Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Examining the Theology of the Word-Faith Movement
Dr Alex Tang
A. Introduction: The Word-Faith Movement
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. The Word-Faith movement is also called the Positive Confession movement because of the importance it placed on the spoken Word of God and God Faith. It is also described as the “Name It and Claim It” movement, Health and Wealth theology or just Prosperity Gospel. It came into being about the time that the Pentecostal movement became a worldwide phenomenon. Hence many people associate it with Pentecostalism. However some scholars feel that while it shares certain characteristics of the Pentecostal movement, its theology is incompatible in other ways.
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. Those who followed their teaching filled their churches and receive enormous amount of money in offerings. Gilley believes, “its growth is at least partially due to the massive amount of money the leaders are able to extract from the faithful. This influx of cash allows for huge buildings and extensive ministries, and more importantly, wide exposure on television, which translate into numerical growth.”
It is the intention of this paper to examine the Word-Faith movement from the aspect of its theology. To do this, we shall first examine the major proponents of the movement and study where the roots of their theology came from. We shall next look at 5 prominent characteristic teaching of this movement with regards to health and wealth. Then we shall examine the theological foundation of this movement. We shall conclude by suggesting a Biblical response to 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 had copied most of the teaching from him.
Hagin was born premature with a deformed heart. He was sickly when he was young and became an invalid at 15 years of age. 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 seemed 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 writings.
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 and Jan Crouch
Paul Crouch graduated from Central Bible College in Springfield, MO and went to Hollywood directing films for the Assemblies of God. Together with Jimmy Bakker, they established Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the largest Christian based television network in the world. In this era of mass media, they are able to disseminate their teachings to a large segment of the world.
f. 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 had died and is 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 believes 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. Some may just adopt the section discussed in section B (below) without adopting section C but it may be difficult to discern how one can do it without the other. However Lim mentions, “it is possible for mainline churches to be part of this Movement but not teach everything associated with it.”
B. Understanding the Word-Faith Doctrines of Health and Wealth
Bowman approached the word-faith movement doctrines by dividing them into 5 categories.  We shall follow his categories in our critique of the doctrines.
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; Hebrews 11:3 and Psalm 33:6-9
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.
PS 33:6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. PS 33:7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. PS 33:8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. PS 33:9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
The Word-Faith teachers choose to interprete this psalm literally. Thus God must speak the world for creation to occur. Does this also mean that God has really big jars to store the sea or that God has a mouth to articulate words? We can wonder how God can speak words in vacuum before the atmosphere was created.
Positive confession can be reduced to a formula. Gilley writes:
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): In the opening chapter, titled "Jesus Appears to Me," Hagin claims that while he "was in the Spirit" -- just like the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos -- a white cloud enveloped him and he began to speak in tongues. "Then the Lord Jesus Himself appeared to me," says Hagin. "He stood within three feet of me." After what sounded like a casual conversation about such things as finances, ministry, and even current affairs, Jesus told Hagin to get a pencil and a piece of paper. He then instructed him to "Write down: 1,2,3,4." Jesus then allegedly told Hagin "if anybody, anywhere, will take these four steps or put these four principles into operation, he will always receive whatever he wants from Me or from God the Father." That includes whatever you want financially. 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.
Bowman is right to comment, “God does not have faith, and he does not need literal words to accomplish his will. The idea that God is “a faith God” then, is contrary to the faith of the Bible.”
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 have 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 Israel. God covenant to bless the Israelites with good health, wealth and safety if they will forsake all other 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.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. Hence we are no longer sick or poor or die spiritually. If we look at the verse, Paul did not say anything about healing or wealth for believers. In the context of what Paul was saying, the blessing that comes with the lifting of the curse is the gift of the Holy Spirit (v.14). For Abraham, the blessing is not riches or health but righteousness (v.6).
