This is a topic that comes up frequently, especially when you engage in discernment ministry. Some Christians just don’t like it when others “name names” and call a wolf a wolf. My feeling is, if it looks like a sheep and talks like a wolf, then it’s probably a false teacher according to Jesus in Matthew 7:15. Should we, then, call out these false teachers by name? Some will argue that this is divisive and is not the call of a Christian. What is interesting, though, is that people who feel this way often will take no issue with calling someone such as, say, Joel Osteen, a false teacher, but when it comes to those who are a bit more subtle in their deception, these people want to keep quiet.
But is speaking out really a divisive maneuver? Or is it actually a necessary, loving thing for a Christian to do? Just as honestly approaching an unrepentant sinner and sharing the Gospel is the most loving thing a Christian can do, so is boldly speaking out against false prophets in warning to our Christian brothers and sisters. In fact, I would argue that Scripture actually commands us to be so bold! Contrary to the common argument, pointing out a false teacher is not the divisive act. If you closely examine the reaction of devout followers of certain teachers, you will see that it is these wolves and their fruit that is actually causing division.
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” Romans 16:17
Okay, so I spot a false teacher and I decide to avoid him or her based upon Romans 16:17. But my Bible study friend thinks that this teacher is “anointed” by God and is the greatest Bible teacher since Paul. Do I sit back and watch her be misled by this false teacher? Or do I lovingly tell her the truth about the person she deems so gifted? The answer should be obvious. Who will you answer to at the Judgment? Do you really want to tell God that you kept quiet because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or didn’t want to “cause division”? If that is the case, then we should never share the Gospel either because nothing is more divisive than telling someone that they are a wretched, hopeless sinner in need of a perfect Savior!
Let this not be entirely an opinion piece, however. Where is my biblical basis for blatantly calling a false teacher out by name? Well, in this situation (and in many situations) I take my cue from the apostle Paul. Paul named names. Don’t believe me? Skim through the book of 2 Timothy. It’s only four chapters, so it won’t take you long. Start counting. Paul names 8 individuals who are false teachers. Yes, he names them by name. He doesn’t say “a certain popular Bible teacher…” Nope, he says it like it is. Still don’t believe me? Well, then you haven’t skimmed 2 Timothy yet! Let me help you out:
- “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” 2 Timothy 1:15
- “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” 2 Timothy 2:16-19 (I added verse 19 in for good measure).
- “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” 2 Timothy 3:8
- “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” 2 Timothy 4:10
- “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.” 2 Timothy 4:14-15
“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” Ezekiel 33:6