False Prophets: The Word of Faith Movement
Subtle deception in the church: false teaching on healing
Jesus said: “heal the sick”; the deception is in how we go about it!
“The words that have power are words that are filled with faith”. True?
Beware False Prophets
The Word of Faith Movement (WoF) has its basis in mind-science cults e.g. Christian Science, and has now developed into a new and attractive form of ‘Christianity’. It is on Christian-based television networks across the world. It’s main doctrines are: Revelation Knowledge, Identification, Faith, Healing and Prosperity. In fact, WoF is sometimes called the ‘Prosperity Gospel’. But many see doctrinal errors in WoF teaching (see for example Deception in the Church and Doctrinal Critique). Sometimes the error is very apparent e.g. the belief that ‘men are little gods’ – similar to New Age teaching – but other WoF teaching is very subtle and deceptive. Remember, the Bible warns that the teaching of demons will come into the church:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1)
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables”. (2 Tim 4:3-4)
In this article we examine the subtle and deceptive claims of WoF regarding healing.
General Teaching and Beliefs of the Word of Faith Movement
- WoF teachers expect everyone to accept their authority and teachings without criticism or testing
- Man is deified and God and Jesus Christ are demoted to the beck and call of their creation
- Jesus voluntarily gave up the use of His divine powers and did all His miracles as a mere human being through the power of the Holy Spirit. So Jesus served as a pattern for all his followers to do miracles as He did. So we should be calming storms, healing the sick and raising the dead
- Special knowledge is needed in order to be effective; this revelation knowledge is limited to the few who can receive it
- All the wealth of the world will flow to the Church; they foresee a great victory for the Church in the future
- Positive Confession (another name for WoF): the belief that if a believer speaks ‘spiritual’ or ‘faith-filled’ words then he can have what he says
- ‘Faith is real, is a power, is a force. It’s used by God at His will’ (Kenneth Copeland)
- Faith works like a mighty power or force. Through faith, we can obtain anything we want – health, wealth, success …
- Christians draw upon powerful ‘forces’ that reside in the human spirit – such as the force of faith – to bring certain laws into operation. They emphasise the Word (not the Son of God, but the scriptures) as the power used to operate all these spiritual laws
- Believers are led to deny that they are ill or poor. They are taught to overcome adversity by confessing a suitable ‘positive’ scripture
- If we are feeling sick we need to fight it off by faith by not confessing our symptoms, but stand on the word and say out loud, ‘I’m healed, by his stripes I’m healed. Don’t look at the symptoms’
- Emphasis is on success, prosperity, advancement, gain, health and strength. There is little compassion for those who fail to come up to these exacting standards. Any adversity is said to be a ‘lack of faith’ to confess the appropriate Word
False Prophets: the Word of Faith Teaching on Healing
In the Bible the subject of healing involves the concept of authority (for a comprehensive study on biblical authority see Our Authority in Christ). What does WoF doctrine teach on authority?
The Authority of God and Man
- WoF teaches that God gave man all authority on earth, so that God Himself had no authority
- WoF teaches that God had limited His own authority by giving it to man
It is true that God gave man ‘dominion over all the earth’ (Gen 1:26). But when Adam disobeyed God’s one and only commandment, Adam transferred all these rights over to Satan. The Fall and God’s curse brought sin, suffering, pain and death into the world, and man came ‘under the law’. Later, Satan offered this authority to Jesus (Luke 4:6), and Jesus referred to Satan as ‘the ruler of this world (John 14:30). The good news is that with His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, the power, dominion and authority that Adam lost in the garden was reclaimed and regained by Jesus Christ. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us (Gal 3:13). After His resurrection, Jesus said:
All authority has been given to Me (by the Father) in heaven and on earth (Mat 28:18)
Satan has now lost his full authority over the earth, although he is still seen as ‘the god of this world’ until Christ returns (2 Cor 4:4).
What was the result? Jesus, having supreme authority, gave His followers authority ‘over all the power of the enemy’ (Luke 10:19). The powers of darkness, the ‘spirits’, were subject to Christ’s followers (Luke 10:20), and this power was extended to all subsequent believers through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:8).
Conclusion: Whilst it is true that man has been given all authority over the enemy through Christ, it is not true that God has limited His own authority: Christ still rules!
Dealing with Sickness and Disease
We will now extend the biblical teaching on authority to the problem of sickness and disease. Some WoF statements on healing sound very biblical to those Christians who believe God heals today. For instance, WoF teaches that ‘It’s never God’s will for us to be sick; He wants every person healed every time’
There is a lot of truth here. Many would accept that healing is God’s normal will for man. Just like salvation is God’s will for all, healing is normally God’s will for all (Exod 23:25-26)(Ps 103:5)(Job 5:26), although there is also a mystery of healing (see below). So armed with the fact that Jesus has given man authority over all the power of the enemy, WoF teaching claims:
- God has already placed His healing power within us, and it is now under our authority. It isn’t up to God to determine who receives healing; it’s up to us!
- When people see that some sickness, disease, tragedy comes into their life, instead of taking their authority and rebuking the devil and commanding him to leave, instead they go to God, and they beg God, ‘Oh God please change this situation. Oh God please get the devil off my back.’ And it’s not within God’s power and authority. He gave us that power and authority
- The reason people often don’t get healed is because they are asking God to heal them instead of taking their power and authority given by God
Again, there is some truth here. Since Jesus gave His followers power and authority over the enemy, we should use that authority over sickness and disease (Mat 10:1). Jesus told His Apostles to go and ‘heal the sick’ (Mat 10:8). The deception is in how we go about it.
Saying Faith-filled Words
WoF teaching says:
- If we are sick we need to fight it off by faith by not confessing our symptoms – stand on the Word
- You must speak against the disease. You’re not sick, but have symptoms, you deny the disease
- The words that have power are words that are filled with faith
- We need to say faith-filled words and we will have what we say
Is this scriptural, or subtle deception? From a theological point of view, our sin and sicknesses have indeed been taken away by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (Isa 53:4-5), and ‘by His stripes we are healed’ (Isa 53:5). After all, why did Jesus link healing with the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 10:7-8, Luke 9:2, 10:9)? Because both redemption from sin and healing were to be dealt with through His work on the cross! Christ ‘carried away our sicknesses'(Mat 8:17). So WoF teachers claim sickness has been ‘dealt with on the cross’ and we should deny the disease – we are not sick:
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 (Benny Hinn in his book ‘Rise and be Healed’)
WoF teaches we are healed by our faith-filled words. It is true that Jesus said, ‘if we don’t doubt but believe what we say will be done, we will have whatever we say’ (Mark 11:23). Jesus often said to people: ‘your faith has made you well’ (Mat 9:22,29)(Luke 17:19)(Luke 18:42) and ‘believe what you say and it will be done’ (Mark 11:23)(Mat 17:20). Our words and faith are important, and it is impossible to please God without faith (Heb 11:6). So why not simply claim this; why not have strong faith in the scriptural words we say and deny any reality of sickness in our bodies – we were healed 2,000 years ago?
The answer, and the subtle deception from false prophets, lies in how healing is viewed. Whilst speaking faith-filled words seems biblical, it is only part of the picture. Where is God in all this? Where does the healing power come from? Where is the Holy Spirit? WoF teaches that speaking the words themselves in faith is enough, and if healing doesn’t happen it is because of a lack of faith. This is a form of animism, where words and faith are seen as the power or force to perform the healing. Such an approach could be seen as a ‘healing method’ or ‘mantra’, even heresy. There is little acknowledgement of God or of the mystery of healing in WoF theology.
But the Kingdom is both now and not yet!
Theologically, we say the kingdom of God is both now (in healing power) and not yet (in on-going sickness). The kingdom of God has not yet fully come upon the earth (Luke 21:31) and we must be humble and acknowledge that some are not healed for reasons unknown. Paul had to leave his friend Trophimus in Miletus because he was sick (2 Tim 4:20). Maybe Paul had prayed but clearly Trophimus hadn’t been healed at that time. Nevertheless, it is the mission of the church to ‘go and heal the sick’.
WoF teaching on healing majors on the biblical fact that Christ has already ‘carried away our diseases’ and so healing should occur when we say faith-filled words recognising this (positive confession). But it often fails to acknowledge that healing power comes from the Holy Spirit and not from what we do or say ourselves.
Acknowledging God in Healing
Let’s follow through on the point that God often seems be left out in WoF ‘healing theology’.
- WoF doesn’t agree with asking God for healing – these false prophets say we should simply speak faith-filled words
- WoF says: ‘Jesus told us to heal the sick, not pray for the sick’
Clearly, this directly contradicts scripture: ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick’ (Ja 5:14-15).