One of the assertions often heard by Word-Faith proponents is that sickness and poverty comes from Satan, but not from God. However in Deu.28, Moses said 16 times that God will send disease and poverty on Israel (vv.20-22, 24-25, 7-28, 5-36, 9-61, 4-65, 68; cf.v.63). Other examples are Miriam’s leprosy (Num.12:10) and Paul’s thorn (2 Cor.12:7).
c. Healing in the Atonement
Most Word-Faith proponents will focus on health with regards to the atonement though some will also include wealth. Hagin said,
Through natural human truth a person realizes that he is sick, that he has pain or disease. But God’s Word reveals that “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” (Matt.8:17), and that by His stripes we are healed (1 Peter 2:24). Isn’t God’s Word just as true one time as another? Isn’t it just as true as when you have sickness and are suffering as when you are well? By believing what our physical senses tell you, you would say, “I am healed. By His stripes I have healing”…Although healing is manifested in the physical, it is really a spiritual blessing, because it is spiritual healing. God is not going to heal your body. He is not going to do one thing about healing you. He’s already done all He is ever going to do about healing you. He’s already borne them and by His stripes “ye are healed.’ Get your believing in line with what God’s Word says. Quit hoping.
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 Hagin and 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 take 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 makes 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.
The Watchman Expositor, recorded Gordon Fee’s comment. Gordon Fee is an excellent and well respected Pentecostal theologian:
For example, Gordon D. Fee, Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is quoted in the SCP Newsletter, Spring 1985, concerning this text, as saying, "It is also questionable whether the Bible teaches that healing is provided for in the atonement. Scores of texts explicitly tell us our sin has been overcome through Christ's death and resurrection, but no text explicitly says the same about healing, not even Isaiah and its New Testament citations.
"Matthew (8:17) clearly saw Isaiah as referring to physical healing, but as a part of the Messiah's ministry, not the atonement. Peter (2:24) saw the healing in Isaiah 53 as metaphysical, referring to our sin sickness, and this is the primary sense Isaiah himself gives the passage.
"Yet, since physical disease was clearly recognized to be a consequence of the Fall, one may argue that healing also finds its focal point in the atonement. But saying that does not imply all faithful Christians should experience perfect health. Even historic Pentecostalism, which believes healing was provided for in the atonement, does not hold that view. The position paper on divine healing adopted by the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God (1974) makes it clear that healing is "provided for" because the "atonement brought release from the consequences of sin." Nonetheless, since we have not yet received the "redemption of our bodies", suffering and death are still our lot until the resurrection".
1 Peter 2:24
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
Walvoord and Zuck commented:
Peter explained (1 Peter 2:24) why the One who could have destroyed His enemies with a word patiently endured the pain and humiliation of the Cross. God was justly judging our sins which His Son bore (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21). In the Greek the words “our sins” are near the beginning of the verse and thus stand out emphatically, while He Himself stresses Christ’s personal involvement. His death makes it possible for believers to be free from both the penalty and the power of sin and to live for Him: so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness (cf. Rom. 6:2, 13). Christ suffered so it would be possible for Christians to follow His example, both in suffering and in righteous living. Peter made a general reference to salvation: by His wounds you have been healed (Isa. 53:5). This does not refer to physical healing for the verb’s past tense indicates completed action, the “healing” is an accomplished fact. The reference is to salvation. Christ’s suffering (lit., “wound”; moµloµpi, “stripe left by a lash,” referred to Jesus’ scourging) and death accomplished “healing,” the salvation of every individual who trusts Him as his Savior.
Hence 1 Peter 2:24 does not mean physical healing but spiritual healing as in forgiveness of our sins.
d. The King’s Kids Rule
As we are God’s “sons and daughters”, we should act accordingly. As Hagin puts it:
Jesus, however, came to redeem us from Satan’s power and dominion over us…We are to reign as kings in life. That means we have dominion over our lives. We are to dominate, not to be dominated. Circumstances are not to dominate you. Poverty is not to rule and reign over you. You are to rule and reign over poverty. Disease and sickness are not to rule and reign over you. You are to rule and reign over sickness. We are to reign as kings in life by Jesus Christ, in whom we have our redemption.
