Want to Practice Apologetics?  Be Negative

Want to Practice Apologetics? Be Negative

Today we continue a three-part series (posted each Tuesday) that will focus on the positive side of being negative.  Today’s subject is centered on the need to be negative in the work of apologetics.  Last week the focus was evangelism and next week will be focused on the work of pastoral ministry.  We’ve all heard the line, “Don’t be negative, you will push people away.”  Is that true or is that merely the tagline of an ultra tolerant inclusive culture that demands positivity and tolerance at any cost?

We live in a culture that paints an improper picture of Jesus as the “nice guy” on the right side of the Bible rather than the wrathful God on the left side.  Perhaps people should read all of the right side of the Bible – especially the first four books of the New Testament along with the last book of the New Testament as a fitting assessment of the true Jesus. Jesus was often straightforward and He placed a great deal of emphasis upon defending the truth of God and the sacred Scriptures.

Defining Apologetics

Apologetics is not the practice of giving an apology.  It’s the act of defending the faith.  Cornelius Van Til once defined apologetics as “the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.” [1]  One of the key words in his definition is the word, “against” which points to the negative focus that must be included in the work of apologetics.  Perhaps the key verse in the New Testament regarding apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

The Greek term translated, “to make a defense” is ἀπολογία – from where we derive the word – apologetics.  The fact that we must defend the faith once delivered to the saints is clearly laid out in the Scriptures, and it’s clearly practiced by the early church.  The New Testament is filled with apostolic examples of apologetics from Peter’s sermon at Pentecost to Paul giving a defense of the faith before Agrippa.  Likewise, we see the early pastors being mandated to practice the work of apologetics in their pastoral ministry (Titus 1:9).  In short, all Christians are apologists at some level.  In the home as Christian parents, at your place of employment, or on social media.  You don’t have to be called to full-time vocational ministry before you engage in apologetics.

Practicing Apologetics and Being Negative 

False teaching often lurks in the realm of evangelical circles.  It’s one thing to refute the false teaching of Joel Osteen, but what about the individual who has crept into the church of Jesus Christ and is leading people astray?  A.W. Pink once said:

False prophets are to be found in the circles of the most orthodox, and they pretend to have a fervent love for souls, yet they fatally delude multitudes concerning the way of salvation. The pulpit, platform, and pamphlet hucksters have wantonly lowered the standard of divine holiness and so adulterated the Gospel in order to make it palatable to the carnal mind. [2]

According to Jude 3-4:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Notice two specific statements in these verses.  First notice that Jude says, “contend for the faith.”  The word contend is translated from the Greek term ἐπαγωνίζομαι meaning “to extert intense effort on behalf of something, contend.”  The command to contend for the faith with intensity does not always mean with a positive tone nor does it demand tolerance.  The idea that Christians are to tolerate false teachers and false teaching within the church is on the same level as a momma bear tolerating wolves entering her den where her babies are sleeping.

Secondly, notice that Jude says such false teachers had crept inside unnoticed.  Jude then argues that such false teachers should be noticed and the work of making people aware of such individuals is part of the work of apologetics.  Anytime light shines in darkness, it reveals error.  The best teacher in the New Testament who consistently revealed error is Jesus.  In His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently put false teachers on notice and it wasn’t always positive.

One such example is found in Mark 12:18-27.   In this text, the Sadducees approached Jesus with a theological question.  They wanted to know Jesus’ position on the marriage law mentioned in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 – or did they?  Actually they were setting a trap for Jesus regarding His position on the resurrection of the dead.  That was their real issue.  Their question wasn’t exactly sincere, it was more of a theological trap.

Jesus fielded their question and then point by point exposed their false religiosity.  Jesus wasn’t about to allow these false teachers off the hook.  Why didn’t Jesus just remain positive in hopes of gaining new followers from the community?  Why didn’t Jesus merely tolerate their different interpretations on the Scriptures?  Jesus responded with a catastrophic bomb, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:24)?  The reason Jesus exposed them was because of their danger to God’s people.  Notice, Jesus exposed their ignorance of the Scriptures.

