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Question

From a reader in California I received a question via—this is a new one for me—long distance telephone. The question is as follows: “Is it ethical for a minister to criticize or to approve of a tape-recorded sermon of a minister of another denomination?”

Reply

Some of our readers will probably remember that upon occasion I have done this. For example, I did this with a sermon preached by Dr. S. Woudstra which was furnished me on a cassette-recording by a reader of the Standard Bearer. The reference of my questioner, let me say, was not to that event. Nevertheless, this is an example of what is referred to by the question. And I want to assure my questioner and our readers that if I had considered this to be unethical, I would not havedone it. I considered it to be perfectly ethical to adduce this as evidence and to warn the Reformed Churches of New Zealand against the teachings of the professor-elect of Geelong. Now as to the question in general, the following: 

1. A sermon is public, and, in fact, through recording devices is made even more public. Some of our Protestant Reformed sermons and radio sermons and lectures go all over the world. 

2. If such a recording is not copyrighted, or if there is not a note of any kind strictly prohibiting reproduction or transcription into printed form, I see no reason why this may not be done. 

3. A recording is a very accurate way of obtaining the material of a sermon or lecture to be criticized either positively (approval) or negatively (disapproval). I would certainly trust a recording better than my memory, better than my long-hand notes, and better than most shorthand records. I would hesitate to criticize (or to approve) in public print a sermon which I merely heard and for the criticism of which I would have to rely solely on my memory. 

4. One who breaks out into the public eye and ear, whether in speech or in print, must expect to be criticized. I would almost add, “If he can’t stand the heat, let him get out of the kitchen.” 

5. One who criticizes should be honest and fair, and he should above all quote accurately and completely, taking care especially not to quote out of context. These are general rules of criticism, applicable to the printed as well as to the spoken word. 

6. As to someone from one denomination criticizing the sermon of a minister of another denomination? Why not? I consider it to be not only my right, but also my duty to uphold the truth and to condemn heresy. 

7. I take it that most preachers would not mind approval of what they say. The shoe pinches, as a rule, only when the criticism is negative. 

8. The Standard Bearer is open. Within the limits of propriety and decency and courtesy, he who is criticized may reply. One limitation on this, however, would be the case of someone who himself has access to a religious journal. Then the ground rules would be different. For example, if the Standard Bearer would criticize an editor of the Reformed Journal, then the editor of the Reformed Journal would be welcome to reply in the Standard Bearer, provided the Reformed Journal would also publish the articles from both sides. 

9. Finally, I have this advantage, if such you want to call it. In the instance cited by my questioner I would not have to file a protest if I accuse such a minister of heresy. Someone of the same denomination is duty bound to follow the ecclesiastical way.