A Christian Response To The Word of Faith Movement
By Rev. Rafael D Martinez, Spiritwatch Ministries
In our first four articles, we've established what the Word of Faith movement stands for and what it practices. We are now aware of what Faith teachers mean when they make their claims in the name of God, Christ and the Gospel. Sadly we are also all aware of the dangerous paths they have lead converts, and, by default, a very sizable portion of the Body of Christ.
Such teaching hasn't gone unnoticed by the secular world, as this Time Magazine article cover shows, although the "gospel of wealth" is hardly "new" as it implies. With the endless appeal to this "prosperity gospel" by innumerable megachurch Faith pastors now being watched more carefully by secular eyes, the inevitable questions are being asked more closely then ever before.
In this final article we will closely look into what the Word of God says about the claims of this movement in an effort to create a Christian response to them. Since I hold to a conviction that millions of other believers share which contends that the Bible is the only rule for Christian faith and practice, our examination of Faith teachings by the Word of God will help us formulate a sound response. In the light of God's Word, rightly divided, we will examine the major claims we've touched on in our past articles which Faith teachers use to defend their work and revisit their questionable interpretations of several major Biblical proof texts they cite to support their positions.
This will all be, as I've said, one Pentecostal's perspective
One of the greatest needs in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements is for the creation of a sound and balanced response to the claims of the Faith movement that, if properly applied, would do much to bring balance to it. Most evangelical and secular "responses" to Faith teaching are rather "reactions" to their extreme elements. The logical fallacies, practical absurdities and religious eccentricities that Faith teaching compels Faith "people" to heartily embrace as divine truth makes them prime targets for this criticism. Based upon indignation, revulsion, even scorn, we can find that a lot of criticism has been heaped upon the Faith movement that has done little for those laboring under it's delusions but which has elevated the ego of the defender of the faith who initiated the tongue lashing.
Needless to say, as a Pentecostal minister, I am not interested in contributing to such a patently carnal approach, although some of the objections that I have already raised in segments of this work are rather forcefully expressed. My concern is entirely upon upholding a Biblical perspective on a Biblically questionable spiritual movement that too many assume is founded upon sound Christian teaching - when it is anything but sound.
To do this, we must follow the command of the Word to "prove all things," and to "hold fast to that which is good" in accordance with the plain thrust of 1 Thessalonians 5:21. I quoted that Scripture at the outset of this analysis not as pious filler - but to establish a bona fide criterion, a Divine mandate for Christians to put to the test any and all claims made in regard to Christian faith and practice. As we have said, it is not a mission of fault finding to do just this - particularly if it is a command from Scripture! It is not a quenching of the Spirit, nor is it an attempt to advance a self-serving agenda.
In fact, if there be any threat, it is to the many false doctrines and practices that have no substance to them which riddle the contemporary Christian church today which will be found wanting any leg to stand on after a careful examination. This is probably the reason why so many people get hot and bothered when the issue of doctrinal integrity is raised - it is simply because many of them are among the multitudes who are largely Biblically illiterate. They find their warm, comfortable positions threatened by the cold, hard realities that will demand an accounting of truth and a commitment to discernment as the Word of God would demand of us.
But the Bible leaves us no other room for compromise when error seeks to distort it.
Be that as it may, when the Word of Faith movement is examined there is actually some cause for rejoicing and even commendation. After page upon page of this Pentecostal's perspective on the errors of the Faith movement, you might not actually believe I could make such a statement. But it is true: there is much that is encouraging in the Faith movement which far too many analyses completely miss. We wish to discuss some of these now.
The Whole World Is Watching: What's Right With The Word Of Faith Movement?
Since the 1960's, the Word of Faith movement has been a dominant force in the Charismatic and Pentecostal world, impacting millions of lives directly and multiplied millions more who are indirectly involved with it. In dozens of languages and hundreds of cross-cultural settings globally, the Faith movement profoundly shapes the faith and life of these millions daily as it sings the praises of it's prosperity gospel, presenting it as God's answer to the questions and needs of humanity. It is completely impossible to overstate just how influential Word of Faith teaching has become.
It has long ago moved
from its Charismatic Christian roots into becoming a mainstream institution of
Evangelicalism, attracting the attention of tens of millions of people who
would never have thought to enter a "tongue talking" church through
its media ministries, megachurches, and intriguing teachings about a God who
loves to prosper people. The success of a Joel Osteen or
Joyce Meyer, for
example, is proof positive of this, yet without the pioneering examples of the
long defunct PTL Club or the present day Trinity Broadcast Network's
juggernaut, the Word of Faith movement would not have the impact it does
today. Faith teachings, for example, were found thriving behind the Iron
Curtain of Communist Russia in the 1980’s and have, since its fall become a
major spiritual player in the religious topography of
Recently a church leadership coalition in Britain explored the implications of the Word of Faith movement's teaching and released a position paper on it with observations that should be kept in mind when considering the life-changing impact that this movement's inclusive culture has left on so many lives:
A new report by
The Faith, Health and Prosperity report recognises that tensions exist between mainstream evangelicalism and the so-called Word of Faith movement, which asserts that God guarantees health and wealth through faith and an obedience to his Word. The report challenges both critics and supporters of the movement to engage in constructive dialogue.
The report lays down challenges to some of the assumptions made by Word of Faith proponents, particularly the over-emphasis on material and physical blessing at the expense of the Gospel message of suffering and self-denial. Word of Faith, arriving in the UK from America, is described in the report as an "unabashed advocate of material prosperity" that promotes a wealth-affirming ethos that is at odds with the gospel.
The report raises questions that prosperity teaching is simply a means of assuaging the consciences of wealthy Christians in the West, who wish to excuse their lavish lifestyles. There is also a danger that the apparent affluence of prosperity teachers may replace Christ as the object of praise and imitation.
Teachers who have benefited from supporters' donations, creating an image of the prosperous and charismatic leader, may be seen as the example of prosperity that followers are aspiring to.
Yet there is an acknowledgement that Word of Faith, at its heart, is all about "a deep appreciation for what God has done in Christ, a desire to take the Word of God with the utmost seriousness, and, most importantly, a determination to defend the life of faith against the forces of secularism."
This, the report states, is enough to provide common ground for bridges to be built, and calls on critics and supporters of the movement to engage in constructive dialogue. Those critical of the movement must develop a more positive understanding of the role of wealth within the divine economy, according to the report, and those within Word of Faith are urged to demonstrate a willingness to be heard as one voice among others within evangelicalism. (103)
This British article underscores an important point: it is impossible for any questionable Christian movement to be 100 percent heretical - there is always truth in the midst of error. While our criticisms of the Faith movement and its questionable teaching are many, our pointed observations direct, and our perspective rather blunt, we are just as quick to recognize that there is much inherent worth in the modern Faith movement as we see it proceeding around the world. If the sovereignty of God is as gracious as we believe it to be, then a tacit recognition of the hand of God upon the movement cannot be denied, even if grievous error has been the fruit of much of its labor. We have always felt that even if the Faith Christian's false doctrine is definitely questionable, we cannot fault the godly desire and passion for Christian truth and Kingdom presence that motivates the average Faith Christian to so completely embrace it. No group or teaching is totally erroneous since they all must exploit some grain of truth to nurture the growth of their error. Heresy has virtually no power until it is mingled with divine truth, thus fulfilling a sobering proverb: the most dangerous lie is the one that most closely resembles the truth.
Perhaps this can be paralleled with the Biblical principle found in Romans 7:7-13, in which the apostle Paul - speaking about the limitations of the Jewish law - describes how the consequences of sin are made so much more destructive when in the presence of the law. The commandment against sin, when disobeyed, makes sin's deceptive power so much more alluring, and hence, more spiritually ruinous. The point we are attempting to establish is that one cannot create a seductive counterfeit without having a spiritually authentic pattern to go by.
The distorted echoes of authentically Biblical truth that the Faith movement thrives upon do have a divine origin which too many critics want to ignore. So in the full light of the "holy, and just, and good" (v. 12) that is certainly present in sound Pentecostal and Charismatic practice, the Faith movement has adopted from both movements many of the sound principles of Christian faith and practice that can be found in it's "word churches." There is indeed quite a bit in the Faith movement that rises head and shoulders above it's errors, and we wish to rejoice in what we can certainly affirm is indeed a core of sound reality within the Faith movement:
Most Word Of Faith Adherents Are Sincere Christians - By saying that most Word of Faith members are believers should be understood in the same way that it can be affirmed that not all who profess to be Christians actually are. The "good Baptist" and the "good Catholic" who live hypocritical lives of license and carnality are hardly any different from their tongue-talking counterparts in Pentecostal or Charismatic circles. As the Scripture says, there are none righteous, no, "not one" (Romans 3:10): all people regardless of their religiosity never escape the Almighty's piercingly impartial view of their deeds and that He will not wink at their personal unrighteousness.
Despite all of the overwhelming potential for it to be smothered completely out, much of the movement's clergy and laity do a good job in preserving and proclaiming the essentials of the Gospel. Many do make it abundantly clear that confession and repentance from sin followed by faith in Christ bring anyone into redemptive relationship with Him. Even though the defiling leaven of the Faith movement's grotesquely blasphemous views of the nature of the Trinity and Christ are horrific distortions of Biblical truth whose inroads into many Faith members lives have been disturbingly noted, it is far from being a doctrine that has completely swept the movement.
In fact, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Faith Christians who've never heard of the doctrine and hold orthodox, if not uninformed and tradition-based understandings of the Trinity and the Gospel of Christ. These are among the great number of Faith believers who have truly accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and who are indeed fellow soldiers and saints in the great household of the Father.
Many non-Faith Christians steadfastly overlook or fail to recognize this - and many others would refuse to do so. But those in the Faith movement who have obeyed the Gospel are literal family whose well-being and welfare should be our passionate concern. As I have said, it is easier to stigmatize someone with a label that marks them as unworthy of even our attention so as to avoid the responsibility of committing ourselves into honest, loving relationships with those whom we despise. How greatly we grieve the Spirit Himself when we turn our backs on our very family!
Most Word Of Faith Ministries Do Actually Reach Out - Those in the Faith movement have been major supporters of innovative ministry initiatives that transcend denominational barriers and do wonders to advance the cause of Christ throughout our world. Many truly creative and groundbreaking innovations have been brought to bear by many in the movement in proclaiming the Gospel (such as in traveling drama troupes, internet evangelism, special outreaches like thematically oriented street preaching and door to door visitation, etc.). Although there is a regrettably extensive amount of antagonism against denominations in the movement, there are many within it that reject such extremism and have stood shoulder to shoulder with other Christians who attend such churches in various cooperative efforts from city-wide evangelistic efforts, food banks, pro-life activism, and crisis helplines. Recent developments such as Promise Keepers and the March For Jesus enjoy a high amount of support and participation that comes from Faith churches.
Reconciliation and prayer summits aimed at healing breaches between ethnic groups and bringing interdenominational fellowship are also enthusiastically supported by a portion of the Faith movement's constituency. I was delighted a few years ago to see Charismatic teacher Francis Frangipane lead his white brethren at a prayer conference in a time of solemn humbling and repentance before the black Christians present for their collective part in not doing more to end racism. In a Southern town, this is by no means a politically correct thing to do, but Frangipane's obedience to the Holy Spirit was used to lead many of them into a time of reconciliation that was memorable and electrifying to behold. For all that one can say about Frangipane's questionable teaching and practice, his action was an embodiment of 2 Corinthians 5:8 that was following an inspired and higher calling. Like so many others seek to fulfill the apostolic mandate to minister in a reconciliatory spirit that builds bridges between the estranged, seeks redress for wrongs and calls upon God's grace to unite and restore the hearts and minds of communities by the transforming power of the Gospel. There can be no fault of such a generous spirit of conciliatory humility. And church-related divisions aren't the only brokenness that Faith Christians seek healing for - you will find many dedicated Faith ministers actively involved in attempts to mediate and resolve marital and family divisions.
Most Word Of Faith Worship Services Truly Praise God - The revitalization of praise and worship liturgy in the Christian church has largely come as a result of the ministry of many fine composers and musicians - many who are within the Faith movement - who have scored some of the most well-known and edifying choruses and hymns in contemporary worship that have been ever written. The resurgence of vibrant worship has been guided through a great company of worship leaders who genuinely lead entire congregations into real worship.
Although there are some distracting developments and questionable elements among these musicians and worship leaders (such as the tendency to overemphasize worship to the point of and the "tabernacle of David" restoration teachings), by and large, this revitalization has been profound. Few worship services are more memorable and encouraging than those in which entire congregations - whether five or five thousand in number - are united in heart and soul through individuals lost in adoration of the Father. The experiential and demonstrative dimensions of Charismatic and Pentecostal worship can bear an ineffable quality to them which can lead one to reckon that they have truly sat in heavenly places.
Church services energized with the pungency of Charismatic and Pentecostal worship distinctives that at one time were harangued as emotional fluff now are hailed as truly inspired gatherings of Spirit-led Christians that can no longer be ignored by those seeking a revival of worship in their own deadened and lifeless churches. Make no mistake about it - not a few evangelical and mainline churches have attempted to mimic and adapt some of the less "objectionable" elements of Pentecostal / Charismatic worship styles that the Faith movement has long used (such as uplifted hands, live worship teams, and praise and worship choruses projected on huge screens).
