This article is the first in a series dedicated to presenting an unvarnished, no-holds-barred evaluation of the so-called Word of Faith (WoF) movement at this moment in history.
Too many commentaries on this topic land at one extreme end or the other on the opinion spectrum. Which end of that spectrum depends entirely upon who the author is and the particular theological axe they have to grind.
As our title implies, this is neither an apologetic for the WoF nor for any of its ministers — other than the folks we know and can personally vouch for, that is! Neither are we writing a hit-piece to debunk the opinions of WoF’s opponents. To rip-off Fox News’ motto, our goal is to be “fair and balanced” while remaining faithful to the letter and spirit of God’s Word.
We want to rightly divide between:
- What we can/should receive from the WoF with faith and gratitude;
- What we should avoid like the plague.
I’ve announced earlier how one of my dearest and closest friends, John Foster, has joined us as a contributor here at Miscellaneous Ramblings. One of John’s initial jumps into the fray will be as co-author of this series. This is our first-ever collaboration and we’re both thrilled to take on that challenge! I’m confident John’s participation will make the end result far, far better than either of us could accomplish separately!
In this first article, we both will establish our credentials on the topic.
As we write this, please trust we are constantly keeping in mind the following scriptural admonition:
Lead good people down a wrong path and you’ll come to a bad end; do good and you’ll be rewarded for it.Proverbs 28:10 MSG
Hang onto your hats!
Any of you reading my previous articles here will quickly discern my theology is fairly saturated with WoF teaching (The Good). However, there are aspects of that movement (The Bad/Ugly) which cannot withstand scriptural scrutiny. The Bad and Ugly have disillusioned many within the movement as well as alienated most of those outside. This prevents such folks from experiencing the amazing freedom resulting from:
- Abandoning one’s unscriptural religious traditions of men, and;
- Living according to the principles actually presented in God’s Word.
As a theologue, I live and die by the Word of God rightly divided. That means I go wherever the Scriptures lead me on any given topic. No matter how wildly misunderstood and/or controversial a subject may be in the public arena, I let the doctrinal chips fall where they may. As any mature Christ-follower should do, I’ve adjusted my doctrines and attitudes to conform to God’s Word as a result more times than I can count.
Accordingly, I’ve called out both charismatics and non-charismatics alike over their flaky hermeneutics concerning charismata, opponents to WoF teaching concerning healing and prosperity, and explored more than a few other hot-button issues within Christendom, such as:
- Christian suffering
- Calvinism vs. Arminianism
- The consumption of alcohol and marijuana by Christ-followers
- Bill Johnson of Bethel in Redding, California
- Disunity in the Body of Christ over doctrinal differences
- Cyber-bullying by those calling themselves Christians
My History in the WoF
I was first saved in late 1973 as a GI in then-West-Germany. After my honorable discharge from the Army in August 1975, I spoke in tongues for the first time in my home town of El Paso, Texas that September. From then on, I attended only charismatic churches, both denominational (Episcopalian, Baptist. Assemblies of God) and non, until I encountered my first WoF pastor in 1982. I consistently attended WoF churches thereafter until 2009 or so — 27 years all told, give or take a few months.
For about half that time, I lived in and around Tulsa, Oklahoma, the spiritual and geographic epicenter of that movement. While there, my former wife and I worked at two different WoF ministries for a time. Such ministries later formed the vast majority of the clientele for our successful graphic design business during the late 1980s through the mid-1990s.
In addition to my co-author John, most of my closest friends are WoF ministers, one of whom, Pastor David Oberg of Faith Alive! Christian Center in Reno, NV rescued me from homelessness during my mid-life crisis in 2001. Had he and his wife not done so, I would almost certainly be living in a cardboard box under an overpass somewhere to this day, rather than living in the nicest house I’ve every owned, driving the nicest car I’ve ever owned, working at a steadiest job I’ve ever held, earned advanced degrees I never could have imagined at the time, not to mentioned become a published author — I literally owe them my life as I now know it!
Another WoF pastor, Bill Burgess, discipled me as a minister during the early 1990s. He is now a fellow contributor to this blog. The remaining contributor here, Gail Dunkle, also has a strong WoF history.
