Back To Main Page | Email Us


Articles by Dr. Cathy Burns

Should We Name Names?

The Bible tells us in John 13:35: "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." Does this love mean that we are to approve sin and wrong in other people's lives (especially among leaders) and remain quiet? Is it ever right to mention a person's name in print or in public and point out the sin which was committed? Should the sinning individual be confronted privately, if at all? These are important questions and we will see what the Bible teaches in this area.

The first verse that many use is Matthew 18:15-17: "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."

First of all, we notice that if a brother sins against another individual, then he is to be confronted on this issue in private. If he refuses to listen concerning his sin, then a person is to take 1 or 2 more individuals as witnesses and once more consult this person about the sin issue. If he still refuses to repent, the issue is to be taken before the entire church. Finally, if the person is still obstinate and unrepentant, then he is to be considered as a heathen man.

So, a sinning individual is to be confronted about his sin, but does a person have to follow the order laid in Matthew 18 in every instance? The answer to that question is "Yes" and "No", but it DEPENDS on the circumstances surrounding the sin. If the sin is committed against AN INDIVIDUAL, then an individual and private confrontation is needed and Matthew 18 is to be followed. However, if the sin is a blatant sin, such as teaching false doctrine publicly, or where a person's lifestyle is inconsistent with God's Word, then this person does not need to be confronted personally and privately. For instance, let's look at a number of Biblical examples concerning this subject.

Actually, the Bible is full of "name calling." The apostles weren't afraid to put names in their letters. For example, Paul said: "Demos hath forsaken me, having loved this present world" (II Timothy 4:10). Paul not only gave a particular name but he also told where Demos had erred. At one time Demos had been a helper of Paul's, but now he had forsaken the true way. James 4:4 reminds us: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." By loving this present world, Demas became the enemy of God and Paul called him by name and told about his sin.

 What is interesting to note is that Paul is writing to a young minister, Timothy. Not only is Paul giving advice about what Timothy should and should not do, he also informs him about a number of individuals BY NAME of whom he is to be careful of.

Paul continues by warning Timothy: "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil...of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words" (II Timothy 4:14-15). There is no indication whatsoever that Paul confronted Alexander personally or that he took the issue to the church before writing his letter. The sin he committed was evidently one that needed to be confronted publicly and not privately.

Earlier Paul had written to Timothy: "Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme" (I Timothy 1:19-20).

What was the sin that Hymenaeus committed? Paul answers that in II Timothy 2:17-18: "Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some" (II Timothy 2:17-18). You see, these people were influencing others by what they were teaching. They were presenting erroneous doctrine publicly and, therefore, they could be denounced publicly without applying Matthew 18:15-17. The sins committed were not against a particular individual but rather they were affecting many. Private confrontation in this case was not necessary because more than one person was involved. In fact, the sin of Hymenaeus and Philetus was causing many to lose the faith that they once had. When individuals have influence over others, their sin and counterfeit gospel are to be exposed publicly.

In fact, the Bible emphatically warns us: Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather REPROVE them" (Ephesians 5:11). This is a two-fold command. We are not only not to have fellowship with those who are ungodly but we are also to reprove them. It is not enough just to stay away from unrighteousness and unrighteous individuals but we are commanded to expose the wrongdoing as well. Are you following the Biblical commands laid down in God's Word?

Paul continues to warn Timothy: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; HAVING A FORM OF GODLINESS, BUT DENYING THE POWER THEREOF: FROM SUCH TURN AWAY. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was" (II Timothy 3:1-9).

Again we see that Paul not only told Timothy what will take place in the last days, but he also mentioned some more names: Jannes and Jambres.

In the book of Acts we find that Elymas the sorcerer was specified by name because he was "seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith" (Acts 13:8). Paul even called Ananias, the high priest, a "whited wall" in front of others (Acts 23:3).

One time Peter was acting hypocritically and Paul confronted him "before them all" (Galatians 2:14) "because he was to be blamed" (Galatians 2:11). Here was a brother in Christ, yet Paul did not talk to him privately but he openly and publicly challenged him before others. You see, Peter was influencing others in what he had done: "And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation" (Galatians 2:13). Open sins and hypocrisy deserve open rebuke. In fact, Proverbs 27:5 states: "Open rebuke is better than secret love."

Proverbs 9:8 also reminds us: "Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee." This was true of Peter for he later refers to Paul as "our beloved brother Paul" (II Peter 3:15). Proverbs 27:6 tells us: "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:9).

Paul was not the only apostle to name names. Peter himself did when he confronted Ananias and Sapphira and rebuked them (Acts 5:1-11). Again, this confrontation was not done in private but before others. Ananias and Sapphira lied publicly and they were confronted publicly.

Paul sums it up well: "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others may fear" (I Timothy 5:20). There is no need for a private encounter with people who are sinning openly. Individuals who claim that we must always apply Matthew 18 are often using this Scripture as a "cop-out." When false teachers preach wrong doctrines and one of God's children opens them up, these false prophets cry, "They should have come to us privately. They didn't speak to us according to the Biblical directive." There are several problems with this excuse.

