The Word of Faith Movement (WOF) which began in the mid 20th century covers a variety of Christian denominations. Its teachers are very popular. If you walk into any Christian bookstore here in Nigeria, the first 10 books you will likely find are written by these Faith teachers. The movement emphasizes faith, the believer’s authority, healing, prosperity, the power of the Spirit and positive confession – which the church today honestly need.
An article in the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements identifies E. W. Kenyon as the “founder” of the Word of Faith movement, and men like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Capps, Frederick K. C. Price, Robert Tilton, Paul Yonggi Cho, Robert Schuller and other famous preachers in Africa as disciples.
However, as widespread as their teachings are, there are certain doctrinal errors they espouse which subtly undermine the overall teaching of Scripture.
Now, before you dismiss me as a “cessationist” (one who believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased) or someone “blinded by traditions,” let me say that I am well acquainted with Word Faith teachings and I have lived them before.
It’s funny how some folks resort to these funny labels as diversionary tactics whenever unbiblical teachings are exposed. I am not the first to address this topic; several great scholars have done so before me.
Dr. Charles Farah, Professor of Theology and Historical Studies at Oral Roberts University points out that the Word of Faith “movement uses Gnostic hermeneutical principles and displaces contextual scientific exegesis. It shares many of the goals of present day humanism, particularly in regards to the creaturely comforts. It is, in fact, a burgeoning heresy” (Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, 1981, 21)
Dr. George Wood, an Assistant Superintendent of the Assemblies of God wrote in an edition of Mountain Movers that WOF teachers “have missed the Bible in three ways: They twist particular verses out of their plain meaning; they refuse to deal with Scriptures which plainly have different meanings than those of the`positive confession;’ and they fail to let the Bible speak for itself.”
Chuck Smith, a Charismatic preacher, wrote: “the latest wind of pernicious, unscriptural doctrine to blow through the ranks of Charismatics is the ‘what-you-say-is-what-you-get’ teaching, otherwise known as the prosperity doctrine … [These] teachings sound more like Mary Baker Eddy [Christian Science] than the Apostle Paul” (Charisma vs Charismania, 135).
I intentionally quoted these leading Pentecostal/Charismatic ministers for you to see that this analysis is not based on any denominational prejudice. Some of the early outspoken critics of the WOF like Eric Pement, D. R. McConnell, David Wilkerson and Dr. Walter Martin were dye-in-the-wool Pentecostals. In fact, the Word of Faith circle is not a denomination. Therefore, I appeal to Christians to lay aside sentiment that replaces discernment.
The Faith of God
The WOF theology says God is a “faith God” who is bound by laws which operates through the forces of faith. Mark 11:22 “have faith in God” is used as a primary text to support this view and it’s argued that the literal Greek says “have the faith of God.” I am yet to come across any reputable Greek scholar who has rendered this text this way.
They teach that God had faith in His faith when He spoke the words of creation and we too have the same ability as God to call things into existence. That statement is far removed from Mark 11:22. All things were created, not merely because it was spoken, but because it was God who spoke it.
Nowhere does the Bible teaches that faith is a mind power or a force that can be used to control God or get anything we desire. A real faith lets God be God and trusts in His wisdom (Job 42:1-6, Rom. 11:33-36).
“[Adam] was created on terms of equality with God and he could stand in God’s presence without any consciousness of inferiority … He lived on equal terms with God” (Hagin, Zoe: The God Kind of Life, 33)
But Scripture says: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). Adam was a steward who was to look after the animals God had made and the garden. God told him to rule over all He had made (1:28) but this doesn’t make Adam equal to God because everything on earth still belonged to God.
Adam was only a tenant. Even after the Fall, God was still the Owner of the earth “and everything in it, the world and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1). The idea that Adam is God is a Mormon doctrine.
E. W. Kenyon wrote: “The Lord Jesus was not, however, a ‘one-of-a-kind’. ‘Incarnation can be repeated in each and everyone of us. Every man who has been ‘born again’ is an Incarnation” (The Father and His Family, 100).
Hagin taught the same: “You are as much the incarnation of God as Jesus Christ was. Every man who has been born again is an incarnation” (Word of Faith, December, 1980, 14).
But Jesus is the “only begotten (or unique) Son, which is in the bosom of the Father” (Jn. 1:18). He is the “Word made flesh” – a designation given to no other (1:14). We were born by flesh but adopted by God, unlike Jesus who is uniquely the Son of God; God made flesh (Rom. 8:15). We cannot bring ourselves on the same level of God or Jesus. Such an idea is heretical.
