What is Word-Faith? Part 3
The Teachings of the Word Faith Movement
As a brief introduction to what this movement teaches, we need only look at the back cover of many of the books sold by this movement. One of the better examples is the BWW Booklist book “Hung By The Tongue”, by Francis Martin:
- Success is yours.
- Victory and Defeat are born in the mind.
- “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”(Proverbs 23:7)
- Humans speak what they believe and think, often causing defeat.
- “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”(Proverbs 12:21)
- Jesus said, “My words are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)
- Fear will prevent you from speaking victory.
This like Book, Hung By The Tongue, has helped many to rise from their defeated condition to a VICTORIOUS life.
THIS IS YOUR
OPPORTUNITY. WILL YOU PASS IT BY AGAIN?
To sum up the teachings, whatever you speak is what you will get, whether it is good and intentional, or bad and unintentional. Martin starts the introduction with the classic proof text Mark 11:23, Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Martin goes on to explain that we need to read the Bible “literally” and we get what we see. Whatever we speak will come true, as this is a spiritual law which can not be broken even by God. The problem is that although the Bible is meant to be read literally, there is also a good deal of hyperbole, analogy, and metaphors. That is why it is important to study the Bible in the context that it was written. This particular verse is an example of a contextual issue. Jesus was referring to people who today we might call incredible, who were known to accomplish a lot of ‘impossible’ things (not in a literal sense, but things that are very difficult). In effect, Jesus was teaching to rely on the power of God. The Word-faith teachers, on the other hand, use this as a proof text to coerce God to give them what they want simply by saying it.
I asked a Word-faith teacher once how he handles a person who is confined to a wheelchair. He asked what I meant and I explained that if a person can not stand up and get out of the wheelchair after saying this verse simply does not have enough belief. His reply was that he would never say that, but I reminded him that he didn’t have to say it; his theology says it loud and clear. Of course, to battle this, the modern day Word-faith teachers have added a stipulation that Christ has never promised when these are happening, just that they will. In effect however, they cover the charge by sidestepping the issue because the reality is that the Word-Faith teachers believe in this healing happening here and now.
Now that you get the basic idea, I am going to go fast through a few of the teachings and verses taken out of context. Please understand that hundreds of books, papers, lectures, sermons, etc are on each side of the debate. In one simple post, I can not do much justice to this topic, so I encourage you to look further if this interests you. D.R. McConnell’s “A Different Gospel” is the best place to start.
For simplicity sake, the general teachings of this movement fall under two categories: health and wealth (hence one of the common names Health and Wealth Gospel). It goes so far that Charles Capps places in his best selling “The Tongue – A Creative Force” a chapter called Gos-Pill Capps-sules which consists literally of mantras to “confess…three times a day.” (page 151) These are under the categories of Worry and Fear, Material Needs, Wisdom and Guidance, Comfort and Strength, and the Healing ones are scattered throughout the book. These are all Bible verses, mostly taken out of context.
Before we move into these two teachings, we must examine the doctrine of faith in the context of this movement because it is critical. The first thing that you will notice in any book produced from this movement is that faith is reduced to a formula. If you simply follow the steps, you will make it. In fact, this was the first thing that a person tried to teach me one night at Eat ‘n Park. The steps are in Mark 11:24, just following their favorite faith verse: Desire something, Pray for it, Believe you have it, and Receive it. Of course, if Jesus visits you like he visited Hagin, He would have told you the steps he gave to Hagin: Say it, Do it, Receive It, and Tell it. In this movement, God did not create the world first, he created a series of universal laws which all people, believers or not, are free to use. It was God’s faith in His own words that created everything. He then gave us that same power to create with. In essence, God is not a personal God, but an impersonal force, the cosmic watchmaker who set things into action and then stepped back. As McConnell notes, the formula for faith in this movement can only make sense in the light of the metaphysical cults.
The concept of faith as a positive confession originated with Kenyon. It has its root in speaking out loud that which you already have, even if it is not apparent that you have it. Therefore, if you speak that you are defeated, sick, broke, etc, you are claiming those things for yourself and thus you have those. This concept goes as far as to suggest that you never confess these things at all, which is certainly a twist that Satan wants you to have because we are indeed commanded to confess our problems, struggles, sins, sicknesses, etc, with one another so that we can pray for one another (James 5:13-18). This whole idea of spiritual laws that are always at work begs the questions: Is God sovereign or subject to these laws? Is God a person or a principle? Is man a creature or a creator? Will God’s Word or God’s Will prevail? These are many more are addressed by McConnell.
The doctrine of healing in Word-faith is interesting. It actually teaches that the root of sickness is not physical, but spiritual. All disease is the result of Satan and his forces, so the only true healing will come from the word of God. Interestingly, this is the basis of disease in metaphysics, but not historic orthodox Christianity. This teaching goes so far that if a believer is ever sick, it is automatically assumed that there is unconfessed sin in their life. This goes further to suggest that one of the causes of sickness are negative confessions (which is confessing the words of Satan). Examples of negative confessions are any mental or verbal acceptance of disease in your body. In some cases, believers are told to deny the symptoms of sickness as a sign of belief. What about the pain of these symptoms? Well, they are the test of your faith. If you believe that you are not sick through that than you are healed.
