John MacArthur preaches at Grace Community Church

Who Owns John MacArthur’s Sermons?

By Julie Roys

Who owns the rights to John MacArthur’s sermons? And is it okay for MacArthur to be profiting from them?

Recently, Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You, revealed in a letter that MacArthur’s sermons “are not works for hire” and MacArthur’s messages “are not considered the church’s intellectual property.” Johnson linked to the letter in the following tweet:

The issue is relevant because, as Johnson revealed in a video in February, MacArthur makes “millions” on book royalties—and some of MacArthur’s books are essentially MacArthur’s repackaged sermons.

If the church owns MacArthur’s sermons, or “intellectual property,” then the church would have claim to those royalties. However, as Johnson’s recent statement makes clear, both Grace Community Church and MacArthur consider MacArthur’s sermons to be MacArthur’s property, so the royalties go to him.

Yet Johnson’s claim directly contradicts two lawyers I quoted in an article last month.  

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One of them is Michelle Adams, a nonprofit attorney in Boise, Idaho, specializing in Christian ministries and churches. According to Adams, if someone works for a nonprofit, the works the employee produces on the job belong to the nonprofit.

Also quoted in my article was Frank Sommerville, who told Christianity Today that “if a sermon qualifies as work for hire, the intellectual rights for that sermon belong to the church.” Sommerville added that intellectual property rights are considered “charitable assets” and by law, must be used for “charitable purposes” not “private inurement.”

Yet Johnson claims these attorneys are wrong and appeals instead to the attorney engaged by Grace Community Church—Sealy Yates. 

Yates is well-known among Christian celebrities and was the literary agent for former Mars Hill pastor, Mark Driscoll, and popular, radio pastor David Jeremiah, when both were involved in book selling scandals. The scandals involved employing a company called ResultSource, which bought bulk orders of the authors’ books, catapulting them to the NY Times best-seller list. 

Yates also was the lawyer who was able to negotiate a deal between Chuck Swindoll and his church, giving Swindoll all intellectual rights to his sermons.

So who is correct? Johnson and Yates or Adams and Sommerville?

I reached out to Michelle Adams, who supplied written responses to Johnson’s claims. Below is both the text of Johnson’s letter, as well as Adams’ responses. (Johnson redacted several names from the initial letter in the version he posted online.)

Letter by Phil Johnson with responses by Attorney Michelle Adams:

Phil Johnson:

Dear _________

I think this issue was recently raised and given quite a bit of publicity by Julie Roys, who clearly has a personal agenda to try to discredit John MacArthur.  Evidently, Mr. _________ has picked up on the theme and hopes to get some mileage out of it.

Unfortunately, Mr. _________ hasn’t a clue what he is talking about.  The elders of Grace Community Church considered and settled this issue in the early 1980s.  The policy they formally ratified then has remained unchanged ever since.  Our pastors’ sermons are not works for hire, and their messages are not considered the church’s intellectual property.

Michelle Adams:

This phraseology implies that the church has the ability to determine whether sermons are considered works-for-hire under the law, which is incorrect.  Even the article which Mr. Johnson cites below makes the following statement: “It should be noted that under neither the 1909 Act nor the 1976 Act can an agreement between employer and employee determine whether a work is a work made for hire within the terms of the statute.”

Johnson:

A pastor’s sermons are the equivalent of a college professor’s lectures and study notes. Since the 1976 Copyright Law went into effect, several courts have ruled emphatically that a university professor’s research, classroom content, and notes are his own intellectual property. (See: https://digitalcommons.law.villanova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2776&context=vlr.) If a professor transfers to a new university, the material still belongs to him, and if it becomes the basis of a book he publishes, the university that employs him has no rightful claim on a share of the royalties. (Note: “There is a thin but assertive line of judicial decisions recognizing a ‘professor’s exception’ to the work-for-hire doctrine.” Source: https://www.mediainstitute.org/201 0104/29/academic-freedom-copyright-and-work-for-hire/.)

Adams:

“Thin but assertive line” is right.  There is a narrow exception in the world of academia.  It has been litigated and clarified.  However, pastors do not enjoy this litigated exception.  There are certainly parallels which could be argued (and perhaps that is the game plan of the church – to be ready to argue for a novel exception), but it’s not current law.  At the very least, it ought not be implied that the IP question is invalid.

Johnson:

Also, virtually every pastor I know uses his personal time in evenings or on days off to do at least part of his study, reading, reflection, and preparation. Pastors are not hourly employees, writing sermon notes “for hire.”

Adams:

Creating IP “on your own time” would be an argument for a pastor who writes books (that are not just a reprint of a sermon) as a separate endeavor.  The Copyright Act does not attempt to define “for-hire” work as that which is produced by hourly wages as opposed to a salaried position, but rather whether the work is within the scope of what the employee was hired to do under the control of that employer.  If one were to ask ten people what they would consider to be the main job description of a pastor, ten out of ten will inevitably mention Sunday sermon-making. 

