This is a topic I’ve thought about frequently. I’m not sure how many Word of Faith Christians I’ve known in my life, but from the various churches I attended and graduating from Oral Roberts University—twice— I’m sure the number is in the thousands. With the advent of online social networking I’ve had the opportunity to keep up with many of them and their religious journeys over the last 5, 10, or 20 years (depending on the person). I’m constantly amazed at how many have either totally abandoned the faith, become jaded, switched to a mainline denomination or simply opted out of church altogether while maintaining a “privatized” faith.
And I totally get it. Prior to converting to the Orthodox Church I was walking the tightrope with Charismatic, Evangelicalism just about to fall over onto the ultra-jaded side. My own story aside for the moment, what I’d like to speak to in this article are some of the core reasons why I believe Word of Faith Christians tend to fall away from church and, unfortunately, the faith itself.
For those who may not be familiar with the Word of Faith movement, it can be summarized as a theology which focuses on the Christian’s role on earth as a “king” with the power and authority to command victory over all things – usually health, finances and related threats to personal comfort and security – by “speaking the word” and/or “pleading the blood” over them. This power and authority is believed to be available without measure to all who would simply believe, make right “confessions,” and give regular tithes and offerings to their local, “Holy Spirit filled” church/ministry (more on that later). That said, here are a few highlights of the phenomenon as I see it:
Words, Words, and more Words
One of the main drawbacks of the WoF movement is its usual exclusive reliance on “speaking the word of God” over the challenges of life. I say “exclusive” because most of the emphasis is placed on what a person says as opposed to what a person does. For example, I have a close WoF friend who has high blood pressure, mild obesity and suffers with diabetes. Rather than change his diet and begin an exercise regimen, he relies on “speaking the word” over his condition with no intention whatsoever of altering his lifestyle. Once in a while he will receive the friendly reminder that eating that cake or that deep fried whatever may not be the best thing for him. He usually replies with the well-rehearsed phrase: “I’m redeemed by the blood,” meaning Jesus gave him authority over sickness, thus any lifestyle change is wholly irrelevant to his future victory over such things. Believe it or not, the victory has been elusive for nearly 2 decades.
This example is, of course, merely an example, one that could relate to virtually any group of Christian believers. However, in my experience, examples like this are found in such abundance within WoF communities that it is the rule rather than the exception. Captivity to the sort of suffering inherent in a life where words are divorced from their needed action is not a captivity many are willing to endure for long. Breaking away from a “words only” oriented faith is, by necessity, a breaking away from the WoF movement.
Faith + Grace – Works = Victory!
The emphasis on “speaking the word” over one’s troubles is given theological validity due to the WoF’s understanding of how salvation works in general. The idea is that since salvation is accomplished in an almost completely passive manner (through a passive-type faith), all other areas of life work in a similar fashion, i.e. all areas of life are subject to the believers “authority” via their faith which excludes any physical involvement on their part. If one does involve himself physically in the matter at hand he effectively cuts off God’s grace (since grace is viewed as antithetical to works), which in turn short-circuits his faith.
Nevermind for the moment that this equation is completely false from a Scriptural and Church-historic perspective, I think the great majority of Christians desperately seek the kind of faith which summons them to active participation – to “work out their salvation”. Take the illustration of a marriage: what bride or what groom desires a marriage in which the relationship is based on words and ideas and not on active participation with their beloved? Has there ever been a wife who truly loves her husband who wants only to talk about her husband, believe in her husband, and use her husband’s power, but does not seek to actively demonstrate her love for him?
After years of involvement with WoF thinking this is often what the believer is left with – a unidirectional love affair with God where God does all the active-loving (i.e. “works”) and the believer does all the receiving. The trouble, of course, is this simply doesn’t work (and, it’s incredibly boring). God is not in the unidirectional love business. One can “speak” whatever he wants, “believe” whatever he wants, but if his love for Christ is not active it is to no avail. “Though I speak with tongues of man and angels… and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1Cor 13:1,2).
