I've blogged about some elements of the Word of Faith movement at times, so you know that I'm somewhat familiar with it.
Actually, I'm more than "somewhat familiar." I'm "Once bit, twice shy." And that's a problem. It's not an unusual problem; but it's a problem.
The posts that have gotten the most comments have dealt with "prosperity gospel" preaching, or some other aspect of WoF teachings (like, say, ecclesiology—as in "5-fold ministry"). Seems there are a few other folks with burnt fingers out there. You have my sympathies.
A little history here: I was in my mid-20s when a friend invited me to a small country church. It was different from the traditional Pentecostal churches I'd been raised in (by the way, “Pentecostal" does not mean "Word of Faith"). The style of worship was similar, but the preaching had a different slant. There was lots of prophecy, and prayer lines formed after every evening service. The churches I had gone to didn't usually have prayer lines. Altar calls, yes. Not prayer lines.
I stayed in that church. Made friends. Got the chance to preach. Got married. And through a series of setbacks, became disillusioned. When I left after about 10 years, I told my wife that I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under my life. I would have left Christianity altogether, I said, except that I felt like Peter: "Where else will we go, Lord? Only you have the words of eternal life."
So, like thousands, I've seen the dark side of the Word of Faith message. Some friends from that church have been burned worse than I; one carries wounds to this day, though he's in the ministry himself—as a Baptist, not as a Pentecostal.
But I see the possibilities in the Word of Faith message. I wish the critics of the message could see that. I wish, for that matter, that most "Faith" preachers could see the possibilities. Not financial possibilities. That's where the message is, at the least, erroneous if not downright heretical (are you reading this, Paula White?). Twisting the Gospel into a message and a means of profit is simply fleshly, and it goes against the Gospel. You know--as in, "the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches." And touting a "special offering" or "special gift" as a means of entry into the presence of God (as I once heard the aforementioned P. White do) means that we don't really trust in Christ alone as our Priest, though Scripture plainly tells us that it is through Christ, and Christ alone, that we come into the presence of God.
But here's what I see: The Word of Faith message, if it were rightly and biblically applied, would be one of the greatest tools for transformation (both personal and corporate) in history. It returns us to a confession of the Scriptures, emphasizing the importance of the spoken word to believers.
This might seem silly or superstitious; the idea that we speak things into being, the twist that Word-of-Faith folks put on confessions, is frankly heretical. In the New Testament, the “confession of faith” is not on “speaking forth that which is not” but rather on speaking forth our faith in Jesus Christ. Confession brings salvation, not riches or healing or blessing. Any confession that is me-centered is heretical. Confession is meant to declare who Jesus is, and faith is about receiving what Jesus has provided.
Here’s my prescription:
- Repent of the greed. There’s no other word for turning the promises of the New Testament into selfish “gimme” prayers.
- Repent of the individualistic focus. In the Old and New Testaments, blessing is by and large corporate and not individual. Even the “blessing of Abraham” is corporate: It’s for an entire nation that will come from him, and the New Testament shows that nation is the gathering of people who confess Christ as Lord.
- Make confession about Christ, and emphasize transformation. We are not who we once were, and the Word of Faith people have a better grasp of this than the Reformed folks do (though I think the Orthodox, with their emphasis on theosis, might have a better grasp yet). I mean that Reformed theology says, in effect, that God plays something of a word-game. We are righteous because God declares us righteous; yet, in fact, we sin because we are still sinners. This leads to the slogan that we’re “sinners saved by grace.” The truth is that we are former sinners transformed into saints by the Spirit who lives in us. We have taken on a new nature, not just a new label (yes, this is an over-simplification, but I hope it makes the point).
- Stop excusing liars. If Apostle X and Prophet Y and Bishop Z have dynamic ministries but live large on the Gospel, they are hirelings and are fleecing the flock. It does not matter what gifts they display or how many folks say they've been healed or "touched" at so-and-so's meetings. "Word" people need to hold "Word" leaders to account for holy living. Jesus himself told the parable: "Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do mighty works in your name?" His reply: "I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matthew 7:22, 23).
I love what the Word of Faith movement could be. I love the idea of a proclamation of the Gospel that leads to uncompromising, transformed lives—of people filled with the power of God's Spirit who can turn the world upside down for God. What if God's people turned into a "can-do" people who saw their mission not as getting rich but as living holy lives, and discipling the whole world?