Tim Challies recently posted on Plagiarism in the Pulpit. It's a great post...a must-read for pastors today.
This post makes me thankful for two influences in my life that have made plagiarism a very odd and uncomfortable thing for me. I have many sin problems in my life. And I wish that I would feel about them as I do about plagiarism. For when the mere thought of copying someone else's sermon or using their material, thoughts, concepts, words, phrases, or illustrations without attributing these things to them, I feel wierd and strange inside. It feels like I'm wearing women's shoes. Better yet, it feels like there's a rock jostling around inside the women's shoes I'm wearing. That said, it bears repeating that I wish my heart experienced the same sort of thing when it comes to the other sins I struggle with. Oh, that they would all become as uncomfortable an act as plagiarism.
The first thing I'm thankful for is the training in the study of the Word I received in my undergrad and graduate training. I attended Luther Rice Seminary and Bible College for my undergrad work and had an insatiable and unsatisfied appetite for the things of God through the study of the Word. I also attended The Master's Seminary for my grad work, and there was taught the fulness of interpretation and exegesis through men whose lives were saturated with the glory of God.
I never heard a plagiarized sermon when I sat under the preaching and teaching of John MacArthur. I never heard anything of the sort when I sat under the teaching of my fellowship group pastors: Wayne Mack, Jim Pile, and John Street. These men were very apparently saturated with God's glory. When the glory of God saturates you, you ooze and leak glory. Glory cannot be plagiarized. It's counterfeit is so easily recognizable that it is almost nauseating. There is no substitute for a man whose heart is filled to capacity and even overflowing with a real, genuine, life-altering, personal encounter with God in the person of Jesus Christ through the pages of the Scriptures.
The second thing I'm thankful for is the gospel-centered emphasis of Sovereign Grace Ministries, the fellowship of churches to which I currently belong. I have yet to hear a plagiarized sermon in this fellowship - either in my local church or in any other SGM church. I've listened to over a hundred sermons from men in this fellowship of churches. And they are all sermons preached by men who are affected by the gospel to the core of their being. The gospel is a breathing message embodied in the person of Jesus Christ who truly and actually lives inside of them, acting and thinking through them...preaching and teaching through them. The gospel is not a shallow wading pool for these men. When they preach, they generally appear as if their mouths have just broken the surface of the water and they are gasping for breath after being held in the deep end for too long. That's the way a preacher ought to preach, because that's the way a preacher ought to study the Word.
This seems a reasonable place in the post to talk about how I've never done that before. But I'm praying I'd be as disgusted by pride as I am by plagiarism. I will just say, however, that there is no substitute for drowning in Jesus and gasping for air in front of a congregation. The exhilaration that preachers are looking for in preaching someone else's sermons and getting an earth-shattering congregational response doesn't come by such means. True exhilaration is the kind you don't look for when you preach anyway, because it's not about fulfilling my adrenaline rush in public with the Bible. It does in fact come, however, as a very natural result of spending time in the midst of the glory cloud in the tabernacle (in Exodus and Leviticus), or in the midst of the glory cloud on top of Mt. Sinai with the Law, or standing in the midst of God's glory with Ezekiel, or gazing with no UV-blockers at the glory of God with Isaiah or the transfigured Jesus on the Mt. of Olives with Peter, James, and John.
When the gospel becomes shallow, plagiarism becomes accepted. When the gospel becomes but a puddle, plagiarism becomes normal. If need be, pastors must take a break, get away for a while...perhaps a month or two...none of this weekend or business week stuff. They must take a sabbatical. And it should not be spent on writing anything! For their thoughts are not their own, and they do not flow out of a gospel-saturated heart. They must labor to be drowned in the depth of Jesus' love at the cross and the power of God upon Him at the empty tomb. And they should not come back to their pastoral office until this has happened, and until a plan is put in place so that they are not just able, but are held accountable and are in fact pressed into a pattern of purposeful drowning every week before they open their mouths to their people.
There is grace for change. Before we were rescued by the Savior, we were all plagiarists...repeating the filth of the devil in our thoughts, words, and actions. After the cross, we are still plagiarists...displaying the glories of God in the cross of Christ which we can only struggle to humanly communicate. The difference is the motivation and method of communication. If we are motivated to talk to others from the words of others in a way that makes it look like we've never looked at the sermons of others, we are motivated by pride...nothing more and nothing less. But if we are motivated to talk to others from the words of God in a way that clearly communicates that even the things God has shown us in our study is not from us, then we are motivated by humility. Our method of preaching then will flow from such a heart of humility, not showy, not too flowery, not with eloquence of words or persuasive speech...but of power and conviction of the Holy Spirit.
May the Lord return His preachers to drown in the trough of His glories.