Should Pastors Publicly Name False Teachers?
When preaching, should pastors call out false teachers by name for the protection of their local church?
As is our most consistent practice of preaching, our church has been working through First and Second Peter. Chapter two of Peter’s second epistle focuses on exposing and excoriating false prophets and teachers. The picture that Peter paints is not a positive and encouraging one.
A cursory reading of the New Testament makes it evident that false teaching was not only a problem for the churches Peter was addressing, and therefore, it’s no surprise that false teachers and their teaching continues to be a problem today. Satan is a deceiver, and he deceives people and uses the deceived to deceive more people. It’s what he does. Peter was protecting the sheep (1 Peter 5:1-5) by letter and aimed to bring these dangerous teachers and their doctrine into the light. Shouldn’t present-day preachers and teachers follow Peter’s example?
But here’s the rub – well, it can be a rub for some. Should preachers today call out false teachers by name when they preach? Should they publicly expose enemies of Jesus during the sermon? Or should they just teach what is right, what is wrong, and let the audience sort through who qualifies as a false teacher and leave the prosecuting by name to God?
Here are a few of my thoughts and convictions:
- Even if I am convinced someone is a false teacher, I am often hesitant to call them by name. I have a few reasons for this. First, I don’t want it to be easy for those who are listening, to Google a name I mention and begin to listen to their teaching. In other words, I don’t want to advertise for false teachers. Second, I wouldn’t want this to be a stumbling block to a first-time guest who already sees Christians and churches as overly harsh and critical. And, yes, I know that the gathering is for believers, but I want to remove as many barriers to the gospel as possible so that the gospel might be heard without hindrance. And, yes, the thought has crossed my mind that maybe both of these are excuses because I care too much about pleasing others.
- Additionally, we live in a hyper-critical culture of name-calling and condemnation. Look, false teachers are real and eternally dangerous, but not everyone that is in error is a full-blown charlatan and destined for hell. I am under no illusion that I have everything doctrinally right. But not all error is the same. Some error(s) is the kind that will cause Jesus to say to you: “I never knew you.” (Matt. 7:23) Though you were certain you did. So we must be extra careful that our secondary doctrinal disagreement with someone is not portrayed as though it is a matter of first importance; an essential theological matter. As the difference between heaven and hell. But I also don’t want to make hyper-critical disciples with my preaching leadership.
- On the other hand, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we see that the Holy Scriptures called out Christian impostors, betrayers, and false teachers by name. Recognizing that the original manuscripts didn’t have chapters and verses, an example of calling out gospel troublemakers by name is found in Second Timothy. In 2 Timothy 1:15, Paul names Phygelus and Hermogenes for abandoning him in Asia. In chapter two, Paul identifies the disease-like teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus. In chapter three, he remembers Jannes and Jambres who opposed God, Moses, and “the truth” in Exodus. In chapter four, he singles out Demas, who loved the present world over the eternal Christ, leading him to abandon Paul. And finally, Paul identifies “Alexander the coppersmith” who did Paul much harm, saying the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. In four chapters, Paul calls people by names five times to warn Timothy about those who have turned their back on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unrepentant, public sin was publicly condemned by the Holy Spirit and Paul.
- Finally, consider that if someone who lived in your neighborhood was a known child predator and sexual offender, would you only teach your children what good people look like and what bad people do wrong? Or as the primary protector and shepherd of your children, would you say, “Don’t go near that house. The man who lives there is very dangerous.” Further, would you not describe him? And if you and your children knew his name, would you not tell them to stay away; to avoid even the proximity of his presence? If you knew who it was that could damage and even destroy your children, would you not give very specific descriptions and warnings? I would be as precise as possible to maximally protect my children. I know that pastors aren’t parents and church members aren’t children, but isn’t it a pastor’s job to know the dangers of the day and to know the people who peddle them? Is it loving for a pastor to allow false teaching in the name of Jesus to seduce the sheep he is to watch over and will give an account for (Hebrews 13:17)?
There is a reason so many fall prey to false teaching. Error is insidious, and it looks deceptively like the truth. It is true that all truth is ultimately God’s truth. But when you have a half-truth posing as a whole truth in the name of Jesus, it can only be classified as a total and deadly untruth (JI Packer). And concerning those teachers and preachers who seem to be saying some really good things that may even be helpful to some degree, but also say some questionable things about essential, gospel truths, wouldn’t it be better to stick with the people who are teaching us the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
What I know for sure is that people have strong opinions about this question. What do you think?