The Gospel According To The Faith Movement: What The “Prosperity Gospel” Names And Claims
by Rev Rafael D. Martinez, Spiritwatch Ministries
It’s impossible to miss a certain irrepressible influence in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles today for it extends far beyond them into the deepest parts of Christian culture globally. Their leaders are unmistakable figures, almost forces, as they enthrall tens of thousands with their tongues of fire as televised from vast megachurch settings. Glitzy ads selling the DVD’s of their services and tickets for evenings at their mass meetings held in a sports arena somewhere fill their air time. The message of their vibrant and folksy preaching is wonderfully uplifting and encouraging, so positive and yet practical and it seems to uncannily “read your mail,” touching you just where you are.
Their disciples are your coworkers, your aunt, or your neighbor who will tell all around them how to get off antidepressants or how not to speak negatively, lest a curse fall upon on oneself. They range from the rich black sales executive tooling his Lexus SUV with the fish sticker on his bumper through a New York rush hour to the poor white single mom living in a battered trailer in the backwoods of Louisiana. There are few more distinctive people in Pentecost today than these believers who, in their zeal to live out a practical Christian life, uphold this global force’s message as the “uncompromised Word of God,” and who unhesitatingly base their lives and faith around it.
This influence is known by many popular designations, but the most obvious title calls it the Word of Faith Movement, an exceedingly popular school of thought found throughout Christian circles of primarily Pentecostal or Charismatic persuasion literally around the world.
This movement takes many organizational and cultural forms but is probably more accurately described as a closely knit subculture in Christianity that advances a body of teachings referred to generically as the “divine wealth,” “prosperity,” or “faith message.” It has attracted tens of millions of Pentecostals and Charismatics who are captivated by the alluring claims of Faith teachings that promise so much unimaginable blessing that can be tailor made to one’s own circumstances and desires.
The focus on practical Christian faith that they take is so deep that many movement members call themselves “faith people.” A certain translation of Mark 11:23 is the basis for this teaching, and it has mainstreamed into society today with an appealing, simple and compelling message that attracts millions: “According to the Bible, it’s God’s Will for you to be healthy and wealthy!”
This message is expanded enthusiastically upon by many of the “faith people”: there are divine laws that God himself interacts with to bestow these blessings upon all who will unquestioningly accept them as Gospel truth. It further teaches that a good God loves His people so well that His Son Jesus was sent not only to die for their sins, but to deliver them from pain, pestilence and poverty. Words with creative power can be confessed to bring this level of victorious Christian life to all true believers in Christ.
The present galaxy of luminaries within the Faith movement features many of the most popular preachers of our day among them. They include it’s late “founding father” Kenneth (aka “Dad”) Hagin, the legendary Oral Roberts and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland.
Perhaps the most well known figures of the Faith movement today who expound with and fully identify with its’ guiding principles are Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn and the “smiling preacher” Joel Osteen, whose father John Osteen was a contemporary of Roberts and Hagin. Other equally well known Faith leaders are Marilyn Hickey, Rod Parsley, Creflo Dollar, Frederick Price, and Charles Capps whose teachings, crusades and miracle campaigns – all aired over the bully media pulpits such as the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the Daystar and SkyAngel channels and innumerable other satellite and cable systems (1).
Following hard on their footsteps are a seemingly endless legion of Faith clergy who, after 50 years of germination and explosive growth, have created a vast and almost seamless movement of established Bible colleges, megachurches and ministerial fellowships as well as burgeoning business networks. Spanning the globe with alliances based on shared participation in religion, merchandise and self-improvement concepts, many in the Faith movement came from non-Pentecostal backgrounds or the Charismatic movements.
In an effort to find solidarity and a heritage behind which they achieve personal perspective, they often readily identify with and embrace the storied history of pioneering Pentecostal days. The sacrificial lives of the first Pentecostals who endured privation and persecution decades before the Charismatic movement even existed are upheld as examples of a spirituality they seek to dig roots deeply into.
And they and their own disciples, fanning out with innumerable church plants and parachurch innovations have gone on to cultivate a degree of political, spiritual and economic strength that would have astonished many a Pentecostal pioneer who came from the “wrong side of the tracks,” a potential not lost upon the business world. Faith ministers, driven by an aggressively entrepreneurial vision to penetrate the world with the Faith movement message, have developed churches and outreaches with a dynamism and passion that defies the religious status quo – wielding a social and cultural influence unthinkable by Pentecostals only a generation or so ago.
What Does “Prosperity” Name And Claim? A Summary
It is the promise of a healthy, wealthy and blessed life as the birthright of all Christians that attracts so many to the Faith movement. “Faith churches” are almost always Charismatic or Pentecostal in spirit and are usually marked by a vibrant, enthusiastic and genuinely appealing congregational life led by equally lively ministers who may call themselves “five fold” pastors, teachers, apostles, prophets or evangelists.
