Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else’s work as one’s own and as such it is theft.
A plagiarism scandal in the Southern Baptist Convention has brought the scandal of plagiarizing preachers before us again. There are three principal reasons for plagiarism: sloth, ignorance, and incompetence. The truth is that there are more than a few men in ministry who should not be there. They are simply not able to write decent sermons but faced with the demand for at least one passable sermon a week they resort to plagiarizing more eloquent and famous preachers. The internet has made plagiarism both easier and more easily detected. There are also those who are so busy attending to the process of growing the church that they leave no time for sermon preparation. Of course, there are those who are simply unable because their education did not prepare them to write sermons worthy of the pulpit. The first cause, sloth, is also a cause for repentance. There is not much to be done for the lazy (except discipline and removal from the ministry) but there is an old Reformed practice of reading sermons. In those cases where ministers are not present or incapable of writing a sermon the elders have read to the congregation a sermon written by another minister. In our congregation we have file of sermon manuscripts to be used by the ruling elders in case all the ministers were somehow incapacitated—a scenario that became more plausible under Covid. There are collections of good Reformed sermons that might be a resource. With a little work and foresight a congregation in need of a sermon could easily find a great number of sound, solid sermons to be read by an elder or even a minister who, for whatever reason, is unable to write his own sermon.
This ancient solution provides for the needs of the congregation and relieves the pressure that drives preachers to plagiarism. I do not recommend this as a replacement for the live, in-person preaching of the law and gospel by a minister who is gifted and called by God and the church to the ministry of the Word. Preaching the Word is the highest and first duty of the minister of the Word and it is the duty of the ruling elders to do all they can to see to it that they have a minister who is able to read God’s Word in the original languages and to write faithful, exegetical, expository sermons which announce the bad news and the good news. Think of reading sermons as a sort of “in case of emergency break glass” measure.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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First semester of homiletics we had to “preach the classics”. While we were learning to write sermons, it allowed us to get time experiencing the delivery of meaningful, non heterodox sermons in front of the congregation.