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.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
Note he also did not say, do not let sickness reign over your body. If the Word-Faith teachings are correct, why would Paul correct the Corinthians who claimed they are already reigning and point to the example of himself and his companions who were weak, hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed and homeless for Christ’s sake?
1 Cor. 4:8-13
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings--and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
If we are already reigning, then Paul, who is the Church’s greatest theologian would have understood what it meant. He would immediately perceive that he was not longer a subject but a ruler over Satan’s domain. And he would have immediately taken over the role of a ruler with riches and health rather than remain in suffering as he and his companions did.
e. Health and Wealth as God’s Will
One of the attractions of the Word-Faith teaching is that God wants us to be healthy and wealthy. Who can resist such a statement! They have put forth some Scripture to support their assertion:
JAS 5:10 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. JAS 5:12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned. JAS 5:13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Many Word-Faith teachers claim that even those who are righteous can suffer. However, their suffering will not include sicknesses. For Job, however, sickness was part of his suffering. We know from the earlier prologue in the book that he was a righteous man.
Note in the verses above, James said the elders are to be called to pray over the sick.
· There is no indication that these elders must have the gift of healing.
· James also said, “if he has sinned” indicating that not all sickness is due to sin. The elders are asked to pray but it is the Lord who heals. The healing is not dependent on the faith of the sick person.
· James did not mean that God will always answer the elders’ prayers and heal the person. “And the prayer offered in faith” meant prayer that trust in the character of a God who is good. It is not conditional to the healing.
· It is not God’s will to heal everyone. All of us have to die from our last disease unless something else kills us first.
· The passage did not say that the answer to prayer will be instantaneous.
PS 103:2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
PS 103:3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
This is David’s psalm who reminds himself that it is the Lord who heals all his sins and his diseases. It is difficult to generalize that this applies to all Christians for all time.
PS 107:18 They loathed all food
and drew near the gates of death.
PS 107:19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
PS 107:20 He sent forth his word and healed them;
he rescued them from the grave.
The psalmist is speaking of people who rebelled against God, who cried out to God and God healed them. There is no indication that he is speaking of physical healing nor can it be generalized that everyone who cried out to the Lord will receive physical healing.
Gloria Copeland (Kenneth's wife) pulls no punches 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.
As Jesus has warned, Mammon or Money can easily become our God if we are not careful.
This is the same presupposition that Charles Fillmore of Unity School of Christianity had with regard to prosperity. H. Terris Newman, writing in Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring 1990, p. 45, records Fillmore's rendition of Psalm 23: "The Lord is may banker; my credit is good. He maketh me to lie down in the consciousness of omnipresent abundance; He giveth me the key to His strong box; He restoreth my faith in His riches; He guideth me in the paths of prosperity for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk in the very shadow of debt, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thou preparest a way for me in the presence of the collector; Thou fillest my wallet with plenty; my measure runneth over. Surely goodness and plenty will follow me all the days of my life, And I shall do business in the name of the Lord forever."
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 leading 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.
C. The Theological Foundations 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. In this section, we shall examine their theological construct and compare it with Reformed/Presbyterian theology.
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.
Using the nature of God, the Word-Faith teachers say the Sinai Covenant is the basis for commanding God to do His part in the covenant.
Robert Tilton says, "we make our own promises to do our part, then we can tell God, on the authority of His word, what we would like Him to do. That's right, you can actually tell God what you would like His part in the Covenant to be" (God's Miracle Plan for Man, p. 36). Kenneth Copeland says, "as a believer, you have a right to make commands in the name of Jesus. Each time you stand on the Word, you are commanding God to a certain extent, because it is His Word" (Our Covenant with God, p. 32). Copeland goes so far as to say that "God was the lesser party and Abraham was the greater" in the covenant between them (Copeland, Legal and Vital Aspects of Redemption, 1985, Audio Tape #01-0403).
There are theological problems with this premise. First, the Sinai covenant is between the nation of Israel and God and does not apply to us. Hence we cannot bargain with God on basis of the covenant. We are under a new Covenant, the covenant of Grace. Second, we cannot command God as we are his creature and He is the creator. Finally, some teachers of the Word-Faith seem to be confused about the Abrahamic and Sinai Covenants.
b. God with a Body
God is spirit. He does not have a body. Yes, he has a physical body in Jesus Christ. That is obvious not what the Word-Faith teachers have in mind when they described God as having a giant “spiritual” body.
The Faith teachers also make God into a big man. Copeland says, "God is...a being that stands somewhere around 6'-2," 6'-3," that weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of hundred pounds, little better, and has a hand span of nine inches across" (Spirit, Soul, and Body, 1985, Tape #01-0601). Morris Cerillo, in an alleged out-of-body experience, describes God: "Suddenly, in front of this tremendous multitude of people, the glory of God appeared. The form that I saw was about the height of a man 6 feet tall, maybe taller, and twice as broad as a human body, with no distinguishing features such as eyes, nose, or mouth" (The Miracle Book, pp. x-xi).
Describing God this way is humanising God so much that He is not longer God. God in Word-Faith theology has become a giant puppet and the positive confessors the puppeteers.
c. 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.
Hux made the following comments:
According to Word-Faith teachers, when Adam rebelled, or "committed high treason," he not only betrayed God by turning over to Satan what God had given him, he also took on the nature of Satan. So, to redeem mankind and creation from Satan's legal control, Jesus, as the second Adam, had to die not only physically but spiritually. This may be acceptable among some evangelicals. But where it has led Word-Faith teachers is not. They say Jesus not only bore our sins on Calvary, but also took on the actual nature of Satan himself. "Just as Adam died spiritually, Jesus died spiritually. The spiritual death He suffered caused His physical body to die.... When Jesus accepted the sin nature of Satan into His Spirit He cried 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' He was separated from God... He was ushered into the bowels of hell" (Kenneth Copeland, Classic Redemption, p. 13; emphasis added). "Spiritual death means having Satan's nature" (Hagin, The Name of Jesus, p. 31). Just a man on earth, and taking on the nature of Satan at the cross, Jesus becomes just a sinner in need of redemption. At the resurrection Jesus is a born again man from the pit of hell. "Jesus was born again in the pit of Hell....The Church started when Jesus was born again in the gates of Hell" (Charles Capps, Authority In Three Worlds, pp. 212 13).
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: once spiritually and once 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 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.
"The righteousness of God was made to be sin. He accepted the sin nature of Satan in His own spirit. And at that moment that He did so He cried, `My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?' You don't know what happened at the cross. Why do you think Moses, upon instruction of God, raised the serpent upon that pole instead of a lamb? That use to bug me. I said, `Why in the world would you want to put a snake up there - the sign of Satan? Why didn't you put a lamb on that pole?' And the Lord said, `Because it was a sign of Satan that was hanging on the cross.' He (Jesus) said, `I accepted in my own spirit, spiritual death; and the light was turned off'" (Kenneth Copeland, What Happened From the Cross to the Throne? cassette tape, Kenneth Copeland Ministries).
Other theories of atonement are moral influence theory, victory theory, satisfaction theory and penal substitution theory. Reformed/Presbyterian theology favors the penal substitution theory.
Jesus only died once and that is physically. When He cried “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” He was quoting the beginning lines of a psalm of David (Psalm 22:1). Jesus also said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). And He died. How can He said it is finished if He knew he have to endure torture in hell for 3 days and then die. It does not make sense. Against, the Watchman Expositor has an interesting observation:
In conclusion, if what the Word-Faith teachers claim regarding the atonement of Christ is true, then one will have to rewrite the words of Christ on the cross. For instance, instead of saying "It is finished," Christ should have explained Himself by saying, "I'm not talking about the plan of salvation, but I'm talking about the Abrahamic covenant." Instead of Christ saying to the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise," He should have said, "Today you will be with Me suffering in hell." Instead of saying, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit," He should have said, "Satan, into your hands I commend My spirit." There is still one more problem with this movement's teaching that Jesus defeated Satan in hell: Satan is not in hell. One day he will be!
e. 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!