Furthermore, the platform of the sermon pulpit is a resource owned by the church.  The use of a nonprofit’s assets to accrete value and recognition for an individual’s privately owned intellectual property can be problematic when it results in personal financial gain.  It goes against well-established pillars of tax-exempt law, namely private benefit (and in the case of an influential leader, potential private inurement as well).  While it could naturally be argued that there is a religious purpose being served through giving a platform to the sermons (and therefore a public benefit is served), this lays alongside the fact that a private benefit is also being served.  By law, tax-exempt entities may have no more than an insubstantial nonexempt purpose being served by their activities or they imperil their exemption.  (This is why a Christian bookseller is not a tax-exempt entity even though they sell educational/religious books.  This exemption is disallowed because of the private benefit rendered to authors as well as the sellers.)

Johnson:

However, because this is a frequently-contested issue, in 1984, Grace church engaged an attorney, Mr. Sealy Yates, to investigate and advise the church on this very question. (Mr. Yates is an expert in copyright and publishing law. http://yates2.com/.) He gave the elders a 12-page opinion detailing why a pastor’s sermons should not be regarded as works for hire. The elders formally affirmed his opinion at the time, and by written agreement, this has been on record as a matter of church policy ever since.

Adams:

The 12-page opinion would be of interest.  But again, I suspect that any opinion that required 12 pages to craft is more likely to be an argument of analogy, rather than one of settled law.  The church may feel they are on solid footing to defend the decision and has therefore continued in the position. 

Johnson:

The actual law in question, the 1976 Copyright Act [Section 201 (b)} states that “in the case of a work made for hire, the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author … unless the parties have expressly agreed otherwise in a written instrument signed by them.” So this is not a matter for legal debate. Our church’s policy has been clear and well documented for decades.

Adams:

As stated above, the church does not have the authority to declare whether something is a work-for-hire.  If the church declared the IP not work-for-hire, then it would seem to follow that they would not have a written agreement transferring the IP to the executives (which makes the above statement confusing).  But if, despite the position that the IP is not a work-for-hire, the church does indeed have a signed writing that transfers the IP to the executives, then it raises a separate question of valuation, as discussed below. 

Johnson:

Furthermore, because the question resurfaces every 10-15 years, the elders of GCC reaffirmed the same policy in 1998. About a decade into the new millennium, we discussed the issue again and reaffirmed once more what has always been recognized by the church’s leadership: Namely, that teaching notes and messages prepared by pastors at Grace Community Church remain the intellectual property of their authors, and sermons preached in our church or works written for publication by our staff are not to be regarded as works done for hire, unless a specific topic is assigned and the work is specifically contracted as a work for hire in a signed agreement with the pastor or staff member who writes the material.

Adams:

Not addressed in this email but brushed against in this paragraph is the issue of an entity – (Grace to You) – which appears to be solely dedicated to the marketing of a private individual’s personal IP assets.  As mentioned above, just because there is a religious/educational purpose involved does not eliminate the problematic presence of a significant nonexempt purpose serving a private benefit (for an indisputable insider, no less). 

Johnson:

Christianity Today magazine helped muddy this issue a few years ago with an article arguing that sermons ought to be viewed as works for hire.  But no church that really cares about their pastor would ever enforce such a ridiculous scheme.  It would mean that if the pastor prepares a sermon for preaching to his church, he could never use that sermon again without the express, formal permission of the church.  If he should leave and go to another church, the original church would still own all the material he prepared while he was their pastor, and he could never preach to church #2 from the passages of Scripture he covered while he was at church #1, unless he contracted for permission from church #1 to use that material again, or unless he generated completely new sermons on those biblical texts, with none of the same ideas or wording he used at church #1. That’s an insane proposal, and literally no one faithfully practices or enforces such a policy.

Adams:

Of course, an argument based upon desirable outcome is not part of a legal analysis.  To get around the issues raised above, however, some churches license their pastors the permission to reuse the copyrighted materials.  More of them, however, likely do not enforce their rights against the pastors for the reasons Mr. Johnson mentioned above.  But also, in most cases the value of the IP is de minimus and not worth the effort by the church to even monitor the usage.  In the case at hand, however, the value of the IP in question is significant. 

 Johnson:

If a pastor who uses the content of his sermons to write books wishes to donate royalties from his writing ministry to the church, that is of course perfectly appropriate-but it is entirely his business, and no principle of ethics or propriety requires him to make those donations public in order to satisfy the muckrakers, scandalmongers, and self-appointed legal experts who troll the Internet trying to sully the reputations of faithful men.

For the record, John MacArthur does all his own study in preparation for his sermons. He does not employ a “research assistant” or ghostwriter to generate sermons. Editors do help in the preparation of that material for print publications. (I’m one of those editors, and Pastor MacArthur regularly and generously gives credit for the work his editors do.) There is nothing unusual or unethical in that process.

Mr. _________ ‘s claim “that it is legally not correct … to publish sermons that belong to the church” would have some teeth if it were true that sermons are the church’s intellectual property. Since that is not the case, his whole argument is bogus.

Thanks for asking. It’s what someone ought to have done before raising unnecessary questions about John MacArthur’s integrity on the internet.

