STUDY FOURTEEN: FAITHISM AND THE WORD-FAITH CONCEPT

© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015


The Biblical focus of faith is always God himself, but a persistent human error is to shift that focus from God to self.  Instead of God being in sovereign control, individuals see themselves as controlling the course of their lives either [1] positively, by their goodness and faith, or [2] negatively, by their sin and failure of faith. I am unaware of any single word given to describe this common misconception, so I am using the term ‘faithism’ because here faith focuses on itself.

Like legalism, faithism sees merit in human endeavour. In legalism my performance, that is, my righteousness, is seen as either obtaining or maintaining my salvation. In faithism, which is a form of legalism, my performance, that is the quality and quantity of my faith – my act of believing, is seen to determine if and how God will respond to my prayers and either give or withhold ‘blessing’.

But the focus on faith in sections of contemporary Christianity goes beyond this legalistic type of faith in faith. It is also an expression of subjectivism, existentialism and mysticism.

Schaeffer comments:

‘Probably the best way to describe this concept of modern theology is to say that it is faith in faith, rather than faith directed to an object which is actually there. … Modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself. So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its “size” as it exists against all reason, but that is all. Modern man’s faith turns inward.

‘In [Biblical] Christianity the value of faith depends upon the object towards which the faith is directed. So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history died upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time. This makes Christian faith open to discussion and verification.

‘On the other hand, the new theology is in a position where faith is introverted because it has no certain object, and where the preaching of the kerygma is infallible since it is not open to rational discussion. This position, I would suggest, is actually a greater despair and darkness than the position of those modern men who commit suicide.’ [Vol 1p64,65 – The God who is There]

MacArthur comments:

‘The faith of mysticism is an illusion. “Truth that is true for me” is irrelevant to anyone else, because it lacks any objective basis. Ultimately, therefore, existential faith is impotent to lift anyone above the level of despair. All it can do is seek more experiences and more feelings. Multitudes are trapped in the desperate cycle of feeding off one experience while zealously seeking the next. Such people have no real concept of truth; they just believe.’ [p30 – Reckless Faith]

In addition, and not surprisingly, having degenerated into a subjective, relative, mystical experience that scorns the need for any validation or authentication from the objective written Word, this modern ‘faith’ very quickly and easily takes on characteristics of both the New Age and the occult.

 

A. HOW CAN WE RECOGNIZE IF WE ARE TRAPPED IN LEGALISTIC FAITHISM?

The expressions of faithism are many, ranging from the comparatively harmless to the outright blasphemous; they all, however, distort our perception of how God rules the world, and erode the joy and peace that Christ died to gain for us. The following are expressions of faithism in its simple legalistic expression [we will be studying legalism later]:

I’m so sincere in what I believe …
I’ve served God faithfully all my life, so he ought to ...
I believe in God, what have I done to deserve this ...?
God is not answering my prayers so maybe I don’t have enough faith.
There must be hidden sin in my life stopping God from granting my prayer!
God won’t (and/or can’t) act unless I pray.
The size of God’s answer is relative to the size of my faith.
God won’t and/or can’t bless me while there’s sin in my life.
I’m a Christian, so I expect God to bless me with health and wealth.
My sickness is because of some hidden sin.

These all express a focus on my faith or my faith response [the presence of absence of sin].  We see in them the concept of my faith determining what will happen in my life. The ‘god’ about whom this ‘faith’ speaks is not the God of the Bible. The concepts of ‘faith’ and ‘sin’ differ from the Biblical concepts. Importantly, further thought reveals that each of these perceptions ignores, or fails to understand, the salvation which Jesus Christ gained for us through his sacrificial, substitutionary death.

 

B. WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TEACH IN CONTRAST TO FAITHISM?

Discussion points:
Discuss these statements about Biblical faith. Check out the scriptures. Comment on the difference between Biblical faith and ‘faith in faith’.

