(22)A Comprehensive Study of Word-Faith Doctrines(4)
by MORENO DAL BELLO
Final Part of Four Parts: THREATS OF DIVINE JUDGMENT!
Faith teachers are very protective of their teachings, for they believe them to be the very Word of God. They have even pronounced divine wrath upon anyone who dares to criticize them or who offers resistance to the ‘anointed’ Faith doctrines.
Kenneth Hagin once reported to his followers what he claims were God’s very words to him: “The judgment must begin in the house of God, and if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the sinner and the ungodly appear? If the Church won”t accept this ministry, then they won’t accept His Word and He can’t help them.” Hagin also warned that if a church should refuse to accept his ministry, God “would remove their candlestick.” 92 In an even more direct and fear inducing manner, Hagin, in his book I Believe, claims that, “The Lord said to me, ‘If I give you a message for an individual, a church, or a pastor and they don’t accept it, you will not be responsible. They will be responsible. There will be ministers who don’t accept it and will fall dead in the pulpit.'”
Hagin does not stop at threats, but lays claim in the same book that at least one minister has died in the pulpit two weeks from the day Hagin closed his final meeting in that church. Hagin alleges, “When I left that church I left crying. I told the pastor in the next church where I went to hold a meeting, ‘That man will fall dead in the pulpit.’ And just a very short time after that he did. Why? Because he didn’t accept the message that God gave me to give him from the Holy Spirit.” What other option does a Faith follower have other than to totally accept and embrace everything Hagin and his cohorts profess?
Is this what God is saying to the Church today? ‘Do and believe all that brother Hagin says or you will die.’ I hardly think so. This form of spiritual intimidation has long been a tool used by extreme cults and sects everywhere to ensure the faithfulness and support of their followers. It is also a trait which the Roman Catholic Church is not unfamiliar with.
Claims of infallibility have also been made by Faith leaders. Robert Tilton, for instance, is one man who believes he has written several books that carry, not merely his words, but those of the Holy Spirit. In his book Solving the Mystery of the Miracle Money, Tilton asserts, “The words in this book are not my words; they are the words of…the Holy Spirit…” In another of his ‘sacred writings’ entitled God’s Laws, Tilton claims that, “the Spirit of God is upon me the same way the Spirit of God was on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Faith leaders’ much used expression, ‘Touch not God’s anointed and do His prophets no harm’, a misuse of the Scripture taken from 1Chronicles 16:22, is a literal hands off! warning to any who would dare criticize their teachings. Although I’ve heard Copeland say, ‘Don’t believe it ’cause I said it,’ after which he encouraged his listeners to search the Scriptures for themselves, I wonder just how many do so. Moreover, what would a Faith disciple do if he happened to find a discrepancy in Faith dogma?
Perhaps Faith followers will search the Scriptures with increased diligence after reading the next quote from Kenneth Copeland, who made this rather surprising admission in a sermon preached on Sunday, July 12, 1992: “I don’t know all that much anyway. All I know is what I’ve learned and that’s all I’m preaching….I’m not 100 percent right. Dear Lord, I don’t know what the percentage is, but I expect its probably pretty heavy on the wrong side….there are certain things I am wrong about just simply because I don’t know any better.”
Faith movement followers are implored to test and investigate thoroughly everything that they are reading and hearing, and primarily, what they have already accepted as truth from the Faith leaders, for they are not infallible messengers from God and are certainly not above having their message measured by the Cannon of Scripture.
It is feared that because so many Faith teachers claim direct communication from God, precious few of their disciples are even willing to critically evaluate their teachings.
Additionally, why do so many people believe that God speaks to Kenneth Copeland and other Faith leaders? The main reason, I suspect, is that they choose to believe. People want to believe that the speaker they are listening to is not only a spokesman for God, but that he regularly hears directly from God. In a sense, it makes the believer feel that he too is part of an elite group with whom God communicates. It produces a separation in their minds, between themselves and ordinary Christians who don’t hear God audibly; who are not ‘tuned in’. There are many sincere followers of cults all over the world such as Mormonism, Adventism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who in their blind zeal, embrace the teachings of such groups who began in the same fashion as the Faith movement, with leaders who professed to be receiving their doctrine directly from God.
When Faith teachers exhort their listeners to ‘stay with the word’, do they mean the Bible, or what they say the Bible is teaching? In light of their numerous threats of divine judgment and their ‘do my prophets no harm’ stance, the latter would appear to be the case.