Negative is not Automatically Nasty

To be clear, as I stated in the first article on evangelism, I’m in no way insinuating that Christians should go around being rude, hateful, and harsh with everyone they come in contact with.  All Christians are commanded to love sinners and treat people with respect – even people we disagree with.  However, Christians are not to be spineless pushovers who allow anyone to say anything they want – especially as it pertains to the gospel.

The Christian community is often quick to press fellow Christians on the idea that we need to follow Jesus’ example of love, but what about His apologetic?  Are we to employ the WWJD principle in the area of love only, or should we actually defend the gospel too?  According to 1 Peter 3:15, we are to defend the faith “with gentleness and respect.”  I can recall times when I wasn’t as gentle as I should have been in my attempt to defend the faith.  There is a difference between gentleness and negligence.  Exposing error necessitates negative facts, but it always has a positive goal rooted and grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The very moment we claim that pluralism is wrong, we aren’t doing so with the goal of being negative.  We speak with the goal of pointing people to the exclusivity of Christ.  When we call out the errors of LGBT inclusivism, we aren’t doing so with the goal of being a hater of LGBT people.  To the contrary, we do so with the goal of pointing people to faith in Jesus Christ and protecting the church from such false teachers who would press the church into an inclusivist position.  Apologetics involves exposing negative error with the positive goal of pointing people to Christ and guarding the gospel from perversion. Vance Havner once said, “The early Christians condemned false doctrine in a way that sounds almost unchristian today.”

Next week, we will look at the need to be negative in the work of pastoral ministry.


  1. Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976), 1.
  2. A.W. Pink, Sermon on the Mount (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2008), 344.

The Joel Osteen Denomination (Osteenians)

The Joel Osteen Denomination (Osteenians)

This week, over 10 million people from around the world will sit under the ministry of Joel Osteen.  Thousands will be in attendance in Houston, Texas during one of their weekend services.  Millions will watch through Internet and television broadcasts.  Recently, Joel Osteen appeared on the Stephen Colbert show to promote his latest book titled, The Power of I Am where he basically points people to the power of positive thinking rather than the power of God.  You can view the short interview below.

In the interview with Colbert, Osteen was asked if he has any desire to form a religious denomination.  He denied any desire to form an official denomination, but if the truth were known, more people watch Osteen each weekend than are professing members of The Episcopal Church of the United States of America (TEC).  In 2014, the membership of the TEC was 1,504,273 communicant members and 1,956,042 baptized members.

In this interview with Colbert, Osteen was handed another opportunity to speak for God and to articulate the gospel, and he fumbled the ball – again.  If this were a game, Joel Osteen would need to be planted on the bench long before now.  However, this is by no means a game.  This is much more serious, and souls are at stake.

In this short clip from The Late Show, Joel Osteen misinterpreted the I AM statement of God from Exodus 3:14.  Osteen claimed that the statement means that God is everything, completely missing the point of God’s name.  Beyond that, Osteen went on to describe his “Word of Faith” theology on how he believes that there is actual power in the words that we speak.  What he means by this is far more than the impact the words may have upon a person (good or bad).  He embraces a specific theological position known as the Word of Faith movement whereby spoken words have creative power.  Every word is a pronouncement of blessing or curse.

If there was a group known as Osteenians, their belief system would be centered on the power of positive thinking, speaking, and pronouncing.  This theological system is filled with many classic errors dating back to Balaam in Numbers 22.  There have been different feathers of this type of prosperity teacher surface through time, such as Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8) and other false teachers of the New Testament.  The Word of Faith theology of Joel Osteen is heretical because it misses the gospel.  It under values the good news of salvation.  The Word of Faith movement reduces the work of Jesus on the cross down to a prosperity ticket whereby the chief end of man is to glorify self and enjoy our toys for a temporary life.

