This paper was initially submitted in April of 2012 to Justin Peters in partial fulfillment of the requirements for his Winter 2012 course on The Theology of the Word of Faith Movement, which he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
From the beginning, the essence of false religion has been false worship. When Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, he did so by enticing them to give into the temptation to worship themselves. He told them, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5b; NASB). Likewise, when Jesus told the rich, young ruler to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and follow Christ, “he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property” (Mark 10:22). This young man had fashioned the idol of riches in his heart and made it the object of his worship. Thus, it was “impossible” (vs. 27) for him to turn from his sin and follow Christ. The enemy has not changed from the beginning. Even today, there is a movement that teaches men to worship self, wealth, and even health. The Word of Faith movement teaches that Christians can have whatever they desire if they employ a method called positive confession. This doctrine is nothing more than a doctored version of Satan’s first lie. The church must employ a working knowledge of both the Word of Faith movement and the Scriptures in demonstrating to Word / Faith adherents the error of their doctrine of positive confession.
What is Positive Confession?
One observation that ought to be made in the analysis of the doctrine of positive confession is that it does not find its origins in the Word of Faith Movement itself. Positive confession actually finds its roots in the writings of Essek W. Kenyon (1867-1948). Notably, many of the 21st century proponents of the Word of Faith Movement develop their theologies largely off of Kenyon’s writings. Kenyon, influenced by the New Thought writings of Phineas P. Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science, laid the foundation for much of what would become Word of Faith theology. Though not as extreme as his predecessors, his approach to theology paved the way for the direction Word / Faith pillars such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, and Jesse Duplantis would go.
So, what is positive confession? Well, the phrase itself can be a bit misleading. Positive confession is the belief that, whether positive or negative, your words (or confession) determine your destiny. If you speak words of faith, God’s promises will be granted to you but, if you speak words of doubt or fear, you bring upon yourself hardship and suffering. Word of Faith teachers exhort their followers, “Speak life into your life, not death.” They teach that this method of getting what one wants is effective because the words of men have power. Not only do men’s words have power, but men themselves have the power to influence and direct the supernatural by their very wills. Kenneth Copeland once wrote, “The key to this is your will. Your will has everything to do with it. What you will to happen is going to happen.”
Often, much of this thinking gets passively overlooked, because these types of sentences are neatly tucked away in volumes that do not major on this type of thought. However, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Gal. 5:9). Christians ought to have nothing to do with any teachers that espouse such heresy, no matter how marginally. In this family known as the church, Christians owe a debt of love to one another, which includes the recognition that one’s own ability to overlook such doctrines in such writings might give way to a weaker brother’s plunge into full acceptance of it. Such blind indulgence by those who know these teachings to be error is nothing short of irresponsible and unloving.
Proof Texting Positive Confession
Positive confession as a Word / Faith doctrine does not exist in a vacuum. As in biblical Christianity, the doctrines of the Word of Faith movement all touch and influence one another. It is important that Christians understand this concept before they jump headlong into a theological debate with a proponent of Word / Faith theology. One should not simply study positive confession and assume that one can then dismantle the entire erroneous paradigm of the Word / Faith worldview. There are other doctrines that more foundationally anchor Word / Faith proponents in their adherence to positive confession.
The first of these foundational doctrines is the Word / Faith doctrine of faith as a substance. They cite Hebrews 11:3 in support of this view: “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” Word / Faith adherents argue that this passage teaches that God used words of faith to create the world and, apart from faith, the creation of all things would not have been possible. This faith is a force, a substance of which every believer has been apportioned a certain measure (Rom. 12:3). According to Word / Faith theology, faith is not merely the desire and ability given by God to the elect whereby they know, believe, and trust in Him.
In the hands of the Word of Faith movement, faith becomes a substance that eternally existed apart from God enabling Him to act and accomplish His will. Furthermore, man having been created in the God’s image is entitled a measure of this same faith. God’s will in this whole matter is nowhere taken into consideration. Rather, if you use your measure of faith to accomplish good, you are doing God’s will. If you use it to bring about calamity, you have somehow subverted His will. Passages like Isaiah 46:10 cause great difficulty for such a theology:
“Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’”
The question arises naturally, “If both God and man use words of faith to accomplish their individual wills, whose will is accomplished if they are in disagreement?” This question is answered by the Word / Faith teachers. If a man desires to do that which is against God’s will, he desires to do evil. However, in every instance that his desire, though evil, goes against the desire of God, the man’s will is the one that prevails. Such a view undermines the sovereignty and authority of God.
Another foundational though perhaps lesser known doctrine used to support the doctrine of positive confession is the “little gods” doctrine. Word / Faith teachers do not merely teach that Christians have the power to effect their present state because they are made in the image of God and have access to the same “faith” He used to create the world. They further teach that Christians have authority to do the works of God on earth because they themselves are gods.
