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Word of Faith:

Word of Faith is a movement within charismatic Christianity which teaches that those who believe in Jesus' death and resurrection have the right to physical health, that our words have power, and that true faith is more than simply mental knowledge, it is deeply held belief that cannot be shaken. The movement was founded by the American Kenneth Hagin in the 1960s, and has its roots in the teachings of E. W. Kenyon.

Teachings

Distinctive Word of Faith teachings include physical, emotional, financial, relational, and spiritual healing for those who keep their covenant with God. The movement urges believers to speak what they desire, in agreement with the promises and provisions of the Bible, as an affirmation of God's plans and purposes. They believe this is what Jesus meant when he said in Mark 11:22–24 that believers shall have whatsoever they say and pray with faith. The term word of faith itself is derived from Romans 10:8 which speaks of the word of faith that we preach.

Many dismiss Word of Faith teachings as heretical (for instance, as discussed in Is the Word of Faith movement biblical?). Simultaneously, there is a belief among many that Christianity is testable, implying that Christianity encompasses promises that can be tested through sincere and faithful engagement. I'm interested in the views of those situated at the intersection of both groups.

What Christian traditions consider Word of Faith teachings heretical but continue to uphold the belief in the empowering role of faith to activate God's promises?


Notes

  1. By activating/testing God's promises, I'm specifically referring to the belief in promises that can be tested on this side of the grave. Therefore, promises that only become actualized on the other side of the grave, such as resurrection to eternal life, for the purposes of this question, do not count.

  2. My use of the word activate has been criticized as inappropriate in the comments section. My observation in response is that my use of this word in the context of God's promises is not novel. With a quick search one can easily find several examples of churches/ministries that have used it in this way. For instance:

    • GOD’S PROMISES AREN’T AUTOMATED, THEY’RE ACTIVATED

    • 3 Keys to Activating God’s Promises in Your Life

    • Activating the Promises of God: Unlock the Power of the Bible & Empower Your Life

    • "Perhaps they did not believe that such a simple action could trigger the promised healing. Or perhaps they willfully hardened their hearts and rejected the counsel of God’s prophet."

      "The principle of activating blessings that flow from God is eternal. [...] In fact, it can be seen in heaven because small acts of faith are required to ignite God’s promises."

      "I invite you to faithfully activate heavenly power to receive specific blessings from God. Exercise the faith to strike the match and light the fire. Supply the needed oxygen while you patiently wait on the Lord. With these invitations, I pray that the Holy Ghost will guide and direct you so that you, like the faithful person described in Proverbs, will “abound with blessings.” I testify that your Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, live, are concerned with your welfare, and delight to bless you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen." (source: Abound with Blessings)

    What I'm having a hard time verifying is whether any of these ministries denounce Word of Faith teachings as heretical, or if they are tacitly endorsing them.

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    @Mark Cessationist is not only one type, it's more of a spectrum. Gavin Ortlund recently refutes the ultra-cessationist John McArthur here. I myself has this common-sense stance: God can do miracles if He wants. Just ask and it may be given. If medical doctors or scientific examination cannot provide an explanation, then it's a miracle. Doesn't matter what our cessationist vs. continuationist stance is. The cessationist issue is more critical in regards to Prophecy and Apostolic office; both has to do with authority rather than miracles. Commented Jan 14 at 23:12
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    @Mark about Mark 16:17-18, mainstream don't interpret the "will accompany" as promise to an individual, but to the whole church (Mark 16:15 "Jesus said to them" in the context of world evangelization). That is why there's what called concentric cessationism which notes how in the fringes there are more miracles to facilitate conversions. But WoF is VERY individualistic, I think there is some American Dream mixed in, making WoF a syncretism. Commented Jan 14 at 23:19
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    God's promises are not 'activated' by humanity. God keeps his promises and fulfils them when appropriate. God made his promises and he is faithful to keep them. The question starts on earth among humanity instead of beginning with God himself. The question lacks proper focus.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 15 at 10:21
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    None of the links, nor the organisations propagating the wordage of those links, has any constructive defence to make in regard to my comment. I stand by my comment. No such wording (and no such concept) appears anywhere in scripture. It is modern and novel and without support from the word of God.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 15 at 16:33
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    In response to Nigel, Mr. Bond and curiousdannii's comments to make the question more useful, how about rephrasing it as How do various Christian traditions respond to Word of Faith's understanding of "the power of faith" and of "activating God's promises"? It then does NOT imply that non WoF tradition does NOT believe in God's fulfilling his promises, etc. That way you still have answers responding to WoF's meaning of "activating promise" verbiage although not used in the mainstream as @NigelJ said. Commented Jan 15 at 20:30

