His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 3:1 (HCSB)
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son. Hebrews 1:1-2a (NKJV)
When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, and if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken.; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:22 (NKJV)
There is disagreement among Christian apologists as to whether the Word of Faith movement is a cult or just a heretical movement. In many respects the movement has some organization, but many of the practitioners of the faith do not align themselves with anyone else. For this article I will treat it as an unorganized cult.
The WOF movement (also known as “name it and claim it,” “health and wealth,” or “prosperity gospel”) has its historic origins in the charismatic movement of the early 20th century. From out of this movement arose many so-called “faith healers” who traveled around the country with their “crusades.”
The “grandfather” of the WOF movement was Essek William Kenyon (1867-1948). It was through him that the majority of the doctrine, terminology and expressions were developed. Kenyon was from New England and was exposed to various Christian and “mind science” movements of the l890s. In 1893 he became a Baptist pastor and five years later started a Bible school.
Kenyon rejected most of the distinctive Pentecostal doctrines of the early 20th century, but the Pentecostals liked his teachings. In the 1920s he was a popular speaker in Pentecostal meetings, including those of Foursquare Church founder Aimee Semple McPherson. He became one of the first radio evangelists.
There is currently a scholarly debate as to whether Kenyon’s theology is based more on Pentecostalism or on the mysticism of the “mind-science” cults because his teachings reflected both streams of thought. According to Robert Bowman, in his book, The Word-Faith Controversy (p.37), “The following doctrines of the Word-Faith teaching either originated from Kenyon or received their distinctive formulation from him:
+ Human nature is spirit, soul, and body, but is most fundamentally spirit.
+ God created the world by speaking words of faith and does everything else by faith, and we are intended to exercise the same kind of faith.
+ In the fall human beings took on Satan’s nature and forfeited to Satan their divine dominion, making him the legal god of this world.
+ Jesus died spiritually as well as physically, taking on Satan’s nature and suffering in hell to redeem us, and then was born again.
+ By our positive confession with the God kind of faith we may overcome sickness and poverty.”
Also contributing to the development of the Word of Faith teachings were the Latter-Rain movement under William Branham in the late 1940s and Pentecostal televangelism under Oral Roberts. But the recognized “father” of WOF is Kenneth E. Hagin (1917-2003), who developed Kenyon’s teachings “in light of the healing revivals of Branham and Roberts.” (Bowman, p.92)
As we have seen with other false teachers, Hagin has varying stories as to how he discovered the WOF teachings. He claimed since the time he discovered the teachings in 1933, he had never had a headache, and any illness encountered lasted less than a day. From 1939 to 1949 Hagin pastored several Assemblies of God churches, and then became an itinerant faith-healer. By 1950 Hagin began applying the same methods for preaching prosperity as he had used in faith-healing.
Again like many other false teachers, much of Hagin’s writings were direct plagiarisms from E.W. Kenyon’s works. “In 1966 Hagin moved his ministry to Tulsa, and in 1974 he founded the Rhema Bible Training Center. In 1979 Hagin and several other televangelists founded the International Convention of Faith Churches and Ministries (headquartered in Tulsa), which functions as a virtual denomination for the Word-Faith movement.” (Bowman, p.93)
Hagin was not unlike other false prophets and false teachers in that he claimed visitations by Jesus. He has been nicknamed “Dad Hagin” by those of the WOF movement.
Foundational Doctrine: While some teachers have even more bizarre ideas, these are the teachings that all seem to agree on.
1. We can not know God by reason. Kenneth Hagin, said: "We cannot know God through our human knowledge, through our mind. God is only revealed to man through his spirit. It is the spirit of man that contacts God, for God is a Spirit.... We don't understand the Bible with our mind, it is spiritually understood. We understand with our spirit, or out heart.... As we meditate in the Word, our assurance becomes deeper. This assurance in our spirit is independent of our human reasoning or physical evidence."
Essentially, they have a very gnostic view of God and the gospel, and spiritualize much of the Bible. The most basic doctrine in WOF is that man is composed of body, soul and spirit, and that of these parts, it is the spirit that is the real human being, not the body or soul. Therefore, man is in the same class of being as God; the same kind of being. Many other Christians believe a trichotomous view of man but don't have the WOF doctrinal beliefs in relation to it. WOF must have the trichotomy to get to the "God class" of person. According to Bowman's book, WOF claims "that the reasoning of the intellect (which is located in the soul, on this theory) and the feelings of the body are unreliable guides to what is really true. Only if the spirit is the real person would it make any sense to say that health and wealth come from the spirit realm into material existence through faith, as indeed the Word-Faith teachers all say." (p.98) So, because God and humans are both spirits, they are in the same class of beings. This is a very important foundation.
2. God has faith. To cite Charles Capps, "God is a faith God. God released His faith in Words....God created the universe by the methods which you have just put into motion by the words of your mouth. God released His faith in words. Man is created in the image of God, therefore man releases his faith in words." (cited in Bowman, p.105) What this boils down to is that faith is a power invoked by your words. You speak what you want. If you want wealth or health, just speak it and it happens because of your faith power. God had faith power and that's how He created, and you, being in his "God class," have the same power of faith to speak things into existence. Faith is the creative force, and God used His faith to create and do everything. God cannot do anything without his own faith. If God doesn't speak, nothing gets done. Interestingly, wealth is the primary focus of the televangelists' teaching, telling you how God will provide you with much wealth depending on how much you send to them! That's why there is no such thing as a poor WOF teacher - every single one of them are very wealthy from the many offerings the gullible send to them.
3. God has a body. In this, they are very similar to Mormons in that they consider anthropomorphisms to be literal descriptions of God. For the most part, this God is described as being just over six feet and weighs "in the neighborhood of a couple hundred pounds, little better." (Kenneth Copeland, as cited by Bowman, p.115)
4. Being in the same class as God in being, we are actually little gods. Benny Hinn has pointed out that Christ means "anointed" and we are all anointed of God as Christians, and therefore are all "little Christs." This is how we have the power of faith in our words and how we can remain healthy without seeing doctors. Earl Paulk said, "Adam and Eve were placed in the world as the seed and expression of God. Just as dogs have puppies and cats have kittens, so God has little gods. Seed remains true to its nature, bearing its own kind. ... He created us as little gods, but we have trouble comprehending this truth. We see ourselves as 'little people' with very little power and dominion. Until we comprehend that we are little gods and we begin to act like little gods, we cannot manifest the Kingdom of God." (as cited by Bowman, p.123)
5. Dominion/Kingdom now theology. WOF adherents are strong believers in the Dominion theology; that is, we must Christianize the world and retake dominion of it from Satan before Christ can return. Supposedly, Adam gave dominion of the world over to Satan and there was nothing God could do about it.
6. The "born-again Jesus." Jesus went to Hell when he died and was tortured and beat up by Satan as punishment for our sin, and he had to be "born again" in order to defeat Satan. Jesus became actual sin, submitted to the lordship of Satan and took on Satan's nature. Kenneth Copeland explains it well: "The spirit of Jesus accepting that sin, and making it to be sin, he separated from his God, and in that moment, he's a mortal man - capable of failure, capable of death. Not only that, he's fixing to be ushered into the jaws of hell. And if Satan is capable of overpowering him there, he'll win the universe, and mankind is doomed. Don't get the idea that Jesus was incapable of failure, because if he had been, it would have been illegal." (cited by Bowman, P.161-162)
Teachers: All these well-known names are WOF to some degree, some being more heretical than others: Kenneth Hagin, jr, Charles Capps, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Morris Cerullo, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Paul and Jan Crouch, Oral Roberts, Earl Paulk, Creflo Dollar, Kim Clement, Joel Osteen, Rod Parsley, John Avanzini, Jesse DuPlantis, Marilyn Hickey, Frederick Price, Jerry Savelle, Robert Tilton, Paul Cain, Jack Coe, Rick Joyner, Carlton Pearson, Peter Popoff, R.W. Schambach, T.D. Jakes, Phil Aguilar, Bob Larson.
These teachers, as well as the TBN network, all teach falsely regarding the Christian faith, and all should be avoided like the plague!
For further reading on the Word of Faith movement:
The Facts on the Faith Movement, by John Anker burg & John Weldon
Charismatic Chaos, by John MacArthur
The Word-Faith Controversy, by Robert M. Bowman
Will the Real Pharisee Please Stand Up? by Robert Liichow
Christianity in Crisis, but Hank Hanegraaff
The Confusing World of Benny Hinn, by G. Richard Fisher and M. Kurt Goedelman
Everything You Always Wanted to Know: Trinity Broadcasting Network, by Robert Liichow
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Kenneth Copeland, by Robert Liichow
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Robert Tilton, by Robert Liichow