When I was about fourteen I started listening to teachers such as Kenneth Copeland, Jesse Duplantis, Jerry Savelle, and Creflo Dollar. I had grown up going to church, albeit a very liberal church, but these guys were different than what I was used to. They had passion, zeal, and spoke with power and authority. They taught very differently than what I had heard before, but they used Scripture to back everything up (well, and some direct revelation from God, so they said). They taught that Jesus had secured our physical healing for this life, that we had power over sickness and the devil, that we could transform our finances through our faith, and that we could even use faith the way God does—the God kind of faith. I really enjoyed listening to these teachers, particularly Copeland and Duplantis. I even was able to meet Duplantis and his wife at a meeting in Charlotte, where I gave him a letter thanking him for teaching the truth. Little did I know at the time that I was being sucked into a heretical mess. Since I did not know much at the time about orthodox theology, much of what was said sounded biblical and right. After having spent over a decade of learning theology in college and seminary (long after I left the movement), I began to realize how dangerous their doctrines really are. Let’s look at some of the main teachings of the Word-Faith movement.
While the orthodox, traditional view of God among Christians is that God exists as an immaterial being, one in essence with three persons, Word-Faith teachers state that God is a physical being who lives on a planet called heaven. According to Copeland, God stands around 6’2″ around 200lbs. Not only that, God is the “greatest failure in the Bible” since he lost more than any other being at the fall. Further, God has to use faith to do things, like create. God used the “force of faith” that according to Copeland “is a physical force” that is “perceptible to the touch.” We can use this same faith with our positive confession in order to bring about realities. However, our confession also can bring about sickness, disease, and death.
According to Word-Faith teachers, Jesus is not divine. According to Dollar, if he were, he would not have needed any special anointing. Rather, he was adopted by God at his baptism. According to teachers like Copeland, Jesus died spiritually and was reborn in hell before his resurrection. He was the first to be born-again. Regarding this, Copeland makes the scariest, most heretical utterance I have ever heard:
“He [God] said, ‘A born-again man defeated Satan, the firstborn of many brethren defeated him.’ He said, ‘You are the very image and the very copy of that one.’ . . . And I said, ‘Well now you don’t mean, you couldn’t dare mean that I could have done the same thing?’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, if you’d known that, had the knowledge of the Word of God that He did you could have done the same thing. ‘Cause you’re a reborn man too.’” — From a sermon titled, “From the Cross to the Throne.”
Jesus did not accomplish his work because of his divinity, according to Copeland, but because he was reborn and had certain knowledge.
Jesus not only secured our salvation, he also secured our physical healing, according to such passages as 1 Peter 2:24 and 3 John 2. He is also our example to live by. But not just for holiness. We need to emulate his faith (through positive confession), attain knowledge (like him), and live the way he lived.
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Man is created by God, and so is in the god-class of beings. We are little gods, according to Copeland (and others like Benny Hinn). As already mentioned, man uses his positive confession to activate the force of faith to control his reality and bring about health and prosperity that was secured by Jesus. Man can function like God, since both man and God use the force of faith.
When created, Adam was just like God. However, after the fall, God lost his domain to Satan and had to work with people to covenant with him to get back what he lost (such as Abraham, Moses, etc.). As Robert Bowman says, “Copeland teaches that the true meaning of redemption is the restoration of human nature to godhood” (Word-Faith Controversy: Understanding the Health and Wealth Gospel, unabridged ed., 184). On that same page, he cites Copeland’s words:
Peter said it just as plain, he said we are “partakers of the divine nature.” That nature is life eternal in absolute perfection. And that was imparted, injected into your spirit man, and you have that imparted into you by God, just as same as you imparted into your child the nature of humanity. That child wasn’t born a whale—born a human. Isn’t that true? Well now, you don’t have a human, do you? No, you are one. You don’t have a God in you—you are one”— (Bowman, 184); Copeland “The Force of Love,” tape #02-0028.
Overall Worries and Evaluation
If you are a Christian of the orthodox sort, then the worries should be obvious. If you are a follower of these teachers, it might not be so obvious. There are more worries and problems than I will address here; I’ll just choose a few.
Regarding God, if he is physical, he is necessarily limited. He can’t be everywhere all at once; he can’t know all things, etc. The Trinity can’t be true since a physical being is a being all to himself. But the doctrine of the Trinity teaches that God is one in being, but exists as three persons. If God the Father is physical, then there are at least two beings that make up the divine nature.
Jesus is taught to be a human with a special anointing and knowledge that allowed him to live the way he did, do miracles, and defeat Satan. However, the orthodox teaching is that Jesus is completely God, and took on the human nature (without sin).
Finally, man is taught to be a little god, in the class of gods. He can use the force of faith (where did the physical faith that God uses come from?) in the same way God did. According to Copeland, man could have defeated Satan as Jesus did. It did not take God, just being reborn and having certain knowledge.
The Word-Faith teaching has striking similarities with Mormonism: Both teach that God is a physical being, people get direct revelation from God even today, we can become gods just like God, both deny the Trinity, and both downplay the role of reason and stress the spirit as a way of learning.
As you can see, while the positive confession and health and wealth teaching is bad, it does not compare to the heresies of the other teachings.
And this is why I left the Word-Faith movement.
Dr. Brian Huffling
Dr. Brian Huffling’s research interests include: Philosophy of Religion, Philosophical Theology, Philosophical Hermeneutics, and general issues in Apologetics and Biblical studies. See his personal blog here.