A. Introduction: The Word-Faith Movement
Recently TIME magazine Sep.18, 2006 in the United States ran an article, Does God Want You to Be Rich? Subtitled: A growing number of Protestant evangelists raise a joyful Yes! But the idea is poison to other, more mainstream pastors. The picture on the front cover shows a Rolls Royce with a cross on it! Health and wealth are two major concerns of many people. Therefore anyone who offers a guaranteed package of health and wealth will attract many people. Three of the four megachurches in the United States belong to the Word-Faith movement. These churches are Osteen’s Lakewood in Houston, Creflo’s Dollar World Changers near Atlanta and T.D.Jakes’ Potter House in south Dallas. Prosperity gospel also known as the Word-Faith movement. It is also called the Positive Confession movement because of the importance it placed on the spoken Word of God and God Faith. Others call it the “Name It and Claim It” movement or Health and Wealth theology. It came into being about the time that the Pentecostal movement became a worldwide phenomenon but it is not associated with the Pentecostals.
Nevertheless many proponents of the Word-Faith movement such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn had some Pentecostal or Charismatic background. What was impressive is the tremendous growth in their ministries.
B. Roots of the Word-Faith Movement
a. Kenneth Hagin (1917-2003)
Kenneth Hagin is considered by some as the one who started the Word-Faith movement. However that are some who considered E.W. Kenyon as founder and that Hagin has copied most of the teaching from him.
Hagin was born premature and has a deformed heart. He was sickly when he was young and became an invalid when he was 15 years old. He said that his heart stopped three times during a 10 minute period and each time he saw the horrors of hell. This resulted in his conversion in 1933 and he went into ministry as a lay preacher for the Southern Baptists in Texas. In 1937 he received Baptism of the Holy Spirit and because a Pentecostal pastor. Hagin became an evangelist in 1949 and in the 14 years period after Hagin reported he had a series of eight visions of Jesus Christ. As a result of his last vision, he set up his own ministry in 1963 which in 1978 became the Rhema Bible Church aka Kenneth Hagin Ministries in Broken Arrow, Tulsa, Oklahoma. He started Rhema Bible Training Center in 1974, a syndicated radio show, Faith Seminar of the Air which is carried by about 250 radio stations; his own magazine, The Word of Faith and is authors of more than 125 books and pamphlets.
Kenneth Hagin’s theological roots seem to come from his personal spiritual experiences and from his Baptist and the Pentecostal background. He did not receive any formal theological training. Though he was a prolific writer and speaker, he did not acknowledge the work of E.W. Kenyon from whom some scholars suspected he plagiarized his writings.
Kenneth Hagin writes "I am fully convinced - I would die saying it is so - that it is the plan of Our Father God, in His great love and in His great mercy, that no believer should ever be sick; that every believer should live his full life span down here on this earth; and that every believer should finally just fall asleep in Jesus" ( Seven Things You Should Know about Divine Healing, p. 21).
b. E.W. Kenyon (1860-1948)
Born in 1860, E. W. Kenyon is generally recognised by some as the real founding father of the modern Word-Faith Movement. Beginning as a Methodist, he became quite ecumenical, associating with the Baptists. Some of his work even resulted in the founding of a few Primitive Baptist Churches. Late in life, Kenyon moved into Pentecostalism. At the same time, he combined elements of the metaphysic cults, such as Christian Science, New Thought theology, and Unity School of Christianity. New Thought theology can be traced to Phineas Quimby (1802-1866). Quimby studied spiritism, occultism, witchcraft and many other aspects of parapsychology. He tried to make witchcraft credible by using scientific language. It was Quimby who influenced Mary Baker Patterson Eddy who went on to found Christian Science, a cult. Quimby also had a profound influence on Kenyon who borrowed heavily from his work.
Obviously Kenyon had his theological roots both from his Christian background and from the occult. It is significant that Hagin borrowed “heavily” from his writings. Kenyon’s writing also influenced the “Oneness” Pentecostals.
c. Kenneth Copeland
Copeland has a similar history as Hagin. He is not as prolific a writer as Hagin. Most of the information about his teachings comes from his seminars, cassette recordings and radio/television telecasts. He is a televangelist and faith healer. Copeland is also heavily influenced by Kenyon’s teaching.
d. Benny Hinn
Benny Hinn was often put forward as a successor for Kenneth Hagin for the Word-Faith movement. The other contender was Kenneth Copeland. Unlike Hagin and Copeland, Hinn came from an Anglican background. However he was strongly influenced by the faith healing ministry of Kathryn Kullman. After she died, he worked with her ministry for 5 years. Then he started his own healing ministry based on Kullman’s style of ministry. Benny Hinn is famous for ‘slaining people in the Spirit” by a wave of his coat or his hands. He was the pastor of Orlando Christian Center in Orlando, Florida. In the 1980s, he was influenced by the Word-Faith teachings of Hagin and Copeland. However, he was challenged by two Christian cult watch group, Christian Research Institute and the Watchman Fellowship which were unhappy with his Word-Faith theology and his healing practices. In 1993, Hinn renounced Word-Faith theology and became affiliated with the Assemblies of God (Pentecostal). Presently he resides in Dallas and runs World Outreach Center Benny Hinn Ministries which include a Signs and Wonder Bible School. He reaches the world through his evangelistic rallies, television shows and books. His main ministry is miracle and faith healing. It is interesting to note that even though Benny Hinn has distanced himself from the Word-Faith movement, the movement still regards him as one of their own.
e. Paul/David Cho Yonggi
David Cho Yonggi is the pastor of Full Gospel Yoido Church in Seoul, Korea. He was Paul Cho Yonggi until recently when he said Jesus said he has died and am now raised as David Cho Yonggi. He declared that he received his power from a demon in the fourth dimension. The first three dimensions are physical and are controlled by the spiritual which is the fourth dimension. He taught this concept as the “Fourth Dimension”. If a person (Christian or non-Christian) follow the formula of positive confession (more about this later), visualization, they “incubate” and eventually give rise to their desires. Cho Yonggi is aware that these are occultic methods but believe that Christians are allowed to use occultic methods to achieve their ends.
The proponents of the Word-Faith movement have colorful and interesting life experiences. However, it is obvious from this brief review is that we can trace their teaching back through Copeland and Hagin to Kenyon. And from Kenyon to Quimby who was involved with the occult and metaphysics. David Cho seems to be the exception in that he approaches the occult directly. However, it must be said that not all followers of Hagin, Copeland or Hinn buy totally into the theology of Word-Faith.
C. Five Doctrines of Health and Wealth
a. The Power of Positive Confession
This is the most well known distinctive of the Word-Faith theology. Proponents recognize that words are important, so important that coupled with faith it can create. This means if we confess or proclaim positive things, it will be created for us. The reverse is also true. If we proclaim in faith negative things, these negative things will be created for us. That is why Word-Faith theology is also known as “Name it and Claim it” theology. This doctrine is based on the teaching that God has faith, a sort of God-faith. God used His faith to create the universe. God has to speak His word to create. Kenyon wrote, “Faith is the creative force in man. Faith is the creative force in the Creator. God simply said, ‘Let there be.’” Hagin continued, “The God kind of faith…is the kind of faith that spoke the world into existence…God created the universe with words. Words filled with faith are the most powerful things in all the world.” And Copeland adds, “God is a faith being…God does not do anything outside of faith.”
God faith is a creative force. Anyone can use this force if he or she has this God faith. By speaking out using this God faith, we can claim anything we want.
The basis for this doctrine is based on Mark 11:22 and Hebrews 11:3
MK 11:22 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. 23 "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.
Teachers of Word-Faith theology interpreted Jesus’ saying “Have faith in God” to mean “Have the God type of faith”. This is based on the grammatical distinctive of the Greek text echet pistin theou. This was taken to mean that (1) God has faith (God faith), (2) it is possible for us to have God faith, and (3) we can use the God faith to move mountains. So the question we need to ask is, “Does God has faith?” The answer is no. Faith is to believe in someone or something. God does not have to believe because He knows! God does not have to believe in Himself. This will throw into doubt the existence of such a force as God faith.
HEB 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
Kenyon and the Word-Faith teachers interpret this to mean that God created the universe by speaking the word in faith. Again it is playing with the Greek syntax. In Greek, the sentence reads as
Pistei nooumen katērthisthai tous aiōnas rhēmati theou
(by) faith we understand were made worlds (by) word of God
Traditional interpretation will be:
we understand (by faith) were made worlds (by the word of God)
we understand were made worlds (by faith, by the word of God)
Hence the interpretation becomes God made the worlds by the word of God faith.