Most Word Of Faith Christianity Does Receive Power From On High - The acceptance of spiritual gifts as an inheritance of the Body given by the Spirit of God for the empowerment and edification of all its members is also a strong plus for the Faith movement. Although there are some serious differences among Charismatics, Pentecostals and Faith "people" in regards to how the gifts are defined and manifested in Christian life, there is a fundamental agreement about them among all three groups: that they are legitimate realities that can no longer be explained away. The Church stands at the brink of the World and Age to Come and is in dire need of the divine empowerment for evangelization and edification that openness to the gifts would provide.
There are also vast segments of the Body of Christ who dismiss the possibility of Christians being enabled to serve God and man through extraordinary and supernaturally provided giftings not attributed to human skill, wisdom or talent. I am aware of this and am saddened that there now exist well over a hundred reasons why so many of them feel that this kind of wonder-working power was supposedly cut off years ago in the days of the apostles and that this is established fact to their fellowships, thus identifying them as "cessationists".
In our postchristian age where Christianity is becoming little more than a cultural myth in the West, both the Word of God and His Spirit are still vital to world evangelization. The recovery of the church of spiritual gifts that she has long needed to "(confirm) the word with signs following" (Mark 16:20) is less an issue of divisive sectarianism but a critical advance of divine sovereignty in the work of Christian world mission. Many believers who subscribe to these cessationist views obviously would disagree, but, in this Pentecostal's perspective, the openness to spiritual manifestations such as described in the New Testament is part of a divine order for the New Testament church. It actually extends direct and sovereign control over the lives of Christians in the Church in a most profound manner as it intentionally makes room for the demonstration of His Kingdom rule among them.
What could be more Christ-centered and Kingdom-building than to humbly wait for Him to work as He did in the day of the apostles? This issue of sovereignty is only now beginning to be understood anew with the advent of attention to divinely endowed spiritual gifts among the Body of Christ.
Most Word Of Faith Fellowships Seek Innovation In Ministry - Finally, an openness to new models of Christian ministry that involve the entire body of believers is alive and well in many Faith fellowships. The sovereignty of God the Spirit has impressed upon many in the Faith movement to innovatively reapproach, rethink, and recommission themselves to various levels of ministry that offer a much more balanced view of the "five-fold ministry" than that is immediately seen. While an overemphasis on the lordship of "anointed" men and women leadership is still a major Faith movement error, many others have been led in the establishment of lay-initiated spiritual ministry, in perfect keeping with Biblical admonitions regarding corporate ministry (1 Cor 14:26, Col. 3:16).
Inexorably, an observer will see aspects of personal ministry efforts that can be characterized as having apostolic, prophetic, pastoral, evangelistic, and teaching dimensions. There will be believers whose calling is that in establishing teaching ministry, others who feel led to disciple and shepherd the babes in Christ, and still others who receive visions, utter prophecies and inspired words of wisdom and knowledge - all done in submission to one another and to the sole end of edifying the Body at large. They then incorporate these unique promptings of the Spirit of God into their lifestyle and their Christian walk in many creative, unique and deeply personal ways. Actively involving children, youth, and women in these spiritual services in corporate and private settings is a literal actualization of the "royal priesthood" of believers (1 Peter 2:9). When kept in the proper spirit of submission to one another, in proper deference to mature leadership, and the authority of Scripture, no other Biblical description of a "New Testament church" can be more in conformity with the New Testament reality. That is one Pentecostal’s opinion.
While many in the Faith movement (as well as the Body at large) imperfectly attempt to establish such an order, the fact that failures, mistakes and even flat out carnality occurs does not negate the reality of such a goal, one long cherished by the Church "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith .. " (Eph. 4:12, 13ff). Ministry models may come and go as easily as the variety of forms of church polity and governance that 2
Along with their positive contributions to the Body of Christ, we now must address the errors that the Faith movement has also served up. We wish to now define, in the rest of the balance of this paper, a Christian response to Faith teaching and practice errors
Faith Teachings Examined In The Light Of God's Word
Throughout the four articles preceding this one, we have heard the glib assertions of many a Faith teacher that they teach nothing but the "uncompromised Word of God," laying a bold claim that their preachings and teachings are grounded on the precepts of an anciently established Biblical faith that has been long misunderstood. They, of course, claim to be simple Bible expositors who only follow the truth of Scripture where they find it and tell it like it is so that the Gospel may be proclaimed and the Church edified to serve a fallen world better.
Going back to the Greek text of Scripture always provides for us nuances of meaning that often radically change popular and traditional interpretations made of them. The oral traditions of the first Christians included the writings of the apostles and the Hebrew Old Testament and became the canon of the New Testament today. And studying the truth claims of individual verses of the Bible in their proper contexts in conjunction with this has been what sound Bible expositors in the Church have done for over two millenia. Using translation of the original Hebrew and Greek languages as the means to derive meaning and teaching from those Scriptures written in them as well as considering the literary genres and background behind them has been the foundational approach of the Church to sound study of Scripture. Despite wide diversity on many secondary issues among many in the Christian Church today, there is an unmistakable unity among much of it on the essentials of Christian faith which has been established in this way by generations of Christian leaders to preserve, preach, defend and publish Christian truth claims.
Unfortunately, the approach of too many Charismatic and Pentecostal believers to Scripture, in trying to follow this time tested pattern, has been to make the Bible fit their doctrine instead of the other way around. They delve into the passages of the Bible to find proof texts that support the truth claims that support their biases instead of just accepting Scripture as it is written. They then construct a faulty logic based on improper emphasis on certain phrases, words, and Biblical events, completely ignoring the silence of certain passages and the contradiction of others that relate to the topic or subject they are "studying up."
It literally becomes an issue where sound Biblical study involving verse by verse interpretation and exposition is largely cast to the winds and a barrage of Scripture verses wrested out of context presented by well dressed, articulate and funny preachers becomes the transmission belt for grievous falsehood. This skewed approach to the Bible is a violation of Biblical truth that has been introduced, refined and streamlined by three generations of Faith teachers, from Oral Roberts to Paula White and marketed relentlessly by their example as cutting edge revelation knowledge that has been lost and now, in the last days, has been found.
The errors of the Faith movement we've looked at this far certainly involve this kind of perverted Biblical interpretation. We will see all of this and more as we study and as we seek to let God's Word speak to the claims of Faith teaching. Let us now examine some of these unbiblical teachings and a Biblical response to them:
3 John 2 - Who Promised What? - One of the Bible’s verses you’ll find most circled, highlit and claimed as a “Bible promise” by all Faith Christians is one that details the pious wish of the apostle John that he wrote in his epistle 3 John to a Christian brother to express his desire for her to receive great blessing from God. This is, of course, 3 John 2. As we’ve seen, Faith believers all over the world endlessly quote the verse as a prooftext that supposedly proves that God’s will is that all men be always prosperous. They then build upon this stated belief to an astonishing degree, creating endlessly restated versions of the same Faith conception about the will of God being always to prosper Christians. Listen to Faith pastor Gregory Dickow’s take on the verse that is pretty representative of popular Faith thinking on the verse. Here, Dickow is explaining to Faith believers how to commend the claims of the “prosperity gospel” to those who question its basis:
The blood of Jesus is very powerful. It paid the price for our sins, for our sickness, for our disease, for our defeat so that we can have not only salvation but so we can have victory in every area of our life .. He desires for us to succeed because His blood paid for us to be saved and to succeed. Here are some Scriptures that you can share with these people. One of the things that you can say to them is, “Look, here are some Scriptures. You may want to look at them; you may not. It’s totally up to you, but this is what I base my belief on regarding money and prosperity.” And really, it’s not just about money; it’s about success and prosperity in every area of your life. 3 John 2 says, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” God wants your soul to prosper, and when it does – when your soul, emotions, mind, and intellect are flourishing in the Word of God – it’s going to affect every area of your life. (104)
Dickow, as all Faith teachers, freely
associates the atonement of Christ with their belief that the mission of Christ
The Response Of The Word: When considered in proper context, it is easily recognizable that 3 John 2 contains the personal expression of the apostle John's good will towards the well-beloved Gaius, one of his ministry companions: "Beloved, I wish .." This verse contains John's greeting to Gaius at the opening of a letter he had sent to him, and gives us a glimpse into the close relationship both men had. And that is essentially all that can gleaned from this passage of Scripture. It cannot be interpreted as a promise from God that assures divine health and wealth; it is simply a wish for the bestowal of God's blessings upon a friend.
What John wishes for Gaius is interesting in that the material and physical well-being of Gaius is hoped to be "prospering." This actually suggests that he may actually be confronted by physical need! That doesn't sound like Gaius seemed to have a lot of faith if the apostle mentioned it. But whether it is or not, what is clear is that 3 John 2 does not contain any promise of blessing from God whatsoever. Unlike the pet doctrinal presumption of Faith teachers, Christians have no basis for reading any more into this text than was intended by the author. The technical term for this is eisegesis, the exact opposite of what sound Biblical interpretation called exegesis. It is important to note that when we read of John's heartfelt desire that Gaius's physical prosperity be as abundant as his spiritual prosperity that the passage in its original Greek language provides a crucial insight lost upon Faith teachers who point to it as a carte blanch guarantee of divine wealth.
So when former Faith movement luminary Jim Bakker did so, while in prison in the late 1980's through the early 1990's, his personal research provided a penetrating illumination of 3 John 2 that cannot be dismissed. Found in his book I Was Wrong, Bakker's commentary showed how he learned this at a terrible personal and ministerial cost: that Faith eisegesis of Scripture is never the same as Christian exegesis of it:
I had preached on this verse for most of my ministry. It said exactly what I believed - that God wanted His people to prosper, and by that, I interpreted it to mean prosper financially and materially, in other words, to get rich. Again, I never really examined the true meaning of the text, nor did I ever seriously consider why this verse, on the surface anyhow, seemed to contradict so much of what the New Testament said in other places. I simply pulled this verse out of context and took it to the bank - literally!
... We looked up the meaning of the word prosper. We found the word translated "prosper" in the King James Version of the Bible came from a Greek word, eudoo, which is made up of two Greek root words, eu, which means "good," and hodos, which means "road, or route, a progress, or journey." We did not find a single reference in the Greek to money, riches or material gain from the word translated prosper in the King James Version.
The apostle John, the writer, was saying simply, "I wish you a good, safe, and healthy journey throughout your life, even as your soul has a good and safe journey to heaven." John was not saying "Above everything else, I want you to get rich. Above everything, you should prosper and make money." That is not even implied in the true meaning of the verse. Yet I had based much of my philosophy at PTL and even before that on this one verse that I had totally misunderstood! (105)
After all the shouting and interviews, after all of the noise of the dissolution of his marriage and ministry had died down, Jim Bakker finally was immobilized long enough by a prison cell in Rochester, New York in 1989 and took the time to sit down and study what the Bible actually says in context and from the original languages. He was shocked to the core when he found that 3 John 2's meaning was, in essence, what we've just shared - it contained the apostle's wish for a prosperous and fulfilling spiritual journey that would also compliment his natural lifestyle. That's all it has ever meant and the Faith movement's twisting of the verse to make it appear that God's will is complete prosperity for all Christians is plainly shown to be a bold corruption of the verse. Click here to view a video of his remembrance.
Unfortunately, this isn't the only case we'll see this in as we continue. This fundamentally stark contrast between the polar opposites of eisegesis and exegesis will become clearer.
2 Corinthians 8:9 – Right behind 3 John 2 in popularity among Word of Faith believers is the Bible verse 2 Corinthians 8:9. Once again, the Faith movement’s interpretation of the verse draws deeply upon an assumption that Christ’s atonement on the Cross was a gateway to divine health and wealth. Note this brief quote from a “Bible lesson” found on a website of the Believers Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma:
Jesus paid the price for mankind's prosperity. 2 Corinthians 8:9 –“ For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” Why did Jesus become poor? Not to set an example -- but that you might become rich! The price has been paid.(106, emphasis mine)
Faith teacher and pastor Bill Bailey, quoting 2 Corinthians 8:9 and a flurry of other prooftexts, presses home this point in his doctrinal statement at his website:
Throughout the Bible, God promises and makes provision for prosperity to those who hearken unto Him and who walk in obedience to His Word. Prosperity is a covenant right and is available to everyone who has been born-again and therefore entered into that covenant in the Blood of Jesus Christ .. Prosperity is part of the Redemption, as Jesus was made poor, that we might be made rich, just as He was made to be sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 8:9) (107, emphasis mine)
Once again, the Faith movement’s chief assumption and logical conclusion here is that prosperity is a divine birthright that all Christians are to enjoy. The New Covenant that Christ sealed with his own blood at the Cross is supposedly the initiative of a good God that should settle the argument once and for all. To plead any other case is to reject, the Faith movement would have us believe, the plain light of what is viewed as nothing less then His own divine plan.
