Should One Call Names From The Pulpit?

By Tom Roberts

Why not? Reason with me a moment.

My name is Tom Roberts and I don’t mind people calling me by my name. I belong to the church of Christ. I don’t mind people referring to me as a member of the church, publicly or otherwise. If a person is a member of the Baptist, Methodist, Catholic or some other denomination and they are identified as such, why should such a person take offense?

Of course, there is more to it than name-calling. My name is Tom Roberts and I am a husband, father, citizen, neighbor, etc. So long as one describes me as what I am, I take no offense. However, if I should be called a fornicator, an abuser, child beater, etc., I would highly resent being so misrepresented. As a member of the church of Christ, I take no offense if anyone accurately represents what I believe and practice. If someone says of me that I belong to a church that teaches baptism in water for remission of sins, uses no instrumental music in worship and partakes of the Lord’s supper each first day of the week, they have not misrepresented me, and I am glad that people know these things. They can tell these things from the rooftops and not offend me in the least. However, if that same person said that I belong to a church that believes in water salvation, does not believe in music and accepts transubstantiation, I would quickly raise an objection.

In the same fashion, when I refer to a Baptist by those distinctive doctrines and practices that make one particularly a Baptist (as distinct from, let’s say, a Methodist), why should a Baptist be offended? A Baptist believes in salvation by faith alone, instrumental music in worship, and the preacher/pastor system. If a Baptist is accurately represented in these matters, he should be as proud of these things as I am of the items of my faith. It is only when misrepresentations occur that a possible basis for irritation exists with reference to name-calling. True identification of a person can never be an insult unless that person is ashamed of who and what he is.

Scriptural Precedent

As reasonable as all this is, a basis other than human reasoning exists for calling names and identifying people and their beliefs. Nothing can be more public than the Bible and, moved by the Holy Spirit, writers of the Scriptures identified people and their beliefs and/or errors. Some examples are:

Speaker/Writer Person Identified Scripture Charge
Samuel David 2 Sam. 12:7 Murder, adultery
John Diotrephes 3 John 9 Opposer of truth
Paul Chloe 1 Cor. 1:11 Informer
Jesus Jews Gospels Hypocrisy, lying
Paul Brother 1 Cor. 5:1 Fornication
Apostles Jews Acts 2:36 Murderers of Jesus
Paul Peter Gal. 2:11 Hypocrisy
Paul Phygellus/Hermogenes 2 Tim. 1:15 Turn-coats
John the Baptist Herod Matt. 14:4 Adultery
Paul Corinthians Epistle Many sins
Peter Simon Acts 8:20 Buying gift of HS
Jesus Samaritan John 4:18 Adultery
John the Baptist Pharisees Mt. 3:7ff Vipers, sons of vipers
Stephen Jews Acts 7:51 Murderers
Paul Philosophers Acts 17:23 Ignorant idolatry
Jesus Samaritans John 4:22 Vain worship

Brethren, let us not be more “polite” than the inspired Scriptures! Regardless of the etiquette involved (certain segments both in and out of the church consider it uncouth), New Testament writers and evangelists called names, sometimes under extremely adverse circumstances. They suffered for it and, in some cases, died because of it. John the Baptist lost his head, but he did what God wanted him to do. There is an inherent boldness in gospel preaching that says to the lost, the sectarian, the sinner, the wayward man what he needs to hear, even when he does not want to hear it. Paul told Timothy to “preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). When the Jews “beheld the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). May we not infer from this that such sermons as recorded in Acts 2 are the type of sermons we need to preach today? Yet, Peter and the apostles in Acts 2 branded their listeners as crucifiers of the Son of God. Yes, bold preaching is confrontational. But the confrontation between truth and error is the only way for sinners to become penitent as they learn of their sins. What might have been the outcome if Peter had preached some of Norman Vincent Peale’s “Positive Thinking” concepts on Pentecost? The Jews would have gone home feeling good about themselves, but lost!

