Naming Names

Below is a reprint of one of my most popular posts, written back in 2007. It is just as important today as it was back then because false teachers continue to try to silence their critics by claiming that it is not biblical to confront them publicly. For example, see how New Apostolic Reformation apostle Brian Simmons recently used this tactic to try to silence me after I wrote a review of his Passion Translation over at

finger_pointingOne of the criticisms I hear most is that it is wrong for me to “name names” of people who promote false teaching unless I first go to those teachers in private to address my concerns with them.

The implication is that no one should listen to me if I haven’t followed the proper order — going to the teacher first, then going public. False teachers, themselves, often promote this idea to shield themselves from criticism.

But this is a misuse of the teaching on church discipline found in Matthew 18:15-17.

Naming Names

There’s a common view among Christians that it’s wrong to publicly criticize the teachings of other professing Christians.

People who hold this view cite Matthew 18:15-17. They believe this Bible passage teaches that anyone who has concerns about someone else’s teachings should go to that person privately.

In fact, some people have recently warned me that my blog is a violation of this command because it identifies people who are bringing false teaching into the church.

But they don’t realize that this passage is being used out of context. It doesn’t refer to addressing false teaching. It refers to addressing someone’s private sin. This can be seen in the larger context, which includes a discussion — immediately following this passage — of forgiving those who sin against us. Also, this passages deals, specifically, with church discipline — the manner of dealing with those who sin in a local church.

Public vs. Private Rebukes

Here’s what the Bible teaches about confronting sin and false teaching in the church:

• A private rebuke is given for private sin. Matthew 18:15-17

• A public rebuke is given for public sin. (See the apostle Paul’s public rebuke of the apostle Peter’s false teaching in Galatians 2:11-14. Also, see the apostle Paul’s public rebuke of a man who was flagrantly sleeping with his stepmother with his church’s knowledge in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Paul didn’t confront this man privately. In fact, he had never even met this man, as shown in 1 Corinthians 5:1, when he refers to a report he heard about the man’s sin. Yet, Paul confronted this public sin publicly because the sin effected the whole Corinthian church.)

Teachers who bring false doctrines into the church must be confronted publicly because their teachings are public. They write books, speak at conferences and appear on television programs promoting their teachings to thousands of people. Because they have public influence, they must be held to public scrutiny. If people go to them privately, then — in the meantime — thousands of people can be misled by their harmful teachings.

Teachers should expect — and even welcome — criticism of their teachings. The Bible warns them in James 3:1 that they are held to high standards because of their influence and will face stricter judgment from God than other Christians. They should be open to correction.

But many times the false teachers, themselves, are the ones who teach their followers the misapplication of Matthew 18:15-17. They use this as a technique to silence criticism.

What the Bible Teaches About Dealing With False Teaching in the Church

Here are some more things the Bible teaches, specifically, about dealing with false teaching. (My professor, Kevin Lewis at Biola University, provided the list below.)

• Name Names: In 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul identifies false teachers in the church, by name, four times. 2 Tim. 1:15, 2:17, 3:8, 4:14

• Warn the church publicly what the false teachers are teaching. 2 Timothy 2:16-18

• Silence the false teachers. (This means that church leaders shouldn’t allow people to teach false teaching in their churches.) Titus 1:10-11

• Refute the false teachers. Titus 1:9

• Do not give false teachers a platform or otherwise support them in their ministries. 2 John 1:10-11

Has someone ever tried to silence you from speaking out against false teaching?

— By Holly Pivec

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13 Responses to “Naming Names”

  1. Lindsay Says:

    Oh yes, by various means:
    1. Direct warnings by well-intentioned [but ignorant] Christians to avoid naming names.
    2. Indirectly by spreading slanders about me.
    3. By deliberate shunning and avoidance of discussion or by rejecting my newsletter.
    In all this I know I can rejoice because God’s word is upheld and He is glorified.

  2. Kenneth Says:

    Great article Holly. Another text that applies here is Romans 16:17-18, which reads, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”

    So we are told to mark them and avoid them, not go to them in private to discuss what they are openly spreading among the flock.

    Keep following the Spirits calling.



  3. Holly Says:

    Yes, that is another relevant passage, Kenneth. Thanks for sharing it!


  4. M. K. Says:

    LOL yes indeed. We had all kinds of dire “words” over us for publicly calling out our ex pastor on his sins.

    The biggy was the private thing. But the trouble was he used that to silence everyone who left the church before us, excommunicating them, wearing them out, causing all kinds of emotional exhaustion, then when they “could” take it to the church, they were too worn out by the private battle with him. He excommed them saying they were having difficulty, and the leadership would appreciate it if nobody outside leadership would contact them, for fear of making a bad situation worse.

    So when we left, I felt that going privately had already been done to death, and the things he did and preached were public.

  5. M. K. Says:

    the Matthew 18 bit was quoted at us after that by everyone who didn’t want to hear what we were saying. They would call us up, try to extend “freindship” but if we tried to explain what happened we got scolded for not obeying Mt 18 and the people would end by saying that was why they couldn’t hear us out or listen to us anymore.

    Kind of a stick the fingers in the ears and sing the LALALALALA song.

  6. Austin Hellier Says:

    In my experience, Matthew 18 is often a favourite ‘shield’ for unaccountable people to hide behind. I was in a small home church many years ago down in Newcastle, NSW, that was run by a legalistic “Bible machine gun” of a man. Every time he felt threatened by someone who was old enough to expose his legalism, he would then proceed to “Mathew 18” them.

    This process could sometimes take less than ten minutes, with a short ‘private’ meeting (usually in the full hearing of the meeting inside the lounge room,) which was then quickly followed by ‘two witnesses’ (his henchmen, who were also armed with “Bible machine gun” verses, taken totally out of context.) Then the victim would be duly disfellowshiped by the ‘leader’ who claimed not to be an actual leader at all, but regarded himself as a ‘responsible brother’.

    He was certainly responsible for the shipwreck of a number of promising young Christians at that time. The church was a typical ‘no name’ house church, which was an overhang from a breakaway sect of the then Charismatic movement, from the late 1960’s and early 70’s. 

    I learnt the hard way, that a name denotes an authority and a structure as well as a character. To deliberately avoid having ‘named works’ (denominational affiliated churches,) really meant that the ‘responsible brother’ was accountable to no one other than himself – a dangerous situation indeed. It smacks of the teachings of Witness Lee and his wayward ‘little flock’ movement, which he took over upon the death of Watchman Nee. It also reminds me of 3rd John verses 9 and 10 about Diotrophes.

    A true rendition of Matthew 18 is meant so that one person can show grace towards another, who may have wronged them personally. It gives the wrong-doer a chance to explain their actions, or to repent of them. If they are stubborn and unyielding, then one or two witnesses will be able to give a balanced and unbiased view of the matter, should it come before the Church at a later date.

    The ‘two witnesses’ are NOT witnesses for the ‘prosecution’ nor are they required to be ministry team members either, although it would be wise to choose mature believers over babes for that role.

    Austin Hellier

  7. Austin Hellier Says:

    Just a couple of things I feel I should clarify from my previous post above. I don’t have a problem with independent churches as such, but there’s a difference between an autonomously governed church, which seeks to cooperate with other churches in terms of outreach and other combined ministry, and a church with an ‘independent spirit’ that recognises no other church (they are God’s gift to humanity) and refuses to cooperate with other Christians for any reason whatsoever.

    This is why I believe the apostle John said “…hereby we know the spirit of truth from the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6) These people will not listen to reasonings from the scriptures, from anybody with a reasonable argument to pursue, as they are closed off to their ‘teachers’ because they have ‘itching ears’ and only the NAR or such other movement can ‘scratch’ them to their satisfaction. 