They can be found in virtually every socio-economic layer of Christian culture under the sun. You can find Faith doctrine thriving in the megachurch with tens of thousands of members as well as in the storefront hovel attended by three or four families. The heart of the Faith movement’s teaching can be summarized as follows:
First of all, Faith teachings claim that God has always dealt with mankind through the usage of covenants and that he is legally bound by the New Covenant of New Testament Christianity to bestow blessings upon all Christians since it was sealed through the shed blood of Christ. Faith teachings then go on to say that, under this covenant agreement with God, spiritual laws have been revealed for believers to enjoy their legal birthrights as children of God, rights that mandate the Christian to enjoy a life of rulership over sin, sickness and poverty.
We are literally a New Creation, a new breed of people supposedly destined to an abundant, triumphal life lacking nothing. And finally, the Faith movement teaches that the key to a successful Christian life is the development of a personal and positive confession that uses “words of faith” to release powerful spiritual forces that will spiritually materialize literal blessings – be they for healing, direction, or prosperity.
With divine authority, Christians can speak “victory” that forestalls defeat of any kind and “life” into situations where the powers of death seem imminent. These “words of faith” are empowered by spiritual forces, governed by spiritual laws so all powerful that even God Himself must exercise faith in them to accomplish His will.
The lifestyle of the Spirit-filled believer, then, need not be a powerless and fruitless exile in a dreary world where enemies lie in wait to overturn one’s faith. The New Creation’s realities, so it is said, have restored to the Church manifold blessings through the supernatural power of God meant to enable it to rise to a level of glorified victory over all earthly problems. This level of blessing is a foreordained heritage unknown to a powerless church, it is believed, because of clinging to the deadening traditions of men that have blinded it to these “lost” truths (click to hear a Faith “revelation” by Real Audio).
It is no wonder then that the Faith movement champions the concept of receiving these special truths from God by a spiritual illumination popularly known as “revelation knowledge.” This spiritual faculty supplies “rhema words” of direction and revelation as needed to the Body of Christ, and the principle source for them comes through the “five-fold ministry,” the clergy of the Faith movement. These fresh and new insights into Scripture are part of the New Creation’s authority for complete victory over all of life’s conflicts.
For those in need of a fresh touch from God, “holy laughter” and many other extraordinary signs and wonders are at the disposal of the redeemed who know how to walk in faith. “Generational curses”, demonic oppression, the bondage of poverty over families and nations can be broken through this Gospel of the “Anointing,” which was the “cornerstone message of the church”, “the message of the early church” as renowned Faith teacher Kenneth Copeland would have us believe (2)
So therefore, if these “named claims” are Biblical truths, than according to the very titles of their well known publications, Faith teachers are indeed showing us the way to a better Christian life. Why wouldn’t anyone want such a lifestyle? It is just this kind of exhilaratingly triumphal living that the titles of many a Faith author assure is the birthright of all Christian believers. Jerry Savelle’s “Victory And Success Are Yours” is one such book while a Kenneth Hagin tract edifies us with an discussion of “How To Write Your Own Ticket With God.” Marilyn Hickey shows us how to “Make Your Faith Effectual,” while Robert Tilton encourages us to “Decide, Decree, Declare” that victory will be ours.
When Charles Capps reveals that key to such blessings are through “The Tongue, a Creative Force,” then we need to be listening. As surely as Gloria Copeland has categorically declared that “God’s Will Is Prosperity,” it would seem then that far too many of God’s children are living beneath their privileges since so many of them (as the Faith teachers would tolerantly remind us) seem to do so.
Why should we want to struggle through life in such miserable states of lack, sickness, infirmity and struggle when, according to the Faith movement, we only need to speak to the mountain with words of faith and have it cast into the sea out of our way? The traditions of religion have for too long clouded our perceptions, and we need to make a clean break with them, so as to claim the inheritance of the King’s Kids. We should boldly “name it and claim it” – we should triumphantly make a confession that brings possession.
The Big Question : Is It In The Bible?
How does the movement support such a startling position as “divine health and wealth” from Scripture? All honest and thinking Christians, who are confronted with the apparently Biblical evidences that Faith teachers present to support their claims, however, must face the serious questions such claims raise: Has God truly given us such authority? Does the Word of God give us such power?
Most importantly, is the message of the Faith movement preserving the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ? These articles are simply one Pentecostal’s perspective on these questions, an earnest attempt to supply a balanced and Biblical examination of the Word of Faith movement that won’t demonize but will discern, one that won’t scandalize but will be searching.
Let me take pains to emphasize none too strongly that this is not an attempt to attack or slander any Faith teacher whatsoever, but it is rather an examination of Faith teaching itself. The Word of God commands us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to continually “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith,” to “test everything” and to “hold on to the good.” Christians are all to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” as Ephesians 5:21 exhorts us, and, in this spirit, we wish to humbly offer this assessment.
