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Why do you cite other men when preaching and teaching?

If you attend Cornerstone, or listen to our sermons online, surely you have noticed that we cite other men, theologians, other preachers, commentators and historians, at least two or three times, sometimes five to ten times, in almost every sermon. Some Christians have problems with this, but often, these problems stem from misunderstandings of how the Christian ministry of the Word works.

Jesus cited prophets and historians to validate his message. Paul cited even pagan poets and various theologians and historians of his day to make points clear and to demonstrate themes, and this by divine inspiration. Believers all through time have cited their teachers, skilled communicators, and men who devote their entire lives to the sole study of God’s Word. This is not only natural, but follows the Bible’s patterns. The Bible extols the virtues of the teacher-student dynamic, and has even placed teaching and teachers among the gifts of the church. A man who proclaims, often times with a prideful false humility, that he “only relies upon the Holy Spirit to teach him,” is denying one of the chiefest means the Holy Spirit has given by which we may be taught. We are meant to stand upon the works and labors of those who have come before us, because – as the Bible teaches us – iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), a teacher becomes like his master (Luke 6:40), there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11, 15 and 24), men are to be able to teach so that others may teach (1 Timothy 4), and teaching is to be learned from a master and then used to teach and correct others (Proverbs 22:21)

Further, though the good news of the divine Word alone possesses the power unto Salvation (Romans 1:16), it must be carried and delivered with skill by men (Romans 10:14-17; 2 Timothy 1:10-12; Titus 1:9). The good news is designed to be preached and taught, and men are the means by which the Lord has chosen for this Spirit-enabled, Spirit-guided, Spirit-empowered task. Part of teaching, then, is for teachers and preachers to learn from more mature, accomplished and wise teachers and preachers, so that they can better understand, communicate, preach, teach and deliver clearly the Word of God.

Personally speaking as one who is entrusted with teaching and preaching to people I love dearly, I want to give the very best. My purpose in citing various men in sermons and teaching efforts is not to show how much I’ve learned or how studious I am. This is, sadly, a common jab made by those who hold a low view of academic and theological study. In some circles, people who utilize other men’s work to assist in the study of scripture are viewed with suspicion. We do not gloat in our books, nor do we believe we are better than others or inherently smarter. Quite the opposite.

Relying on others to help us is an admission of need, especially for those of us who lack a seminary education. I desire to demonstrate to my congregation that I am not relying upon my own limited and isolated understanding of things. I want you to know who MY teacher are so that you will know from where I am being schooled. I want you too to benefit from these wise men and sometimes women, to gain from them should you desire further study. I desire to sow confidence in our lessons, for I am preaching to you and to myself as well. And I want to be transparent with you too, and cautious not to take someone else’s work as my own. I love my teachers and am grateful for these men the Lord has so graciously supplied.

This is why I always publish a bibliography at the end of every sermon series, and keep it meticulously updated and current. And I footnote every direct quote in my notes and will also footnote concepts that are not direct quotes, but that could be taken as plagiarism if not cited. If you ever need a copy of the sermon notes, I can email you a PDF file in which you will find my footnotes and sources. I feel like I occasionally need to let you know these kinds of things, since I occasionally hear of pastors coming under fire for using too many quotes, too many sources, and too many citations. People find the strangest things to complain about.

At Cornerstone, we want to be grateful for the Word and those gifted teachers who assist us through their works. Let us have hearts of gratitude and a desire to stand upon the shoulders of those who have come before us as we grow in the knowledge of our Lord.