Adams:

This email only addresses the legal question of whether sermons are considered “works-for-hire” but not the question raised by virtue of the fact that the church is a tax-exempt entity.  Even if it were entirely permissible to transfer ownership of the copyright in the IP to the executive, it must be determined whether that executive’s total compensation would be considered reasonable with its inclusion.  Intellectual property has a value (as difficult as it may sometimes be to ascertain).  When that value is added to the salary of the executive, the total must be “reasonable” (based upon a variety of factors).  If the IRS considers the total to be “unreasonable” then there may be an issue of “excess benefit” to that executive, which can lead to monetary penalties as well as concerns about the tax exemption of the church.

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59 thoughts on “Who Owns John MacArthur’s Sermons?”

  1. This seems like a matter for legal experts vs legal experts. Is this something many churches and pastors deal with? If it is, why zoom in on this particular one?

    1. It’s usually a grey area because most pastor don’t write books or develop side ministries which reach millions of people, so the boards are not forced to deal with these difficult issues.

      1. There is a simple answer. Those who are truly serving the Lord seek to amass their wealth in heaven and not on earth. They do not hide behind legal schemes to protect their earthly accumulation of the world’s goods. They would never allow their wealth to become a stumbling block to millions. They would never allow the name of God to be blasphemed among the gentiles because of their love of wealth. Paul the Apostle only took from the churches what he needed to live that day (manna) so that no one would question his motives and thereby undermine his message.

  2. It looks like Phil Johnson in using aggressive language like “insane,ridiculous, muckrakers, scandalmongers, and self-appointed legal experts who troll the Internet trying to sully the reputations of faithful men” etc. will somehow give GCC the outcome that he wants,
    Just why would anyone who wants to preach the Gospel to glorify God and love their neighbor want to own intellectual property that was supposed to originate from God’s word which is free to all men?
    And who is it that owns the false doctrine that John has preached over the years? Mr.Johnson?

  3. I am curious if Paul the Apostle was alive today if he would make the same claim that he owns the books he wrote in the New Testament and not the Holy Spirit. I think at the end of the debate Hebrews 4:13 sums it up best, “There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves.” I can not judge these controversies but God will most certainly and it is up to each man to judge his own heart and motivations.

    1. You hit the nail on the head: God owns everything – while we own thing in a legal sense, God’s laws superceded our laws and He owns everything, including our sermons. If there is to be profit from them, then God should direct where the profits go. He does this through leading the elders and John himself – at least in theory.

      1. I’m not an attorney but I would think common sense would apply. If you are paid a salary to create the sermons then the sermons belong to the church. If you get the option to use the sermons and profit from it, then in good conscience dont take a salary from the church. The clergy are forgetting that the church exists because hard working men and women tithe. I had been a member of churches and tithed for 50 years but have given up on organized religion.

  4. James Lutzweiler

    Who wants them?

    I recall a sermon John preached a while back and I could not believe it. I hope no lost souls were listening in or it would make them even harder to win.

    John’s sermon featured the totally unbelievable story about a blind French girl who read the Gospel of Mark in Braille—with her lips! She couldn’t read it with her fingers because they had become calloused and she had cut off her fingertips in order to increase her sensitivity to “God’s precious word.”

    Even St. Mark himself would not have swallowed this crock of biblical baloney. It had every earmark of a recipe cooked up by a combination of rapists Ravi Zacharias and Rasputin. After hearing that tale, I would accept nothing at face value from the Right/Rev./Dr./Br’er Baptist MacArthur without multiple confirmations and corroborations. Here follows a warning.

    One poor sermonic peddler in High Point, North Carolina, swallowed MacArthur’s tale hook, line, sinker, boat, trailer, ramp, and I-40. Not only did he swallow it but he greatly “improved” upon it, after plagiarizing it, and added to this whale of a tale that the little girl was only four years old!! If you wish to have a copy of my letter of protest about this debacle, send me a request at [email protected] and it shall be granted unto you. Even more sad than the pastor’s plagiarizing of this ridiculous retelling of MacArthur’s tale is the fact that the congregation sat there and swallowed it like it was my wife’s lasagna!

    All in all for my money, I would rather listen to someone pistol-whipping a tom cat with a dead carp than to hear this minister MacArthur’s moldy mantras. But I still value him sort of like a laboratory rat for church historians.

    Fraternally for Christ and His Kingdom,

    James Lutzweiler
    Archivist (1999-2013)
    Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
    Author of 18 of the 100 Chapters in CHURCHFAILS: 100 Blunders in Church History (Broadman and Holman, 2016) and
    On Keeping My Mouth Shut in Sunday School (Wipf and Stock, 2020)

      1. James Lutzweiler

        Micaiah,

        Thanks so much for posting this link. upon hearing it again, I still prefer hearing the tomcat being pistol whipped with a dead carp. If John MacArthur or any kind of a credible individual, he would recall this nonsense just like Detroit recalls defective automobiles. can anyone imagine Jesus telling a story like this and getting a free pass? Ha! To the fiftieth power.

        James

      2. I would love to hear any empirical evidence that it is even possible to get calloused fingertips from reading braille. Sounds like malarkey to me.

      3. I have tried to find a source for this story. According to the GTY website, that sermon is from August, 2010. While searching for a source for MacArthur’s tale, I found a similar story in a sermon by Rick Crandall from 2008, which attributes it to Robert Sumner in The Wonder of the Word of God (1969).

