WORD OF FAITH MOVEMENT (Religious Movement)

The Word of Faith Movement is known by a variety of alternative designations including the prosperity gospel and the ‘health and wealth gospel’. Leading North American figures in the movement include Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Fred Price, and the female evangelist, Marilyn Hickey. Other evangelists with popular international ministries, such as Benny Hinn, Morris Cerullo and Rodney Howard-Brown, subscribe to some of the core teaching of the Faith Movement but by no means all. Each of these advocates of the movement lead individual ministries (with a degree of co-operation between them), rather than ‘churches’ in the conventional sense. Collectively, it is possible to see these ministries as a strand within the broader Charismatic Movements—displaying many of its teachings and practices. Yet, they do not rest easily there and the distinctive Faith gospel is frequently criticized by charismatic Christians and denounced as embracing a theology outside of the ‘dogmatic core’ of the Christian Faith. It has also brought controversy where it has found its way into the established Pentecostal churches.

The key dogma of the Faith teachers is the belief that God always grants believers health and wealth if they ‘step out in faith’ and are ‘reborn’ in the Spirit. According to those such as Kenneth Hagin, nothing is impossible to achieve. Christians can ‘write their ticket’ with God if they follow the four principles of ‘positive confession’ which are:

1. say it;

2. do it;

3. receive it;

4. tell it.

In many respects such teaching brings the Faith Movement close to the gnostic strains of Ralph Waldo Emerson (see Emerson, Ralph Waldo) and the Unity School of Christianity, and the anti-materialism of Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science). The dogma is also akin to teachings of the power of positive thinking of the cultic Science of the Mind which surfaced in different forms throughout the twentieth century: from the writings of Norman Vincent Peale, to the ‘possibility theology’ of Robert Schuller. The most important figure in the Faith movement is perhaps Kenneth Hagin and there is strong evidence to suggest that he plagiarized the writings of E.W.Kenyon whose works, in turn, are derived from the metaphysical cults of the late nineteenth century.

Despite these influences, the Faith Movement has its own teachings which amount to a radical dualism that posits spiritual truth as superior to knowledge gained by normal human faculties (McConnell, 1990). Thus, the leading advocates distinguish between rhema knowledge and logos knowledge. The latter refers to God’s revealed written word, the former, stressed by the Faith Movement, suggests that knowledge is conveyed directly to the believer and needs no spiritual mediation. There is also a heightened spiritual dualism in the Faith Movement’s teachings, between the powers of good and those of darkness where Satan and his minions battle to take away health and material possessions from the Christian believer.

Word of Faith advocates such as Kenneth Copeland talk of ‘victory’ which means the overcoming of the physical and material limitations of life through ‘faith’ that is perceived as the supreme spiritual power or force of the universe. Yet ‘faith’ may be interpreted as a metaphor for self-driven material ambition and, in the USA, the Faith Movement’s popularity clearly reflects the material aspects of the ‘American dream’. Thus, it could be said to carry a variant of the Protestant work ethic by advancing teachings of hard work and responsibility. It is a message which has enjoyed a significant global appeal.

The world-wide relevance of the Faith ministries cannot be doubted. Across the world hundreds of people subscribe to those centres in the USA that are identified by their vast scale of organizational structure and financial resources. Hence, the characteristic tenets of the Faith ministries have been exported to very different cultural environments ranging from the advanced economies of Western Europe, to the emerging economies of Latin America and the Pacific Rim, and Third World Africa. The largest church in the world, congregation-wise, it that of Paul Yonggi Cho in Korea. It has a membership varying between 150,000 and several hundred thousand. This church, and others like it, have grown at least partly as a result of Faith gospel teachings. Yonggi Cho has however extended many of the Faith gospel practices including techniques of visualization, where the needs of a believer merely have to be visualized in order to be achieved.

Next post:

Previous post: