Word of Faith Theology and Catholicism

I don't deal with cults or cultists often, preferring to concentrate my efforts on airing out the Roman Catholic Church's dirty linen. When dealing with some RCC apologists, I am struck by the similarity of their defensive behavior and “stand or die” behavior, which is quite similar to the behavior of many trapped in more traditional cults. For this reason, I sometimes refer to the RCC as a cult – the world's largest cult. In my library, I have but 11 books and a handful of essays on cults, which would appear to validate my admission to not being an expert on the subject. By far the best book I've read concerning the Word of Faith movement is D. R. McConnell's A Different Gospel. (Updated Edition by Hendrickson Publishers (c) 1995).

When Christ bushwhacked me, at 11:30 P.M. on August 15, 1987, I knew I was a believer and saved, but little else. All I knew of theology, and that was precious little, I had learned as a Roman Catholic some three decades or more in the past. I was, in effect, stranded in a theological desert, thirsting for living water. I bought a Bible, an NIV, a Bible handbook and a Strong's concordance. And I read and studied for long hours.

I had not been to church in a very long time and, even then, it had been to attend Catholic Mass or other religious activities. I knew I did not want to go back to the RCC. So I devoted several hours every day to watching religious programming on the television. When driving in my car, I listened to religious programming on AM radio. For a few weeks after my new birth, I took in everything I saw, heard or read.

I was so confused!

I became selective concerning religious programming. I began to ignore the often-dry “fundamentalist” preachers/teachers, and devoted my media time to the much more exciting charismatics. I believed that the more exciting a preacher was, the more “Christian” his teaching. That had to be true. After watching Schambach or Thompson or Hinn performing before a live audience – and witnessing the many “miracle healings” that resulted – I usually was riding an emotional tidal wave. Anything that led me to feel that “holy” had to be godly, didn't it?

Soon, I had reduced my list of favorite media religious personalities to just a few, among them Schambach, Thompson, Hagin, Copeland and Price. These guys were exciting. They could preach what I thought was the Word of God and work an audience better than anyone else, as far as I was concerned.

One of the common threads that most of these shared had to do with getting things from God simply by naming it and then claiming it “in faith.” You want a new car? Be positive about your desire and tell God that you want a new car and that you are claiming it by faith. Before you know it, that new car will be sitting in your driveway. Copeland was the champ at this “creative visualization.” At the time, he owned several nice cars and had three airplanes.

McConnell explains how this works:

Positive confession is, undoubtedly, the most distinctive doctrine of the Faith movement…The most popular saying about the nature of faith…”What I confess, I possess” Confession is commonly defined in Faith theology as “affirming something we believe…testifying to something we know…witnessing for a truth that we have embraced.” The secret to confession is to know the nature and extent of the perfect redemption in Christ, to know one's “identity” and “rights” in Christ, and to confess verbally the provision of Christ in every need and problem in life. The working presupposition of positive confession is that one's mental attitude determines what one believes and confesses, and what one believes and confesses determines what one gets from God. As Hagin puts it, “What we believe is a result of our thinking. If we think wrong we will believe wrong…If we believe wrong, our confession will be wrong. In other words, what we say will be wrong and it will all hinge on our thinking.” Positive mental attitude (PMA) is the fount from which all positive confession flows.

The concept of positive confession fits well into the worldview of Faith theology. Positive confession is the spiritual shove that sets into motion the “spiritual laws” that govern the universe. “A spiritual law that few of us realize,” states Kenyon, “is that our confession rules us.” A “right” or “wrong” confession is the determining factor in one's harmony with these universal spiritual laws. Confession is the catalyst that evokes their blessings, or their curses. A person will only to the extent he has faith to confess these spiritual laws: “Sooner or later we become what we confess.” A believe will only grow in faith to the degree which he places on positive confession.

[This] emphasis on positive mental attitude (PMA) and positive confession as the basis of “faith” also finds its roots in the metaphysical cults. Since all of these cults teach that reality is the sum total of whatever man thinks it to be, man possesses the innate ability to shape and reshape reality through the power of his mind and his words…(McConnell, Op. cit., pp135-36

Are you sick? Are you poor? If you are, it is because you lack faith. Time to get positive and tell God that you want Him to fix your health or improve your financial condition. Then you must claim what you demanded in faith. If your faith is great enough, God will have no option but to do as you command. One of the most heretical aspects of the Faith movement is that it does not view God as sovereign, but rather as a servant bound to do the bidding of His creation. Just as the Roman Catholic priest commands Christ to come down from His seat at the right hand of the Father and become the consecrated species:

The third great power of the priestly office is the climax of all. It is the power of consecrating. “No act is greater,” says St. Thomas, “than the consecration of the body of Christ.” In this essential phase of the sacred ministry, the power of the priest is not surpassed by that of the bishop, the archbishop, the cardinal or the pope. Indeed it is equal to that of Jesus Christ. For in this role the priest speaks with the voice and the authority of God Himself.

When the priest pronounces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of monarchs and emperors. It is greater than that of saints and angels, greater even than the power of Seraphim and Cherubim. Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. For, while the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from Heaven, and renders Him present on our alter as the eternal Victim for the sins of man—not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows His head in humble obedience to the priest's command. (Rev. John A. O'Brien, The Faith of Millions: The Credentials of the Catholic Religion, Our Sunday Visitor: Huntington (1938), p. 235 –has Nihil Obstat & Imprimitur)

I do not for a moment doubt that professing Christians who do not bend the knee to the Romish pope will be outraged by the words of “Father” O'Brien. Yet, I do suspect that at least a few of those who stop by here to read and perchance to post find little to object to in the Word of Faith teachings of exciting preachers like Hagin, who penned these words:

Did you ever stop to think about having faith in your own faith? Evidently God had faith in His faith, because He spoke words of faith and they came to pass…In other words, “having faith in your words is having faith in your faith.” That's what you've got to learn to do to get things from God: “Have faith in your faith. (Kenneth Hagin, Having Faith in Your Faith, pp. 4-5; quoted in McConnell, Op. cit., p 132)

Having faith in faith, positive confession, etc., on the surface don't seem to be so bad. Satan is not sometimes called the Deceiver for naught, as McConnell explains:

Although there is much that is praiseworthy about its emphasis on faith, the Faith theology ultimately advocates faith in a god other that the God of the Bible. That the Faith god is the god of metaphsysics becomes evident from its view that spiritual laws rule the universe, not God. This Faith cosmology (view of the universe ) is a spiritualized form of deism. It destroys either the “sovereignty” of God or the “personality” of God.

If, for instance, the Faith cosmology reaches that God “must” obey these spiritual laws and cannot do otherwise, it has destroyed his sovereignty, his right of self-determination and self-rule in the universe. The Bible clearly teaches the absolute sovereignty of God's will. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps 115:3 ). No man can force God's hand with formulas, and there are no spiritual laws apart from his will (e.g. Dan. 4:34-35 ). In the universe, God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11 ), not according to the formulas of man's will. God's reign in the universe is a classic example of autocracy: a government by a single person having unlimited power. God is a benevolent despot, it is true, but he is a despot nonetheless. None can force his hand.

If, on the other hand, the Faith teachers accept God's sovereignty, but believe that his mind and will are indistinguishable from his spiritual laws, they have destroyed his personality: his self-consciousness, his self-existence, and self-will, all of the attributes that make God a person. The Faith conception of God's personality fails to acknowledge that God could have a will apart from the so-called spiritual laws that govern his universe. In describing faith as a “force” with which the believer can “move things,” the Faith theology depersonalizes God. It renders him an impersonal force that must do man's bidding because it is capable of doing nothing else. The “Force of Faith” is, in reality, “Faith in the Force.” Just as Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” trilogy learns how to manipulate the “good side of the Force” with his mind-control, so also the Faith theology teaches how to manipulate the Faith god with positive confession… (McConnell, Op. cit., pp. 40-41 )

When I first started watching John Hagee, in 1987, he taught often on the errors of the Word of Faith movement, which he called such colorful names as “Name It and Claim It,” “Blab and Grab,” etc. At the time, he took a determined stand against what he clearly considered to be an heretical “denomination.” Then, a few years ago, John Hagee showed up on TBN, sharing the stage with Jan and Paul Crouch. Hagee then preached on what he called, as I recall, the “gift of grace.”

Hagee's appearance on the screen happened to occur at the very moment I was channel surfing. When I saw John Hagee on the “Praise the Lord” set, I just had to stop and see what was going on. After all, this guy had been an outspoken opponent to many of the things that are taught by preachers affiliated with TBN. I was shocked when he began to talk of how he had learned to use the power of grace to his great advantage. To my understanding, he was preaching Word of Faith theology. I was confirmed in this suspicion when Paul Crouch introduced Hagee to his viewers as the newest member of the TBN “family.”

I stopped watching or listening to John Hagee.

Like the Semi-Pelagian theology of Roman Catholicism, Word of Faith theology is man-centered. Catholicism teaches that man is ultimately responsible for his own eternity. Those who are affiliated with the RCC, whether by being formally baptized into the RCC or by being in the Body of Christ, which Rome teaches is a subset within the RCC can be assured of an eternal home in Heaven if they live good lives, obey the commandments of God and Church, etc. Catholics who choose to ignore the precepts of the Church commit mortal sin and if they die before being forgiven through the sacrament of reconciliation – or whatever it is being called this week – will burn in the flames of Hell forever. I'm not sure how “separated brethren” get around the mandatory Mass, Eucharist and reconciliation clauses, but I am sure someone in the Vatican dreamworks has figured it out. However it works, it is a sure thing that, just as it is for “official” Roman Catholics, their salvation is to a great extent dependent upon their thoughts and actions, their works. It's not so much what one believes, but what one does that determines his eternal home.

And that's the way things work in Faith theology as well:

This anthropocentric focus is the basis of Charles Farah's charge that the Faith theology constitutes “charismatic humanism.” The humanistic nature of the Faith god is revealed in Hagin's phrase, “having faith in your faith.” A man whose faith is in his own faith is a man whose faith is in himself: it is faith in self, not in God. Biblical faith is always theocentric (God-centered) rather than anthropocentric (man-centered). Although this phrase “charismatic humanism” may appear to be a contradiction in terms, its truth-value lies in its expression of the man-centered supernaturalism of PMA and positive confession. PMA and positive confession are humanistic in the sense that they confer upon man the unrestrained power to meet his own self-defined “needs.” A man's faith is placed in his own faith: the optimism of his thinking and the positiveness of his confession. The man who is positive enough can manipulate the spiritual laws that control God. Thus, just as in humanism, man, not God, is in the driver's seat. (McConnell, Op. cit., p. 144)

As for me, why I just reckon I will stick with Christ-centered biblical theology. Do you really believe that any man could order around Almighty God, Who describes Himself thusly through the prophet Jeremiah?

10 But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.
11 Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.
12 He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.
13 When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures.
14 Every man is brutish in his knowledge: every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.
15 They are vanity, and the work of errors: in the time of their visitation they shall perish.

January 17, 2001

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