By Craig Branch –
Many times I have watched a steady parade of Word-Faith showmen on Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) and cringed as I saw them manipulate both Scripture and the audience. Seldom is this manipulation more obvious than when they turn to the topic of health and healing. Many of the leaders of the Word-Faith Movement—e.g., Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, T.L. Osborn, Joyce Meyer, Fred Price, Charles Capps, T.J. McCrossan, Morris Cerullo, Paul and Jan Crouch, Jerry Savelle, Jesse DuPlantes, Rod Parsley, John Osteen, Marilyn Hickey, Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, and Earl Paulk, and others—are guilty in this area of the classic control and manipulation methods common among cult leaders.
As we will see, many of the Word-Faith teachers present half-truths on the topic of health and healing. The part that is true is often a fair challenge to the Church as a whole concerning areas that we need to address and change. But, the part that is false distorts the nature and sovereignty of God, the work of Christ, the nature of biblical faith, creates false guilt and legalism in believers and a real temptation to arrogance and divisions among Christians. In fact, many people have experienced shipwreck of faith due to Word-Faith teaching on health.
Two Foundational Doctrines
The Word-Faith heresy on healing derives its foundation from two doctrines which they do not correctly understand. The first doctrine is their belief that not only is healing in the atonement, but that healing is a promise that the believer has the right to expect now. In other words, it is God’s will and God’s provision that every Christian has perfect health in his lifetime. Kenneth Copeland explains,
To realize the truth of God’s will for healing, you need to understand the full extent of your redemption. Healing is just as much a part of the plan of redemption as salvation, the Holy Spirit, and heaven as your eternal home. To stay sick when Jesus has provided healing would be living far below your privileges as a child of God.1
To make such claims, the Word-Faith teachers all misapply Isaiah 53:4-5 (which will be examined later in this article). These teachers proclaim that Christ redeemed His people from all the curses that resulted from the Fall and has established an inheritance contract. God has done His part, now we have just to draw from that inheritance by exercising proper faith (among several other conditions). As Kenneth Hagin states, quoting Heb. 2:14, “The law of sin and death is the devil’s law. The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus is God’s law. Romans 8:2 says, ‘For the law of the Spirit has made me free from the law of sin and death.’”2 Copeland explains what the law of sin and death is:
Jesus died for sin, at the same time, did away with all the effects of sin. When sin entered the world, it brought with it the forces of destruction, death, sickness, poverty, and fear. The price Jesus paid at Calvary was the full price, covering every area of human life: spiritual, mental, physical, financial, and social. Our redemption is complete.3
Another foundational doctrine is that “physical healing is just as much a part of the plan of redemption as salvation.”4 Just as we are justified by “our faith” right now, we can have physical healing right now by the same faith (although they later have to qualify that and add more conditions to it). In other words, they claim that since our justification is through faith, then access to all the benefits of the atonement can be equally experienced in the present by simple faith. They fail to understand that the doctrine of salvation entails a process, however. We are justified (past, completed) by faith alone, resulting in sanctification (present, ongoing process) which will finally eventuate in glorification when Christ returns and all effects of sin will then be removed.
Other foundational texts which the Word-Faith teachers misapply to prove their views are Galatians 3:13-14, 29; Hebrews 11:1; Mark 11:24; John 10:10; Matthew 13:58; and scattered texts in the gospels where Jesus healed. Ironically, Hagin warns that “It is a mistake to take one small portion of Scripture and try to prove something,”5 yet that is precisely what the Word-Faith teachers repeatedly do themselves.