At one time or another, I’ve heard in-person all of the WoF’s heavy-hitters teach — including (in no particular order):
- Kenneth and Gloria Copeland
- Rick Renner
- Len Mink
- Joyce Meyer
- Bob Yandian
- Ken Stewart
- Willie George
- Rodney Howard-Browne
- Dick Bernal
- Kenneth E. Hagin (now deceased)
- Buddy Harrison (now deceased)
- Charles Capps (now deceased)
- Billy Joe Daugherty (now deceased)
- Terry Law (now deceased)
- Norvel Hayes (now deceased)
- Dick Mills (now deceased)
- A host of others of somewhat lesser renown
Several of those ministers founded/pastored megachurches I’ve attended. Several of those bodies were my church home for a time. My former employer and alma mater is a WoF ministry-training school where I’ve earned all of my university degrees.
Admittedly, I’ve never rubbed shoulders with but one or two of those aforementioned famous ministers. Virtually all of them wouldn’t recognize me were we to encounter one another on the street. That being said, I don’t think claiming my WoF credentials are rock solid is any kind of exaggeration.
Those of you who notice dates have already done the math and accurately concluded I’ve been attending non-WoF churches for over a dozen years now.
Why is that?
While there is much to admire, heed, and practice in WoF teachings (The Good), there are other aspects of the movement John and I have both encountered over the years to be spiritually dangerous (The Bad) and emotionally toxic (The Ugly).
Tragically, many folks inside and outside the WoF have encountered only The Bad and The Ugly, As a result, they’ve thrown out the The Good baby with The Bad/Ugly bath-water. As I have thoroughly documented elsewhere here at Miscellaneous Ramblings, many of WoF opponents’ doctrinal objections are devoid of critical thinking and composed of enough cognitive biases and logical fallacies to sink a battleship. Sadly, things are not much better on the WoF side at times.
So John and I both agree on these two points:
- The Good needs to be taught so it can be embraced by those hungering for biblical Truth.
- The Bad, and The Ugly need to be exposed so they can be avoided by all dedicated Christ-followers.
My church history starts the week I was born. I am one of those people “born on Tuesday and in church on Sunday.” One of the greatest gifts of heritage my parents endowed me with was a deeply-ingrained sense of the need to have God in my life, and as long-term Baptist folks, that meant being in church every time the doors were open. I was part of the same Baptist church in Wichita, Kansas for 20 years, eventually volunteering in the music as well as teaching Sunday School for a period.
My eyes were opened to the Word of Faith Movement by a dear friend (now in heaven) who got hold of the teachings of Kenneth Copeland and others. Out-of-my-box concepts like, “demonic activity is real today, God still supernaturally heals today, tongues are for today, the Bible is literal for today,” and other notions completely foreign to my Baptist status quo. My first real exposure to “brotherly disassociation” came shortly thereafter as this dear brother, exposing saints to these radical new truths, was told by the leadership of the church, “your influence is exceeding my authority, one of us needs to leave and it won’t be me…”
25 other now-former-Baptists and I spent the next eight months meeting in our leader’s home on Sunday mornings drinking from a fire hose as we sought out the teachings of Rick Godwin, John Wimber, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth E. Hagin, Bob Yandian and others. Finally, one day our leader proclaimed, “I am not a pastor, this is not a church.” He disbanded us and charged us to be led by God to find the right church to connect to, and so we did.
I ended up at a charismatic (later it became WoF) church in Wichita, chock full of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and for the next 32 years (save six when my wife and I were in missions training and on the mission field) I was completely committed to that body. I’ve experienced every level of involvement in the local church except pastor. I have served in every capacity of local church ministry from mowing the grass to ministering in the pulpit. I have been both the fanatic and the lunatic. 37 years later, I strive to be a wiser, gentler person, more directed by love and knowledge rather than exuberance and passion.
In my heart, The Good that will be found in a WoF church (or any church for that matter) will be that which expresses Biblical precepts in humility and love. More on that in the next installment…
Thanks for reading!