As was touched on earlier, the Faith leader’s vigilant cry of ‘Do My prophets no harm’, and, ‘touch not My anointed’, is closely related to the Roman Catholic decree that their teachings are the only true teachings of God and should not be questioned.
It is clearly recognized as the hallmark of a cult or sect when a group insists on having cornered the market on truth and which issues dire warnings to those who would dare contradict. The Faith teachers may not openly declare a monopoly on the truth but this is exactly what lies below the surface of their sea of threats. Faith followers are strongly convinced that what they are hearing is genuine and ‘how it should be’ Christianity. I have heard one Faith follower say, ‘If you don’t agree with what Copeland is preaching, you don’t agree with the Bible.’
D.R. McConnell makes the following important assessment of these fear tactics:
“Hagin’s pronounced judgment(s) of God on those who will not receive his ministry instills in his followers the fear of thinking for themselves. One dare not underestimate the effect of such statements upon the laity of the Faith movement. Once Hagin’s visions of Jesus are accepted as genuine and as a reliable source of doctrine, the divine judgments pronounced upon those who reject his teaching seem perfectly reasonable claims as well. After all, if God gave the prophet Hagin the revelation, does it not also make sense that God would take care of those who oppose his prophet? Hagin does not make these prophetic threats very often, but then again, given their nature, he would not have to. They remain in print and are frequently cited by his supporters to quiet dissent. Although few lay people in the Faith movement need such strong warnings to embrace enthusiastically Hagin’s theology, the power of such scare tactics to suppress theological discernment is undeniable. The total effect of Hagin’s threats is that he has exalted his theology to a place of hermeneutical mediatorship between the believer and the Word of God. Facing the threat of divine judgment for dissent, Hagin’s followers read the Bible through the glasses of Hagin’s theology. They see in the Bible what they are taught to see, and little else.” 93
This is much the same as the Roman Catholic teaching where their followers, including the clergy, are given permission to read the Bible, but only one which is footnoted by the Roman Church. What Rome teaches about the Word–as opposed to what the Word really says–is what is to be believed upon threat of eternal damnation! If the Faith movement have not yet reached this level, they are, at the very least, perilously close. The Scriptures encourage the study of Scripture, a study which is not to be closed minded or approached with partiality, but a study which is to be thorough and according to proper methods which ensure reliable Biblical interpretation (Acts 17:11; cf. 1Jn. 4:1).
Harking back to the misapplied Scripture verse which states, “Touch not Mine anointed and do My prophets no harm” (1Chron. 16:22), we learn upon further study of this verse, that God is not at all referring to leaders in the Church and their teachings. The O.T. phrase, ‘the Lord’s anointed’, is a reference to the kings of Israel (1Sam. 12:3,5; 24:6,10; 26:9,11, 16,23; 2Sam. 1:14,16; 19:21; Psa. 20:6; Lam. 4:20), and in other passages to those of the royal lineage of David (Psa. 2:2; 18:50; 89:38,51). The mention of prophets, too, is doubtless a reference to the patriarchs (Psa. 105:8-15; 1Chron. 16:15-22), as well as to Abraham in Genesis 20:7.
The warning issued through the words touch and harm is not referring to inquiry or a critical examination of teachings, but speaks solely of not inflicting physical harm upon God’s prophets and those anointed of Him. The passage therefore has nothing in the world to do with questioning a man’s teachings. If the passage did mean that we are not to make an appraisal or to enter upon an investigation of a godly man’s teachings, how would we know who the real men of God were? One could merely profess to be speaking for God and not fear an interrogation of his claims.
As far as being ‘anointed’, the Bible says that we all have an anointing from God (1Jn. 2:20). Many Faith leader’s claims of having ‘an anointing’ are not dissimilar to those of the Naassenes, a Gnostic sect, who boasted of a special anointing and proclaimed themselves the true Christians.
We are to make use of the Scriptures to prove that what we teach is the truth, for the Bible is useful for teaching and preaching. We are also to use Scripture in exploring the teachings of others, for the Bible is also to be used for correcting and rebuking (2Tim. 4:2). We are warned repeatedly to be on guard against false teachers and their counterfeit doctrine (Rom. 16:17,18; cf. 1Tim. 1:3,4; 4:6,16; 2Tim.1:13,14; Titus 1:9; 2:1). The Bible commands that we thoroughly investigate all doctrine that is laid before us.
The Bible speaks of the preaching of another Jesus, another Gospel and of another Spirit (2Cor. 11:4), and Paul pronounced a curse, in Galatians 1:8,9 upon any who came preaching another gospel. It is the Faith leaders who need to be careful about what they are teaching, rather than pronouncing divine judgment upon those who are genuinely seeking the truth! By declaring divine wrath upon any who will not listen to and obey their teachings as coming from God, the Faith leaders are certifying everyone who oppose their dogma as candidates for the wrath of God. But surely the Faith teachers are not the only ‘anointed’ ones upon this earth. God says that we are not to fear false prophets (Deut. 18:20-22; cf. Deut. 13:1-5; see also Energy of Deceit: False Prophets in the Church Today, by this author).
The apostle Paul, in 1Corinthians 14:38, is a perfect example of how the Christian teacher should react when one does not receive his teachings as inspired. Paul says “But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” Paul does not terrorize or intimidate his listeners with divine threats, but merely accepts the situation and allows the person to remain in his ignorance, and thus experience the consequences of rejecting God’s law. If one chooses to linger on in his ignorance, Paul is saying let him remain so, but he must answer to God for it. There are no ‘deaths in the pulpit’ warnings here. Christian leaders are never to be domineering or intimidating towards the children of God (Mark 10:42; cf.Luke 22:25,26; 1Pet. 5:1-3).
Most within the Faith movement believe that Hagin, Copeland and other major identities of their group are actual prophets of God as well as teachers of His Word. Those who would be so bold as to question their prophecies are promptly rebuked for rejecting the Word of God. Those, too, who would cast doubt upon the Faith leader’s teachings are warned to ‘touch not the Lord’s anointed.’ “Within the confines of the Faith movement, Hagin’s doctrine is…impervious to criticism on any plane, whether mystical or rational.” 94
Albert Barnes comments: “No minister who has just views of his office, and a proper acquaintance with the truth, and confidence in it, would desire to prohibit the people from the most full and free examination of all that he utters” 95 (2Cor. 1:24). Properly conducted examinations will always expose error and validate the truth.
Sociologist, Ronald Enroth, in his book The Lure of the Cults, says, “rigid, charismatic, authoritarian leadership is the keystone of almost all cultic movements.” 96 The Christian is to obey God as well as His teachers and others in positions of authority, as long as what they are teaching concurs with Scripture. Our obedience is never to be a blind and unquestioning one, indeed, the Christian is to reason why (see Gal. 2:11-16; Matt. 18:15-17; Heb. 13:17).
Many Faith followers, as well as charismatics, condemn those who would question and criticize a man’s teachings as being unbiblical, divisive and even unloving. This attitude has opened the door to a seemingly endless array of ‘Bible teachers’, whose most astounding and unbiblical proclamations and claims have been accepted as Christian. John MacArthur, Jr. makes the observation that, “love apart from truth is nothing more than hypocritical sentimentality. That sentimentality is running rampant in evangelicalism today.” 97
Faith teachers hold those Christians outside their circle as ‘carnally minded’ who teach ‘unbelief’ and the false traditions of men, and who nullify God’s power and His Word. People such as this author are classed as ‘double-minded believers’ who promote ‘powerless defeated beliefs’ inspired by the Devil. We are called liars and bringers of ‘death.’ 98
Contrary to popular belief among Christians, Biblical unity is not based on love and acceptance, but is rather grounded in love and truth (Eph. 4:13-15). The current ‘unity’ being trumpeted in many churches today is not Biblical unity at all, but is instead a worldly assessment which is seducing more and more Christians on a daily basis. True unity does not include with it every wind of doctrine. The unity which is enjoyed in heaven is based upon love and truth, not on love and tolerance of major doctrinal errors. Paul spoke of preaching the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), not of accepting false doctrine (Heb. 13:9). One has wisely stated, “A unity that cannot bear the truth has nothing to do with love.”
Those who question the Faith leader’s teachings are warned of serious consequences. Kenneth Copeland, in a taped message entitled “Why all are not healed” (# 01-4001), stated, “Several people that I know had criticized and called that Faith bunch out of Tulsa a cult. And some of ’em are dead right today in an early grave because of it, and there’s more than one of them got cancer.” On the one hand, Faith leaders encourage us to search the Scriptures, but if after having done so, we dare question their interpretation, we are threatened with an early grave, or at the very least cancer! I feel certain that Faith followers are astute enough in their thinking to realize this catch-22 situation.
Regardless of these threats of divine judgment, Faith leaders’ claims of receiving direct words from God, visions and ‘faith formulas’, should always be measured by Scripture. This does not mean reading the Bible with preconceived notions of what it says, but it is to be an objective investigation of what Faith teachers profess, and should include a study of what and why the Church has taught and believed differently for the past 2,000 years. Don’t just believe something because the Faith movement said it; search the Scriptures!
A FINAL WORD. . .
Our Lord Jesus Christ warned His disciples to Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6). The disciples initially thought that He had said this because they had taken no bread (Matt. 16:7). They later realized that the leaven was a reference to false doctrine (Matt. 16:12). False doctrine will do to the soul what leaven will do to a lump of dough, it will infiltrate the whole of it! (Gal. 5:9). Leaven was commonly used as a symbol for evil among the Jews (Matt. 13:33), and always included the view that, even in small amounts, it could have a widespread and deadly effect.
Many Christians are taken off guard by Faith teachings, believing them to be wholesome and edifying, mainly due to the fact that their unorthodox teachings are presented in familiar Bible language. Walter Martin called this “the language barrier of terminology.” Dan McConnell notes that “The Faith movement uses so much evangelical and Pentecostal terminology and so many Biblical proof-texts that most believers are lulled into a false sense of security as to its orthodoxy.” 99
As has been mentioned, many of the Faith leaders have been approached in a loving manner by concerned Christians in order to discuss the Faith movement’s beliefs. However, the Faith teachers have rejected these advances, reluctant to speak about what they are teaching. Neither are they willing to listen to those who, in humility, have sought to point out and discuss their errors.
Many would, indeed have, deemed certain Faith teachings heretical. The definition of heresy, a word which is derived from the Greek hairesis, has three distinct meanings in the N.T. It is used to describe the Sadducees and Pharisees and even some early Christians (Acts 5:17, 15:5, 24:14, 28:22). The word heresy can also be used to describe a faction or schism within the main Christian body (1Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20). And third, of doctrinal errors brought into the Christian Church by false teachers and false prophets (2Pet. 2:1-3).
We find the Faith movement guilty of at least the third description. Its patently false teachings on the inefficiency of Christ’s physical death, alone, to atone for our sins; the supposed spiritual death of Christ; His taking on the very nature of Satan; and the doctrine that teaches that our redemption was completed in hell, amply qualifies the Faith movement as heretical. This, however, does not necessarily mean that any of its teachers are heretics. A heretic has been defined as a person who obstinately adheres to objective heresy out of malice. Whether the Faith leaders qualify for this title is not for us to say either way, for we do not know what is in a man’s heart, but it is imperative that we know what is in his teachings! “The heresy of the Faith movement is its denial of the sovereignty and personhood of God, its subversion of the full deity of Jesus Christ, and its implicit rejection of Christ’s blood atonement. Its doctrines of deification and dualism are also highly questionable.” 100
By no means do we ‘put down’ the Faith movement follower, many of whom have never known anything but Faith theology and are ignorant, as I once was, of the orthodox and historic Christian teachings. In their zeal for God, they are unaware that they have departed from true Bible doctrine and accepted a shrewd counterfeit. Sadly, their zeal has blinded them to the truth. A true and sincere heart is no guarantee that what a person has embraced is the truth (Prov. 14:12; Rom. 10:2).
Interestingly, it is the cultic rather than the Christian elements in the Faith movement which are central to the group’s teachings, which focus mainly on faith, positive confession, healing and prosperity. This factor would appear to be the prime cause of the Faith movement’s phenomenal growth in its relatively short history. Oddly, many in the movement itself reject some of the more outlandish tenets of the group, while more orthodox Christians are attending Faith churches looking for something different.
John MacArthur, Jr., hesitates momentarily at labelling the movement a cult, yet finds himself unable to refute the evidence. He says:
“Nevertheless, all the elements that are common to the cults exist within the (Faith) movement; a distorted Christology, an exalted view of man, a belief that new revelation from within the group is unlocking ‘secrets’ that have been hidden from the Church for years, extra biblical human writings that are deemed inspired and authoritative, the use and abuse of evangelical terminology, and an exclusivity that compels adherents to shun any criticism of the movement or teaching that is contrary to the system. Without some exacting corrections in the movement’s doctrinal foundations, the movement is well on its way to being established as a false cult in every sense of the term. It is, I am convinced, the closest thing on earth to the greed cults of the New Testament era, which the apostles bluntly labelled heresy.”101
Some of the Faith movement teachings and practices would not be deemed alien by cults such as Mormonism and Armstrongism, and even from within the realm of the occult. The practice of speaking things into existence for instance, is a common practice amongst occult groups and Eastern pagan religions such as the Church Universal and Triumphant, and Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. Those who regard positive confession as a healthy practice fail to realize that those who first taught and practiced it–the New Thought metaphysicians–attributed its power to cosmic principles and occultic deities!