The Response Of The Word - Once again, the Faith movement's presumption disregards the plain meaning of Scripture, ignoring both historical and Biblical context to make the verse say what they want it to say. This is a pattern that the Faith movement has lapsed into again and again and we'll see this over and over. However, in the reading of 2 Corinthians 8:9 in its Biblical context, we will find established a vastly different situation that cannot be ignored. 2 Corinthians 8:9 is a well-worn verse taken by the Faith movement to further prove that the substitutionary atonement (the sacrifice for sin in our place) of Christ extended not only to the spiritual, but to the material and financial aspects of Christian life. He became poor, they teach, by adopting our miserable state of poverty, so that we could become rich, increased, prosperous in all areas of our life.
That doesn't square with the New Testament realities faced by the New Testament church. The entire chapter of 2 Corinthians 8 contains Paul's account of early church stewardship which was then compared with the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of mankind. Verses 1-5 contain his commendation of the Macedonian church's generosity which they earnestly offered "out of the most severe trial" and "their extreme poverty" (emphasis mine). The Macedonian church clearly viewed it as a privileged ministry "to the saints." Paul then used the example of the Macedonian church's sacrificial giving as a means of presenting a challenge to the Corinthian congregation first through Titus (v. 6), and again in person (v. 7). He exhorted them to "excel in this grace of giving," desiring to "test the sincerity of your love" (v. 8) by finally alluding to the ultimate example of earnest and unselfish sacrifice - the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ Himself.
The grace of Christ
is seen wonderfully in the self-impoverishment He deliberately wrought: His
state of being "rich" is nothing less than a reference to His
preincarnate glory (John 17:5 - "the glory which I had with thee before
the world was") which was manifest through his Redemption (Eph. 1:7
- "the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's
grace."). And in the most selfless act known to mankind (v. 9), Jesus "became
poor" through His Incarnation (Phil 2:7-8 - "(he) made himself
nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human
likeness"), laying aside the glory which he had eternally embodied and
doing this willingly, even joyfully (Hebrews 12:2) so that "through
his poverty" we "might become rich" by the price He paid for our
sins. Mankind was then "bought with a price" (1
Paul's point in the verse here is simple to understand: if Jesus could give so totally of himself for the Church, then the Corinthian church itself - as all do - has the same opportunity to give so totally of it's material means "to prove the sincerity of your love" (cp. v. 11), that being in this case their giving of offerings to fund the early church's first Gospel outreaches. The verse is a challenge to Christian stewardship - not some money-back divine guarantee that the passion and atonement of Jesus Christ automatically destines believers all manner of earthly riches.
So 2 Corinthians 8:9, when seen in it's proper context also cannot be used by the Faith movement to justify it's carnally materialistic bent any more than 3 John 2.
Faith, “Faith- Filled Words" And "Confession Bringing Possession": We have seen that another one of the foundations of Faith teaching is the view that God has divinely invested Christians through the New Covenant the same creative ability through verbal utterance of "faith-filled words" that God supposedly uses. In my article on the claims of Faith teaching, we've examined what has been taught about this point, so we'll briefly review it here:
Like 3 John 2 and 2 Corinthians 8:9, Faith teachers are fond of quoting Romans 4:17 as an example of how Christians are to speak creative words filled with spiritual power. They observe from the verse that "God, who quickeneth the dead, .. calleth those things which be not as though they were" and believe His divine actions are a pattern expanded upon by Jesus in Mark 11:22. Faith teachers claim that verse in Mark 11 is a divine revelation showing that even God exercises a degree of divine faith which Christians should emulate, so that whoever "shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith." Their belief presumes that God is a “faith God” who actually must use faith to accomplish His will in the universe. Such Faith teachings define God's creative power in these terms and dictate to Christians that their "victorious Christian life" is entirely dependent upon their ability to exercise them. Kenneth Copeland describes it in this manner:
When your words are words of faith, God will be able to trust you with His power in the words of your mouth. What you speak, good and bad, is what you will receive. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). (Matthew 12:34). For your words to be so powerful that they cause things to come to pass, they must have the force of faith behind them - you must believe in your heart. Your mouth will speak what is put into your heart. (108)
Boiling this point down into one of his alliterative faith formulae, the inimitable Robert Tilton explains how this is to be done by "Faith people":
"'Decide' means to determine something, to make a choice or choose direction .. 'Decree' is defined as an order having the force of law behind it; it is a legal proclamation of the king's will. It is also the foreordaining of one's will; commanding something to happen.' .. ' Declare means to make clear; to make something known; to affirm or make something firm and strong; to state positively. .. These three words are the keys for obtaining miracles .. " (109)
Kenneth Hagin's well known tract Words, on pages 29-30, delivers the classic exposition on the "Word of Faith"
Jesus did not teach in Mark 11:23 'he shall have whatsoever he believeth.' He taught 'he shall have whatsoever he saith.' In other words, you will have what you speak. You will have your WORDS. Faith is always expressed in WORDS. Faith must be released in WORDS through your mouth. We can see that in all of these Scriptures we have read. When you speak something, that is action. It took me a long time to discover that - 16 months of being bedfast - because nobody had ever taught me that. (110)
This one point has staggering implications for one's personal faith as well as Christianity itself, and is a firmly etched line in the sand of truth that must not be overlooked.
Despite what any and every Faith teacher might heartily amen here, if we are to believe these assumptions Hagin, Tilton and Copeland have made here in their own teaching, which are at the heart of all Faith teaching, then the nature of faith itself has been effectively and decisively redefined in a completely unbiblical manner. If the Faith movement is correct on this point and if it is true that one's words can cause "things to come to pass" by deciding, decreeing and then declaring what one expects to happen in their lives as their heart's abundance chooses them, then faith itself has nothing to do with trust in God's Scripturally defined promises and power. Faith has been turned into a matter of personal mastery over spiritual laws that even God Himself must exercise perfect faith in to accomplish his will. It then becomes a matter of exercising mental powers to physically manifest mind pictures, a process hardly any different then pagan magick. What kind of "God" are we speaking of here, then ?
Much has been said about it in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles in recent years, but it is this Faith teaching principle alone that most closely resembles actual Charismatic witchcraft when presented as Biblical and Christian "faith in God" to the Body of Christ. For we that the focus of faith is then no longer upon God but upon the self. It becomes a misguided and narcissistic mysticism that completely breaks from a Biblical view of belief and faith and has more in common with a well-intentioned yet unmistakable idolatry than anything else.
And when its essentially unbiblical nature is unanswered by God's blessings - when confession doesn't bring possession - it pulls out the spiritual rug from under the immature and/or stunted spirituality of the Christian who trusted in it. When their decrees don't forestall a disaster, "speak" life into a dying loved one, or materialize the desire of one's heart, they run the risk of being spiritually devastated, which leads to spiritual offense and a falling away from Christ and Christianity all together. The shipwreck and destruction of Christian faith that this has led to is a veritable roll call of entire populaces of crushed men and women whose numbers would fill hundreds of thousands of churches across our land and around the world alone.
I could really, really stop and preach non stop at this point, but I won't .. Let Scripture do the talking here:
The Response Of The Word - What does the Bible say about the belief that creative confessions bring possessions? Does Scripture teach that Christians have a divine right to decree creative words of faith that materialize whatever they desire in the same way God uses faith to accomplish His own will?
First of all, any Faith teacher needs to be asked this question squarely: in Romans 4:17, who is it that "quickens the dead and calls those things which be not as though they were?" Who is the one whose words have this kind of unimaginable might? Such power is exercised by God and God alone: nothing is said or hinted at in this verse or verses about Christians being granted the same kind of divine power. There is no other verse in the Bible that suggests that God's very words are vessels of divine potential that can be tapped into at will by human beings. However, there are plenty of other verses that show that His spoken word alone expresses His divine authority before creation, divine utterances reserved for and sent as it pleases Him alone (Numbers 27:21, 1 Kings 13:32, Psalms 107:20, Luke 11:28, John 1:1, 1Thess. 2:13, 4:15; Heb 4:12). God alone can exert such creative power.
The audacity to which mere human beings can fancy themselves as able to not only wield but claim a Christian birthright to such unspeakable power reserved only for God is always astonishing, almost breathtaking. It clearly says much about the ignorance of Faith teachers who do not seem to hear God's vastly more informed position on how alike we really are to him:
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness .. Romans 3:10-19
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. Romans 12:3
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? James 4:1-5
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations Psalms 82:6-8
Christian men and women are still human beings filled with weakness, subject to temptation, and fully in command of their free wills. The same tongues that "speak life" will readily gossip, tear down and utter perverse oaths as James 3:9 so pointedly observes: "Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God." The work of the Spirit of God in the Christian's salvation, sanctification and Spirit baptism - which the Faith movement hurriedly points to as the token of our new status as "King's Kids", among other things - doesn't eradicate that dark and fallen side of our human nature from us.
It's still true that the living sacrifices of our lives laid on the altar before God as an act of worship still find a way to crawl off the altar.
Matthew 12:34 is the Bible verse that Faith teachers love to quote when referring to one's speaking out of the abundance of their heart. They explain that one's positive confession of "faith filled words" is required of the Faith Christian, hence their need to weigh their words carefully. Yet the verse actually illustrates how one's speech establishes the state of their moral character. When considered in the context Christ spoke, which was a rebuke to the hypocritical Pharisees’ poisonous and judgmental speech, the verse doesn't commend any "faith speaking" at all : "O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh."
We find that Scripture shows us here that not only are we carnal beings subject to the assault of our personal sinfulness but that we are just creations of God that, however highly regarded and loved by Him, are far from "divine." Anyone in the Faith movement or Christian church at large who would insist otherwise is ignoring at their spiritual peril the painful truth that we are still people who have needed, will need and always shall need the graces of a Savior, imparted to us by a Spirit sent from the presence of the Father. The Cross itself is proof of that. Therefore, it's safe to conclude that Christians have no essential, moral or spiritual equality with God whatsoever and have no power to "speak" anything into existence ex nihilo (Latin for "out of nothing").
So what is real Christian faith if not the kind of word-spell casting mysticism that Faith teachers advocate?
Real faith is trust placed in God's revealed promises by men willing enough to live by that and that alone. It is taking God's written and at times spoken assurances that His provision and promises are all sufficient to meet our needs, no matter what they are, as He supplies. For over two millenia, the Christian church has taught that trusting God and awaiting His mercies which He freely bestows each day in both good and bad times is what is ultimately behind real faith. It’s only been in the last 60 years that Faith teaching has blithely gone on to pervert and twist the definition of what real Christian faith involves.
Hebrews 11 contains the classic recount of Biblical figures who exhibited this kind of true faith. Faith teachers get mileage among "Faith people" in their unbiblical claim that Hebrews 11:1 demonstrates that faith is an actual "spiritual substance" that is manufactured by creative confessions and that it is the "stuff" that fills the containers of the words confessed in them. This mysterious and powerful essence is the divine energy that brings change in natural circumstances, they say, and by using this unbiblical mind-science perspective, Faith teachers go on to unbiblically distort the perspective the chapter should be viewed in. The testimonials of faith of the Biblical figures listed there are then advanced as adepts of a higher spiritual discipline that the Faith teachers are there to reveal to you.
Those in the "Faith" movement sadly miss the intent of Hebrews 11 verse 6 which illustrates what the backbone of true faith is made of: "Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." It is this quality of steadfast and persistent trust in God's very Being that is at the heart of what real faith is. Faith is not just a Sunday affirmation made in a congregation sitting in their pews - it is the daily lifestyle of an informed mind and a warmed heart that chooses to endure and patiently trust God's unseen yet intimate reality amidst any disaster and all skepticism. It is a continuity of hope that encounters all of life's challenges head-on and uses each situation to once again learn, as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11-12, that in "whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." No amount of Faith teacher waffling can explain it away: behind the adjective whatsoever is what the word implies - any and everything that life can bring to you, be it the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. And through each struggle came, Paul added, a new teachable moment in his lifelong education in Christian serenity based upon unshakeable trust in God: "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need."
For a fickle Christian populace conditioned to expect immediate gratification of all of the desires of their hearts from an indulgent Daddy God who only lives to bless the King’s kids, that's not the good news they'll want to hear - but it is the Gospel truth. It is only this kind of overcoming faith that grapples with and defies adversity that could enable Paul to pen his classic and riveting confession in he which he stated "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (v. 13). In the end, the Christian can face anyone and anything with the inner fortification of the power of the living Spirit of Christ that their relationship with Him gives them. And through His unlimited grace and power, the believer won't walk, think or act the same way. They will take a stand, content themselves with trusting God and press through the day of victory or the day of disaster. That is what true Biblical faith is, despite the derisive and even arrogant dismissal of it by Faith teachers who would rather rely on their decreeing and confession sessions to prop up their tottering "faith."
The Biblical verses cited above by Faith teachers, when considered in proper context, will actually teach us much about what faith in action looks like.
In our everyday lives,
faith can be seen in things such as the giggling trust a two year old child
puts in their father's ability to catch them as they jump off the top of a
backyard jungle gym as much as that of an thirty year old soccer mom's
committal of her bodily welfare to the treatments offered by a brain cancer
surgeon. In studying Romans 4, we see that verses 3-5 give a foundational
example of what following Biblical faith looks like. We recall Abraham's first
act of faith in God's promises as he left his family and homeland to follow
God's call to embrace a completely invisible, yet divinely-promised destiny.
