The Christian Church has always seen divergent groups arise from among its ranks that have emphasised certain doctrines to such a degree that they have become synonymously associated with their teachings. 1 Likewise, 'the health and wealth faith movement', sometimes also called 'the name it and claim it movement' 2 has arisen deriving its titles from its primary teachings, namely that all mature and spiritual Christians should be living lives of total success, health and wealth, attained through positive confession. In addition to these beliefs, many observers have discerned other doctrines peculiar to the movement that have deviated from the beliefs of the traditional historic Christian Church. This essay will therefore seek to expound and evaluate the key doctrines of this movement.
Visualisation and Positive Confession
Visualisation and positive confession are of vital importance in the faith movement and are inseparably linked together as one spiritual law. 3 Copeland teaches that if a believer desires to have something it must be first visualised in the mind, then spoken into existence with the mouth. What is confessed will then come to pass. 4 Hagin teaches that if a believer wants to be successful over their circumstances they must confess, and confess positively. In doing so, faith's confession creates a positive reality. 5 Negative confession likewise creates a negative reality. 6 Modern faith teachers, such as Capps, continue to assert this doctrine and claim that eternal life, prosperity, and health can be born in the believers life, but they must first be spoken from the mouth. 7 It should be noted however, that God is not controlled by human thoughts and is not dictated to by the words of men. 8 Also, if Job, Jeremiah, David, Jonah and Elijah had commanded their situations by their thinking or words, they would have met with utter disaster because they all confessed negatively. An example of this is when Elijah asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4). His words, however, could not change his destiny and God took him to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). 9 If visualisation and positive confession automatically equalled possession there would be nothing to stop believers from writing like Shakespeare, having the thinking capacity of Plato, and being able to preach like Charles Spurgeon. 10
The faith movement's brand of divine healing is inseparably linked to its positive confession doctrine. For example, Hagin reflects on the many occasions whereby people who have come to him to be prayed for healing and speaks of praying over them and confessing in faith that they will be healed. However, when the same people come back to him and ask for more prayer, he tells them that they have denied their healing and the Word of God, nullified his prayer, and destroyed the effects of his faith through their negative confession. 11 Hagin teaches that it is a mistake to examine oneself after praying for healing 12 and that a person should accept the testimony of the Bible even if his or her physical senses indicate otherwise. 13 Hagin claims that if he had a headache, he would not tell anyone; and if someone should ask him how he was feeling he would reply "I'm fine thank you." 14 Such denial is probably the most dangerous aspect of the faith movement. To deny the symptoms of such discomforts as common headaches and colds, does not usually bring any serious repercussions, but in more serious instances, such as cancer (where an early diagnosis is vital in combating the disease), the denial of an illness can progress to such a point that it becomes terminal. 15 However, the faith teachers themselves do not regard their blend of divine healing as denial. On the contrary, Copeland states that healing always comes and that the problem is with our receiving not God's giving. 16 Concerning the many instances where believers are not healed, Copeland goes as far as to say that such stories are lies. 17 As a result of such teaching, Christians who are not healed often feel that they have not only failed themselves, but God as well. 18 But despite the words of the faith teachers, the fact remains that Christians often develop sicknesses and don't always get healed, regardless of their level of faith. 19 To deny such a fact not only results in a denial of reality but also of what the Bible itself has to say on the matter. For example, although the apostle Paul operated in the power of God to heal the sick (Acts 19:11), on many occasions he was unable to heal those closest to him (1 Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 4:20; Phil. 3:25-27). 20 Not only was Paul at times unable to see healing in the lives of his friends but even in his own life sickness was still a reality. Writing to the Galatians, Paul reminds them how it was because of an illness he had suffered that an occasion for ministry among them arose (Gal. 4:13-15). 21 Likewise, writing to the Corinthians he explained how his 'thorn in the flesh' remained even though He asked the Lord to take it from him three times (2 Cor. 12:7- 9). 22
Probably the text that is quoted most repeatedly by adherents of the health and wealth movement as a proof text to support their theology of healing is Isaiah 53:5 4-5. 23 But it should be noted that this text is referring primarily to the redemptive value of the atonement. Its major emphasis is on sin not physical sickness. 24 Hanegraaff points out that the Hebrew word for heal in verse 5 (raphah) is commonly used elsewhere in the Old Testament to refer to spiritual healing, not physical (eg. Jer. 3:22). 25 Although verse 4 does indeed appear to be referring to physical healing, it is given an important qualification in the Gospels. Matthew writes how the sick and demon possessed were brought to Jesus and He healed them and how this occurred "so that what was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah would be fulfilled" (Matt. 8:16-17). The healing that Isaiah was speaking of was therefore fulfilled during Christ's earthly ministry, before the atonement, and so cannot be used as a proof text to automatically guarantee a Christians healing today. 26
