The Modern Faith Movement
A number of years ago, a stranger came to my door. He was a little different than most – what I might call a left-over from the hippie era. He asked if he could speak to me about a very important matter. It concerned a young woman of my congregation who a number of months earlier had become seriously ill and had passed away. This stranger had a passing acquaintance with the young woman who had passed away. Yet when he heard the circumstances of the young woman's death, he felt it necessary to speak with me.
According to this stranger, I, her pastor, was to blame for her death. I was guilty because I did not preach the full gospel; had not trained this young sister to use her faith to its full potential. There followed a long discussion wherein I confronted the Modern Faith Movement.
Years later I came across a book1 which saves the history and an explanation of the Faith Movement. After my earlier experience, how could I pass by such a book! My interest was aroused. I wanted to learn more about this "other gospel."
What does the Faith Movement Teach?
In brief, the Faith Movement teaches that we can ask anything we want from God, and if we truly believe it He will grant it to us. Health and prosperity are blessings which God makes available to all people, but must be accepted through faith.
The Faith Movement was conceived because of a peculiar understanding of Mark 11:23-24 which reads:
For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.
Seldom if ever has there been a gospel that has promised so much, and demanded so little. The Faith Gospel is a message ideally suited to the 20th century … Christian. In an age … characterised by complexity, the Faith Gospel gives simple, if not revelational answers. In an economy fueled by materialism and fired by the ambitions of the "upwardly mobile," the Faith Gospel preaches wealth and prosperity. The Faith gospel promises health and long life to a world in which death can come a myriad of different ways … Little wonder that armed with such a gospel the Faith Movement has grown …2
The History of the Faith Movement
The father of the Faith Movement was Essek William Kenyon, born on April 24, 1867 in New York. His mother is said to have been a devout Christian, and Kenyon himself became a professing Christian somewhere between the age of 15 and 39 years. He first joined the Methodist Church, but later switched his membership to an independent Baptist church.3 Kenyon became disillusioned with the ministry of the established churches. He felt that they failed in their healing ministry because of a dangerous anti-supernaturalism. The Christian religion, he felt, had become nothing more than the preaching of pious platitudes and ethical demands. While stressing a holy life, the Christian faith had been emptied of its power to grant a happy life of health and prosperity. At the same time, he saw the tremendous growth that certain cults enjoyed, such as Christian Science and New Thought.4 Though he acknowledged that these cults had various errors, he felt that their healing doctrine was in accordance with Scripture. From these cults he borrowed the doctrine of healing and prosperity, and blended it with the fundamentals of the Christian faith. The hybrid became the seed of the Faith Movement.
The doctrine of the Faith Movement was formulated by Kenyon, but became popular through the efforts of Kenneth Haggin. Haggin, born in 1917 in Texas, was a sickly child. As he grew, his health deteriorated more and more to the point where he was bedridden and near to death. While on his sickbed he claimed to have received a revelation from God which gave him greater understanding into the meaning of the words of Mark 11:23-24. From his new understanding of this text, he learned how he could obtain complete recovery through faith.5 During the course of his life, Haggin claimed to have had eight personal visitations from Jesus, and more visions than could be written in a book.6 In these visitations and visions he received greater understanding of God's will for His people, namely, that all His people should be healthy and wealthy. Haggin recounts:
Then the Lord said this to me, which is not just for my benefit, but for yours, 'If you will learn to follow that inward witness, I will make you rich … I am not opposed to my children being rich. I am opposed to their being covetous.'7
Haggin went out to preach the gospel as he had come to understand it. He was an effective evangelist and many were converted to his gospel. In 1988 there were approximately 100 Faith Churches, and more than 700 ministers who preached the doctrine of the Faith Movement in other established churches.8 Many charismatic churches, such as the Pentecostals and Assemblies of God, are increasingly moving in the direction of the Faith Movement.9 At the same time, many mainstream churches are moving in a more charismatic direction. The end result is that the Faith Movement is beginning to infiltrate many other evangelical churches.
The Doctrine of the Faith Movement
What makes the Faith Movement so appealing is the promise which they teach, the promise of health and wealth.
The teachers of the Faith Movement teach that whatever we ask of God in faith we will receive. They rally themselves under various mottos, such as:
Name it – claim it; Confess it – possess it; Believe it – receive it!
I believe that it is the plan of God our Father that no believer should ever be sick. It is not – I state boldly – it is not the will of God my Father that we should suffer which cancer and other dread diseases which bring pain and anguish. No! It is God's will that we be healed.10
Furthermore, they teach that no true believer should die before the age of seventy years. Another Faith teacher (Fred Price) wrote:
Your minimum days should be 70 years, that's just the bare minimum. You ought to live to be at least 120 years of age. That's the Bible. God out of his own mouth – in the Old Testament – said the number of your days shall be 120 years. I didn't write it! God said it! The minimum is 70 years, and you shouldn't go out with sickness and disease then. The only reason people die before their time is because they do not understand how to exercise their faith according to the Word to prevent death, or they choose to die before time.11
When asked about infants who die because of disease, he responded by saying that it was because of the lack of faith of the parents. The Faith Movement maintains that sickness is a spiritual disorder which is made manifest in the body. Because it is a spiritual disorder, healing can only come by way of faith, and not by way of doctors and medicine. The cure to sickness is spiritual, and not physical. In fact, these two are opposed to each other. True believers will not go to doctors or use medicine.
Regarding wealth, the Faith theology teaches that if a man is poor, he has only himself to blame. Since Christ died to redeem man from poverty, Kenyan insists that "it is abnormal for believers to be in bondage to poverty so that they have to go to the World for help." A man is poor, whether Christian or non-Christian, for one reason: he dishonours God … The believer who is poor dishonours God because he has failed to appropriate the deliverance from poverty provided for in the atonement.12
Haggin teaches that God not only wants to deliver believers from poverty. "He wants His children to eat the best, He Wants them to Wear the best clothing, He wants them to drive the best cars, and He wants them to have the best of everything. Nothing is too good for the 'king's kids."13
Fred Price, for example, teaches that God not only wants to provide the believers' need of transportation; he wants to provide any (and every) luxury automobile the believer so desires.14 Name it; claim it!
The Power of Faith
That God wants to deliver men from sickness and poverty does not mean that everyone will be delivered from sickness and poverty. There is a definite requirement, which is as we expected: faith.
But what is faith? Faith is a Positive Mental Attitude. Faith is having a positive outlook in a given situation. But faith is more. Faith is a matter of believing and confessing. And both of these elements are necessary in order to receive the blessings of health and wealth.
Faith, according to the Faith Movement, can be characterised as a formula, not unlike magical formulas. Haggin wrote,
In the spiritual realm God has set into motion certain laws, just as He set laws in the natural realm. Those laws in the natural realm work, don't they? Just as you get into contact with those natural laws or put them into practice they Work for you. Over in the spiritual realm the same thing is true. I have come to the conclusion that the law of faith is spiritual law, that God has put this law into motion, and that as surely as you come into contact with it, it will Work for you.
Thus, anybody, Christian or non-Christian, can plug into this universal law of faith and get "results."
It used to bother me, explains Haggin, when I'd see unsaved people getting results. Then it dawned on me what the sinners were doing: they were cooperating with the law of God – the law of faith.
Since the law of faith is impersonal, just like the law of gravity, it works regardless of who the person is or where he or she stands with Christ.15 Haggin claims that Jesus appeared to him in a vision and said, "If anybody, anywhere, will take these four steps or put these four principles into operation, he will always receive whatever he wants from Me or God the Father." With these "steps," Jesus said to Haggin, "You can write your own ticket with God." The four steps that Jesus gave to Haggin were: 1) "Say it, 2) Do it, 3) Receive it, and 4) Tell it."16
One's mental attitude determines what one believes and confesses, and what one believers and confesses determines what one gets from God.17 A negative confession can effect [produce -AvD] as much evil as a positive confession can effect [produce – AvD] good. In Faith theology, "What you say is what you get." Kenyon writes,
It is what we confess with our lips that really dominates our inner being … [People] confess their fear and they become more fearful. They confess their fear of disease and the disease grows under the confession.18
Faith is essentially a creative power, according to the Faith Movement, a power which can be compared to God's creative power. By speaking the word and believing that He had the power to bring it forth, God created all things. He commanded that there should be light, and it was. Like God, man can do something similar. He makes a positive confession, and it comes to pass. Reference is made to Romans 10:10:
For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Another Faith teacher (Kenneth Copeland) writes, Faith is a power force. It is a conductive force. It will move things. Faith will change things. Faith will change the human body. It will change the human heart. Faith will change circumstances … The force of faith is released by words.
Here again we see the power of making a positive confession. Or to use the words of Norman Vincent Peale, here is the power of positive thinking.
Revelation Knowledge vs. Sensory Knowledge
Another distinctive teaching of the Faith Movement is the contrast which is made between revelation knowledge and sensory knowledge.
Sense knowledge is the knowledge that comes through the five physical senses and is the source of all scientific and rational knowledge.
Revelation knowledge is transcendent, supra-sensory knowledge which comes from God through the Bible and is the source of all spiritual.19
These two are incompatible. They are opposed to each other. This contrast is especially important in the realm of sickness and healing, to explain why one still experiences pain after praying for healing. The symptoms of disease or illness can remain, even though healing has been granted. These "symptoms of illness are spiritual decoys with which Satan is attempting to trick, the believer into making a negative confession, thereby forfeiting his healing." Thus Kenyon advises believers to hold to their confession of healing no matter what they, or anybody else, perceive their symptoms to be. He writes,
Confession always goes ahead of healing. Don't watch symptoms – Watch the Word; and be sure that your confession is bold and vigorous. Don’t listen to people. Act on the Word. Be a doer of the Word. It is God speaking. You are healed. The Word says you are. Don't listen to the senses. Give the Word its place. God cannot lie.
Evaluation of the Faith Movement
It remains for us to evaluate the Faith Movement, to see whether the gospel which they preach is in harmony with the gospel that has been recorded in the Scripture.
Does the Scripture promise that all believers will always enjoy health, and never encounter sickness? In the OT there are some texts which specifically mention that God will take sickness away from the faithful.
So you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will take sickness a Way from the midst of you. No one shall suffer miscarriage or be barren in your land; I will fulfil the number of your days.Exodus 23:25-26
And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and will afflict you with none of the terrible diseases of Egypt which you have known, but will lay them on all those who hate you.Deuteronomy 7:15
Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I Will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver h and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation.Psalm 91:14-16
Does this mean that no faithful Israeli would ever become sick? That cannot be the meaning of these words. Take the example of Job. No amount of clever manipulation of Scripture can deny the righteousness of this man. Yet it pleased God to afflict him with a loathsome disease. Even the patriarch Jacob became sick towards the end of his life (cf. Genesis 48:1) The child of the widow of Zarephath become sick and died, though she is portrayed as a godly woman (cf. 1 Kings 17:17). Elisha also became sick with the illness of which he would die (cf. 2 Kings 13:14). Think also of Paul himself who suffer physical weakness. In Galatians 4:13 we read,
You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
In 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul advises Timothy use a simple remedy to prevent sickness. He wrote, "No longer drink only water but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities."
Furthermore, Scripture declares that we, together with creation, groan because of the curse which lays upon creation and upon us, and we eagerly await the redemption of our bodies (cf. Romans 8:19- 25) which in this life are subject to decay (2 Corinthians 4:16).
In this context, the Faith Movement is horribly unmerciful towards adherents who do become sick and on the verge of death. No compassion is shown, nor words of comfort and encouragement spoken. Only exhortations! Only recriminations! Only accusations! In the moment of their greatest need, they are forsaken.
Furthermore, because of its opposition to doctors and medicines, people, young children included, die from curable diseases or ailments. Needless to say, the Faith Movement has left some people grievously disillusioned and laden with guilt.
Regarding wealth, it seems as though the Faith teachers have not understood even the elementary doctrine of Scripture. Christ said,
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart Will be also.Matthew 6:19-21
Christ said, "No one can serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). Yet in essence what adherents to the Faith Movement do is serve God in order to receive mammon.
Think also of the words of our Saviour towards people who were worried about receiving the material things they needed for life. Christ said,
Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.Matthew 6:33
In saying this, Christ taught His disciples that working for God's honour and glory was to be the goal of their life, and their daily necessities would be provided for them providing that they served God faithfully. The adherents to the Faith Movement, however, serve God only with a view to receiving, not just the things which they need, but everything that their eyes covet.
Solomon displayed the right attitude. He was given the opportunity to ask from God whatever he wished. And he made the right choice. God said to Solomon,
Because you have … not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honour, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days.1 Kings 3:11-14
The Power of Faith
When it comes to the concept of faith in the Faith Movement one can only lament that they rob God of His sovereignty, making God the servant of man rather than man the servant of God. It is no longer God, but man who determines what will happen in his life. It is no longer God, but man who determines whether he will experience fruitful or barren years, health or sickness, riches or poverty. Indeed, the Faith Movement unashamedly teaches that we become little gods who create the environment in which we live.
Furthermore, they have reduced the Christian faith to a form of magic. Whether one is a Christian or not, one can apply the law of faith to receive what they will by simply following the steps of the law of faith. By doing so they rob faith of its personal character, and reduce it to the performance of certain formulas. Scripture, however, speaks about faith working through love (cf. Galatians 5:6).
Paul said, … though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.1 Corinthians 13:2
Faith is always portrayed as a very personal relationship with God. Abraham, the father of all believers, was a friend of God from whom God hid nothing.
Revelation Knowledge vs. Sensory Knowledge
We might see some truth in a distinction between revelation knowledge and sensory knowledge, for we realise that man cannot come to a saving knowledge of God and of His grace in Christ by way of a scientific study. The senses which provide the mind with knowledge would never be able to acquire a knowledge of God from what it perceives in creation. The Spirit of God must enlighten man. But the two do not contrast. Once the Spirit of God heals our mind of its insensitivity and ignorance, our senses are able to discern the glory and wisdom and power of God manifested in creation.
The Faith Movement would make scientific knowledge and spiritual knowledge opposites. But that should never happen. Faith does not contradict science, nor does science contradict faith. To be sure, many scientists put forward the ones which contradict our faith, but these are merely theories which ignorant minds produce, and cannot rightly be called the result of science.
Neither should we deny the reality of the physical realm, as though the physical is opposed to the spiritual. The Faith Movement embraces the age-old dilemma between spirit and matter, between spiritual and physical, elevating the one and debasing the other. But God created man with both a spiritual as well as a physical dimension. These together make up the human nature, and are not opposed to each other.
There is one more matter that I would to consider, namely, the words of Christ recorded in the Mark 11:24-25:
For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says, vs. 24.
Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them, vs 25.
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
In a sermon, Holwerda says,
The impossible becomes possible. Because you know that the Bible considers a mountain as the epitome of what is firm or immovable … But the immovable moves. And the unchangeable changes. And the laws of nature must yield before those who Work in God's kingdom in faith. For you all understand: That not all our wishes will be fulfilled if we are assured of its fulfilment. But if in the fulfilment of our task in the kingdom we confront an insurmountable difficulty, the difficulty will not remain in the face of faith. For nothing is impossible with God, and thus nothing is impossible for the faith that serves God and leans on God and asks of God.
In Matthew 21:21 we find Christ on His way to Jerusalem. As He goes through Bethany, He confronts a fig tree on which there were many leaves, giving the impression of being a fruitful tree, but bearing no good fruit. The fig tree is undoubtedly a symbol of Israel, especially as displayed in the temple which Christ was about to cleanse. The leaders of God's people displayed a great deal of bustling activity (leaves), but did not display any real godliness (fruit), (cf. Micah 7:l; Jeremiah 8:13) Now as a symbol of God's judgment upon people who bear no fruit, God cursed the fig tree.
The disciples marvelled at Christ's power. Christ wished to teach them that one day they would be called to take over His authority of discipline. On Christ's behalf, they would have to utter His judgment upon an unfruitful life of God's people. Yes, and greater wonders would they do than curse a fig tree and thereby destroy it. They would be called upon to pronounce judgment upon those whose lives did not bear good fruit. But even more, they through their ministry would make barren fig-trees bear fruit. And there is nothing in their ministry that will be impossible for them.
Hendrikson says, Christ assures the disciples that no task assigned by the Lord is going to be impossible to perform when the person who receives the mandate is and remains in trustful contact with God. No burden will then be too heavy to bear. With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). "I can do all things through Him who infuses strength into me," says Paul.
In this context, the "whatever" in Mark 11 is not "whatever you wish," but Christ promises His disciples whatever they need to work fruitfully in the ministry to which Christ was calling them. Let it be clear: Christ is not promising to grant everyone whatever their "li'l ol heart desires," as the Faith Movement would have us believe. Christ is not promising to gratify our worldly lusts. He does not promise that each one of us will always enjoy health and strength. He does not promise that we will all have to 70 or 120. He does not promise that we will all enjoy great wealth and prosperity. But He does promise us everything that we need to fulfil the tasks which He has given us in His kingdom.
Parents may turn to God in prayer, firmly believing that they will receive the wisdom and the strength and the patience which they need to raise their children in the fear of God's name, and they shall receive it. And nothing will be too impossible for them as parents.
School boards and school teachers may confront what seems to be insurmountable difficulties, but if they turn to God in prayer asking for the discernment and the ability to operate a school, God will give it. And nothing will be impossible for the operation of the school.
Office-bearers may be faced with what appears to be an impossible task. Yet if they turn to God in prayer asking for the guidance of the Spirit and the strength to fulfil their office, they will be able to do all things through God who promises to strengthen them.