What is Word of Faith?

Somewhere in the Texas panhandle

You seem to be on the same page as us with the conviction that the truths we were taught in Word of Faith are still essential - but maybe the culture and practices are not.
— A Friendly Pastor

There are many misconceptions about orthodox word of faith.

I received this email the other day from a college friend of mine. She and her husband pioneered a church in the South, and are still actively pastoring it. Her quip highlights a widening discord between orthodox Word-of-Faith doctrine and what is being presented as Word of Faith in our current church culture. I thought I'd use it as an opportunity to sketch out a few of the major tenets of orthodox Word of Faith ("WOF") doctrine. 

Man is a spirit.

But truly it is the spirit in a mortal, the breath of the Almighty, that makes for understanding. —Job 32:8

Man is a tripartite being, made up of spirit, soul, and body. Adam's sin resulted in spiritual death, that is, death in his spiritual nature. God provided a remedy in Christ where man could be born anew from above. This is what Jesus was talking about in John 3 when he told Nicodemus that a man must born from above or born again.

Comment: This subject, critical to understanding the New Testament, is an empty landscape in most theological circles.

Satan is a real personality, not just a force.

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. —Ephesians 6:11, 12

Contemporary preachers cast Satan as some kind of impersonal force of evil (I've read them) or puppet of God. WOF interprets the Bible more literally—he is an adversary who challenged God, who challenged Jesus, and who is now challenging the body of Christ. 

Demons are also real personalities.

Then he asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." Mark 5:9

A lot of New Testament scholars acknowledge that Jesus, his disciples, and the New Testament writers all believed in demons, but their attitude is that we all now know better. WOF says demons are real personalities that are still alive and well on planet earth, working to subvert mankind and the plans of God.

The gifts of the Spirit are still in operation.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing[s] by the one Spirit, to another the working[s] of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. —1 Corinthians 12:4–11

I recently finished a commentary where the writer opined that Jesus must have prearranged the donkey scene in Luke 19:29–34 when he told the disciples to fetch it for him. WOF teachings would interpret the account as a manifestation of the word of knowledge. The gifts didn't end with the last of the apostles; they will continue throughout the church age and even beyond.

The believer sits with Jesus at God's right hand.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus —Ephesians 2:4–6

WOF believers interpret Paul's statements concretely, that is, the body of Christ was raised in his resurrection and is seated with him at God's right hand. This positional authority provides the believer with the ability to resist Satan and overcome the lusts of the flesh.

The believer is identified with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. —Romans 6:4
There is, then, an obvious difference between that which links men and women to Adam, and that which links them to Christ. Whereas they share in the experience of Adam whether they wish to or not, sharing in the experience of Christ comes about through a deliberate identification with his death and resurrection. —Morna Hooker in Paul, A Short Introduction

Mainstream Christian preaching doesn't dare identify the believer with Jesus. It locates "victory" at the cross, while WOF does so at the resurrection. 

Comment: Reading through Acts, you find that the apostles consistently emphasized the resurrection. The cross was indeed necessary, and Paul identifies the believer with Christ's death, but there wouldn't have been any victory if Jesus hadn't been resurrected. Morna Hooker, a professor at Cambridge, says as much in her book, From Adam to Christ. She certainly wouldn't characterize herself as Word of Faith (she is a British theologian), but her treatment of Paul's writings comes awfully close to what we read in E.W. Kenyon's Identification if it's not downright on the money.

Jesus died spiritually on the cross.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"—in order that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. —Galatians 3:13, 14

WOF interprets Paul's statements literally—Jesus was made a curse on the cross, that is, he suffered spiritual death. This is probably its most controversial doctrine, and more than a few former Word-of-Faith preachers have stepped back from it because of public criticism.