Let us not forget that the purpose of gospel preaching is that of saving souls (Rom. 1:16). Since only truth will save, the truth must be preached to people who need it. To be sure, some will not accept truth and will howl when exposed to it, but those of a “good and honest heart” (Luke 8) will respond in penitence and be saved. Motivational lessons, in and of themselves, will not do this. The sinner must be identified; sin must be rooted out; error must be confronted. Brother, if you don’t have a heart for that, you have no business preaching the gospel! Don’t apologize for preaching what is scripturally sound and biblically correct.

Of course, let us not confuse “boldness” with “skinning the brethren and the sectarians.” Some preachers seem to have a bitter spirit and use the pulpit as a means of taking advantage of a captive audience. Week after week, they seem to make a career out of attacking, skinning, berating and castigating. I fear that many hungry souls have been driven away from the truth by the type of preaching that fails to consider the full range of truth. We need to understand that parts of the truth are, indeed, confrontation, but other parts are intended to edify. We haven’t preached the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20) if we neglect “building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12) while we oppose error.

Many have laughed about an incident that occurred during a “gospel” meeting in south Texas many years ago. The guest preacher noted many visiting preachers were in the audience that evening. He, therefore, chose as his subject, “The Valley of Nuts.” Each “nut” in the lesson was identified as one of the visiting preachers in the audience and his “nutty” ideas were exposed in the sermon. Naturally, one of the preachers in the audience that was identified took exception to being called a “nut,” so he rose to his feet and challenged the speaker as being of the same species. A lot of brethren got skinned that night, but I wonder how many were edified? If non-Christians were present, did they hear what they needed to hear about the plan of salvation? Was this boldness of speech (in the biblical sense) or malice aforethought? Name-calling? Yes. From the pulpit? Yes. But compare it to Acts 2 or other examples and one might be hard-pressed to find even remote similarities.

Perhaps it would be helpful if we could remember that we are not inspired today and should use some restraint when judging motives such as hypocrisy, lying, etc. Jesus could read hearts and we cannot. The pulpit should never become a sanctuary where an embittered spirit hides behind a facade of religious zeal and spiteful anger and ascribes impure motives to all who disagree.

A Case In Point

Does name-calling from the pulpit do any good? Mighten we drive away those so identified? Won’t we do more harm than good? Won’t we insult our friends? I am sure that specific cases can be recalled where a preacher insulted “Aunt Susie” by referring to the Baptists when she visited the worship services. However, for the sake of comparison, let us recall the life and work of J.D. Tant, the pioneer preacher. How many did he convert? How many were taught under his preaching? I dare say that few, if any, preachers living today can match his record. I never met brother Tant, but I understand from those who knew him well that his preaching was of the name-calling variety. Some might say it even bordered on the caustic. But he baptized people! He started churches in places where no church of the Lord had existed before. He debated with teachers of error and led many out of sectarianism. Are we, in civilized times under more genteel circumstances, doing a better job? When J.D. Tant left town, people knew they had heard the gospel and there was usually a band of disciples left behind whom he had converted. Who is more like the apostle Paul: J.D. Tant or the preacher who won’t call names? It has been said of Paul that he either started a riot or a church when he came to town, and often both. Have we found a better way than Paul knew? Are we baptizing more than J.D. Tant?


Calling names will never be popular. This fact alone should neither encourage or discourage us. Nor should the reaction of the public be the total criterion. While some human judgment must determine our practice, the most important factor must be that of a boldness in declaring Jesus that reflects a New Testament spirit. Such preaching will arouse and convict; it will irritate and confound; it win cause extreme reactions and deepest opposition . . . among those in sin. But of those in sin will be some who can be led into paths of righteousness and salvation by this same bold preaching. It must have been this type of preaching that Jesus had in mind when he told Paul: “Be not afraid, but speak and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to harm thee: for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:9,10). How were the people of God identified in the first century? By fearless preaching. How will the people of God be identified today? By this same fearless preaching. Let us be about our Father’s business.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 9, pp. 272, 274
May 2, 1985