Really, this is nothing new from Joel Osteen.  He isn’t charting new territory in his spiritual journey.  He said very similar things in his book titled, Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day where he writes the following:

One of the best ways that we can improve our self-image is with our words.  Words are like seeds.  They have creative power.  It says in Isaiah that “We will eat the fruit of our words.”  That’s amazing when you stop to consider that truth: Our words tend to produce what we’re saying…Every day we should make positive declarations over our lives.  We should say things such as, “I am blessed.  I am prosperous. I am healthy.  I am talented. I am creative.  I am wise.”  When we do that, we are building up our self-image.  As those words permeate your heart and mind, and especially your subconscious mind, eventually they will begin to change the way you see yourself.  The Scripture says “With our tongue, we can either bless our life or we can curse our life.”  Some individuals curse their own future by saying things such as “I don’t have what it takes.  I’m so clumsy I can’t get anything right.  I’m so undisciplined. I’ll probably never lose this weight.”  We must be extremely careful what we allow out of our mouth.  Our words set the direction for our lives. [1]

Joel Osteen would fit much better within the realm of secular self-esteem and self-help psychology, rather than masquerading as a pastor who shepherds souls for the glory of God.  I realize that many Osteen fans become angry with statements like that, but time and again Joel Osteen blows it when it comes to theology.  How many times will you take your car to a mechanic who consistently makes errors in repairs?  As a skill and profession, the mechanic should take seriously his ability to diagnose and repair your automobile.  What about heart surgery?  How many times will you allow an incompetent heart surgeon to repair heart valves in your aging parent or spouse?  Why should we give pastors a free pass when it comes to incompetence in the study of God’s Word?  Souls are at stake.

As Joel Osteen states in his interview with Colbert, his message is “a little bit different.”  At this point, Joel Osteen speaks the truth.  But, in his attempt to state the truth, he understates it.  His message is far from the biblical teachings of Christianity.  He doesn’t want to focus on the negative.  Instead, he wants to tell people that “God is for you.”  Should pastors consistently tell every person that God is for them?  How will a person be brought to repentance without first hearing that God is their enemy (James 4:4)?  Was God for Pharaoh?  Was God for the Ninevites?  Was God for Goliath?  What about Saul of Tarsus?  Was God for Saul or in opposition to Saul as he made his way toward Damascus (Acts 9)?

In short, Joel Osteen is a heretic.  He is a wolf who comes with a smile, but behind that smile and southern accent lurks a deadly bite of soul damning heresy.  Joel Osteen has been afforded many different platforms to preach the truth, but he consistently demonstrates a woefully deficient knowledge of theology, sin, salvation, and God’s purpose in redemption.  At the end of each interview I watch with Osteen, I end by asking myself all over again – does Joel Osteen know the gospel?  A.W. Pink wrote the following about false teachers:

False prophets are to be found in the circles of the most orthodox, and they pretend to have a fervent love for souls, yet they fatally delude multitudes concerning the way of salvation. The pulpit, platform, and pamphlet hucksters have wantonly lowered the standard of divine holiness and so adulterated the Gospel in order to make it palatable to the carnal mind. [2]

If you know people who are consistently sitting under the teaching ministry of Joel Osteen (on campus, online, or through his books), you must sound the warning.  Many have debated whether or not Osteen is a wolf or merely a confused megachurch pastor and successful author.  I think by now we can accurately say that Joel Osteen is no accident.  His success is calculated and his message is heretical.

Beware of Joel Osteen.


  1. Joel Osteen, Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day, (Brentwood, TN: Howard Books, 2009), 109-110.
  2. Arthur Waddington Pink, Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001), 344.

DBG Spotlight (8-19-15)

DBG Spotlight (8-19-15)

This past Sunday, August 16th, 2015 – a Scottish man claiming to be a prophet ascended the steps in Grace Community Church and openly rebuked John MacArthur for his doctrine of cessationism.  One video from a member holding a smart phone was released quickly, and later a video from the ministry of Grace Community Church was likewise released.  John MacArthur demonstrated a quick wit and pastoral sensitivity as he explained to the congregation what had just happened.

