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Is the Word of Faith Movement Legitimate?

This week’s question asks about the “word of faith” movement of such preachers as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and the like. “In your opinion, are their beliefs flawed?”

First we’d need to define what we’re talking about when we speak of the “word of faith” movement. There are two different understandings about this movement. (1) There are those who claim to receive a “word from God” about this person’s life or another, similar to how one might suspect the prophets of old spoke to the kings and nations. These “words from God” generally include a message of hope, perhaps about an illness, a relationship, or some burden, and a call to belief in the power/promise that God has made regarding that message. (2) Although related to the first, a second understanding relies on the “promises” in the Bible rather than the spokesperson’s words.

A second observation: It is a dangerous thing to look at anyone’s ministry and write it off as less than authentic. Far too often I have heard people speak critically about someone’s ministry and the words of Jesus come back to haunt me: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin—for they had said, ‘Jesus has an unclean spirit’” (Mark 3.29-30). In other words, it’s important to be careful about relegating what could be the work of God’s Spirit to any other source. Personally, I will not speak against the any “ministry” unless there is no doubt that what they are doing is evil (Jim Jones in Guyana is one of the few who comes to mind). Indeed, even when a minister falls into sin, such as some of our more infamous television evangelists have done, it is at best unwise to discount their ministries, for only God knows whether or not God used that ministry for good.

So, what of the “word of faith” movement? What does the Bible say about it?

As I searched the scriptures of how prophets interacted with the people of their day, I discovered that in the vast majority of cases, God seldom had the prophets bring a “word of God” to an individual for a personal “consultation.” Throughout the scriptures, nearly all the “words of God” that were brought by the prophets were delivered to either the leaders of nations, the leaders of religious orders, or to the nations as a whole. In only rare instances did God send a prophet to an individual with a message of “God tells me you will be healed if….” 

Similarly, when Jesus and his disciples were performing healing ministries, Jesus didn’t call together the crowd and then name the sins or the ailments of the crowd and then have them come to him. Instead, Jesus either went to one who had quietly come to be in Jesus’ presence (Luke 14), or someone came to him asking for healing (Matthew 9.27; Matthew 14.36; Luke 5.18f; et al). 

Which is not to say that God couldn’t speak to one about an individual’s need, and it’s not to say that the word, healings, etc., are phony (I’m not going up to Evander Hollifield and tell him God didn’t heal him). But it is to say that there’s little biblical evidence to suggest that God typically works that way.

As to the “word of faith” when it comes to claiming the “promises” of the Bible: it’s a dangerous thing to use the Bible to manipulate God. The biblical writers made broad promises to those who believe and the Bible does say that if you believe, God will act on your behalf (Matthew 17.20; 21.22; Mark 11.24; John 14.12; 1 John 5.14-15; et al). The problem isn’t in believing that God has made promises, or even that God may keep the promises others have made on God’s behalf. The problem is when we decide that “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it”; therefore, God has to do what I have asked God to do. That attitude puts us in control—a place followers of Jesus aren’t allowed to be. God is God and God will do what God decides—otherwise, God is our puppet.

Another problem is the tendency of the “word of faith” movement to elevate the Bible beyond its scope. The Bible may have the words of God, but the Bible isn’t God. Just because I read a verse and believe this is what God is going to do, that doesn’t necessarily make it so. The Bible and God just doesn’t work like that. Those who chose to use the Bible as their “ruling book” (all the rules apply absolutely), need to be willing to embrace all the promises in the Bible—like no one who has been circumcised can claim Jesus for salvation (Galatians 5.2), that no one with any possessions can be a follower of Jesus (Luke 14.33—quote this one when someone claims that if you send them money God will repay with interest), and that women receive salvation by having babies (1 Timothy 2.15).

The “word of faith” movement has many proponents and there are indeed scripture verses to support the concept. But the Bible can be twisted to say almost anything. In my opinion, since that is what was asked for, it’s best to get about the business of living the commands of God rather than in flaunting the promises of God. It seems to me the one thing we can count on is that if we are faithful in obedience, God will be faithful in return.

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