And once the Bible is opened up to examine it, honest examination will find that the “prosperity gospel” version of the Gospel has been Biblically weighed and found seriously wanting. The seriously fouled taproot of error within the Faith movement has been discerned in the clear light of God’s Word as being not only questionable but dangerously heretical.
There are three major errors of Faith teaching that are evident in its’ doctrine and practice as just summarized, although they are by no means the only ones. This contention is disturbing and saddening but Biblical tests show this to be true. For those whose convictions are centered around the Faith movement’s claims, this is not a popular or even desired observation but for the sake of Biblical truth, I cannot do anything else but uphold it.
So the following set of articles will seek to detail the contradictions and fabrications that are being mistaken as sound teaching in the Word of Faith movement which must be exposed for what they are. The spiritual survival and destiny of many Christians depend on their grappling with this critical question.
I know many Pentecostal and Charismatic believers who share similar concerns and disagreements with Faith teaching as I do. Our email inbox receives these almost daily and some of these have been posted on our website here. Ample evidence exists that many, many others within the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement (if not a silent majority) have seen the same fatal flaws – many of them ministers themselves.
Many have gone on record taking firm stands for an orthodox and balanced understanding of how faith should apply to Christian living. Yet far too many others keep these views to themselves in an all too quiet privacy of fear. It is the fear of the indignation of their Faith brethren, or even a fear that they might be found to be attacking the “apple of God’s eye” in full violation of the unwritten rule and Holy Ghost straw man that Christians must “touch not Mine anointed and do my prophets no harm” that silences them. Ultimately, it is the fear of man that pulls whatever conviction and spine out of many Christians when being faced with the choice of standing for what they know is true, and what they see all around them is popular.
But such an illusion of fear that one might “grieve” or “blaspheme the Spirit” and bring “disunity within the Body” only helps to perpetuate and cloak the real evil: the truly grievous blasphemy and division that Faith teaching itself has inflicted upon the Body of Christ. As has been mentioned in this and other articles, there has been a deafening silence of Pentecostal and Charismatic leaders who are aware of and are “personally opposed” to the practical errors of Faith teaching. Their silence alone, however, has directly contributed to not only the grief millions of Bible believing Christians, but to the infinitely greater degree of anguish that I believe Jesus feels when He beholds how it has impacted His Body over whom He is Lord.
Therefore, in regards to the Faith movement, I feel that I must speak compassionately, yet uncompromisingly. We are not dealing with a heretical cult group outside the pale of Christian orthodoxy. Instead, we are looking deeply within the Body of Christ to examine the teachings of fellow brothers and sisters who are, to their shame and the abject horror of Bible believers everywhere, energetically spreading a heresy no less twisted or unbiblical than the Mormon doctrine of godhood or the Boston movement’s abusive “shepherding” practice. We see added to this tragic situation an extraordinary tendency of many of these same Christians to debate defensively rather than dialogue deliberately with one another when personalities and positions become targets of scrutiny (3).
Usually, we will always find an explosive mixture of knee-jerk reaction, rather than thoughtful response. These same Christians will cry aloud “stop causing strife and judging everyone! You’re dividing the Body of Christ!” Yet, to remain shamefacedly silent when error is being called truth only contributes to the actual division of Christ’s Body – I cannot allow such a travesty of Christian faith go unchallenged and unopposed (and such was the situation that Ezekiel prophesied against in the opening Scripture text we’ve quoted).
The heart cry of Paul the pastor found in Acts 20:26-31 voices so well the inner passion of any true shepherd concerning the subtle deceptions from within that confront the Body of Christ. I cannot remain silent, either. No Christian filled with the love of God will fail to stand for the truth of God also. And it is long overdue for those voices calling for discernment to speak up and be heard.
The overall principle of Scripture that most compels me, however, to persevere in such an examination is a Biblical mandate that no one can ignore: test everything and hold fast to the good (1 Th. 5:21). Therefore, this Pentecostal’s perspective on the subject endeavors to assess the Word of Faith movement’s claims in the light of such an absolute. Not every Pentecostal or Charismatic will agree with this assessment, and I have no illusions that they will. The pastoral concerns that stir me when considering how Faith teachings confuse, amaze and overthrow the faith of many Christians haunt me to this day, and are also part of the motivation the Holy Spirit uses to spur me on in this investigation.
Case in point:
In October, 1987, I was returning to Lee College after a fall break “invasion” of evangelistic work with some fellow college students. No sooner had we gotten out of the rickety old van that we had driven half the day from Florida back to Tennessee than I found myself almost knocked over by a young girl, a friend, who we’ll call Sarah who had been waiting nearby for the van to arrive. She was in tears, and it was clear that she’d been crying for a good while. Her embrace was that of a drowning woman desperately looking for a hand of rescue, and her trembling fairly shook her whole body. It took me a few minutes to calm her down enough to understand the torrent of frenzied questions she was hurling at me.