 

[1] God is the object and focus of our faith. True faith is always faith in him.  It is never faith in faith. The value of faith is in its object, not in itself.

 

 

[2] Sincerity alone never validates faith. There are millions all around the world who have sincere faith in some ‘god’ or some cause, but, in Biblical terms, it is ultimately valueless because it is placed in the wrong object (Isaiah 44:6-20; Jeremiah 2:11-13).

 

 


[3] The New Testament constantly calls us to faith in Christ, in whom alone the true God is revealed and known, and apart from whom the true God can’t be known. It is faith in Christ that has value in God’s sight, simply because it is faith in Christ. The God in whom the Bible requires us to place our faith is co-identical with Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ is faith in God (Romans 9:5; John 5:23; 10:30; 12:44-45; 14:6-11; 1John 5:20).

 

 

 

[4] True faith reunites the individual to God on the basis of two things: (a) knowing God by knowing Jesus Christ, and (b) having sin forgiven (so that it is no longer taken into account) through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ (John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24;  Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14).   

 

 

 

[5] Our faith is not an instrument with which to obtain the earthly ‘blessings’ we desire, but rather faith unites us to Jesus Christ in whom all the spiritual blessings heaven has to offer are already ours (Ephesians 1:3).

 

 

 

[6] Our access to the presence of God in prayer is never dependent on the quantity or quality of our faith or the sinlessness of our lives but on the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, through which we have boldness to enter God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19-23). Our access is always dependent on Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, forever, and never on ourselves. To propose that our sin comes in between and bars our access to God in prayer is to ignore or reduce the significance of the cross. To propose that some quality or quantity of our faith determines whether or not God grants our requests loses touch with the Biblical teaching that we relate to God in terms of Christ’s righteousness, not our own (1Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:4b-9). Only the one who approaches God destitute of his/her own merit, depending totally on God’s mercy, gains access into his presence (Luke 18:9-14)

 

 


[7] God’s response to our prayers, and God’s ordering of the amount of ‘blessing’ or suffering in our lives, is the result of his sovereign decision. It is not determined by the amount or power of our faith, nor by the sinlessness or otherwise of our lives. We do not control or limit God and God’s decisions by our faith or our sin. As it says in Psalm 115:3:  ‘Our God is in heaven, he does whatever pleases him.’ This is why the Lord’s Prayer instructs us to pray ‘your will be done’ (Matthew 6:10). True faith leaves the outcome in God’s hands. It does not, it dare not, demand a specific outcome from him who is the Sovereign Lord of all, who sees and knows all things. This is why Jesus himself allowed his Father the right to refuse his request: ‘if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’ (Matthew 26:39b).

 

 

 


C. WHEN FAITHISM DETERIORATES TO PAGANISM

We are looking here at an expression of ‘faithism’ called Word-Faith teaching. Here we confronted not one ism but a catastrophic conglomeration of many:  mysticism,  New Age pantheism and visualization,  subjectivism, hedonism, materialism, existentialism, legalism and more, all merged together and masquerading as true Christianity, so successfully that many in evangelical churches are being fooled.

The impact of this movement is by no means confined to Charismatic Christians, (indeed there are Christians within the Charismatic churches who distance themselves from its teaching, recognizing its dangers). Because some of the leading teachers of these concepts are also televangelists their influence is being felt across a broad spectrum of churches as people hear their deceptive messages in the privacy of their own homes, away from the guiding presence of their church pastors and Bible teachers.