Word-Faith teachers believe that Galatians 3:13-14 affirms that Jesus Christ’s atonement bore our sin, disease, sickness, poverty, and physical and spiritual death by fulfilling the terms of the Covenant given to Abraham (Gen. 17:1-8; Deut. 28:1-14). We are heirs to that promise (Gal. 3:19-29). They teach that Jesus did not operate as the Son of God in His earthly ministry but was operating only as a man, a prophet, and therefore demonstrated how to operate the covenant or contract principles of the Word, which we today can likewise do ourselves. Copeland writes, “Everything Jesus used in His earthly ministry is available to the believer today. . .[except] to die on the cross as the Son of God and pay the price of sin” and “as a believer you have a right to make commands in the name of Jesus. Each time you stand on His Word, you are commanding God.”6 Let’s see, that means we can command storms and nature, raise people from the dead, and, oh, not own our own home, or not receive paychecks!
The Word-Faith teachers, understanding neither Greek nor sound rules of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) make Hebrews 11:1, Mark 11:24, 2 Corinthians 4:18, and Romans 4:17, 19-21 teach that faith is a “force” that Christians have access to now, and by which we have anything we ask for now, not needing to hope for anything future. This “force of faith” works for anyone who utilizes the correct formula (Christian and non-Christian alike).7 Even God had to use this principle or law of faith to do everything He does, like create the world.8
This “having what you say” works itself out in a major component of the Word-Faith doctrine, called positive and negative confession. As God “spoke” the worlds into existence (Gen. 1:3), so too whatever we speak forth into this faith formula energy field has powerful effects—even over life and death.9
Testing the Spirits
One way to tell if a view is rational is to discover whether or not it is falsifiable. Or, more specifically, one may show a view to be rationally unacceptable by showing that it cannot be falsified—that is, there are no possible conditions under which the view may be seen to be false. Suppose that I am convinced that Elvis is still alive. And suppose that there is no amount of evidence that I will allow to count against my belief. You show me Elvis’ obituary and certificate of death, but I claim that they are forged. You even show me his body and the results of a DNA test, but I claim that the body and the DNA are from a clone. No matter what evidence you bring, I am able to adjust my view or dismiss the evidence with some wild hypothesis. This would be an example of an irrational unfalsifiable belief.
Likewise, the Word-Faith teachers present a deceptive and delusional matrix of teachings in an attempt to cover their failings in the area of health and healing, which make their claims impossible to falsify.10 What is discouraging and perplexing is that their followers fail to see these fallacies. For example, Hagin writes, “There has been criticism of mass healing meetings because, in many cases, the healings do not last. This is true because where a mass faith is present, people can be helped temporarily. However, to maintain their healing, these people should continue to feed on God’s word.”11
In response to this claim, we should first ask those in the Word-Faith movement to find one healing in the Bible that did not last. Then, secondly, we should notice that such a claim makes it virtually impossible to falsify the Word-Faith teachers’ claims of miraculous healing. Any time someone whom they claim was healed turns out not to be healed, they can always say, “Well, they had it, but they lost it.”
In typical cultic fashion, they shift the blame to their subjects and twist Scripture to justify it. Gloria Copeland writes,
The symptoms of sickness may continue to linger after you believe that you receive. This is the time that you must hold fast to the fearless confession of the Word. . .[you must] learn to stand against Satan and his symptoms. . . enforce the Word that you were healed, thank God for His word of healing and go about your business.12
So, healing is always up to a person’s ability to correctly exercise faith. Ms. Copeland then puts all responsibility on the person: “Satan is quick to bring disease to Christians if they will allow it. It is you who must govern Satan in your life and circumstances. . . .Your lack of knowledge [i.e. the Word-Faith interpretations] of God’s Word or your lack of diligence to act on that Word allows disease to fill your body.”13 Kenneth Hagin similarly teaches that
Real faith in God—heart faith—believes the Word of God regardless of what the physical evidence may be. . . .The trouble with a lot of people is that they want the manifestation on the outside before they will believe on the inside. But it doesn’t work that way. . .a person seeking healing should look to God’s Word and not to his symptoms. He should say, “I know that I am healed because the Word of God says that by His stripes I am healed.”14
To drive this point home, Hagin often tells a story about a man who had been healed through his laying on of hands, but eight months later, it came back. Hagin explained to the man how the condition had come back. He writes, “The minute the first pain struck your body, you said, ‘I thought I was healed, but I guess I’m not,’ and you opened the door for the devil to come right back in again. . . .The prayer of faith may deliver temporarily, but unbelief eventually will annul the effects of that prayer”15 He goes on to explain that one must ignore any lying symptoms and maintain “faith” in order for it to keep working. Like salvation, one must maintain a strong faith in order to remain healed, otherwise one can lose their healing in the same way as their salvation.
