The Word-Faith Movement
By Gary E. Gilley
fastest growing segment of professing Christianity today is the
Word-Faith Movement, also known as the Positive Confession
or simply "Faith" movement. Its growth is
at least partially due to the massive amounts of money the leaders
are able to extract from the faithful. This influx of cash allows
for huge buildings and extensive ministries, and more importantly,
wide exposure on television, which translates into numerical growth.
Not only do many Word-Faith preachers broadcast their services and
campaigns, but Word-Faith adherents, Paul and Jan Crouch, own the
largest Christian-based television network in the world. The Trinity
Broadcasting Network (TBN), founded by the Crouches, with an
estimated net worth of approximately $600 million dollars, is
capable of televising the Faith message (as well as many other
errant messages) all over the world.
Well-known personalities within the movement
include Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth
Copeland, Robert Tilton (who is staging a come-back),
Paul Yonggi Cho, Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Frederick K.C. Price,
John Avanzini, Charles Capps, Jerry Savelle, Morris Cerullo
and of course, Paul and
Faith Is a Force
As is implied by the title "Word-Faith," the
supporters of this movement believe that faith works like a mighty
power or force. Through faith, we can obtain anything we want --
health, wealth, success, whatever. However, this force is only
released through the spoken word. As we speak the words of
faith, power is discharged to accomplish our desires. Hagin's theme,
as found in his booklet How to Write Your Own Ticket with God,
can be summarized as follows (Christianity in Crisis, pp.
In the opening chapter, titled
"Jesus Appears to Me," Hagin claims that while he "was in the
Spirit" -- just like the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos -- a
white cloud enveloped him and he began to speak in tongues. "Then
the Lord Jesus Himself appeared to me," says Hagin. "He stood
within three feet of me." After what sounded like a casual
conversation about such things as finances, ministry, and even
current affairs, Jesus told Hagin to get a pencil and a piece of
paper. He then instructed him to "Write down: 1,2,3,4." Jesus then
allegedly told Hagin "if anybody, anywhere, will take these four
steps or put these four principles into operation, he will always
receive whatever he wants from Me or from God the Father." That
includes whatever you want financially. The formula is simply:
"Say it, Do it, Receive it, and Tell it."
1. Step number one is "Say it."
"Positive or negative, it is up to the individual. According to
what the individual says, that shall he receive."
2. Step number two is "Do it." "Your action defeats you or puts
you over. According to your action, you receive or you are kept
3. Step number three is "Receive it." We are to plug into the
"powerhouse of heaven." "Faith is the plug, praise God!
Just plug in."
4. Step number four is "Tell it so others
may believe." This final step might be considered the Faith
movement's outreach program.
states the faith formula this way: "All it takes is 1) Seeing or
visualizing whatever you need, whether physical or financial; 2)
Staking your claim on Scripture; and 3) Speaking it into existence"
(Christianity in Crisis, p. 80).
Paul Yonggi Cho,
borrowing from the occult, has developed what he calls the "Law of
Incubation." Here is how it works: "First make a clear-cut goal,
then draw a mental picture, vivid and graphic, to visualize success.
Then incubate it into reality, and finally speak it into existence
through the creative power of the spoken word" (Christianity in
Crisis, pp. 83-84).
If a positive confession of faith releases power,
then according to Word-Faith, a negative confession can actually
backfire. Capps says the tongue "can kill you, or it can release the
life of God within you." This is so because, "Faith is a seed … you
plant it by speaking it." There is power in "the evil fourth
dimension" says Cho. Hagin informs us that if you confess sickness
you get sickness, if you confess health you get health, whatever you
say you get. "This spoken word … releases power -- power for good or
power for evil," is the commonly held view of the movement. It is
easy to see why the title "Positive Confession" is often applied to
As one might guess, the teachings of the Faith
movement are very attractive to some. If we can produce whatever our
hearts desire by simply demanding what we want by faith, if we can
manipulate the universe and perhaps even God, then we have our own
personal genie just waiting to fulfill our wishes. Frederick K.C.
Price wastes no words when he writes:
"Now this is a shocker! But God has to be given
permission to work in this earth realm on behalf of man. … Yes! You
are in control! So if man has control, who no longer has it? God.
