Recently, while discussing with some friends on Facebook about the Word-Faith movement, I realised that the varying doctrines and nuanced terminologies found within the WOF can sway even sincere Christians to innocently embrace their heretical teachings and techniques.
Unravelling this aberrational hoodwink requires an exploration of the origin of such false teachings. Once their roots are exposed, you can easily discern when a teaching or practice has crossed the lines of Christian orthodoxy and is skating on the thin ice of curious cults.
First, let’s remind ourselves of what the Bible says about God and faith, because these are key areas through which WOF peddlers smuggle their load of errors through the back door.
The God of the Bible is “the Living God who made the heaven, and earth, and the sea and all things therein” (Acts 14:15). Not only that, He has a present interest and an active hand in the affairs of men:
“For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…” (2 Chr. 16:9).
“This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites” (Josh. 3:10)
“…For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and saves; he performs wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions” (Dan. 6:26-27).
Since God is the Creator of the universe, He’s not the universe and He is not subject to the laws of the universe. This is called “the Infinity of God.” A scholar puts it this way:
“The infinity of God is that perfection of God by which He is free from all limitations. In ascribing it to God we deny that there are or can be any limitations to the divine Being. It implies that He is in no way limited by the universe, by this time-space, or confined to the universe” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1958, p. 59).
The Bible also shows us that God is sovereign. He has absolute authority over all His creatures and upholds all things by His almighty power. God – not man – has absolute rule.
He shapes the whole present history of the world and all things are dependent on Him and subservient to Him:
“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes” (Deut. 10:17)
“With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please” (Jer. 27:5).
“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns’” (Rev. 19:6).
Faith generally means having an unhesitating assurance of the truth of God’s testimony, even when it is unsupported by any other evidence.
Hebrews 11:1 describes it as: “the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” (Amplified).
Faith rests on the unseen because it rests upon the foundation of God’s Word. Noah was “warned about things not yet seen” so by faith he responded in obedience.
Abraham went forth in obedience to the land of inheritance without having seen it. Sarah was enabled to conceive Isaac without having seen him. Joseph didn’t see the exodus of the Israelites, but it happened as he believed (Heb. 11:7, 8, 22).
All these happened because they took God at His Word; they believed that God is willing and has “power to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:21). Biblical faith acknowledges that God knows what is best for us. (Job. 42:1-6; Matt. 26:39; Rom. 8:26; 2Cor. 12:7-10).
True faith necessitates believing in God and His Word (e.g. 2 Chr. 20:20); therefore, God doesn’t need to have faith in Himself to do anything. To assert that God “used the force of faith by speaking faith-filled words to create the universe” presupposes that there is a ‘higher God’ he rested his faith on. This is an error.
God created everything by and through His own omnipotence. He is infinite and there is no being higher than Him.
Having this understanding, when we pray in faith, we let God be God and trust in His wisdom and goodness. Even though God can do all things, we recognize that He reserves the right to determine the terms and timing by which we will receive what we ask from Him (Rom. 11:33-36).
Faith is not an impersonal force that can be harnessed to create a new reality. The right faith is a willingness to believe what God had said (2 Cor. 12:7-10; Phil. 4: 10-13).
Regarding Mark 11:22, Word Faith teachers disregard the standard “Have faith in God” translation in favour of an erroneous rendering of the text, which reads, “Have the faith of God.”
Indeed, the literal word-for-word translation of the Greek used in Mark 11:22 (echete pistin theou) is “Have [echete] faith [pistin] of God [theou].” But where WOF teachers miss it is that the grammatical construction of Mark 11:22 makes theou an “objective genitive.”
This means that the noun (i.e., theou) is the object of the action mentioned (i.e., having faith). In other words, God is the object of faith, not the possessor of faith. Hence, a proper, meaningful translation is: have faith in God.
True faith is not hinged on an idea; an institution; an image; a feeling or a ritual. It is based on God, His Word, Jesus Christ and His finished work.