Hagin's theme, as found in his booklet How to Write Your Own Ticket with God, can be summarized as follows (Christianity in Crisis, pp. 74-75): The formula is simply: "Say it, Do it, Receive it, and Tell it."
1. Step number one is "Say it." "Positive or negative, it is up to the individual. According to what the individual says, that shall he receive."
2. Step number two is "Do it." "Your action defeats you or puts you over. According to your action, you receive or you are kept from receiving."
3. Step number three is "Receive it." We are to plug into the "powerhouse of heaven." "Faith is the plug, praise God! Just plug in."
4. Step number four is "Tell it so others may believe." This final step might be considered the Faith movement's outreach program.
b. The Lifting of the Curse
One of the persuasive arguments of the word-faith proponents is that Jesus has lifted the curse of the law from us.
Kenneth Hagin writes,
What is the curse of the law? The only way to find out is to go back to the law. The expression “the law” as found in the New Testament usually refers to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. As we go back to these books-or the law- we find that the curse, or punishment, for breaking God’s laws is threefold: poverty, sickness, and spiritual death.
What follows from this argument is that since the curse have been lifted from us, poverty, sickness and spiritual death has also been lifted from us. The primary text is Deuteronomy 28.
Kenneth Copeland said,
Remember what was listed under the curse in Deuteronomy 28? Poverty of every kind, political failure, drought, war, every calamity known to mankind; and Jesus has redeemed us from it all. ALL sickness and ALL disease, even those not mentioned here, come under the curse. Therefore, we are redeemed from all sickness and all disease. You need to fight the temptation to be sick just as you would fight the temptation to lie or steal.
Deuteronomy 28 was directed to the covenant nation of Israelite. God covenant to bless the Israelites with good health, wealth and safety if they will forsake all gods, worship Him and be His people (Deu. 28:1-14). If they fail and follow other gods, then God will punish them. However, there are no indications that Deuteronomy 28 apply to us who are not of the nation God made the covenant with. We cannot appropriate or individualise promises that are not made to us.
Aside from Deuteronomy 28, there are other Scriptures used to support their teachings.
c. Healing in the Atonement
Most word-faith proponents will focus on health with regards to the atonement though some will also include wealth.
Benny Hinn in explaining about healing as part of the atonement writes in his book, Rise and Be Healed, writes, "The Bible declares that the work was done 2,000 years ago. God is not going to heal you now -- he healed you 2,000 years ago. All you have to do today is receive your healing by faith".
The inference that Hinn have drawn is that healing has already occurred. It is now up to us whether we claim it or not. Scriptures commonly used in support are:
Isaiah 53:4, 5
ISA 53:4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
ISA 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
If we are to read Isaiah 53 in context, it is about a suffering servant who was ugly and sick. It is a poem and so must be interpreted as such. Any reader of Isaiah at that time will begin to think, “What has this man done to deserve such punishment from God?” In that time, diseases/infirmities are often regarded as punishment from God. Verse 4a has the synonyms “infirmities” and “sorrows” and v.4b “stricken” and “afflicted”. Here the reader was brought to the realization that this man was actually suffering for them when all along they thought he was being punished by God for his own sin. In v.5a, there is a pair of synonyms, “transgressions” and “iniquities”. In the next part there is another pair “peace/shalom” and “healed”. If we taken into the genre of the passage which is prophetic poetry, then it is possible to understand v.4 being used to contrast with v.5: which is about the deliverance from sin. Oswalt notes that this passage make us ask the question, “Here God has made this person suffer for the iniquity of “all of us”. Who can this person be?” Hence the passage does not deal specifically with physical healing.
d. The King’s Kids Rule
As we are God’s “sons and daughters”, we should act accordingly. According to word-faith teaching, we were under Satan’s domain that is why we were poor and sick. That is no longer the case. Jesus has set us free by His death on the cross. Hence, we are no longer the ruled but the ruler of Satan’s domain. This means we should now be rich and healthy.
Kenneth Copeland writes in Healed ? to Be or Not to Be:
"The first step to spiritual maturity is to realize your position before God. You are a child of God and a joint-heir with Jesus. Consequently, you are entitled to all the rights and privileges in the kingdom of God, and one of their rights is health and healing" (p. 25).