John MacArthur states:

‘Word-Faith teachers owe their ancestry to groups like Christian Science, Swedenborgianism, Theosophy, Science of Mind, and New Thought--not to classical Pentecostalism. It reveals that at their very core, Word-Faith teachings are corrupt. Their undeniable derivation is cultish, not Christian. The sad truth is that the gospel proclaimed by the Word-Faith movement is not the gospel of the New Testament. Word-Faith doctrine is a mongrel system, a blend of mysticism, dualism, and gnosticism that borrows generously from the teachings of the metaphysical cults. The Word-Faith movement may be the most dangerous false system that has grown out of the charismatic movement so far, because so many charismatics are unsure of the finality of Scripture.’ [Charismatic Chaos, p. 290]

D R McConnell states:

‘There are many peculiar ideas and practices in the Faith theology, but what merits it the label of heresy are the following: 1) its deistic view of God, who must dance to men's attempts to manipulate the spiritual laws of the universe; 2) its demonic view of Christ, who was filled with "the Satanic nature" and must be "born again in hell; 3) its gnostic view of revelation, which demands denial of the physical senses and classifies Christians by their willingness to do so; and 4) its metaphysical view of salvation, which deifies man and spiritualizes the atonement, locating it in hell rather than on the cross, thereby subverting the crucial biblical belief that it is Christ's physical death and shed blood, which alone atone for sin. All four of these heresies may be accounted for by Kenyon's syncretism of metaphysical thought with traditional biblical doctrine.’ [A Different Gospel, cited on apoleticsindex.org.]

For many extensive quotes illustrating the teaching of this concept read Hank Hanegraaff’s Christianity In Crisis. For links to several excellent extended articles go to www.apologeticsindex.org and follow the ‘W’ link to Word-Faith Movement.

What is listed below is a very brief analysis with a limited number of quotes, which are taken directly from the writings of the individuals noted. Not everything noted in the points is illustrated in the quotes included.

C.1 How can we recognize the Word of Faith movement?

It is impossible to address every aspect of truth corrupted by this movement; the following are among the most common distortions that relate to their reinterpretation of faith and prayer:

Corruption #1: Our faith, (our prayers of faith, our word of faith, our ‘positive confession’), is a powerful force, with the same creative power as the word of God by which he created the world.

‘When you speak God’s Word from your heart, then faith gives substance to the promises of God. You faith frames your world daily. … When you speak God’s Word from your heart, then faith gives substance to the promises of God. … In the first chapter of Genesis you will notice that every time God spoke, creation took place. … Without words, there wouldn’t have been any creation. Your words create images and eventually you will live out the reality of that image.’ [Capps God's Creative Power for Healing, p11,14, 15]

Corruption #2: Our words of faith, our “positive confession” will create the reality for which we are praying. Our doubts, that is, our ‘negative confession’, our saying ‘if it be thy will’, will stop our prayers being granted.

‘Start your confession of faith before you see the manifestation of answers to your prayers. Believe you receive when you pray. Hold fast to your confession by acting as though it were already done. To be afraid to confess or act before you have it is to doubt God's Word.’ [K Copeland How to get answers to your prayers]

‘ … the Spirit of God said that we—you and I—cause what happens to us in life by putting spiritual laws into motion…. How do we put those laws into motion?  Through our mouths. Through the words we speak day after day. … Our confessions, spoken in faith, are the foundation from which God operates in our lives. [K Copeland, When Life Seems out of Control]

‘A continual affirmation of God’s Word in faith will build into your immune system a supernatural anointing that is capable of eliminating sickness and disease in a natural manner’ [Capps, p8]

‘What you believe and speak not only affects your body but your immune system as well. Your words become either a blessing or a curse to you.’ [Capps, p6,7]

‘Unbelief blocks Jesus from meeting your [financial] needs. … When you yield to fear and doubt, you forego the victory of faith. Faith is acting in confidence on the Word of God. Faith is visualizing as an accomplished reality the thing for which you are trusting God.’ [John Haggai, 10 Commandments for Financial Freedom, p4]

‘Don’t ever be ashamed in a time of calamity of crying out to God. Don’t be ashamed to say, “God, thank You for helping me.” Don’t start speaking unbelief when calamity comes. Stay on your faith and speak words of deliverance into that situation.’ [Gloria Copeland, The ABC of Protection]

Corruption # 3: We can, and ought, demand from God health, wealth and prosperity or success. These are the believer’s right. Failure to get them is because of inadequate or wrong faith, and/or sin.

‘You don’t deny that sickness exists, but you deny its right to exist in your body, because you have been redeemed from the curse of the law and delivered from the authority of darkness’ [Capps p38]

‘Where two people are united and are demanding in Jesus’ Name the healing of loved ones, their prayers are bound to be answered, because God watches over his Word.’ [Hagin, Seven Things Your Should Know about Divine Healing, p41]

Corruption #4: We must visualize what we pray for, and pray it into existence.

‘Believe that you receive your healing, and what will happen? You will have it! You see, the having comes after the believing.’ [Hagin p49]

‘All believers should thoroughly understand that their healing was consummated in Christ. When they come to know that in their spirits – just as they know it in their heads – that will be the end of sickness and disease in their bodies.’ [Hagin, p54]

Corruption #5: The Word of Faith god is manipulated by man’s faith, a god who has forfeited the right to rule the world. He is limited and controlled by human faith, and cannot act unless we release the force of our faith.

‘All my words are important! Not just what I say when I pray, but all the time. Our words are our faith speaking—either good or bad. I realized all my words are vital to my future. Not just when I pray, but those things I say all the time are opening or closing doors for God to work in my life. Everything I say should be in line with God's Word and my desires. In consistently speaking faith words lies the power of an overcoming life.

If you're saying "nothing's happening," then nothing's happening.

If you're feeling sorry for yourself and saying, "This always happens to me," and "I don't know why God's not doing something about it,"…then it will and He will not.

What you really believe is what you say when the pressure is on. If you want to find out if you are in faith or not, listen to what you are saying in the privacy of your own home. And know this: Even behind closed doors in the dark of the night, what you say matters.

Malachi 3:13-15 tells us God was listening when His people said, "What good does it do to serve God? You know, those rich folks down the road, they don't have any trouble." And God confronted them about their grumbling. He said, "Your words have been stout against me."

Don't let your words be stout against God. He isn't your problem—He's your answer! Release faith with your words and give Him something to work with.’ [Gloria Copeland, Words of Faith Come from your Heart]

Corruption #6: The incarnation and divine power of Jesus Christ were not unique. The believer is just as much an incarnation of God as Jesus Christ, and, if he/she has the right faith, can achieve all that Jesus did.

‘… through the new birth, we've been given the very nature and character of God (2Peter 1:4). Our spirits have been re-created in His image and all the spiritual forces found in Him have been imparted to us. We have His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23). We have His wisdom. We have the same anointing available for our minds that He had when He was here on the earth (1 Corinthians 2:16).’ [Kenneth Copeland, Your Destiny is Waiting]

 

In its demotion of God and of Jesus Christ the Word-Faith movement promotes and exalts the human: our faith is in control, not God.  We call the shots; we, by our faith, create our own health, wealth and success. Our access to God is not through Jesus Christ but because of the force of our faith.

In addition to these obvious departures from Biblical truth the word-faith teachers engage in a very subtle twisting of the Scriptures that gives their teaching a superficial appearance of authenticity. It is when one actually sits down and really looks at the way the Scriptures are being used that it becomes very apparent that this teaching is widely divergent from historic evangelicalism and even from straight Pentecostal/charismatic teaching.


D. WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY IN CONTRAST WITH THE WORD OF FAITH TEACHING?

In contrast to the self-centred, self-exalting emphasis of the Word of Faith movement, the Bible teaches:

1. God decides how to answer our prayers; we can demand nothing from him. The right approach is that of humble supplication, trusting solely on his goodness and mercy (his undeserved, unearned, loving kindness). Access to God in prayer is never our personal right; nor is it either merited or created by our faith. (Read Luke 18:9-14). Our only 'right' of access to God is his mercy given to us in Christ.

