking, “I wish my preacher could preach like that!” Unfortunately, the man who proclaimed these words was not the author of them. With only minor modifications, these are the words of Dr. John MacArthur . My best estimate would be the sermon that morning was 80% of MacArthur’s sermon verbatim.

I regret to say this is not the only incident of its type I have personally heard. One year I heard an Easter Sunday morning sermon from 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 which described six gifts of the resurrection. The sermon was well delivered. However, the preacher was not speaking his own words. For the most part, the message was one delivered by Dr. John Piper on March 31, 1991 to his church.

Fellow ministers of the Gospel, this is plagiarizing pure and simple. Piper’s organization says:
The essence of plagiarism is to give the impression that the ideas or words of another person are actually your own. This can be done intentionally (in which case it is outright theft) or unintentionally but either way it is wrong.
One minister I confronted on this matter said he didn’t see anything wrong with it. He was simply borrowing from another’s work. To quote a sentence or two from another servant of the Lord in your message may be borrowing. To quote their message almost verbatim without noting your source is plagiarizing. I tried to convince him of this fact pointing out that any student of mine who submitted a paper which used the material of another author to the degree his sermon did would receive a zero for their paper because it was plagiarized. He was not convinced. Years have passed but I have since heard him plagiarize other messages.

Another “preacher” I once heard not only quoted the text of another minister but also used that minister’s personal illustrations as his own. He passed off the words and the experiences of another man as his! Yet, when I accused him of this, he did not deny it but neither did he admit to any wrong doing other than saying, “I no doubt could have done a better job of putting it in my own words.” Using your own words, doesn’t eliminate the plagiarism, brother!

One preacher to whom I pointed out his plagiarism noted, “As many pastors, finding enough time in a week is certainly a difficult thing.” Good grief, man, are you God’s servant or not? As a pastor there is nothing more important in your ministry than preparing and proclaiming the Word of God. If you can’t find the time to do so then you need to eliminate some of the other things in your life (e.g., your golf game).

Certainly there will be weeks when ministering to your congregation will reduce your sermon preparation time. But even then you are God’s chosen servant. You know His Word. Seek Him in prayer and trust His Spirit to use you despite your lack of preparation.

The first time I discovered a preacher plagiarizing another’s message, I was shocked. However, if you do an internet search today, you will discover many men are plagiarizing messages. Even The Wall Street Journal contained an article on this subject in 2006.

Plagiarizing is theft pure and simple. Those who commit this act are violating the 8th commandment (“Thou shalt not steal”). Furthermore, they are also violating the 9th commandment (“Thou shalt not bear false witness”) because they are deceiving their congregation by giving them the impression the words, the thoughts, the structure of the message they are hearing is that of the preacher when, in fact, they are those of another.

Having confronted some who are guilty of this sin, I know many of them will disagree with my last paragraph. They do not believe they are stealing or deceiving anyone. If you truly believe that, fellow preacher, then I challenge you to stand before your people with your plagiarized sermon this Sunday and tell them upfront what they are about to hear are the words of so-and-so. You won’t do it, will you? Why? You won’t do so because you do not want them to know the truth. Your conscience tells you what you are doing is sinful.

Brothers and fellow ministers in Christ who are guilty of plagiarizing your sermons: PLEASE CEASE THIS PRACTICE! I call on you to confess to the Lord your sin, ask for forgiveness, ask Him to help you prepare your own expositions, and then confess your faults to your people. If you cannot do so then you should step down from your pulpit. If your church confronts you on this matter and you will not repent then you should be removed on the grounds you are not proclaiming the Word of God. Rather, you are preaching the word of MacArthur or Piper or some other Christian leader.

Let us be true to God’s calling and preach His Word, not the words others preach about Christ. Let’s not be one of the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16).

1 comment:

Emily said...

Wow, I'm surprised a man of God would do such a thing... not only is it wrong it's down right low to the person who actually delivered the message! I've been reading your last several posts, all of which I completely agree with, I must say I'm surprised by this last one though... I just can't believe someone would do such a thing and then neither deny nor confess it when confronted. When you're a member of a church you are always going to believe the sermon is being delivered either for the first time or that the sermon is being preached for the second time but by the same man. I never would of thought that I could be listening to someone else's sermon, it's really in fact a scary thought. I believe that we as Christians have the right and the duty to confront a Pastor if we believe he is in error about something he said in his sermon but I never would of thought you would have to watch for this... that really bothers me...