Monday, July 19, 2010

Pulpit Plagiarism

Pulpit plagiarism is a phenomenon in which a pastor takes a sermon originally by another preacher and re-casts it in some way or another for his own congregation without informing them of this fact. I've conversed with a number of people about this topic. Recently someone directed me to the definition of plagiarism found on John Piper's website (link to definition - article by Matt Perman).

Perman seems to think that plagiarism, where it is intentional, is stealing. I'm not sure that's necessarily the case, though I see the point that Perman is making. Let's apply that issue to the situation of sermons. Is it plagiarism if a pastor essentially borrows another sermon he heard on-line without crediting the original author?

What if the pastor reads a great sermon by one of the Puritans and decides to make it his own by updating the language and shortening it by 50%? What if he does the same thing with the sermon of a living pastor?

Finally, how should we Christians react to discovery that a pastor has been engaging in plagiarism? Is this is a Matthew 18 situation? Are we required to keep our knowledge of the fact that something is plagiarism a secret until we have attempted to provoke repentance on the part of the preacher?



Tom said...

If we do have proof of the fact, then it does need to be brought before the leadership of the church. But anyone bringing the issue up better have documentation in hand.

There is little difference between plagiarism in the pulpit and plagiarism in a newspaper, except that one is in verbal form while the other is in written.

Years ago, I read about a situation like this involving Spurgeon. Without broadcasting the fact, he went to visit a congregation where a young man was preaching on a particular Sunday. Seems the young man wanted to impress his people, so he "borrowed" one of Spurgeon's sermons to preach that day!! Needless to say, after Spurgeon gave him a talking to, the young man NEVER did anything like that again!!

qm said...

I have to say that it's pretty arrogant to think that ANY sermon will EVER be original ever again. Given the sheer number of sermons that have been preached, surely there is mostly overlap.

If there isn't overlap, why? Does this new preacher think he has some new idea from Scripture? Sounds heterodox to me. When I open two different objective study Bible, I hope and pray that I read the same thing in both. If not, why not? Has someones' tradition gotten in the way?

Matthew D. Schultz said...

TurretinFan writes:

Is it plagiarism if a pastor essentially borrows another sermon he heard on-line without crediting the original author?

What if the pastor reads a great sermon by one of the Puritans and decides to make it his own by updating the language and shortening it by 50%? What if he does the same thing with the sermon of a living pastor?

I would think so. The pastor will come across as having done the work to both wrestle with and carefully present the ideas and concepts in his borrowed sermon, yet he will have actually done no such thing.

And, on a wisdom level (which is hinted at in Perman's article), it's a poor idea to simply borrow another pastor's sermon. If we are to learn anything from the New Testament letters, it is that each congregation deals with unique, if still generally classifiable, pastoral and doctrinal situations and problems. With a few possible exceptions (e.g. inspired material), it seems highly unlikely that any one sermon and its ideas could be as successfully applied to multiple congregations as to the original congregation to which it was intended. (Even the inspired material must be recast in certain terms so that we, as modern, Western people, can understand it more clearly.)

As successfully is key here, since of course it is still good for groups of people to listen to good sermons that were not originally intended for them. But if a pastor is doing his job, he will labor to tailor his preaching to the specific and unique needs of his congregation. So perhaps we can sidestep the whole plagiarism issue with an appeal to wisdom.

Finally, how should we Christians react to discovery that a pastor has been engaging in plagiarism? Is this is a Matthew 18 situation? Are we required to keep our knowledge of the fact that something is plagiarism a secret until we have attempted to provoke repentance on the part of the preacher?

My limited understanding of Matthew 18 is that it more applies to sins at a personal, private level. Plagiarism of a sermon would be a very public sin. But I have not studied this aspect of the passage in great deal, so I would appreciate another commenter's thoughts on the issue.

zog said...

I for one like it when pastor's or institutions allow you to use any of their material without permission or copyright. I think it begs the question...what motivates you, money and fame or the spread of the gospel?

But, on the other hand, if you have used verbatim someone's words then I think it is the right thing to do to give credit.

Let Us Repent and Believe said...

I know that Spurgeon has also said (concerning the use of commentaries) "any man that is not willing to make use of another mans brains has none of his own." Spurgeon was famous for his love and desire to go to the deep deep well of the puritan authors. He would as you might suspect give credit where credit was due. However, there must become a point where these truths become so ingrained in the minister that they have become as much apart of his own core biblical values as they were of the original source. Is he to give credit at ever turn where he preaches something that was not original to his mind prior to the learning of it?
On the other hand, I heard that Rick Warren has a website or at least promotes a website where pastors can simply download a sermon with notes and illustrations so that these "pastors can spend lest time in the study of the holy scriptures and more time being the CEO's they were hired to be.