His journey to
What Jesus said in Mark 11:22 was plain as night and day when He commanded his disciples to "have faith in God" and not "a God-kind of faith!" The Greek structure of these verses emphatically point to God Himself as the only object of our faith and not some imaginary variety of faith He supposedly generates as an example for us to mimic. It is not "faith in one's faith" we are to trust, but God Himself alone. The word picture that Jesus presents in Mark 11:23 simply expands upon how great the power of God can intervene in our lives when coupled with requests made of Him in absolute trust.
Faith teachers tell the Faith Christian to continually engage in their confession that supposedly will bring possession. They press home the need to carry cards, play CD's in cars and quote back to others their personal affirmations continually so as to create the "faith filled" word buckets that will manifest their blessing. They do this once again ignoring the plain fact that such endless repetition is a futile exercise God has no regard for ( Psalms 12:3-4 and Mt. 6:7, 31-33). Our requests, therefore, won't be some manner of presumptuous "decrees" made on God's grace as Faith teachers assert: instead, they can be confident and even bold declarations of our reliance upon His provision (Mark 11: 23). Christ teaches that we can expectantly affirm that our concerns will be met in God's power and good time. This is what constitutes a God-centered "positive confession" that asserts that He is absolutely able to answer prayers and meet needs out of His great mercy and care for our well being.
But such apparently "positive confessions" are, however, always qualified by our fully conscious submission to God's own ultimate will in the matter and not our own: that is what is at the heart of the trust exercised by those who "diligently seek him" ..
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. James 4:3
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. Psalms 37:5
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. 1 John 5:14
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13
For generations, it has been Faith teachers who advance the carnal attitude that to actually ask God's will to be done is an expression of unbelief and fear. Scripture shows just how out of touch with His Spirit and Word they really are when they betray such thoughts. For it is God Alone who is in charge of our lives and He answers prayers and moves in our life as He chooses to do so, and we can rest assured that He knows when to speak and when to be silent, to show His miraculous intervention as well as when to withhold His well-established power.
In 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, after listing and defining the spiritual gifts active in their church, Paul makes it abundantly clear to the Corinthian Christians that it is God's Spirit who manifests them in his time, manner and sovereign choice: "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." Despite the almost anarchic insistence by the Faith movement (as well as the Charismatic and Pentecostal worlds at large) that it can seek and use spiritual gifts at it's beck and call and that we can "command God" in faith to do what we would have Him do, we see that a more sober and Biblical perspective reveals that it is God the Spirit's divine prerogative that is in charge here!
God does indeed have a Will, and it shall be done as He chooses to do so. He will not be accused, baited, bargained with or cried into a corner of decision by human design - His sovereign design for our lives will not be subject to our fleeting whims or our eternal willingness to do deals with Him for "favors." He is still God and all we need do is trust Him. No amount of our confession is going to change His will if it is not ordained that He will entertain it.
As the old TV series says, "Father Knows Best" and that's good enough for the Christian who wants a foundation of real faith in their life, not the quicksand of mire that decretal theology of Faith teaching compels you to wallow through.
Covenant Coverings: Genesis 17, Deuteronomy 28 and Galatians 3: Another foundation of Faith teaching is its concept on what constitutes the "blessing of Abraham", obscured by the "curse of the Law," but now restored by the atonement of Christ's New Covenant. They teach that the Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 17 assures all God fearing people blessings of prosperity beyond their wildest dreams. Galatians 3:13-14 and 29 are cross referenced with Deuteronomy 28:15-17, 38-40 to prove two things: 1) that "the law" mentioned in these verses refers to the statutes that God gave to Israel through Moses in the wilderness of Sinai and that 2) disobeying or rejecting their statutes was punishable by actual sickness and poverty.
Gloria Copeland explains in a quote that could be heard anywhere in the Faith universe that:
God gave Moses the
law and the commandments because of His covenant with Abraham. Deuteronomy 28
gives the blessings of keeping the commandments. .. All the provisions God offered with
Since the blessing of Abraham can be cut off by infliction of those curses described in Deuteronomy 28, it is then vital for "Word people" to ensure they fully grasp this higher "revelation" of the Faith movement’s light. Only after they devote serious, scrupulous attention as well as earnest spiritual travail to name-and-claim the provisions of the “blessing of the law” will they enjoy the fullness of their redemption. Only such an understanding will fully redeem them by the creation of a "balanced" and therefore “saving” faith. This is the Gospel truth for Faith Christians: those who suffer from lack and infirmity could easily be subject to a Christless eternity, a ruthless concept inextricably wedded together in the minds of Faith teachers. If you're "saved," the fruit of divine health and wealth must follow in your lifestyle - otherwise, serious questions can and should be asked of your apparently impoverished spiritual life.
The Atonement is therefore viewed by Faith Christians as the gateway to compete deliverance from all of the effects of the "curse of the law" and restoration of the blessings of Abraham - depending on one's relationship to Christ - and their ability to appropriate its promises. This then places the burden for "right thinking" on the shoulders of the Faith believer, a task that is often far too grievous to bear.
The Response Of The Word: Despite all of the Faith movement's insistence to the contrary, the Bible doesn't teach that the curse that impacted all of creation that introduced poverty and disease through the Fall of humanity in Adam was to be countered by Abraham's covenant with God, defined by the Old Covenant and then done away with by an agreement with the New Covenant in Christ borne of a personal positive confession. Faith teachers have overstated, misunderstood and even misrepresented the Bible's progressive unveiling of God's saving grace throughout history to create their "bless or curse" model of spiritual reality that they insist governs our spiritual lives. Copeland, taking her cues from her spiritual mentors in the Faith movement, engages freely in this sad exercise in her confused declaration.
First of all, the covenant of Abraham with Yahweh detailed in Genesis 17 was one in which He promised to bless, prosper and enlarge Abraham's offspring so that they would become a people sanctified to His purposes. From the beginning of time, that has always been God's supreme desire for fallen humanity, that it would yield to his desire to have them give themselves to his Lordship and therefore his blessing and care: this concept was extended by the early church when it came to see itself as the true heirs to Abraham's blessing and "spiritual Israel" in a purely metaphorical sense referring to the greatest blessing of all - the grace of justification by faith alone that Abraham was the first to enjoy (Romans 9:6-16, James 2:23).
blessing of Abraham spoke of in Genesis 17 is nowhere in Scripture viewed as a
And thirdly, the
law's system of sacrifices were commissioned specifically to provide a means of
atonement for the sins of
The New Testament epistle of Paul to the Galatians was written to both rebuke and instruct the wavering Galatian church from committing the same error that the Faith movement have committed in trying to "(begin) in the Spirit .. (and make) perfect in the flesh" (Gal. 3:3). The Galatian church - like the Faith movement - was adopting man-made religious practices and traditions (in this case, the Jewish law) to perfect their faith in Christ, and Paul actually wrote the entire third chapter of the book in rebuke of this trend which actually advocated a "gospel" that was under apostolic anathema (Gal. 1:6-10). Galatians 3 took great pains to contrast the limitations of such law-keeping to the walk of saving faith in the promises of God. The "curse of the law" mentioned by Paul in verse 13 is herein contrasted to the "blessing of Abraham" spoke of in verse 14. Verse 13 is a reference to the unrelenting need for continual atonement and law-keeping through "continuing .. in all things which are written in the the book of the law" (v. 10) for which a curse is placed upon those who do not keep these sacrifices and practices perfectly. To be cursed by the law is to be punished for not keeping the law of Moses properly, as we've seen in Deuteronomy. Verse 14 then describes the "blessing of Abraham," which referred to the justification of "the heathen through faith" who are "blessed with faithful Abraham" - a Gospel truth proclaimed long before the coming of Moses (v. 8-9, KJV).
of Abraham" cannot be viewed as teaching, suggesting, or even implying
that divine health and wealth is a birthright of the church - it is clearly a
focus upon the contrast of the curse brought upon
Divine Wealth and Prosperity: Herein lies one of the biggest draws to the Faith movement, a teaching that has attracted the most amount of attention to it from the Body of Christ. It is the renewed emphasis upon what is commonly known as the "prosperity gospel", advocated by the movement as an article of faith. It is of course, the belief that God guarantees material wealth and prosperity in all areas of our lives as a birthright for all Christians. We have already seen the concept of "divine wealth" as explained by the Copelands and Kenneth Hagin: it is supposedly part of the redemptive benefit of the New Covenant which must be accepted along with the promise of justification by faith.
The atoning death of Christ not only redeemed mankind but guaranteed it authority to both create (by faith-filled words) and to "get wealth," to enter into a euphoric state of abundant material gain that Faith teachers, to a man or woman, insist is a divine right (and much of what can be said about "divine wealth" can easily justify "divine health"). Kenneth Copeland, in quoting Deuteronomy 8:17-18, draws a "predominant rule to remember in living a prosperous life" from it:
The predominant rule: God gives the power to get wealth. Why? To establish his covenant. .." (112, emphasis author's).
Keeping the "words of the covenant" is essential, Copeland insists, to be prosperous in everything, according to Deuteronomy 29:9. And, as his wife Gloria has written, keeping up with every detail of the covenant - which supposedly includes the ability to "get wealth" - is essential to signifying that one is in proper relationship to God: "Prosperity is a by-product of God walking with us and manifesting Himself to us." So it only stands to reason, that if one is not enjoying "divine wealth," they are not walking with God correctly - and again, we are edified by the observation that we have "limited ourselves."
We have seen how the Faith movement has viewed Deuteronomy 28 and Galatians 3:13-14 as providing "prosperity" proof texts. You will find it joyously reported even in Faith worship choruses: "Jesus has set me free! Jesus has set me free! For sickness I've health, for poverty, wealth, since Jesus has ransomed me" (emphasis mine). Other key passages include the infamous misinterpretations of 3 John 2 and 2 Corinthians 8:9 we've already examined. Of the former, in his Seed Faith Commentary on the Holy Bible, Oral Roberts states "this great statement by God sums up God's wish of wishes for every one of us human beings as we reach out for a better life.”(113)
But Faith teacher John Avanzini has always been far bolder, and captures in a classic statement the Faith movement's interpretation of 3 John 2 in relationship to the Christian life:
Hear the beloved Apostle John declare it .. God has a people and God takes care of His people, in the spiritual realm, in the physical realm, and in the financial realm. .. Friend, let's face it, poverty is not God's perfect will for you. To live on the brink of insufficiency and claim that it is God's intended status for you is a spiritual mistake (114, emphasis author's).
Avanzini's commentary of Deuteronomy 8:18, naturally, follows the standard Faith party line:
You have the power to get wealth, and that power has been given to you by God .. Child of God, begin to hear me on this. .. God has given you power to get wealth so that His covenant can be established. The word 'established' here means to 'founded and grounded' financially so that no economic problems could ever uproot or overthrow the orderly operation of that covenant of earth (115).
What constitutes an "orderly operation" of the "covenant?" Avanzini's answer would warm the heart of every Faith teacher around the world:
Since Deuteronomy 8:18 is supposedly showing how the grace of God is meant to not only meet needs in sufficiency, but to "abound to every good work," Avanzini as well as many in the Faith movement use their teachings on the increase of the Hebrew patriarchs through the giving of the pagan nations around them (Genesis 12:20 and Exodus 12:35-36 are prime examples of this) to show how the Church can tap into the wealth of the world to finance the great end times harvest work of a soul-winning church. It is quite obvious that his vision for such work is strongly defined in terms of global television media - which is perhaps why he spends much of his time in Trinity Broadcasting Network telethons or Faith church "prosperity conference" fundraisers to speak the "word of faith" that would "break the spirit of poverty" and - of course - encourage the "sowing of seed" into ministries for that spirit to be broken.
It is during such times that Avanzini and others will deliver an exposition on and prayer for the "hundredfold blessing," a practice that is widespread throughout the Faith movement and used by virtually every Faith teacher I've ever heard. An expansion upon Oral Roberts' "seed-faith" teaching, it is based on the Faith interpretation of Mark 4:20 and Mark 10:30 and is meant to furnish a literal hundred-fold return on every dollar of every offering given towards a ministry need, as Gloria Copeland fatuously explains:
You give $1 for the Gospel's sake and $100 belongs to you; give $10 and receive $1000; give $1000 and receive $100,000. .. In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal. Where in the natural world are you offered the return of one hundred times your investment? (117)
Such an investment is the faith "release" of choice for Faith ministries around the world aside from positive confession; it is a means of giving that is meant to "activate" one's faith in the covenant promise of God to provide the hundredfold return. And regarding the "persecutions" mentioned in this same verse that accompany the promised return, she assures us that
persecution may come, but it will only stay if you allow it to. You are not obligated to receive persecution. You can speak to it in the Name of Jesus and command it to leave you. Persecution simply means that Satan will try you. Persecution has no authority over you. (118)
Such is the delusional and "Biblical" basis for "divine wealth" as the Faith movement preaches it. But it mustn't be assumed this is an exclusively Christian aberrance. The global influence of this novel theology numbers among it scores of non believers eager to seek out the good graces of such a deity as the "faith God." The attractive philosophy of divinely created wealth accessible to all has many secular and spiritual forerunners. “Prosperity consciousness” has been long a central theme of many a metaphysical school of thought for decades.