Hagin and other teachers of word-faith understand Paul in Romans 5:17 as saying that Christians are to “reign” in life now. After all, Christians are free from Satan’s domain.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
It must be pointed out that Paul is saying, we “will reign”, not we “are reigning” in this life. Later in the letter Paul instructed the Christians not to let sin reign in our bodies, a warning he would not have given if we are already reigning over sin.
e. Health and Wealth as God’s Will
One of the attractions of the faith-word teaching is that God wants us to be healthy and wealthy. Who can resist such a statement!
Gloria Copeland (Kenneth's wife) in her book God's Will Is Prosperity: "Give $10 and receive $1000; Give $1000 and receive $100,000? give one house and receive one hundred houses or a house worth one hundred times as much. Give one airplane and receive one hundred times the value of the airplane. ? In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal" (p. 54).
MK 10:29 "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
This text is often used by word-faith teachers to teach that if you give, God will bless you in return a hundred times. So, one ringgit becomes 100 ringgit. If you take the verse literally, you will be receiving a hundred homes, a hundred brothers, a hundred sisters, a hundred mothers, a hundred children, a hundred fields and a hundred persecutions! What Jesus really meant what that if it become necessary for you to leave your immediate family for His sake; you will become part of a bigger family (which is the church) and in the future eternal life.
We have seen how the doctrines about health and wealth of the Word-Faith movement come from erroneous hermeneutics. Sentences are either taken out of context or misinterpreted so as to lead to faulty reasoning and conclusions. What they have to offer are attractive: positive confession using God faith to get what we want; the lifting of the curse guarantee us health, wealth and eternal life; we are the King’s kids so we should act accordingly; there is complete healing in the atonement; and God wants us to be healthy and wealthy. What’s not to like? Now that we have examined the beautiful furnishing of the mansion, let us go down to the basement and look at the foundation.
D. The Underlying Theology of the Word-Faith Movement
What is not obvious to many people who are attracted by goodness of the Word-Faith movement is their foundational theological construct.
a. God and Faith
As we have discussed, God does not have faith. And there is no such force as God faith. There are no grounds in Reformed/Presbyterian theology to even consider God faith. God is the creator. Our faith is in Him. God is God and we do not have the God power to create no matter how much faith we have. It is good to have positive thoughts and that is healthy for the body. However, there is no theological basis for positive confession. We can ask God in faith, trusting in His goodness but we cannot force God.
b. Adam, Satan and Dominion
Adam did not have a nature when God created him. According to Word-Faith theology, God created Adam to be the god of this world. When Adam was tempted by Satan, he gave up his godhood to Satan and took on Satan’s nature. Satan became the owner of this creation. Apparently there was a “lease” and God is powerless to take the creation back from Satan.
This is in direct contradiction to Reformed/Presbyterian theology. The Bible taught that Adam was created in the image of God. Hence he has a nature, a perfect human nature. He was tempted by Satan and sinned by disobeying God. Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden because of this sin. Adam was never a god and Satan did not become a god of this world. Though Adam has fallen, he never took on Satan’s nature. He retains a distorted image of God which Paul called our old man or old nature. God is always more powerful than Satan and there is no grounds to assume that God is powerless before Satan. God has a plan for the redemption of man and of this creation but God’s plan depends on the partnership of man. That is why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to earth.
There are a few points here about Word-Faith theology atonement we must take note:
· Jesus came to save mankind. To do that, He became fully human and left His divine self behind
· To atone for Adam’s sin, Jesus has to die twice: one spiritually and one physically
· Jesus died spiritually (first death- but not specific when he died spiritually. Some taught at the Garden of Gethsemane and some taught on the cross).
· Jesus when he died took on Satan’s nature
· Jesus died on the cross after being crucified (second death-physical death)
· Jesus was brought down to hell and was tortured by Satan and his demons
· After 3 days, Jesus found a way to be born again (Jesus was innocent and Satan had wrongly imprisoned an innocent man. God has tricked Satan)
· Jesus was resurrected with God’s nature
· Because of the atonement of Jesus, we Christians have God’s nature
· We are equal with Jesus
"Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid our price. No, the punishment was to go into hell itself and to serve time in hell separated from God" (Frederick K.C. Price, Ever Increasing Faith Messenger, June 1990, p. 7).
