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Q. What is the ministerial stance on
the use of the Internet for sermon preparation?

A. When Rev. Scott Hoezee, the director of Calvin Seminary’s Center for Excellence in Preaching, introduced the center’s new website he said the following: “Plagiarism is a two-edged sword: it wounds the person who gets quoted but not credited. Then again, plagiarism is a stain on the professional reputation of the one caught in the act too.

“True, no one wants a sermon to sound like it’s full of footnotes. Sometimes it’s enough to say early in a sermon that you found some really useful ideas in an article by [a person] or at [this] website. If you acknowledge your debt to such a source at one point in the sermon, then even if you later use some more of that same material, it’s not necessary to mention the source again.

“The vast majority of people in the pew know that even the best preachers borrow from other writers, thinkers, and preachers all the time. In fact, people are often impressed that their preacher knows enough to look to others for help. Acknowledging our sources is not a sign of weakness but of strength, wisdom, and integrity.”

Q. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus tells us to show a fellow believer his fault “just between the two of you.” Is it true that this does not apply to public offenses?  —Michigan

A. In his commentary on the Church Order, Rev. Martin Monsma says, “Sins committed in public, or in the presence of many, or reported in the newspapers . . . should be reported to the consistory, or the consistory should take action even though no one comes to report. . . .” (New Revised Church Order Commentary, Zondervan, 1967, p. 303). However, in the next paragraph he says, “The [Netherlands Reformed] Synod of 1586 was asked to give a distinctive description of secret and public sins. The synod refused to do so. No synod and no individual can do so . . . because each case has its own peculiar setting. Never should we attempt to catalog sins as either secret or public.”

If someone defames me in public, the possibility of reconciliation is probably diminished, not enhanced, if the consistory immediately steps in to deal with this matter. Generally, our Lord’s instruction should be followed even when a sin is public.

There may be exceptions, especially in situations where a person is in a position of power over another and intimidation is a real possibility. For example, we probably ask too much if we insist that a child meet privately with an adult or that an employee meet privately with an employer.

If we do skip the first step in such cases (Matt.18:15), we should not automatically skip the second too (Matt.18:16).  There are a number of cases in which an advocate who accompanies the offended person can facilitate a reconciliation that makes it unnecessary to involve the consistory.

Q. The first verse of a song our congregation sang recently used the word “na” (na, na, na) about 77 times. These words seem to have no meaning for believers or unbelievers. Is there a place for such songs in worship? —Michigan

A. Dr. John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, says, “The day I received this question, I also received a recording of a Christian Native American setting of Psalm 8, which ends with a beautiful wordless cry of praise. It reminded me of some ancient chants that begin with an Alleluia following the reading of Scripture and continue with improvised wordless acclamations of praise.

“These two examples of wordless music illustrate that context and purpose make all the difference. Such songs can function well in worship because of the texts they amplify, because of their unmistakably prayerful spirit, and because of their cultural context.

“Try asking this question: Does a particular song help those who are gathered—young and old, seekers and lifelong worshipers—to engage in Christ-centered, joyful, and reverent prayer? It’s a question that respects both the gathered people and the purpose of worship.

“Some songs connect with people well but don’t lead them into worship. Other songs are beautiful, prayerful, and Christ-centered but don’t speak a musical language that many can understand. Providentially, we have available today thousands of songs that can do both. We have the luxury of being very discriminating!”

Got a question about Christian faith and life? Send it to Pastor Vander Weit, c/o The Banner, 2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49560. Or you can e-mail it to with “Q&A” in the subject line. Please include your state or province.

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