In fact, the fundamental claims behind the materialistic "Law of Attraction" principle that has become the latest cultural fancy taught in the self-improvement teachings known as “The Secret” are drawn from the same well as Word of Faith teachings themselves. Despite the widespread skepticism and revulsion held over its cheerfully self-serving materialism and thanks to Oprah Winfrey and Larry King’s attentions to this cultural phenomenon, millions around the world now enthusiastically pursue the embracing a philosophy that is actually no different then the teachings that the Faith movement’s central claims. The central truths of both belief systems have long been accessible for generations of purely occultic New Thought adherents and human potentialists around the world – indeed, it can be argued that the credo of “divine wealth” is a dominant theme of many world and pagan religions since the dawn of time. With the recent economic downturn, the crushing weight of brutally tough economic realities pushing in on all sides, and that both Faith Christians and the agnostics want their cut of the Divine Pie, these philosophies are finding unrelenting pressure on them - and their teachers - to pursue brightly packaged avenues to "manifest wealth."
The Response Of The Word: The views on the faith and practice of the early church as seen in the book of Acts, as well as the content of a significant set of Scriptural insights gives us a far different perspective on material prosperity than the Faith movement wants to recognize. They don't square with their fanciful belief that material riches and "having it all" in this world is a guarantee of the New Covenant for all believers. You will look in vain to find an exposition of any of these Old or New Testament verses in very many Faith seminars, and perhaps in a few minutes, you will see why.
The Bible says radically different things about prosperity, what it is, and how it is accessible to believers. Christians do indeed have a birthright to a wealth of prosperity that goes far beyond the crass materialism of Faith dogma. The definition of what constitutes real prosperity is found in 1 Timothy 6:6-8:
Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us therewith be content.
Prosperity is what you have when you are at peace with God and you enjoy His supply of your basic needs. Period. That is what the Bible says about what true prosperity involves. It's not based upon how much you possess but upon what He provides out of His grace. It is His holiness that faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ that one gains by faith in His promises that makes one godly, and His merciful provision of the simple and basic things of life that are great gain in the Kingdom of God. Having those things alone, the apostle says, is enough to be content with.
As we've already seen, Philippians 4:11-13 adds even more depth to this perspective on prosperity:
I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
What could be simpler to understand than these faithful sayings? The true riches of the Body of Christ are found among all of those who are privileged in possessing divinely supplied godliness accompanied with a tranquil contentment borne of true faith in the Father's care, regardless of their personal state of affairs! In all situations, in good times and in bad, Paul the servant of Christ, had learned how to live the abundant Christian life through the sheer power of God with absolutely no strings or props attached to the circumstances that he found himself in.
This state of godly balance is again presented in Proverbs 30:7-9 as well, when Agur shared prophetically:
Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die. Remove far from me vanity and lies, give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full and deny thee and say Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain (cp. Mark 4:18-19, 10:17-25).
Agur's prayer touches upon a very real danger that the Faith movement almost completely overlooks regarding great material gain. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 is a sobering warning that no Christian dare overlook:
They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith.
The Greek construct of verse 9 - hoi de boulomenoi ploutein - literally reads "but they desiring to be rich," and refers to Christians who deliberately intend to seek riches. The verses are a healthy reality check that paints a truly dire picture: those who actively seek material gain stand an excellent chance of being turned aside from true Christian faith due to its deceitful lures. Such a fallen Christian is perhaps the individual referred to in verses 3-5 of this same chapter, for among the catelogue of his sinful acts is his "perverse disputing" that supposes that "godliness is a means to financial gain" (NIV)."
He is one that the King James Version records Paul as bluntly commanding "from such, withdraw thyself."
It is important to
remember that there is no condemnation for being rich implied here at all. If one gains materially, it will be through hard work and industry
(Proverbs 10:3-5, 13:11), as well as in the providential blessing of the Father
that he bestows upon those who honor him with offerings (Proverbs 3:9-10, 2
This was intuitively and immediately apparent to the first Christians who ministered in Jerusalem: from the very start of the Christian church's ministery, compassionate care for the afflicted and needy extended beyond occasional almsgiving to the poor. Jesus Himself said that the poor would always be among the righteous (Matthew 6:1-4, 26:10-11) - implying strongly that these same poor would actually be Christians themselves. The deep sense of community among the early church was so focused in a recognition of the Body of Christ as actual spiritual family that daily supply to those among them who struggled materially was one of its outstanding characteristics (Acts 2:44-47, 4:32-35, 6:1-5, Galatians 2:10).
Despite the rhetoric
of the Faith movement to the contrary, the silence of Scripture as to the
quality of the faith of those who received this help is far more thunderous. It
simply states the facts, that there were Christians among the early church who,
being impoverished, found daily aid supplied by Gentile and Hebrew brothers and
sisters. Poverty was a reality in their daily lives and the Church did its best
to help succor its own (cp. 2
The apostles and the early church were curiously silent on this supposed "New Testament teaching" and indeed, had their own perspectives that have yet to be rehearsed in Faith movement circles which didn't square with the rambling of a Mike Murdoch or Leroy Thompson. Proverbs 13:7 leaves us the most sobering comment on this issue:
There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.
The way "up" in Christianity has always been in the direction of "down" (Mt. 16:24-25). We lose our lives to find them, and we can also do all we can to hold fast to it, only to find it slipping out of our grasp to be lost forever. Such a loss is something no thinking Christian should ever accept. However, the far happier medium is available to all Christians - to learn how to live in absolute trust in the great provision of God's care in the midst of any and every adverse situation. With trust in the ability of the Father to give all good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:7-11), the indescribably unspeakably joyful peace of the Spirit will pass upon them all, a peace that the world cannot give nor can ever take away. This is where the victorious Christian life, so well described in Romans 8:31-39, can be beheld by both saint and sinner.
This is also where - Gloria Copeland's authority wielding over tribulation notwithstanding - the growth in genuine faith begins as James 1:2-4 will really occur. Faith in the promises and provision of God cannot really grow without it! But the Faith movement's "divine wealth" teachings, which irresistibly compel Faith believers to pursue material gain, instead have exposed millions of Christians to a tradition filled with snares of every variety that can only serve but to drag them down into temptation and overthrow of faith. In this Pentecostal's perspective, that's a hidden cost of "divine wealth" not worth a second glance - the price tag is far too high (Mt. 16:26).
Divine Health and Wholeness: In the same way it promotes "divine wealth", the Faith movement loudly proclaims that supernatural wholeness of body is the divine right of all Christians. This is what has come to be called "divine health" and has also attracted many to the audiences of Faith teachers and churches all around the world. As we've already discussed, by using misinterpreted verses like 3 John 2, Galatians 3:11-13, 2 Corinthians 8:9, Romans 4:17 and Mark 11:22, Faith teachers enthusiastically preach that God has decisively provided and guaranteed a level of physical wholeness for the Christian in which all diseases can be confessed away, all cancers cursed into obliteration and physical deformities transformed by creative miracles spoken into existence. This would be in keeping with the example of Christ, whose ministry of healing in Israel was performed in the same way.
Hoping for a miraculous visitation that would stem a fatal escalation of their infirmity or a divine intervention that would restore lost health, millions of desperate people have sought relief and release from their physical infirmities through the ministrations of Faith clergy and laity who stand ready to speak a "word of healing" over them. These sick and ailing place complete trust in their ability to "agree" with the creative confessions that will be readily spun over their wheelchairs or sickbeds by Faith ministers, then are willingly trundled into arenas in wheelchairs or set upright in hospice bedrooms where the miraculous is to be expected. Millions of others pursue daily personal regimens of confession "dosages" that are to be pursued when a physical symptom or attack then occurs, confident of their healing even as the condition's pains continue to recur, refusing to admit or "speak the language of defeat" by even admitting they've been sick or injured. They say it with a smile, naming and claiming their complete healing even as they continue to suffer or struggle with physical difficulties of a condition that is obviously very present.
Once again, the bizarre doctrinal and practical application of this belief is best explained by Kenneth "Dad" Hagin in his eternally sunny, matter of fact manner:
Proverbs 12:18 is a wonderful revelation, a marvelous truth:'There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.' You are not going to have health unless you talk health. .. We are a product of WORDS. Did you ever stop to think that the Bible teaches that there is health and healing in your tongue? Did you notice that He said here 'the tongue of the wise is health.' ? I never talk sickness. I don't believe in sickness. I talk health. The tongue of the wise is health. The Bible does not say, 'The tongue of the wise is sickness.' It says, 'The tongue of the wise is HEALTH. (119)
And Faith teacher Charles Capps goes into futher detail to illuminate this concept of "divine health", fleshing out how this unbelievable power is to be manifest:
I believe there are some diseases that will never be cured unless people learn to speak the language of health that the body understands. God's Word is infused (engrafted) into you by giving voice to His Word with your own mouth, and this is the language of health to your body. A continual affirmation of God's Word in faith will build into your immune system a supernatural anointing that is capable of eliminating sickness and disease in a natural manner." (120)
Your body will respond to the demands of the human spirit. If you feed the spirit man God's Word, it will make demands on the flesh to line up with the Word of God. (121)
You don't deny that sickness exists, but you deny its right to exist in your body, because you have been redeemed from the curse of the law and delivered from the authority of darkness. (Gal. 3:13; Col. 1:13). God has also given you all things that pertain to life and godliness. These things belong to you. (2 Pet. 1:3-4). When you are sick and confess that you are healed by the stripes of Jesus, you are calling for what God has already given you, even though it is not yet manifest. This is God's method of calling those things that are not as though they were until they are. (122)
An observant reader will see the core theology of all Word of Faith teaching in place here: a claimed release from the "curse of the Law" by the atonement of Christ, an absolute faith placed in the supernatural ability of "words" to change physical reality, the refusal to acknowledge defeat or negativity at all costs, and the rigorous and intentional confession of Bible verses to transform natural circumstances. In this popular concept of "divine health," the physical body is said to be completely subject to the "demands of the human spirit," which are expressed by creative confessions, the "language of health" it will readily respond to. The spiritual man therefore has an "anointing" that can rid the natural body of sickness and disease that is directly empowered by the speaking forth of Scripturally-based affirmations that "call those things that are not as though they were until they are." Ultimately then, it is mastery of the spiritual laws we've previously mentioned and one's unwavering and unending confession that must bring healing with no exceptions.
The Response Of The Word: We need to examine the texts the Faith movement cites above as well as how "divine health" is confused with the Biblical doctrine of divine healing itself so we can then establish a balanced understanding of this misunderstood, misstated and misused dimension of Christian grace.
Let us begin this part of our discussion with a careful clarification:
The doctrine of divine healing is a controversial one in the church but most if not all Christian groups would agree that God can intervene with healing of the sick and that at His choosing, He actually does do so in our world today. The Word of Faith concept of "divine health" is regrettably too easily confused with the Biblical Pentecostal/Charismatic belief in "divine healing" as a gracious mercy God grants to men today. This Biblically based conviction is summarized in an old article of faith stating that "healing is provided for all in the atonement," which teaches that Christ's atoning death on the cross not only provided a divine remedy for the sin and sinfulness of mankind, but that it also provided an actual deliverance for those suffering from the infirmities inherent in our natural lives.
While there is a vast amount of diverse thought and practice in regards to these subjects and on healing in the Christian church throughout history, for our discussion here, we are limiting our attention to the doctrinal positions on divine healing that are accepted as Biblical truth by various Christian fellowships around the world based upon this view of the atonement.
Much of the confusion that has been sadly beheld in the church today about divine healing has come when the Christian hope and prayer for divine healing is perceived as the same as the Faith concept of divine health. There is nothing further from the truth since the only similarity between the two is that both teach that God can and will heal diseases in our fallen world. Beyond this cursory agreement there is widespread and significant disagreement as to the extent and immediacy that healing from God can be expected. While both Pentecostal and Charismatic Word of Faith adherents believe that the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary provided the means by which the curse over creation was decisively broken and the power of God made available for divine interventions of healing virtue, they part company with the rest of their respective Full Gospel tribes on the understanding of how He manifests it.
For example, a Pentecostal anointing of the sick with oil by the elders of a church who pray for the healing grace of God to intervene in their lives is a practice often completely at odds with the Charismatic decreeing of positive confessions in both public and private settings to conjure bodily healing with a "faith formula" incantation. A classical Pentecostal view of the spiritual gift of healing views it as a divine enablement coming from God's divine intervention and not the result of some latent natural giftedness, talent or acquired training one can enter into at will. It is a manifestation of God's gracious prerogative that no one controls or conjures up - it is entirely endowed by God's Spirit (John 3:8 with 1 Corinthians 12:11). This in the sharpest contrast to a Word of Faith view on divinely bestowed spiritual gifts that, while acknowledging their reality, actually focus more reliance upon less-inspired confession sessions claimed to be the definitive source for healing. These distinctions are vital to understanding the Faith teaching on "divine health" as we shall see.
There are three presuppositions to this Faith teaching that are upheld as Biblical doctrine that have no actual support whatsoever in Scripture and we've already touched on two of them, "faith filled words" and "covenant coverings". The popular belief that one should expect divine health as a consequence of abundant Christian life rests entirely upon acceptance of these three principles, and we've already seen how seriously unfounded these first two actually are. The third one is the most nebulous one of all, the belief that the Faith concept of "divine health" is actually based upon Biblical truth supposedly found in a cloud of proof texts that support them. We will now examine Proverbs 12:18, 2 Peter 1:3-4 and Colossians 1:13 in context to see if they actually say what the Faith teachers above say they do.