Tennessee courts reverse ban on ‘mother’ and ‘father’ – A recent controversy has been brewing over replacing the title “mother” and “father” with “parent 1” and “parent 2.”  Tennessee has now reversed the ban, for the time being, and called for a review of the issue.  We can all expect to see more news like this as the LGBT agenda continues to muddy the waters of human sexuality in America.

Ten Things to Remember as the Presidential Campaign Season Gets Into Full Swing – Kevin DeYoung offers up some helpful advice as we enter into the dirty season of presidential politics.  He writes, “He (or she) cannot unilaterally fix the environment or schools or roads, let alone your marriage or your sense of being underappreciated in life. Let’s be realistic.”

Something Greater Than Marriage – Rosaria Butterfield’s response to the SCOTUS is worthy of your time.  It’s short, but it packs a big punch.

The Bible Project – You will want to bookmark this ministry and perhaps stay connected with them through social media (FB | YouTube).  This non-profit ministry is focused on teaching the Bible through motion graphics.  Below you will see their Exodus overview.  Having just completed a lengthy series through Exodus, I was impressed.  I noticed a few things that I would not agree with in a couple of their videos that I’ve viewed, but just as with reading books – you watch with discernment and evaluate through the biblical lens.  These videos have great potential for teaching children.

Miraculous Healing: Does God Heal Today?

Miraculous Healing: Does God Heal Today?

Does God Perform Miraculous Healing Today?

A few weeks ago, my daughter had to be hospitalized for a severe case of dehydration after coming down with the common stomach bug.  It was a rare case of extreme dehydration that came on fairly quickly.  As I stayed home on Saturday evening with the other three children, my wife took our youngest daughter Kalli to the hospital.  We expected her to receive fluids and then be released.  However, her case of dehydration was so bad, her blood work revealed some problems that had to be addressed quickly – by specialists.  What I didn’t know was that she would spend three days in the hospital in recovery.

During this time at home, I had sent texts to my close friends, posted privately to our church family, and finally I posted an update and prayer request on Facebook to a broader audience.  Later that evening, I received an e-mail through Facebook.  Part of that e-mail reads:

I’m offended with you. Not long ago you publicly blasted a church for having a healing service. But now you are asking for prayer??? What is the prayer for? Obviously not healing because that would mean you do believe in miraculous healings.   

To be fair, this person went on to explain that the purpose of the e-mail was not to slam me or ridicule me.  The individual simply wanted an explanation.  I would say, it’s a fair request since I had openly criticized the healing services in our community over the last year.

To be clear, I believe in miracles.  God is big and sovereign and has the power to heal anyone, anytime, as He chooses.  I do think it should be stated that the false claims of fake healers from Christian charlatans should be called out for what they are – aberrant and offensive frauds.

God’s Sovereignty in Miraculous Healing

God has consistently provided verifiable evidence that He has power over disease.  He has put His power on display in the ministry and work of His Son – Jesus Christ.  Not only did God prove to have power over disease, but He likewise demonstrated His power over death by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

As the church is established by Jesus, He made a very specific promise to Peter and the disciples regarding His church.  In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  As Jesus established the church, the gates of hell would literally come against it.  Although Jesus validated His ministry and His claim of deity through miracles, wonders, and signs, they still nailed Him to the cross to get rid of Him.  They wouldn’t accept His gospel, but they couldn’t explain His power, so they killed Him.

That clearly didn’t work, because Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the third day.  Out of all of Jesus’ miracles and signs, the resurrection on the third day was the authentication of Christianity that could never be explained away.  Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to hundreds of people over a 40 day period.  As He prepared to ascend to the Father, He prepared His followers to receive the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem.