Even Joyce Meyer who vacillates between Word-Faith doctrines and orthodoxy falls into the positive confession error and puts the heavy load of guilt on her followers. She writes, “I believe one of the reasons we are not seeing power released in using the Name of the Lord is that in our speech we are mixing positives with negatives…[the Lord told her] Some people never get anywhere because they are positive one day and negative the next day about the same thing.”16 She teaches something that is more akin to magic and witchcraft than Christianity. She teaches that if someone says “God, I’m so tired” they are making a “negative confession” and are “taking the name of the Lord in vain.”
So when people come either to a faith healer or follow the Word-Faith teachers false interpretation of faith and healing on their own, and they do not experience healings, then the Word-Faith system puts the blame on the individual rather than on the doctrine. It is unfalsifiable. Even if a person claims healing, and later discovers the ailment to still be present by symptoms or by diagnostic tests, the individual must deny what is there, maintaining his “faith” or say he lost his healing because of a faltering faith. Again, untestable, unfalsifiable!
To back up their doctrine of two kinds of faith, a heart faith and a natural human (false) faith, the Word-Faith teachers use Thomas’ encounter with the risen Christ (John 20:24-29) compared to Abraham’s faith (Rom. 4:17-21), and they wrongly tie to that 2 Corinthians 5:7 where Paul says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” These are examples of a horrible twisting of Scripture of which the Bible warns (2 Pet. 3:16-18). As shown earlier, they wrongly tie the experience of justification as an event realized now to physical healing as a present reality. But, to use Doubting Thomas’ faith as an example of false faith is not consistent with that text or with Scripture taken as a whole.
Concerning Jesus’ encounter with Thomas, notice that the other disciples had already seen the risen Christ with their own eyes and believed. Now Thomas also wanted physical evidence. Jesus accommodated Thomas and told him to touch Him and “be not unbelieving but believing.” After Thomas fell at His feet to worship, Jesus said, “Thomas, because you have seen you have believed [a true faith]. Blessed are they [the rest of us today] who did not see and yet believed.” To be sure, to believe without direct physical evidence is a good thing. But, that does not mean that Thomas’ faith was not genuine.
In 2 Corinthians 5:7 there is a context and a specific reference to “faith” and to “sight” or appearance. In context, this passage is an admonition for believers to take courage because, even though our physical bodies are decaying and we groan and travail, we are to set our sights and confidence on the eternal promise to come for which we have the Spirit as a “pledge” or down payment. The promise, though, will only be fully realized in the resurrection. This corresponds to what Paul teaches in Philippians where he writes that because he walks by faith he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances he is in, “being filled or being hungry. . .having abundance or suffering need” (Phil. 4:11-13).
The same teaching is seen in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 where Paul is afflicted with the “thorn in his flesh” as well as with “distress and persecutions and difficulties,” but nevertheless realizes that he can walk by faith and not sight. Why? Because God’s grace is sufficient and His “power is perfected in weakness.”
Other Hindrances to Healing?
The Word-Faith teachers have other conditions in their matrix that are “hindrances to healing.” Most of these are spelled out in Kenneth Hagin’s book Seven Hindrances to Healing.17
The first hindrance is that some people are not prepared for healing since “each individual has a part to play in his own healing,” in order “to meet the conditions of God’s Word.” Hagin claims they must first “take time with God’s Word” in order to “prepare their hearts to receive it, in a spiritual attitude.”18 Hagin doesn’t explain all the passages where people who received healing in the New Testament were healed with little or no Bible knowledge and even minimal faith (cf. Luke 4:38-41; 5:12-13; Mark 5:35-42; 9:22-25).