        However, in MacArthur’s version, details have been changed. A man in Kansas City with damaged nerve endings in his lips has become a young girl in France who cut her fingers, desensitizing her fingertips. You be the judge.

        Sumner’s original version (as cited):

        A man in Kansas City was severely injured in an explosion. The victim’s face was badly disfigured, and he lost his eyesight as well as both hands. He was just a new Christian, and one of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible.

        Then he heard about a lady in England who read Braille with her lips. Hoping to do the same, he sent for some books of the Bible in Braille. Much to his dismay, however, he discovered that the nerve endings in his lips had been destroyed by the explosion. One day, as he brought one of the Braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters, and he could feel them. Like a flash he thought, I can read the Bible using my tongue.

        https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/67646/blind-man-learned-to-read-bible-with-tongue-by-rick-crandall

        https://bible.org/illustration/read-tongue

        MacArthur’s version:

        I was reading this week in kind of a random fashion, and I came across an interesting little account. In France, some years ago, there lived a poor, blind girl. And she had obtained, according to the writer, a gospel of Mark in Braille, and it was all she had. She read it with the tips of her fingers, and she read it, and read it, and read it until her fingers became callused, and her sense of touch diminished so that she could no longer distinguish the characters. In an ill-conceived effort to resensitize her fingers, she cut them at the ends, which only made them less sensitive.

        And the writer says, “She felt that she must now give up her beloved book of Mark. And weeping, she pressed it to her lips, saying, ‘Farewell, farewell sweet Word of my Savior.’ To her surprise, her lips, more delicate than her fingers, discerned the form of the letters. All night she perused with her lips the book of Mark and overflowed with joy at this new acquisition.”

        https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/41-38/Spiritual-Blindness-Part-2

        1. James Lutzweiler

          Dear Jane,

          Thank you so much for this post.

          A couple things:

          1. I do not know what Br’er MacArthur was randomly reading, whether it was Robert Sumner or Rick Crandall in 2008 (if you should happen to have a copy of this, I would like to see it); however, I do know that the earliest reference to it is in a Methodist magazine from the mid-1800s. I make reference to that in my letter to the preacher of Green St., Baptist Church in High Point North Carolina, where I first heard the story. He did not mention as his source John MacArthur, and he added to the tale that it was a four year old girl. This was far worse than what MacArthur did with the story.

          I knew Robert Sumner. I used to write for his periodical. He was a dear old man but given to taking some quack theories at face value. I am glad you made reference to this story, as he told it. Of course, it, too, is unbelievable.

          If you need the exact citation for the mid-1800s article, send me an email at [email protected]

          James Lutzweiler

          1. James,

            Here is the link to Crandall’s message where he used this illustration:

            https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/headed-in-the-right-direction-rick-crandall-sermon-on-discipleship-124043

            When my pastor uses a story as an illustration, he always tries to verify whether or not the story is true. If he has reason to believe that it may not be true, he introduces the story as a parable or as fiction and not as real life.

            My concern with MacArthur on this point is simply a lack of integrity. For someone who claims to be all business in preaching the Word of God, he seems to relish in telling tall tales which delight the audience and/or make himself the hero. He was a star football player in college who sacrificed a surefire NFL career to become a poor pastor. He was the only white man in Memphis on the night when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and was there on site while the blood was still warm. He was attacked by a man in his office with a samurai sword. Not just a sword, mind you, a samurai sword. Then there are stories like this, told as fact with no source cited and with details added and changed like a Hollywood drama for maximum effect. And for what purpose?

            He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Luke 16:10

          2. James Lutzweiler

            Jane,

            Once again thanks so much.

            From lip reading to tongue reading! What could possibly be next? Nose hairs?

            I will pass all this along to Sumner’s son-in-law.

            James

    1. I don’t hold MacArthur in the highest esteem. But this story seems probable. See the link below for a story on CNN

      1. There are many examples of people reading braille with their fingers or lips, including the woman in this report from 2013. The details of MacArthur’s 2010 version of the story, however, are highly dubious. It is quite possibly a ripoff of other fictional accounts.

        1. James Lutzweiler

          Thank you Arthur and Jane for these posts. Just an FYI. I have never disputed this possibility; and in fact I cite a source about it in my letter to the MacCopycat pastor in question. But, as told by Br’er Mac, I do not believe his characterization of it; and even the author of the mid 1800s magazine article that spins this tale was suspicious about it. This is to say nothing of the plagiarizing pastor, Brandon Ware (B.Ware for short) who morphed the French mademoiselle into a four-year old who actually cut off the ends of her tiny calloused fingers in order better to read the Braille. My 3.5-year old granddaughter is easily the brightest child in the universe and there is no possible way she could do this. And what parent of any Godly worth would or could overlook such a child snipping off the ends of her fingers?

          All of which reduces to this: how can any sane nonbelievers possibly find the credulous Br’er Mac and B.Ware —to say nothing of their speechless sheep— as credible proclaimers of the resurrection? What this is is frightening.

          James

      2. Tall tales have some elements based in reality, as do the pseudepigrapha of the early Church and many supposed miracle stories floating around in all religions, but more mature, discerning people recognize them for what they are, and truthful people will not retell such stories as fact for dramatic effect.