In a November 6, 1990 sermon telecast on TBN, Benny Hinn taught that poverty is of the Devil, and also said, “confession activates heaven”, and that “confession releases the spirit world.” Hinn blasphemously claims that the Holy Spirit told him “…that if witches and occultists can speak death by the supernatural power of words, then Christian can speak life and prosperity by the same power.” 102 Hinn is greatly influenced by faith healers Aimee Semple McPherson and Kathryn Kuhlman, whose grave sites he regularly visits claiming that ‘the anointing’ he is blessed with emanates from their bones!! 103
Many Christians today are unsure of what to make of men who claim to speak the very words of God, and of the signs and wonders which sometimes attend such grandiose claims. A dangerous lack of discernment has left many Christians unable to correctly decipher what is of God and what is not. Perhaps more time in front of the Bible rather than T.V. would help. Ignorance of the truth due to a lack of spiritual knowledge and discernment is no excuse, for if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch (Matt. 15:14). “It is imperative”, says Michael Moriarty, “that Christian leaders warn their people about false doctrines on the rise and train them how to recognize and evaluate these heresies in light of Scripture. To neglect the Bible’s commands to ‘guard the flock’ (Acts 20:28-31) is not only pastorally irresponsible; it is sin.” 104
Never has the Church needed to be as on guard and watchful concerning false doctrine and accompanying signs and lying wonders as in these last days. Jeremiah 6:16 is where God tells the false prophets to “…ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein…” Michael Horton, founder and president of Christians United for Reformation, makes this comment on the characteristics of false prophets:
“They are self-willed spirits who assure their followers that their direct insight of revelation is superior to the wisdom, orthodoxy, and knowledge of historic Christianity. The true prophet does not invent new theories–particularly theories which directly contradict the plain teaching of Scripture. Again and again (the Christian), is faced with the preacher’s ridicule of commonly held beliefs, ‘traditions’, and ‘orthodoxy’. But we should beware of ignorant prophets who give the impression that they have an ‘inside scoop’ on things hidden from apostles, martyrs, doctors, and apologists for the last two thousand years.” 105
The Christian should be wary of accepting the false doctrines that abound in the Faith movement and in similar groups today. We are to be careful that we not hold any views of God, even if we believe them to be honouring to Him, which are not true and which in turn are displeasing to God (cf. 1Cor. 15:15).
The late Dr. Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute, and noted researcher on the subject of cults, sums up his investigation into the Faith movement in the following manner, “For ten years I have warned–and I’m on tape and in print on this–that we are heading into the kingdom of the cults with the Faith teachers. You are no longer heading there…you are there!” 106
BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS,
WHICH COME TO YOU IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING
BUT INWARDLY ARE RAVENING WOLVES!
– Matthew 7:15 –
Excessive aversion to controversy may be an indication that a church has no keen sense of possessing truth which is of any great worth, and that it has lost appreciation for the infinite difference in value between truth and error. – James Stalker
…While tolerance in personal relationships may be a virtue, tolerance when it comes to truth is a travesty. – Hank Hanegraaff
It has often been said that a person who does not know both sides of a question really does not know either side. Not until he knows what his own doctrinal system sets forth, and what can be said against it, does he know what he believes and why. – L. Boettner
It is a strange curiosity that those Christians who are most adamant that our is the generation that will see the lord’s return–and the end-time deception and apostasy associated with His return–look for signs of this deception outside the Church, in such conspiracies as the New Age movement, and in such cults as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Science. Admittedly, these movements pose potential threats to the Church, but perhaps we would do better to look for the deception of the end-times where Jesus and the New Testament predicted it would occur: within the church, within groups that call themselves ‘Christian’ but which actually preach a different gospel. – D.R. McConnell
False or heretical doctrine must always remain a matter of public evaluation in the Church. The Church cannot (must not) abdicate its duty to examine the doctrine of those who claim to be in its ranks. – D.R. McConnell
Today’s Church is being swept by a revival of New Thought, now called Positive Thinking, Possibility Thinking, Positive Confession, Positive Mental Attitude and Inner Healing. We are very concerned that this time New Thought, which represents inside the church what New Age is in the secular world, will not be forced out, but will remain within the evangelical to contribute to the growing confusion and seduction. – D. Hunt & T.A. McMahon
The study of the kingdom of the cults has taught me many profitable lessons, and this is one of them–error begets error; heresy begets heresy and always in the name of truth, always in the name of the Gospel. – Walter Martin