In Christianity in Crisis, a 447-page critique of Word Faith doctrines, Hank Hanegraaff contends that the movement’s entire theology “rests on the word ‘substance’ in Hebrews 11:1: ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’”
He goes on to explain and then refute their argument:
“Faith teachers interpret the word “substance” to mean the “basic stuff” out of which the universe is made. … Faith cannot be rightly understood to mean “the building block of the universe,” since it is never used in that sense in the book of Hebrews, much less the entire Bible … The word translated “substance” in the KJV [hypostatsis] is more accurately rendered “assurance” (see NASB). … Faith is a channel of living trust—and assurance—which stretches from man to God. … True biblical faith is faith in God as opposed to faith in substance (or “faith in faith,” as Hagin puts it). … True biblical faith (pistis in the Greek) encapsulates three essential elements … knowledge … agreement … trust.”
The earliest preachers to introduce the ideas of faith as a tangible or conductive “force” were Smith Wigglesworth (1859-1947) and Essek Kenyon (1867-1948).
Due to scant documented evidence of Wigglesworth’s power and exploits, it has been stated that much of the tales and claims attributed to him were mythical (see Gerard Fisher, The Quarterly Journal, January-March 1995, pp. 1, 11-14).
Essek Kenyon absorbed the teachings of the Higher Life movement as well as mind science concepts which birthed WOF teachings. This leads us to briefly explore mind science religions.
New Thought, Mind Science and the New Age
The 19th century wasn’t just an era of industrial revolution; it was also an era of religious revolution.
In the middle of that century, Western society was entering a new and scientific era, where reason, experimentation, and observable results were becoming the standard means of measuring progress and assessing truth claims.
In a bid to sustain the social mechanics of that time, some people attempted to create a dubious mix of science and religion giving rise to metaphysics or mind science cults.
After being influenced by Phineas Quimby, an occultist and founder of New Thought philosophy, Mary Eddy Baker founded the Christian Science cult.
She taught that Jesus was a scientist who applied dynamic laws of the mind – which govern the universe – to heal people. She also taught that sin, sickness or death were illusions of the mind which can be dispelled with what she called scientific faith or positive thinking.
Myrtle and Charles Fillmore, who founded Unity School of Christianity in 1889, essentially taught the same in Dynamics for Living:
“God cannot create without law. God is the Mind force carrying forward creation under law… Whatever Mind commands to be brought forth will be brought forth by and through the law of evolution inherent in Being.”
Ernest Holmes of the Church of Religious Science also taught that:
“Science of Mind teaches that Man controls the course of his life… by mental processes which function according to a Universal Law… that we are all creating our day-to-day experiences … by the form and procession of our thoughts” (“The Viewpoint in the Science of Mind Concerning Certain Traditional Beliefs” by Science of Mind Publications).
These were concepts that emerged later as New Age philosophies. John Randolph Price in his book The Superbeings says:
“Like attracts like. What you think in your mind will produce in your experience … All the Power of the Universe is within you and this Power you can have anything on earth you desire” (The Superbeings John R. Price Quartus foundation, 1981, xv).
Though some of these mind science cults deceitfully use Christian terminologies, they give them different meanings to suit their own beliefs:
- They don’t believe in a personal God who directly, sovereignly governs the universe as Christians believe, but in an impersonal god (called “the Force,” “the Infinite Power” or “the Spirit of Infinite Life”) who rules the universe indirectly through immutable laws.
- They believe man is the one in control of all that happens to him. Since their god is like energy, he holds no one morally accountable: he only exists to give man what he wants. So, man needs to control his situations or the world with his mind. With positive thinking, he can activate the god energy for his own good.
This idea is seen in Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, where he quoted a poem which says:
“It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my own fate, I am the captain of my soul” (p. 86).
Napoleon Hill was the key figure who brought the “Positive Mental Attitude” (PMA) mind formula into the hearts of many Christians and non-Christians in the 20th century. He explains:
“PMA attracts good luck. Success is achieved and maintained by those who try and keep on trying with PMA. This is a universal law … that we translate into physical reality the thoughts and attitudes we hold in our minds, no matter what they are” (Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone, Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude, Pocket Books, 1977, p. 55).
Hill also admitted he got his teachings from “9 invisible counselors” he met through intense visualization:
“I can truthful say that I owe entirely to my ‘Invisible Counselors full credit for such ideas, facts or knowledge as I received through ‘inspiration’…” (Think and Grow Rich, p. 86).
Who were these “invisible counselors?” Your guess is as good as mine. These mind science occult beliefs came into the church in the 20th century through three key figures:
(a) Robert Schuller who had gleaned much of his “possibility thinking” ideas from Napoleon Hill (who admitted being inspired by demons).