  5. Sandy Williams

    One thing that may complicate the legal discussion is that pastors are not considered “employees”, but “self-employed”. In addition, it seems that legal clarification is needed by the courts or copyright law because pastors have much in common with professors.

    1. This is an interesting article, and one worthy of debate. It certainly raises a lot of questions about intellectual property and copyright protections.

      At my job, if I create a spreadsheet for some task, does it belong to the company? And if it does, and I leave, and I create the same spreadsheet later at another job, have I stolen it in some way? Even if I am not selling it and making royalties from it, if it helps that new company become profitable, is that a legal issue?

      I wonder, if a pastor’s sermon was never recorded on any media or never written down (other than some notes in his Bible) but simply preached directly out of the Bible, would the church still own it, and if so, in what sense? And if that pastor chose to write a book on what he has a preached, could the church legally claim any royalties from it?

      Also, even if a book is based on a sermon, written or otherwise, is it considered a new work in its own right? Or does the wording have to be changed to some extent for that to be true?

      Of note, I seem to remember MacArthur once saying that he has given full permission for anyone to preach his sermons (of course, whether he owns them and it is his right to give permission would speak to the topic in this article), and all of them are available at no charge at the GTY website. I believe there have been other preachers in history who have done the same.

      Copyright law is interesting. Even Bible translations are protected by copyright law, which is interesting in its own way. I seem to recall that to use a translation in a written work requires permission from the owner, depending on how much is quoted, but the same is not true if it is used for preaching or Bible study.

      I am no expert in these things, but this is an interesting discussion.

  6. MacArthur, Family, and Toady Inc. picked their lawyer well for their self-enriching purpose, namely the one who also abetted Mark Driscoll and David Jeremiah in their illegal book-selling schemes.

    The millions MacArthur makes in royalties again begs the question of why a church and 2 other “non-profits” (Master’s and Grace to You) pay MacArthur large salaries while they hide their financial details. Grace Community Church can’t find any more urgent needs in the world to use donors’ money for than further enriching a very wealthy old man? This is an especially shameful reflection on GCC as well.

  7. One Salient Oversight

    I’m a preacher. If someone wants to copy and preach one of my sermons, that’s fine by me, though it would be prudent to give some level of attribution. I’m personally happy for anything I preach to be in the public domain.

    1. Plagiarism is one of the main reasons pastors are fired. While I appreciate you’re heart, be wise about what God has entrusted to you – your sermons are ultimately owned by Him and should be stewarded accordingly.

  8. These laws are well known to anyone who works for a non profit. I was told when I first left to serve abroad that anything I would write or publish while with the mission would belong to the agency not me. And mind you, I had to raise all the financial support which made up my salary!

    In three decades of serving abroad I’ve written and published many materials, none of which have accrued any profit to me. This includes dozens of training manuals, and various discipleship tools which are currently used around the world. None of it even has my name on it because I don’t want to draw attention to myself or profit from helping others understand and obey Gods word. Think about it. We are told freely we have received therefore freely we should give.

    For this reason I cannot understand the stance Mr. John MacArthur and other celebrity pastors like him take on this issue. I seems they play every angle- accepting large salaries from nonprofit churches and Christian organizations, plus receiving royalties from selling their sermons/theology to the broader Christian audience. What can be behind such behavior? Perhaps a love of honor, love of money, or a desire to retain power?

    It seems to me if such men wish to retain their IP rights they should at least have the integrity to stop taking salaries from nonprofit tax exempt organizations.

      1. GTY stopped preparing Form 990’s years ago on the basis that it is an “integrated auxiliary” of Grace Community Church. But in order to be so considered, GTY must receive over one-half of its support from the church, and not therefore from the general public. 9Marks is another ministry that utilizes this exemption. In the case of 9Marks, I asked the Executive Director if Capitol Hill Baptist met this test and he confirmed that it did not. It disturbs me that a “church ministry” would play fast and loose with IRS regulations that the vast majority of Christuan parachurch ministries submit to.

  9. Sorry, Julie, on this one, you’re on thin ice putting so much weight on two lawyer’s opinions. Lawyers are trained to argue nearly any point compellingly. I never take a lawyer’s word as gospel truth. I bet I could find two equally reputable lawyers to argue the other side. My take: employment, by itself, doesn’t grant ownership of IP to the employing organization unless that is specifically called out in one’s employment agreement. So I suspect MacArthur owns his sermons, FWIW. Having said this, MacArthur was entrusted with these sermons by God. They are really owned by God and are entrusted to MacArthur. Look, anytime a profit motive is combined with preaching, the outcomes are usually not good for anyone. Now, if a pastor writes a book that isn’t a repackaging of his sermons, then ethically, he should first clear both the writing time and the ownership of royalties with his board and it should be decided who gets what from the money from book sales. I have no problem with a pastor earning income through book sales as long as everyone involved has agreed to the dispersment of income and use of time. But once earned, the income is still an entrustment from God and needs to be stewarded accordingly. I have a strong belief that pastors should be paid and live at their community’s median income and lifestyle. (Most churches pay embarassingly low wages, so writing a book may be one way a pastor makes up the difference). Anything beyond this – and beyond what is needed for future expenses – should be given away. My problem with MacArthur is that I can’t discern if he’s in the ministry for the money or God’s call. The guy has three homes, for Pete’s sake. He is living at a standard well above the vast majority of those to whom he ministers. He is out of balance. To my way of thinking, he needs to divest his wealth and give it away as God directs. John Stott is a good example here to follow. MacArthur likely started out in response to God’s call, but as he grew in prominence and success, it appears to me he became a bit corrupted by the fame and fortune. His sermons still bless people, but God can work through those who have impure motives too.

    1. Mr. English,

      If Julie is on thin ice, then you’re on quicksand and sinking fast!

      Julie just provided her audience with a well-reasoned legal analysis supported by facts and established law. You, on the other hand, told us about your opinions and feelings.

      “I suspect MacArthur owns his sermons, FWIW.” What you suspect is not worth anything in this case.

      “Having said this, MacArthur was entrusted with these sermons by God.” Really? Did God tell you this personally?

      “They are really owned by God and are entrusted to MacArthur.” If they are really owned by God, then why not leave the assets in the church treasury? Maybe God doesn’t trust the church now? If God now trusts only John MacArthur, then God likely owes some money to the IRS.

      “I have no problem with a pastor earning income through book sales as long as everyone involved has agreed to the dispersment [sic] of income and use of time.” Again, your preferences are not relevant to the tax law.

      “I have a strong belief that pastors should be paid and live at their community’s median income and lifestyle.” Ok, you are very much entitled to have your own beliefs.

      “My problem with MacArthur is that I can’t discern if he’s in the ministry for the money or God’s call.” I thought you just said “MacArthur was entrusted with these sermons by God.” If you “can’t discern” then why are even commenting about this issue!?

      Please allow me to help you with your discernment challenges. The question presently at hand, as well as in prior articles and discussions surrounding John MacArthur’s holdings, is a question of who is being served.

      From Ms. Adams comments above:
      “While it could naturally be argued that there is a religious purpose being served through giving a platform to the sermons (and therefore a public benefit is served), this lays alongside the fact that a private benefit is also being served. By law, tax-exempt entities may have no more than an insubstantial nonexempt purpose being served by their activities or they imperil their exemption.”

      And Our Lord’s comments:
      “No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

      Again, Ms. Adams’ comments:
      “The church may feel they are on solid footing to defend the decision and has therefore continued in the position.”

      And Our Lord’s comments:
      “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the torrents raged, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the torrents raged, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its collapse!”

      I don’t want to see anyone’s house collapse, but Our Lord has made it very clear how to keep our house on a solid footing. It is by obeying His commandments, and DOING what is Righteous. “Don’t let anyone deceive you! The person who DOES what is righteous IS righteous, just as Jesus Christ IS righteous”.

      To conclude, it is right for Julie Roys to raise these concerns and to stand up for the Righteous Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not right for you to say she is on thin ice.

    2. It is interesting that the pastoral ministries classes at TMS teach the students that the IP of sermons are in fact owned by the church. They mention JM’s special arrangement with the elders but point to that as an exception and not a rule. Perhaps things have changed over the years.

  10. Rosie Montgomery

    It is so sad!! You think you are doing a service for God but the damage you’re doing to the Body and the disservice to those who has not come in. Yes these people may or may not have issues. DO WE BELIEVE that God will deal with them ? If so Preach the Gospel build God’s Kingdom don’t destroy it. The message you’re sending out is perhaps this whole God thing is chaos. Did He not say in His Word ” What is right I Will Pay” Do we hear what He said and belive Him. Preach The Word!!!

    1. It’s stunning that you see confronting the legitimacy of MacArthur taking ownership of sermons he was paid to write, so he can enrich himself, as my issue. The fact that you choose to confront me, rather than MacArthur, tells me you don’t understand the problem nor the solution. The “God thing” is not chaos. Celebrity preachers getting rich off the gospel is chaos. If you equate celebrity preachers with God, your faith is on shaky ground.

      1. Ms. Roys. Is it your duty, or anyone’s duty to call into question what is in the heart? That is God’s right and only God knows what is in each of our hearts. If you have a problem with Pastor MacArthur making money that is your issue. Are his sermons and books solidly Biblically based? That should be your only concern. God knows what is in your heart and why you are doing this. You will face him someday and account for your attack. Why not spend your time going after the medical non profit salaries many in the range of $1 million plus, and some physician salaries over $500,000 annually. Or the CEO of United Way making more than $1.5 million annually.

    2. Eph 5:11 tells us to expose evil. Paul warned fellow believers about Alexander the coppersmiths to guard themselves against him because he did Paul great harm. He also exposes Demas motives in another letter. Jesus warn us many times about fake Christians and told us what to look for. Matt 15:8
      He told us to be wise as serpents an innocent as doves.
      1 Cor 5:12-13 we are told to judge those inside the church and purge the evil person from among us.
      Spiritual gifts are given without repentance. They are gifts. Rom 11:29
      Fruit of the spirit is developed and so is character. That’s why people can have strong spiritual giftings from God without any character.
      God has given us guidelines in his word on how to have a healthy church.Matt 18. He gave us insight, instructions from leaders like Paul. And what to be on the look out for. The Bible is full instructions we are not following to keep the church healthy and strong. The church is a mess! And our biggest leaders are dropping like flies!!! The Israelites were notorious for stoning the prophets. Why? Because they didn’t like the message. So they didn’t head the warning.
      Let’s not stone the messenger.

      If we are going to clean up the church than we need to examine ourselves as hard as that might be. It’s hard to see people’s “ugly” and it’s hard to let people see ours but we’ve got to do it!!! The church is weak and has no power because it’s unwilling to look at itself. See where we went off the rails. Gods cleanup standards are hard to follow. They are painful. No one likes cleaning up messes. But until we do we for fit being the powerful victorious church Jesus laid down his life for.

  11. Response to Justin Peter’s reasons for not giving you a chance to respond:

    Mr. Peters. Your response is disingenuous at best. You cannot insert yourself in the middle of a controversy and not give the other side a chance to respond. You “opened the door” and in fairness are obligated to allow a response. In my experience, those who have the truth on their side welcome the light and the opportunity to expose error. You would have had the unique opportunity to confront Ms. Roys’ unfair treatment of John MacArthur directly and you refused. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes.

    Further, your defense of your own financial situation only serves to supports Ms. Roys’ case. You claim you are innocent because of your “5 figures” salary and your “1500 square foot condo.” That being the case, your evidence for the defense of your own finances indicts MacArthur’s $14 Million net worth, his mini-mansion, and his multiple six figure salaries. Does it not?

    So I will ask you again. Here are questions that must be addressed if your intent is to present the truth in full. (The Truth, The WHOLE Truth) Many websites list John MacArthur’s net worth at $14 Million. Curiously this was not mentioned. Is this true? Also, it has been reported that for years, MacArthur earned three six figure salaries simultaneously from GTY, Grace Church and the Masters Seminary. Is this true? It was also reported that his son in law secured a deal worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the recording contract for the ministry. Is this true?

  12. Phil Johnson is pugnacious. Sam Horn was deemed as not being elder qualified because of being pugnacious and was fired. That is laughable. Phil Johnson has a serious anger problem, pugnacious and stirs up strife. He should be removed. He has been proven to not be qualified to be an elder. But he won’t be fired or removed because he serves MacArthur’s purpose. He deflects attention from MacArthur so MacArthur can continue. Johnson is not elder qualified. But why should we care about that. If he keeps MacArthur afloat he serves the greater good. When one is not needed, the MacArthur machine gets rid of him. How sad is this entire organization. Very sad. And abusive.

  13. The lack of integrity that is exhibited by some of the leaders in the Mr. Mac Empire is quite off-putting. The amount of money flowing through all these entities is truly amazing.

  14. Nothing here surprises me. Self-dealing and dishonesty like this are almost inevitable when there is no oversight and no checks and balances. And I doubt there are any of those in a personality cult like this. I work with and for certified fraud examiners. Read about the fraud triangle or fraud diamond and I am certain you will find all or most of those elements in organizations like MacArthur’s. When those elements are present, the chance of fraud goes up dramatically.

    I have experience with some JMac followers, and they have shown some of the same characteristics in a smaller way. No transparency and considerable dishonesty about certain financial dealings, particularly when they are set to profit financially.

  15. I think MacArthur and the entities he leads are one and the same. I don’t think his followers perceive any difference between him and GCC or GTY, these organizations are simply extensions of the leader’s personality. So, for followers to separate MacArthur from those entities must be hard to comprehend. The church is run solely by MacArthur – there is no congregational voting, there is no independent accountability. For a follower to press for the separation of these two things (MacArthur and GCC) would be ludicrous to him or her.

    If legal action would be taken, who would take it?

  16. Large and small business owners and executives know after time who is honest, pays their bills, and plays by the rules. It doesn’t matter what John MacArthur’s excuses and legal arguments are, it sounds like he doesn’t play by the rules when he thinks he can get away with it. Julie is exposing what is probably already. known in his business circles.

    He is a leader and teacher and held to higher standards.

  17. John MacArthur can say whatever he wants, but at the end of the day, he’s human just like everybody else. He likes nice clothes (he has nice looking suits, ties, shoes, etc.), nice cars (he doesn’t drive a Ferrari, or Lambrogini, but he doesn’t drive a clunker either), and several nice homes/properties. He should have them if he’s worked for them; however, I don’t believe that honest, hard-working people can achieve the kind of wealth he has without being tax cheats. Uncle Sam simply takes too much money for anyone to obtain tens of millions in wealth – unless of course they cheat on their taxes.

  18. Cody B. Laumeister

    Something very bad is eventually going to happen to JMac’s reputation and legacy. Not necessarily because of his own actions, but because he is very poorly served by Phil Johnson. Johnson is in over his head in that job, because his character is immature, his interactions with serious folks like Julie Roys is unprofessional, and he lacks the skill set to actually do his job, as shown by his poor grasp of basic legal issues pertaining to non profit orgs. He’s the extremely well-paid DIRECTOR of a major non profit, and he seems to think that his main job is to run interference and throw elbows for JMac, concerning challenges to JMac’s character and theology.

    That’s NOT Johnson’s job. It’s JMac’s job to ensure his OWN character, theology, and professional conduct is unimpeachable.