Although God does indeed heal today under the New Covenant, and does indeed respond to faith, the error of the faith movement is that they deny God's sovereignty and have attempted to reduce Him to a puppet who must always respond with healing. 27 In so doing they reject all prayers that are asked in God's will and boldly assert that by praying as such, one is actually calling God a fool. 28 But contrary to what the faith teachers say, Christ Himself prayed that God's will be done (Matt. 6:10; 26:39), as did His brother James (James 4:15) and the apostle Paul (Rom. 1:10; 15:32). It is the faith teachers themselves who are acting like fools in that they fail to realise that God, being God, can act as He pleases. The truth is, that as a result of the fall, all of creation groans under the curse of suffering (Rom. 8:19-21), and disease will only be fully defeated in the believers life when death is defeated with the coming of Christ and the general resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51-55). It is only then that the natural body, characterised by perishability, weakness, and dishonour will be raised imperishable, powerful, and in glory (1 Cor. 15:42-44). 29
In the theology of the faith movement, wealth is seen as evidence of God's blessing, while poverty is seen as a sign of spiritual failure. Tilton sums up the thinking of many faith teachers with the words: "Being poor is a sin." 30 The concept of sowing and reaping is popular in faith circles. Such texts as Galatians 6:7 are often employed to justify this teaching. 31 Duplantis, in using this text, explains that by planting a financial seed into a ministry, the believer can name what it is that they want in return and believe that they shall receive it. 32 Invariably linked to the belief of positive confession Duplantis claims that when one is seed planting in this way, failure to be specific in naming what is hoped for, such as a particular material possession or financial sum, can result in a failure to receive a harvest. 33 However, rather than a get rich quick formula Hanegraaff observes that Galatians 6:7 cannot be used to support the seed-faith concept of the faith movement. Rather than appealing to an individual's greed (cf. v. 8), in context the passage is clearly encouraging people to crucify all selfish desires (Gal. 5:21, 24) and serve one another selflessly (Gal. 6:9-10). 34
Avanzini thinks that one of the reasons why some believers fail to prosper is because their subconscious mind has been conditioned into accepting the tradition that Jesus was poor; and it is as a result of such negative conditioning that building faith for prosperity sometimes fails. 35 The answer, according to Avanzini, is to recondition the subconscious mind with the truth that Jesus actually lived in great prosperity. 36 By thinking like this, the believer is then free to receive his or her rich inheritance. 37 Avanzini arrives at this view of Jesus by citing John 19:23-24 to prove that the garment that Jesus wore at His crucifixion was a custom-made designer garment, the kind that kings and rich merchants wore. He also attempts to reinforce this belief by bringing to attention the fact that the soldiers who crucified Him cast lots over the garment. 38 Avanzini presumably believes that if Jesus was ministering today, He would be wearing an Armani suit and a rolex watch. 39 However, rather than being the 'designer clothes' of rich kings and merchants, Beasely-Murray shows that the kind of tunic that Jesus wore, although possibly made by his mother, was not particularly unusual in Palestine in the first century. He also reveals that the practice of casting lots for the garment was a common tradition. 40 Contrary to what Avanzini tries to prove there was nothing particularly out of the ordinary about the clothes Jesus wore.
If material blessings were in direct proportion to a persons giving or one's faith, wealth would be a slide rule for the measuring of spirituality and Peter, James and John should have become millionaires. But Jesus clearly warned His followers to be on their guard against all forms of greed and stated that one's life does not consist in the amount of material possessions that a person may have (Luke 12:15). 41 Jesus did not come to bring material and financial prosperity, rather He came to focus peoples attention on the value of eternal prosperity (Matt. 6:19-20). 42 Unfortunately, throughout history, the Church has seen two extremes where materialism is concerned. Early Christianity was marked by the rigorous ascetics and by the Church fathers who forcefully attacked all luxury and emphasised poverty as an important Christian virtue. But today the Church has sprouted a philosophy of the opposite extreme. Either extreme distorts the Christian life. The Bible clearly teaches that a balance in such matters is needed (Prov. 30:7-9; Phil. 4:11-12). 43
The Faith of God
According to the theology of the faith movement God, as 'a faith Being', is bound by the forces of the spirit world and can only operate through the force of faith. 44 This 'faith of God' concept, says Brandon, is unique to the faith movement and is one of the most peculiar and eccentric features of its theology. 45 Mark 11:22, 'have faith in God', is offered as a primary text to support this view and it is argued that the correct sense from the literal Greek is 'have the faith of God,' 46 an interpretation that appears to have escaped Christian scholars for the past 2000 years. 47 By translating Mark 11:22 in this way the faith teachers find themselves at variance with every reputable Greek scholar. 48 McConnell states: "In the NT, pistis (faith) is frequently followed by a genitive construction, and is always translated as an objective genitive: "Have faith in God." Jesus was therefore not asking men to have 'the faith of God' but simply exhorting them to have faith in God.49