D. A Perspective from Reformed/Presbyterian Theology
Adapting from Bowman, this table shows a balanced theological view of healing, wealth, miracles and sin. I believe this balanced view to be a Reformed/Presbyterian theological viewpoint. Instead of fanaticism which has negative connotations, I would use the term Word-Faith theology.
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.
This paper set out to examine the theology of Word-Faith movement. 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.
The ultimate test of any theology is its fruits. The fruits of the Holy Spirit is relational and holiness. The fruit of Christian spiritual formation is to be Christ-like in our character. Word-Faith theology produces a self-centered spirituality.
Bowman notes, “...the problem here is that Word-Faith theology clearly encourages such self-centeredness. The teaching that you can have what you say if you simply learn to think and speak according to the formula of faith cannot help avoiding people who want something for themselves.”
One of the criticism of Word-Faith teachers and practitioners is not that they become rich but that they tend to spend the wealth on themselves. This criticism have came from Christians and non-Christians. The lavish lifestyles of these people have been well documented. Some of them, like Jim Bakker came to grief. The enormous donations these teachers received were used for building great church buildings, luxurious houses, private jets and even a whole theme park. What a difference it would have made if the same amount of money was channeled into eradicating global poverty or AIDS support ministries. What a difference then the Christian community would have made to the world.
Soli Deo Gloria
10 November 2006
Bowman, Robert M., 2001 The Word-Faith Controversy: Understanding Health and Wealth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books)
McConnell, D.R. 1988/1995 A Different Gospel: A Bold and Revealing Look at the Biblical and Historical Basis of the Word of Faith Movement updated ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers)
Lim, Johnson T.K. 2002 A Different Gospel: Fact, Faith, Fiction & The Christian Faith (Logos on Wheels: Petaling Jaya)
 Van Biema, David and Chu, Jeff, Sept 18, 2006 Does God want you to be rich? TIME magazine http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1533448,00.html Also read Ben Witherington’s blog posting about Ten Reasons Why God Doesn’t Want You to Be Rich
 Hagin, Redeemed: From Poverty, Sickness, Death, 2nd.ed.,1. Quoted in Bowman, Robert M., 2001 The Word-Faith Controversy: Understanding Health and Wealth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 206.
 Riss, R.M. Hagin, Kenneth in Burgess and Der Maas, Eds. 2002 The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 687
 McConnell, D.R. 1988/1995 A Different Gospel: A Bold and Revealing Look at the Biblical and Historical Basis of the Word of Faith Movement updated ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), 29-53
 Lovett, Positive Confession Theology, in Burgess and Der Maas, Eds. 2002, 992-994
 Gohr, G.W. Copeland, Kenneth in Burgess and Der Maas, Eds. 2002, 562
 Gohr.G.W. Hinn, Benedictus in Burgess and Der Maas, Eds.2002, 713-715
 James Orsen Bakker in additional to co-founding the Trinity Broadcasting Network with the Crouch also started with his wife, Tammy, the PTL talk show. Initially PTL stands for “Praise the Lord” but later “People That Love.” The ministry became enormously successful and rich. “Jim” Bakker was part of the Word-Faith movement. By 1987 they have developed a USD 172 million religious empire which includes a state-of-the art studio and a Heritage Village (Christian entertainment resort). In a scandal in the same year, auditors discovered that the Bakkers were drawing a salary plus bonus in 1986-87 for USD 1.6 million while PTL had a debt of USD 70 million. Shortly after PTL filed for bankruptcy. Jim was convicted on 25 counts of defrauding the public and was given 45 years sentence. However, he was released on parole after having served 5 years. In prison, Jim Bakker rethought his theology and in 1996 published I Was Wrong. In the book, Bakker confessed that he was mistaken in his Word-Faith teachings.