2. Faith has no power in itself. The power is always God’s power. The value of faith is never in itself, but in its object, the Lord himself. The Bible never teaches faith in faith. God hears the prayers of the believer because our faith unites us to his son, Jesus Christ, not because our faith has any innate power. Biblical faith is always faith in him.

3. Only God’s word has creative power. He is the Creator, not us. Our words, our prayers, never have creative power, irrespective of the strength or rightness of our faith.  

4. God’s response to our prayer lies in his sovereign will and purpose, not in our visualisation, nor in our ‘positive confession’. God is the Sovereign Lord, Ruler of heaven and earth. He calls the shots. He can never be manipulated by our prayers or our faith. As Psalm 115:3 states: ‘Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.’

5. The Lord told us to pray ‘your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10). He prayed ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ (Matthew 26:39b). According to Word of Faith teaching this is a negative confession. Yet Jesus, the Son of God, prayed it. Should we follow Christ’s example, or that of those who twist the Scripture to promote their perversions?

6.  The Bible clearly teaches that health and prosperity are not the believer’s right. The Biblical believer has no rights. Job endured every form of suffering common to mankind. The Word of Faith movement teaches that Job’s torturous experience was due to his sin, his wrong faith, his negativity. But the Word of God states three times Job ‘was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil’ (Job 1:1; 1:8; 2:3) with the last of these adding ‘he still maintains his integrity’.

God presents Job as a man of faith. Satan claimed Job’s faith was not genuine. When God allowed Satan to blast Job with suffering his faith proved to be genuine. Rather than Job’s suffering being the result of a failure of faith, his suffering came precisely because of his genuine faith, and was totally unrelated to personal sin. In Job 42:7 God states that Job spoke about him ‘what is right’. Job had the right understanding of God and his ways. Satan and Job’s friends, blaming Job’s suffering on wrong faith and sin, had it wrong.

We learn from Paul’s letters that sickness, poverty and suffering are an accepted part of the believer’s life. Our relationship with Jesus Christ does not remove us from earth. Heaven, when all suffering and tears will be ended, is not here yet. With all of creation we ‘groan’ waiting for that glorious day. (Study: 2Corinthians 4:7-18; 6:3-10; 11:23-27; Philippians 2:25-30; 1Timothy 5:23; Revelation 21:1-4; Romans 8:18-27.)

7. Jesus Christ is the one and only Son of God. He alone is God in flesh: this is the only incarnation. Similarly, the miracles he performed were unique to him: he did them by his own divine power. The apostles performed miracles in the name of Jesus Christ, not by their own power or the power of their faith. To teach that believers are incarnations of God, to teach that by the power of their faith they perform miracles, is to undermine the central fact of the Gospel: that Jesus Christ is the one and only, eternal, Son of God.
 

E. WHAT CAN WE DO IN THE PRESENCE OF FAITHISM AND WORD-FAITH CONCEPTS?

To protect ourselves and our families against these concepts we should:

[1] Have nothing to do with false teachers (2Timothy 3:5b).
Whenever anyone, no matter how powerful, or popular, or respected they are (Galatians 1:8,9),  teaches any of these ‘faith’ concepts, once we have searched the Scriptures and found these teachings to be contrary, we should do just what God tells us to do: have nothing to do with them. Turn off their television programs; refuse to read their books or listen to their cassettes; and avoid meetings where they are teaching.

We may feel these responses are hard and judgmental, but we are never told by God to follow our feelings. We are told to obey God, and he has already made the decision in the matter of false teachers: ‘have nothing to do with them.’ If we continue receiving their teaching we are choosing to disobey God.                                                              

[2] Know who Jesus Christ is.
An accurate understanding of who Jesus Christ is, will fortress us against the perversions of the Word-Faith teachers. Jesus Christ defines God. His revelation of God outlaws the little god of the faith movement. Just read and believe what Mark and John have written about Jesus, the Son of God, in their gospels, and you will find the puny god of this heresy both ludicrous and blasphemous.

