On ‘Name Calling’

This may seem like a strange sort of topic to write on, but there is a reason for it. I have lost count of the number of times fellow believers have said something like: ‘You shouldn’t call people names. It is un-Christlike and unloving and you must not do it if you are a Christian’.

I have gotten this line thrown at me so many times that I just scratch my head and wonder if these often well-meaning folks have actually even read their Bibles. The very simple truth is this: name-calling, properly understood, occurs all the time in Scripture. Whether we are talking about the prophets, the disciples, or even Jesus himself, it is a regular occurrence and they do not have the slightest problem with it.

If that is the case, why do so many Christians have such a problem with it? Why do they decry the very things we find so often in the Bible itself? Why do these folks think they can be more Christlike than Christ, and more loving than God himself?

Now before I go any further, let me say what I am not implying here: we are not to go out of our way abusing people, denigrating people and attacking people. But that is a very different thing from standing up for truth, and calling a spade a spade.

By name-calling I mean simply this: calling people what they are. If a person repeatedly and persistently lies, then to call him a liar is neither untrue nor unkind nor unloving. It is simply speaking the truth. And the biblical writers do it all the time. They have no problem in speaking the truth in this fashion.

If a person is constantly cowardly, guess what? He is a coward, and there is nothing wrong with telling the truth here. If a person is a persistent God-hater, there is nothing amiss at all in calling him just that: a God-hater. If a person steals stuff all the time, he is a thief, pure and simple.

Yet time and time again I get over-sensitive believers telling me one can never call a person a liar or a thief or God-hater. Never? So Paul for example was sinning when he did this time and time again? Simply look at the many sin lists presented in Scripture.

In addition to the many obvious ones found in the Old Testament, such as Deuteronomy 27-28, we have plenty of these in the New Testament as well. Paul had plenty of them. Just consider a few of the following lists which he offers:

Rom 1:28-32 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

1 Cor 6:9-11 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.

Gal 5:19-21 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Eph 5:3-7 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

I Tim 1:8-11 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine  that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

2 Tim 3:1-9 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

Wow, that sure is a lot of name calling going on there. The very thing wimpy believers say we just cannot do, Paul seems to do in buckets full. He had no qualms at all about calling people greedy or immoral or unrighteous or ungodly or evil or rebellious or reprobate. And he could speak of both believers and non-believers in such terms. And he did it in love as well.

Yet too many believers think this is somehow un-Christlike and unbiblical. Sorry, but if I have to choose between the apostle Paul, inspired as he was by the Holy Spirit to write what he did, and these wimpy Christians, I know who I will side with any day of the week.

It is not being judgmental to speak the truth. If a person regularly denounces God, berates him and vents his anger about God, then it is perfectly accurate and correct to refer to such a person as a God-hater. That is exactly what they are, and Paul knew all about such folks, and consistently called them what they were.

So many believers today think we have to live in some sort of sanitised cloud, never saying anything that might even remotely be considered to be offensive or harsh. But the Bible is full of harsh and offensive language. Indeed, I have discussed this often elsewhere, eg:

billmuehlenberg.com/2007/04/18/rhetoric-the-bible-and-the-believer/
billmuehlenberg.com/2007/06/16/righteous-indignation/

As always, getting the biblical balance right is crucial here. If it is wrong for some believers to be always full of criticism and negative attacks, constantly deriding and belittling others, so too it is wrong for some believers to be so limp-wristed that they are never willing to speak out against sin and point out obvious wrong and evil behaviours.

And to point out such evil of course does not mean we cannot be praying for those folks. I can rightly call an abortionist names, such as a baby-killer, for that is exactly what he is. But I of course can also be praying for him. Speaking truth and interceding for others goes hand in hand. We do not have to choose between one and the other.

Speaking the truth in love is part of our Christian calling. It may be hard to always get it right, but we must try nonetheless. So is proclaiming the gospel. It will of course offend some, anger some, and turn off some. But that is their problem. We have an obligation to speak truth.

Being insensitive and overly harsh is certainly wrong. But so too is being so afraid to offend anyone that we end up saying nothing. Let’s seek to get that biblical balance right.

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16 Replies to “On ‘Name Calling’”

  1. He even named names (Hymanaeus, Philetus, Alexander the metalworker etc) when he saw fit. You will NEVER see 99.9% of churches ever do that!

    It greatly bothers me that the church doesn’t see the importance of naming names. John also did this with Diotrephes. They did it because they wanted to protect the church.

    Lee Van Cleef

  2. I have even had churchgoers tell me that I must never say that anyone is a “non-Christian”, even if the person says “I am an atheist”. Of course when Bishop Spong says (as I heard him say) “I am technically an atheist”, but goes on pretending to be a Christian, it complicates matters. But I will dare to call him a non-Christian.

    As for Bill, I’d like to call him some names but I can only think of nice ones.

    Happy new year- joyful, at least.

    David Morrison

  3. You touch the critical point here Bill: “As always, getting the biblical balance right is crucial here. If it is wrong for some believers to be always full of criticism and negative attacks, constantly deriding and belittling others, so too it is wrong for some believers to be so limp-wristed that they are never willing to speak out against sin and point out obvious wrong and evil behaviours”

    As usual (I believe) people are quick to accuse their opponents of being at the extreme when perhaps they are not. For example, it is wrong as you say for someone to constantly criticise, deriding and belittling others, and what I see happening is that people accuse those who are NOT doing that of doing it as a way of discrediting them or trying to argue against them when they don’t have a sound argument to use instead. Sometimes I think it cuts the other also – people can be unjustly accused of being “limp-wristed” when they are actually biting their tongue for what they consider to be a very good reason. And yes there are those who are all the time wimps…

    John Symons

  4. Great article!! I’ve come across this type of thing heaps! Esp. on the streets by professing christians. Its exciting to read an article that deals with the issue head on!

    Elisha Mckenzie

  5. thanks Bill, for another great article. I’ve had people say to me you can’t mention people’s names, that’s just not right. But how are we to warn people about wolves in sheep’s clothing if we can’t name them? People are so sensitive about this issue in the church today.

    Liz Gee

  6. Shame on God for not only calling certain acts abominations but the people who commit such acts abominations themselves; eg Deuteronomy 18:12, 22:5, 25:16. Guess He’s not had modern sensitivity training!
    Steve Swartz

  7. You know Bill i get really sick and tired of Christians calling each other names over issues that are not important at all. I have a cousin who with his wife is writing a book against Catholicism. I think it goes without saying that whilst the Catholic Church hierarchy have to explain and if needs be face legal action over child abuse coverups, yet it has also consistently made a stand on those issues that you also stand up for.
    I reminded my cousin of the fact that Christians are being persecuted, that Obama has not declared one of the groups perpetuating this persecution -bokum Harum- as a terrorist organisation, and that we need to be prepared to stand up for our Brethren.
    I grew up in Dispenationalism but have become heartily sick and tired of pretribulational rapturists name calling others who hold another view and vice versa. As one of my pastors once said, when we get to heaven they will all see they were wrong.
    Happy New year.
    Wayne Pelling

  8. Very thought provoking, Bill. Balancing grace and truth is tough, but it needs to be done.
    Beena Saju

  9. Blessings to all for this year.
    And blessings Wayne but I have to disagree with what your pastor said “when we get to heaven they will all see they were wrong.” I think that is a cop out as if the truth can not be known. I for one believe we can know the truth whether it be salvation, holiness, fullness, repentance last days whatever.
    I am sure all of us have degree’s of deception but we also have the pathway out of it as we walk in the light of truth. I don’t subscribe to the theory that everything is gray but that God truth is absolute and for all peoples in all times and that includes knowing that truth regarding the last days. Maybe that pastor had given up pursuing truth as too hard, but with God all things are possible. Far to many people are not working out their salvation in fear and trembling because they want to avoid conflict but conflict is the way the kingdom of God is established in our lives and to reject it is to reject God.
    Rob Withall

  10. Who is this CHRIST you are talking about?
    Is it the Messiah of the New Testament scriptures?
    Is it the same person who whipped the merchants at church??
    Is it the same guy who called the leaders in charge (pharisees) venomous names??
    …here are just a few of the things he called them:
    hypocrites
    vipers
    dead men
    children of hell
    blind fools
    unclean
    murderers
    extortioners
    serpents
    …and that is just in Matt 23.
    Bill, I nicked this off the reply section of Johnthebaptisttv.com
    Johannes Archer

  11. An album in my possession by a Christian band called Deliverance received a number of negative comments from a (non-Christian) reviewer because they dared to refer to Gays as “Homos”. The reviewer accused them of being “un-loving”, seeing the term “Homos” as being grossly derogatory. However, I couldn’t agree and your article above summarises well the reasons why.

    I guess we should pray for wisdom to know the difference between firmly speaking the truth in love and being abusive?

    Mick Koster.

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