Sarah had been a stroke victim – even though a young woman of around 23. Her subsequent physical and speech therapy had only helped minimally. She walked with a distinctive limp and had some slurred speech, although mentally she was completely unaffected by the stroke. We had become friends at Lee after having met in the chapel services. That weekend, while I had been away, she had gone to a local restaurant and had been noticed by two students there who were from the New Life Bible College, a local Word of Faith school founded by a Kenneth Hagin associate named Norvel Hayes.
Convinced that the Spirit was leading them, they hailed her at her table and began to insist that if she had enough faith, they could lead her in prayer and deliver her of her physical infirmity. The subsequent impromptu prayer session that they forced upon her became loud enough for the restaurant manager to notice, and who insisted that they leave if they were to continue to pray. After helping Sarah out to her car, they continued to pray for a time with her, then left her with the parting observation that a besetting demon of sickness was inflicting her and that if she was ever to be delivered, she needed for it to be cast out. This happened on a Saturday night, and for the remainder of that night and all day Sunday and Monday, she had lived in utter horror at the thought that a demon could be possessing her body.
I will never forget that wild gleam of sheer terror that blazed out of her stricken, reddened eyes when she gazed at me through the hot new flood of tears that she shed as she told me this story and begged me over and over, “oh Rafael, is it true? Is it true there’s a demon in me? oh, is it true?” The torment this brought her was truly fearful to behold – and the knowledge that such an edifying observation came from two “spiritual” young Charismatic Faith students filled me with a bewildered rage that someone so “learned” could so casually inflict spiritual abuse such as this in the name of God’s deliverance.
As my ministry has proceeded these past 25 years, I could relate so many other examples, but this one so well illustrated the human cost that must be borne by those who are forcibly confronted by the deceptive and destructive “truths” of Faith teaching and why it must be confronted vigorously.
The Unhidden Agenda: The “Kenyon Connection” And The Faith Movement
To understand where you are in life and where you might be going, you need to consider where you’ve come from. The rest of this article and the last portion of the second one will address how the Faith movement’s “prosperity gospel” arrived on the scene of Christendom in recent history. It did not come about overnight. Understanding the spiritual, social and cultural influences that brought it about will be vital before thinking about answering its claims.
While the teaching influences of Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts are the most well known, there is a third figure whose shadow towers over the Word of Faith movement and eclipses the other two. It is surprising to realize that most within this subculture of the Pentecostal and Charismatic worlds have never heard of E.W. Kenyon but are intimately familiar with his core teachings.
The impact of Kenyon upon the Faith movement was largely unrecognized until the early 1970’s when Faith teachers began to actively endorse his work as supplements to their own teaching. Hagin himself was profoundly influenced by Kenyon’s writings and along with Oral Roberts’ “seed faith” theology, the three men laid down the essential direction for the Faith movement itself. Tens of thousands of those who attended Hagin’s Rhema Bible School, such as Ray McCauley and Keith Butler, were thereafter introduced to his doctrine. For it is no secret that Kenyon’s books are routinely used as textbooks, devotionals and library holdings in Charismatic and Pentecostal institutions of learning around the world – they are still in wide circulation through Kenyon’s publishing ministry that to this day still preserves his work. The powerful sway of Kenyon is so widespread and so seemingly mundane that it continues unabated and hidden in plain sight.
Kenyon had been a young Free Will Baptist preacher and student at several schools in New York where he was born in 1867. In 1892, at the age of 25, he attended the Emerson School of Oratory in Boston and it was then that his doctrinal formation took the radical turn that it apparently did.
New England in the 1800’s was where much of the American development of what came to be called “New Thought” philosophy took place. During the early part of the 1800’s, a New Hampshire spiritualist named Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (who is sometimes cited as the “father of the New Thought movement”) (4) became convinced that mistaken beliefs were the basis of illness and that the discovery of “truth” led to cures.
Claiming these healing methods were used by Jesus, he counted as one of his disciples a young Mary Baker Eddy, who would go on to found the Christian Science movement in Boston. For a brief time, these concepts – also described as “Transcendentalism” – captured the imaginations of tens of thousands of converts across the United States, particularly in the New England and Californian regions with a revivalism almost as fervent and influential as that of the Evangelical movement. And it was during the height of its national popularity that Kenyon enrolled in a school where many of the faculty there were known advocates of the metaphysical positions of New Thought.
One of them was Ralph Waldo Trine, a New Thought writer and former classmate and contemporary of Kenyon who published his most well known inspirational work In Tune With The Infinite while Kenyon was his student. Trine was a faculty member of the college, and it is certain that Kenyon came into contact with him and his teaching during his studies there. Key concepts that were asserted so eloquently in Trine’s book (and certainly his teaching) were that existence was composed of two realms, the spiritual, which was causal and creative, and the material, which was the realm of effect and manifestation, fundamental truths to all New Thought proponents. The world of the spirit directly controlled the natural order by usage of the same laws that even Jesus “lived in harmony with” (5). “Thought forces” that bestow blessings or curses are part of a daily spiritual broadcast each human being emanates (p.91).
