This time around, we will continue our evaluation of the Word of Faith (WoF) movement at this moment in history. This time, John gets to go first.
My opinion about “the bad” of the WoF movement would be to share areas of concern that are not necessarily going to cause folks to fall into heresy, but rather illuminate the weaknesses I have encountered over my 30+ years in the WoF.
While the teaching, insight, worship, and spiritual intimacy are wonderful, these elements often do little to impact a person’s character. What I see as unfortunate elements in the WoF movement would be instances of hero worship, pastor worship, lack of accountability, resistance to (and occasional mockery of) formal theological education, explosive growth without boundary or foundation, and many others.
In my opinion, most of these points are humility issues. I sat in a fast-food restaurant in Tulsa, Oklahoma when the pastor of the largest non-denominational churches in the area walked in. My mouth dropped open as I watched four persons stand up, bow respectfully in his direction and leave the restaurant. I am all for honoring the position that a pastor or elder in the church holds, however, to consider myself unworthy to eat in the same room is ridiculous. Whether or not this pastor recognized what was happening is unknown to me, but it shows the one of the unfortunate elements of the bad of the WoF when believers elevate minister to “rock star” status.
So much of what is good about the WoF world is that it is okay to experience emotion in church. The most enrapturing experiences I have felt in worship were at WoF churches. However, anytime you have liberty in an emotional setting, people (because they are people) will mistake emotion for a legitimate moving of the Holy Spirit and say or do things ranging from simply distracting all the way up to derailing the entire meeting. Expressing emotion is a good thing, fleshly behavior is a bad thing.
Liberty and immaturity can be dangerous, and will require a strong, yet humble boundary to not fall off into behavior that is at best weird, distracting or distasteful, and at worst is unscriptural, disruptive, and divisive.
The Apostle Paul spoke at length in I Corinthians 12 and 14 about aspects of functioning in the local church. He spoke of spiritual gifts and tongues and prophecy and ministry to the body — by members of the Body. These acts of ministry can be very “high profile,” with much responsibility riding on the function of said ministry. If you are going to prophecy to a fellow believer, there is a lot at stake. The end result properly administered can greatly bless someone’s life. Paul stopped right in the middle of this teaching to let us know that where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be restrained; where there is knowledge, it will be dismissed, but love never fails.
Even if not malicious or deliberately hurtful, when novice ministers are rushed into ministry with little training or oversight the results can be awkward, ridiculous, embarrassing or devastating.
This is the point I am trying to make; the WoF message encourages us to live a New Testament relationship, correctly wielding the spiritual gifts that we have access to. The trick is that well-meaning but immature believers can inflict a lot of distraction, disfunction, and damage because of the liberty that is usually present in a WoF arena.
Because a WoF church is almost universally a non-denominational church, they typically have very limited or non-existent spiritual oversight, and are left to sort out their own interpretations of what is right or best-practice, and there are any number of ways to fuel apathy, ignorance, pride, arrogance, or control when you are both judge and jury.
One other “bad” element you may encounter is a general lack of excellence. I am a musician, and I have spent years developing my craft. Indeed, I have had the amazing blessing of playing with some of the best in the land. For some reason, I occasionally encounter, or hear stories of my musician friends enduring extremely bad, unqualified singers and musicians on the platform. I don’t know why this situation exists, but there, I have said it!
Examples abound. Seven people on the platform with no one in the sound booth. 75 year-old grandmothers teaching 5-year-olds. Greeters that don’t know where you take your children on a Sunday morning. Video camera operators who let the pastor walk out of frame.
Heretical? Nope. Awkward? You bet!
As I have already stated, both in this series as well as other articles, thousands of sincere believers have been brainwashed over several centuries with the Catholic and mainstream Protestant false dogmas that:
- God inflicts sickness, death, poverty, and other calamity upon His children to punish them for their sins and/or teach them humility, patience, etc. In other words, He is a cosmic child abuser.
- His children should live in a continual state of guilt and shame over their inescapable inadequacies.
- There is no victory over the challenges of this life to be experienced this side of eternity, only endless “suffering for Jesus.”
- We are beggars pleading for scraps of occasional blessing from the Most High, so we should earn something more through our religious works, if that is possible.
- Our only hope for anything better is Jesus’ return or our death, whichever comes first.
This has led those so deceived into either what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” Either that or endless patterns of dead religious works trying to appease an angry God who is, in fact, not angry with them.
WoF teachers responded to those lies by emphasizing the biblical truths opposing them pretty much to the exclusion of all else. The end result of that over-emphasis was to swing the doctrinal pendulum of these topics way over to the opposite extreme, what I have termed in other articles here “error-by-emphasis.”
In reality, neither extreme is correct; the Truth — as usual — lies somewhere between the two. For some examples using my list just presented:
- While God is not a cosmic child-abuser, He indeed allows us to suffer many of the consequences of our stupid choices, especially if we are unrepentant and rebelliously persisting in them. Usually, His mercy mitigates those consequences, but rarely — if ever — do we escape them entirely.
- We are to live in a dynamic tension between being aware and abhorrent of our fleshly desires and crucifying them daily while living free from the guilt and shame arising from our past misdeeds and current inadequacies.
- We experience suffering as our enemy and this fallen world attempt to use friends, family members, outsiders, and negative circumstances to steal, kill, and destroy in our lives, our families, our livelihoods, and our health, but Jesus’ finished work of the Cross brings us the victory over sin, sickness, poverty, and the devil’s schemes in this life, not just the next.
The contrasts are endless, but other articles I’ve written here explain them far more thoroughly than I have time and space for in this one.
From my perspective, that so-called doctrinal pendulum is none of our business. It’s not ours to influence, but abandon where it is currently positioned to the sovereignty of the Most High.
Our sole responsibility to teach the whole counsel of God, period!
That also implies we preach the less feel-good bits, such as forgiveness of those who have wronged us, personal repentance and daily surrender to the Most High, humility before God and man, crucifying our flesh, eschewing self-seeking, acceptance of divine mystery by faith, walking in personal holiness, etc.
Thanks for reading!