S2E10 — What is the “Word of Faith” movement?

The following is a transcript of a video I made for YouTube.

https://youtu.be/lrWBS-xlM-E

Opening: Welcome to another episode of “Almost Ordained.” I am your host, David, the guy who graduated seminary but never got ordained.

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I’ve written a book about learning to find happiness and faith after I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It’s called Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain. My experiences living with clinical depression have shaped my understanding of faith. I have in the past experienced the total deconstruction of my faith and had to go back and reconstruct it. I’m looking back through that process, because I think there must be others out there who had similar experiences and are looking for some guidance. If that’s you, then I pray by God’s grace, I can point you to the light that leads out of this dark tunnel, or dark night of the soul you are in.

I did an episode earlier called “My number one tip about faith,” where I contrasted two traditional understandings, faith as belief vs faith as trust. There is another understanding of faith that has a number of high profile proponents. I call it “Word of Faith,” because that is what it was called when I was involved in it. It has also been called Prosperity Gospel, Health and Wealth Gospel, “Name it, claim it,” “believe and receive,” New Apostolic Restoration or NAR, or the Latter Rain movement among other things. One of my principles for recovering from depression is, Some kinds of faith are good for recovery, and some are bad. In my experience, the Word of Faith was definitely bad for recovery.

I’m going to talk about what it was like for me living in and following the Word of Faith with a brain that I did not know at the time was clinically depressed. But first, I should say, even though I am obviously biased, I’m trying to be fair and not misrepresent anyone. And before I get into what the Word of Faith experience was like for me, I want to be sure you understand what it is.

It’s not a particular denomination. A number of nondenominational churches embrace Word of Faith doctrine, but not all. It has some affinity with charismatic and Pentecostal churches, though not all of them identify with Word of Faith.

3:10 A good reference article

An article at gotquestions.org titled “Is the Word of Faith Movement Biblical?” explains it comprehensively, so I’ll read some excerpts for you here, and interject my own comments as well.

The Word of Faith movement grew out of the Pentecostal movement in the late 20th century. Its founder was E. W. Kenyon, who studied the metaphysical New Thought teachings of Phineas Quimby.

Okay, now, they say everything they do is according to the Bible, but the origins really were not biblical. I mean, New Thought, metaphysical, Phineas Quimby …

Mind science (where “name it and claim it” originated) was combined with Pentecostalism, resulting in a peculiar mix of orthodox Christianity and mysticism.

Again, they claim they got everything from the Bible, but most of it really was this kind of “new thought, mind science” thing, pioneered by Phineas Quimby, who as far as I know was not a Christian.

Kenneth Hagin, in turn, studied under E. W. Kenyon and made the Word of Faith movement what it is today.

Usually, I won’t give particular names of some of the people who are associated with it. I’m okay with giving Kenneth Hagin’s name, because he died in, like, 2003 and he was right there at the beginning, one of the pioneers and most influential teachers of the Word of Faith movement. So it’s like, if I were talking about Christian Science, I might not talk about current leaders but I would talk about Mary Baker Eddy, whose book was the foundation of Christian Science.

At the heart of the Word of Faith movement is the belief in the “force of faith.” It is believed words can be used to manipulate the faith-force …

Actually, in their teaching, faith is not something you place in God. It is a force you can use to control God. That may be raising some red flags for you if you’ve never heard this. but when I was young and impressionable, there was something compelling about the way they presented it. so to them, faith is this force you can use to “…create what they believe Scripture promises (health and wealth).” Continuing the article,

Laws supposedly governing the faith-force are said to operate independently of God’s sovereign will and that God Himself is subject to these laws.

So that’s why I said, to them, faith is not something you place in God. It is a force you can use to control God. You can force God to give you what you pray for, if you have faith and if you know how to use it. [Continuing the article…]

From here, its theology just strays further and further from Scripture: it claims that God created human beings in His literal, physical image as little gods. Before the fall, humans had the potential to call things into existence by using the faith-force.

Yeah, this is actually saying, faith, when you speak, you believe something in your heart and speak it out loud, it has the same creative force as God in Genesis chapter 1 when God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. “By his stripes I am healed,” Boom! Whatever physical illness I had, gone. My Irritable Bowel Syndrome, gone. Flat feet, made perfectly arched. Clinically depressed brain, chemical imbalance up here, gone. My brain has normal chemical balance because I said so, and I said it in faith.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? It sounds like God is promising you the good life, that the Bible is promising you the good life, if you know how to use your faith to control God, so that you don’t get stymied by insignificant things, like the will of God. What you’re praying might not be the will of God, but you don’t have to worry about that, because your faith is so powerful that God has no choice. When you act in faith and you speak in faith, God has no choice but to do what you say.

And they claim that this was how it was in the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve, and then,

After the fall, humans took on Satan’s nature and lost the ability to call things into existence. In order to correct this situation, Jesus Christ gave up His divinity and became a man, died spiritually, took Satan’s nature upon Himself, went to hell, was born again, and rose from the dead with God’s nature. After this, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to replicate the Incarnation in believers so they could become little gods as God had originally intended.

So tied into this doctrine is your faith-filled words have the same power as God’s words, because you weren’t just made in God’s image. When you received Christ and you become born again, you recover the status of little god that was lost in the Fall. You are a little god. And just as Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth, so do you. Pretty cool, huh? Yeah, except when you start doing it, and you see that it doesn’t work.

11:42 A quick biblical correction

All right, now here is just a quick little biblical correction for this.

God alone is the Sovereign Creator of the Universe (Genesis 1:3; 1 Timothy 6:15) and does not need faith — [God] is the object of faith (Mark 11:22; Hebrews 11:3). God is spirit and does not have a physical body (John 4:24).

God doesn’t have a physical body like us. We are corporeal beings. God is not, so how can we be little gods?

[Humanity] was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27; 9:6), but this does not make him [or her] a little god or divine.

See that is an important distinction, biblically. You are not God, and neither am I. Only God is God.

Only God has a divine nature (Galatians 4:8; Isaiah 1:6–11, 43:10, 44:6; Ezekiel 28:2; Psalm 8:6–8). Christ is Eternal, the Only Begotten Son, and the only incarnation of God (John 1:1, 2, 14, 15, 18; 3:16; 1 John 4:1). In [Christ] dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). By becoming a man, Jesus gave up the glory of heaven but not His divinity (Philippians 2:6–7), though He did choose to withhold His power while walking the earth as man.

So that is a quick biblical explanation and rebuke of the Word of Faith.

14:20 If only I had known

It seems so simple there. If it had been presented to my this way, I might not have been involved in it for so long. I was into it for several years before I was presented with this thing about the “little gods” doctrine, saying that we are gods. Here’s another quick tip about faith that is good for recovery. Faith that is good for recovery recognizes God is God, and we (you and me) are not. I know that’s not as glamorous and sexy as, “Hey, man, you’re a god. You can do whatever you want and have whatever you say if you believe. Just believe and receive it.”

Yeah, that’s pretty exciting. It stokes your imagination, and all the things you’ve been wanting for a long time, and thought you could never have, “Well, hey, if I’m a god, I can have whatever I want.”

That sounds great until you find out it doesn’t work. So getting into it a little bit more, Word of Faith is this belief system that says if you want God to answer your prayers, and answer them yes, you have to find a verse in the Bible that promises what you want, and claim the promise. Hence, some call Word of Faith “Name it, claim it.” Like, if you have some illness or injury you need to be healed, one of the most popular verses for that is Isaiah 53:5 “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” And they take that to mean healing of the physical body. But in context, that’s not really what it was talking about.

Isaiah, or maybe one of his students some time after him, was speaking this to the Jews in Exile in Babylon, and the healing he was talking about was the restoration of the Jewish nation. It had been destroyed under Babylon, and they had been forced into Exile. They were forced away from their homeland. Their city had been destroyed. Their temple had been destroyed. God had forsaken them completely, they were convinced.

But now, Cyrus, king of Persia, was coming. He would soon conquer Babylon. And once he took over, he would allow the Jews to return to their homeland, any who wanted to, and rebuild their city and their temple. So the healing he was talking about was the restoring of the nation. He wasn’t talking about healing my Irritable Bowel Syndrome or fixing my flat feet. And it certainly wasn’t about making you immune to Covid-19. That’s a dangerous, dangerous theology at a time like this.

18:30 How is it supposed to work?

But anyway, this is how it works. You find a Bible verse that promises what you want. So I’ve got my verse that promises healing. Then, when you pray to God, believe you have already received it in heaven, and you will have it here on earth. So you pray, you ask God one time, and then you say, “Thank you, God. I believe it. I receive it. I have it. It’s mine, in the name of Jesus.” You say have it before you actually have it. You have it in heaven, but to get it to manifest on earth, you have to believe like you already have it. It’s very similar to some of the New Age stuff I’ve heard, actually, or “The Secret.” Again, questioning whether this is really biblical or not. So you believe you already have it. You claim it.

Third, you DECLARE that you already have it, and you will have what you say AND believe. You have to say it AND believe it. And whatever you say AND believe, you will have it. Therefore, you never say you don’t have it, and you never say anything you don’t want to happen. “That was so funny I died laughing.”

(Gasp!) Do you want that to happen? Really? You’d better not say that. You’d better take that back. You’d better repent.

You never say anything you don’t want to happen. And you never say you don’t have it (even if you don’t). You keep praising and thanking God that you’ve already received it, and you will have it. This is called manifestation.

What do you do while waiting for manifestation? Praise and thank God that you already have it. In your praise, quote back the scripture that you’re claiming as God’s promise. “Oh God, thank you that according to Isaiah 53:5, by his stripes I am healed. And so I am healed of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and my stomach will never hurt me again.”

Irritable Bowel Syndrome. You may or may not be familiar with that, but it’s this condition in your digestive system that can cause really intense abdominal pain. But my experience living with it, I really can’t predict when it’s going to come. And so I may feel fine right now, but a few hours from now, who knows? I might just be doubled over with pain. So I could go up on stage at one of these faith healing meetings and say, “I’m healed of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”

“How do you know you’re healed?”

“Because I have no pain.”

Well, right now I have no pain. But what happens next time I have pain? I keep quoting my verse again. “By his stripes I am healed. By his stripes I am healed. By his stripes I am healed. The Word says it. I believe it. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. I am healed,” saying that while grunting in pain.

I’m not saying that didn’t do any good. Maybe psychologically, it made me better able to cope with the pain. But every attack reminded me I didn’t have the perfect health they promised, or rather, that they said the Bible promised.

23:11 Out of context

See that’s the problem. They tell you there’s all these promises in the Bible, like Isaiah 53:5. They’ll quote these verses like, “Abraham was very rich in cattle, silver, and gold,” and Galatians 3:13–14 says,

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (NRSV)

Well, if Christ died so that the Gentiles could receive the blessing of Abraham, and Abraham was rich. That means I can be rich if I believe it. It’s promised to me in the Bible.

No, just because Abraham was rich doesn’t mean God promised it to you. Or me. But that’s what they’ll do. “According to Genesis 13:2 Abraham was very rich in cattle, silver, and gold, and because I belong to Christ, I’m entitled to all the blessings of Abraham, so I believe and receive it, God. Well, you can keep the cattle, but I’ll take the silver and gold.”

It doesn’t work like that, folks. Really. It does not work like that. I mean, if God promised to make you rich, because that is part of the blessing of Abraham, and you are entitled to Abraham’s blessings, God also blessed Abraham with a newborn son when he was 99 years old. Does that mean God promised to give you a son when you’re 99 years old? I don’t think so. I haven’t heard too many people, even in the Word of Faith community, try to claim that one.

Abraham lived to be 175 years old. “Well, the blessing of Abraham is mine. I’m going to live to be 175 years old. I believe it and receive it.”

Do you know anyone who’s ever lived to be 175 years old? Word of Faith or not, just because God gave it to Abraham doesn’t mean God promised it to you. In some ways, I say, “Thank God,” because the idea of having a baby when I’m 99, if God lets me live that long? Yeah, you can keep that blessing, God.

26:00 Conclusion

So hopefully this gives you an idea of what I mean when I talk about the Word of Faith movement. My next video is going to be about what it was like living in the World of Faith movement for ten years, probably more like 15 years actually. It was a messed up time in my life, and that will become clearer in the next video. I hope you’ll come back for that, or maybe, just scroll through my channel, see if anything looks interesting to you.

Thanks for watching Almost Ordained. If this has been helpful to you, please share it with someone you know who may be starting to walk down that Word of Faith path, and needs a more biblical understanding of faith, like I once was, if you think that would help them. Share it on your social media, or through email. Like the video. That will help it show up in people’s search results. If you want to be notified when new episodes become available, click the bell. I found out subscribing doesn’t mean you are notified of new episodes. The bell is what will notify you when new episodes become available.

And I don’t have any regular schedule for that. This is a no budget production, so I do these episodes when I can. But I hope you will come back for another episode. Until then, remember these words from Matthew 7:12,

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you.

References

“Is the Word of Faith movement biblical?” Retrieved from https://www.gotquestions.org/Word-Faith.html, October 16, 2020.

David Anderson is a multi-passionate author of fiction and nonfiction. His latest book is Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain.

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