He also taught that humans have a spark of divinity within them that must be realized to raise their consciousness to higher and therefore happier planes of positive living, a realization that Jesus also made to “teach .. the Christ within.” (7). Such lofty words captured the imaginations of many people seeking a faith that “accentuated the positive” and downplayed uncomfortable thoughts like eternal judgment, repentance from sin and the acknowledgement of personal spiritual depravity.
Christian Science, the Unity School of Christianity and other religious “mind science” sects enthusiastically embraced writings like Trine’s and his book was a runaway best seller and is still considered today a metaphysical classic text. With his social presence and popularity at the Emerson school firmly established (8) and by his position as Kenyon’s teacher that he held, the seed thoughts of Trine’s New Thought teaching would eventually become evident in his later work (9).
Kenyon’s book New Creation Realities is a good representation of his essential thought and how he translated his New Thought indoctrination into Christian “doctrine.” He wrote that there are two kinds of Christians in the world, those who were bound by natural limitation and those transformed through the new birth into a literally new creation, a new race of spiritual supermen destined for absolute dominion as sons of God and masters of nations.
These of the “new creation” are filled with the “'zoe’ – the Nature of the Father that Jesus brought” through the resurrection – are enabled to imitate God through the use of His words to create enduements of power, blessing and healing. Being a “faith God”, a Deity that uses faith to “do things”, he has supplied to those who walk as part of the “New Creation” the same ability to use words as creative forces (10).
Through a proper understanding of the spiritual nature behind the work of redemption, no Christian need ever again have to suffer limitation and lack. Those who do are carnal believers, he went on to explain, whose lack of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives reaps for them a weak, powerless existence in the “realm of darkness where men walk by the senses” (11). Right thinking and right belief are vital to avoiding such a trap, with sickness and other forms of affliction being seen as fundamentally spiritual problems that betray unbelief and sin.
Another example Kenyon left for many contemporary Faith teachers was to freely paraphrase various Scripture passages as well as various Bible translations to support his doctrinal teachings and make many unwarranted doctrinal assumptions based upon them. Some of his paraphrases were highly suspect, yet became the foundation for much of his teaching on the “deeper life” of the “New Creation.” It also helped reinforce the concept of relying upon free usage of Bible paraphrases as authoritative sources for explaining “hidden” meanings in Scripture – not actual Bible translations themselves.(12)
Kenyon’s teaching would have remained outside the Pentecostal-Charismatic culture, overlooked and unseen, if had not been for the advent of Kenneth Hagin, who at the age of 20 became licensed with the Assemblies of God in 1937, when Kenyon was 70 years old.
In 1937, Kenyon’s devotional books were in wide circulation and his pioneering radio program “Kenyon’s Church of the Air,” broadcast from KJR in Seattle, were within reach of the Pentecostal communities of the prairies of Oklahoma and Texas of whom Hagin was a part. It is highly likely that this was how he came under Kenyon’s teachings: his claims of not having even heard of Kenyon until two years after his death in 1948 seem more like an attempt to evade closer scrutiny of his early ministerial influences. The similarities of Hagin’s work with Kenyon’s teaching are simply too close to be coincidental. They are also too important to be ignored or dismissed, for Kenyon’s interpretations became the backbone for Hagin’s doctrine and generations of Faith teachers who he would go on to influence.
Hagin’s prolific writings, magazines and tape ministries have spread vast amounts of his Faith teaching for many years, yet it seems that some of them weren’t actually inspired by direct revelation from the Spirit of God as he often likes to claim. Christian researcher and pastor D.R. McConnell has conclusively demonstrated that Hagin was not above plagiarizing the writings of others. His book entitled The Believer’s Authority was, in it’s original form an almost word-for-word copy of a Christian Missionary Alliance minister’s writings (there would not have been a new version of Hagin’s book in 1984 had an Alliance official not confronted Hagin with the plagiarization that same year) (13). This is most significant: without pausing to discuss the ethical implications these suggest in themselves, they do offer further clear evidence that Hagin’s doctrinal formation involved absorbing whatever popular sources he found around him. They also effectively call into question the divine inspiration that Hagin supposedly was operating under when these “revelations” came to him, and furthermore make suspect his subsequent declarations of prophetic teaching ministry.
If Hagin borrowed from a variety of teaching sources that included Kenyon’s work and then subsequently characterized it as part of a divine commission from God to “teach my people faith,” (documented in his biographical information printed in his tracts and books) then his labor is based upon occultic speculations passed off by Kenyon as cutting edge Christianity, as “revelation knowledge” straight from the throne of God. Hagin’s claim of breaking from worldly religious tradition is completely unfounded, and his reputation as a respected prophet-teacher within the Faith movement went on to assure a vast audience for the propagation of his retreads of Kenyon’s theology with most, if not all, of the participants being entirely unaware of it.