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Answer: ALL Christian traditions, including non-Trinitarians movements such as Jehovah's Witnesses & Latter-day Saints! The key difficulty of your question is the ambiguity of meaning "power of faith" and the nature of how and when God fulfills his promises. An academic study (from UK, published this century, cannot recall, will update this answer when I find it) concluded that the core issue is over-realized eschatology in how that heresy interprets God's promises.

Yes, ALL traditions teach that God promised there WILL be no sickness, and abundant wealth. The question is WHEN; prior to WoF, the answer is:

  • for sure, in the new heaven and earth, but
  • for now, we can ask and God willing He will grant us a few fortuitous healings (or even miraculous healing), a few deliverances from misfortunes or from devil's possessions, and a blessing for our material prosperity.

To obtain them, "faith" is NOT the instrument (i.e. increasing faith has NO cause-effect relationship to the amount of blessing as though if you have more faith you'll get a Lamborghini instead of a Mercedes) but the purpose. I mean, when God does give us those goods in response to prayer, we should interpret those blessings as God's way to prod us along to trust God more (i.e. trusting His wisdom as to the timing, the amount, and the manner) so that we are willing to take more risk for Jesus!

The proper understanding of "power of faith" is continued trust in God in the midst of suffering, with Job as the paradigmatic example, thus power over hopelessness / meaninglessness. This is what ALL Christian traditions teach. Other meaning of "power" would be not power to be someone (like the power of positive thinking) or to get whatever you desire, but power over disorder introduced by Satan, such as power over sin (individual level) or power over injustice / callousness toward the weak (society level) introduced by Satan.

Yes, that means those traditions interpret Jesus's words to mean something that on face value seem to teach prosperity gospel, but then interpretation needs to take into account the whole canon, not just the meaning of a phrase taken out of context.

P.S. To improve this answer, I would have to provide references for major traditions that say WoF is heretical; but I think it's obvious enough. Maybe some day if there is a serious need for it.

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  • Good answer, but a possible counterexample: not all Christian traditions necessarily endorse all promises you find in the Bible. One example is Mark 16:17-18. Denominations that adhere to a cessationist theology would very likely say that such a promise no longer holds.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 14 at 23:08
  • I made a slight edit to the question. Feel free to adjust your answer accordingly or disregard this comment.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 15 at 2:05
  • You might probably want to say something about the word 'activate', that Nigel finds inappropriate in the comments section. I also edited my question once again in response to that.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 15 at 13:23
  • @Mark Yes, your edits make your question better because of additional reference (so I just +1 it). I'm busy at the moment, but will respond it either tonight or tomorrow. I already have a few contrasts to be made between those who use the language of "activation" vs. the right kind of growth of faith that I spoke about in my recent answer, since I know first hand (because of my good friend who is a victim to prosperity gospel) the subtle deceptiveness that can insinuate itself into the correct practice of Christianity. He also quoted Mark 16:17-18 about the "promise". Commented Jan 15 at 18:19
  • @Mark about Nigel's comment, I basically agree with him theologically, but I tend to be more generous about using terms in our native English language (as opposed to English conformant to Hebrew/Greek idioms used in the Bible). Instead, I approach terms as indicators (like "code words", or "insider language") to identify a sociological group (i.e. prosperity gospel) among the billions of Christian based on how they talk. It's quite distressing that their influence is growing, esp. among the Global south where new conversions happen. "activate" is one such code word and I'll respond to it. Commented Jan 15 at 18:24

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