“But He Just Gets Me”: Three Responses to Pragmatic Arguments for Plagiarism (pt. 1)

freestocks-I_pOqP6kCOI-unsplashWhat do you say to the person who laments that the former pastor of the church, the one who was disqualified from ministry because of his verbal and physical abuse, is no longer preaching? Never mind the fact that this preacher held the Bible with violent hands and sealed his unrepentance with a divorce, this woman argued the merits of his preaching and said, “But he just gets me.”

In such an instance, personal sentiments have far eclipsed biblical standards. Ignoring whether this man was objectively qualified to preach, this woman’s subjective interest was in having someone who made her feel a certain way. Such is the case in many churches today.

Rather than upholding pastors to the biblical standards of leadership, many church-goers are looking for someone with a certain gift of communication, inspiration, or entertainment. Today, TED Talks have replaced Timothy and Titus as the standard for good preaching. And communication skills have exceeded a commitment to character.

To that point, I once talked with an elder from a large church who argued for their multi-campus model on the basis of the senior pastors extraordinary giftedness in preaching. More specifically, he said if this man doesn’t preach people will leave the church. He continued, so instead of trying to have different campus pastors, we record his sermons and replay them in our various campuses. This is pragmatism at its finest.

Addressing the Pragmatism of Pulpit Plagiarism

Today, I’m not here to talk about the demerits of multi-site churches or what makes for good preaching. Instead, I want to address the pragmatism that funds those churches and invites church-goers to value charisma over character. More specifically, I want to address the practice of using another man’s sermon and preaching it for themselves.[1]

Already, I’ve addressed this subject in two blog posts—On Plagiarism and Preachers: Why Plagiarizing Sermons is Popular, But Biblically Indefensible; The Sermon Begins in *Your* Study: Why ‘Apt to Teach’ Means More Than ‘Apt to Speak’—but now I want to respond to three pragmatic arguments that were raised against my first post. Continue reading

On Plagiarism and Preachers: Why Plagiarizing Sermons is Popular, But Biblically Indefensible

nycholas-benaia-2wGjjX8Qb-g-unsplashIt seems, frankly, utterly unthinkable to me that authentic preaching would be the echo of another person’s encounter with God’s word rather than a trumpet blast of my own encounter with God’s word. Now to be sure, my sermon should be an echo. It should be an echo of the voice of God. But not an echo of an echo of the voice of God. So that is my conviction.
John Piper  —

When it comes to light that a pastor has been borrowing the work on another—what we might call plagiarism in the pulpit, sermon borrowing, retweeting, or any other euphemism for violating the seventh commandment—it is deeply troubling. But if that pastor has any influence on the life and ministry of other pastors, it is even worse, because it says to younger men, who are finding their way in the wilderness of pulpit ministry, that it is acceptable to use the work of others. 

To date, I can think of two pastors I knew personally who were fired for preaching someone else’s sermons. And I have heard many reports of the same. I can also think of many others whose ministries I have written off as unfaithful after learning that they were reheating the meals of others. And most recently, I have watched the unbelieving world make sport of God’s people because of plagiarism in the pulpit.

In recent days, it has come to light that the president of the SBC, Ed Litton, has been found retweeting sermon material from J.D. Greear. You can watch his expositions of Romans 1 and Romans 8, both of which demonstrate word-for-word dependence on Greear’s work. Both men have released statements explaining the matter (see here and here), but with 140+ sermons pulled from the Internet, more explanations are needed.

Without addressing the specifics of the Litton situation, I want to step back and ask the question: Is it wrong for a pastor to borrow material from another? What does it mean to plagiarize in the pulpit? Why is this such a common practice? And what does Scripture say?

To start with, I am not first to tackle this subject. Albert Mohler has discussed it, so have D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Justin Taylor and Andy Naselli (who lists many others). Letting Carson speak for the bunch, he expresses the severity of the problem.

Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately. The wickedness is along at least three axes: (1) You are stealing. (2) You are deceiving the people to whom you are preaching. (3) Perhaps worst, you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.

Carson’s words are severe. And they are matched by the severity of others listed above. Yet, the consensus of these evangelical leaders does not mean there is consensus on the issue. For on the trusty Internet, you will find James Merritt’s permission for plagiarism, websites selling pre-packaged sermons, and encouragement for pastors to partake in the practice of using the work of others.  Thus, in what follows, we need to answer three questions.

  1. What is Plagiarism? And does it apply to borrowing the work of another when permission is received and attribution given?
  2. Why is Plagiarism so prevalent today? Who is championing it?
  3. Is Plagiarism Biblically Defensible? (My answer: No, it is not!)