These affinities that Kenyon made with New Thought and which he apparently believed could be reconciled with orthodox Christian doctrine and practice are what McConnell calls the “Kenyon Connection,” a link that would extend deeply into the Word of Faith movement to unite it with the New Thought movement itself of the 1880’s. It is diabolically ironic that at the same time the Pentecostal movement was beginning to form, the occultic New Thought movement (complete with its own dynamic healers and preachers) was establishing itself firmly into the American religious topography, as if preparing for the eventual conflict to come. This conflict has been fiercely waged ever since by those within the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements who recognized it’s errors and empty promises and who have sought to uphold sound doctrine in the face of those who demand the shallow and the sham.
The Revival Of New Thought Gnosticism In Last Days Faith Teaching
We have observed that E.W. Kenyon’s teachings are a cross-breeding of Evangelical perfectionist piety and New Thought metaphysical teaching which have a connection with ancient Gnosticism, a mystical pagan tradition encountered by the early church. While Kenyon was not a Pentecostal, his writings often sound quite familiar to within Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, for their own doctrinal roots in the Christian holiness movement held to a distinctively Methodist theology of perfectionism, a theology that Kenyon would have been conversant with during his time. Having come from a Methodistic and Free Will Baptist background, he apparently adapted these Biblical concepts that were most familiar to him and reassigned to them new interpretations that were deeply colored with New Thought dogma. When considered carefully, Kenyon’s synthesis of Christian perfectionism with Gnosticism has less to do with “cutting edge Christian revelation” and more in common with a nineteenth century revival of that ancient pagan spirituality than anything else. There is no easy or diplomatic way to assert this, so the facts should be squarely considered. The Faith movement essentially upholds a modernized form of Gnosticism, an ancient Near Eastern spiritual movement that many in the pagan world earnestly sought hope within and it is E.W. Kenyon who became an earnest evangelist of error.
Gnosticism was perhaps one of the Church’s greatest threats from its earliest of days, overthrowing by perversion of the faith of many early Christians for it twisted the Gospel of Christ freely to clothe Gnosticism’s occultic worldview in the guise of Christian doctrine. It was centered around recovery of a lost revelation of sophia (the Greek word for “wisdom”) through the gnosis, an initiation into an expanded awareness of the world of the spirit and one’s exalted place within it.
This lost wisdom was a revelation of the universe as composed of both natural and spiritual worlds, of an occult worldview in which an unknowable God is manifest in spiritual “emanations” such as Christ and sophia. The spiritual world was the highest reality, and the world of the flesh smothered one’s spiritual faculties with a crushing and blinding weight that prevented humanity from redemption of its ignorance of the spiritual. (14)
While Gnosticism had various schools of thought on this it was generally believed that the uninitiated were “dead” due to their ignorance and in need of being “resurrected.” Those who did not possess the hidden sophia stood in dire need of being released from the bondage of physical corruption. It was of paramount importance that the soul be “awakened from the sleep of death” in the tomb of the physical body before it could be ultimately and fully liberated after the death of the body.
Having achieved this resuscitation, the Gnostic initiate was then spiritually lifted into what was called the pleroma, or “fullness” (a realm where ultimate reality – the spiritual plane where God reigned) and was assured by their Gnostic masters that they alone were the spiritually pure who understood all things for what they really were.
The allure of receiving special revelation for spiritual insight was what was so attractive to both pagans and Christians. The Christian concept of redemption by the revelation of Christ was foreshadowed in Gnosticism’s emphasis on spiritual deliverance and cunningly reinterpreted by many false teachers who wandered from church to church in the ancient world. Since the Gnostic “resurrection” was simply a spiritual experience of expanded insight and awareness, it made works of the flesh beneath any great concern.
Being “pure,” therefore, moral or ethical concerns were of no consequence to the “spiritual” Gnostic. These implications were not lost on the the various Gnostic sects in the ancient world such as the Borborite Gnostics (who committed sexual abominations beyond belief) and the Archontic Gnostics (whose ascetic excesses, according to the early church leader Epiphanius, “ruin(ed) their bodies”). (15)
Gnostically-influenced Christians who would not bow to these immoral excesses, however, were not above a self-exalting pursuit of new revelations of spiritual power and insight and not above creating divisive factions within the Church to achieve them. Paul’s struggles with Christians wholly preoccupied with such fantastic self-delusions are seen in many of his New Testament epistles (16).
Many Bible scholars have concluded that some of the references to “the spiritual” who withstood apostolic authority in 1 Corinthians were Paul’s own responses to Gnostic influence among the overzealous in Corinth. It has also been suggested that the explicit references to the Incarnation of Christ in the New Testament epistles were also written to directly counter the seductions of Gnostically-influenced oral traditions among the early church that denied His physical nature, historical existence and full deity.