    In 3rd John, the apostle believed that Diotrophes should have been accountable for both what he said about others, and what he did towards others. Diotrophes believed that he didn’t have to accept correction from anyone, either inside, or outside of the church and that is patently and obviously wrong. On the other hand “Demetrius has a good report from all” (vs 12) presumably from inside and outside of the church at Gaius’ house, and that means volumes, as a good report is one of the prime qualifications for recognised eldership/leadership roles (1 Tim 3:7)

    Austin Hellier

  8. Redeemed1953 Says:

    2 John–Read it and you will never invite a false prophet, Mormon, Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness or anyone else who does not teach the truth into you house again.

  9. Hope Rising Says:

    Just stumbled on your site and realized it’s one whose perspective of their divine destiny is to expose error in the Body of Christ – This is not the Gospel of the Kingdom from the Bible that I know. We can argue scriptural interpretations to justify promoting strife about people you are not even connected with all day long and still miss the very heart of all that Jesus taught, lived, and reminded us right before He was arrested (John 13-17). This was what was burning in His heart before He gave His life so that we would be one with Him, the Father, and each other. In fact, it is loving each other so much that the world will know that we’re His disciples. Yes, the same Body of Christ that you say you are part of but are not bearing the marks that Jesus said would identify His Body – LOVE AND ONENESS with Him and each other.

    So I pose a question to all who feel they are appointed to inspect and malign everyone else’s error while missing the plank in their own eye:

    How do your words and actions measure up to this standard of oneness through the sacrificial love that Jesus set as being identified as one of His disciples?

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Godly wisdom.

  10. Austin Says:

    Hey Hope Rising – here’s an answer to your belated question:

    “Now I beseech yo brethren, mark those who cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For they that are such, serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, who by good words and fair speeches, deceive the hearts of the simple” Romans 16:17, 18

    This passage was quoted in a previous post above, but you may have missed it. The apostle Paul was evidently concerned that false teachers may have invaded the Roman church in his absence, and was giving clear instructions on how to deal with such people.

    There is no mention of ‘private meetings’ in order to canvas the error, nor is there any leeway for lengthy discussion over the issues. They were to be “marked” (publicly named) and avoided – at all costs.

    Neither Holly Pivec  nor any other genuine commentator on these issues facing the church, wants to cause division but neither will they/we remain silent and allow the false teachers to enforce that silence by misquoting passages like Matthew 18, which are in regard to private matters, between individual brethren.

    Perhaps there are no planks in anybody’s eye on this occasion> Maybe you feel that you have been appointed to correct the error of those who seem to be correcting those who are also in error?

    The gist of Ephesians chapter 4 is that we ‘speak the truth in love, and so grow up into Him,’ Christ – His nature, His character and the stability comes through that maturity. That is an outworking of Christ like love. What you seem to be advocating is “unity at any price, based on ‘love’ ” but this is not the love of God, it is emotional – affection, but with out truth, and no genuine unity can come from that…

  11. Mo Smith Says:

    The context of going to that person who has offended you is that it is a personal offense just between the two of you. Now, a false teacher who speaks publicly is a different matter. If they are doing a public wrong they have to be rebuked publicly. Remember Paul rebuking Peter publicly for his public offense.

  12. sam sarkissian Says:

    Mo Smith speaks it directly. Agreed! Well said.

  13. Tyrone Flanagan Says:

    Hi everybody, While Matt 18 does not require us to privately confront those who publically spread false teachings, I believe that we should act in the spirit of Matt 18 and attempt to do this if possible. I always try to do this through email contacts to a ministry or a church if possible. Unfortunately, one almost never gets a response. Ephesians exhorts us “to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In practice, believers often fall far short of practicing this.
    Our relationships each other in God’s family are forever and ever. One person’s truth doesn’t give us the right to destroy kingdom relationships just to win an argument. Doctrinal camps within the church will pass away, but kingdom relationships will not. We had better learn how to live with each other and resolve disputes in mature ways even if it means “agreeing to disagree”.Even if we have all knowledge and know all mysteries, if we do not have love, we are nothing 1Cor 13.

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