Thursday, 19 July 2012
I grew up as part of a conservative Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation whose pastor identified himself as “thoroughly evangelical,” meaning that he had a high view of Scripture, believed that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and opposed any liberalization of Christian beliefs. In that church I received a good basic theological education, memorized many Scriptures, and became a decent, Christian boy who didn’t drink, smoke, or swear.
In my young adult years I visited some non-denominational churches where I was exposed to other “forms” of Christianity including what is commonly referred to as Word of Faith (WOF) teaching. At one particular WOF church I heard some of the best, most practical sermons of my life including teachings on forgiveness, walking in love, keeping control of my tongue, being generous to others, and simply believing God’s Word as true. Here my relationship with God was transformed from mere theological knowledge to a living, vibrant daily walk of faith. It was life-changing.
So it pains me to see Word of Faith teachings and teachers so viciously attacked by others in mainstream Christianity, labeling the message as a false “prosperity gospel” or “health and wealth” or some other derogatory tag. WOF preachers are routinely denounced as heretics for certain statements they have made, or criticized for an overly lavish lifestyle. Familiar targets include Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth E. Hagin, Kenneth W. Hagin, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, and others.
Not all of the criticism is undeserved, but many WOF detractors focus on a few extreme teachings and personalities. I didn’t see much of that at the church (1,000 members) I attended. For that reason I’d like to share my views on the good and the bad of Word of Faith teaching and some of the more well-known WOF preachers. First:
What I Don’t Like:
1. I don’t like that some WOF preachers have made strange doctrinal statements from time to time. Sometimes I wonder “Where did that come from?” when I hear a strange statement about the origin of Satan, or what Jesus was doing in the heart of the earth, or the nature of Adam’s relationship to God. But then again, some mainstream preachers do the same on one subject or another. We all see through a glass darkly on some subjects… it doesn’t mean we’re wrong about everything.
2. I don’t like that some WOF preachers claim multiple visitations from Jesus or other supernatural revelation to back up their teaching. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but when someone constantly trumps every argument by saying they received this teaching directly from Jesus, one has to wonder.
3. I don’t like the overly lavish lifestyle being lived by some WOF preachers. Some cling to the idea that, as “King’s kids” we are entitled to literally live like royalty on earth. In my view, to life a life of luxury amidst a world of extreme poverty flies in the face of Jesus, who laid aside every luxury for the sake of serving and redeeming others. Having our needs met – even abundantly met – is one thing. Million dollar homes, luxury cars, and 300 pairs of shoes is consuming upon one’s own lusts, period.
What I Like:
1. I like that Word of Faith teaching encourages us to actually believe what Jesus said. When he said we can wither a fig tree, move a mountain, or receive whatever we ask for in prayer by believing and not doubting, he meant it. Peter walking on water is a prime example that – when we really believe – the impossible becomes possible, but when we doubt we begin to sink. Faith is believing and not doubting. Faith is knowing with certainty in the heart. It’s not intellectual… it is a heart/spirit issue.
2. Along with that, I like that Word of Faith teaching affirms that all things are possible to him who believes… nothing is impossible with God… that God is, and always has been, a God of miracles. He is a God of power – not just affirming in a theological sense that God is omnipotent – but affirming according to Scripture that God is both able and willing to respond to faith in a supernatural way.
3. I like that Word of Faith teaching encourages us to speak in line with God’s Word; to speak words of faith and affirmation rather than doubt and negativity. The power of our words is repeatedly emphasized in Scripture, and Jesus tells us that our mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Speaking words of fear and doubt indicates a bad heart condition. We ought to renew our minds on Scripture and constantly affirm the truth of Scripture. That’s how real faith (heart faith) is produced.
4. When it comes to money, the WOF teachings I received placed emphasis on 2 Corinthians chapter 9, where Paul directly addresses the issue of money and giving. Paul states that we are blessed in order to be a blessing, and that if we give generously to the kingdom of God (not necessarily one particular church) God will replenish our supply so that we can continue to be generous. We sow generously / we reap generously – all for the purpose of blessing others. It was also taught that if we are indeed putting God first in life, our needs will be supplied. At times we may have more or less, but we will always have enough.
5. Lastly, I like that Word of Faith teaches that God’s will is often knowable if we only believe what the Scriptures say. Tradition tells us that God has a mysterious “master plan” and we can never really know his will, so we always have to pray “if it be your will.” However, real faith is only possible where God’s will is known, therefore God’s will must be knowable. In many cases we can discern God’s will by looking at the words and actions of Jesus, who is the very image of God: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” From that basic premise we can know God’s will regarding a number of disputed issues, including God’s willingness to heal the sick.
Despite some things I don’t like concerning some Word of Faith preachers, I can say that my relationship with God went from years of lukewarm/powerless to passionate & vital by the teaching of God’s Word at a Word of Faith church.
What have you heard about Word of faith teaching? Do you agree or disagree with its theology? Have you ever attended a Word of Faith church?