Is Naming Names Normal?
By: Jay Howard,
There is a great deal of criticism of ministries that deal with cults, the occult and discernment issues. One of the most often repeated criticisms is why we, in this area of ministry, have such desire to mention the names of those individuals who we find in extreme theological error. The criticism is usually phrased like this, “Yes, I understand why you might believe this man or woman differs from you theologically but when you say their name you are hurting that persons ministry and bringing division in the body. You are showing a judgmental attitude and are acting in an unloving way to a fellow Christian.” This person is putting us in the role of an accuser of the brethren and a divisive person who ultimately hurts the cause of Christ on Earth. This is a serious charge and dare I say, a hurtful accusation (It is quite possible that those of us in this area of ministry have feelings too.).
I wish to explore this very important question in this article. First to truly appreciate the need for naming names I want to spend time exploring the biblical precedent for it. Secondly, I will look at the practical need for naming those, in public forums, which are teaching doctrines that aredangerous to the spiritual health of the believer and The Church.
When we study the Pauline writings, it is clear the apostle saw a definite need for sharing the names of those that were bringing disrepute on the name of Jesus, by teaching false doctrines, in what can be seen as a historic confrontation between two great apostles in Jerusalem. This glaring example, of calling out by name, a person who is starting to promote false doctrine is recorded twice in the New Testament. The two men involved were none other than Paul and Peter. Peter had begun to fellowship with the Judiazers. These were men in the first century that wished to place the burden of the Old Testament Jewish laws of certain food restrictions, strict observance of festivals, behavioral constraints that were common to Jewish religious ordinances on Christian believers. These men wanted to take the Christian Church back to these Old Testament teachings because, so they would say, that though Jesus death and resurrection were important to faith, the law was still part of the believers essential system for true biblical faith. The first mention of this titanic showdown is recorded in the book of Acts 15:10,11, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” It is again mentioned in Galatians 2:11. Paul rebukes Peter in a public fashion, “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumscribed group.”
Then down in verse 14 the apostle Paul confronts Peter publicly, “I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs'”?
This is a clear case of Paul rebuking a fellow apostle because he was teaching and acting falsely. Paul found it necessary from time to time to address the antics of false brothers by name. Here is another clear instance of his naming the persons teaching false doctrine. This is found in II Timothy 2:16-18, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more
ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.”
It is clear from the context of this passage that they were Christians at one time, “who have wandered away from the truth.” So we are not dealing with outside groups, who also were laying siege to the Church at this time in church history. Paul seems to see an express need to confront these false brothers by name because their teachings are so egregious.
In perhaps the most definitive passage in which Paul address this important Church policy, we see him anguishing over the fact that false teachers will attack from within The Church. Acts 20:27-30, “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” The apostle was positively grieving for what he knew was imminent. The Church must heed this warning in our day and be willing to call out the names of those who would spiritually harm Christians, if we wish to stay doctrinally healthy.
The second reason for naming names is strictly a practical consideration. For sake of example, let us say that you have been poisoned but you do not know the name of the poison. It would become more difficult to seek the proper treatment if the name was not readily apparent. Or if you were not familiar that a certain concoction was poisonous, it could be possible for you to ingest the substance, unaware of its lethal consequences. Much the same way there is a need to address certain individuals names when talking of extreme error in their teachings. It is not enough to say, “There is a certain teaching in some circles of The Church that states…” Because though the error is mentioned, it is entirely possible to read or listen to certain people, who are teaching error, without always catching the problems that are inherent in their system of beliefs. For example, I have spoken to dozens of people who align themselves with The Word/Faith Movement but are wholly unaware that some of their favorite teachers are into some of the most bizarre ideas. That is because not all teachings are taught with the same frequency in this movement or the person perhaps has missed some of the more unusual concepts being taught. However, when I list names associated to bad teaching, then people begin to discriminate, hopefully, and they will be able to avoid altogether those teachers who have been mentioned. That is the reason I choose to talk about individuals by name. In a real sense it acts as an inoculation against further exposure to dangerous doctrine. It should be clear that to mention false teachers by name, in relation to discussing their false doctrines within The Church, is an important part of preserving a healthy Church. We live in a time where sound doctrine is assailed with wild abandon, from wanting gays to be granted the right to be married to making humans “little gods”. If Paul were alive in our day he probably would have to get a second PDA just to hold all the names of those who are advancing heresy in the guise of biblical truth. Lord give us the strength and resolve to stay the course and continue to name the names that need to be named.