Comment: A few years ago, a minister-friend of mine called me and told me that I should back away from preaching Jesus' spiritual death on the cross. "It is way, way too controversial," he said. Sure it is with today's sugar-plumb Christianity, but, frankly, I don't care. It is inspired Gospel. Plus, the plan of redemption is downright nonsensical with a body-only crucifixion. Critics should carefully read Deuteronomy 21:22, 23 and figure out just how those scriptures are played out in Jesus' crucifixion.

Unknown tongues is part of the believer's walk in the Spirit.

For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. —1 Corinthians 14:2

Tongues has been maligned by a number of preachers who say the spiritual gifts ended with the last of the apostles (presumably John). WOF believers hold that tongues is still for today, and they remain a big part of walking in the Spirit. 

Healing is in the atonement.

This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases." —Matthew 8:17

Some denominations attribute sickness and disease to God. WOF views them as acts of Satanic oppression, in line with Peter's statement in Acts: "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about (penetrated) doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil . . ."

The spiritual "offices" are for the church age.

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up of the body of Christ —Ephesians 4:11–12

Many denominations recognize only pastors and evangelists today. Pastors shepherd congregations, and evangelists are usually itinerant preachers. WOF holds that all the ministry "offices" are up and running today. In other words, there are modern apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These "offices" are often reflected by the spiritual gifts manifested through the respective men and women. 

Comment: The term "offices" is a gloss that has emerged based on our love of corporations here in America. The gifts are more descriptions of functions enabled by the Spirit than they are "offices" or titles. For instance, there are more than a few Word-of-Faith preachers who tout themselves as being apostles or prophets, but who exhibit the spiritual manifestations normally associated with those functions. But, hey, everybody loves a title, don't they?

God desires that all men be saved.

This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. —1 Timothy 2:4

Some denominations hold that God has predestined the fate of men—some are predestined for salvation and others are predestined for damnation. WOF believes that believers are co-laborers with God, proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth so all men can hear the truth and be saved. 

Poverty isn't part of redemption.

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. —Matthew 6:33

Back in the day, there were numerous teachings that suggested or even mandated that Christians be economically poor. In other words, a believer couldn't be holy if he had a lot of possessions or was economically successful. This was especially true for preachers. WOF holds that believers aren't required to be poor.

Comment: To say that the "prosperity message" has been mishandled and misused would be a grand understatement. But errant preaching doesn't render Jesus' words or the rest of the Word untrue. There isn't any requirement of a vow of poverty to walk worthy of the Lord or to preach his Gospel. But, contrary to so much preaching we hear today, the believer doesn't need to give in order to walk in "all these things will be given to you as well." Prosperity does involve the community of faith and genuine generosity, things that are rarely preached or practiced regularly in WOF circles these days.

Confession is part of the believer's walk in the Spirit.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession —Hebrews 4:14

Contemporary Christianity, looking to the crucifixion, holds to confessing weakness, imperfection and other "humble" murmurings. WOF, on the other hand, believes and confesses the finished work of Christ and the believer's position "in him." 

Comment: This tenet has probably been both misused and maligned more than any other one. WOF doctrine holds that the believer should confess who he is in Christ, not what he was before he was saved. See, e.g., 1 John 5:11 – "And this is the testimony: God gave (past tense) us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." Regarding prayer, WOF says that believers should confess the answer to prayer, even before it may have been manifested. This is based on scriptures such as 1 John 5:15 - "And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him," and Mark 11:24. 

As I said, this is just a sketch of what I'd call orthodox Word-of-Faith doctrine. I think there is a slew of preachers who mask themselves as Word of Faith, but who are distantly far from these teachings. Of course, they're the ones that get all the press.

Personally, I'm not a fan of labels. (I think of myself as a Christian preacher.) But many would pigeonhole me as WOF for the singular reason that I believe and preach that Jesus died cursed of God on the cross (see Gal. 3:13). But that's okay. I'd rather walk in the power of the Spirit and be criticized to high heaven for it than fill up my life and mind with an impotent Gospel.  

GospelPeter Smythe