Why Pastors Should Consider Naming Heretics From the Pulpit


“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” – Romans 16:17

The call to be a pastor is a tough call indeed. There are many responsibilities. Everyone needs you. Everyone thinks you have the answers. Everyone has no problem swallowing whatever scrap of time you have scavenged for yourself. At the same time, no one has a problem criticizing you for your shortcomings.

Aside from the pressure from needy church members, a pastor must meet certain biblical qualifications:

 “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,” (2 Tim 2:24) 

God commands pastors to kindness and patience. I can not describe how much a blessing it has been to have pastors who are kind and patient with me. I have been blessed to sit with elders who have poured into my life leading me in godliness with a softness has refreshed my soul. I have also had pastors that were the opposite and let me tell you, it is anything but a blessing.

This command of kindness can make a pastor feel awkward when dealing with heretics. After all, it does seem to violate God’s command to kindness toward everyone to openly combat false teachers. How can a pastor be both a soft-hearted shepherd to the church and yet oppose so forwardly the false teachings of heretics?

It is important to recognize that Paul was an excellent pastor. He planted many churches, taught countless Christians, evangelized thousands of lost souls, and was one of God’s apostles. He was a writer of the Sacred Writ and the same Holy Spirit that used him to write all those commands to be gentle also used him to constantly call out heretics by name.

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 “…holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:19-20)

As you can see in the verse quoted above, Paul names Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul knows that while he must maintain his kindness to all, he must also carry the responsibility of sounding the alarm when men who once appeared to be brothers now preach contrary to the faith. 

The key to understanding the importance of naming false teachers is that it is not a call to be proud and puffed up but loving toward the sheep and even the wolf. Paul displays his love for both when he warns the church of who is straying that the church may avoid them in accordance with Romans 16:17. Likewise notice what he says at the end of the verse,“…whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” Paul is openly stating the apostasy of Hymenaeus and Alexander partly for their own sake. That through their deliverance to the devil they might cry out in sorrow and repentance.

Sometimes the best way to love is tough love. 1 Corinthians 13 accounts for this. One of quality of love is “it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” Paul faithfully obeys Gods command to love as he openly rebukes the wrongdoing of these two men. Paul shows no fear calling heresy for what it is and naming heretics for what they are while being influenced by the Holy Spirit to write Scripture. Calling out heretics by name in no way violates kindness but in many ways fulfills kindness.

Dear pastor, you must remember that your sheep are not only listening to you. They have access to all kinds of ideas, teachings, and thoughts. There are so many podcast and youtube channels where one can find both many great resources and terrible teachings. If you are not willing to publically say, “[fill in the blank] is a false teacher,” who is going to warn your sheep from listening to heretics? Also if a heretic is never publically rebuked for his false teaching how will he know he must repent? This is your duty pastor. Follow the example of Paul and be kind as he was kind and as fierce as he was fierce when needed.

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