By Clete Hux –
Most Christians have heard some of the following: “You can have what you say,” “The reason you haven’t been healed is that you don’t have enough faith,” “We can write our own ticket with God if we decide what we want, believe that it’s ours, and confess it,” “He wants you rich and healthy,” “What is the desire of your heart? Name it , claim it by faith, and it is yours! Your heavenly Father has promised it. It’s right there in the Bible.”
Such statements reflect the models which set forth a theology of the spoken word (rhematology) or of thought-actualization, commonly known as “positive confession“, which stresses the inherent power of words and thoughts.
Some who teach this system argue that just as God, by His faith, spoke (or conceived of the creation in His mind) and matter came into existence (Genesis 1, Psalm 33:6, Hebrews 11:3, 2 Peter 3:5), so the Christian can speak (or conceive of things in his mind) and actually bring them into existence by faith.
Many of those in the Word-Faith movement, such as Charles Capps and Jerry Savelle, teach that God had faith in His faith. They use Scripture texts such as Mark 11:22 and Hebrews 11:3, translating them as “have the faith of God”. However, renowned Greek scholar A.T. Robertson, in his books A Short Grammar of the Greek Testament (pp. 227-228) and A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (p. 500), very adequately shows that the phrase is not to be translated in the subjective genitive (meaning that the noun is the subject of the action – or that God is the subject of faith) such as “have the faith of God”, but is to be translated in the objective genitive (meaning that the noun is the object of the action – that God is the object of faith). He goes on to insist that translating in the subjective genitive is preposterous. He says “it is not the faith that God has, but the faith of which God is the object”.
The Gospel of Health
“I am fully convinced – I would die saying it is so – that it is the plan of Our Father God, in His great love and in His great mercy, that no believer should ever be sick; that every believer should live his full life span down here on this earth; and that every believer should finally just fall asleep in Jesus” (Kenneth E. Hagin, Seven Things You Should Know about Divine Healing, p. 21).
The above statement and others like it have caused much confusion in the body of Christ and led many to be presumptuous in the area of divine healing. There are some things that are true about healing to which most Christians would readily admit. First of all, people who are morally conscientious and who recognize that the physical body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16) may generally have better health because they take care of their bodies. Secondly, the healing of human life is part of the redemptive work of God. The Bible does teach healing. It was part of Jesus’ and the apostles’ ministries. There were gifts of healing in the church’s charismata, and in James 5:14-15, Christians are specifically encouraged to pray for the sick with the promise of answered prayer.
Of course, one reason believers pray for the sick to be healed is their conviction that the body, though still subject to decay and death in the present age, is destined for resurrection (1 Corinthians 6:13-14), and when God does heal someone it is a sign of the future Age already at work in the present.
However, where most Christians depart from the “faith movement” on healing is their understanding of the most pivotal text of Isaiah 53, which those in the faith movement almost always twist to justify their view of “blanket” coverage for the physical healing of every Christian who has enough faith.
A clearer understanding of this important passage can be gleaned through a deeper evaluation of its underlying Hebrew text. What does the text Isaiah 53:5 mean when it says, “and by His stripes we are healed”? The Faith Movement interprets it to mean primarily the physical, while the majority of Christian scholarship has always interpreted it to mean primarily spiritual. For example, Gordon D. Fee, Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is quoted in the SCP Newsletter, Spring 1985, concerning this text, as saying, “It is also questionable whether the Bible teaches that healing is provided for in the atonement. Scores of texts explicitly tell us our sin has been overcome through Christ’s death and resurrection, but no text explicitly says the same about healing, not even Isaiah and its New Testament citations.
“Matthew (8:17) clearly saw Isaiah as referring to physical healing, but as a part of the Messiah’s ministry, not the atonement. Peter (2:24) saw the healing in Isaiah 53 as metaphysical, referring to our sin sickness, and this is the primary sense Isaiah himself gives the passage.
“Yet, since physical disease was clearly recognized to be a consequence of the Fall, one may argue that healing also finds its focal point in the atonement. But saying that does not imply all faithful Christians should experience perfect health. Even historic Pentecostalism, which believes healing was provided for in the atonement, does not hold that view. The position paper on divine healing adopted by the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God (1974) makes it clear that healing is “provided for” because the “atonement brought release from the consequences of sin.” Nonetheless, since we have not yet received the “redemption of our bodies”, suffering and death are still our lot until the resurrection”.
An incorrect Bible hermeneutic (rules for Bible interpretation) combined with a desire for complete perfection have led many in the faith camp to deny the reality of sickness and disease.
For example, Kenneth Hagin, in The Name of Jesus, says, “In teaching on divine healing and health, I have often said, `I haven’t had a headache in so-many years.’ (At this writing it has been 45 years.) I guess the devil got tired of hearing me say it. Just a few months ago, as I left the office building and started home, suddenly my head started hurting. Someone might say, `Well, you had a headache.’ No, I didn’t have one! I don’t have headaches. I haven’t had a headache since August 1934.