The skepticism and open rejection of the church by the religious establishment would have been overwhelming for a group of sketchy Jesus followers had it not been for the miracles, wonders, and signs that accompanied their ministry.  The early disciples experienced great power from God in order to validate the authenticity of the church.  From speaking in tongues (other languages) at Pentecost, to various other signs and wonders, the early church and the message of the gospel was being established by these signs.  After the lame man was healed and could walk, the entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar.  The Sanhedrin held council after arresting Peter and John for the miracle.  As they talked to one another privately and they could not escape the power of the miracle.

Acts 4:16 – What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.

As the church continued to grow, the mounting pressures continued to push back against the followers of Christ.  God performed miracles through them to show the world that His church is genuine and the message of the gospel must be heard.  The purpose of the miracles was not to make the disciples into superheroes.  It was to validate the gospel and the church of Jesus Christ.

Miraculous Healing or Strange Fire?

Are today’s miracles genuine or counterfeit?  Are the tongues in today’s Charismatic movement real or counterfeit?  We should test the spirits to see if what is being claimed is of God – or strange fire (1 John 4:1).  God does not take lightly false worship, and we recall what happened with Nadab and Abihu as they were consumed for offering up to God strange fire upon the alter before the Tabernacle (see Leviticus 10).  They were consumed in a fire of God’s judgment.

Does God still perform miracles today?  Yes, without a doubt He does.  Does God still give miraculous gifts to His church as a normative manner of validating the truth claims of the gospel and the authenticity of the church?  We must consider several important facts as we evaluate this question.

  • We know that the apostles were given as gifts to the church in the beginning to establish the early church and organize it for growth.  The apostles are now dead and they are in the presence of God rather than the presence of God’s church.  Therefore, we can say assuredly that the gift of the apostle was a temporary gift for a season in church history.
  • Speaking in tongues was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit and as the early Jesus followers spoke in tongues, the text of Acts 2 reveals that they were other known languages.  The gibberish that is often called tongues by the modern Charismatic movement does not align itself with the power of the Holy Spirit and the tongues of Acts 2.  Linguistically, the modern tongues movement does not line up with Scripture.
  • By the closing of the New Testament, the miraculous gifts are starting to fade away.  As the apostles were dying, the miraculous gifts that were given by God to validate His church and His gospel message were likewise fading off of the scene with the apostles.  By the time the close of the New Testament is complete, the miraculous gifts are not prevalent among the church throughout church history.
  • Consider the need for the gift of prophecy.  To have a divine Word from God during the Old Testament was necessary because the full and completed Word of God was not in place.  This gift continues into the New Testament age as the church was being validated and established, but once the canon of Scripture was closed by God, there would no longer be any need for a divine Word from God to be given.  God’s Word is sufficient.  Therefore, modern prophecy ministries deny the validity and sufficiency of God’s Word.
  • The modern faith healers that have come to us through a long line of religious charlatans dating back to the magicians who stood before Pharaoh.  They are aligned with Balaam and Simon the Sorcerer rather than Peter and the apostles.  Benny Hinn and others like him have been proven as false prophets.  They do not have the validating power of the Holy Spirit upon them as we see in Acts and the early church.
  • Can the modern miraculous gifts be mimicked, mocked, and explained away?  That seems to be the case.  The false prophets of our age abound through the media of television and the Internet.  Many of these false teachers hold miracle crusades where they ask for those people who need to be healed to come up on the platform to be healed.  However, at the front there are screeners who separate certain people from the large crowd and only a privileged group of people are granted access to the stage.  In the majority of the cases, the crusades are more about money than miracles and when you contrast and compare the miraculous gifts of the early church from those that we see paraded across the television screen today, the differences are more than the similarities.

We must be committed to exposing the fraudulent practices of false faith healers.  Their work is not for God.  Their message is based on health, wealth, and prosperity rather than the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  In Atlanta, where I live and minister, the entire city is swimming with these prosperity preaching false faith healers.

