Name Calling, Attitude, and Matthew Twenty-Three

By Dennis C. Abernathy

As the title of this article states, we want to talk about “name calling,” “one’s attitude,” and “Matthew chapter 23” in connection with preaching the gospel of Christ. There are some today, as there have always been, who do not like it, when names are called from the pulpit. “Don’t attack the denominations,” they say. “It will do no good.” “It will prejudice the hearers and drive them away.” They will accuse you of using “bullying and badgering” tactics under the guise of “preaching the truth.” They will leave the impression that you (in trying to justify name-calling) are just trying to cover up your bad attitude.

I simply ask, “Is it wrong to ever call names (identify the source of sin) in preaching?” Is it wrong to identify a false teacher? Is it wrong to name a denomination and refute their false doctrine? Is it wrong to mark and identify a heretic or a sower of discord among brethren? I just wonder if it is brethren? I have always thought it to be proper to do the aforementioned things in preaching. I have always used the examples of Paul, Stephen, and the Lord Himself for authority to do this: Paul called a man the “child of the Devil” (Acts 13:10). Why did he do that? Verse eight says he was trying to “turn away the deputy from the faith.” Verse 10 says he was “perverting the right ways of the Lord.” Now I realize fully that Paul was filled with the Holy Ghost and his “very words were given to Him by the Father.” Does that mean I cannot preach like Paul preached today, simply because I must use the written word? Are there any today who try to turn people away from the faith? Are there any today who pervert the right ways of the Lord? If one today is doing what Elymas did in Acts 13, would he not be a “child of the Devil”? Then why label one as having a bad attitude for calling a person what he is? I see nothing wrong with calling a person a child of the Devil (after all, what is a person if he is not a child of God?).

I submit to you that the same is true concerning Jesus and what He said in Matthew 23. People still do as the Pharisees did. It has nothing to do with “looking into a man’s heart.” It has to do with his action. Can we not know if a man is hypocritical if he is saying one thing and doing another? That is surely the case with Paul rebuking Peter to his face. Did Paul have to “look into Peter’s heart” to recognize that? (Gal. 2).

Brethren and friends, I do not believe we should “cram the truth down another’s throat,” or “intimidate and harass” one in our preaching. We should use common courtesy in our preaching. We must “preach the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). But my friends, I do not believe this implies softening down our preaching to “smooth words and fair speeches.” Let us attack error on every hand, call sin what it is, correct the sinner and rebuke the false teacher calling names if we must. H. Leo Boles in commenting on Matthew chapter 23 stated, “This condemnation and warning of the scribes and Pharisees has its practical value -today” (New Testament Commentary on Matthew, p. 441). To that I say Amen!

Truth Magazine XXI: 44, p. 701
November 10, 1977