In one of his tapes, Schuller said: “You don’t know what power you have within you! … You make the world into anything you choose. Yes, you can make your world into whatever you want it to be” (Possibility Thinking – Goals. Amyway Corporation tape).
(b) Norman Vincent Peale, a 33 degree Mason who taught that:
“God is energy. As you breathe God in, as you visualize His energy, you will be reenergized!” (PLUS: The Magazine of Positive Thinking 37:4, May 1986, 11).
He also taught on mind power: “Your conscious mind… [has a] power that turns wishes into realities when the wishes are strong enough” (Positive Imaging, Fawcett Crest, 1982, p. 77).
In 1984, on the Phil Donahue program, Peale said, “It’s not necessary to be born again. You have your way to God; I have mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto shrine … I’ve been to Shinto shrines, and God is everywhere:”
Shocked, Phil Donahue responded, “But you’re a Christian minister; you’re supposed to tell me that Christ is the way and the truth and the life, aren’t you?” Peale replied, “Christ is one of the ways. God is everywhere” (Christian News, May 12, 1997, p. 11).
(c) Agnes Sanford, an Episcopal mystic healer who taught visualization and Jungian psychology. She wrote:
“The same principle is true of the creative energy of God. The whole universe is full of it, but only the amount of it that flows through our own beings will work for us” (The Healing Light, Penguin Random House, 1983, p. 1)
Strands of mind science concepts were adopted by Word Faith preachers and couched with different terms like “the laws of faith”, “the laws of the fourth dimension” or “the laws of miracles.” Though the terminologies differ, the concept is the same.
David Yonggi Cho: “You create the presence of Jesus with your mouth … He is bound by your lips and your mouth … through intense visualization and dreaming, you can incubate your faith and hatch results … Sokagakkai [a Buddhist sect] has applied the law of the fourth dimension and has performed miracles…” (The Fourth Dimension, 1979, pp 64, 83)
Frederick Price: “You are in control! … God cannot do anything on earth unless we…give Him permission through prayer” (The Word Study Bible, p. 1178).
Charles Capps: “This is not theory. It is fact. It is spiritual law. It works every time it is applied correctly … You set them [spiritual laws] in motion by the words of your mouth… everything you say – will come to pass” (The Tongue – A Creative Force, Harrison House, 1976, pp. 24, 131, 132).
Sam Adeyemi: “This world is governed by laws. God invested tremendous energy in this world; energy which He put within the bounds of certain laws. When you satisfy the conditions of those laws, you generate tremendous force in your life to get things done” (Success is Who You Are, 2008, pp. 25-26).
Kenneth Copeland: “Any image that you get down on the inside of you that is so vivid when you close your eyes you see it, it’ll come to pass. When God came at the Tower of Babel, He said, ‘Anything they can imagine, they can do.’“ (Copeland, Inner Image of the Covenant, side 2).
Myles Monroe: “Prayer is man giving God permission or license to interfere in earth’s affairs… God could do nothing on earth… nothing has God ever done on earth without a human giving him access. [So he is] always looking for a human to give Him power permission. In other words, God has the power, but you get the permission. God got the authority and the power, but you’ve got the license. So even though God can do anything, He can only do what you permit Him to do” (“This is Your Day” with Benny Hinn, July 2004).
These mind science beliefs relegate God and exalt man. The idea that there is a universal law or “faith force” which Christians and non-Christians can tap into and use to experience miracles or achieve success is not a Bible teaching.
These teachings have confused many sincere Christians into imagining that “faith” is a force that makes things happen because they believe. This faith is not placed in God but is a power directed at God, which forces Him to do for us what we have believed He will do.
True miracles are not governed by laws – they override all laws. We receive from God by faith, not by applying some impersonal laws. If everything works according to the cosmic “law of faith” or “laws of success,” then God is irrelevant and grace obsolete.
A study of the Bible shows that there is no fixed technique, ritual, formula nor “laws” that can be used to force the true God to work miracles or answer our prayers. We must all be very careful of what we glean from some preachers or books so that we don’t fall into the trap of practising occultism passed off as mind-power.
The devil knows Christians would never listen to the ravings of a shaman reciting his cult corpus and waving his rattle. We won’t even allow him get past our church doors.
But if a shaman shows up in a three-piece suit, has some degrees under his belt, carries a big bible and mouths off the same cultic ideas, this time, laced with familiar Christian clichés, many Christians will fall for his deceptive teachings.