    It’s Johnson’s job to actually RUN the GTY organization, which involves serious legal matters, handling millions of $, making sure all of GTY’s other employees are doing their jobs properly, interfacing with the public, including the media, like Julie Roys, etc.

    JMac needs a skilled executive and manager, not a personal attack dog. I already think less of JMac for trusting someone like Johnson to steward what amounts to JMac’s life’s work.

    That can’t bode well for JMac’s future.

  19. Phil keeps referring to the elders decision to give Jmac ownership of his sermons. The elders at GCC are personally chosen by JMaC, the elders then select other elders. The scheme gives the board a semblance of legitimacy and accountability. Many of these elders are sitting as board members of the other organizations for control purposes. Not a single board member would dare to oppose or disagree with Jmac and exist only to rubber stamp John’s wishes. Any elder/staff/professor who disagrees with John loses their FOJ (friend of John, a privilege granted to a few) status and are systematically isolated, intimidated and pressured to leave. Make no mistake, they welcome your leaving as soon as you sign the NDA.

    Elders are affirmed by the congregation after asking everyone to rise. Those who agree sits down and those who oppose are to remain standing for the whole congregation to see. Needless to say those who remain standing don’t remain welcome in church for very long.

    John teaches double honor as to simply mean double pay. This would explain the big salaries and many houses. What he should have taught is double honor means MULTIPLE pay, MULTIPLE houses then he would have spared us from being in this conundrum.

    1. Johnson, “affirming” the chosen elders by asking those who disagree with their selection to remain standing in the congregation is absolutely crazy! That is mind control, cult behavior. Can anyone else confirm this?

    2. That’s why many people say MacArthur is a Scientologist- he runs his church in a similar manner.

      Coincidentally Mac is friends with Larry king, who married into Scientology

  20. Free from the Love of Money

    by John MacArthur Wednesday, January 28, 2015

    It is a severe and perverse corruption of biblical ministry to be in it for money. Contrary to the model we often see today, pastoral work and church leadership are not meant to be avenues to wealth and fame. In fact, men who carry the love of money into ministry are on the fast track to becoming false teachers (cf. 1 Peter 5:2; 2 Peter 2:1–3, 14).

    In his list of qualifications for church leaders, Paul includes the vital reminder that godly shepherds must be “free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:3). A similar prohibition is found in Titus, where Paul writes that a qualified elder is “not fond of sordid gain” (Titus 1:7). That phrase is translated from a compound of aischros (“filthy, shameful, base”) and kerdos (“gain, profit, greed”), and it refers to a person who, without honesty or integrity, seeks wealth and financial prosperity at any cost. Paul says such a man is not fit for ministry.

    That doesn’t mean godly shepherds shouldn’t be paid. All Christians, including pastors, have a right to make a living for themselves and for their families. Jesus said “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? . . . So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:11, 14). A pastor not only has a right to earn a living but has a right to be paid by those to whom he ministers.

    However, from the infancy of the church, false teachers have entered the pastorate simply to make an easy living. They were “men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose[d] that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5). They were in the pastorate for the money, not to serve the Lord or His people. “Godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.” Paul went on to say:

    For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. (vv. 6–11)

    Paul used the term “man of God” as a technical term for pastors and elders (see also 2 Timothy 3:17) in much the same way that it was often used in the Old Testament of prophets (cf. 2 Kings 1:9, 11). Just like those in the early church, false prophets and teachers in Old Testament times were “shepherds who [had] no understanding; they . . . all turned to their own way, each one to his unjust gain, to the last one” (Isaiah 56:11). Peter admonished pastors: “Shepherd the flock of God among you,” he said, “exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness” (1 Peter 5:2)

    In the light of such clear biblical warnings and prohibitions, it’s incredible that so many false teachers and prosperity preachers not only survive, but flourish—some for decades. The church is overrun with brazen thieves who use the façade of ministry to cloak their pyramid schemes and snake oil sales. They’re wolves who prey on the gullibility of people looking for a shortcut to spiritual blessing and wealth. For men and women like that, ministry is nothing more than a confidence game.

    Contrast that with Paul’s financial perspective on ministry: He told the Philippians “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:11), and he assured the Ephesian elders that during his three years of ministry in their city, he had “coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes” (Acts 20:33). Paul was faithful to the work the Lord had called him, regardless of the reward. And on at least one occasion, he sacrificed his own financial reward for the sake of the ministry (2 Corinthians 11:7-15).

    A godly shepherd is not greedy, stingy, or financially ambitious. His focus is not on his bank account, but on the building up of the church to greater spiritual growth and godliness—that is his true reward. A man whose priority is anything else is unqualified for ministry.

  21. Phil Johnson’s attempt at exoneration actually condemn him.

    1- the church agreed to the arrangement as long as 30 years ago.

    2- MacArthur planned to do this.

    3- MacArthur also used employees and board members of GCC (PJ himself) for the purpose of editing and research. MacArthur is on record saying he only handwrites. Others compile his notes and type them out.

  22. The mistake being made is “churches” are not “non-profits” because they are protected under the 1st Amendment and the government is prohibited from interfering in the practice of faith or establishment of religion. A church operating under the 1st Amendment can make any designation it wants for the remuneration of it’s Pastor or employees without any interference form the government

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