January 19, 2018

The Plague of Plagiarism

John Mincy

If we use someone else’s material in speaking or writing we should credit that person and not put forth the material as if it were our own (this would be lying and deception). The same principle holds true in business. Mr. James, for example, has a company which produces an electronic product. It is illegal for another company to copy that product and present it as its own. The purpose of copyright and patent laws is to protect the intellectual and physical ownership of the creators of that material or product. Unfortunately, copying music, CD’s, etc. is all too common. Most preachers do not copyright their sermons, but to use someone else’s material without giving proper credit is to break the spirit of copyright laws.

A very quick search on Mr. Google will yield many instances of plagiarism in Germany, China, India, the United States, and most other developed countries. As a result, government ministers have been forced to step down, university administrators have lost their jobs, politicians have lost their positions, and on and on. The illustrations are endless.

The bottom line is that even the world recognizes this as a serious problem. Even in an amoral world, plagiarism is looked upon as “bad.” In my experience, however, I have found that plagiarism is an accepted practice among many Christians. In the past year or so I have heard at least a dozen sermons that are word-for-word from the Internet (not in my home church, thankfully). If we are Christians, how can we ignore this sin and continue to be honest with God, ourselves, and with others.

What we are dealing with is stealing and lying. “Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:15-16). Don’t steal and don’t lie. Pretty simple.  Let me hasten to say that it is probably impossible for a preacher to always avoid saying something in a sermon that is pretty close to something he read in preparation, and not even be aware of what he has done. This is a particular problem with those who are afflicted with a photographic memory! My concern here is about those who knowingly copy other preachers’ material and present it as their own.

The real plague of plagiarism is the affect it has on the preacher. We lose the joy of digging out treasures from the Word ourselves. Eating good homemade food is a lot better than a feeding tube! We lose the opportunity of building our exegetical confidence as we work at getting a message from God from the text. As techies in the congregation become aware of our plagiarism we lose their confidence in us as a preacher. And, of course, we lose spiritual growth.

Plagiarism robs us of mental and spiritual development, and it feeds laziness. So, no matter what the reason (fear of thinking independently, fear of saying something stupid, fear of using poor English, busyness) do your own work when writing and speaking unless you give proper credit.[1]

You might ask, “What should I do if I suspect plagiarism?” If the sermon has been copied from the Internet, it is usually a simple matter to plug into your search engine a few phrases from the sermon and the text, hit enter, and voila! If plagiarism is confirmed, perhaps a good idea might be to write an article about it in order to raise awareness of the problem… :) If you know the speaker well, pray for a good opportunity to share your concern with him. Otherwise, be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove (and, yes, that comes from Mr. Matthew!)

John Mincy was a church planter in Singapore and California and is now pastor emeritus of Heritage Baptist Church in Antioch, California.

  1. A good article on this subject can be found here (accessed Feb 8, 2015). []

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