Proverbs 12:18 reads that "there is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health." Does this mean what Hagin and other Faith teachers insist it does, that is to say, that divine health is a guarantee for all wise believers and is activated by faith filled words that confess health?
Christ said in Luke 6:45 that "a good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh." His words here, directed to the Pharisees, reinforce this plain fact, that one's words reveal their moral standing. This is the concern of the authors of the book of Proverbs: we see that the writings contain observations on the contrasting depths of human nature, such as wisdom from ignorance, truth from error, and so forth. What Proverbs 12 specifically addresses are contrasts that focus on the stark differences between good and evil in the book's classic parallel couplet form: "The wicked desireth the net of evil men: but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit" (v. 2); "The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips: but the just shall come out of trouble." (v. 13); "Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil: but to the counsellors of peace is joy." (v. 20).
These same comparisons continue through the rest of the chapter, from verses 21-27, and from a study of these, we see that the writer's focus on the spoken word was for the sole purpose of exhorting his audience to personal holiness (v. 23) which would follow as they kept his godly counsel in their hearts (v. 21). He admonishes them to "put away .. a froward mouth and perverse lips" (v. 24) and to "ponder the path of they feet .. remove thy foot from evil." In context, then, the "speech that pierces" is a reference to immoral utterances preoccupied with evildoing that are can cause great harm to one's spiritual health that can be "like a sword." This is why verse 22 contains the author's likening of his own counsel as "life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh." The only kind of "divine health", therefore, referred to here in Proverbs 12:18 is purely that for the spirit and soul and not the body, using symbolism to contrast the fruit of sinful and holy living and not guaranteeing healing by any kind of spoken confession.
In a seemingly perfect, even divine irony here, the same issue is addressed in 2 Peter 1:1-4:
Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord (v. 1-2), According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.(v. 3-4)
Charles Capps' citation of 2 Peter 1:3-4 is supposed to prove that we have a divine right to divine health since, in his view, it simply has to be part of "all things that pertain unto life and godliness." That is the only attempted tie in of the claim to any part of the Biblical text here. It is nothing less than another Faith argument from utter silence. Nothing here in these verses have any focus upon the physical healing or health, but everything in them clearly are written with a spiritual perspective in mind. It is faith in the "exceeding great and precious promises of God" that enabled Peter's audience to "(obtain) like precious faith with through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ." It is this "knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue" that brings us into the deepest spiritual communion with our Lord since it empowers us to "(escape) the corruption that is in the world through lust."
Like the rest of his Faith clergy tribe, Capps completely misses the obvious sense of what the "things" mentioned here actually involve. They simply don't specify wholeness of body! Holiness again is shown as having nothing to do with the physical flesh - the only carnality addressed here is that of evil that defiles through ordinary human lust that conceives in the heart of man, to ultimately be expressed in physical action and utterance (James 1:15)!
And when we turn to Colossians 1:13, once again, Capps' pathetically misguided exposition falls apart when the verse is considered in its plain Scriptural context: read 1:9-14 to gather what Paul's actual focus was
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;(v. 9-11) Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:(v. 12) Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: (v. 13) In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: (v. 14).
Once again, following his own Faith tradition's perspective, Capps ignores the plain thrust of Paul's words. The Father's deliverance "from the power of darkness" that has brought Christians into the "kingdom of his dear son" is described as a redemption through His Son's death that involves both the here and now but also contains a clear element of inheritance, a promise of a future revelation of God's wonderful grace. And how was this redemption to be walked out, experienced, beheld in the world? Was it through triumphal faith filled words? No! It was, as Paul writes in verses 9-11 an encounter with God by pursuit of knowledge of his will, divine wisdom and spiritual understanding that was empowered by His Spirit and manifest in "all patience and longsuffering." In other words, God would be most glorified in the patient struggle of the Christian through their good fight of faith, a personal endurance of their own great trials and tribulations, in which sickness and disease are certainly an implicit part.
To feel the incapacitation and burden of physical weakness and infirmity is a reality that all men must face and grapple with, and Christians have never been excluded from this. It is, however, how we face life's war with pain and suffering imparted by sickness and disease that should be different. For the Christian believer, their enduring faith in the future provision of God's ultimate deliverance of creation from its weakness should be a source of unconquerable strength. It is such a hope we can lean hard upon and trust that it will see us through. In fact, Paul tells the Gentile believers in Romans 8:19-23 that they could actually take courage despite their sufferings - including sickness - in the present fallen world order that threatened to destroy them: "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall yet be revealed in us." Verses 21 through 23 describe concisely that Christians must wait along with the fallen world order for a deliverance from "the bondage of corruption" that is yet to come (v. 21), enduring frailties in the present (v. 22). This future deliverance that will liberate the created order from this "bondage" is likened to an "adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." (v. 23). This can refer to nothing else but the literal and bodily resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:51-52), an epochal event also referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16. Immediately after the resurrection of the dead described here will come "the change" that will transform all living, mortal believers. Verses 17 and 18 of 1 Thessalonians 4 then describe the catching away of the Body of Christ to heavenly bliss in what is known popularly as "the Rapture."
While spiritual gifts of healing or God's own good mercy that result in physical breakthroughs can and should be sought after by God's own intervening grace, we must then leave the matter in His hands and not try to act like gods ourselves conjuring up "divine health" by "seed faith", vows or hours of decreeing. In light of the fact that our Lord's supreme triumph over the fallen created order is yet to come, Pentecostals and Charismatics ought to speedily revise the old Full Gospel axiom on healing: we should confidently proclaim that healing is provided for in the atonement but guaranteed only in the resurrection. This, I feel, is an entirely Biblical affirmation of what the Gospel truth is on the matter of health and healing in the Christian church. Click here for a thought provoking article on this subject.
Such a perspective is taken entirely from those Biblical passages which teach that while we are still awaiting the day of sweet release from the sorrows of life in a cursed creation, we still can and should rejoice in God's unending grace he gives us to endure them, and, as He wills, even provide divine intervention concerning them. The comfort this prophetic promise in Romans 8 has supplied to believers in all ages has been immeasurable. It has underscores the Body of Christ's historical recognition that it's earthbound existence is an actual pilgrimage to a real destination of eternal peace, a heavenly country (Heb. 11:13-16). Ephesians 1:13-14 describes the Holy Spirit's presence in the believer as an present earnest (or literally, a down payment) of this future renewal of the created order that begins with the Resurrection and is ultimately consummated in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
It is sad that of all the tribes of Christians that should most revel in this precious divine truth, it is the Word of Faith member who is most ignorant of the peace and consolation it can bring them due to the bondage their never-ending pursuit of more excellent positive confessions has locked them into, reckoning themselves to be the masters of their own destiny. There certainly can be no more horribly cruel ignorance to be saddled under. And perhaps nothing is more tellling about the spiritual bankruptcy of "divine health" when one considers that Faith preachers and teachers, despite all of their courageous speeches they can muster about it, are as prone to sickness, disease and tragedy as anyone else - but who never seem to come to grips with it.
In fact, we could fill the rest of this report of the many instances in which all of the confessing and decreeing to forestall physical weakness, sickness, infirmity and even death didn't work for even the "anointed" Faith leaders themselves. The daughters of Faith pastor Walter Hallam and Faith teacher Randy White were lost to sickness and premature accidental in recent years, and Faith pastor Fred Price finally admitted to physical struggles of his own, and rarely speaks of the pelvic cancer his wife needed treatment from. Joyce Meyer battled and received treatment for breast cancer herself. Many Faith preachers such as Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, Jr, and John Eckhardt as well as others resort to the wearing of glasses during their readings of their Bibles or their latest book they bring to their pulpits to shill. Faith-influenced figures in the Charismatic/Pentecostal prophetic movements like Jill Austin, Ruth Ward Heflin and Michal Ann Goll, sadly, found that for all of their alleged ability to speak authoritatively about spiritual matters, they could not ward off fatal diseases that took their lives (James Goll, Michal's husband also continues to battle a recurring cancer, a sad yet perplexing struggle for a man from whom Charismatic mystics can "toke" the Holy Ghost, even as Goll's wife lay dying in Franklin, Tennessee). I could go on and on, but the point is not to cast these Christians in a bad light but to simply observe that when it comes to sickness and disease, the magic Faith formulae are no more powerful to ward off debilitation and death then chance.
The Word of Faith movement's direction ever drifts more deeply into outer space, lost in its own evasive, delusional fantasy about "faith." However, when it comes to the ultimate realities of disease, death and dying, trust in God needs to be a lot more down to earth.
Abundant Living Guarantees All Victories All The Time: If we take the Faith movement's warped logic to its natural conclusion concerning it's theology of divine health and wealth, we will then conclude that since glorification has begun in the church then it is only logical for the Body to live triumphantly, victoriously and successfully at all times. Anything less is almost sinful, and is definitely unspiritual, if not outright ignorant.
A cursory examination of Faith teaching will always turn up that one single term: success. Read one Joel Osteen sermon, hear one Gregory Dickow sermon, zap through the wasteland of Christian TV ministries and hear anyone from Paula White to Creflo Dollar speak and it will come up. To them, Jesus died so that the church could live an abundant life (John 10:10), a life of victory supposedly summarized in Christ's promise of John 16:33 "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Scriptures such as these which speak of victory through faith in Christ are employed to emphasize this stance. Successful mountain-top lifestyle is the norm.
This theme is hammered home relentlessly throughout the Faith culture. Oral Roberts was the first to define and promote it. Robert Tilton's television show was called "Success N Life," while the Copeland's television ministry is called the "Believer's Voice of Victory." Rod Parsley trumpets a "Breakthrough" in his own television programming, while the Benny Hinn broadcast assures us that "This Is Your Day!" Faith Charismatic and Pentecostal churches often utilize some variation of the word "victory" in their names (Victory Christian Center, etc) or in describing their programming. Leaf through any product line catelog for virtually any Faith teacher, and you'll find a teaching tape series or book that will give you five easy lessons in how to live victoriously. Enter a Faith church sanctuary and you'll find an image of a soaring eagle on the wall or etched into the plexiglas pulpit, a bird said to represent vision and power.
"Eagle Christians" are therefore victorious overcomers who have found their God-ordained place. This goal has become an obsession within the Faith movement (and it's borderline inordinate desire for it is almost as intense in the contemporary Evangelical world), and, frankly, it has been one of it's greatest selling points. Victory is the goal of the Christian life - and spiritually mature believers will know how to always live victoriously. Anything less may be tolerable, but not the perfect will of God according, once again, to the late Kenneth Hagin:
It is time for the church to become 'God-inside' minded. Too long it has been weakness-minded, sickness-minded, inferiority-complex minded, trouble and poverty-minded. That's all we've talked about and thought about .. this psychology of unbelief has robbed us of vibrant Christian faith and living. And of the abundant life Jesus intended we should have (123).
The Faith movement cannot reconcile suffering and apparent failure with a successful and victorious Christian lifestyle. It categorically denies that suffering has anything to do with the plan of God, and shrinks in horror from the thought that He could ever "put that" on His children, instead attributing such negativity to the spiritual ignorance and worldly mindset of defeatism that has contributed to the church's loss of its connection with divine health and wealth: Gloria Copeland confidently adds that
When the Church received spiritual redemption, she let go of the rest of the blessing of Abraham. Prosperity and healing became a lost reality. (124, emphasis mine).
To underscore the Faith disdainful position on dealing with life's struggles, Kenneth Copeland's teaching - supposedly drawn from the "anointing" of the Spirit of God - takes to task the Christian Church's attempts to address them:
There are those in the church who think we are to glory in tribulations. Tribulation is not the goal of Christianity. Many think that we cannot be worth anything until we suffer. That is not true. You will not be worth anything unless you overcome that suffering. Suffering is the result of the attack of Satan. (125, emphasis mine)
What I'm trying to say is that 90 percent of the tears we shed are selfish. .. A lot of the suffering and grief folks go through is really the result of their own wrongdoing. I don't necessarily mean they've sinned. But just to think differently from what the Bible says is wrong. to walk in doubt and unbelief is wrong . (126)
This last observation of Kenneth Hagin's inevitably lays the blame – as usual - for pain and struggle squarely upon the back of the suffering believer. Even though he tries to qualify his remarks by pointing out the "differences" between suffering temptation, persecution, "the devil who is going to oppose you" ("As long as you are in this world, dear friends, Satan is the god of this world")(127) and needless suffering based upon one's sinfulness and unbelief, he and the Faith movement persist in advocating the latter sentiments. Personal trial, suffering, sickness and even death are the responsibility of wrong thinking Christians who fail to exercise truly Biblical faith in God - and who reap what they sow. Amazingly, these are actually some of the most moderate in the movement! If a Christian is found suffering, the problem is obvious: it is because of their lack of faith.