The second hindrance is that people question whether it is the will of God to heal them. Hagin teaches that this doubt is lack of faith in what God has already provided and is definitely His will, namely, healing. Ironically, Hagin uses the leper in Matthew 8:1-3 as an example. The leper bowed before the Lord, a submissive act, and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” According to Hagin, the use of the phrase “if you are willing” could be a roadblock to healing. Yet, contrary to Hagin, Jesus answered, “I am willing, be healed.”
The third hindrance is hidden sin in one’s life. Again, this is a half-truth. Unconfessed sin can quench the Spirit. But, these Word-Faith teachers actually reverse the role of sovereignty between God and man. Hagin writes about man’s sin “that he has thrown up a barrier the Spirit of God cannot penetrate.”19
Other alleged hindrances include the possibility that the person is relying upon the human healer (“hero worship”) rather than the Healer. Yet, when we watch the extravagant performances of these healers, we wonder if that hindrance is not promoted. Hagin also points to a person’s lack of specificity as to what he wants from the Lord, and a specific time that his orders to God are to be realized. Hagin states that people can have whatever they desire, “confess that you received when you prayed,” and God will have to uphold His end of the “contract” and deliver.20
Hagin lists still more hindrances to healing in his booklet, The Key to Scriptural Healing. These “Roadblocks to Healing” militate against the sovereignty of God and the fact that God “is working all things after the council of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Hagin begins by claiming “the road to divine healing is seldom an expressway.”21 What an understatement! When one reads the matrix of conditions and excuses as to why their speculations do not deliver, the destination involves a complicated and contradictory roadmap.
Hagin claims that the roadblocks to healing include believing the error that “God sends sickness upon people” and believing that “my healing may not be God’s will.”22 (pp. 1-7). Other roadblocks are believing that the Bible allows medicinal aid and believing that Christians in the Bible were left sick (including Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” which Hagin claims to know for sure was not a sickness). And last he warns against a belief that sickness is God’s chastening (cf. Heb. 12:7), or that God is glorified in our suffering.
One characteristic of cultism is information control, that is, preventing contact with people or information that would expose the error of the cult leader. Typically the leader attempts to demonize those opposing him and creates a cloud of fearful consequences that will surely befall if one accesses counter-knowledge. Word-Faith teachers are guilty of this as well.23
Charles Farah, theology professor at Oral Roberts University, had this to say in response to the Word-Faith view of health:
In what is your faith to be placed? Is our faith in healing? Is our faith in salvation? Is our faith in the laws of prosperity? Is our faith in the exercise of our faith? In what or whom is our faith?. . . .Is your faith in healing or in the God who heals? If I focus on the living God, I can rest. I can relinquish even my healing unto His hands and His timing. I can say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”24
Now before I present a theology of sickness, suffering, and healing in response to the Word-Faith heresies, let us look at the record of the Word-Faith teachers themselves. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”
Probably an even more glaring problem than the failure of the faith healers’ teachings is the fact that they don’t practice what they preach. A look at the medical records of the faith healers is telling indeed. For example, the man who is affectionately known as “Dad” Hagin died last month of heart failure. Kenneth Hagin, the most prominent Word-Faith leader, frequently reported how as an invalid boy of 16, he was healed of a heart condition through his faith formula. Hagin claimed that after he was healed “some alarming heart symptoms tried to come back. The devil would bring to my mind everything my doctors had ever said about my heart condition. I knew those symptoms could mean death, but I never budged an inch.”25 Rather than acknowledge the reality of any felt symptoms, Hagin would instead exercise “faith” that he was healed. He wrote, “It is our confession of it that creates the reality, then it becomes real in our lives.”26
So, did the fatal heart problem return because of a negative confession? If so, was it not a true healing? Was it another heart condition different from the first? If so, then why wouldn’t Hagin be able to exercise faith again and cure it? Or could it be that the faith formula is faulty? It is interesting to note that Hagin’s wife sent a letter to supporters after Hagin’s death stating that Hagin had had another heart attack some years ago.
