The Word of Faith Movement and the Bible: A Mismatch of Misinterpretations

Word of Faith authors and teachers like Kenneth Hagin, Smith Wigglesworth, John G. Lake, T.L. Osborn, and others shaped my spiritual worldview in the days I began my ministry and faith journey in the early 2000s. These were upstanding leaders whose teachings and beliefs shook the foundations of society.

Reading Osborn’s “Healing the Sick” and Hagin’s “The Believer’s Authority” taught me how to pray for the sick and how to stand firm against the adversary, respectively. Reading about Smith Wigglesworth’s life in the pulpit and elsewhere has always pushed me to devote my life fully to Christ and to live by His Word, as he did. I dread to think of where I would be in life if I hadn’t been exposed to these individuals and this movement.

However, as my relationship with the Lord and His Word deepened, I began to see problems with the Word of Faith doctrine and the movement as a whole. Since many have been discouraged in this movement due to not understanding the whole counsel of God and not having a theology that included certain things that challenged their faith, the purpose of this post is not to dampen anyone’s faith but to bring a more balanced picture of the ways of God.

Acts 20:27 — For I did not hold back from announcing to you the whole purpose of God.

I’ve noticed that when we preach or emphasise one truth of God’s word to the exclusion of others, it becomes a mixture and yields both good and bad fruit, for instance, when we overemphasise grace or faith or when we place too much emphasis on outward holiness, we end up with legalism, and when we overemphasise God’s sovereignty, we end up with a form of fatalism.

To be clear, I’d rather hang out with hopeful believers who are actively seeking faith and victory than with discouraged Christians who are filled with disbelief and doubt.

Like most other movements, it also overemphasised a scriptural truth that had been forgotten by the church but returned to the Body of Christ. Some of us, like myself, “eat the meat and spit out the bones” after a few years and find a better balance as a result. Furthermore, I think Brother Hagin never approved of the excess that came out of the faith camp, notably the imbalanced teachings on wealth that emerged from some of his more extreme followers.

The Word-Faith movement makes twisted use of the Holy Scripture.

Despite claiming the Bible as their authority, prosperity / WOF preachers repeatedly misrepresent the Bible’s teachings.

2 Timothy 2:15 — Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.

In particular, people make these three frequent mistakes when interpreting the Bible:

1. They fail to consider the bigger picture.

You can’t just read verse 2 of 3 John in isolation; you have to read the whole thing, keeping in mind who it was written for and how it fits in with the rest of Scripture.

2. They base their understanding of the Bible on personal experiences rather than the Bible itself.

It’s typical for pastors like Kenneth Copeland to claim they heard God’s voice or saw God in a vision. This is not to say that the Lord does not still talk to individuals through dreams and visions. However, the Bible should be used as a measuring standard for all we go through in life. The Bible’s canon has been closed, therefore we must be careful not to tamper with it.

3. Instead of starting with the Bible, they start with their beliefs.

They create new doctrines that are pleasing to the ear but do not lead to godliness based on “dreams,” “visions,” “prophecies,” and other personal experiences. This happens in every generation.

2 Timothy 4:3 — For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things.

From my vantage point, the following are some of the problems with the Word of Faith ideology:

Disclaimer: I am aware that these are broad generalisations that may not apply to all people who identify as Word of Faith.

The gospel they teach is one of rights rather than stewardship.

Their interpretation of the gospel’s implications for human lives centres on those persons’ God-given rights, an outlook that may have been inspired by the tradition of individual rights that is so deeply ingrained in many nations. While this is partly correct, the New Testament also reminds us of the duties that come with the privileges we have in Christ.

Deuteronomy 8:18, for instance, tells us that God empowered believers to acquire money so that His covenant may be established on the globe. This chapter reminds us that personal gain should not be prioritised above the welfare of the kingdom.

Deuteronomy 8:18 — You must remember the LORD your God, for he is the one who gives the ability to get wealth; if you do this he will confirm the covenant that he made by oath to your ancestors, even as he has to this day.

Many in the Word of Faith movement used to “claim” homes and vehicles and try to use their faith only for their purposes, which is in direct opposition to the command to seek first His kingdom before our own needs and desires may be met.