Can miracles be performed today?  Is there any evidence that miraculous healing takes place today?  I think the answer to both of those questions is in the affirmative.  However, I do not believe that God is gifting His church with a normative practice of miraculous gifts.   The age of the prophets has passed from us.  The age of the apostles has faded off into the sunset.  The canon of Scripture is closed.  The Word of God is completely sufficient.  God is sovereign and He does still perform miracles and that’s why we pray!  We trust God to do the extraordinary.  The focus of our prayers is upon His power.  Rather than focusing on a prayer room, a crusade, or a certain group of gifted people in the local church, the entire church comes together to pray to God who can perform a miracle for His glory.

I’ve actually heard preachers claim that they blow the Holy Spirit upon people in the local mall as they walk around shopping with their family.  Those same preachers hold miracle crusades and devote themselves to a ministry of miracles, wonders, and signs.  Anyone who claims to have the power to control the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, is very confused.  Miracles are real because God is real.  From creation to the resurrection of Christ, we see God consistently performing miracles.  One day, He will bring this present world to a final culmination that aligns with His sovereign purposes.  The return of Christ will be a miracle.  Until then, we can trust that our sovereign God continues to rule over all things at all times and we can call upon Him and plead for the His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.  As we think through these issues, we must not allow hucksters to deemphasize the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and the miracle of the new birth by peddling false miracles in the name of Jesus.

B.B. Warfield has written, “[Miraculous gifts] were not for the possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles. They were part of the credentials of the apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confirmed them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it.”1


Helpful Resources:

1. Counterfeit Miracles, Banner of Truth, 1918, p. 6.

2.  Charismatic Chaos – John MacArthur

3.  Strange Fire – John MacArthur

4.  Strange Fire Conference – Grace Community Church 

Calling Out Wolves Dressed in Wool

Calling Out Wolves Dressed in Wool

Someone once said, “Wolves look good dressed up in wool.”  That is a very true statement indeed.  Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  As we consider the threat of false teachers, what should be the response of a shepherd of one of God’s flocks?  Should false teachers be named openly?  Is that the proper response or is that sinful?

Some people argue that it’s a slanderous thing to name people openly when calling out heresy.  Others suggest that we must tread lightly and be very cautious in these areas.  What path is most acceptable in the sight of our Lord?  That’s the real question we must consider when we stand in the pulpit with the open Bible.  As we consider the challenges of preaching in a world saturated with heresy, we labor for the glory of Christ and the joy of God’s sheep.

Calling Names – The Positive Side

John MacArthur once said, “The teaching of a false prophet cannot withstand scrutiny under the divine light of Scripture.”1  When a pastor stands in the pulpit and shines the light of the gospel upon false teaching and names the names of false teachers, this can be very beneficial to the congregation on several different levels.  New Christians can see the dangers that are lurking, even in the most unsuspected places such as the shelves in the “Christian” bookstore.  When the names of false teachers are not veiled, the sheep of God’s pasture are able to see the wolves clearly.  It provides the children of God an advantage as they watch for their souls and the souls of their own household.

In short, the positives of actually naming names will protect the church from serious doctrinal error.  False teachers are depraved morally and entrapped by their commitment to viciously attack and oppose the pure gospel of Christ.  More than one church in the pages of history has been assaulted by false teaching.  To name the names of false teachers is a responsible thing to do.  It may violate the tolerance code of our modern culture, but it protects the church, exalts Christ, guards the gospel, and reveals error.

Calling Names – The Negatives

I recall preaching a message several years ago where I was distinguishing the true gospel from the health, wealth, and prosperity teachings.  I decided that I would name names as I illustrated the dangers of that doctrine.  When I went down a list of false teachers, I recall a woman abruptly got up from her seat and left the room.  She wanted to meet with me the next day in my office and when we talked she explained that she was offended by the fact that I had called a specific person a false teacher.  When I provided clear evidence from the Scriptures, she was unwilling to submit.  This woman was not a member of our congregation.  She had been visiting for several weeks and as a result of this, she never joined our church.  When you call names from the pulpit, you do run the risk of growing at a slower pace than some of the more ecumenical congregations.