... When God gave Adam dominion, that meant God no longer had
dominion. So, God cannot do anything on this earth unless we let Him
or give Him permission through prayer" (Prayer: Do You Know What
Prayer Is. ... and How to Pray? The Word Study Bible, p. 1178).
This is certainly a theology that would appeal to
the masses, and thus accounts for the Faith movement's popularity.
The Deification of Man
Faith teachers like to teach, based upon serious
mishandling of passages such as John 10:31-39 and II Peter 1:4, that
Christians are "little gods." Copeland says, "Now Peter said by
exceeding great and precious promises you become partakers of the
divine nature. All right, are we gods? We are a class of gods!" (Christianity
in Crisis, p. 116). Benny Hinn declares, "God came from heaven,
became a man, made man into little gods, went back to heaven as a
man" (Christianity in Crisis, p. 382 n. 43). Earl Paulk
wrote, "Until we comprehend that we are little gods and we begin to
act like little gods, we cannot manifest the kingdom of God" (Satan
Unmasked, p. 97).
The Humanization of God
While man is glorified, God is humiliated in the
Faith system. Copeland claims that God is a being who stands about
6'2"-6'3", weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of
hundred pounds, and has a hand span of 9" across (Christianity in
Crisis, p. 121). Copeland also declares "Adam was the copy,
looked just like (God). If you stood Adam beside God, they looked
just exactly alike. If you stood Jesus and Adam side-by-side, they
would look and sound exactly alike" (Christianity in Crisis,
Many of the Word-Faith teachers also embrace a
heresy known as Tritheism, which in essence teaches that there are
really three separate Gods. Hinn, under supposed inspiration,
"Man, I feel revelation knowledge already coming
on me here. Holy Spirit, take over in the name of Jesus. ... God the
Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person; and He is a triune being
by Himself separate from the Son and the Holy Ghost. Say, what did
you say? Hear it, hear it, hear it. See, God the Father is a person,
God the Son is a person, God the Holy Ghost is a person. But each
one of them is a triune being by Himself. If I can shock
you -- and maybe I should -- there's nine of them. Huh, what
did you say? Let me explain: God the Father, ladies and gentlemen,
is a person with his own personal spirit, with his own personal
soul, and his own personal spirit-body. You say, Huh, I never heard
that. Well you think you're in this church to hear things you've
heard for the last 50 years? You can't argue with the Word, can you?
It's all in the Word (Christianity in Crisis, p. 123-124).
Hinn, under fire, later retracted his remarks,
only to reaffirm them two years later.
Jesus supposedly told Copeland, "They crucified
me for claiming that I was God. But I didn't claim I was God; I just
claimed I walked with Him and that he was in me" (Christianity in
Crisis, p. 137-138). Many of the Faith heresies concerning God
can be traced to the notes found in Dake's Annotated
The Distortion of the Cross
Four atonement-related errors on the part of the
Faith teachers can be documented:
1) Christ was re-created on the cross from divine to
demonic. To put it in Faith vernacular, Jesus took on the very
nature of Satan himself.
2) Your redemption was not secured on the cross, but in hell. In
fact, many Faith teachers claim that Christ's torture by all the
demons of hell was a "ransom" God paid to Satan so that He could
get back into a universe from which He had been banished.
3) Jesus was reborn (or born again) in the very pit of hell.
4) Christ was reincarnated through His rebirth in hell and that
those who (like Christ) are born again can become "incarnated" as
Thus, Faith teachers take Christ, the spotless
Lamb, and pervert Him into an unholy sacrifice on the cross (Christianity
In Crisis, p.153).
While many, even within the Word-Faith churches,
are unaware of some of the doctrinal heresies of the movement, none
can plead ignorant of the strange and bizarre practices and emphasis
of its leaders. The following things are standard occurrences in
virtually every one of their television broadcasts, evangelistic
campaigns, and church services.
A Prosperity Gospel
Nothing will create more euphoria in the average
person than the promise to make them wealthy, and this the
Word-Faith leadership knows very well. The Word-Faith teacher's
lifestyle is clearly identified by opulence, luxury, riches, and the
assurance that all of this can be his followers as well -- if only
they apply certain principles.
Robert Tilton is normative. On a Trinity
Broadcasting Network program in 1990 he said:
"Being poor is a sin, when God promises
prosperity. New house? New car? That's chicken feed. That's nothing
compared to what God wants to do for you" (Charismatic Chaos,
Fred Price on a similar broadcast explains how it
"If you've got one dollar faith and you ask for a ten-thousand
dollar item, it ain't going to work. It won't work. Jesus said,
'According to your [faith],' not according to God's will for you,
in His own good time, if it's according to His will, if He can
work it into his busy schedule. He said, 'According to your faith,
be it unto you'" (Charismatic Chaos, p. 286).
Of course, the road to prosperity somehow always
leads to the offering plate of the Word-Faith Movement. Gloria
Copeland (Kenneth's wife) pulls no punches in her book God's Will
"Give $10 and receive $1000; Give $1000 and receive $100,000 …
give one house and receive one hundred houses or a house worth one
hundred times as much. Give one airplane and receive one hundred
times the value of the airplane. … In short, Mark 10:30 is a very
good deal" (p. 54).
A Health Gospel
The "name-it-and-claim-it" pundits are not
content with mere wealth; they want to feel well enough to enjoy
their prosperity. So do most of their listeners. So while you are
giving away wealth, why not dispense health as well?
The Word-Faith teachers, as is true of many other
charismatics, believe that Christ provided for physical healing at
the cross. As a result, not only are Christians saved from sin, they
are promised a life of health. Kenneth Copeland writes in Healed
… to Be or Not to Be:
"The first step to spiritual maturity is to realize your position
before God. You are a child of God and a joint-heir with Jesus.
Consequently, you are entitled to all the rights and privileges in
the kingdom of God, and one of their rights is health and healing"
But, if healing is part of the atonement, why do
Christians get sick? Lack of faith, as Benny Hinn explains:
"The Bible declares that the work was done 2,000
years ago. God is not going to heal you now -- he healed you 2,000
years ago. All you have to do today is receive your healing by
faith" (Rise and Be Healed, p. 44).
Of course reality, in the form of sickness, has
to be faced even by the Word-Faith leaders. Fred Price may proclaim
"we don't allow sickness in our home," but his wife still has
cancer. Kenneth Hagin brags that he has not had a headache, the flu,
or even "one sick day" in nearly 60 years, but he has had four
cardiovascular crises. Paul Crouch may have healed Oral Roberts of
chest pains on a TBN Broadcast, but it didn't stop Oral from having
a heart attack a few hours later (Christianity in Crisis, pp.
237-238). How are these things explained away? Predictably, by
blaming them on the devil. Sickness in the Word-Faith camp is
usually seen as satanic attacks that must be repelled by words of
faith (i.e., "positive confession").
The faith leaders make some amazing claims.
Hagin, for example, has visited (so he says) both heaven and hell as
well as had out-of-body experiences (Christianity in Crisis,
p. 334). He has had many visits from Jesus and angels. He boasts of
the ability to heal, cast our demons, and levitate people (p. 336).
Hinn opens his best selling book with these words:
"It was three days before Christmas 1973. The sun was still rising
on that cold, misty Toronto morning. Suddenly He was there. The
Holy Spirit entered my room. He was as real to me that morning as
the book you are holding in your hand is to you. For the next
eight hours I had an incredible experience with the Holy Spirit.
It changed the course of my life (Rise and Be Healed, p.
Hinn speaks of frequent personal visits from the
Lord, the first being at age eleven:
saw Jesus walk into my bedroom. He was wearing a robe that was
whiter than white and a deep red mantle was draped over the robe.
I saw his hair. I looked into His eyes. I saw the nailprints in
His hands. I saw everything. ... When it happened, I was asleep,
but suddenly my little body was caught up in an incredible
sensation that can only be described as 'electric.' It felt as if
someone had plugged me into a wired socket. There was a numbness
that felt like needles -- a million of them -- rushing through my
body. And then the Lord stood before me while I was in a deep,
deep sleep. He looked straight at me with the most beautiful eyes.
He smiled, and His arms were open wide. I could feel His presence.
It was marvelous and I'll never forget it" (Rise and Be Healed,
When Hinn describes his conversion, he does not
mention the cross, repentance, or faith; rather, it is all couched
in terms of experience:
"What I really felt, though, was that this surge of power was
cleansing me -- instantly, from the inside out. I felt absolutely
clean, immaculate, and pure. Suddenly I saw Jesus with my own
eyes. It happened in a moment of time. There he was. Jesus" (Rise
and Be Healed, p. 31).
Hinn claims power of a supernatural nature often
emanates from his body:
"Once, my mother was cleaning the hallway while I was in my room
talking with the Holy Spirit. When I came out, she was thrown
right back. Something had knocked her against the wall. I said,
'What's wrong with you, Mama?' She answered, 'I don't know?' Well,
the presence of the Lord almost knocked her down" (Rise and Be
Healed, p. 42).
Both the appeal of the book and its dangers are
evident in this quote:
"Are you ready to meet the Holy Spirit intimately and
personally? Do you want to hear His voice? Are you prepared to know
him as a person? That's exactly what happened to me, and it
drastically transformed my life. It was an intensely personal
experience, and it was based on God's Word. You may ask, 'Was it the
result of a systematic Bible study?' No, it happened when I invited
the Holy Spirit to be my personal friend. To be my constant guide.
To take me by the hand and lead me 'into all truth.' What He will
uncover and reveal to you in Scripture will make your study of the
Bible come alive" (Rise and Be Healed, p.
Both the Word-Faith leaders and their followers
make the same mistake of basing their lives on experiences and
feelings rather than upon the inspired Word of God.
Luminaries within the Movement
is considered the father of Word-Faith. He has a syndicated radio
show carried by about 250 radio stations; a Bible School (Rhema
Bible Training Center) with 12,000 graduates from 1974-1992; a
magazine with 400,000 subscribers; and has sold millions of books
and other publications.
is the heir-apparent to the Faith throne (although Benny Hinn has
moved in to challenge). Copeland's empire spans the globe with
similar ministries as Hagin.
was pastor of Orlando Christian Center in Orlando, Florida. (He
recently moved his ministry to Dallas.) Hinn reaches the world
through evangelistic campaigns, television, and literature. His book
Good Morning Holy Spirit was the best selling Christian book in
1991, selling a quarter of a million copies in only three months. He
is perhaps best known as a "Faith-Healer" in the traditions of
Kathryn Kuhlman (his idol) and Oral Roberts. His "ability" to "slay
in the Spirit" large groups of people at once (by blowing on them or
waving his arm their direction) has brought him considerable
Frederick K.C. Price, the most prominent
of black Word-Faith preachers, pastors the 16,000-member Crenshaw
Christian Center, and has his own television show.
John Avanzini, best-known fundraiser among
the Word-Faith leaders. He has said, "A greater than a lottery has
come. His name is Jesus!"
Robert Tilton perfected the Christian
infomercial through his "Success-N-Life" television program.
Marilyn Hickey is (except for Gloria
Copeland and perhaps Jan Crouch) the best-known woman in the
movement. She teaches people to speak to their wallets and
checkbooks in order that their wealth may increase.
David Yonggi Cho
is the pastor of the 700,000 Full Gospel Yoido Church in South
Korea. Cho, who often speaks at Robert Schuller Conferences on
church growth (along with Bill Hybels), is perhaps the closest link
to the occult. He teaches a concept called the "Fourth Dimension."
The first three dimensions are physical and are controlled by the
fourth, which is the spiritual. Cho teaches that Christians can get
anything they want by calling upon the spirit world in the Fourth
Dimension and visualizing what they want. When a person (Christian
or unsaved) follows the proper formula of positive thinking,
speaking and visualizing, they "incubate" and eventually give birth
to their desires. These techniques are the same used in his
occult-infested country. Cho is aware of this fact, but believes
what works for "them" will work for "us" -- so use it.
* This report has been excerpted and or
adapted from an article ("The Word of Faith Movement") in the April
1999, Think on These Things, Southern View Chapel,
Springfield, IL, Gary Gilley, Pastor.