Let’s review the record of a number of others who teach and operate the “name-it, claim-it” doctrine of health:
- John Osteen died recently of several medical conditions after his church “confessed” his healing. Osteen’s wife survived cancer with the help of medical doctors.
- Fred Price’s wife used chemotherapy to arrest her cancer.
- TBN’s Jan Crouch was just recently “healed” of cancer of the colon and lymph nodes, through surgery and prayer. I didn’t say a prayer of “faith” because that would have precluded any doctors or medical treatments.27
- T.L. Osborn’s wife Daisy died of cancer.
- Charles Capp’s wife was medically treated for cancer.
- R.W. Schambach received a quadruple heart bypass operation.
- Dr. Hobert Freeman died of a medically treatable disease as did over 90 people in his congregation because they refused any medical treatment, choosing instead to put their faith in the “promises” of healing.
- Joyce Meyer received a mastectomy for breast cancer.
- Rod Parsley was recently admitted to the hospital for back surgery.28
The Truth Will Set You Free
In all my years (23) of dealing with false teachers and cults, I have never seen more constant and consistent manipulation and distortion of biblical texts as I have seen with the Word-Faith teachers. I have repeatedly noted that many of the novel Word-Faith teachings are half-truths. The good half is occasionally something helpful that the Church needs to hear and reflect upon. But the other half, the lie, brings a toll of shattered lives, deeply wounded and defeated Christians who carry burdens of false guilt and walk around in fantasy worlds of make-believe Christianity.
At best, these followers spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on what is, biblically speaking, relatively incidental, while ignoring or missing out on the weightier matters—righteousness, holiness, justice, love, truth, mercy. The result is often arrogance, pride, and violations of the biblical admonition.
If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited [and] understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness [actually] is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance [and] gentleness. (1 Tim. 6:3-11)
In short, Word-Faith followers are pursuing a distortion of God rather than God Himself. And they refuse to take up and carry the cross. The straight-forward and passionate message of the cross is displaced by endless promises to solve personal problems by enjoying perfect health and wealth. Rather than following Christ down a rugged and narrow road, the Word-Faith teachers assure their followers that they have entered into the fullness of the riches of Jesus promises here and now. They are children of the king who obviously wants to lavish his children with royal splendor in this mortal life.
Yet, biblical exegesis (that is, moving beyond what a text says on the surface, to what the text means in both the immediate context and the context of all of Scripture), does not support the controversial views of the Word-Faith teachers. As you read what follows, please take the time to read the passages I refer to so that you may truly deepen your understanding. When I encounter Word-Faith followers, I ask them if they take Mark 11:24 to mean that whatever they ask for, believing they will receive it, God will give it to him. They say, “Yes, it is what the Word says!” So then I ask them if they believe that Jesus is God, equal to the Father? They reply, “yes.” Then I show them how the Jehovah’s Witness misuses Scripture to deny the deity of Jesus. I take them to John 14:28 where Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I”; to Mark 13:32 where Jesus declares that there is something He doesn’t know, only the Father knows; to John 20:17 where Jesus points to the Father and calls Him “the only true God”; and to Colossians 1:15 and Revelation 3:14 where Jesus is referred to as the “first-born of creation” and the “beginning of the creation of God” which the Jehovah’s Witness takes as indicating that Jesus had a beginning and could not be eternal.
The Word-Faith followers can then see more clearly that we must go beyond what the text may seem to say on the surface and interpret Scripture with other Scripture. Mark 11:24 must be understood along with John 15:7, 1 John 5:14-15, and Luke 5:12-13, all of which show that answered prayer is conditioned on knowing God’s will through His word so that we can ask in faith—i.e. trusting in God’s will.
The Word-Faith teachers point to this passage as an explicit claim that healing from sickness is part of the atonement, citing Mat. 8:17 as proof. They claim that we can have healing now by faith just as we can have salvation into eternal life now by faith.
It is my own view that Isaiah 53:4-5 does indeed refer to both the atonement for our sins and physical healing. The context of Matthew 8:16-17 confirms Isaiah’s reference to physical healing while other texts like 1 Peter 2:24 refer to the removal of our sin debt. In other words, Christ’s atonement did conquer all the curses of the Fall and make victory available to us. But, what the Word-Faith advocates do not understand is the eschatological “already but not yet” application of this inheritance. The kingdom of God has already come, is continuing to be established, and will yet realize its ultimate consummation in the new heavens and new earth.
Our salvation and our inheritance have this “already but not yet” eschatological reality as well. We have gained a promised inheritance. We are already “saved” and have already been “raised up” and “seated” with Him in our heavenly inheritance (Eph. 2:5-7). We now have the down payment or pledge of the Spirit by which we know that we will in the final resurrection experience the full benefit of what Christ did for us. Until then, we walk in hope and confidence even through the afflictions of mortality (2 Cor. 4:16-5:7; Eph. 1:14).
While the experience of perfect health and healing is not promised to Christians now, what is a promise and guarantee is that Christ’s substitutionary atonement enables Him, from personal experience and divine omniscience, to sympathize and empathize with all our infirmities and pains, and sustain us in coping with the fallenness of this world (Heb. 4:14-16).
Sickness Among the Biblical Faithful
There are very explicit testimonials in the New Testament which demonstrate both the bankruptcy of the Word-Faith formula and the validity of the “already but not yet” truth of Scripture. For example, great men of faith Epaphroditus and Trophimus had prolonged illnesses which were mentioned in Scripture without any reproof (Phil. 2:25-27; 2 Tim. 4:20). Paul instructed his own spiritual son Timothy to take a little wine for his recurring stomach problems rather than exercise a “prayer of faith.” Paul had a “bodily illness,” most likely an eye problem (Gal.4:13-15). In fact, Paul gives us some additional insight as to God’s providential purpose in illness. Paul states that it was because of this hindrance that Paul remained in Galatia to minister the gospel.
Is it wrong to pray for healing or deliverance from hard ships? No. Paul did so three times, asking for deliverance from a “thorn in the flesh,” which he called a “messenger from Satan himself.” Again, Paul reveals divine purpose in allowing an infirmity to remain—in his case to keep him from exalting himself that the power manifested would be Christ’s rather than his own (2 Cor. 12:7-10; Phil 4:17).29
And of course, Job is another “Achilles heel” for the Word-Faith doctrine. God allowed Satan to bring physical infirmities, death to family members, and spoilage of his material holdings. Yet, Job was a man “blameless, upright, fearing God and who turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). And Job demonstrated strong faith even after he had suffered the loss of family, fortune and health (Job 1:20-22; 2:10; 13:15). Hebrews 11 gives us many
more examples of men of great faith, a “great cloud of witnesses” for us, the Church, who “gained approval through their faith,” but who suffered many physical pains and were often homeless and destitute (Heb. 12:1; 11:35-40).
God sometimes allows physical infirmity for a redemptive purpose because His goal is our holiness, not material and physical happiness in this mortal existence. He is sovereign. He is in control. He works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11; Heb. 1:3). We see this in John 9:1-3 where Jesus healed a man born blind. We are told that the man’s blindness was not due to his sin, but so that God would be glorified.
Another example is found in Exodus 4:11 where God reminds us that it is He who makes the deaf, dumb and blind, as well as those who have all their faculties. Now it is also true that a person’s own sinful choices can result in sickness and death as well (1 Cor. 11:30), but it is not merely one way or the other.
