Calling False Teachers by Name


Calling False Teachers by Name?

Richard Hollerman

Are you reluctant to publicly identify a past preacher or minister as a false teacher? Are you hesitant to name a well-known TV “evangelist” as a false prophet? Some go so far as to refrain from mentioning such people publicly. They explain, “God will take care of them if He wishes. I need not identify them myself. Besides, I have enough faults of my own to be concerned about those of others!”

Other people take a related approach. They think it is considered slanderous to mention a false teacher by name. True, slander means “that which is spoken against,” but is this what God means regarding teachers who share false doctrine with others? No, the Lord commands us to know and identify those who would pervert and “twist” His commands, and says, “Be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:16-17).

Still others say that if one identifies false teachers by name, he manifests a prideful and unkind attitude. They may add, “If we really love a false teacher, we won’t mention his false views to others.” But is this what the Bible really teaches? Could it be that one way to express love for God and others is to expose the false teaching of certain public figures?

Finally, there are those who say that God will do what He wishes with these false teachers. We need do nothing. If God doesn’t agree with their teaching, He will discipline them or condemn them when and how He wishes. We don’t need to do anything at all.

If we think that spirituality is expressed in a refusal to mention the names of false teachers or expose their false teaching, we have a serious problem. When we go to the Scriptures, we notice 6that the writers didn’t hesitate to name names! They didn’t refuse to mention or even describe the false teachings current in the first century. In fact, they recognized that this practice is important for their readers’ spiritual welfare. After all, if these teachers were promoting doctrines and a lifestyle that contradicted the ways of God, believers must be warned! As we read through the New Testament, we are struck with the fact that nearly every book has at least one or more reference to a false doctrine or false teacher!

If someone were maliciously sharing poison in the distribution of food, the consumer must be warned. Otherwise, many may be harmed or even killed. Isn’t the spiritual welfare of people far more vital than their physical welfare?

Let’s notice a few examples of people who are mentioned by name in the New Testament or otherwise exposed as false in some way. Can you think of any times in the life of Christ on earth in which He called a person by name? One is found in Luke 13:32. This is where Jesus publicly condemns the reigning monarch of the time: “Go and tell that fox….” In this instance, our Lord not only called a person by name, but He called Herod a name—a fox! He didn’t hide Herod’s evil character, but publicly exposed it to others.

As we proceed into the book of Acts, we notice the account of Paul and Barnabas traveling on their first journey—to Cyprus. While there, Elymas (or Bar-Jesus) a magician opposed Paul and wanted to turn the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, away from the truth. How did Paul deal with this false teacher? Luke tells us that Paul “was filled with the Holy Spirit,” and “fixed his gaze on him,” and then declared, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:9-10). God then blinded Elymas! And all of this was a public confrontation? Do we find this incident somewhat shocking? I hope not, for Paul knew that this evil man was pulling Sergius Paulus away from the truth that the apostle was presenting. Sometimes people need to be named and confronted publicly, either for their good or for the good of the listeners.

Somewhat later, Paul was dwelling in Ephesus for three years. Luke tells us that the “seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest” were seeking to cast out demons as Paul had done (Acts 19:13-16). As the account goes, God publicly exposed their false ways and their inability to duplicate the apostle’s miracles. Luke didn’t refuse to write of Sceva’s counterfeit ways and his opposition to Paul. Do we hesitate to publicly mention false teachers by name?

When Paul wrote to the Romans, he urged them to beware of false teachers in their midst: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (16:17-18). Although the apostle must not have had particular men in mind, we can see that he openly denounced those who would lead them astray, contrary to the truth they had received. We need to do the same!

Another instance of public rebuke comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here he doesn’t mention a name, per se, but his denunciation of the man is unequivocal. All of the readers knew whom Paul had in mind. He wrote of great immorality manifested by this unnamed man (1 Corinthians 5:1) and said that the immoral man should be “removed from your midst” (v. 2). He further said that he was going to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (v. 5). The apostle concludes by saying, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (v. 13b). Let’s not refuse to call people “wicked men” if they truly are unrepentant fornicators—or are guilty of other sins (v. 11)!

When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he openly denounced certain false teachers in the city even though he mentioned no names at this time. He knew that the letter’s recipients would definitely know who he was writing about.  He says that “such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (v. 13). He calls them “servants” of Satan who “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (v. 15). He knew how destructive these false teachers were, thus he saw the need to defy them and warn the faithful of these pretenders’ evil ways.

Paul also wrote the letter to the Galatian assemblies.  In this writing, Paul warned his readers of certain “false brethren” who had been “secretly brought in” (2:4). How did he deal with these false men—these Judaizers? Paul said, “We did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you” (v. 5). The apostle was so incensed with this false way that contradicted his message of the gospel, that when he found that Peter was publicly siding with the Judaizers, he “opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” (v. 11). He was willing to oppose “Cephas [Peter] in the presence if all” (v. 14). He opposed an apostle of Christ! Would we do this today?

When he wrote to the Philippians, Paul openly denounced certain false teachers who were deluding the brothers (3:2, 18-19), although he didn’t mention a name. He did publicly warn two women about their attitudes toward each other: “I urge Euodia and I urge Snytyche to live in harmony in the Lord” (4:2-3). Apparently, their sin had nothing to do with a false teaching but with hurtful attitudes toward each other.

