Last week, Justin Taylor posted selections from the writings of D. A. Carson which confronted the sin of plagiarism in the pulpit. This immediately resulted in thankfulness in my heart for the sanctifying grace of God recently made evident in one reader of this blog. The blog reader is a pastor who plagiarized one of my articles, was confronted by someone in his church, sought my forgiveness several months ago, and then publicly humbled himself before his congregation in confession of sin. I believe his example of humility and honesty is edifying to all of us in the body of Christ. Therefore, I asked if he would mind if I would use an identity-protected version of our correspondence as well as his public confession. He replied, “Dear Paul, I would be happy for you to use this in any manner which will bring glory to God’s grace. The Lord loves those he disciplines. His mercies are new each day.”
Listen to him tell his story, which begins with his original email to me:
Dear Rev. Tautges,
I filched, stole, plagiarized an article you wrote several months ago on your blog and put it in a church newsletter with my name under it. It was sinful behavior on my part which has now been exposed as I was confronted with this last night. In the next newsletter I will make this written confession there too. I will do then what I’ve done before God and now also confess to you. I confess to you because it was from you that I took something without permission or citation.
Just so you know, the extent of my plagiarism of your article is limited to a hard copy newsletter shared within the church. It is not available in any other format. I believe my confession will cover those who will have read this under my name and will spread beyond to those who will merely hear what I’ve done. I do not wish to make any excuses, and I am sorry for those this will hurt and the trust that is destroyed.
I am grateful to be a student on your blog. I confess to few original thoughts. I am indebted to all my teachers and have repeatedly explained and owned a line I learned from my father who said of himself, “The only time I’m original is when I forget my sources.” In general I wish to communicate my heavy debt to the faithful members of Christ’s church through the ages. I hope to let things believed, heard and read percolate and be sufficiently my own means to serve Christ and others. Again I regret and confess to raw plagiarism of your intellectual service to fellow believers. I ask your forgiveness.
To which I immediately replied: “Dear brother, absolutely, you are forgiven! I am glad to be your brother, because of God’s grace, Jesus’s blood, and the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work. Paul”
Two weeks later, he replied…
Thank you for your gracious and quick forgiveness. I have confessed this to the congregation as well and trust that in this way everyone who I sinned against was addressed. Below is an outline of the place it had in our Sunday Service and the statement that I made to the congregation. Thanking the Lord – in the words of Psalm 130:7, “For with the Lord is mercy and with Him is abundant redemption.” After the public reading of Titus 2:11-15 in our worship service, I confessed the following.
“I find that when we read God’s will for our lives and put the emphasis on the third use of the law, that is, as a guide and norm for our life. I can’t forget the other two uses of the law. It reveals my sin and points me to Christ. Because of this when we confess sin in the corporate liturgy, I find that I am making a personal confession of sin too. Though I haven’t “murdered” the sixth commandment means I shouldn’t belittle anyone in my thoughts, words, gestures or looks. The commandments have such depth and breadth and that exposure shows me my sin. All these sins are grievous to God – and they nailed Jesus to the cross for my pardon and forgiveness. Therefore ‘all of life is repentance.’
Today I will confess my sin along with all of you – but I should also confess my sin to you. As James 5:16 says, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.” In a recent church newsletter, the pastoral article wasn’t my pastoral writing. It was the work of Paul Tautges and came from his excellent web-blog “Counseling One Another.” I did not attribute this to him. In other words I took something that wasn’t mine and presented it as my own. I stole from a brother in Christ and I gave false testimony to you in allowing you to think it was mine.
This week I confessed this to God and I wrote to the author and asked forgiveness. Both were gracious – God by the assurances of his word, and Rev. Tautges by correspondence. Today, I ask your complete forgiveness as well. I know that many of you will be hurt by this confession today and I will have no way to reverse that damage. For this I’m truly sorry because I still want to know Christ together with you. The congregation was then invited to corporate confession using part of Palm 51 and assurance of pardon from 1 John 1:8-9.”
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil 3:17), he certainly did not limit the power of example to the times he only did what was right, but, knowing his humanness, he certainly would have included how he faced his own unrighteous behavior righteously. Along that same line of thought, King David declared the man who—when he sins—deals with it humbly and honestly as “godly” (Ps 32:6). Therefore, we not only show ourselves to be godly by avoiding sin in the first place, but when we sin (and we will sin) we provide a godly example to others by dealing with it quickly and biblically. This too is a manifestation of God’s powerful, sanctifying grace.