Aging and Death Among the Word-Faith Believers
One ironic fallacy in Word-Faith theory is that Word-Faith teachers, and their followers, age physically. Kenneth Copeland proclaimed that Jesus’ atonement “did away with all the effects of sin,” which includes, “every area of life,” even death.30 Man physically dies as a result of sickness, accidents, calamity, wars, murders, and body/organ system failure (i.e., wearing out, old age). Physical death and the decay of aging are enemies conquered by Christ, one of the results or consequences of the curse (Rom. 8:9-11, 38-39; 1 Cor. 15:26; Heb. 2:14-15). So Word-Faith people must explain why continued aging after 30 years or so cannot be arrested by positive confessions of faith!
And, what about pain? Pain is a result of the Fall/curse as well (Gen. 3:16). We would expect that followers of Word-Faith teachings would experience no pain. But they do. However, the answer to these kinds of problems is that in Christ we do have victory over physical death and aging, but that victory will only be realized at the time of our glorification (John 11:25-26; 5:24). So, again, the hermeneutical point missed by the Word-Faith teachers is that death and sickness continue to be experienced without rebuke or condemnation directed toward believers. They are designed to help us learn to live by faith in God’s power, in God’s plan (2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:20-21; Rom. 8:18-25; 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:12-27, 42-49; Rev. 21:1-5).
There is healing in atonement because the resurrection body is guaranteed in the atonement. The Word-Faith teachers say we have a right to demand everything now, but this is biblically absurd. Of course, God does still heal and do the miraculous and these are blessings we can experience now—as God wills.
Does our faith play a role in the present experience of miraculous healing? Yes, by grace through faith as is demonstrated in numerous instances in Scripture (Matt. 9:29, 13:58; 15:21-28, 21:22; Mark 5:25f; Luke 7:9; 18:42, Acts 14:8-10; Jas. 1:6-7; 5:15). But Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2; Phil. 4:13; 1 Cor. 1:30-31). It is not faith in our faith but faith in God—in his will, power, and providential grace. And this exercise of faith does not preclude looking to medial treatment. Medical knowledge and advancement is part of our God-given cultural mandate to redeem many aspects of a fallen world. Like the government, the medical institution is also, in the providence of God, designed to bring about good for man.
On the positive side, the Word-Faith movement (and in this case, the Charismatic Movement in general), has challenged the Church to expect more from God supernaturally and come out of our rationalistic boxes and traditional molds. We are challenged to experience a relational God rather than just to live inside doctrinal principles. Evangelicals should pay more attention to spiritual warfare and the reality of Satan and demons. We should be challenged to venture out and rely upon God to do beyond that which we ask or think and can do in our own strength. We must live by faith, that goes beyond our own natural talents and devices.31
In closing, let me state that faith in the biblical sense is not a formula for health, prosperity, and success. It is faith in Christ Himself. It is utter commitment to and trust in Him, wherever our life’s sojourn may lead, and whatever that life may bring— health or sickness, worldly success or failure, prosperity or want. May we imitate Paul as he imitates Christ. I close with his words:
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [the] Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which [comes] from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:7-11) AJ
Craig Branch was the Director of the Apologetics Resource Center (1999-2013) in Birmingham, Alabama.
1 Kenneth Copeland, You Are Healed (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1987), 5.
2 Kenneth Hagin, The Key to Scriptural Healing (Tulsa, OK: Faith Library Publications, 1991), 3.
3 Copeland, You Are Healed, 12 (emphasis mine).
4 See (Copeland, Ibid., 5).
5 Kenneth Hagin, The Key to Scriptural Healing, 14.
6 Kenneth Copeland, Our Covenant with God (Ft. Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1991), 27, 32.
7 See Kenneth Hagin, Having Faith in Your Faith (Tulsa, OK: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1980), 3-4.
8 See Kenneth Hagin, New Thresholds of Faith (Tulsa, OK: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1979), 74-76.