When Paul wrote to Timothy, he was quite explicit in naming the sins of two men. He says that certain ones had “suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19). Then he names two: “Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme” (v. 20). Do we sometimes find the need to identify certain ones who have publicly sinned or taught false doctrine? Later in this letter, Paul mentions how to deal with the sins of elders who refuse to repent. He says, “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning” (5:20). Sometimes a public rebuke is necessary for the good of all involved.

The last of Paul’s extant letters is 2 Timothy. He tells his young associate, Timothy, that all who were in Asia “turned away” from him, and then he mentions two of these brothers: “. . . among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (v. 15). Paul saw a need to mention that these two men had turned away from him. Are we willing to tell others when a brother proves to be untrue and false?

When we turn to the second chapter of the same book, Paul mentions two other men. This is how he deals with them: “Avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk with spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:16-18). He could see that the false teaching of these two men was having a serious and destructive effect on the saints, thus he had to warn Timothy about them. We also need to warn others of false teachers who “upset the faith of some” in regard to basic Biblical teachings.

In chapter 3, Paul mentions a long list of sins that people in “the last days” will manifest. He then tells Timothy to “avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He further describes these false teachers and false brothers (vv. 6-9) for they were capable of influencing others in a negative way. In the last chapter of the book, Paul must have had deep pain in his heart as he mentioned a past fellow-laborer: “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me” (4:10). Did he ever repent and return to Paul? There is no record that he ever did, although we just don’t know.

In his letter to Titus, another fellow-worker, Paul says that sometimes an elder must “refute those who contradict” the truth that he proclaimed (1:9). He then mentions certain characteristics of such men: “There are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (1:10-11). Although he doesn’t mention specific men here, he does make it plain that these deceivers must be openly denounced (cf. 3:9-11).

John the apostle’s warnings are also clear.  He says that “many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the anti-Christ” (2 John 7). He says that the faithful saints must have nothing to do with these deceivers: “Do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting” (vv. 9-11).

When John wrote to Gaius (3 John), he warns of a certain Diotrephes: “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say” (v. 9). He says that when he comes, he will deal with this proud and rebellious man (v. 10). We need such courage in our day!

The book of Revelation contains seven letters written to seven of the assemblies in Asia (chapters 2-3). Here we find that Jesus personally rebuked those in the city of Thyatira, saying, “I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (v. 20). He warned that He would personally deal with this false prophetess and those who followed her (vv. 21-23). There are men and women in our day who also need to be publicly rebuked for their false ways.

How Do We Respond?

We’ve seen enough here to show that Scripture does often warn of false teachers and deceivers, and sometimes the very names of these men (and women) are mentioned. Therefore, it can’t be wrong for us to call false teachers by name in our day.

Do you and I feel uncomfortable when someone refers to a popular preacher, teacher, or pastor as a false teacher?  If you are like me, you seldom hear or read of these false teachers identified publicly.  How often do you read or hear of people like Joel Osteen, Paul Crouch, Bob Larson, Peter Popoff, Charles Stanley, Billy Graham, or R. C. Spoul being called false teachers? Do you ever read of Marilyn Hickey, Richard Roberts, Jack Van Impe, Anne Graham Lotz, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Glen Beck, and T. D. Jakes being called false preachers? How frequently do you read of people like Benny Hinn, Ken and Gloria Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Robert Schuller, Oral Roberts, Robert Tilton, Jesse Duplantis, Rod Parsley, or Rodney Howard Brown being referred to as false teachers?

Maybe we have been hesitant to mention these and others but do we now see that sometimes there is the need to publicly expose the false teachings, the false ways, the materialism, and the disobedience of these and others?  Do we have the courage to say that Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Anne Graham Lotz, and Marilyn Hickey are disobeying Paul’s instruction for women to be silent in the assembly and not to teach or have authority over men (1 Corinthians 14:33-37; 1 Timothy 2:11-12)? Do we courageously point out that T. D. Jakes holds to a false “Jesus Only” view of God? Do we openly point out that Larson and Popoff are counterfeits?  Do we declare to others that the Copelands, Kenneth Hagan, Paul Crouch (before he died), Joel Osteen, and others are money-hungry teachers? Do we point out that Charles Stanley believes in unconditional eternal security? Do we declare that Billy Graham, Ken Copeland, and Jesse Duplantis are openly ecumenical and accept the Anti-Christ “Pope” as their brother?

Will we be like Paul, John, and Jesus Himself in naming names of those who lead others astray? As Jesus declared, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14). Let’s refuse to be led by those who are spiritually blind and let’s warn others who are blind that they might not follow “blind” teachers and preachers!

We are living in a very “accepting” age in which nearly every false doctrine is tolerated and nearly every preacher, pastor, priest, and prophet is praised. Have we closed our eyes and ears to everything we read in God’s Holy Word? Do we think we are more “holy” than God Himself as well as more loving and accepting than the New Testament apostles and prophets? When will we gather the courage to stand for the truth of the Lord and apply it to leaders who claim to be Christians but deviate from His holy will? 

With the religious world accommodating every brand of false teaching and every expression of false practice, let’s be willing to lovingly but courageously declare that we will not be led astray by every wind of doctrine and every compromising preacher. This is the only way of the Lord.


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