Answering these three questions, we can define our terms and evaluate from Scripture the practice of retweeting sermons. Continue reading

A Heart for Excellence: Thinking Biblically about Skill in Singing

sven-read-4yZGWYCul-w-unsplashSing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
— Psalm 33:3 —

They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king. 7 The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful, was 288.
— 1 Chronicles 25:6–7 —

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
— 1 Corinthians 10:31 —

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
— 1 Corinthians 12:7 —

Music is a gift from God. And in the church, those gifted in song are given by Christ to build up his body. To that end, those who lead the church in song should serve with true faith, pure hearts, and skilled hands. For various reasons, the combination of head, heart, and hands is not always easy. But it is something we should pray for and work towards

To that end, I offer the following eight points on the place of skill in song. These eight points summarize a larger article on the biblical necessity of excellence in music. (You can read that article here: True Worship Includes a Heart for Excellence.) Let me know what you think of these eight points, and/or what you would add or improve. Continue reading

Seven Pastoral Cautions for Bringing Biblical Theology to Church

person reading book

Recently, I received an email asking how to incorporate biblical theology in the church. If you are familiar with this blog, you know the value I place on this discipline and how it impacts so much of what I do in preaching, writing, and all of ministry.  (If you want an introduction to biblical theology, read this.)

What follows here are seven pastoral cautions for bringing biblical theology to church. Tomorrow, I’ll add seven pastoral admonitions for bringing biblical theology to church Continue reading

Built on the Word: A Theological Vision for Ministry (Audio and Handouts)

Built on the Word

In February, our church joined with Redeeming Grace Church (Fairfax) and Grace Church (Gainesville) to host a seminar on doing ministry built on the word of God.

In an age when churches are experimenting with all sorts of new methods for doing ministry (and I’m not just talking about Zoom), it is our conviction that ministry should be built from floor to ceiling on the word of God. This two-day seminar sought to equip leaders in our respective churches by giving them an historical, theological, and practical guide for doing church ministry with God’s Word, all for the purpose of making disciples.

Here are the messages and handouts produced in that seminar. If building your ministry on the Word matters to you, these resources may be a help.

Introduction: How can we connect our faith and practice?

Session 1: What did we inherit? The Church: Universal, Local, Ancient, and Modern

Session 2: On what do we stand? Sola Scriptura and the Sufficiency of God’s Word

Session 3: What are we to do? Making Disciples Amidst the Idols of Our World

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo Credit: Redeeming Grace Church

Glorifying God in the Grind of Life

christ.jpegQ. What is the chief end of man?
A. To glorify God and know him forever.
— Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1 —

There is nothing more important than knowing why you exist. And nothing provides a better answer than this: You were created to glorify God.

Speaking to the people he was redeeming from the nations, God says in Isaiah 43:6–7,

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Speaking of the purpose of redemption, Paul says a millenia later that God predestined, called, and justified his people, so that he could glorify them (Rom 8:29–30). While God does not give his glory to another (Isa 42:8; 48:11); he does all things for his glory, including making mankind in his image to reflect his glory to the world.

Indeed, Habakkuk 2:14, echoing Numbers 14:21 and Isaiah 6:3, says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Indeed creation exists as a canvas for God’s glory and mankind exists to know, enjoy, and magnify God’s glory.

It is impossible to read the Bible for any length of time without running into this theme. And it is equally impossible to find our purpose or God’s purpose for us, without attending to this lofty ideal. Yet, because it is lofty, the idea of God’s glory may seem unreachable or mysterious. What does it mean to live for God’s glory, or Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 10:31—to eat, and drink, and do all things for the glory of God?

That’s the question I will be trying to answer tonight as our college and career ministry kicks off it’s first meeting. In the coming weeks, our church will host a college and career gathering at 7:00pm on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. The goal is to equip Christians, explore topics of faith for Christians and non-Christians, and to provide a place of mid-week fellowship for those in this seasons of life.

Because the glory of God is so central to life—and also so enigmatic—we will spend our summer thinking about how the glory of God presses into all areas of life. Indeed, we will not fully comprehend God’s glory in our earthly life, nor in eternity—where we will always be experiencing more of his glory—always satisfied and seeking more.

That said, here’s a part of tonight’s lesson, plus a list of future topics we’ll consider. Continue reading

The Drama and the Doctrine: How Faithful Deacons Gain a Hearing for the Gospel (1 Timothy 3:8–13)

livingchurch

The Drama and the Doctrine: How Faithful Deacons Gain a Hearing for the Gospel (1 Timothy 3:8–13)

When you hear the words “church” and “drama,” what comes to mind?

