‘Say the Word and You’ll Be Healed’ – the Faith Confession Movement and Healing

As we keep looking at healing Henry H Knight provides a useful summary of a representative sample of charismatic healers based around which of these characteristics they emphasise.[1] Picking up from my last post some of these healers focus on ‘faithfulness’, meaning that God is always going to be faithful to his promise to heal. These include two strands of teachings: 1) the ‘faith confession movement,’[2] and 2) the less prosperity focused Morton Kelsey and Agnes Sanford.[3] Although it is tempting to skip straight over this first strand, its influence actually extends around both the Western and the Two-Thirds World, and thus its claims need to be understood and addressed. It is also known as the ‘word of faith’ movement and is characterised by a belief that children of God are entitled to receive the ‘blessings of Abraham’. This is received by faith, through the cross of Jesus, and has the threefold manifestation of health, wealth and salvation.

Among its key exponents are Kenneth Hagin Sr., Kenneth Copeland and Charles Capps. Although there is a range of views within the movement Hagin shows the extreme in his Healing: The Father’s Provision. Here he states clearly that cancer and other diseases that bring pain and anguish are not the will of ‘God my Father’ rather it is God’s will that we should be healed.[4] He argues on: ‘no believer should be sick. Every believer should live his life to the full time.’[5]

Apart from this ‘blessing of Abraham’ theology[6] it is their stress on ‘positive confession’ that stands out. As I mentioned in an earlier post most of these theologies seem to originate in a wonderful and profound expereince the charismatic healer has themselves had. Hagin Sr, attributes this ‘principle of faith’ or ‘faith formula’ to a study of Mk 11.23-24[7] as a paralysed and bed-ridden teenager. After 16 months of waiting to be healed, he ‘saw that the verse says you have to believe when you pray’. This he claims led him to simply grasp the healing through faith and he survived this life threatening time. the outworking of this then was that the sick person needs to both claim the healing by faith, and then act on it, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.[8]

The belief would be that positive confession can work for those with no faith, due to general laws God has established. However Christians are in a better position both for their inheritance of the blessings of Abraham and for what Hagin calls their ‘God-kind of faith’. This leads into an area where the faith-confessionalists are probably at their least orthodox(!), talking of a ‘creative power’ inherent in this positive confession. One outworking of which is that Jesus becomes a ‘faith-confession’ of the Father.[9] In exactly the same vein a positive-confession has the power to change circumstances, indeed our faith has the power to create and shape our reality – at least to the degree that we are moving towards the twin goals of health and prosperity.[10]

Thus words are afforded great power, which means both that praying twice for any one thing amounts to doubt, and is discouraged,[11] and that people’s senses and perceptions are not allowed to be the evidence for healing. This works out to mean that a person may be ‘healed’ according to ‘revelation knowledge’, even though all the evidence suggests otherwise.[12] Indeed paying attention to your senses may amount to ‘negative confession’ and is thus actively discouraged. So get up out of your wheelchair whether you feel like you can or not!

This in particular leads McConnell to the conclusion that this group is a heresy. Furthermore he traces its origins to a nineteenth-century phenonemon called the New Thought that also birthed Christian Science.[13] However later I will return to the possibility that this ability to believe in something for which there is no evidence for at all links all to clearly with a Wesleyan doctrine of Perfection, pointing to Donald Dayton[14] among others for evidence of this. Like Perfectionism this doctrine falls short not just because of its profound lack of a ‘developed eschatology’ [i.e. it’s a bit like a toddler wanting everything now], but also because of its propensity to accept unfounded sentiments, rather than physical or theological facts.

To summarise the movement then:

  • It emphasises God’s faithfulness at the expense of God’s freedom.
  • Through notions of spiritual laws etc… it guarantees instantaneous satisfaction (i.e. healing) to those who have faith and make a positive confession.
  • That ‘faith’ is in their interpretation of God’s promises in the Bible rather than in God, who has little choice but to accede to the laws he himself laid down.
  • Like Perfectionism it is lacking in both eschatology and a realistic view of life.

In my next post I’ll look at some more redeemable versions of the “Faithfulness’ argument…

[1] ibid p.65.

[2] This is also known as the ‘word of faith’ movement and is characterised by a belief that children of God are entitled to receive the ‘blessings of Abraham’. This is received by faith, through the cross of Jesus, and has the threefold manifestation of health, wealth and salvation. Knight distinguishes them in his paper, from other charismatic movements on the basis of their prosperity theology.

[3] Kelsey basically incorporated a Jungian perspective into Sanford’s ideas. Both understand God as ‘an immanent healing presence always available to the person who has positive faith’ [emphasis added] p. 74

[4] Hagin (p.9).

[5] ibid.

[6] That is that believers are entitled to claim the promises made to Abraham in Genesis (e.g. 17:6 although the notion of many people being ‘fathers of many nations’ seems a little problematic!). This is often worked out in connection to faith via an exposition of Romans 4.

[7] In the AV: For verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall say unto this mountain, be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

[8] K.E. Hagin, I Believe in Visions (1972), pp. 27-28; cited in DR. McConnell, (1988), p. 59.

[9] See Capps Dynamics of Faith and Faith Confession (1987) p. 86-87.

[10] A slightly sinister twist is added by Copeland, who emphasises that even negative words you believe in have power. K. Copeland, The Force of Faith (1983), p. 15

[11] Knight p. reports that Hagin claimed to have only prayed for his children half a dozen times, because to receive something he simply needed to say it (and thus claim it) rather than pray for it.

[12] ibid. p.

[13] McConnell (1988): In New Thought healing comes when people stop accepting they are sick. He links E.W. Kenyon to its infusion into Christianity, although Knight argues the influence was more diverse.

[14] D.W. Dayton, The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987).

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