When a Christian is sitting in the pew and he hears the name T.D. Jakes or Joel Osteen called from the pulpit as a false teacher, it could lead him to research their name, ministry, teaching, and perhaps a book they have written.  Now, that may not be the case for the majority of the congregation, but what about that inquisitive young Christian that’s merely checking them out?  Could calling names be harmful to the Christian who has no exposure to their ministry until their name was called from the pulpit during a sermon designed to expose the health, wealth, and prosperity doctrine?

Calling Names – A Biblical Argument 

In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul instructed Timothy “remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.”  Interestingly, different doctrine is the combination of two Greek words, didaskalia“to teach” and heteros, which means “of a different kind.”  The point Paul was making is clear.  Don’t allow teachers in Ephesus to deviate from the path of the true gospel.

In Titus 1:11, when referencing false teachers, Paul said to Titus, “They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.”  In other words, one of the biblical qualifications of an elder is one who is able to stop the mouths of heretics.  Therefore, one of the basic duties of a pastor is to protect the church from heretics – those who pervert the gospel.  In 2 Timothy 3:13, Paul warned Timothy by describing the false teachers as, “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

Several times in Paul’s writings we find that he actually named the names of false teachers.

  • In 2 Timothy 1:15, Paul named Phygelus and Hermogenes.  These men are thought to have served as elders and had denied the faith.
  • In 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul named Demas as a man who had deserted Paul because he loved the world.
  • In 2 Timothy 4:14, Paul named Alexander the coppersmith.  He was apparently a threat to the church at Ephesus and was an enemy of Paul and the gospel that Paul had labored to preach.

Did Paul’s name calling harm Phygelus and Hermogenes?  Sure, it probably led Timothy to go back and report this to the elders in Ephesus and it’s likely that these men would have experienced a damaged reputation as a result.  Was this the right call by Paul?  What about Demas who had literally deserted Paul as he was in the Mamertine prison awaiting execution?  Did the fact that Paul called his name to Timothy harm his character?  While this was a personal letter to Timothy, it would have been made known to the wider church community at some point.  Could this have damaged Demas?  When Paul called out Alexander, the metal worker who had opposed Paul in Ephesus, did that harm his industry?

As we think through the reasoning of Paul’s name calling, we must realize that Paul was not willing to stand aside while the depraved wolves devoured God’s sheep.  He was a man of strong conviction and he possessed a pastor’s heart.  He wanted to protect the church and he desired to guard the gospel.  Two different times in two different letters, Paul commanded Timothy to guard the gospel (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14).  The preservation of the gospel was at the heart of Paul’s decision to call out specific false teachers and enemies of the cross.

In conclusion, pastors and bloggers should make the aim of their ministry Soli Deo Gloria and the guarding of the true gospel.  If a person is proven to be a false teacher by their doctrine, it would be irresponsible to veil them to the Christian community.  As ministers of the truth, we have an obligation to guard the good deposit that has been entrusted to our care in order that their message does not spread like a deadly disease (2 Timothy 2:16-17).  We must make sure that we use the words “heretic” and “false teacher” in the most careful way as possible.  When labeling people we must utilize wisdom and discernment.  These labels can damage people and their character.  If we error in our judgement, it can leave lasting damage upon the individual.  If a person is indeed a false teacher, the label serves them well.  May our writing and preaching exalt Christ and shut the mouths of false teachers.  However, as we write and as we preach, if we labor to teach the true gospel, it will expose false teaching as a red barn in a green field.  We don’t need to be experts on all world religions, but we must seek diligently to know God as we see Him revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

According to J.I. Packer:

The mark of the false prophet or teacher is self-serving unfaithfulness to God and His truth…There are teachers in the church today who never speak of repentance, self-denial, the call to be relatively poor for the Lord’s sake, or any other demanding aspect of discipleship. Naturally they are popular and approved, but for all that, they are false prophets. We will know such people by their fruits.2

Soli Deo Gloria,

Pastor Josh Buice

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1.  John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7, Moody, 1985, 471.

2.  J.I. Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986, 9/19.