First of all, when a person teaches incorrect doctrine publicly, there is no need for a private meeting. The sin is not against one particular individual but rather against the church of God. Many people are being effected and influenced by the perverted gospel. Second, have you ever tried getting past the secretary to speak to some of the "big names" in radio and TV? There is practically no way to even contact these people to speak with them privately, so they hide behind Matthew 18 as a way to keep from being exposed for their wrong doctrine. It makes a convenient cover for them to continue sinning.

The Bible, however, does not teach that we must contact each individual personally and privately. The apostle John called out against Diotrephes by name in one of his letters. He stated: "Diotrephes who loveth the preeminence among them, receiveth us not" (III John 1:9). He then listed some of Diotrephes' faults: "Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church" (III John 1:10).

Jesus himself named names. He called Herod a fox in Luke 13:32. Elsewhere Jesus didn't mention names, but He sure did narrow down the group when He said: "Beware of the scribes" (Luke 20:46) and "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" (Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29) and "Woe unto you also, ye lawyers!" (Luke 11:46, 52). Jesus also listed their sins by name. He said the scribes "desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts; Which devour widows' houses, and for a shew make long prayers" (Luke 20:46-47). Yes, these scribes had a "form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (II Timothy 3:5) and we are further told "from such turn away." Jesus said that these scribes would "receive the greater damnation" (Matthew 23:14; Luke 20:47). As Jesus continues His warning to these scribes and Pharisees, He said: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:27-28). Outwardly these people appear pious, righteous, and holy to many because they hide behind the cloak of religion, but inwardly they are ravening wolves trying to destroy the flock of God.

In II Corinthians 11:13-15 we find: "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works." Sometimes it may be difficult to tell the true from the false but the Bible gives us guidelines in this area as well. We can discern these false prophets by watching the fruit they produce: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but HE THAT DOETH THE WILL OF MY FATHER which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:15-23).

These false teachers can do miracles, they utter prophesies that were supposedly from God, and they do wonderful works, yet they are not saved and will not enter heaven. The fruit they bear is corrupt and those who partake of this rotten fruit will also be deceived and miss out on heaven as well. This is why it is so important to call out against the wrong because not only are the false teachers hurting themselves, they are hurting and leading multiplied thousands, and perhaps millions, of souls to hell with them.

As a child of God, we are to: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; REPROVE, REBUKE, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (II Timothy 4:2). "These things speak, and exhort, and REBUKE with all authority" (Titus 2:15).

Paul, writing to Titus, told him: "There are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, TEACHING THINGS WHICH THEY OUGHT NOT, for filthy lucre's sake....Wherefore REBUKE THEM SHARPLY, that they may be sound in the faith; Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth" (Titus 1:10-13, in part).

How does this deceptive teaching enter the church in the first place? One way is through COMPROMISE. Perhaps a wealthy businessman starts attending your church and for the sake of money, the pastor will tone down the message so as not to offend him. Little by little the truth is preached less and less and soon false doctrine is being presented for fear that the truth of God's Word will upset the listeners.

Some false teachings are salvation by works alone, the belief that the blood of Jesus Christ does not atone, and the theory that man is divine or a god.

Another counterfeit doctrine that entered the church is Unitarianism, a belief that denies the Trinity and claims that Jesus was only human and not divine. One author who was sympathetic to the Unitarian doctrine bragged that Unitarianism was able to survive because of a mood of COMPROMISE. This writer noted: "THEY LOVED TO EMPHASIZE THE POINTS OF AGREEMENT RATHER THAN THE POINTS OF DIFFERENCE. THEY WERE WILLING TO MAKE CONCESSIONS FOR THE SAKE OF THE PEACE OF THE CHURCHES." Isn't that a good description of what is happening in the churches today? So many will say, "Let's forget doctrine. Let's not discuss theological issues. Let's just agree on the points we have in common." In a short time the Bible is practically thrown out so as to keep peace with all those in attendance.

We are to endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3), but notice that the unity is to be IN ACCORD WITH THE SPIRIT, not with the world. Jude explained that it was necessary for him to write to the church to exhort them to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 1:3). He goes on to say: "For there are certain men CREPT IN UNAWARES...ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:4).

Paul warned Timothy that in the latter times "some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (I Timothy 4:1-2). He then told Timothy: "If thou PUT THE BRETHREN IN REMEMBRANCE OF THESE THINGS, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ" (I Timothy 4:6). In other words, Paul was commanding Timothy to warn the church about false doctrines. In so doing, there will be times when names must be mentioned so that the people will not be led astray. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but we must warn others against those who are bringing in counterfeit teachings.

In Ezekiel we find some sobering words from God: "When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul....Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul" (Ezekiel 3:18-19, 21).

Paul also wrote: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (Acts 20:28-31).

Furthermore, in I Thessalonians 5:14 we find: "Now we exhort you, brethren, WARN THEM THAT ARE UNRULY, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men." Wrong and sin are to be confronted and called out against. This, of course, means mentioning names at times. Finally, remember the words of Paul: "THEM THAT SIN REBUKE BEFORE ALL, THAT OTHERS ALSO MAY FEAR" (I Timothy 5:20). 


Index of Articles by Dr. Cathy Burns

Back To Main Page | Email Us

Liberty To The Captives Established in June 2001