“Forty-five years have come and gone, and I haven’t had a headache. Not one. The last headache I can actually remember having was in August 1933. I haven’t had a headache, and I’m not expecting to have one. But if I had a headache, I wouldn’t tell anybody. And if somebody asked me how I was feeling, I would say, “I’m fine, thank you.” (p. 44, parenthesis in original).
It is obvious from the above statements that Hagin doesn’t consider having a headache to be real. That’s because to him and other Faith movement teachers, symptoms are not real indications of sickness or disease, but distractions by the devil tempting him or her into making a negative confession.
The Gospel of Wealth
“It’s a matter of your faith. You got one-dollar faith, and you ask for a ten thousand-dollar item, it ain’t gonna work. It won’t work. Jesus said, “According to your faith”, not “according to His will, if He can work it into His busy schedule.” He said, “according to your faith be it unto you.” Now I may want a Rolls Royce and don’t have but bicycle faith. Guess what I’m gonna get? A bicycle” (Frederick K.C. Price, “Praise the Lord” broadcast on TBN, 21 September 1990, taken from Documentation for Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff). The cardinal fault with the prosperity gospel is one central tenet: God wills the financial prosperity of every Christian, therefore, for a believer to live in poverty is living outside God’s intended will. Normally tucked away somewhere is another affirmation: Since we are God’s children, we should always go first class, we should have the biggest and the best. Only this brings glory to God!
No matter how much one tries to clothe the above affirmations in Biblical garb, it is simply not Biblical. Again, poor scripture interpretation is employed by the faith movement.
To substantiate their teachings, proponents of the prosperity gospel distort the meaning of certain Bible passages. One such passage, frequently quoted is 3 John 2. John began his letter with a friendly greeting, expressing his desire that Gaius “may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers”.
Kenneth Copeland explains this verse on page 51 of his book, The Laws of Prosperity, says, “You must realize that it is God’s will for you to prosper. This is available to you, and frankly, it would be stupid of you not to partake of it”.
This verse, however, according to James Bjornstad in his article, “What’s Behind the Prosperity Gospel?”, published by Moody Monthly in the 1986 issue, “is nothing more than John’s personal wish for Gaius. We should not take it as an universal promise or guarantee of health and wealth”.
The Greek word translated “prosper” in the KJV means “to go well with someone”. This wish for “things to go well” and for “good health” was the standard form of greeting in personal letter of antiquity, just as a friend today might say, “I hope this letter finds you all well”.
Another popular text for the word-faith teachers, with regard to prosperity, is John 10:10. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with material abundance. According to Gordon Fee in the same Moody Monthly issue, the “abundant life” Jesus talked about here is the same “life” or “eternal life” in John’s gospel and is the equivalent of the “kingdom of God”. Fee goes on to say, “It literally means the “life of the Age to come”. It is the life that God has in and of Himself; and it is His gift to believers in the present age. The Greek word perrison, translated “more abundantly” in the KJV, means simply that believers are to enjoy this gift of life “to the full” (NIV).
Material abundance is not implied either in “life” or “to the full”. Such an idea is totally foreign to the context of John 10 as well as to the whole teaching of Jesus” (Ibid.).
Many in the word-faith movement treat God as if He is a God simply there only to cater to our every wish as we ask it and that His entire purpose in heaven is simply to do our bidding. Kenneth Hagin has even written a little booklet entitled, “How to write your own ticket with God“. This is the same presupposition that Charles Fillmore of Unity School of Christianity had with regard to prosperity. H. Terris Newman, writing in Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring 1990, p. 45, records Fillmore’s rendition of Psalm 23: “The Lord is may banker; my credit is good. He maketh me to lie down in the consciousness of omnipresent abundance; He giveth me the key to His strong box; He restoreth my faith in His riches; He guideth me in the paths of prosperity for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk in the very shadow of debt, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thou preparest a way for me in the presence of the collector; Thou fillest my wallet with plenty; my measure runneth over. Surely goodness and plenty will follow me all the days of my life, And I shall do business in the name of the Lord forever.”
One can not help but see that attitudes like the above are discouraged in scripture when it says, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10).
In contrast to word-faith theology, sound biblical theology teaches that God does not have to do anything. God, the Creator of all things, is sovereign in all things, not the creature. God is not obligated to heal or prosper anyone, yet He graciously does, and neither is deserved. Someone has said: “healing is not a divine obligation, it is a divine gift”. The receiver of the gift can make no demands. God can be trusted to do all things well.
Perhaps the root error of the gospel of health and wealth is that it seeks to apply a theology of future glory to the believer in the here and now. But the Lord Jesus taught a theology for here and now that both sustains believers in hard times and holds out hope for tomorrow.
Christians should not claim now what God in His grace has promised only for the future.
First published in Watchman Expositor 1993