At best, church drama conjures up images of Christmas Cantatas or Passion plays. At worst, church drama brings up painful memories of infighting and relational strife in church meetings.

Too often, drama in the church carries a negative connotation, one that always threatens the church. In response to this danger, many churches turn to deacons as the men who are called on to protect the unity of the church—some even skipping over elders in the process!

Such a purpose for deacons is biblical; it comes from the calling of seven “deacons” in Acts 6 to care for the Greek-speaking widows. Yet, such a purpose for deacons is too narrow to comprehend the role deacons play in the church. Moreover, because elders are called to be the overseers of the church, assigning church unity to the deacons may miss their calling as model servants and ministers of mercy in God’s house.

On Sunday we begin a two-part series on deacons in the local church. Looking at 1 Timothy 3:8–13 we considered how deacons gain a hearing for the gospel. Moreover, by looking at the qualifications of deacons we learned how churches are to recognize deacons.

You can listen online. Response questions are below, along with a few additional resources Continue reading

Where Do Elders Come From?

churchFrom the beginning of the church, there were designated leaders. And though given various names (e.g., elders, pastors, overseers) they served the same function. As God-given leaders of God’s flock (Acts 20:28) and under-shepherds to the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1–4), these men were called to model the faith before God’s people and to teach the word of God, protecting God’s children from error and bolstering their faith in Christ.

A cursory reading of the New Testament shows how important these men were. In Acts we find elders in Jerusalem (11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6; 21:18) and Ephesus (20:17). When Paul planted churches in Galatia, he appointed elders in each church (Acts 14:23). In correspondence with Titus, he told him to appoint qualified overseers in the churches on Crete (Titus 1:5–9). Similarly, Timothy received instruction on the qualification of overseers (1 Timothy 3:1–7) and instructions for removing unqualified elders (5:17–23).

Even before Paul wrote his Pastoral Epistles, he had called churches to care for those who taught them (Galatians 6:6–9) and to honor those who led them (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). Similarly, James, Peter, John, and the author of Hebrews all spoke in various ways about the office of the overseer/elder/pastor (see James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1–4; 2 John 1; 3 John 1; Hebrews 13:7, 17). In short, the New Testament says a great deal about this important role, and it does so because the health of the church depends on those who lead them with God’s Word.

Yet, for all that it says about the office, we should ask another important question: Where do elders come from? Thankfully, the New Testament is not silent on this question. Just as it describes how to recognize an elder, it also describes where they come from. And faithful churches (and the elders who lead them), will be aware of how God raises up elders.

Where Do Elders Come From?

Continue reading

Discipleship and the Church: 12 Quotes from Mark Dever’s Book on Discipling

discDiscipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever is one of the most practical books on discipling I’ve read on the subject. And the reason why it is so practical is its unrelenting focus on the local church.

While many books on discipleship talk about how Jesus discipled others, or how we can make disciples, Discipling sets discipleship in the context of the local church. More than how-to book for individuals, it persuasively argues that the church is theplace for discipleship. In fact, only as churches disciple will they grow in vitality. And only as discipling takes place in the church will disciples grow in the place designed by the Lord.

Indeed, because this focus on the church is often missed in discussions about discipleship, I would highly commend anyone who cares about the church or the growth of Christians to read this book. This week, our church men’s group will be discussing its contents, and in preparation for that, let me share a dozen or so quotations from Discipling. These quotes highlight the ecclesial nature of discipleship found in Mark Dever’s book, and hopefully they both capture the shape of his argument and whet your appetite to read the book. Continue reading

“Disciples Make Disciples”: A Vital Truth That Needs Further Elaboration

trekking-299000__480.jpg“Disciples make disciples”

It’s an axiom that is thrown around by Christians who rightly make “making disciples” a priority for genuine discipleship. But is it really true? Do disciples make disciples? Or is there more to the story?

Based on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, we might think that Jesus words give definitive answer: Yes, disciples make disciples.

Yet, Jesus’ final words in Matthew’s Gospel are not the only word on the subject. And in fact, as we seek to make disciples—as we are commanded—we should remember that our calling to make disciples is part of God’s larger work of redemption. This should both encourage us, motivate us, and remind us that the work of making disciples is not the mission of few committed “disciple-makers,” it is the calling for all those who call Jesus “Lord,” and thus something we should all strive to grow in. Continue reading