While Gnosticism was driven underground with the rise of the Church’s temporal power in the third and fourth centuries, it was never fully eradicated. It survived among an occultic elite across time that included the Rosicrucians and other practitioners of metaphysical philosophy.
It’s fundamental principles were revived by the advocates of the New Thought movement and differed from its first century form in one important form: unlike the first century version of Gnosticism, which was filled with fluid pagan thought and mysticism, the New Thought revival attempted to incorporate a well-established and highly developed Christian worldview into its belief system. The high moral and ethical ideals of the then dominant Christian culture in America were woven into a supremely subtle New Thought counterfeit that, in effect, undercut and reinterpreted Christianity itself. The targets of this deceptive work were a new generation of spiritual seekers in Western civilization whose diligent inquiry took place long before the Pentecostal movement began.
The parallels between Gnosticism and New Thought are well documented and the worldview they share is echoed in Kenyon’s teaching, which directly shaped the Word of Faith movement’s doctrine and practice. Both advocate a mystical approach to inner spiritual illumination through a process of initiation involving acquiring knowledge of spiritual laws. Both present a dualistic worldview sharply distinguishing the inferiority of the natural world to the power of the spiritual world, where good and evil are equally powerful, eternally at odds with one other. Both systems declare that with the right kind of thinking and speech, spiritual objectives such as salvation, revelation and self-transformation are within the full grasp of the initiate after mastery of those same spiritual laws.
So by taking its cues from the Pentecostal passion for direct action, the movers and shakers of early Faith teaching readily adopted a proactive position in which they would seek the hand of God. But along their individual spiritual journeys, sober consideration of the Biblical mandates regarding the true relationship between faith and practice was ultimately subordinated to Pentecostal pragmatism. Spirituality that “works” has always been a prized emphasis of the seeker in any religious community, especially in Evangelical circles where Pentecostal and Charismatic impulses are embedded. Tragically, the neglect of careful Biblical study by Christian leaders that might provide an appropriate check in questionable or extremist doctrinal and practical formation is too readily apparent in church history. I assert that it again occurred here.
The desire to perpetuate popularity and notoriety at the expense of truth is a historic weakness of the Church when quick solutions are demanded of it. With such potent impulses for spiritual innovation in Western spirituality at work, we can see how these neo-Gnostic principles as set forth by the American New Thought movement became enthusiastically combined with Pentecostal Christian spirituality to birth the Word of Faith dogma. It is just how this errant doctrine has leavened the Faith movement that we will explore in our next article as well as how the principles of the occultic New Thought movement have been foisted off by “anointed” preachers as cutting edge “present truth.”
(1) The consolidation of mass media power as wielded by the Trinity Broadcasting Network today, as pioneered by the work of Jim Bakker’s PTL Club and Pat Robertson’s CBN television networking, is a fascinating story in itself that goes way beyond the scope of our work here. An interesting master’s thesis authored in 2006 posted online explores the concept of TBN as being a microcosm of the Faith movement itself and can be accessed in PDF file format here.
(2) Copeland, Kenneth. “Now, That’s Good News.” Believer’s Voice Of Victory, April 1995, p. 3.
(3) One sad example of many I could cite involved a young woman I’ll call Angela. She attended a well known Faith church here in Cleveland and had come out of an aberrant cultic movement and had become a devoted student of Faith teaching. Having mutual interests (the “full gospel” Christian life and reaching cult members for Christ), our fellowship was sweet but short lived. When she asked me my honest opinion on the Faith teaching of another popular Faith minister in town, and I responded that I had serious issues with his doctrine as well as his practice, her face fell and she became very quiet.
She then began to tearfully and earnestly voice a passionate concern that I had just “spake curses” on a man of God and that it deeply upset her that I would pass judgment on another Christian’s ministry. By simply questioning the quality of the teaching, Angela felt that I had committed an unspeakably mean spirited sin against this teacher. Shaken, she left our home and we never saw her again. It is this kind of emotion-laden reaction against anything remotely sounding like criticism as expressed by legions of sincere Faith Christians in defense of Faith clergy that guarantees the Faith movement much its invulnerability to real discernment. We will discuss this point more fully in our next article.
(4) An excellent Christian overview of how the New Thought movement factored into a larger general revival of metaphysical spirituality that swept Western civilization was published in Todd Ehrenborg’s study book entitled “Mind Sciences” (Zondervan, 1995) which can be purchased here. Click here to find a collection of links about the present state of the New Thought’s spiritual legacy, that being the religious and mind science movements still active today.
