The Bottom Line Of Faith Teaching: Where Does It Actually Lead?
by Rev Rafael D. Martinez, Spiritwatch Ministries
We have sought to understand what the three central points of Faith theology actually teach. They are responsible for most, if not all, of the other doctrinal and practical concerns that riddle the Faith movement. While there may be much we can ask about these unique doctrines, one question towers above them all. All potential questions that can be raised concerning the movement simply pale in comparison to this one crucial question that must be explored: where does the Faith movement's bottom line lead us?
What we believe will always direct our actions and how we act will always affect our standing before God (2 Peter 2:20-22). In light of the ultimate end of all things, in full knowledge of the Bema Seat of Christ where "every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire," (1 Cor. 3:13), we must now plumb the depths of the bottom line of Faith teaching.
Where does it lead us? What are the other inevitable, logical conclusions drawn from consistent application of Faith principles? Let us now first examine what these Faith teachings lead us to believe about God, Christ and the Gospel, and let us then see the belief system it sets up will affect our lives.
The Lordship Of The Believer: Who's Really In Charge?
First of all, since God is limited to using unchangeable spiritual laws that govern the New Covenant, His will is then subject to the sovereign will of the “Faith person” and their own usage of the same laws. The mastery over homes, cities and nations now is ours entirely. Having the same authority of a pre-Fall Adam, they have absolute dominion in the earth, an authority whose will and desires are unlimited, and whose power to "get" them are also limitless. It is no wonder that the “little gods” teaching is presented as Christian doctrine instead of the heretical blasphemy it is.
Practically speaking, the Lordship of God in Christ by the Spirit is then made a highly qualified mystery constantly redefined in relationship to a very literal lordship of the believer. The will of God, it stands to reason, is actually the will of the Faith believer. Whatever the will of the Faith believer is can then be manifest as a divinely ordained birthright that guarantees "power to get wealth," among other things. Salvation is the dinner bell for the hungry King's Kid to come and feed, and he has learned to develop a choice appetite. And there have been few other Faith ministers with such intriguing tastes as the irrepressible Robert Tilton whose reinvention after his ministry implosion in the early 1990's still can be seen on the BET network
"Before any of these teachings will work for you, you need to learn who you are in Jesus Christ. When you were saved, through faith, God restored you into fellowship and harmony as an offspring of God, a child of the King. 'For if by one man's offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life (like a king) by one, Jesus Christ.' Romans 5:17. God also restored your authority through Jesus Christ. You now have the same authority Adam had before he sinned. You have dominion in the earth to guard it, cultivate it, and cause it to bring forth fruit. You can now rule your life as a king. When a man is king, he has authority over his realm; that means he has it under his control and can do whatever he chooses. .. There is nothing wrong with receiving things in this life as long as they line up with His will. (1)
The Cutting Edge Versus The Old School
Secondly, the choice supposedly offered by God between blessing and cursing under this "New Covenant" actually contributes to further division in an already fragmented Christian Church. Faith teachers advance the notion that suffering Christians facing physical infirmity or personal sorrows are wallowing in these tribulations due to their deficient spirituality. An undeniable gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” in Faith churches exists, regardless whether they choose to recognize it or not. There is an almost universal deference to those who “walk in victory” as manifest in their ownership of new cars, big homes and spiritual triumphs over sickness and struggle which sets up a spiritual caste system within Faith movement circles. If there are Christian people who aren’t enjoying divine health and wealth, then the suspicion is that they may be unspiritual, ignorant of "who they are in Christ," or even lost altogether. In all of my study of Faith publications and recorded media, in personal visits to Faith churches and in informal times with Faith Christians, that disturbing message gets reinforced again and again. I see it virtually everywhere I’ve gone where Faith teaching is firmly entrenched.
This has been responsible for stirring up Faith movement attitudes that can range from good-natured condescension to the shamelessly elitist. Hearing Faith disciples rail upon churches and Christians who don’t seem to enjoy the kind of “benefits under the covenant” that they do is one of the most singularly demeaning and insulting things one can hear. The pride and arrogance underlying this kind of “fellowship” is all too familiar and the judgmental presumption made by Faith teachers seeking to bolster their own “authority” smacks of religious abuse. Being in denominational fellowships - especially non-Charismatic / Pentecostal ones – is just one of the main targets of Faith movement demonization. Classical Pentecostal movements like the Church of God in Christ, the Foursquare Church, the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland) are the butt end of self-serving barbs that harangue or rail upon them.