Burgess, S.M. Bakker, James Orsen “Jim” in Burgess and Der Maas, Eds. 2002, 352-354
 Lim, Johnson T.K. 2002 A Different Gospel: Fact, Faith, Fiction & The Christian Faith (Logos on Wheels: Petaling Jaya), 14. In his footnote, he specifically mentioned that in Singapore, City Harvest Church, New Creation Church and Living Faith Church are part of the Word-Faith movement.
Joseph Prince is the senior pastor of New Creation Church. In a sermon "Walking in the undeserved favor of God" (28/3/04), he said: “Now I've been in the Word of Faith circle and I find that Word of Faith preachers know about favor. Churches of faith know about favor. The thing that I wish many of them would say though would be this - to use that phase - undeserved favor. Favor is good and the teaching of favor has produced tremendous testimonies but I would rather the Word of Faith preachers like myself use undeserved favor because that's the true definition of grace. Now I didn't learn amazing grace from Word of Faith though I'm a Word of Faith preacher. I had to learn that truly struggling on my own”. Quoted in Jonathan Koh Thoughts on New Creation Church-and grace, faith, health and wealth http://pachome2.pacific.net.sg/~jonathankoh/ncc.htm
Joseph Prince preaches a blend of Word-Faith and a particular form of antinomianism. Kenneth Copeland had taught in New Creation Church.
 Bowman, Robert M., 2001 The Word-Faith Controversy: Understanding Health and Wealth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 205-216
 Kenyon, Two Kinds of Knowledge, 14-15. Quoted in Bowman, 2001, 106
 Hagin, New Threshold of Faith, 74-76. Quoted in Bowman, 2001, 106
 Copeland, Force of Faith, 16-17. Quoted in Bowman, 2001, 106
 Gilley, Gary E., The Word-Faith Movement. http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/char/more/w-f.htm Christianity in Crisis was written by H. Hanegraaff 1993, Harvest House.
 Bowman (2001, 114)
 Copeland, Our Covenant with God, 28. Quoted in Bowman 2001, 207.
 Hagin, Real Faith, 9,20,25. Quoted in Bowman, Robert M., 2001 The Word-Faith Controversy: Understanding Health and Wealth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 207
 Quoted in Gilley, Gary E., The Word-Faith Movement. http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/char/more/w-f.htm retrieved 12.05.03
 Oswalt, J..N. 1998 The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 384-389
 Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B. 1983, 1985, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.).
 Hagin, New Threshold of Faith, 53-54
 Quoted in Gilley, Gary E., The Word-Faith Movement. http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/char/more/w-f.htm
 Quoted in Gilley, Gary E., The Word-Faith Movement. http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/char/more/w-f.htm
 Dal Bello, Moreno from Cross+Word did a comprehensive study of Word-Faith Doctrine. His work can be retrieved from the following URL
Part Three: http://www.intotruth.org/wof/moreno3.html
Part Four: http://www.intotruth.org/wof/moreno4.html
 Lim, Johnson T.K. 2002 A Different Gospel: Fact, Faith, Fiction & The Christian Faith (Logos on Wheels: Petaling Jaya), 190
 As mentioned there are 5 theories of atonement: (1) ransom theory, (2) moral influence theory, (3) victory theory, (4) satisfaction theory, and (5) penal substitution theory. Ransom theory has its origin with the early church fathers but gradually disappeared as other theories came into general use. The Moral influence theory was taught by Abelard (1070-1142) which state that God loved mankind so much that Jesus death on the cross was a sign of His love. Victory theory is about Jesus conquering Satan by His resurrection and victory over sin, death and Satan. Satisfaction theory was taught by Anselm (1033-1109). Anselm taught that sin was an insult to God and can only be satisfied by the death of God-man, Jesus Christ. For penal substitution theory, please read the following article by J.I. Packer The Logic of Penal Substitution http://www.thehighway.com/cross_Packer.html
 Bowman 2001, 217
 Bowman 2001, 222
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update 10 July 2010
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