by Jefferson David Tant
Names, that is. For some time brethren have discussed whether or not we can mention denominational names in our preaching. Some say we offend and drive people away when we mention the teachings of the Catholic or Baptist churches, etc. While we agree that such can be abusive and mean-spirited, is there any Biblical defense for the practice of “name-calling?”
When we consider Christ, our Master Teacher, we see that he frequently called the names of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The truth is that the Jewish religion had its own denominations — Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, Zealots, etc.
Did Christ ever offend those in the Pharisee denomination? You know he did. “Then the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?" (Matthew 15:12). Often we read of them being offended, so much so that they plotted to kill him, and finally did. Did Christ intend to offend them? We would think wanted them to receive the teaching with open hearts. And there were some who were not offended, as in the case of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.
On occasion, even Christ’s disciples were offended and turned away. “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, 'Does this cause you to stumble?'” (John 6:60-61).
Did the apostles and others in the New Testament ever specifically refer to the false practices of those in the audience? You know they did. On Pentecost, Peter charged his audience with having crucified Christ. Stephen charged his audience with “resisting the Holy Spirit,” and being “betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:51-52). Peter’s hearers were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37), and asked how to remove their guilt. Stephen’s hearers were “cut to the heart,” but then murdered Stephen. Same message, but different hearts in the hearers.
Paul preached to the Athenians, stating they were worshipping “in ignorance” (Acts 17:23). Some might consider such a statement to be derogatory and offensive.
The Old Testament prophets repeatedly warned their hearers about their false gods, calling them by name—Moloch, Chemosh, Baal, and Ashtoreth. It seems Elijah was pretty plain when he challenged the false prophets of Baal (I Kings 18).
In my grandfather’s day, the preachers pulled no punches. False denominations and false doctrines were clearly identified and called by name. Some say, “But times have changed, and we need to be more sensitive now.” Times may have changed, but has truth changed? Have men’s hearts changed? Doesn’t false doctrine need to be identified and refuted? Paul recognized that truth may offend when he asked, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (Galatians 3:16).
One problem we face is the fact that many denominations really do not know what their doctrine is. I may preach on Calvinism, and a Methodist in the audience may have no idea that his church’s stance is “Once save, always saved.” Many denominations do not teach much on doctrine these days, so I need to help the Methodist understand that his church is based on a false doctrine.
And what about Islam, Buddhism, or other religions that are growing in our nation? If I cannot call names, does that mean that I cannot have a special series on Islam, or that I cannot compare the Hindu beliefs with the Bible? If I cannot mention Presbyterian doctrines because I may offend, the same restriction would apply to mentioning Islam, for fear of offending a Muslim who is present. If not, why not? Or what about preaching against homosexuality. I have had them in the audience. Certainly, some might be offended. Some were offended when I taught on modest apparel, and never set foot in our building again. Should we then never mention the subject?
Some remove tracts that mention denominations, lest we offend. Yet I cannot count the number of people who have been led to the truth from reading such material. The truth is, truth does offend some! There is no way to escape that. Peter clearly pointed this out: “For you therefore that believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; and, A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word” (I Peter 2:7-8). If the preaching about Christ is a stumbling block to some, then teaching Christ’s word, the Bible, is certainly going to offend some. Some have expressed concern about our becoming soft, so as not to offend. Let us take heed, lest we become like the denominations around us.
It should never be the goal of any to offend, but if presenting “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) offends some, then so be it. Let us never be ashamed of the gospel, but be imitators of Paul, who wrote: “Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech” (II Corinthians 3:12).