Norvel Hayes, a close
friend of Kenneth Hagin, related in one of his books how the Lord roused
Hagin up from sleep and directed him to leave the next morning to see his
Your sister is going to die soon. .. I healed her five years ago when you prayed and laid hands on her. I gave her five years of walking in divine health to build her faith, but she didn't study the Bible like she should have. Because she hasn't taken the time to build her faith she can't believe Me for herself. (128)
Three days later, Hayes said, he received a telegram from Hagin telling him his sister had died.
Ignorance, in the Faith movement, can be quite fatal. Did Hagin really hear from God? I might concede that he was warned by Him that his sister was going to die by a spiritual gifting that gave a word of knowledge about it, but I cannot believe such a word can be used to sanction a Faith teaching so baldly. It is difficult - if not impossible - for me to believe that He might have allowed someone to be again smitten with a fatal disease because they didn't appropriate “divine health” based upon their Bible study progress. This makes the “God” of the Faith movement as being far more viciously petty than their own deluded misperceptions of how Christians outside their circles represent Him in regards to suffering and pain.
These are just a few examples of what are the cruelest of accusations which the Faith movement dashes in the face of Christians who grapple with their mortality or that of their loved ones. It is undeniably the most agonizing of spiritual violations that men and women are assaulted with who sincerely believe in the Faith version of the "abundant life" and one of the most objectionable issues one can have with this teaching. Instead of obeying the Scriptural mandate that commands the entire Body to suffer along with it's suffering members, we discover that the Faith movement largely turns blinded eyes and deafened ears upon them. And you can see it in the never ending revolving back door in virtually every Faith church in the world today. Question a few people who leave such a church and if they’re honest, they’ll tell you that one of the reasons they came and then left a Faith ministry-led assembly was due to the spiritual offense they came under when they didn’t get a confessed for healing or, more often than not, how spiritually deficient they were made to feel after all of their spiritual exercises were done.
It is no wonder that far too many of these Faith Christians who find themselves shattered by the loss of a loved one who died confessing their healing and who have to deal with their Faith churches reminding them that they or their passed loved one didn't have enough faith then completely ditch the Faith altogether and become angry, hurt agnostics or atheists and never darken the doors of a church again.
Though there are often many fine examples of Faith Christian compassion, love and concern for acquaintances and loved ones who find the pressures of life pressing hard, there will be found an underlying and unspoken perception among them that the struggling don't have "enough of the Word in them" and therefore lack sound faith in God that would provide victory to them.
The Response Of The Word: The wings of the Faith movement's "Eagle Christianity" are sharply clipped back when the Bible's perspective on how trials that confront Christians come into full view. We've touched on this in our look at Romans 8:19-23, but the uniquely obnoxious triumphalism of the Faith movement and the subtle error it reinforces here require a careful review to ensure we do not misunderstand the Scripture's observations and admonitions concerning suffering and pain when it knocks on the door of the Christian's body, mind and soul.
affirmation that He has overcome the world in John 16:33 is amply shown
throughout the Scriptures as a victory that He achieved by the sacrifice of His own
flesh and blood. For any believer to truly enjoy life, He had to embrace death. It was at the unimaginable cost He paid for
our sins by laying aside His glory to suffer and die as a human being that
Christians enjoy their simplest blessing from God. And He prophecies soberly
yet hopefully in this same verse that while trials will always be a part of the
lot of the Body of Christ throughout their earthly lives, His grace will enable
them to both endure and overcome them. Years later, John's record of
Christ's exhortations in Revelation 2 and 3 reveals His promise to seven
It is only through the path of the overcomer who fights "the good fight" (2 Timothy 4:7) that such blessing can be received. As the old saying goes, crosses in life must precede the crowns, and this painful truth is something the first Christians learned at great personal cost as glimpsed in the apostle's teachings in Romans 8:16-18, 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 and 1 Peter 4:12-19. Not a trace of the "eagle Christian" mindset of the Faith movement that soars invincibly above the pains of life is evident here or any other New Testament writing. As New Testament scholar Gordon Fee wryly puts it, this is a rather "curious theology indeed, given the nature of the Incarnation and the Crucifixion" (129). The birth of Jesus as a blood-smeared, helpless infant and his drawn out, torturous death are sufficient witnesses to the paradoxical basis of Christian faith: how even Jesus Christ, the perfect man and second Adam, allowed himself to endure the temptations, heartaches, and sufferings of the fallen world order as an equally weak human being, yet without sin. The same chapter in Hebrews that the Faith movement so blithely seizes upon to create their occultic doctrine of faith being a “substance” (a misinterpretation of verse 1) tersely recounts that the faith of the godly didn’t guarantee freedom from pain and suffering in verses 36-38
And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned,
they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins;
being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
Scripture shows that such suffering is a state of human trial that even the Heavenly Father used to teach the Son of Man obedience by (Hebrews 5:5-8). Christ's walk through life was punctuated with pain, suffering and struggle to the point that even He "offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared" (v. 7). So those who suffer are in good company, and the story of Job – almost universally misunderstood and even derided by many a Faith teacher – actually adds further amplification to how God can use even the most undesirable state of affairs to bring forth honor, glory and praise to His name.
No one can escape the essential truth on the matter: if Jesus Christ Himself had to endure such a weight, then it is certain that His followers will do the same one way or the other, in either humble dependence upon him or in lustful murmuring after the things of the world.
Beneath the Gordian
knot of tangled strands of truth and error that constitute Faith teaching,
there doesn't immediately appear to be any one thread that might account for an
unraveling of the whole mess. But, in this Pentecostal's perspective, it does
indeed exist. The central error of Faith teaching lies in it's confusion
Where the Faith movement errs most fundamentally is in its inability to fully accept that such a distinction actually exists and that they - like everyone else - dwell in the least desirable of the two realms.
Christians who claim to live under "New Creation Realities" still get sick. They still lose ball games. They suffer health issues and infirmities like anyone else. They still lose their lives through accident and murder. Their marriages still end in separation and divorce. They feel economic pain at the proverbial gas pump just as we all do. They are tempted to hate and lust and their family lives are often as drama filled as any reality show about the Kardashians. Outrageous injustices still impact their lives while personal traumas still come back to haunt them. Their businesses still fail and their churches still divide. In short, the Kingdom of God among them in the Now doesn't guarantee an air tight immunity from the pains of our present reality since the advent of it’s full influence has Yet To Come - the reality is often far more distressing then they want to admit, choosing to fix their sanctified smile and their positive patter on their faces in complete denial of it.
Using questionable, even deceptive, interpretations of Scripture and heavy doses of positive mental attitude, Faith theology has established it's adamant position that full-blown glorification actually begins after one's salvation, or justification. It boldly claims this even while flying in the face of jarring realities itself, claiming to be able to speak new eyeballs into the blind while wearing glasses in their prayer closets. One of the most telling examples of this is the Faith movement's persistent usage of Mark 10:30 as a proof text for their onerous teaching on "the hundredfold blessing," claiming that the verse guarantees a one hundred percent increase of one's blessings for every one percent of offering given to a Faith ministry - completely ignoring that Christ foretold persecutions would accompany such "blessing" (130). As we have already pointed out, in the rush to appropriate the encouragement of Christ's promise in the verse, Faith believers too quickly overlook the sobriety of His prophecy of John 16:33: "In the world, ye shall have tribulation."
The encounters of the
early church with a hostile and unbelieving world as recounted in the book of
Acts give us ample evidence that, from its inception, the Body of Christ has
perpetually been confronted with overt trial and tribulation and covert
heretical and demonic oppression even while still being citizens of the
found in Acts 14:22 and shared later with the believers in those regions, give
us a clear view of the church's understanding of how those words of Christ in
John 16:33 were so painfully realized: he was found "confirming the
souls of the disciples and exhorting them to continue in the faith and that we
must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Once again,
we must not forget that Jesus’ messages to the seven churches of
Perhaps upon reflection of this and how it related to his own place in Christ, Paul would write that his great desire in knowing God was to know Christ through "the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." (Philippians 3:10 cp with Romans 8:17). As we've already discussed, this is what constitutes the backbone to a truly overcoming faith in God that commits itself to keeping its eyes upon the glorious example of the resolute and suffering Jesus who is "the author and finisher of our Faith" (Hebrews 12:1-3).
The lasting advances of the church have always been made at great cost, and the first few hundred years of the Church's existence throughout the subsequent persecutions that raged against it proved how frail men and women could walk victoriously by real faith despite losing their fortunes, families, and even their lives. Although the same mighty endowment of spiritual power and authority granted unto the Body was still in their possession, it did not preserve it from the crushing pressures of fiery trial. The testimony of secular and Church history is ample proof of this fact. Such has always been the price of life in a fallen world order for both the godly and the ungodly under the Lordship of the Father (Matthew 5:45). Indeed, to truly live a Christian life is to have first completely renounced one's own personal concerns and ambitions, which certainly included any sort of desire for position or exaltation. The record of the suffering church found in 2 Corinthians 4:8-12, 16-18 and 6:4-10 emphasize that the Christian's response to disaster should be based upon the Master's command to deny their self, embrace a cross of renunciation, and lose their life so that they may find it (Matthew 16:24-26).
This is one of the most unpalatable notions to the more refined sensibilities of the Faith movement, but it is, after all, a command given to all aspiring disciples from Jesus Christ Himself. It was not a suggestion. It is a divine mandate. Faith teachings may still stubbornly demand a recognition of rulership now as victorious King's Kids, yet all of those who are joint heirs with Christ must be willing to join the fellowship in Christ's sufferings:
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:17)
As we again see, glorification has yet to arrive, and life in a world of sorrows goes on for even the joint heir with Christ. Faith teachings lay claim to a lion's share of authority for the believer, yet Jesus in Luke 17:10 places such a concept in the proper perspective: we are simply to reckon ourselves as obedient and faithful servants awaiting the word of our Master, servants whose "rights" do not exist as we know them.
In appreciation of those previously mentioned theologians' contribution, it can be then said the Body of Christ has already entered into the Kingdom through His Spirit's presence within us but where controversies among us start is when we contend over what extent His Kingdom power manifests in the world. Scripture is clear when it indicates that we've not yet been released from the curse over creation and that God's blessings are what He supplies when He chooses to do so out of his "good pleasure." So the Faith movement's declaration that “abundant living” guarantees all Christians victories all the time is actually a bold and twisted presupposition that has no support whatsoever from Scripture.
Although a Faith teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma can draw an audience to their feet in rapturous ecstasy over their "eagle Christianity," he would not do as well in the streets of Calcutta, Port Au Prince, or Pyongyang - or in the last break room Bible study held by Christians about to be laid off at a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, much less the emergency room where a praying, confessing Faith Christian mother is told that her son's skull was crushed in a gang fight and is now brain dead. Truly, this is a far cry from the "super Christian" attitude that the Faith movement would press upon the Body, but it is the Biblical one. For a Christian people so intent on recapturing New Testament Christianity in their lives, Faith believers often seem totally clueless of this secret to the Christian life - that the present sorrows of our fallen world can be swallowed up in the joy that comes every morning in a life of genuine Christian faith in God. Again, how sad to see such a thing in today's church, a time in which compromise is at every hand and our Lord's return is yet at hand!
The End Of The Matter
Several years ago, a
well-known international Christian radio ministry was commenting upon the mail
it received, and made a sober observation that prefaces our conclusion to this
series of articles. They contrasted the contents of mail received from both Western Christian
audiences and those from Christians in
I think this incident shows how pre-occupied with self-centered pursuit of personal ambition and benefit that the Body of Christ is becoming. It gives us an accurate indicator of how spiritually impoverished the Church truly is, and how easily we are slipping into gross carnality. Even as we fret over our "lack," humble believers in tribulation around the world - suffering under the gall of Islamic, Communist and pagan assaults - are more concerned with the keeping of the purity of their robes of white, to remain without spot and wrinkle. What an indictment of the corruptible nature of a church becoming increasingly out of touch with its' Lord!
The defiling influence of false teaching reflected in the corrupt religiosity it spawns is what the apostle Paul had in mind as he penned many a letter to the churches of the New Testament era, among them this classic and chilling reminder of what is at stake:
Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.
In closing this series of articles, let us summarize what we've learned by squarely considering the facts at hand: there's no easy way to say any of this, so we'll just be plain spoken here: based upon a remembrance of the apostle Paul's warning above in 2 Corinthians 11:1-4, we cannot conclude anything else but the following:
The gospel of the Word of Faith movement is largely alien to the Biblical Good News and is quite rightly viewed as "another gospel". It "names and claims" what it will upon God's grace expecting divine intervention according to its own self-centered will as a divine right - and a fair portion of the Christian Church today has made this "prosperity gospel" the center piece of its passion, piety and practice.
The claims of the Word of Faith movement have no basis in Biblical truth, being attributed to the "anointing" of spiritual influences that can rightly be called "another spirit." They are based upon the twisted perversions of Bible proof texts cobbled together by preachers whose errors have been magnified by the generations of disciples embracing their misinterpretations as Gospel truth.
The bottom line of the Word of Faith movement's teachings is the creation of a pagan, quasi-Christian worldview which makes man the center of his own confession-controlled universe, supposes worldly success to be a measure of godliness. It leads Christians into an endless treadmill of spiritual activity and exercises that keep them so preoccupied that they don't recognize the essentially idolatrous nature of Faith teaching.