As men who have been created as “little gods” living in a world created by a God utilizing the same faith “substance” that man has at his disposal, this type of positive confession is simply to be expected. If a man is a god, like God, he should be able to call things into existence with his words, like God. If faith is the substance by which all things come into existence, it only makes sense that such creative power would be summoned up by the power of such a substance. So it is that other doctrines within the Word of Faith movement help to support the doctrine of positive confession in the minds of its adherents.
Therefore, in order for Christians to properly respond to the doctrine of positive confession, they need to know more about the Word of Faith movement than just what is taught in the positive confession doctrine. Christians must understand that the doctrine of positive confession is intrinsically intertwined with the other doctrines of the movement. Thus, there are multiple doctrinal knots constructed of multiple theological ropes that must be unraveled in order to undo the damage done by this heretical movement. The Christian must have more than a surface level understanding of the theology of the Word of Faith movement.
Answering Positive Confession
Surely, many Christians engaging Word of Faith adherence will be better served to have a more comprehensive knowledge of the movement. However, a comprehensive answer to the theology of the Word of Faith movement is not possible in the space allotted in the present article. Thus, this article will seek to answer only the one doctrine of positive confession with some reference to the peripheral doctrines where necessary.
There are many elements of the doctrine of positive confession that must be addressed in order to properly correct the error that it teaches. First, positive confession assumes that the goal of the Christian life is for the Christian to have what the Christian wants. Second, positive confession teaches that the Christian can always expect what he wants as long as he has enough faith and uses the proper words. Third, positive confession teaches that God is always in agreement with the Christian when the Christian channels his faith in order to receive what he desires. Each one of these assertions is fundamentally flawed and straightly denied within the pages of Scripture.
First, the goal of the Christian life is not for the Christian to have what the Christian wants. Though the Christian has been redeemed out of the world, and though the Christian has been set free from sin, the Christian will still struggle with idolatrous desires that go against his new nature (Rom. 7:14-25). He will still want things that are ungodly for him to want. These desires by no means justify the Christian when he goes against the will of God. The will of God must always be primary in all of a Christian’s motives and actions. The questions must be asked, “What if God wants me sick? What if God wants me to be content with a small bank account? What if God doesn’t want me to move to such and such a city for a year and work for such and such employer and build my life savings? What if God has other plans?”
The Word of Faith movement teaches that these questions ought to be suppressed, because they get in the way of one’s faith. The moment you start to ask such questions, you have started doubting God’s will for your life. After all, God always wants you to be healthy. God always wants you to be wealthy. God always wants you to exercise your faith, as He exercised His, to call into being the situations you desire for yourself.
The second issue, then, is crucial: that a Christian can obtain whatever he desires if he simply has enough faith. The Word of Faith movement essentially teaches that Christians can use the same substance that God used to create the world (faith) to call into existence whatever he desires, and God will be on board. The Christian simply needs to have faith in faith and use the proper words.
The problem is that the Bible always points to God, not faith, as the object of faith (Rom. 11:36). The Christian does not simply need to wrangle up enough of some ethereal substance called faith in order to accomplish supernatural occurrences in his life. The Christian is called to call upon his Father in heaven and trust that He will not only do His own good pleasure, but that He will work all things out for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). If this means that the Christian will suffer trials and hardships, such circumstances are what is best for the believer at that time, and God will give His children everything they need in order to come through on the other side the better for it (1Cor. 10:13).
The third issue, at this junction, ought to be anticipated. The Word / Faith adherent will interject that God always wants him to have what he wants. James, the brother of our Lord, strongly disagrees when he writes:
“Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you out to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil” (Jas. 4:14-16).
Such notions that the Christian ought to expect whatever he speaks with faith, in the words of James, is “arrogant” and “evil.” Such notions flatly deny the teachings of Scripture. Such notions presume upon the will of God and bring the judgment of Deuteronomy 18 upon those who teach them: “But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die” (vs. 20).
In short, the person who lays claim to any such doctrine and roots it in the teachings of the Word of Faith movement must have the full weight of the Scripture brought to bear upon them. The church has the testimony of Scripture on her side. She ought to employ the Scriptures wherever they can in their evangelistic encounters and especially with those who would use the Word in an incorrect and ungodly fashion to justify their erroneous doctrines. “The Protestant apologist cannot be concerned to prove the existence of any other God than the one who has spoken to man authoritatively and finally through Scripture.”
The church must be prepared to answer Word / Faith proponents in their error. They will not have the ability to answer them if they do not at least have some prior knowledge of the teachings of the Word of Faith movement. They must also know how to properly handle the Word of God with precision. Employing these two skills, Christians will be well equipped to demonstrate the error of the Word of Faith movement’s teachings. They will be able to demonstrate the idolatry that underlies such doctrines as positive confession and call Word / Faith adherents to repent and place true faith in the God and Savior who can redeem them from such idolatry.