(5) Trine, Ralph Waldo. In Tune With The Infinite, (Dodd Mead, 1921), p. 167
(6) ibid, p. 91
(7) ibid, p. 90. Here we see yet another subtle redefinition of Christian truth in the redefinition of the term “Christ.” The Biblical definition of “the Christ” is a direct reference to Jesus, God the Son Himself as the “anointed one” ( ), the exclusive Chosen One and Savior of mankind whose prophetically foretold death, burial and resurrection would provide a very real and very literal salvation to those who would believe upon Him and His work. However, Trine – like many false teachers – freely rejects the Biblical truth and historical fact of Christ’s revealed identity to redefine it in terms much more comfortable to New Thought ears as “the immanence of our Father-God in humanity; the fact that individual men are separate items in a vast solidarity in which Infinite Mind is expressing Himself. Jesus has shown us what the ideal is to which that principle will lead . . . . The mystic Christ will win us here or hereafter. To find him within us now, to let him conquer us now, to recognise him as Emmanuel, God with us, God for us, God in us, is the secret and the soul of spiritual progress.’ It was the divinity of man that the Master revealed — the true reality of man — in distinction from the degradation of man. This it was that he realised in himself, and that he pleaded with all men to realise in themselves.” (emphasis mine – quote taken from an online version of Trine’s book The Man Who Knew accessible here). The claim that this “divinity of man” is what it means to have the “Christ within” is a long standing one adopted by syncretic New Age teachings for many years. So Trine’s lofty exaltation of human nature as essentially divine is typical of many New Thought suppositions that deny Christian truths, such as those which assert just the opposite, that man is essentially depraved.
This painfully misguided assumption that he reinforces underlies such erroneous belief systems from Hinduism to Mormonism to the New Age movement and is a restatement of the central Lie of Satanic origin first recorded in the garden of Eden at man’s fall : “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil,” (Genesis 3:5).
With this kind of deception introduced into the mind of man, that secret knowledge once attained will elevate him to the same exalted plane as God Himself, it was only a matter of time before it would be restated throughout depraved mankind throughout the history of religion. Trine’s reflection leaves little doubt where his doctrine comes from: “I sometimes hear a person say, 'I don’t see any good in him.’ No? Then you are no seer. Look deeper and you will find the very God in every human soul. But remember it takes a God to recognize a God. Christ always spoke to the highest, the truest, and the best of men. He knew and he recognized the God in each because he had first realized it in himself. .. What a privilege and how enjoyable it would be to live and walk in a world where we meet only Gods. In such a world you can live. In such a world I can live.” (p. 92-93) As we shall see in the following articles, this blasphemous teaching has found enough fertile ground to survive today in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements in some form, although by no means is it the only circle of “Christendom” where its deceptive lie can be found.
(8) In an irreverent 1900 essay published by the “Philistine,” a periodical of the literary Society of the Philistines, Trine’s popularity around the social circles of the Emerson School of Oratory was noteworthy enough to be a subject of no little attention. An excerpt of this essay with information on Trine can be found here.
(9) In his seminal work A Different Gospel, (Hendrickson, 1995 – updated version), D.R. McConnell has done an outstanding job in demonstrating how fully dedicated to the New Thought cause that Emerson College’s mission and faculty were. He also recounted an incident in the life of Kenyon in his later years – as recollected by another ministerial acquaintance Ern Baxter – that gave great insight into how well Emerson College fulfilled it’s mission. While on a visit to his home, Baxter recalled finding Kenyon
sitting at a reading spot in my living room where I had some miscellaneous books in a shelf, one of which was Mary Baker Eddy’s Key To The Scriptures, which I kept there for reference purposes, being vigorously opposed to her whole position from just about every standpoint. But I found him reading it, and I smiled as I passed by, not wanting to disturb him. I came back 30 or 40 minutes later and he was still reading it. .. I made a comment and he responded very positively that there was a lot that could be gotten from Mary Baker Eddy. That alerted me. I can’t say it surprised me, but it alerted me to the fact that he probably wasn’t formulating his faith positions entirely from sola Scriptura, and that he was influenced by the metaphysicians. (emphasis in original) (p. 26)
A young minister, John Kennington, who looked upon Kenyon as a mentor, had conversations with him in which he could “remember him saying 'All that Christian Science lacks is the blood of Jesus Christ.’ .. He admitted that he freely drew the water of his thinking from this well” (emphasis in original) (p. 25)
(10) Kenyon, E.W. New Creation Realities (1945)
(13) McConnell, ibid, p. 67-69.
(14) Rudolph, Kurt. Gnosis (Harper, 1983), p. 190. An absorbing perspective by the late Travers Van Der Merwe on how Gnosticism has impacted the church can be found in his book he coauthored with his wife Jewel entitled Strange Fire: The Rise Of Gnosticism In The Church (Conscience Press, 1995) and can be found online here.
(15) ibid, p. 257
(16) 1 Corinthians 1:22-29, 3:18-21, 2 Corinthians 11:1-4, Galatians 4:8-11, Ephesians 5:8-17, Colossians 2:20-23, 2 Timothy 3:1-9 are just a few of these New Testament references to divisive spiritual challenges whose practical and doctrinal affinities scholars feel are references to Gnosticism and the ancient mystery religions of Greco-Roman influence in the ancient world.