And the God of the Word of Faith movement is not the God of the Bible, but is rather "another Jesus." His Triune nature is readily redefined or denied when newer "revelation knowledge" spouted by Faith teachers requires it, a divine entity whose deity is hardly unique since all Faith believers are glorified "little gods." Mastery of spiritual laws far more powerful then both God and man is the key to all spiritual maturity.
If there are any modern isms of the day that have created a vast army of preachers who travel around in their jets and go before TV cameras to preach "another Jesus" whom Paul has never known, it is the Word of Faith movement.
If there are any popular false teachings whose expositors are animated by "another spirit" that Paul never walked in, it would be defined by "the prosperity gospel."
If there are any crowd-pleasing, ear tickling tidings of "good news" which the early church had never accepted, it would be the "health and wealth" gospel which the movement enshrines as holy - instead of seeing it as heresy.
The Faith movement's populace of Christians have become the blind being led by the blind, who steadfastly maintain that they see more clearly by their revelation knowledge than anyone else. It is indeed high time that the last days church take heed to its pathetically diseased spirituality, open its Bibles again and hear what the Spirit is saying to it concerning its warped trust of the false doctrine of the Faith movement which has been weighed and found wanting.
I personally do not subscribe to those certain dispensationalist views that the 7 churches of Revelation 2-3 prophetically foreshadowed 7 church "ages" and that we live in a seventh "church age" typified by lukewarm Laodicea, but, frankly, it's easy to understand why so many Bible prophecy students come to that conclusion. The backsliding Church of the West is fat, surfeited, and obscenely self-indulgent to the point of almost entirely overlooking the suffering brotherhood elsewhere, let alone its own sinful shortcomings.
It was only a matter of time before another wave of twisted Christian teaching would emerge to sanctify and uphold its essentially carnal nature, and I believe that the Word of Faith movement's presence all over the world is the clearest sign of this. The fact that the Faith movement continues to enjoy the kind of unrelenting popularity and spiritual dominance in the Pentecostal and Charismatic worlds is a tragic gauge of just how spiritually impoverished its earthbound Christian membership has become.
Click here to watch a YouTube video spelling out one contemporary preacher's utter disdain with it.
Like a self-replicating virus, the Faith movement's infestation of the Body of Christ is stubbornly embedded in Christianity today thanks to its self-defenses as well as its appealingly carnal draw. It is difficult to overstate how critical this problem has become in the Body of Christ today. The strawmen argumentation ad hominum that Faith movement sets up against anyone who questions their teachings is successfully mustered against its critics to show how unspiritual and tradition-bound they are. Almost without exception, anyone finding fault with the "divine wealth" concept are depicted as faithless, stony-hearted religionists who are bound by heavy fetters of traditional and fanatically ascetic faith and who demand that all other Christians live lives of poverty as the fruit of righteousness. They then play the reader off against these obviously warped "Christians" by appealing passionately to their need to lay aside these man-made traditions to receive truly abundant Christian life.
The "glorified" and "pure" Faith believer, obviously, doesn't need to be hobbled by traditional caution or restraint of course and even make this a test of fellowship and Christian maturity among themselves. By doing this, the Faith movement effectively polarizes the issue into an "us" against "them" battle line, and lends even further credence to my contention that the movement has perilously cultlike leanings to exclusivism. While they criticize the secular world for advancing cultural political correctness that contradicts conservative and Biblical values, the Faith movement world has created for itself a spiritualized political correctness concerning its own self-identity. As a result, from this self-exalting position, the Faith movement has moved into dangerous waters that have borne Faith clergy and Faith laity to formulate doctrine and practice that are unbiblical, divisive, religiously abusive and, at times, even most heretical.
From my own position, the same burden that compels this Christian Pentecostal minister to preach, publish, and defend the Gospel of Christ also demands that I never remain silent over this abominable state of affairs. In other words, I will not back down in exposing it for what it has become. If that paints me as a false prophet in the sight of genuinely questionable ones, then so be it. I cannot but respond as the prophet Micaiah did when facing down the heady frenzy of religious deception coming from the mouths of the prophets that were destroying Israel - 1 Kings 22:14: As the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak. I can and will do no less.
I have beheld what attempting to live up to the impossible dictates of Faith teaching has done in the lives of my own family as well as that of so many others. I have seen too many trying to "fake it til you make it" and plunge into a materialistic, worldly morass where spiritual ministry once flowed. I have seen all too many believers, fellowships, families and ministries sapped of their spiritual strength and integrity when their fancies were tickled by the fair speeches of Faith teachers and who found that faith became a never ending treadmill. And I am hardly alone. I've heard and beheld of too much of this from too many other believers for years - and all of the tragedies that came about occurred with the sincerest of intention. But as I've said here again and again in our articles here no amount of sincerity about something ever guarantees that it is true. And Word of Faith teaching, by far, is one of the most grotesquely and yet brightly shining deceptions I've ever seen, perverting Christian faith into a gross religiosity bent to personal fulfillment, not actual trust in God alone but a carnal reliance upon self.
So what does real faith in God actually look like?
It took shape among a people you wouldn't have thought to look to. I will not forget the sight of a boatload of Haitians rescued by the crew of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter on a news telecast a few years ago. Their sinking boat literally shattered into pieces as they were being pulled aboard. What little they may had on board was lost to the sea. They were going to be sent back to the same impoverished land that they had perhaps spent their life savings trying to escape. But as they sat on the fantail of the ship, they all - young and old, male and female - lifted their voices up in vibrant song and sang in Creole praises to God. These were people who had virtually nothing at all, but who had learned the secret of what constituted true Christian prosperity. Their faith fairly radiated from them, a faith that is all the more remarkable in that they had nothing to base it upon, nothing but absolute trust in a God that they had not even seen. And we think we have faith?
Perhaps we understand now better what the reason was for Jesus to asked all - including "Faith people" - who live in the last days this simple, solemn question:
when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
(105) Bakker, Jim, I Was Wrong, (Nelson, 1996), p 546-547
(108) Copeland, Kenneth, The Force of Faith, p. 18.
(109) Tilton, Robert, Decide, Decree, Declare, pp. 32-25.
(110) Kenneth Hagin, Words, pp. 29-30
(111) Copeland, Gloria, God's Will Is Prosperity, (KCP Publications, 1972), p. 61, 63, 72, 73.
(112) Copeland, Kenneth, The Laws Of Prosperity, p. 36. Keeping the "words of the covenant" is essential, Copeland insists, to be prosperous in everything, according to Deuteronomy 29:9. And, as his wife Gloria has written (God's Will Is Prosperity, p. 10, 17) keeping up with every detail of the covenant - which supposedly includes the ability to "get wealth" - is essential to signifying that one is in proper relationship to God: "Prosperity is a by-product of God walking with us and manifesting Himself to us." So it only stands to reason, that if one is not enjoying "divine health," they are not walking with God correctly!
(113) Roberts, Oral. Seed Faith Commentary on the Holy Bible
(114) Avanzini, John, The Wealth Of The World, p. 93.
(115) Avanzini, ibid, p. 29, 32, 51
(116) Avanzini, ibid, p. 52-53, 10-11. Faith pastor Hank Davis, in the midst of a March, 1990 revival sermons that enabled him to plant his Church of the Harvest ministry in Cleveland, Tennessee, made a comment in the same light: that the Bible taught that the warehouses of South American drug cartels that were filled with mildewy U.S. currency were some day to soon come flowing back into the hands of the last days church, and that our fervent prayers to that end would hasten these showers of blessings. I was too taken aback to note what affect this made on the congregation, and to further confirm our amazement, he insisted "it's in the Bible!" Regrettably, he did not enlighten us as to where the Bible prophesied that the drug money of drug lords would fund global television ministries, satellite networks, and mortgage payments of churches in America. Understandably, I've yet to hear anywhere where such a miracle of "wealth transfer" has taken place.
(117) Copeland, Gloria, ibid, p. 54.
(118) Copeland, Gloria, ibid, p. 49.
(119) Hagin, Kenneth. Words, p. 17, 21
(120) Capps, Charles. God's Creative Power For Healing, pp. 7-8.
(121) ibid, pp. 42-43
(122) ibid, pp. 38-39
(123) Hagin, Kenneth. The New Birth (Rhema, 1980) p. 30. Hagin's assembly of strawman argumentation here (the depiction of the church as submerged in unbelief) helps to not only support his contention by engaging opposing viewpoints but also helps to establish the claims to divine commission he makes regarding being expressly sent by God to "teach faith."
(124) Copeland, Gloria, ibid, p. 19. "The Church took spiritual blessing and left the prosperity and healing portions of the promise. It is true that spiritual redemption is a greater blessing than prosperity or healing, but God never asked you to choose. .. The Church took the new birth and disregarded prosperity and healing." This was one of Kenneth Hagin's disciples, extolling their mammon-centered theology as far back as 1978, whose warped view has blinded the minds of millions of Faith Christians.
The book of Proverbs is a rich storehouse of wisdom concerning the proper attitude to material gain and 15:27, 23:4-5, and 28:20-22 are particularly emphatic. 15:27 makes it clear that "he that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live," and 23:4-5 warns that one must "labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings .. " 28:22 contains what may be the clearest warning of all concerning "divine wealth": "He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him."
From just these verses alone, it seems clear enough to observe that riches are not to be a priority for the godly to press after, and that they must be respected as a necessary evil that can easily pervert sound judgment and proper perspective about them into a single-minded carnal pursuit after them.
(125) Copeland, Kenneth The Force Of Faith, p. 28
(126) Hagin, Kenneth. Must Christians Suffer?
(127) Hagin, ibid, pp. 3-10, 11.
(128) Hayes, Norvel. 7 Ways
(129) Fee, Gordon. The Disease Of The Health And Wealth Gospels. (Frontline, 1985), p. 5.
(130) Mark 10:29-31 give context to verse 30, and that alone puts a completely different cast upon the Faith movement's grotesquely carnal interpretation of the verse:
And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.
(131) Copeland, Kenneth. "Now That's Good News" Believers Voice Of Victory, April, 1995, p. 3. In one of his typically overstated and twisted articles, Copeland self-assuredly proclaims that the "devil was able to steal a major revelation from the Church" because "when the Bible was translated into English, the translators failed to translate the Greek word Christ." And what did the Bible translators fail to do, in Copeland's humble opinion? They failed to translate the Greek noun Christ into "the Anointed One and His anointing" and thus "most Christians today" now "know nothing about the anointing." Copeland's doctrine goes on to show that the Biblical term "anointing" refers to a far greater and more encompassing revelation than just salvation: using verbiage reflecting Full Gospel obsession with violent spiritual power, he explains that
when the New Testament refers to the gospel of Christ, it's talking about the gospel of the anointing, the good news of the sin-annihilating, sickness-crushing, poverty-pulverizing, bondage-breaking, yoke-destroying power of God. Jesus brought that anointing into our midst! .. If you want to see just how much this translation failure has cost us, read through the New Testament and find every time the world Christ is mentioned (It will take a while because it's in there 341 times!) In each instance, translate it into the Anointed One and His anointing. Then meditate on the new meaning it gives each Scripture. Believe you me, as you do that the New Testament will become a brand new book to you!
He goes on to cite verses like Colossians 1:27, Matthew 16:15, Acts 8:5-8, and others to show this "lost revelation" in action, showing "new insight" into the Bible.
Certainly, if Copeland is right, then the Bible can become "a brand new book" - which of course, he'd reason, is what the spiritually impoverished church needs. The great problem with his eisegetical patter is that he doesn't explain how to insert these shades of meaning into New Testament verses that aren't meant to contain them - such as Matthew 23:8, Romans 15:3, 1 Corinthians 15:3 and 1 Peter 5:1. His misguided reinterpretation of the Greek Christ deliberately confuse the identity of Jesus with that of the Holy Spirit, and insists that no such distinction actually exists between the two. It was just another day at the office in 1995 for Copeland as he continued to seek newer novel twists to the Bible to make it fit his warped Faith doctrines, and to not simply accept Scripture's counsel for what it is.
At the least, what it did was contribute to a new wave of confusing and controversial teachings that certainly improved his product line sales (see the July/August 1996 Believer's Voice Of Victory magazine layout) as well as that of Creflo Dollar, who gave this "major revelation" a major portion of his teaching time on his telecasts around that time in the mid 1990's. In Dollar's case, the "anointing" is packaged as something one must have "if you're going to thrive in the turbulent years leading up to the 21st century," something that will "bring you total victory over everything from bad habits to debts .. (something that will) spur you on to excellence on the job, whether you're a plumber or pastor." (Charisma, February 1993, p. 90). Be that as it may, the indefensible perversions of Scripture by Dollar and Copeland to make it fit their doctrinal superstructures are truly some of the more revulsive examples of Faith excess that I have ever seen.
These and other explicit statements like them prove that Copeland, and Dollar are indeed preaching "another gospel," (2 Cor. 11:4) a deed that places them in dangerous proximity to an apostolic condemnation of the highest magnitude (Galatians 1:9-10). I know of no sound Pentecostals and Charismatics who have made their teachings on the Holy Spirit a gospel to preach (with the cross thrown in for free) - but the Faith movement has little qualms about sanctifying such a mission.