How the Faith Movement Damaged my Faith & How God Restored It
In the past few months I have realized that something needs to change in my life. I have felt stuck in circumstances and powerless to move forward. I have walked with the Lord for over 40 years now (though I must say much of that time was more self-serving than God-serving). Still, I have studied his Word for the majority of that time, and his Word does not come back void. God has used my mistakes and sin to correct me and teach me some very profound lessons. He has helped me overcome fear and taught me to forgive the unforgiveable. Sometimes when you have walked through times of profound growth it’s tempting to think there aren’t any major lessons left to learn. (Did I just hear a laugh from heaven?) On the one hand, the older I get in my faith, the more I see my weaknesses and my need for his strength. On the other hand, the more I have learned, the less I think I need to learn. My attitude has been that I just need to apply what I already know, and that is definitely the case. However, what I fail to realize sometimes is that there are still spiritual blind spots in my life. In spite of all I know, my past has left me with preconceived notions that just don’t line up with truth.
Many years ago, my family was introduced to the modern Faith Movement, or as I like to call it “blab it and grab it Christianity.” Many teachers in this movement taught (and still teach today) that if you believe something enough, God will give it to you. You don’t have to pray for God’s will, and all you have to do is maintain a positive confession to make your dreams come true. According to this belief system, God wants all of his children to be wealthy and healthy. One of the fathers of the Faith Movement, Kenneth Hagin, even wrote a book entitled How to Write your Own Ticket with God. He taught that the Lord’s Prayer is not for modern day Christians, because we no longer have to pray for God’s will– as Believers we have authority to determine our own destinies. Hagin, and many like him, put people in control while God is simply bound to do whatever his children ask for and confess in faith. The problem is that God is sovereign, and such thinking attempts to reduce Him to a genie in a bottle with the individual becoming the sovereign. This teaching led to a major crisis in my own family. It shipwrecked the faith of my ex-husband when things did not happen according to the faith teachers’ claim that he could have anything he wanted. I literally got beat up for continuing to believe in a God “who makes empty promises.” It did not take me long to reject these teachings, and to separate myself from any group that promoted anything that seemed remotely related to the Faith Movement. I hunkered down in a denomination that rightly stresses the authority of Scripture without any hint of adhering to such heretical teaching.
Over the years, I have caught myself judging anyone who makes a claim such as “I’m claiming it,” or who admonishes me not to use any negative words. However, lately I have encountered some people who have challenged my thinking in this area. A few years ago I became involved in network marketing in an attempt to build residual income and have more time for ministry. It has become very apparent to me that the people who do well in this business are the ones who maintain positive attitudes, and even positive confessions. A recent encounter with one of these folks made me stand back and reevaluate my judgmental stance. This lady doesn’t simply muster up positive confessions in the midst of negative circumstances. Instead it seems she chooses to live in gratitude and seems to be overflowing with joy.
So much of our negativity and lack of joy tends to focus on what other people are doing or not doing. My friend says she has trained her mind not to tolerate negativity. She casts out negative thoughts immediately. In the beginning it was difficult, but now it is her habit. I believe the difference between her and many involved in the Faith Movement is motivation. Hers is not self-serving, but focused on serving God and others. She has become highly successful, and as a result she has been able to bless others. Watching her giving spirit silenced the desire to judge that normally rises up within me any time I hear someone talking about positivity. It also made me stop and reevaluate my stance on the whole notion of faith and positive confession.
Just about the same time that I encountered this positive friend, I was reading through the book of Matthew. I couldn’t help but notice how many times Jesus told people that they were healed “according to [their] faith,” or rebuked his disciples because the faith was small or lacking. He did not perform many miracles in Nazareth, because their lack of faith. The woman with the issue of blood did not even stop and speak to Jesus. She did not ask if it was his will. She simply had seen him in action, and knew that He was the answer to her problem. Jesus told her “your faith has made you well.” In fact, it says that just touching the hem of his garment healed many. I am not a cessationist. I have seen miracles firsthand and do not believe they were limited to biblical times alone, but once again the Faith Movement has tainted my perspective. Proponents of this doctrine claim that everyone should be healed, and that a lack of healing points to a lack of faith on the part of the person in need. I have seen people muster up all the faith in the world, maintain positive confessions, and yet not receive healing. For some, the result is self-condemnation, or even worse, rejection of God and His Word, as their improper interpretation leads them to believe His promises are untrue. Watching this play out over and over again has left me cynical and hyper vigilant against any hint of the Faith Movement. The problem is that in my attempts to guard against heresy I think I have managed to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
As flawed people we tend to react emotionally rather than respond intellectually. Hence my reaction to the Faith Movement actually stirred up so much contempt in me that I could hardly bare to read passages of scripture that they overused. Obviously, I had a problem, because “all scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). It was much the same as my reaction to passages on wifely submission after living with an abusive man. The drawback here is that our experiences do not nullify the Word. We must learn to seek out the truth regardless of our experiences, and perhaps God would have us use our experiences to teach us to “accurately handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The reason I hated to read passages on submission was because they had been improperly used to humiliate me. In an effort to get past my aversion to those passages I forced myself to study them in depth so that I could understand the true intent. It turns out that the same passages that men use for evil God intends for good. And just as there is nothing in the submission passages intended to turn women into slaves, there is nothing in the faith passages that makes people sovereign. Our goal should be to look at misused passages in light of the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Proponents of the Faith Movement stress positive confession to the point they give their own words creative power, but James 4:13-16 warns against confessing big plans for the future, stating that none of us “even know what will happen tomorrow.” That certainly does not sound like God has given mere humans creative power to determine their own destiny. On the contrary men can make their plans, but God determines the final outcome (Pr. 16:9). Yet, we cannot deny that Scripture emphasizes the importance of faith, and that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Perhaps the whole problem with the faith movement is found in this verse. It seems to me that those who promote the prosperity gospel are encouraging people to diligently seek their own desires rather than Him.
Jesus said that the mark of a true disciple is self-denial (Mt. 16:24). Passages like this are often completely ignored by the faith teachers, even as I had learned to ignore passages like Mark 11:23-24. “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” Perhaps we should look at this passage alongside John 15:7. Jesus explained, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Simply desiring something and claiming it does not meet this standard. We must know his Word and abide in it, and we must also walk in his Spirit. Romans 12:1-2 tells us that as we surrender our lives fully to Him and allow Him to transform us by renewing our minds we will be able to discern his good and acceptable will.
True children of God are so surrendered to Him that they learn contentment in every situation (Phil. 4:11), because He is sovereign over every circumstance. They learn to focus on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Some might call this the power of positive thinking. Scripture certainly has a lot to say about our thought life. We are to set our minds on things above (Col. 3:2), to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), to love the Lord fully with our minds (Mt. 22:37), and to prepare our minds for action (1 Pet. 1:13). We are also warned not to complain (Phil. 2:14– I would say that complaining amounts to allowing negative thoughts to flourish). The bottom line is that Scripture encourages us to line our thoughts up with His truth, and that is a positive thing. We are to be content, and we are to rejoice in Him always (Phil. 3:1). I see nothing in Scripture that indicates thinking positive thoughts will guarantee a trouble free life. On the contrary, Jesus promised that in this world we will have trouble, but followed that by saying we can still rejoice because He has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).
It really does seem as if Scripture admonishes us to maintain positive thinking, and there are plenty of instructions on our speech as well (Pr. 18:21, Jas. 3:5-8, Col. 4:6). After reevaluating my position, I realize it is time to change my mind. Not only do I need to stop automatically judging my brothers and sisters in Christ, but also I need to set my mind on things above, which will absolutely transform my thought life into something positive. No more whining and complaining about people who disappoint or unpleasant circumstances. Instead I will choose to praise the One who is Lord of it all, and find contentment in Him. Sure, it is wrong to have faith in faith, but I choose to have faith in Him and He will never disappoint. I have been given a wonderful legacy as his child, and I am claiming it!
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Ps. 19:14