Is Naming Names Naughty?
Are you hesitant to name a well-known TV evangelist as a false prophet? Should it be pointed out that Joel Osteen is preaching a different Gospel when he proclaims the Health/Wealth gospel? How about calling Benny Hinn a fake healer instead or a faith healer? Would it be fair to compare Billy Graham’s plan of salvation with that which is truly taught in the New Testament? Or, expose the unscriptural nature of the “once saved, always saved” teachings of John MacArthur? Is it scriptural to identify false teachers by name? Is there a proper time and place for identifying a false teacher or practice? Is it wrong to name a denomination and refute their false doctrine? Is it wrong to mark and identify a heretic or a sower of discord among brethren? Is It wrong to call people names such as “false prophet”?
The New Testament is filled with examples of those godly prophets and apostles who would point out the error of specific individuals. John the Baptist accused Herod of adultery (Matt. 14:4). Of course, he lost his head in the process. This does not prove him to be wrong, just brave. On the day of Pentecost, the Apostles accused the Jews of murdering God’s Son. “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ”(Acts 2:36).
Imagine getting up and accusing your audience of murder – murdering the very Son of God. Elymas (or Bar-Jesus) a magician opposed Paul and wanted to turn the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, away from the truth, Paul called Elymas names. God then blinded Elymas! Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11). In fact Paul was in a habit of mentioning by name those whom he opposed and/or called upon to correct their behavior. He menteions Euodia and Sythyche (Philippians 4:2-3); Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Tim. 1:15); Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17); Demas (2 Tim. 4:10); Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim. 4:14); etc. The apostles John mentions “Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us” (3 John 9-10). Nehemiah names Tobiah and Sanballat, and the prophetess Noadiah (Neh. 6:14).
A man-made rule of our day is not to name the denominations or attack them or their false doctrines. However, Jesus condemned the worship of the Samaritans in John 4:22: “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” He often warned of the Pharisees and Sadducees in His teachings. “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Catholic, Lutheran, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, etc. are names that people wear voluntarily If they are confident in their denominational membership, they should no more be offended that I would for being called a “Christian.”
Identifying the false teachings by name is as old as the Old Testament which mentioned the kings who followed “the sin of Jeroboam.” The apostle John mentions that he hates “the deeds of the Nicolaitans” and “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” (Revelation 2:6,15). The early church fathers actually memorialized heretics by naming their heresies after them. If the mention of a particular doctrine is offensive to someone then they need to repent.
Believe or not, when it came to name calling, Jesus was one of the many offenders found in the Bible. He labeled false teachers “wolves.” Of King Herod He said, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected’” (Luke 13:32). He didn’t hide Herod’s evil character, but publicly exposed it to others. Jesus also pointed out that the Pharisees were a “hypocrites,” “blind guides” and “vipers” (Matt. 23:33). Paul called Elymas the “child of the Devil” (Acts 13:10). Paul also told the church at Philippi to “beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” (Phil. 3:2) when speaking of the Judaizing teachers.
Why do some so strongly object to naming names or calling names? Some quote Matthew 7:1 believing we are not allowed by Jesus to judge anyone. However, the context is about not judging with hypocritical judgment. In fact, the context requires a disciple to judge the speck in his brother’s eye. Jesus commands us to use proper just judgment. “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Furthermore, if it is universally wrong to judge it is wrong for them to judge us for judging others.
Others will point out that since no one is an apostle today, they cannot name names. But Paul commands us to imitate his behavior and to follow his examples. “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Phil. 3:17). “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9).
Another objection to naming names and exposing false teaching is the sincerity of the false teachers’ motive. They will say such things as: “He is not a false teacher because he is honest in his inaccurate teaching” or “but look at all the good he does.” There are four possible situations in regard to teaching the truth. 1) Preaching the truth in love (Phil. 1: 17, Eph. 4: 15). 2) Preaching the truth with insincere motives (Phil. 1: 15, 18). 3) Teach false doctrine with a sincere heart (Acts 18: 24-28). 4) Teaching falsehood to purposefully deceive and/or defraud others (Eph. 4: 14, 2 Pet. 2: 3, 10, 12, 15, 18, 19).
While it is true that some have sincere motives and Jesus alone can read the hearts of men, we still have an obligation to expose the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11). A man can have a good heart and be honestly mistaken. But when he is faced with the truth, he will either cease to be mistaken or cease to be honest.
Is naming names and publicly exposing error too mean and unloving? Will it do nothing but “run people off”? If so, Jesus and Paul were unloving and mean. Is it loving to the flock, if a shepherd remains silent and permits them to be stolen by thieves or ripped apart by wolves? Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep” (John 10:11-13). Remember in the Old Testament a false prophet was not only publicly exposed but executed in public (Deut. 13:5).
“All of us are wrong about something.” Yes, we all need to learn. Even the Bereans checked up on Paul’s teaching. “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
What are the benefits of naming names and publicly exposing the false teachers and their doctrines?
- First, is the need for others to be aware of the danger. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Just as a weatherman forewarns in his forecast of a tornado or hurricane.
- Second, it gives us a chance to “speak the truth.” (Eph. 4:15). John Calvin once said, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”
- Next, we are given an opportunity to speak the truth “in love.” Nothing shows another love like taking the time and rescuing them from danger.
- Further, it exposes the darkness with the light. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11).
- Fifth, by naming names it helps to identify those who should be avoided. “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). The Greek word for “note” means to “mark” or “scope out” or “take aim at.” We don’t just want to hear that “some medicine” has deathly side effects. No, we want to know the specific name of the product, so we can avoid it.
- Finally, to name names is to “both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).
There is no virtue in trying to be nicer than Jesus or more polite than Paul. Instead, be like Jesus and be like Paul. Speak the truth in love and expose error.
– Daniel R. Vess