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What is the Word of Faith Movement?

HomeFalse TeachingsWhat is the Word of Faith Movement?

I’m often asked to assess what others teach. I do not do this lightly, but it is necessary. Before reading this page, or any of the pages about specific people, I recommend that you read What is a False Teacher?, which explains what the Bible says about false teachers, and why I would bother to research who they are and what they say.

The Word of Faith movement is a pseudo-Christian cult. While there is no central authority in the Word of Faith movement, and no official set of beliefs, adherents share a set of basic unbiblical beliefs about God, the nature of the universe, the nature of humanity, and more. At the bottom of this article is a list of Word of Faith teachers. Based on their stated beliefs, each should be considered a false teacher.

Word of Faith theology is strongly connected to the New Thought metaphysics movement of the 1800s. Among other things, Phineas Quimby taught that illnesses could be cured by right thinking. Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, was his patient. They both taught that humans are divine, and about the “law of attraction,” which are foundational doctrines of Word of Faith teachers.

E. W. Kenyon, considered the father of the movement, studied Quimby’s teachings, as well as Science of Mind, Christian Science, and Unity School of Christianity (all non-Christian cults). Kennith Hagin studied under Kenyon, Kenneth Copeland studied under Hagin. These three men are primary to the movement.

Word of Faith teachers combine a variety of unbiblical ideas. Because each teacher is independent, they might teach things slightly differently, but they all share the same foundational errors. Some of these false ideas include, but are not limited to, the following:

We should acknowledge that every Word of Faith teacher also says many things that are true. It would be unwise, however, to look the other way when lies are mixed with truth. To make their claims appear coherent, these teachers must twist Scripture and distort its obvious meaning… and go beyond what God has said to fanciful ideas about the spiritual realm.

False teaching leads to confusion about God, disappointment when misplaced expectations aren’t met, and – at worst – never actually being saved. While we should be very careful about labeling anyone a false teacher, the dangers of false teaching should not be minimized or ignored. The Bible warns again and again about false prophets and false teachers, so no believer should take such things lightly. The goal is not to say bad things about anyone, but to correct errors and teach clearly what God has said. Biblical teaching leads to increased trust in God, peace, joy, and new life.

Word of Faith is generally considered a branch of the Charismatic movement. Not all Charismatics are in the Word of Faith movement, but virtually all Word of Faith teachers are Charismatic. Unfortunately, these false teachers have become so prominent that they are, in essence, the public face of charismatic Christianity.

Faith is a force?

The name “word of faith” comes from the most basic belief of all Word of Faith teachers. Faith, they claim, is a force. Words are the containers of that force. When we speak faith-filled words, we release the power of faith and we get what we speak.

This is the same unbiblical claim made by all who teach the law of attraction. The idea is that speaking positive words brings success, health, and prosperity, while speaking negatively brings trouble, failure, sickness, and disease. This “law” has been promoted by self-help gurus and positive-thinking adherents from Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret to Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, and beyond. Napoleon Hill taught that “whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Common expressions include “name it and claim it” and the tongue-in-cheek “blab it and grab it.”

Kenneth Hagin is usually considered the father of the Word of Faith movement. His ideas have been adopted, repeated, and expanded by most Word of Faith teachers. Some call him “Dad Hagin.” Here are a few quotes from Hagin that express this ‘positive confession’ idea:

Quotes from some other Word of Faith teachers:

While there are hundreds more quotes just like these, you get the idea: according to Word of Faith teachers, we get what we say. This is a problematic idea, as it uses “faith” in a way that can be redefined in any way the teachers sees fit. When you combine the words of Scripture with new definitions, anything goes.

The tongue has power

A primary concept in the Word of Faith movement is that the tongue has power… that is, the act of speaking words out loud has a spiritual and, eventually, a physical effect on the universe. While Proverbs 18:21 does say that “the tongue has the power of life and death,” the Bible does not teach that our words alter reality. Proverbs is a book of divinely-inspired Scripture, but it’s a bad idea to make theology from wise sayings.

Here are some quotes from Word of Faith teachers on this subject:

God has faith?

According to Word of Faith teachers, this is how God created the universe. He didn’t exercise His own power, but activated the already-existing power of faith by speaking words that contain that power.

Because Genesis tells us that God said “let there be light” and there WAS light, they claim that God spoke faith-filled words to accomplish His goal. This unbiblical idea has a number of implications.

Redefining “faith”

First, the meaning of faith comes into question. The definition of faith is trust, or confidence, in someone or something. For example, you have faith that your couch isn’t going to explode when you sit on it. You have some level of confidence that the driver of the car coming toward you is unlikely to swerve into your path. If we trust someone who’s untrustworthy, or if our couch actually does explode, we learn that our faith may be misplaced. By these examples, we see that faith has two parts:

  1. Faith has an object: the person or thing we choose to trust, like our couch or another driver. There’s no such thing as “having faith in faith.”
  2. Faith includes some level of uncertainty, as our faith may be misplaced.

God cannot have faith. Why? Because God knows all things! God doesn’t TRUST that something will happen. God doesn’t have CONFIDENCE that something will happen. God has KNOWLEDGE… He already knows what will happen.

God is not the creator of everything?

Next, the unbiblical idea that faith is a force suggests that this process exists independent of God. The claim is that this is just the way the universe works; God uses it, and we can too. Hagin, as noted above, claimed that non-believers can take advantage of this universal law. It’s not God, or even faith in God, that makes things happen. To get what you want, you simply follow the formula.

Another implication of God creating the universe with faith-filled words is that He did not CREATE this process. He only taps into it, as you or or supposedly can… as non-believers can. That means that God is not truly sovereign because He is subject to this rule. If God doesn’t follow the process, He won’t get the results He wants. That also means that something exists that God did not create. That begs the question: where did this “law” come from? According to Word of Faith teachers, it’s certainly not from God.

We are little gods?

You and I can, they say, change reality itself by speaking in faith. This elevates humanity to the same level as God Himself. We can do the same things that He can do by using the same techniques He used. That’s a bold statement!

Let’s examine it for a moment. How is it possible that you and I can do what God can do? Why would Creflo Dollar suggest that we can create our own universe, just as God did? It’s all in their understanding of the nature of humanity.

We are, they say, “little gods.” We are, they say, in the same spiritual class as God. Many claim that Adam wasn’t “made in God’s image,” but was an exact duplicate of God. This elevates humanity far beyond what the Bible describes.

This is, of course, nonsense. It panders to our desire to be important, to be competent and self-sufficient and good. We are not those things without God’s help. On our own, we are broken, and unable to even come to God on our own. The Bible is clear that there is a gigantic difference between God and man… between Creator and His creation. We are not little gods, and no amount of Scripture-twisting rationalization will make us little gods.

The Ransom Theory

Jesus’ death was an “atonement.” That is, He died to make things right between God and man. History reveals a number of theories about the nature, scope, and extent of the atonement. More could be written on this, of course… but the Ransom Theory is the favorite of most Word of Faith teachers. It’s an entirely unbiblical idea, outlined this way:

  1. God only deals with people through covenants (agreements).
  2. God gave Adam dominion over the earth. Adam lost dominion to Satan when he sinned.
  3. That ‘locked God out’ of earth.
  4. To remedy the situation, God made a covenant with Abraham to regain access to earth.
  5. The culmination of that agreement was that Jesus would die to pay a ransom to Satan, who was the rightful ruler of earth.
  6. After He died, Jesus went to Hell and was tortured as payment for our sins.
  7. When payment was made, Jesus was born again and God regained dominion over the earth.
  8. This was how God tricked Satan into getting the earth back.

Of course, none of the above is biblically accurate.

  1. God does not always deal with people through covenants. For example, what covenant did God have with Pharaoh? None.
  2. God has always had dominion over the earth, and shared that dominion with humanity.
  3. God has always been able to do whatever He wants on earth. The Bible is chock full of examples.
  4. God’s covenant with Abraham was not to regain access to earth, but to work through Abraham’s descendants to bring salvation to the world.
  5. Satan is not, and has never been, the ruler of the earth… rightful or otherwise.
  6. Jesus was not tortured in Hell for our sins. His death on the cross paid the penalty for our sins.
  7. Jesus was never born again. That would imply that He had been destined to Hell for His own sin, and that He paid the penalty for His own sins to be born again. Jesus never sinned.
  8. God did not need to trick Satan… He is not a deceiver, but Satan is.

At its heart, the Ransom Theory claims that God is not all-powerful, lost a fight with Satan, tricked him to get His creation back, and can only reach His goals with man’s permission.

Demoting God, Promoting Man (and Satan)

Virtually every religion, and every pseudo-Christian movement, has a different description of God and mankind. Word of Faith teachers describe God in ways that make Him less than what the Bible describes, and describe humanity in ways that far exceed both Scripture and reality.

Continuing revelation

A common thread in the Word of Faith movement is that teachers often claim to have received private, personal messages from God. These revelations almost always change or distort what we see in the Bible. While God can and (I believe) does speak to believers, nothing that God would say to you or to me would contradict what He has already said through Jesus and His disciples. Unfortunately, many – if not most – of the claims to this continuing revelation from God turn out to contradict what all believers can find in Scripture.

It’s easy to conclude that these teachers claim to hear directly from God so that what they say will be accepted and believed… especially when the claims contradict God’s Word. It’s very common to hear Word of Faith teachers complain that those who criticize them are, by extension, criticizing God Himself… as though their words are God’s words.

A little truth mixed into a big fat lie

A lot of folks will point out that the words we speak do have an effect on how our lives turn out. This is true, but it’s only half of the story. For example, telling a child again and again that they not artistic is likely to discourage them from engaging in artistic activities. Telling someone over and over that you love them is likely to convince them that you do. We can all agree that what we say, and how we talk to others, can be a great encouragement or do incredible damage to one’s self-confidence. Our words often turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.

However: the other half of the story is that Word of Faith teachers turn this basic principle of psychology into a pseudo-spiritual principle. Rather than simply pointing out the effect our words can have on ourselves and others, they teach that words, when spoken in faith, create reality. This is, of course, nonsense.

First, if that were true, then God would not be truly God. Instead, God would be operating by rules He did not create. Picture this: God wants to create a cow, so He tries to speak a cow into existence. According to the outlines of Word of Faith teachers, His success rate would depend on 1) the amount of faith He has, and 2) speaking the words out loud. If He doesn’t meet the requirements, He would fail in His efforts.

Second, it that were true, then we really could have anything we want. All we have to do is “manifest” our faith by speaking the right words with the right mindset. Pretend for a moment that this is true… why then have Word of Faith teachers failed to manifest peace on earth, or a cure for cancer, or teleportation devices? Imagine all of the good they could do if they didn’t need to travel by private jet… they could arrive at their destination in minutes, with no pollution, and be home in time for dinner!

No, the law of attraction is nonsense… and dressing it up in spiritual clothes makes it spiritual nonsense. This teaching is entirely incompatible with biblical Christianity.

The prosperity gospel

While there may be exceptions, virtually all Word of Faith teachers teach a “prosperity gospel.” Salvation, they claim, includes more than forgiveness of sins and eternal life… it includes prosperity in every area. Some boldly claim that God wants us to be rich, while others couch their claims about money in a more general statement like “God loves His children, and wants them to prosper.”

There’s no question that God wants His people to prosper. The question is what God means by prosperity. Jesus offers us abundant life (John 10:10), but that does not mean that every faithful Christian will be financially prosperous. Jesus Himself had no home. He told His disciples to go out without money, relying on the hospitality of those they met on the way.

The apostle Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to take up a regular collection for the church in Jerusalem. Why? Because Christians in Jerusalem often lived in poverty. The churches in Thessalonica and Philippi were poor. Word of Faith teachers would, based on what they teach, have to conclude that these believers were lacking in faith. You know, Peter and James and John (leaders in the church at Jerusalem)… they somehow missed the lesson on speaking faith-filled words, and had trouble making ends meet. Paul – against the advice of folks like Kenneth Copeland – learned to be content whether he was well-fed or hungry, whether he was living in plenty or in want.

These promises of financial gain are very common among Word of Faith teachers, and they extend this idea to Jesus and His disciples as well.

It’s noteworthy that while Jesus healed the blind and the sick, and even raised the dead, we see nothing in the New Testament about Him giving anybody money. Jesus talked about money a lot, but most of those were warnings about relying on wealth for security.

Healing (part 1)

Another primary concept among Word of Faith teachers is that Jesus’ death and resurrection ensures – makes available – healing for every believer. That includes physical healing from sickness and disease, but also from poverty and mental illness. Usually one must, they claim, believe that healing is theirs… in spite of continuing symptoms. This system of not allowing any questions or doubts allows them to disqualify criticisms about healing by suggesting that the sick person lacked faith, had doubts, or didn’t confess their victory consistently enough.

The New Testament contradicts this view. While we are told to pray for healing, and we see that faith plays a part in whether a person is healed, at no point are we taught by Jesus or His disciples that being saved means that one no longer suffers from such things. On the contrary, we see in Romans 5 that “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” If healing is guaranteed for all believers, we would certainly not glory in suffering.

Word of Faith teachers make unbiblical claims about healing. A few quotes:

Healing (part 2)

It’s one thing to make the claim that following Jesus will bring healing from sickness and disease. It’s another entirely to show that the claim is true. Healing, some say, often happens gradually. When Jesus healed someone, they weren’t told to claim their victory over time, or to maintain a positive attitude to keep their sickness from coming back. Word of Faith teachers (along with other unbiblical movements like Christian Science), when confronted with people who are not healed, or with sicknesses that return, claim that the problem lies with the sick, not with the supposed healing.

With a few notable exceptions, the death rate for humans is still 100%. If physical healing was purchased for us on the cross, why would anyone with enough faith die? When we think carefully about this idea, we can see that Word of Faith teachers die just like the rest of us… regardless of what we believe:

The truth is that Word of Faith teachers get sick and die, just like the rest of us. If they can speak health into existence, why can’t they also speak youth into existence and become younger? Why can’t they speak longevity into existence, and live forever?

Weird Ideas

This section is a kind of catch-all for some of the wacky things that certain Word of Faith teachers have said. They might not fit into one of the categories above, but need to be included. When you claim that God is speaking to you directly, what you say must 1) make sense, and 2) match what we see in Scripture. This stuff is just crazy.

False Teachers and Concepts in the Word of Faith movement

  • A.A. Allen
  • Andrew Wommack
  • Benny Hinn
  • Bill Winston
  • Brian Houston
  • Charles Capps
  • Chris Oyakhilome
  • Creflo Dollar
  • Dwight Thompson
  • Earl Paulk
  • Earnest Angley
  • Eddie Long
  • EW Kenyon
  • Frederick KC Price
  • Jerry Savelle
  • Jesse Duplantis
  • Jim Feeney
  • Joel Osteen
  • John Avanzini
  • Joseph Prince
  • Joyce Meyer
  • Juanita Bynum
  • Kenneth Copeland
  • Kenneth Hagin
  • Kim Clement
  • Leroy Thompson
  • Marilyn Hickey
  • Mike Murdock
  • Morris Cerrulo
  • Myles Munroe
  • Norvel Hayes
  • Oral Roberts
  • Pat Robertson
  • Paul Yonggi (David) Cho
  • Paul and Jan Crouch
  • Paula White
  • RHEMA Bible Training College
  • Robert Tilton
  • Rod Parsley
  • Rodney Howard-Browne
  • Rory Alec
  • Steven Furtick
  • Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN)
  • T.D. Jakes
  • T.J. McCrossan
  • T.L. Osborn
  • Todd White
  • William Branham
  • … and more. Unfortunately, there are a LOT of people in the Word of Faith movement. Hopefully, you’ll be able to spot them quickly by comparing what they say with what other false teachers have said.
See the complete but incomplete False Teachers List

Disclaimer

Don’t bother commenting or emailing me about how I’m just wrong. It’s a waste of your time and mine. If you have something to say, include Scripture. I am far from perfect, and I can be wrong… so I don’t do any of this lightly, and I’m open to correction.

Don’t bother telling me how this person or that person helped you. It’s a waste of your time and mine. Nobody teaches lies and falsehoods all the time. In researching these topics, I’ve heard a LOT that I appreciated, and have been inspired by even those who are otherwise far from the truth. The number of times someone is right is irrelevant to the question of whether they also teach false things. We should appreciate anyone who teaches us the truth, but that doesn’t mean we should uncritically follow them when we see significant problems in their lives, in their ministries, and in their teaching. Neither your opinion nor mine matter here. What matters is what the Bible teaches, and whether those who preach and teach in Jesus’ name are teaching falsely.

If you can provide evidence that one of these people has recanted their false teaching, please let me know. I would love to amend their article to show that they have changed what they teach.

Finally: we who follow Jesus should not consider false teachers our enemies. If they’re not saved, we should pray for their salvation. If they are saved, we should pray that God will lead them to teach only the truth.

See also: a list of Bible Teachers I Can Recommend


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Comments

11 responses to “What is the Word of Faith Movement?”

  1. Jeffrey Combs says:

    I just came across this and I want to thank you for clearing up a lot of confusion I had about this list of preachers, now I understand how they mix some truth with a lot of false teachings, and it’s disturbing to know at how many people rely on these people for the truth. What you’re doing is a great thing and I hope this reaches a lot more people before it’s too late.

  2. Miles says:

    But its in scripture that words have power over our lifes? What is wrong when these people just tell this biblical fact?

    • Tony says:

      Miles:

      You’ve asked a good question, and I’m glad you did! Let’s look at Proverbs 18:21 and see what we learn:

      The tongue has the power of life and death,
      and those who love it will eat its fruit.

      This verse does say that the tongue has the power of life and death, doesn’t it? Yes. Now that we’ve established what is says, we can look at what it means. According to Word of Faith teachers, faith is a force… and words are the containers of that force. Speaking “faith-filled words” changes reality itself. That’s the claim. Let’s ask a few questions to see what we should think about this idea:

      • Can I use words to give myself cancer right now?
      • Can I use words to get rid of my diabetes right now?
      • Can I use words to change the shape of the earth?
      • Can I use words to turn myself into a hedgehog?
      • Can I use words to cause God to stop existing?

      Now, some of that might seem pretty silly… but none of those are out of line with what Word of Faith folks teach and believe. They’re just too chicken to make these kind of claims, as they know it would invalidate their ministries. You can look at the article above to see some of what they say, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If God created the universe using “faith-filled words” (as they teach), and if we are exact duplicates of God (which many of them teach), and if we can do what God did (which most of them teach), what CAN’T we do?

      No, Proverbs 18:21 doesn’t mean that our words can kill people or that they can give life. If that were true, you could kill me right now, from 5000 miles away. If that were true, you could raise my mother from the dead. What are those, compared to creating the universe?

      So… if it doesn’t mean that, what DOES it mean? It’s important to understand the context of any passage. Proverbs are simply wise sayings. They’re not necessarily prophetic. They’re not necessarily even true, as we would read them. They’re proverbs. While they ARE Scripture, they should not be taken as strict theological statements. Here are a few examples to show what this means:

      • A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.
      • Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.
      • The poor plead for mercy, but the rich answer harshly.

      Those are all from that same chapter. It’s clear that each of these statements is likely to be true, but not always. You can send a gift to Angela Merkel, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get to see her in person. You could cast lots with your enemy all day long, but they might not accept the results. The rich don’t always answer the poor harshly, do they?

      The problem with false teaching isn’t what the Bible actually SAYS. We can all open our Bibles and see the words. The problem is that false teachers interpret the Bible’s words out of context, leading them to make claims that can’t be examined closely. If you look at their claims of healing, you’ll see that most of them apparently take place over time, where the results can’t be seen by the crowd. Some healings can be undone over time, as they claim the person lacked enough faith. The power they say that’s in our tongues seems to work very gradually, doesn’t it? I’ve never heard one of them claim that their words would change reality NOW… just that they could change reality at some point in the future, if the conditions are right.

      That’s fraud, plain and simple. Do our words have power? You bet they do! Is it the kind of power that Word of Faith teachers claim? Not even close. Instead, we have to read books like Proverbs as they were written: as wise sayings about how life usually works, not absolute theological claims about the way God works.

      Does that make sense?

  3. Miles says:

    5. Satan is not, and has never been, the ruler of the earth… rightful or otherwise.

    See 2 Corinthians 4:4

  4. Sally says:

    When I read this article it sounds like speaking things into existence by our words could lead to superstition. Sort of like making sure you say “knock on wood” after saying something you don’t want to happen.

  5. Sally says:

    I have a question. Kenneth Copeland talks about the Law of Faith. He uses Mark 11:12-24. He said that in verse 14 that by Jesus saying of the tree “may no one eat fruit from you again,” that his speaking it caused the tree to die. They later see the tree has withered. Is the belief that speaking word into reality, works. God spoke the world into being in six days and he rested from his work on the 7th day. It sounds to me like the Law of Faith by his definition is works. It makes me cringe to hear Law and Faith in the same breath. He also clarifies verse 22 “have faith in God” as “have faith of God.”

    (Sorry I didn’t send you the video, but it’s on You Tube under “Law of Faith” by Kenneth Copeland. He talks about it at the first few minutes.)

  6. cecil raines says:

    Thank so much for this. Its really scary. Also I do not believe in a rapture. I believe Jesus comes back one time. Your thoughts

    • Tony says:

      Cecil:

      I appreciate your encouragement. I’m open to the idea that I’ve misunderstood Scripture… but I don’t believe those who teach the rapture are correct. I think they’ve misunderstood the Scriptures.

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