And what is so amazing is how many members of these fellowships so readily imbibe the questionable teachings that Faith teachers offer as the alternative to the "doctrines of men" they accuse denominational churches such as their own as having kept them in darkness with. A typical Faith description of those under such a sorrowful state of affairs rarely varies from this format: "Almost ten years ago, church usher John Jones and his wife Jackie, were denominational Christians living powerless, defeated Christian lives. Then one day, they heard Brother Hagin on the radio program 'Faith Seminar of the Air,' and their spirits were stirred by his teaching of the Word." etc. and etc. (2)
Spiritual Law Trumps The Almighty
Thirdly, spiritual laws requiring a "God kind of faith" logically negate the omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence of God. I cannot too strongly overemphasize just how important this point is: if you are reading this work, I hope you come away with at least this one truly sobering consideration:
If God the Father is a "faith God" who must place his trust in spiritual forces and laws to accomplish his divine will, then there exists a greater power in the universe than God Himself. Copeland himself can't be any clearer as he expands upon these dubious claims:
We are creatures of the world of the spirit, and we need to know how to walk under the laws that govern this spiritual world instead of continuing to walk under the laws that govern the natural, physical world. When we learn the laws, rules and regulations that govern the world of the spirit, we will gain the knowledge of how to govern the world of the natural. ... God is a faith being. You are born of God. You are a faith being. God does not do anything outside of faith. WIth His faith living in you, you are to operate the same way (3).
This means that Kenneth Copeland's ministry crest, prominently displayed during his telecasts and bearing the ancient Christian confession "Jesus Is Lord" has it all wrong. It is inaccurate to call Him "Lord" if something else is stronger than He. Since He is a "faith God," the one true God cannot truly be Lord over all, since man can freely utilize these laws and "have whatsoever he saith" through "faith in his own faith."
This is not alarmist rhetoric – it is the logical conclusion to the self-exalting character of this profoundly warped doctrine. It is what leads many Faith ministers to make the kinds of questionable, unbiblical and even outrageous declarations they have been known to make about the Godhead, the Trinity and the nature of God Himself. What is so fascinating to me, years after having known what this blasphemous conclusion of Faith teaching asserts, that there are so many Faith Christians completely oblivious to this. What's even more gripping is the realization that there are so many of them who embrace the "little gods" heresy because at some subconscious level they won't admit to themselves that they actually see where it has led them. We will discuss this at length in our next article about the God of Faith theology.
Where The Bottom Line Of Faith Teaching Leads The Believer
In view of these profoundly troubling concepts, what then are the implications for Christian living? What would happen to the young believer who zealously and diligently wants to grow in the Lord but chooses innocently enough to faithfully applying themselves to the traditions of Faith teaching?
Their lifestyle will be subject to the never ending tensions that their personal application of Faith teaching to their own lives would create. They won't recognize that they're running on a Faith teaching treadmill shaped to fit their individual spiritual preferences which will keep them too preoccupied, distracted and engaged to consider what they are doing. To spiritually achieve and succeed, their triumph over all negative circumstances by faith in one's faith is necessary, since spiritual maturity is achieved when they are able to rule and reign with unquestioned authority over their own personal life and circumstances. The timeless emphasis of Christian discipleship that is based upon personal self-denial and attention to Christian holiness is then skewed toward personal gain and benefit. Christian servanthood then becomes a difficult concept to aspire to - however lauded - when development of the "overcomer" and their spiritual supremacy becomes paramount (1 Co. 14:36-37). Failure to "overcome" is almost sinful, subtly unspiritual, and always symptomatic of weak faith.
You have no more business saying words of doubt than saying curse words. That's the devil's language. Quit talking the devil's language and start talking God's language. God is a faith God. We are faith children of a faith God (4).
Spiritual growth, therefore, comes in the development of one's positive confession that starves doubt and feed faith. The Faith believer must engage in a never ending series of motivational experiences to do this, such an endless confession of self-affirmations labelled as "words of faith" that are written to reinforce Faith teachings that assure absolute victory over all circumstances (Click here to read a typical sample of these confessions as a PDF file). Other ways this can be done is through through "seed faith," the freewill offerings vowed to various ministries, or more commonly, those continual audible confession of faith-filled words that will release the “force” of faith to create blessings for those seeking them.
They will then be encouraged to ardently pursue personal direction for that objective through a "word from the Lord" they're led to believe comes from direct revelation through some highly anointed servant of God. Scripture becomes an insufficient guide to their spiritual life, much less any sound Biblical teaching they might hear from an "ordinary" pastor's preaching. This imbalanced diet of Faith teaching centered almost exclusively on its flawed views of faith and the Christian life is then viewed as the only truly nourishing spiritual food of which the believer can partake that will give them strength for their journey as John Avanzini so glibly claims with his own take on John 10:10:
.. our God and King declares that the basis of His Kingdom is abundance! He plainly says: '... I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly' (Jn. 10:10b). You see, the lifestyle God has chosen for us is His abundance. This abundant lifestyle is the type of a breakthrough that you are heading for if you do not let the devil contain you in your current strata of income .. to get you away from knowing the truth of God's Word that I am trying to teach you." (5).
With this kind of smoothly phrased compulsion, Faith people will criss-cross the nation moving from conference to campmeeting to convention to intensively hearken to every precept and proverb uttered by other Faith teachers themselves. This has fed the Faith movement's cottage industry of media ministry to the tune of millions upon millions of dollars of tithing, offering and outright media purchases. They will fill arenas and churches weekly around the world in a sincere effort to attain personal revelation knowledge, filling their homes with all of the books, DVD's and teaching courses their favorite teachers produce to further their never ending faith-building chase.
This directly contributes to an inordinate infatuation with spiritual experiences quickly passed off as spiritual guidance that will spiritually "perfect" them. Despite the protests of many to the contrary, this helps explain why Faith Charismatics and Pentecostals engage themselves in an ardent search for signs and wonders, instead of the reverse (Mark 16:17) being true for New Testament believers. Along the way, an obsession with exposing and expunging demons responsible for a host of ills (such as spirits of accidents, worry, and overweight) usually becomes part of their belief system. Demons literally do dwell behind every bush, and as Faith teacher Norvel Hayes once said, there are actually several of them lurking there. Personal worship then becomes part of a "faith formula" to curry a personal piety and perspective into the supernatural world to discern and fend off spiritual attack and defeat through a variety of diverse and strange methods. An openness to Biblical spiritual giftings such as the baptism with the Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues, and words of wisdom and knowledge then becomes an effort to prop up tottering and unstable beliefs instead of accepting them as divine enduements of power for truly anointed Christian ministry.
Sadly, this manner of lifestyle inevitably will be threatened with the temptation to pursue self-centered blessing as a "King's Kid," concerned with the proverbial "us four and no more." And this then emboldens many misguided believers to reject the counsel of Christian authority figures - like their own pastors - for the sake of spiritual self-determination. The twisted logic here in some extreme cases has led many into personal instability and, worse of all, even terribly warped false teachings that drive them to create aberrant churches as deceptive and dangerous as many cultic movements (6).
This twisting of Christian faith, facilitated by Word of Faith teaching, is what I call pneuma-narcissism, an obsessive spiritual self-centeredness that completely undermines Christian growth and maturity. It leads them to build their lives upon sandy foundations of shifting moods, deceptively fickle feelings and unrealistic expectations completely out of touch with Biblical and literal reality. The Christian who founds his life upon that kind of morass, should they fail to possess their confession and achieve their divine health and wealth is then told by Faith teachers to try harder, confess more, sow more seeds. Click here to view by video how shameless Faith teachers will be as they compel "Faith people" to "sow for a harvest". And if there is no "breakthrough", they will then become spiritually frustrated, disheartened and then finally spiritually burnt out people who have no defense against the lure of their sinful past and the world itself - stumbling over Faith fables focused upon "promises of God" that He has never made.
With a personal foundation built upon the shaky traditions of Faith teaching and not the solid Word of God itself that establishes individually what real faith actually is, the Faith believer's convictions and personal commitments quickly wither, then crumble completely under the fires of living in a fallen, sinful world where bad things happen to good people. The rains that Jesus said will fall upon the just and the unjust and the hot suns arising to beat upon both evil and good people then become too much for them to handle (Matthew 5:45).
I and many other Pentecostal and Christian ministers have beheld this again and again in the lives of too many believers, watching them stumble under trial when their Faith "confession" didn't bring "possession" and who, offended, turned back into the world they had just escaped from.
The Clear And Present Danger Of Faith Teaching To The Christian Life
For those who persevere in their faith walk in Faith churches, the challenges are still very real. Men and women pointed to the person of Christ and faith in his shed blood for salvation in the Faith movement, in spite of the gaping snares of Faith teaching, somehow do receive ministry that brings them to faith, and in many cases, maturity in Christ. Too many others among them in their fellowships, however, are being fed upon an imbalanced Faith diet that both poisons and stunts them in their spiritual growth. The gospel of Christ is at once proclaimed in their evangelistic efforts, then overturned through the long-term confusion that new converts may be confronted with as they are discipled. Those won to Christ through many charismatic and Pentecostal Christians holding to Faith teachings are then stunted by the "meat of the Word," that is pressed upon them by these same Christians who will vouch for it's power to edify. Hence, the potential for skewed spiritual life, with it's subsequent manifestation of dysfunctional (some might also add accurately sinful) direction in one's ordinary day to day life is enormous when Faith teachings are applied to the letter.
The Faith movement is not unlike cultic groups who substitute grace for works in the propagating of their own "other gospels," in that it has been steered into accepting unbiblical and false doctrines and distinctions. I realize that this hot button issue has been a very big bone of contention in this controversy, but I have come to the reluctant conclusion that this assertion is not only defensible, but true. Saying this certainly isn't a career move for a young Pentecostal minister assaying to someday become a Church of God pastor, but it must be said, and loudly. Where the grace of God has begun, the works of religious flesh attempt to finish (Gal. 3:3). If followed consistently, the "rudiments of the world" (Col. 2:8) found in the gospel according to the Word of Faith movement effectively nullify the power of the Good News to bring spiritual wholeness to the believer. The sad truth of the matter is that the Faith movement does indeed follow chilling parallels with cultic systems of thought, with its belief in the divinely inspired inerrancy of it's "prosperity gospel," the unquestioning acceptance of their doctrine within a tightly knit community of people who exalt its subtly authoritarian teachers, and it's view that "Word people" currently hold to the only true perspective on Christianity. These errors are hardly any different then the prideful self-aggrandizing done by the Unification and Mormon churches, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the cultic Remnant Fellowship.
Subtle forms of spiritual abuse stemming from the dictates of control-oriented Faith movement "leadership" supplied by a "five-fold ministry" will have impacted thousands of lives.
Perhaps the most destructive error of the Faith movement which illustrates this is the spiritual compartmentalization within the hearts and minds of many "Faith people" that is forced upon them. This loaded word is perhaps more understandable when defined by the Scriptural term of doublemindedness mentioned in the book of James (1:8 and 4:8). Here, doublemindedness is referring to the action taken by Faith believers when confronted simultaneously by the differences between orthodox Christian and Faith teaching - or even critical reason and Faith teaching. The firm establishment of a spiritually and psychologically damaging denial mindset, a denial of reality, has been observed in many who have taken up Faith teaching.
When confronted with a situation demanding a decision for action that can follow Faith teaching principles or those of fundamental Christian practice or common sense, far too many zealous and sincere Christians have chosen the primrose path of "the believer's authority." In so doing, they brought untold woe upon themselves and others as they attempted to continue living one way in full knowledge of a better one, convinced their way is "God's way."
And when their failure to "get the victory" as they stand on Faith teaching, the "encouragement" they can expect from their "anointed" leaders is an exercise of finger pointing, telling them they didn't have "real faith."
In fact, Faith teachers, when confronted by their disciples with plain questions as to why they experienced tragedy and sorrows their "possession confessions" didn't forestall end up being effectively rebuked for not having enough faith! Click here to view a depressingly common example of this in a video of such "encouragement" that a Faith teacher delivered on TBN, at TBN founder Paul Crouch's behest, in 1993 to Faith Christians struggling with this painful reality in their lives in what is surely one of the most insulting, condescending and pompously self-justifying ramblings I've ever heard uttered in the name of God. Another tragic example of how bad teaching leads to misguided faith and bad practice will be seen in the tragic choices made by Christians who thought they were hearing from God from "generals."
In short, this doublemindedness is a literal compartmentalization, a state of mind in which an individual can hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously by "shelving" one when unneeded, and pulling down the other when necessity demands its use (such as asserting one's divine health while rebuking a "spirit of colds", taking cold medicine to break a fever and fighting down a fit of sneezing). It leads Faith believers to adopt an unbalanced situational approach to life as they decide which of the two belief systems to use in a given moment when confronted by life's many problems and challenges. We know of a Charismatic acquaintance was told by her little girl that she wasn't feeling well and was immediately rebuked by her mother for speaking such a negative thing. Click here to view a PDF file containing an excerpt from a Kenneth Copeland Ministry comic book, produced for children, that reinforces this unbelievably misguided principle in their impressionable minds. What sort of confusion does that impress upon children who are consistently held to such a bizarre standard of grotesque relativity? It will be the same sort of inner mental warping that their Faith parents struggle silently to reconcile to themselves, only they are being conditioned to accept as a matter of course that the guilt, inner struggle, and fear of failure this stirs within them is a spiritual deficiency they need to work harder to put behind them. The influence of Faith dogma is therefore responsible as well for much of this tragedy in the lives of the zealous and sincere when it is seen.
There are many things in life that people can experience the loss of, but, as one proverb well stated, take a man's faith away from him and you will surely kill him. The teachings of the Word of Faith movement about faith itself, and the twisting of simple trust in the promises of God into a works-oriented paroxysm of hyperactive self-motivation, effectively does just that. Christian researcher Stephen Cannon describes the inevitable inner erosion of those who addict themselves to Faith teaching: "After all the teaching, confessing and testifying, reality begins to rear it's ugly head. Common human suffering teaches Word-Faith adherents that their system just doesn't work!" (7). Faith in God becomes a wearying exercise of positive confessions and a rigid, smothering attempt to selectively suspend human rationality by the denial of the unpleasant aspects of one's personal existence and reality. Only God alone knows how many people in the movement have repeated the error of the Galatians that Paul sadly chides them for:
Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain? (Gal. 3:3-4)
How many "Word people" have joyously met Jesus and then found all of His promises bound up in a mechanism of human tradition that demanded them to approach him by becoming a cog in it's works? Only God alone how many have fell by the wayside, beaten and crushed. God forgive us for our proud blindness!
And we haven't begun to spend any time discussing the blatantly extravagant lifestyles lived by many Faith teachers, who having thrown whatever pretense of "propriety" to the winds they may have had, indulge themselves in millions of dollars of creature comforts from private jets to multimillion dollar homes, from customized Land Rovers to closets full of clothing purchased in junkets to New York City and Rodeo Drive. We'll not overstate the obvious.
Word of Faith teachings on the Gospel exalt human pride and deify man, creating the pneuma-narcissism that centers the believer's attentions on their own spiritual welfare. They don't come close to establishing what the Biblical basis for faith is and instead teach that God is subject to spiritual laws that any Christian with the right thinking can put into "operation" to make the supernatural work for them. The gospel according to Faith teachers contains an inexplicable mixture of Biblical truth and unbiblical assumptions centered around a destructive premise of "fai
th in your faith" that I cannot describe as anything else but Charismatic and Pentecostal witchcraft. That is one Pentecostal's perspective.
Unfortunately, even this degraded version of the Christian faith is not the most grievous error that those claiming the "God kind of faith" as a normative part of their Christian life can fall into. In our next article, we will have to confront and grapple with what is surely the most troubling and dangerous dimension of the Faith movement - it's unbiblical view of who God is and what the consequences would be in bowing their knee to the "god" of Faith teaching.
(38) Robert Tilton. Decide, Decree, Declare, (Tilton Ministries, 1989) pp. 31-32.
(39) Hagin, Kenneth. "They Overcame By The Blood Of The Lamb." The Word Of Faith, Sept. 1995, p. 9
(40) Kenneth Copeland. The Force of Faith,(KCP Publications, n.d.) p. 3, pp. 16-17.
(41) Kenneth Hagin. How To Turn Your Faith Loose, p. 28.
(42) John Avanzini. The Wealth Of The World, pp. 25-26
(43) The Word of Faith Fellowship of Spindale, North Carolina is just one of the more well known abusive churches with Word of Faith doctrinal/practical underpinnings (for an ex-member's perspective on the Spindale group, view this website of an ex-member). A vast wasteland filled with networks of spiritually abusive Faith churches has long been a bane of the Christian Church such as the Victory Church of Grand Forks, North Dakota, the Generations Church in Yuma, Arizona and the Family Harvest Church of Tinley Park, Illinois.
(44) Stephen Cannon, "The Presumptuous Teachings Of The Word-Faith Movement", p. 7, undated PFO tract
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