There is no support in the Bible that Jesus left his divine self behind (where?). Jesus has always been fully God and fully human at all times. He may put aside his divine attributes but he was never separated from them. Jesus died for our sin but Jesus did not become sin. Jesus never put on the nature of Satan. And Jesus was not tortured in hell. In 1 Peter 3:19, Jesus descended to “prison” often translated as Hades or hell. Some commentator said Jesus went to hell to preach to the dead and offer them a second chance for salvation. However the textual support for this is weak. The textual support is stronger that Jesus went to hell to proclaim His victory over death. There were never any indications that Jesus was captured or tortured by Satan.
The idea may have been derived from the “ransom” theory of atonement where 1 Tim 2:6 is taken literally and Jesus Christ had to pay a ransom to the Satan for the release of mankind. This was strongly held by an early church father, Gregory of Nyssa. However, it was later abandoned because it did not fully explain the complexity of the atonement. Lim liken the ransom theory to Aslan dying for Edmund in the C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series.
d. Born Again Jesus
In Word-Faith theology, Jesus has to die and be born again. That is why, they taught, that Paul considers Jesus the second Adam. Again this does not fit into Reformed/Presbyterian theology as Jesus could never be born again. Born again is a term applied to sinful man who is redeemed by Jesus’ atonement. Being born again means getting a new human nature and the Holy Spirit. Jesus does not need both of this. Jesus died for our sin, a penal substitution death to satisfy the justice of God. He did not acquire a human fallen nature. He also does not need to receive the Holy Spirit because He and the Holy Spirit are one in the Trinity. Hence we who are born again are not equal to Jesus. Though in God’s grace, He allows us to partake of the divine nature but that does not make us gods. There is only one God. We are not little gods and never will be. The Word-Faith theology makes Jesus so human that we become more powerful than Him!
E. Perspective from Reformed/Presbyterian Theology
I believe this balanced view to be a Reformed/Presbyterian theological viewpoint.
No healing in the atonement
God wants Christians to be poor
God does not do miracles today
Sickness has no relation to sin or unbelief
Balance Theological View
Healing in the atonement realized in part now, in full in the resurrection
God wants Christians to be faithful; in some cases this means rich, in some cases poor
God does miracles today, but they cannot be predicted and should not be expected.
Some sickness is related to sin or unbelief
Healing in full now guaranteed by the atonement
God wants Christians to be rich
Miracles should be a regular part of the Christian experience today
All sickness is related to sin and unbelief.
An important point Word-Faith teachers tend to miss is the “already and not yet” concept of Jesus and Paul. Their eschatology is immediate while Jesus and Paul teach an eschatology that has been fulfilled and yet still awaits fulfillment. This is where the confusion arises. God does want us to be healed but our complete healing will only come when we received our imperishable bodies during the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Until then, we are still subject to the normal wear and tear of living in the natural world.
Reformed/Presbyterian theology has always been faithful to the Word of God. Though challenged from time to time, it has always been able to weather the challenges and become stronger as a result. As we have examined earlier, the whole theology of Word-Faith teaching is incompatible with Reformed/Presbyterian theology. The theology of Word-Faith teaching is also incompatible with Pentecostalism and the Assemblies of God have taken steps to distant themselves from it.
Reformed/Presbyterian theology has always upheld God as a supreme being and that Jesus’ death on the cross as complete and total for our salvation. It teaches that Satan is a fallen angel, therefore less than God the creator. Reformed/Presbyterian theology also have a correct view of man who are not “little gods”. It has room for a theology of suffering and of redemption.
We have seen how the major Word-Faith teachers derived their theology from Quimby who is known to be involved in New Thought metaphysics and occultism. The roots of these teachings have reached upwards into the Word-Faith theology to humanized God and Jesus Christ and deitified man. The five prominent doctrines with regards to Word-Faith were found to be based on faulty hermeneutics or interpretation of the Bible. We have also seen how the foundational theology of Word-Faith is incompatible with Reformed/Presbyterian theology.
For a more complete review please read my position paper, Examining the Theology of the Word-Faith Movement at www.kairos2.com/word-faith.htm
Soli Deo Gloria