9 See Charles Capps, The Tongue: A Creative Force (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 1976), 12-14.
10 Objective scrutiny consistently demonstrates few if any documented cases of healing by faith healers. For example, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, (CBC), followed up on popular Word-Faith personality Benny Hinn’s public claims of healings denying his crusades. Out of 78 “miracle healings” Hinn supplied only 5 names and addresses for follow-up. Three of those names were not healed, in fact, two died of their conditions shortly after the pronounced “healing.” NBC’s Dateline followed a number of Hinn’s healing crusades with hidden cameras. After the Las Vegas crusade which displayed 56 “healings,” Hinn repeatedly refused to produce any names of the “documented healings.” Later, after repeated requests, Hinn supplied 5 names of “irrefutable and medically proven miracles,” none of which were those 56 from Las Vegas. Dateline followed up and 4 of the 5, while claiming to have been healed of disc or heart problems, and cancer, none would provide their medical records nor doctor’s names. One who claimed to have been cured of Lou Gehrig’s disease gave the name of her neurologist who said “he suspected she didn’t have Lou Gehrig’s disease in the first place” (See NBC News, Dec. 27, 2002, http://www.religionnewsblog.com/archives/0001684. html; see also Keith Gibson’s article in this issue of Areopagus Journal for more on the failures of faith healers.)
11 Kenneth Hagin, The Real Faith (Tulsa, OK: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1992), 3.
12 Gloria Copeland, God’s Will for Your Healing (Ft. Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1991), 37-39.
13 Ibid., 23.
14 Hagin, The Real Faith, 10.
15 Ibid., 2.
16 Joyce Meyer, Jesus – Name Above all Names: Releasing His Anointing in Your Life (New York: Warner Books, 2000), 77-78.
17 Kenneth Hagin, Seven Hindrances to Healing (Tulsa, OK: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1980).
18 Ibid., 1-9.
19 Ibid., 17 (emphasis mine).
20 Ibid., 21-24.
21 Kenneth Hagin, The Key to Scriptural Healing, 1.
22 Ibid., 1-7.
23 See, e.g., the tactics of Gloria Copeland in her And Jesus Healed Them All (Ft. Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Publications, 1981), 3-12. 24 Charles Farah, The Pinnacle of the Temple: Faith vs. Presumption (Plainfield, N.J: Logos International, n.d.), 126.
25 Kenneth Hagin, The Real Faith, 27.
26 Kenneth Hagin, Right and Wrong Confessing (Tulsa, OK: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1992), 7; cf. pp. 28-29.
27 See “letters from Paul Crouch Jr.” at www.tbn.org.
28 See story at www.discernment.org/sick.htm.
29 Word-Faith teachers attempt to escape the problem posed by Paul’s thorn in the flesh by claiming that Paul’s thorn was not a physical infirmity, but rather persecutions (see, e.g., Kenneth Hagin, The Key to Scriptural Healing, 12.). But the text (v. 10) clearly distinguishes his “weakness” from persecution as a separate and distinct form of hindrance. However, even if they are correct in their interpretation, they still have an insurmountable contradiction to their doctrine since they teach that Satan, who brought this “thorn” on Paul, was defeated and we have authority over him.
30 Copeland, You Are Healed, 12.
31 One related topic not covered in this article concerns whether the spiritual gifts of healing and miracles are still operative in the Church today. It is my own position that those gifts have not ceased. Briefly, I arrive at my conclusion on the basis that the sign and wonder gifts still accompany the advancement and establishment of the Kingdom of God. They are listed as normative (beyond just apostolic attestation) in the Church membership in 1 Cor. 12-14. Cessation of these imperfect gifts will occur only in the eschaton of Christ second coming (the “perfection” Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 13:10). I recommend the following books so that the reader might prayerfully study this issue: Wayne Grudem, ed., Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996); Michael Green, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975); D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Cor. 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987; Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994); Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1996).