WOF teaches that Christ’s death on the cross was insufficient to redeem us, that He had to suffer in Hell in the hands of demons. This is why Kenyon wrote: “We have sung ‘Nearer the cross’ and we have prayed that we might be ‘Nearer the cross’ but the cross has no salvation in it. It is a place of failure and defeat.”
On the contrary, “the preaching of the cross” (1Cor. 1:18) is crucial to our salvation and victory over Satan. Our pathway to fellowship with God was accomplished “by the cross” (Eph. 2:16) and Jesus made “peace through the blood of the cross” (Col. 1:20). To displace the cross is to displace redemption.
WOF teaches that all sicknesses are from Satan and must be countered by positive confession. In such a case, physical symptoms must be denied and medical attention shunned. One WOF teacher wrote that if he had a headache, he would not tell anyone; and if someone should ask him how he was feeling he would reply “I’m fine thank you.”
Denying the symptoms of headaches or common colds may not have serious implications, but in instances such as cancer, where an early diagnosis is vital in combating the disease, denying the symptoms can make it terminal. Some parents suffused with this doctrine have withheld insulin, antibiotics and medical attention from their children in the name of “faith” and they ended up dead.
Sicknesses came from the Fall and not all are from Satan. As long as we are in this “lowly body” (Phil. 3:21), we will be vulnerable to infection, exhaustion and pain. God heals supernaturally and also through the knowledge He has given to man. Doctors are not devils, and the use of medicines doesn’t indicate a lack of faith.
Ironically, many Word-Faith teachers eat good food, go for medical check-ups, live in clean environments, go for surgeries, use eye-glasses and take pills. Why all these precautions if the ‘God kind of faith;’ heals all sicknesses? Many of them have actually died under medical care which they had preached against.
The faith of many Christians have been shipwrecked by such teachers who told them to “positively confess” their dying loved ones to live and the person still died.
It is taught that if a believer desires a thing (success, wealth or healing) he must first visualize it in his mind over and over again and then speak it out into existence, and whatever we confess is what we possess. In Scripture, we see a different picture.
Psa. 89:19: “Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one…”
Ezk. 8:3 “…and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heavens and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem.”
Ezk. 11:24 “Afterwards the spirit took me up, and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to them of the captivity. So the vision that I had seen went up from me.”
In the visions these men of God saw, the pictures came from an outside Source – God – they were not images they willfully made up in their own minds. Instead, God condemned false prophets because “they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord. They say still unto them that despise me, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.” (Jer. 23:16-17).
These false prophets were conjuring up a vision or picture from their fleshy hearts, presuming it was the mind of God. This is exactly what visualization is. It’s self-will. We can’t control God with our minds. Apostle Peter didn’t visualize the conversion of Cornelius neither did Paul visualize himself out of jail.
Some teachers tell people to visualize Jesus and then pray to that “image.” But how can you visualize someone whom you’ve never seen physically before? That is unbiblical and idolatrous. Some of them peddle the ideas of using the “laws of miracles” or the “law of the fourth dimension” to receive miracles – teachings that are tantamount to occult sciences.
Some Christians defend Word-Faith teachers by stating that they do teach the Bible. That is true. In fact, you can listen to them for 30 minutes and not hear anything unbiblical. But at a point, there is often a twist, a subtle introduction of aberrant teachings cloaked with a-contextual Bible verses.
Besides, many of these teachers try to safeguard themselves from any Biblical scrutiny by accusing those who question their heresies of “touching the Lord’s anointed.” For example, in the book I Believe in Visions, the author says that Jesus told him that those pastors who don’t accept his prophetic word will die in their pulpits! (p. 114).
The late Paul Crouch of TBN once flipped out at those scrutinizing the WOF teachings being disseminated on his network:
“I think God has given up on a lot of old, rotten Sanhedrin religious crowd, twice dead, plucked from the roots … the heresy hunters that want to find a little mote of illegal doctrine in some Christian’s eye … I say to hell with you! … quit blocking God’s bridges or God’s gonna shoot you if I don’t! … I don’t even want to talk to you or hear you. I don’t want to see your ugly face!…”
No preacher or teacher, no matter how anointed or popular, should be too “exalted” to be corrected. Only God is infallible. If a person is reading into the Word of God something that is not there, or which is inconsistent with sound exegesis, we must challenge or expose that error and point out to the brethren who these mistaken teachers are.
Unfortunately, many “Faith teachers” are yet to admit to these heresies let alone repent of them. The excuse is they came by “revelation knowledge” and must not be questioned. But Scripture says “Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” (1Tim. 4:16).
Some sincere pastors didn’t realize the extent of falsehood mixed into what they gleaned from a best selling Christian author or Christian media before they impart it to their own congregation. But, God wants us to test all doctrines, no matter how popular, and hold on only to the good.