In the previous installment we examined the history and major players of the popular modern spiritual movement known as Word-Faith. We mentioned that it is also known by other nomenclatures including the “Word of Faith”, the “Health and Wealth” Gospel; “Name and Claim It”; the “Faith” Movement; the “Positive Confession” Movement; and the “Prosperity Gospel.”
We described the movement’s origin in the teaching and writing of early 20th century preacher E. W. Kenyon and how his doctrines were later plagiarized and promulgated by the late Kenneth Hagin. We pointed to a host of well-known television preachers who now continue to preach the Word-Faith message while raking in millions of dollars in donations from faithful viewers. These popular TV personalities include Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Charles Capps, Benny Hinn, Fredrick Price, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Rod Parsley, Marilyn Hickey, and Margaret Smith Court. Perhaps the best known and most influential leaders are Paul and Jan Crouch, founders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) on which most of the Word-Faith preachers regularly appear.
But now we need to turn our attention to the actual teachings of this movement. We need to understand, first, that not all Word-Faith preachers have the same teachings. In fact many times they contradict each other, and even occasionally their own selves. For instance, Benny Hinn has on occasion publically renounced the Word-Faith doctrines only then to continue teaching them. That being said, the following unusual doctrines are commonly professed by Word-Faith leaders.
Most Word-Faith adherents state that God is a spirit being who speaks “words of faith” to accomplish His will. That is to say, God Himself exercised faith in order to create the universe and everything in it. He continues to exercise this “God-kind of faith” to work in the world today. It is easy to see the flaw in this concept. In order for anyone to exercise faith they must have an object in which to put their faith. If we take the Word-Faith concept seriously we would have to assume that God puts His faith in something outside of Himself. Some might even say that God has faith in faith. But to take that position means that God is not, in and of Himself, omnipotent. Therefore, He is dependent on something external to Himself, that being impersonal faith.
The Word-Faith teachers carry their logic even further. They say that, although humans have physical bodies, they are also spirit beings. Thus humans were created by God “in God’s class” or as “little gods.” This means that humans are able to speak “words of faith” just like God does. Humans can potentially express that “God-kind-of-faith”, like God has, and can have power over the material world and bring healing and prosperity.
Unfortunately, they say, when humans sinned they lost the ability to express that kind of godly faith. They say that Jesus, who perfectly understood this Word-Faith principle, died on the cross both physically and spiritually to restore our faith to be healthy and prosperous.
So, the Christian becomes, essentially, an incarnation of God like Jesus and can do what he did. She can speak words of faith now to be prosperous and healthy. The key is that she must always “pray-believing.” That is, she must pray a “positive confession” with the absolute expectation that she will get what she asks for. It is her sure and confident word-of-faith that guarantees the answer. Many Word-Faith preachers would say that an important way to increase positive faith is by making a “seed-faith” financial donation to their ministry (they rarely encourage viewers to give to their local churches). If the believer doubts, allows negative thinking to invade her mind, or harbors secret sins or sinful thoughts, she will short-circuit the power of prayer and will not get what she desires.
This concept often presents many Word-Faith followers with an agonizing dilemma. They ask, “Since I prayed to be healed and sent in a donation but still suffer with the cancer, does it mean I lack enough faith?” The Word-Faith teachers, if they are true to their principles, would have to answer “yes”. Others might complain, “I prayed-believing and sent in a seed of faith gift that I would get the money I needed, but I am still very much in debt. What did I do wrong?” The Word-Faith’s answer could only be, “You just don’t believe strong enough or you must have secret sin in your life!”
Researcher Robert Bowman, in his biblical analysis of these doctrines, states that they are based on four fundamental mistakes in interpreting and applying Scripture.
Mistake 1: Thinking a good God will give us only good things
Job rightly said that if we accept good things from God, we should also accept it when he takes them away or when bad things happen to us (Job 1:21-22; 2:10). God promises to work all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28); he does not promise that all our things will be good.
Mistake #2: Confusing spiritual and physical blessings
When Paul tells us to set our minds on “the things above” (Col. 3:2), he means spiritual blessings, not a “higher” quality of material life.
The “spiritual blessings” God has given us are adoption, forgiveness, and the like (Eph. 1:3-14), not promises of physical blessings awaiting our positive confession.
Mistake #3: Misreading future promises as present guarantees
Ephesians 2:7 says that God will show us the surpassing riches of his grace “in the ages to come”; the best is yet to come!
In Hebrews 11, faith is not confidence of getting material things now, but rather the assurance of our future heavenly home (Heb. 11:1, 8-16).
God has promised us a life of perfect health and prosperity—in the resurrection (Rom. 8:18-23)!
Mistake #4: Thinking that if we believe what we say it will happen
God’s words are inherently powerful; ours are not (Is. 55:11; Rom. 4:16-21).
Human words are powerless, whether we believe them or not (Prov. 14:23; 17:10; 26:23, 26; 29:19).
Human words have consequences as people act on them (Prov. 6:1-2; 18:21).
The Laodiceans confessed that they were rich—but they were wrong (Rev. 3:17)!
(Robert Bowman- Power Point: Biblical Response to the Word-Faith Movement. North American Mission Board)
The 20th Century purveyors of the Word-Faith doctrines, sad to say, made great inroads, especially among Pentecostals and Charismatics. Ironically, its greatest critics were also found within those ranks. A number of Pentecostal Bible scholars publically denounced much of what the Word-Faith preachers proclaim, but with little effect on the rank-and-file membership of their denominations.
Now, in the 21st century, this movement has invaded mainline evangelical ranks. It now poses a serious threat to the spread of the gospel both here and on foreign mission fields because it reduces the credibility of all Christians. Many intelligent non-Christians understand the absurdity of the Word-Faith doctrines and see the scandalous and lavish lifestyles of many of its preachers. They fail, however, to recognize how Word-Faith distorts the truth of the biblical gospel. Therefore, they reject it out of hand.
For this reason, we must continue to expose and reject the Word-Faith movement and discourage Christians from supporting or following its teachers.