At the cross, Copeland believes that Christ became obedient to Satan and took his nature (the nature of sin) upon Himself. 50 2 Corinthians 5:21 is cited as proof that Christ was 'made sin' and took upon himself the nature of Satan. 51 The faith teachers believe that Christ's physical death on the cross was insufficient to redeem humanity. McConnell reveals Copeland's belief that Jesus' shed blood on the cross did not atone for humanity. Instead, the atonement came as a result of His spiritual death when He suffered in hell at the hands of the demon hoards who tortured Him. 52 Copeland goes on to teach that Satan and his demons had forgotten that Christ Himself was not a sinner and had therefore dragged Him to hell and punishment illegally. 53 It is here that God the Father is believed to have had the opportunity to breath His faith filled words into hell and cause Jesus to be born again as the first-born from the dead. 54
The teaching that Jesus became one with the nature of Satan on the cross is not only blasphemous but thoroughly unbiblical. Although Scripture does say that the sin of humanity was laid upon (Isa. 53:4,5), or imputed to Christ, this is far away from the above interpretation. Concerning the phrase 'was made sin' Wilson notes that Christ was so closely identified with sin that Paul dares to go as far as to say that He was made sin. However, Wilson goes on to explain that although He exhausted the curse of sin, He was never personally defiled by it. 55 Hebrews 9:14 and 1 Peter 1:19 make it abundantly clear that on the cross Jesus was without blemish or defect. 56 As for Copeland's born-again Jesus doctrine, the word 'first-born' (prototokos) simply means that Christ has the pre-eminence and is therefore the chief agent of the resurrection. 57 It does not mean that Christ was the first person to be born again.
Believer's as gods
Faith theology teaches that God and man possess a common nature in that they are both spiritual beings. 58 From this the faith teachers go on to say that the only difference between humanity and God is that of degree, and not nature. 59 Hagin states that man was created as God's equal, in the same class of being as Him, and can therefore stand in His presence without any sense of inferiority whatsoever. 60 This teaching has been responsible for hatching a whole host of similar blasphemous statements. For example, Hagin has stated that "The believer is as much an incarnation as was Jesus of Nazareth." 61 Copeland likewise asserts "...when I read in the Bible where He [Jesus] says "I am", I just smile and say yes, I am too!" 62 That such statements are made by proponents of the faith movement should not come as any real surprise. When a person believes that they can get God to do whatever they desire, create reality with positive confession, and have full control over their circumstances, the next step of believing that one is a god is a natural progression. 63 It should, however, be pointed out that the rather unfortunate description of believers as 'gods' is used in some Christian traditions and is not necessarily heretical in and of itself as long as it is not intended to insinuate that humanity is equal with, or a part of God. 64
Various Scriptures are used in an attempt to justify the above teaching. For example, Treat, uses Genesis 1:26 to 'prove' to his followers that they are "an exact duplicate of God." 65 Interestingly enough this text is also a classic proof text of the Mormon Church to support their doctrine of men becoming gods. 66 However, the biblical teaching does not support the faith teachers (or the Mormon's) treatment of this text. The first thing that can be said about Treat's handling of Genesis 1:26 is that the text does not even say that believers are 'exact duplicates of God' but rather that they are made in the image and likeness of God. 67 The term 'likeness' (demuth) does mean similarity, but not identity, and therefore defines the limits of the word 'image.' 68 Although Christians are indeed sons of God by adoption, they are in no way equal with Him in nature (Gal 4:5-8). Only Christ can be said to possess the nature of God as the eternal, unique, and Only Begotten Son of God (John 1:1; 14; 18). 69
Even though the health and wealth faith movement continues to attract a following it has been seen that in many of its key doctrines it deviates from historic Christian belief. This is evident in almost every aspect of doctrine and practice, such as Christian living, the doctrine of God, the atonement, and anthropology. With regards to the movement's primary emphasis, health and wealth, although God does not forbid these things, the faith movement is guilty of over emphasising them to the point that one is given the impression that failure to attain success in these areas singles one out as a second rate Christian. In the final analysis, it can be said that although there are probably many genuine believers within the movement who are sincerely trying to live a life of commitment to God, they have sadly, like the Galatian Christians in the early Church, been misled into believing 'another gospel' (Gal. 1:6-9). It is therefore the responsibility of informed Christians to lovingly, and clearly, point out the errors of this movement in the hope that those who have been deceived by it will be restored to "...the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
© Spotlight Ministries, Vincent McCann, 1998
For Sources to this article go to: http://www.spotlightministries.org.uk/faithmov.htm