Rod Taylor said...

If I quote somebody word for word I will generally give the source as that is why I am quoting him or her--But let us remember why we are up in the pulpit--It is to placard Christ and Him crucified bfore the people. In preparing I use a lot of sources I dont spend half the sermon mentioning. If people ask me afterward I will tell them--but lets not bring 20th century copyright policies into the pulpit.

The fact is it is just as possible to throw names into your Sermon to try to make it sound more important as it is to not mention sources to try to look more important--but either sin will eventually find you out. God resists the proud--But there is no need for witch hunts or church discipline here--Nobody has an original thought--we all build our sermons on the shoulders of those who have come before us. All that is important is...Are the words we use Biblical--if not, it doesnt matter where they came from--if they are,then to God be the Glory

Anonymous said...

First time posting here.

I think this is a bit absurd.
My biggest question is how much can you say before its plagiarism, one line, a paragraph. 3 Points and the use of a story from the old testament.

When people ask me about free will and calvinism (compatablism), i often give the exact answer James White gave at a question and answer section, which was him mostly quoting scripture, and hardly ever mention his name.

Total depravity, Paul Washer.
And this list could go on and on.

In my attempts to teach bible studies i have studied hard and found definitions best spoke by othersor paralles that just drive home the point.

I got inviteved to preach at a semi oneness pentacostal church a few years ago, the one i actually gave my life to Christ at. I preached on the Sovereignty of God and the depravity of Man. I spent so much time crafting that sermon which was taken at great lenghts from Calvin, Piper, and Paul Washer.
side note i went to the pastor before i spoke, told him i was a calvinist, he didnt know what that was, and told me as long as i preached from the bible he wouldnt sit me down. So i did.

If i would have went into this small church and said such and such says this and this....would not have been listened to.

I read abunch of scripture, quoted Calvin saying Man is never duly impressed with his own insignifgence until he has contrasted himself with the majesty of God to bridge Sovereign God to depraved man.

At the end of the sermon i stepped down handed the pastor the mic and he repented to the enitre chuch for having to high a veiw of man and to low a view of God.... you think piper or calvin would have cared at that point.

The bible tells us to know those who labor among us, calvin even said he wanted to preach a sermon for the doctor and the ditch digger. But if i feel that using someones name distracts from God getting the glory, then i dont use it.

Now if you write an article or a book for that matter its a entirly diffrent story.

But thats mostly my opinion, and the little bit i stole from my wife, whose permission i didnt ask cause she was asleep :)

William Price said...

I believe the cure for the mass plagiarism that some preachers institute is expositional preaching. Using quotes from other preachers is wonderful, but when we quote entire messages, we have removed God from the preaching.

steve said...

If it's a case of wholesale borrowing, then I think he should credit his source.

A large question is whether he has a pattern of wholesale borrowing. If so, then this speaks to a deeper issue. Does he lack teaching ability? Does he have poor time-management skills?

Sermon preparation should be a primary duty of a pastor. If, for whatever reason, he either lacks the time or fails to make the time to do that, then something needs to give. Perhaps his congregation is making unreasonable demands on his time. Maybe he's having to work a part-time job because he's underpaid.

Anonymous said...

It does seem odd that anyone would have to plagiarize another at the pulpit in light of the fact that we read these Words as Scripture:

Rom 15:17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God.
Rom 15:18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience--by word and deed,
Rom 15:19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God--so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;
Rom 15:20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation,
Rom 15:21 but as it is written, "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand."

or these:

Eph 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Eph 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
Eph 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Eph 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Eph 4:16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.


Col 2:18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,
Col 2:19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

There just seems to be a disconnect if you have to plagiarize instead of come refreshed and full of Grace and Truth declaring the Word of the Lord from the lectern or pulpit?

Christopher said...

The issues isn't whether or not a pastor used quotes from another preacher. I would venture that most do that (I know I have, but try to give credit to who I am quoting). But to preach another man's sermon as if it was your own is stealing. Or at least, hypocrisy. I don't steal other peoples cars and try to pass them off as my own. Or borrow them and do the same.

If a pastor can't come up with the time to prepare a sermon, he is better off not preaching one. Maybe it is the providence of God that is keeping him from preparing it. I would rather my pastor be honest and say that we are just going to sing praises for an hour than to preach a message that he just pulled off of the internet.