Christian Plagiarism

5 Sep

Mark 5:19, “Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, ‘Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.’”

Our testimonies always begin with “how great things the Lord hath done” for us, just as Jesus instructed the man who had been delivered of demons.

As Dr. John Vaughn teaches, each of us has a sanctified story to tell.  Many of us attempt to capture at least part of that story in print, that its use for the Lord might be multiplied.

What then of Christian plagiarism?  We all hear of pastors who get behind, keeping all of their balls in the air and, exhausted, spend Saturday night on a sermon site, grabbing an outline or even an entire sermon written by someone else to use for their worship the next day.

Those aren’t their own personal stories, are they?  Those stories start to lose the authenticity of a real testimony when they get too far removed from the lives in which they happened, don’t they?

That is not to say that sermons can’t be illustrated by events that happened to other people, but generally those come through the context of a Scripture the pastor has personally studied and the filter of that pastor’s personality as an observer, as he builds a steady body of work to represent the Lord in his own Spirit-led way.  The world contains a limitless number of sermons, even on just one passage of Scripture, as God uses the personality strengths, weaknesses, and differences of every pastor to present His Word in a sovereignly unique way.

So what does plagiarism or taking the easy way out in Christian writing and sermonizing do?  I once heard a woman at my parents’ church read a poem called “If Christ Had Not Come” at a Christmas service.  It was a lovely poem and I went away convinced that the woman, who was about my mom’s age, had established herself as an important poet in the Body of Christ.

A few days later, on Christmas Eve, I came in late after the midnight service and quietly went to my room, as my family was already sleeping.  I was still in high school and, back then, in the ‘70’s, my parents allowed me to keep a radio on all night in my room if I played it quietly.  I liked hearing music when I awakened during the night, so I usually flipped the radio on at bedtime.  I did that this Christmas Eve, too.

I was nearly asleep when I was surprised to hear a recitation of the poem I had heard in church several nights before.  I smiled, pleased that this woman was such a known poet that she was even on the radio.  I waited to hear her name at the end of the poem.

You already know what I am going to say, don’t you?  The name given as the author of that poem was not the woman at my parents’ church.  I went off to sleep and never mentioned that to anyone until this very moment, nearly 40 years later.

What had this woman done by presenting someone else’s work as her own?  I can’t believe that was the first poem she ever read in church or for which she received credit.  I’ll bet she legitimately wrote some pretty good things.  She was given an important voice by God, with which she could glorify Him and testify to His goodness.  Since she lived in the pre-Internet era, using someone else’s poem then would not have been as easy as finding someone else’s work on a website to cut-and-paste onto her own site today.  She had to work hard to take someone else’s poem.  But, on the other hand, she ran very little risk of being detected unless someone, like me, heard the other author’s version presented.

To this moment, I am saddened that someone who probably had an influential voice in the Body of Christ used it to tell someone else’s story, not her own.  For that is what plagiarism is and does.  It robs us of the immediacy of our own testimony while we are busy telling someone else’s story in a way that could never be quite as compelling as when it is told with the author’s own voice.

Let us tell how great things the Lord has done for each of us!  He is good.

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