[3] Understand the salvation Jesus Christ gained for us.
In Christ we already have every spiritual blessing that heaven has to offer (Ephesians 1:3). In Christ, we are complete (Colossians 2:10); in Christ all the failures, weaknesses and inadequacies of our lives are covered, cancelled, forgiven, hidden away, so that Paul assures us ‘your life is now hidden with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3). God no longer takes us into account: neither our sin nor the inadequacy of our faith makes any difference to our relationship with God or to his relationship with us. We have a mediator, Jesus Christ; he stands in between (1Timothy 2:5); we approach the throne of God, neither in our own name nor on the basis of our own merits or performance, but in the name of Jesus Christ, by whose blood we can enter boldly (without fear of rejection) into the holy, unapproachable presence of Almighty God (Hebrews 10:19-23). We rest in Jesus Christ; we have no confidence in ourselves. In that there is the fullness of peace, joy and satisfaction. Knowing this, being confident of this, we can cast aside as mere drivel the deceptive babblings of the faith teachers.

[4] Exercise Biblical discernment
We are told many times in the Bible to expect false teaching. That it occurs should not surprise us. Nor should it surprise us that it often comes subtly packaged in supposedly Biblical words and phrases. Nor should it surprise us that some within the physical church are deceived by it.

What is surprising, and also devastatingly sad, is that so many within the church have so little understanding of the true God and his salvation, that they have been so deceived by the twisted teaching of this movement as to accept it as God’s truth. The widespread acceptance of Word of Faith teaching indicates a great famine of God’s true truth right across the churches. Why should anyone who knows the one true God of the Bible desire the little god of the Faith movement? Why should anyone knowing they are complete in Christ subject themselves to the torturous striving for the powerful faith and sinlessness demanded of them by the Faith teachers? One must ask: ‘Have they really known and understood the true truth at all? And if not, who is to blame?’

[5] Put on the armour of God
The armour of God (Ephesians 6:14-17), understood from the perspective of what God has given us in Christ, rather than the perspective of something we must achieve, is a good starting point in the presence of any deceptive and destructive teaching:

Truth, God’s truth, Jesus Christ, in whom we know the truth about the Father.

Righteousness, Christ’s righteousness, by which we have legal acquittal from our sin and guilt in the presence of the Judge of all the earth.

Peace, by which we rest in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, in which we are assured that all of the wrath and enmity are taken away; in which nothing stands between us and our heavenly Father; in which peace we can stand accepted in the presence of God.

Faith, the gift of God by which we are united to his Son, Jesus Christ, in whom we are protected from all the condemning, guilt-inducing accusations of Satan and of our own consciences.

Salvation, in which we are assured of our complete forgiveness and reconciliation, in which there is no more condemnation, in which our sin is so borne by Jesus Christ that its penalty and judgement never have to be borne by us.

It is only having exhorted us to put on this armour that Paul then gives us four instructions to pray (6:18-20).

God’s armour protects and delivers us from faithism and word-faith. It outlaws the idea that our faith has power in itself. It outlaws the idea that sin comes in between the believer and the reception of blessing. The believer no longer stands in isolation, dependent on his/her own achievements (of faith or sinlessness) for granted prayer. The believer stands rather in Christ depending on his righteousness for access to the presence of God, and allowing God to either give or withhold, according to his sovereign decision. The Bible outlaws that our life and our future are in our words, and that our words have the same creative power as the creative word of God.

Let us cast aside the deceptions of faithism and word-faith, and honour Christ by making him, not our faith or our words, the object of our faith.

Additional study:
Read the Lord’s Prayer [Matthew 6:9-13 or Luke 11:2-4]. Study it carefully. Make a list of the boundaries that this prayer creates around [1] the appropriate attitude in prayer, and [2] the appropriate content of our prayers. Note that this prayer contains submission to the will of God – it does not leave room for God to be coerced by our will.]