Always look to Christ
The truth is that, although Christ took away our sins, we still need to look to Him before we are saved (John 3:14-15). Similarly, although Christ took away our sicknesses (gave us victory over sickness), we still need to look to Him for our healing. The woman with an issue of blood was healed by her faith releasing power from Christ, and Christ alone (Mark 5:28-34). Paul, with his strong faith didn’t simply speak the words of Isa 53:5 to heal his ‘thorn in the flesh’; rather he pleaded with God to take it away (2 Cor 12:8). When confronted with a sick man, Paul first prayed (sought God), and then laid his hands on him and healed him using the power and authority Christ had given His church (Acts 28:8). Peter didn’t simply speak words of faith, rather, he knelt down and prayed before turning to the dead Dorcas (Tabitha) and saying ‘Tabitha, arise’ (Acts 9:40). These instances contradict WoF healing theology; besides having faith in the words we speak, we must always acknowledge God in the healing!
Jesus Himself said: ‘whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them’ (Mark 11:24) – and this must include healing. Here, Jesus links our words and our faith to prayer and reaching out to God. So it is OK to pray (ask God) for healing! Jesus also said,
Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my Name He will give it to you’ (John 16:23)
Asking the Father ‘in the name of Jesus’ really means we come in His stead against the sickness, just as though Jesus Himself is there to heal. Our words and our faith alone are insufficient; we must acknowledge the healing power of the Holy Spirit acting through us when we stand proxy for Jesus over a sick person. Peter understood this when he said:
Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed (Acts 9:34)
He didn’t say ‘Aeneas, repeat Isiah 53 verse 5 and have strong faith in the words you say’!
Moreover, it is important to give glory to God (Luke 17:18) when healing takes place. God ‘stretches out His hand to heal and signs and wonders are done through the name of Jesus’ (Acts 4:30). Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the healer (not our words or faith) and He must be given all the honour. Man is simply Christ’s instrument through whom healing is sometimes administered.
A subtle deception in WoF teaching on healing is the reliance upon speaking the word in strong faith (supposedly releasing power). Faith is turned into a matter of personal mastery over spiritual laws. Whilst this faith is often claimed to be ‘Godward and not toward man’, in practice people often fail to directly honour God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit’s power in the healing.
A Pentecostal Perspective on the WoF movement acknowledges that it embraces the gifts of the Holy Spirit. To quote:
The acceptance of spiritual gifts as an inheritance of the Body given by the Spirit of God for the empowerment and edification of all its members is a strong plus for the Word of Faith movement
And those involved directly in WoF ‘ministry’ acknowledge the need for the Spirit’s presence:
- No one can have an effective life or ministry without the power of God’s Holy Spirit working in him or her’
- One of the biggest reasons that the body of Christ hasn’t made a greater impact on our generation today is because of our failure to operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit
- It is imperative that we learn to recognise and flow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit
All this seems entirely scriptural; we must move in the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-11). Any healing ministry must recognise the importance of the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, discernment, faith and healing. The gifts may be transient – for the immediate situation (1 Cor 12:11) – or someone may be present with a healing ministry. The gifts may give a special revelation from God about the situation and reveal hidden problems that need dealing with before healing can take place. They may give instruction as to how to pray and what to pray for.
But how does this work out in practice? Some WoF teaching says:
- It isn’t up to God to determine who receives healing; it’s up to us!’
In a sense this is true: we must obey Christ’s command and ‘heal the sick’. It seems little happens unless God’s church moves! But is healing entirely up to us? What about God’s will in a situation as revealed by the Holy Spirit? It has been said:
WoF theology sees the Holy Spirit as a power to be put to use for whatever the believer wills. In contrast the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a Person who enables the believer to do God’s will
The latter view is in line with classical Pentecostal teaching. Here, spiritual gifts of healing are seen as a divine enablement coming from God’s divine intervention and not the result of some latent natural gifts, talent or acquired training one can enter into at will. So it seems that, while acknowledging the reality of spiritual gifts, WoF ‘ministry’ actually focuses more reliance upon less-inspired confession sessions claimed to be the definitive source for healing.
Clearly, some grace and humility is required here and we must move as the Spirit moves, not by our own will.
Deception occurs when some WoF followers simply forget to listen to the Spirit and take the situation into their own hands. They seem to rely heavily upon their faith-filled words and little upon the moving of the Spirit. There is arrogance rather than compassion and grace. Beware of false prophets!