With these beliefs about healing, many (though not all) faith teachers reject medical treatment. The first radical instance of this was the Freeman cult where many people died of treatable diseases. Before you (like many Word-faith Teachers) accuse Freeman of turning the teachings into a cult, I want you to understand that him and his followers did not need to add any real extreme, but instead, they faithfully lived out their belief in the Word-faith teachings and reaped the crops of that sowing. Since this has occurred, many teachers are not very open about allowing for medical treatment (they allow this for the weak in faith), but they will also parade in front of the crowd a person who has denied medical treatment. Many faith teachers believe that taking medication is a denial of faith.
To be sure, healing can be a part of the work of God, but it is not a promise. Some are healed, others are not. The teaching of the Word-faith movement, however, takes this issue and parades it before people as a total promise to be enjoyed here and now. This is a teaching that many people want. It is so prevalent that I have obtained a copy of an Oral Roberts issue Bible that still has a paper in it apparently written by a person who was trying her hardest to live these principles. The paper stuffed in the Bible had a whole series of daily confessions that leads me to believe this person eventually died of cancer. I picked up the Bible at a flee market; the paper is still in there as a memoir to how deceptive this movement can be, if not for the body, than for the soul.
The reality is that the creation groans under the curse of suffering (Romans 8:19-21), and that does not go away by becoming a Christian, in fact, more often than not, it gets worse! One curious thing that I discovered is that there is no doctrine of Glorification in the Word-faith teaching. Glorification is the final promise of perfection in heaven after the resurrection (this DOES include total healing). The absence of this doctrine makes sense in the light of the fact that Word-faith is about here and now while orthodox Christianity is always focused on the future with God. Even in the Bible itself, not all believers were healed. Timothy had a stomach problem, Paul had an issue with illness, Paul also left companions behind because of illness. Is the great apostle Paul now confessing evil in the Bible? I don’t think so! Another contradiction is Job, who was afflicted without having done anything to bring upon him the punishments of Satan. In contrast, Job was given sickness for following God as a test to show Satan that Job was a faithful servant of God…often times that is why we suffer.
This is the core doctrine of interest in BWW as it is the basis for the godspeak at the functions, on the tapes, in the books, etc. It is this twisting toward the accumulation of wealth that becomes the draw to bring people in and keep them under the pretense of following God. In this area, we need to understand two types of doctrine on wealth:
· Egocentric – This is a promise made to bestow material riches from God on a person who donates to a particular ministry
· Cosmic – This is a promise made to bestow material riches from God on those who know and/or practice the laws that govern prosperity.
Here is where BWW diverges a little bit from the Word-faith teachers. Most (but not all) of the faith teachers are Egocentric. Oral Roberts once said from stage that God was going to take him if his viewers did not send in a large amount of money. Of course, they sent money all the way. Other teachers promised a 100 fold return on anything that they sent in and even encouraged them to use credit to do it because God would return that money.
In BWW, they tend revert back to the New Thought Psychology which teaches the universal principles (the God that made the laws and then stepped out of the picture). Of course, if you are giving lots of money to a faith teacher, you will not have as much to buy books and tapes!
The early foundation of the teachings of prosperity from Kenyon were actually very close to sound in that he did not teach gross materialism as is taught today, but he only taught in reference to needs (not wants, and not being sneaky and making out your wants to be needs). While it is true that God is interested in the well-being of His children, he is not like the spoiling parent who wants to give his whining child everything that his little heart desires. This, in fact, is contrary to the principles in scripture.
Once the teachings moved beyond Kenyon, it got worse, convoluted, and progressively sinful. Once of the deceptive points today is that many of the teachers tell you that God wants you rich so that you can give more money to the cause of Christ. The problem is that the Bible itself warns about wanting to get rich, for even though the intention is good, it often leads to a snare and pulls you away from God. If you are a faithful servant intent on serving God, you work hard and faithfully, you might just find yourself with a lot of resources, but the bottom line is that God is more interested in your heart than your money. As such, He does not wish you to turn towards it.
Of course, this drive for money has progressively been towards getting material things because God wants you to have those so that you can make a good impression on the world. This is the approach that Danny Snipes often takes as he talks about the kids wanting to know what you know instead of wanting to know what the drug dealers know.
The Biblical truth behind this doctrine is easy to address. First, the Gospel is clearly about self-denial and reliance on God with a good dose of common sense. We need an amount of money to meet our clothing and food. God will provide opportunities for those needs. In our opportunities, God may call us to wealth, but like health, it is not a promise for all people. The next problem is that God becomes the means to the end. He is the deliverer of goods so that you can do the work (or have fun and play). In this case, the money is what it is about and God is just the path to jump on to get it. And finally for our purpose, prosperity focuses on things of this world, not things from of God. The command to leave behind the world is silenced in the drive for money. The Bible is, however, full of warnings for the rich because rich people tend to rely on themselves over God. Being rich is not a sin, but neither is being poor. God has not promised either way.
That pretty much sums up as briefly as I can some of the key teachings and problems in the Word-faith movement. I often used McConnell’s book as source material simply because it is the best organized for this purpose. Please understand that I simplified this argument drastically, but I also know a vast amount about this movement, being once a follower of it myself.