Matthew 6:33 — But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

According to their dispensational theology, the Old Covenant has no place or significance in the Age of the New Covenant.

Many times during his sermons, Brother Hagin boasts that he did not bother reading the Old Covenant since the New Testament is so much better. The problem with his teaching is that he missed the point about the moral and civic law of God contained in Exodus and Deuteronomy, notably in the Ten Commandments, which were echoed by the New Testament authors either word for word or in concept.

Without God’s moral law, we have no basis for holiness, and we lack the sense of sin that comes from following that law. The Old Testament was only referenced by Hagin and his followers when it fit their theology. He often referred to Exodus 23:25, in which God promised the Jews that He would end their suffering by removing all disease.

Exodus 23:25 — You must serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will remove sickness from your midst.

But he failed to emphasise that, for optimal health, individuals needed to adhere to the stringent dietary regulations laid down in Leviticus 11. Therefore, the Jews believed that healing required both the acceptance of a divine promise and the rejection of ritually impure foods. I believe that maintaining bodily health also entails adhering to healthy food and a way of life; otherwise, we are tempting God by knowingly disobeying His natural rules and then praying that He would heal us.

Their understanding of God is rather dualistic in a Gnostic vein.

Preachers who teach the Word of Faith doctrine believe that God is good and the devil is wicked. I believe that God is good and wonderful, but I also think that occasionally He needs to bring judgment or allow things to happen that, to us, appear awful.

What do preachers of the Word of Faith deal with verses like Isaiah 45:7, in which God promises both prosperity and disaster?

Isaiah 45:7 — I am the one who forms light and creates darkness; the one who brings about peace and creates calamity. I am the LORD, who accomplishes all these things.

Or in 2 Samuel 24:13, when God gives King David the option of three disasters He will bring upon Israel because of his wrongdoing.

2 Samuel 24:13 — Gad went to David and told him, “Shall seven years of famine come upon your land? Or shall you flee for three months from your enemy with him in hot pursuit? Or shall there be three days of plague in your land? Now decide what I should tell the one who sent me.”

Or the verse in Amos 3:6 that states God will destroy a city sometimes?

Amos 3:6 — If an alarm sounds in a city, do people not fear? If disaster overtakes a city, is the LORD not responsible?

Isn’t it true that in the book of Job, God enables Satan to cause Job bodily suffering in the form of boils in addition to other forms of disaster?

Job 42:10 — So the LORD restored what Job had lost after he prayed for his friends, and the LORD doubled all that had belonged to Job.

In light of Job 42:10, where God is said to have reversed Job’s captivity, and Luke 4:18, where Jesus is said to have set the captives free, I recall Brother Hagin teaching that Job doesn’t count in the New Covenant.

Luke 4:18 — “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed,

But the book of James brings Job’s tale into the New Covenant for the church age to teach us about God’s ways and dealings, so it’s not quite that simple.

James 5:11 — Think of how we regard as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and you have seen the Lord’s purpose, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

This shows Job is not a myth or a fairytale, nor a metaphor. Also, without Job, Christians who suffer the sudden death of a loved one or other catastrophic losses would have no comforting words to offer. As a Bible teacher, I find solace in Job because it reminds me that God is in control of all circumstances, good and evil, even when this seems counterintuitive. The fact that God never explained to Job why He permitted such tragedy to occur just compounds the mystery.

Finally, what does the Word of Faith proponents make of Revelation 2:22-23, in which Jesus predicts that He would lay some people down with disease and even kill some of them?

Revelation 2:22-23 — Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds. Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, and then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve.

The simplistic dualism that they preach is contradicted here. Now, let me be the first to emphasise that God’s general desire as revealed in the gospels is for divine health, that He always wants us to be healthy in spirit, soul, and body. However, those who adhere to the Word of Faith movement have such a limited understanding of the Bible that they provide no answers for the unexplained events that occur in our lives and test our faith.

It’s not always accurate to suggest that a person’s poor fortune was due to their sin or that they weren’t cured or that awful things occurred to them because they didn’t have enough faith.

John 9:1-3 — Now as Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him.

Disobedience, which removes people from beneath the Lord’s protection, is the cause of disease and death in the two cases when Jesus brought it.

Psalms 91:1 — As for you, the one who lives in the shelter of the Most High, and resides in the protective shadow of the Sovereign One 

1 Corinthians 11:30 — That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead.

In conclusion, God still wants to bless us with health and prosperity if we obey His instructions.

There is a link between positive confession and Christian hypocrisy and superficiality.

In my experience, there are many Christians who are reluctant to open out about the difficulties they’re facing in their faith. The result is captivity and, in some cases, a fake religion. When asked how they are doing, some Christians respond robotically, “I am blessed and highly favoured,” or “Don’t speak negative, speak positive,” But I know some of these people, and all they’re doing is trying to maintain a positive outlook even if everything around them is crumbling.

Now, I do think that we should apply God’s word to our difficult situations instead of falling into negative conversations. James 5:16, on the other hand, instructs Christians to confess their sins to one another, therefore both teachings are at odds.

James 5:16 — So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.

As long as one does not let the desire for a positive confession prevent them from seeking pastoral guidance and being open with other Christians when they need prayer, positive confession is healthy and biblical.

Proverbs 18:21 — Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love its use will eat its fruit.

They believe that generosity alone may bring about success.

One of the problems with the Word of Faith movement is that it only teaches people one side of wealth, even though the Bible teaches that we reap what we sow and that if we give, it will be given back to us. I think it’s important for the church to teach its members not only how to give, but how to receive, invest, and save as well.

If we simply show people how to give, we cut off their access to a lot of inspiration and good worth. Even though many people may experience portions of God’s provision based on their giving, many will stay in cycles of poverty unless they also combine giving with hard labour, education, and learning how to manage and construct a budget. God will only give us blessings in line with our capacity to handle them.

When “giving to the church” is trumpeted as the only means by which the impoverished of a nation might escape poverty, my experience tells me that only the preacher benefits. The church, as an agent of God’s Kingdom, is obligated to take a more emancipatory and comprehensive stance towards economic empowerment and the abolition of poverty cycles.

They believe in faith itself as a principle, rather than a personal relationship with Christ.

In many cases, I have seen this movement portray faith as if it were an objective force like the law of gravity. As a result, phrases like “having faith in your faith” became popular in religious discourse. This kind of teaching has the potential to separate believers from God. For instance, my level of trust in a person rises in proportion to the depth of our relationship. Faith isn’t something you can force yourself to have; rather, it develops when you gain a deeper, personal understanding of God through personal experience.

The sermons of certain pastors have been influenced by the teachings of these “experts” in the church.

Pastoral duties do not often fall to people like Kenneth Hagin, T.L. Osborn, Smith Wigglesworth, and others of their kind. As a result, they could speak about faith and healing, which was central to their mission. The problem is that many pastors who don’t grasp this reality try to model themselves after these great men of God by focusing their ministries on only three topics: faith, prosperity, and healing.

If you are an itinerant teacher or evangelist, that’s fine, but a local church has to be fed the complete counsel of God.

Acts 20:27 — For I did not hold back from announcing to you the whole purpose of God.

A pastor’s sermons should address not just the need for healing, but also for purity, faith, the ability to overcome obstacles, marriage, financial stewardship, and hard labour. Faith and healing sermons may be my favourites to deliver, but as a Bible teacher, I also have to speak on topics I’m not very interested in but which I know are essential for the congregation’s spiritual growth.

Believers may feel obligated and guilty as a result.

Many individuals, I’ve heard, carry around shame for things like not being healthy or having enough money to get by. I have even heard stories of well-known religious leaders who, when unwell, hid the fact that they were admitted to the hospital by using an alias.

In addition to fostering a culture of faith in our churches, we must also encourage a culture of humility, honesty, and brokenness by being open about the fact that we are not always victorious over sin and disease and by leaving room for mystery. When bad things happen to good people, even Christians don’t always know why.

It may create self-centred, solitary believers.

Many self-centred individuals were drawn to the movement as it shifted from a stewardship-centred gospel to a rights-centred gospel. People looked down on individuals who lived simply and used God as a justification for living lavishly. Many successful ministries, however, were founded less on picking up our cross and following Jesus and more on the “Rich Dream” of having a great home and a vehicle.

According to Jesus, in Luke 14:33, we must be willing to give up everything to follow Him as disciples. But many in this movement are fixated on the benefits we reap. The only way to experience resurrection is to die on the cross.

Luke 14:33 — In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions.

This one has nothing to do with the Kingdom Mandate.

The Word of Faith movement is incomplete. The Bible teaches that our faith should not be confined to praying for physical well-being, but should extend to changing whole communities and even overthrowing governments.

Isaiah 61:4 — They will rebuild the perpetual ruins and restore the places that were desolate; they will reestablish the ruined cities, the places that have been desolate since ancient times.

Hebrews 11:33 — Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions…”

According to Matthew 28:19-20, the gospel is a plan for the conversion and baptism of whole communities, not simply individuals.

Matthew 28:19-20 — Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The gospel is concerned not just with individual sinners but also with structural evil. The Word of Faith movement imparts confidence for personal triumph but says nothing about collective triumph.

The corporate culture and anointing of a church are also important to a believer’s faith. Whole congregations were impacted badly by a culture of disbelief and/or disobedience.

1 Corinthians 11:27-32 — For this reason, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

In general, the Word of Faith movement divorced the gospel from the kingdom, making it more about personal gain than social disruption. When the gospel is divorced from the kingdom, people lose sight of their duty as stewards of the earth and become more inwardly oriented as a result. We trust that God can bring about change in people’s hearts, churches, and communities via the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom.

Finally, I believe with all my heart that the Word of Faith movement did more good than harm and that it was God’s will that the church rediscover its biblical faith in the supernatural. Even the Apostle Paul only knows in part and sees through a glass darkly.

1 Corinthians 13:9 — For we know in part, and we prophesy in part…”

1 Corinthians 13:12 — For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.

Therefore, the Body of Christ typically takes years to figure out how to strike a balance when ancient principles are revived. Achieving harmony in life requires a commitment to integrating all of God’s teachings.

Conclusion

The Word-Faith paradigm makes people, not God, the focal point of attention rather than the reverse. Some spiritual leaders even go as far as to suggest that God possesses a human form, but at the same time they refer to individuals as “little gods.”

A false perspective on generosity is being propagated by the Word-Faith movement. The gifts that God bestows on people are completely unmerited and undeserved. However, the Word-Faith movement is interested in pursuing a “quid pro quo” approach to giving; that is, they feel that Christians have an honourable responsibility to make certain things happen if they say and do certain things. In other words, they believe that Christians should give in exchange for something.

The Word-Faith movement is exploitative towards those who are disadvantaged financially and medically. Good things are said to come about when we utter words of faith, at least that’s what the teachings of those who preach prosperity say. Those who lack faith are an example of people who only have themselves to blame for their situation since poverty is a direct result of a lack of faith. Those who are afflicted with diseases such as cancer, paralysis, or other debilitating conditions can not grasp the faith that may potentially heal them.

The Word-Faith movement argues with the common belief that discipleship is without cost. Despite what the Bible seems to make very plain, many preach wealth and maintain that Jesus and the apostles were prosperous monetarily. Jesus was an itinerant teacher who didn’t place much value on having a permanent residence. He told those who may have been His followers that “the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”

Matthew 8:20 — Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

If one were to accept the teachings of the Prosperity Gospel, then the apostles were miserable failures. According to biblical texts, tradition, and the history of the church, all of the apostles died as martyrs, except John, who, after surviving the ordeal of being cooked in oil and being exiled to Patmos.

Last but not least, the Bible says that true disciples of Jesus should prepare themselves for adversity rather than for material success, physical wellness, and peace time. After describing his “persecutions and sufferings” at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12,

“In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”

Even though many more verses could be given to support this claim; for example, Acts 14:22, Philippians 3:10, and 1 Peter 4:12-16, the view still stands: it is evident to even the most cursory reader of the New Testament that Christians are much more likely to experience adversity, persecution, and poverty than wealth and comfort.

By the way, having money is not in and of itself a terrible thing. Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:10,

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains,” 

Blessings,

Godwin.

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Godwin Shon Sequeira
Godwin Shon Sequeira
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