Abundance, Good; Lack, Bad
I recently read a Facebook post from a WoF friend who said something to the tone of, “God only gives me good things because He is a good God.” This of course is an incomplete thought because it does not address whose version of “good” is being considered. God’s idea of good and my idea of good are often very different things (“There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death,” Proverbs 14:12). But, in a nutshell, this thought reflects very fundamental thinking in WoF theology. It is the occasion of unavoidable hardship, which inevitably comes to us all, that serves as a turning point for many in their journey with the WoF movement. If God gives me only good things, and I am a faithful, tithing believer why has tragedy struck me? There is simply no answer within the WoF paradigm.
On a slightly different note, the “health and wealth gospel,” as it is sometimes called, has immediate appeal particularly for people already inundated with the public cult of consumerism practiced at every level of society. This “faith stock exchange” in which one gives money in return for security and spiritual power is wholly understandable from a psychological standpoint in consumer-driven culture, where, incidentally, the WoF movement attracts its greatest volume of adherents. But, like regular consumerism, spiritual consumerism has no core, no true substance and is ultimately rejected by the soul who yearns for depth of meaning and truth.
While in the movement I couldn’t help but think of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) whenever I would see people come into the movement full of joy and excitement and leave just as quickly, sad and jaded. Jesus spoke of those who receive the faith immediately with joy, but because they have no depth of root they burn out when tribulation and persecution arise, while the faith of others is choked out by the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of this world (v.20-22). The lack of roots in the apostolic faith, the emphasis on riches and the lack of preparation for the real struggles in life all combine to form a perfect storm of jading for WoF believers.
From my experience in and out of the WoF movement, it seems to be a breeding ground for Christian burn-out. I only hope and pray that more believers will come to find new levels of faith from their burn-out experience, rather than leave the faith completely. Many of the greatest saints in Church history were fashioned out of their wilderness experience “inside” the various aberrant sects of Christianity, which led them to the authentic and enduring apostolic faith.
16 thoughts on “Why do Word of Faith Christians Become Jaded?”
Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I was super blessed reading it, and it has definitely challenged me to start thinking of areas of my life where there is only words but no action.
Hard times are tough when you are a part of the WOF movement. Your suffering is often seen as a result of your lack of faith rather than something that draws you closer to Christ – the condemnation can chase you right out the door when you have the greatest need for fellowship.
Oh, artsifrtsy, this is such a great point. I completely forgot about that dynamic while writing the article. I can remember the pressure I always felt to stay healthy, luckily, I always was, but I remember one of my friend’s mom who suffered from some sort of disease (forget what at the moment) but because she led a prayer group at church, and didn’t want to appear “out of faith” by being ill, she literally hid it from them for a number of years. So incredibly sad.
I could never understand how God could be glorified for healing something you didn’t have. Personally I felt like my faith was lacking when I did get sick – it felt like denial.
a really well argued piece revealing the dangers of the “health and wealth” gospel. Jesus is there to carry us through the trials of life but how can we throw ourselves on his grace if we believe those trials are caused by our own lack of faith? It is precisely in our weakness and brokeness that the power of grace is revealed. The idea that simply naming and claiming works is like believing in cosmic ordering or magic!
Another angle is the idea of buying blessings; a practice preached every night by prosperity preachers on TV and in local churches around the world. It’s amazing that people, who claim to believe the Bible with such fervor, would miss St. Peter’s curse leveled on Simon the Sorcerer in the book of Acts, “May your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!” (Acts 8:20). That’s frightening.
Buying blessings is indeed sorcery.
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I grew up in the Word of Faith movement. I was big time into it until college. I agree with some of your points and disagree with others. I blogged my response to your article here. http://sleepingrealities.blogspot.com/2013/07/critiques-of-word-of-faith.html
Hello Sleeping Realities,
Excellent response! Here are some brief counterpoints and agreements (I’ll post them to your blog as well):
– Great point about there not being an identifiable creed among WoF’ers or Charismatic Evangelicalism. This is what makes commenting on the movement as a whole challenging. I knew every stripe and flavor of Christian while in the movement. My comments represent everything from the middle of the bell curve all the way to the right (if you’re a stats fan). This includes what one normally finds and the loony fringe folks.
– It’s funny that you’d comment on the man I described who was reliant on good confession to solve his diabetes problem rather than on exercise and diet as an example of one not conforming to the teachings of people like Kenneth Hagen. Ironically, this particular person has been a Rhema goer for more than 20 years. His example aside, Rhema has a strange knack for drawing emotionally unstable people to its ranks. I think it’s the emphasis on prophetic gifts and power that does it. People who fear confronting their personal “demons” typically enjoy the vision of being someone important, like a powerful prophet of old (one gets the impression of clinical narcissism with many of them).
– To your critique of the one sided relationship with God, we may have to agree to disagree. The usual train of thought, as I experienced it, was that if one tried to get involved in God’s victory he/she ran a huge risk of “falling from grace,” of unwittingly relying on their own efforts instead of having genuine faith; the idea being that if one truly has faith God will “move the mountain” accordingly. It’s sort of a “faith in faith” conundrum. WoF’s aberrant version of faith almost inevitably creates this one-sided relationship: man’s job is to believe, God’s job is to respond with action.
– Also, great point about WoF theology being ill equipped to deal with the problem of evil, and yes, it’s a lack in most theologies. I’d venture to say the Orthodox view deals with it quite well, but it is a bit extensive and probably better suited for another discussion.
Thanks again for your reply. Great blog you have going. Cheers!
I just think that we are not “little gods” and we can speak the Word when we are in need of it..but the motivation is so important. I was going to a semi-mega church and it felt as if a lot of it’s members were like this..it seems very black and white to me and then you begin to become afraid of everything! Like everything is from the devil’s work and not from God. Can I ask, isn’t it from God that both good and bad are allowed into one’s life? Like the 3rd chapter of Lamentations?
I came home to the Orthodox Church nearly 7 years ago, but was raised in Protestant Evangelicalism. In my teens I was exposed to charismatic and W of F teaching. The charismatic part I embraced (sort of, but I was always more strongly Evangelical than fully Pentecostal in my faith), but the W of F always left me uncomfortable and ultimately unpersuaded–especially when the W of F interpretation of the Book of Job said virtually the opposite about Job’s character than the book itself explicitly teaches! I wonder if W of F folks would look into the roots of their movement in “New Thought” and the parallels of their underlying assumptions with occultism, it might not give some of them pause? I suppose “burn out” and disillusionment are more likely motivations for exit from the movement, though. This was true for my former supervisor and her husband as well, who were criticized and ostracized by their W of F congregation for visiting the sick and hospitalized in obedience to the explicit teaching of the Scriptures. They eventually found refuge in a Conservative Baptist Church. I wonder how many these days are finding their way to Orthodoxy. So glad you are one, Eric–welcome home!
Yah, there is a fairly well known occultic foundation from which the WoF movement sprang. E.W. Kenyon (Kenneth Hagin’s inspiration) was as heretical as they get. Many people in the movement are so completely ignorant of Church history (many purposely, because they don’t trust the historical Church) that they don’t have the foggiest idea what constitute heresy and orthodox Christian teaching. This is often because, for them, whoever claims to be “operating in the Holy Spirit,” and have a large following or TV ministry is automatically speaking the words of God. Whatever they say is “orthodox” teaching.
Unbelief can be a factor
Your friend with the High Blood Pressure and others with disease may need to explore the spiritual and emotional roots connected with some diseases. One of the known blocks to healing is Not Caring for one’s temple. If you read the link on unbelief you will see that gluttony is a form of unbelief.
A major block to healing is unforgiveness. If we have pain in a memory or regrets it indicates unforgiveness is hiding.
Indeed, great points nuggets4u. I’m a huge believer in both psychosomatic illness. As far as spirit, i.e., unforgiveness and the like, causing illness, I think both Scripture and the Church Fathers are replete with such teaching.
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I ‘escaped’ Charismatic Evangelical WoF movement and converted to Orthodox Christianity over a year ago. I feel as if I escaped a cult. Your article is spot on. If I had not found my local Orthodox Church I would have either started my own or given up all together.