Posted by: Damon Whitsell | March 15, 2010

Changes the Word of Faith Movement has made to Pentecostalism

Changes in the Pentecostal community:

Chicago Pentecostal ExaminerWilliam Pankey

Divine healing has been distinctive of Pentecostalism from its very inception. Members of this community maintain that the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” are still current today. The issue that God heals today in supernatural ways, for the Pentecostal, is a forgone conclusion. There is no debate in the community over that point. The confusion is over what conditions and to what extant God heals. For nearly one hundred years, Pentecostals have pretty well defined for themselves an acceptable theological view on healing. In particular, this view was pretty well mainstream among Assemblies of God pastors and adherents.

There is a change that I have observed which I attribute mainly to the influence of the Word of Faith Movement.  This movement has influenced and challenged the classical Pentecostal view on divine healing.  Teachers, within the movement, such as Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland maintain that healing and prosperity are in the atonement and are therefore the divine right of every Christian to enjoy through an exercise of faith and positive confession.

Another change I have observed among Pentecostals and Charismatics is an exaggerated interest in “spiritual warfare” and “deliverance.”  Although I’m not sure if there is a connection between Frank Peretti’s best selling novel This Present Darkness and his more recent books The Visitation, House and The Oath and this seeming preoccupation with demons, it appears more than coincidental.  Somewhere in the quasi-superstition is another teaching that seems to be in vogue right now, one popularized by Marilyn Hickey namely, the breaking of individual and generational curses.

Being “addicted” and avoiding ‘toxins” and being freed from “co-dependency” are also quite fashionable today.  My concern is not with psychology and the Christian faith, but with the authors themselves who publish dubious and repetitious books just to get on the band wagon and sell them while people’s attention is caught up in the hype.

Pentecostals and Charismatics are at a crossroad.  What their destination will be is yet to be seen.

In A Different Gospel, D. R. McConnell states what I believe to be true of Pentecostals as well, “Charismatics are at a crossroads. The charismatic renewal has reached a spiritual intersection in its history, and the decisions made by charismatic leadership in the next five years will, I believe, determine our place in the annals of church history. Nothing less than the doctrinal orthodoxy of our movement is at stake.”

I believe some theological housecleaning is in order for Pentecostals.  Joining the ranks of the Word of Faith Movement is not only to embrace a poor theology of healing but it also means buying into a great deal of heresy that accompanies this movement.

The first thing that Pentecostals must do is subscribe to a legitimate and consistent method of interpreting the bible, until they do, they will have no defense against the Word of Faith Movement.  Without an exacting method of interpreting the bible, a Pandora’s Box of questionable teaching will be spread and embraced.

In addition to their poor approach to understanding the bible is their inadequate understanding of what it means to be human.  This inadequate anthropology has manifested itself in an insufficient concept of pain and suffering.  Not that Pentecostals are unaccustomed to these or that God always heals in response to their prayers, but rather with such an emphasis on healing, while minimalizing the existence pain, suffering, and the Problem of Evil these have never occupied an integral place in Pentecostal thinking.

Because of their lack of an articulated theology of pain and suffering, as part of the life of the believer, a great many pastors and adherents have embraced a subtle form of the message of the “health and wealth” preachers.  As I mention earlier, the Word of Faith movement teaches that healing is in the atonement.  Many Pentecostals hold to the same belief.  Claiming such a belief is tantamount to viewing healing as a kind of Christian entitlement much like Social Security or Medicare.

At times it seems that individuals of the Word of Faith movement are experiencing spiritual psychosis.  They maintain that they are healed of cancer while the latest MRI scan reveals that their body is being eaten up by it.  They claim that they are healed of pneumonia while their x-rays come back positive, they cough relentlessly and run a fever.  To those outside the movement this whole mentality seems absurd and unbiblical.

The problem with the Word of Faith movement, it seems to me, is its poor hermeneutic and its penchant (like most Fundamentalists in general) to see life as black and white, neat and tidy and all figured out.  Whatever does not fit their Procrustean bed is chopped off by some inept biblical interpretation and made to fit their surrealistic world-view.

Whether contemporary Pentecostals remains true to its classical heritage remains to be seen.



%d bloggers like this: