Whose Words These Are I Think I Know

I woke up the other morning with an anonymous Victorian limerick dancing about in my head:

There once was a preacher named Spurgey,

Who did not approve our liturgy;

But his sermons were fine,

And I preached them as mine,

And so did the rest of the clergy.

Preachers are still plagiarizing Spurgeon, to the glory of God.

Caustic Dean Inge once defined “originality” as “undetected plagiarism.” Maybe he was right. Mark Twain was certainly right when he wrote, “Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before him.” I wish I had that kind of confidence.

Our English word “plagiarize” comes from a Latin word that means “to kidnap.” Apt etymology indeed! Behold the weary author as he travails to write something original: he finally gives birth, but somebody steals his brainchild, makes a servant of it, and reaps the benefits.

All of us know the first rule of Freshman English 101: “If you borrow from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you borrow from many authors, it’s research.” The very quotable British author/cleric Charles Caleb Colton has a variation on this law: “If we steal thoughts from the moderns, it will be cried down as plagiarism; if from the ancients, it will be cried up as erudition.” Fortunately, few people read either the ancients or the modems; so we’re safe both ways.

The preacher who tries to be strictly original will be (to paraphrase Bacon) like the spider who spins everything out from itself, but what he spins doesn’t last. The man who plagiarizes is like the ant who steals all he can get, but never really makes it his own. We should be (says Bacon) like the bee that gathers nectar from many flowers, but makes its own honey. Since bees fly 13,000 miles to make one pound of honey, maybe we should get to work.

There is nothing really original, but that’s no excuse for laziness. We should try hard to say old things in new ways, based on our own new experiences with the Lord. Better to be imitated than to imitate. An editor friend of mine says, “Plagiarism is the highest form of compliment and the lowest form of larceny.”

Yours for more honest plagiarism,


Joint Effort

Many rabbis and Jewish lay leaders are increasingly disillusioned with the readiness of liberals to appease anti-Israel groups [“NCC Endorses Role …,” Dec. 12]. These leaders are forming closer ties with evangelical Christians for two reasons. We jointly believe in the messianic significance of Israel’s rebirth as foretold by the Hebrew prophets, even though we differ over whether our personal Messiah will be coming for the first or second time. We also have abiding faith in the return of Americans to morality, as expressed in the Bible. Bible-believing Jews have already started to work together with Bible-believing Christians for a rebirth of morality and national purpose in America.

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Silver Spring, Md.

Christians In Politics

Your editorial, “Just Because Reagan Has Won” [Dec. 12], stated, “However, we must caution politically conservative evangelicals against taking too much credit for the outcome of the election. American evangelicals are a minority in a pluralistic society.” Where then did this surprising victory come from? The evangelicals not only worked in this election for politically conservative candidates, they prayed hard, and expected God to lend them his Almighty aid.


Oshkosh, Wis.

If certain conservative religious groups exhibit a continued influence over the electorate regarding politically controversial issues, I pray that these organizations will also work with similar fervor to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Bible’s condemnation of prejudice, injustice, and hypocrisy.


Pueblo, Colo.

A War Labeled Unjust

Dennis Kuhns [Eutychus, Jan. 2] asks if any church holding to the just war theory has ever labeled a war as unjust when their nation claimed it to be “just.” During the Vietnam war, the United Church of Christ, together with several other “mainline” denominations and the National Council of Churches, declared the war in Southeast Asia as unjust. To my knowledge, these denominations actively supported other wars of our country.


Mt. Clemens, Mich.

A Witness’S Explanation

1975 was never announced by the Watchtower as the end of the world, but was to mark the end of 6,000 years of mankind on earth [“Departing Leaders Reveal Cracks in the Watchtower,” Dec 12]. When a person is disfellowshiped, he is said to be spirituallydead, not treated as a dead person. It is sad that most churches don’t expel people in their congregations who do wrong. We pray for people who are disfellowshiped, hoping they will repent.


Detroit, Mich.

Sounds Or Substance?

“The Ten Best Christmas Records” [Dec. 12] makes a case for each recording solely on the sound of each composition or arrangement. Isn’t this a reflection of what our society has done to most Christmas music: reduced it to a collection of tunes and moods, totally denuded of text? Thus, there is no difference in the Dinwiddies’ selection between “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Shouldn’t the Christian be encouraged to be attentive to the texts of what he sings and hears? Done in conjunction with how it sounds, this leads to interaction with music that is at once enjoyable, instructive, and edifying.

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Durham, N.C.

Hope For Holy Laughter

It appears that the humorous presence of John Lawing is less frequent. His cartoons and “advertisements” enable me to digest many ideas and events occurring in our Christian community. His wry perspectives provide that mirror wherein I can stomach the experience of looking at my own flaws and foibles as a part of this often overweight Body. Please reinstitute his regular contributions, lest CHRISTIANITY TODAY succumb to what C. S. Lewis called an inordinate amount of speaking in high and holy solemn tones.


Costa Mesa, Calif.

Broadcasting Bonuses

I commute nearly two hours each day in my car and the radio broadcasts on several Christian stations give me a good selection of Bible teaching. I attend an evangelical, Bible-preaching church, but it can’t ride with me nine hours per week [“Religious Broadcasting: Assessing the State of the Art,” Dec. 12]. TV programs like the 700 Club provide news analysis, interviews with notable authors, political figures, and so on, that are not available on any network news programs. My local church cannot provide me with this service.

Supporting various ministries does not mean there is less for the local church. Those who support radio/TV ministries are the most active in their own churches.

If some programs should relinquish their time for the benefit of others, who would make the decisions as to which programs are meeting needs and which are not? Do we not believe God leads us to support some programs while ignoring others? Did not most radio/TV ministers seek God for guidance before embarking on their ventures? I certainly would not trust some superagency to make these decisions.


Tacoma, Wash.

An Impractical Peace

Your editorial, “In Matters of War and Peace …” [Nov. 21] carried the familiar response of so many evangelicals: the way of peace is a nice-sounding bit of idealism, but it just isn’t practical, responsible or rational. Just like the message of the Cross, the way of peace is foolishness to those who chose to reject it. It presumably “doesn’t work.”


New Holland, Pa.

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Vietnam Perspective

I was fascinated by the articles on pacifism and just war [Nov. 7, 21]. I had a practical experience with war, during the Vietnam era in the military service. I believe that if someone is being wrongfully injured and I stand by doing nothing, then I have wronged the injured person and not ministered to him or her. Since the United States was one of a few countries that went to the aid of the innocents being slaughtered, I volunteered for Southeast Asia.

But I had a real problem. Though the United States was trying to keep innocents from being slaughtered, many times we behaved wrongfully—sometimes serving aspirations which cared for neither the innocents nor the enemy. So, I was going to sin, whichever of three choices I took—declaring myself a conscientious objector, sitting it out hoping I would not be called for duty over there, or serving over there. Under prayer, I made the best choice I could and then turned it over to the Lord for him to redeem and perfect.

Anyway, I went to Southeast Asia and waged war by building schools, repairing and improving orphanages and hospitals, and even refurbishing a Buddhist place of worship. I waged war by going among the enemy unarmed and in uniform. I waged war by making friends, learning the language, and sharing in their customs. The enemy waged war by killing teachers, and pupils, and farmers; by burning schools and fields. From those of the enemy whom I met, I learned of the great tradition of their aspirations and frustrations which justified what they did.

This is by no means the whole story of that war. But I do know that when people had to flee for their lives, they fled to us. And there were so many refugees that most of them had to at least be as innocent as you and I. I think if I and others did not go to war, these innocents too would have been slaughtered.

I and the others who did go to war did do wrong, yet I do not know how we could have done better. After all, it was not so much what we did, but what God worked in what we did.


St. Mary’s, W. Va.

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