"Wells Without Water (3)"
by Tricia Tillin
The Errors of the Word-of-Faith Movement (Part three of Four)
This four-part study is designed to demonstrate, using verbatim transcripts of the tapes of Kenneth Copeland, some of the errors in the "Positive Confession" movement.
You may find it hard to believe some of the things Copeland is reported as saying! But trust me, there has been NO tampering with the tapes. Not only did Copeland say these things in the 1980's when this study was first created (as a tape set called "Wells Without Water" on the Banner Ministries tape list) but he continues to reiterate them up to this very moment. So do many, many others in the Word of Faith leadership.
These teachers are totally unrepentant of their heresies, despite having been approached by countless brethren who tried to point out their unscriptural teachings. They continue to teach doctrines that are dishonest in their scriptural content, deceptive in their outcome, and destructive to the genuine faith of a Christian.
Part three: dominion OR deliverance?
This is the third study in the series "WELLS WITHOUT WATER" which is looking at the Word of Faith or Positive Confession teachings.
As I explained in part one, Kenneth Copeland's messages have been chosen as examples because he is the most well-known faith minister in this country and his teaching is representative of the whole movement. As I also explained, I don't intend to criticise or condemn every single thing the Copelands say or do. Some of their teaching is sound. In any case you wouldn't expect false teaching to be 100% error. If it were it would never be accepted in Christian circles at all.
Nevertheless, a significant proportion of all these messages is unscriptural and misleading and it only takes a little leaven to leaven the lump.
In Part One, we looked at the forces that Copeland said were implanted in the human spirit and available for our use. Part Two was about the "Jesus died spiritually" teaching which is perhaps the most controversial of all the faith doctrines. This says that Jesus became a lost soul in hell because he had received the sin nature of the devil and was literally recreated as the first born-again man.
Well, in this third part we're going to see how spiritual power is put into action by using certain laws in order to overcome sin and death.
The tape series from which these messages of Kenneth Copeland are taken was based on Romans chapter 8 which says 'there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit, for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death'.
Right away we can see two important features of living victoriously as a Christian. It says to those who are IN Christ Jesus, abiding in HIS life and victory, living in Him and also who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit.
That is: who are not following the dictates of their naturally selfish lives but who are obeying the voice of God and letting Him lead them.
This means the emphasis, as always, is on Jesus the victor and ourselves as His servants. We are simply living out of the victory of Jesus. I've said this by way of an introduction because the whole content of Copeland's message emphasises the law part of that scripture instead of the Jesus part. He seems to see the law of sin and death and the law of the spirit as universal spiritual laws that we can learn like scientific formulae. But the law of sin and death simply means as fallen human beings we inevitably sin and die and there is no help for us outside of God.
The law of the spirit of life-in-Christ means exactly the opposite. Once we're born again the Christ-life imparted to our spirits by the Holy Spirit will inevitably cause us to hate sin, and will inevitably preserve our souls from hell and death.
As Christians we're destined to glory but not by the action of scientific laws. What the Bible refers to above are statements of fact. The idea that the world and spiritual reality is run by universal cosmic laws is not a Christian one, because Christians know there is an almighty and personal Father existing outside the world system, One who is Lord of all, the Creator. However, the universal laws idea is a belief of many heretical cults.
For example one of the founders of a cult called Unity School of Christianity says "the mental and spiritual world or realms are governed by laws that are just as real and unfailing as the laws that govern the natural world. Certain conditions of mind are so connected with certain results that the two are inseparable".
In other words, the laws of the universe dictate that success is inevitable so long as you think and speak the right words.
This is precisely what Word of Faith teachers tell us. It's all a matter of learning about spiritual laws and then putting them into effect. Christian living becomes like using a light-switch e.g. if you press the right buttons you get a guaranteed result. If you do certain things and say certain things you cannot fail to dominate your circumstances, they say.
If this were so, you can see that our success could be unlimited. We could learn to change the universe. Even death could be overcome by this process and we shall see that the Word of Faith ministers are beginning to hint at it even now. The idea that certain spiritually advanced Christians will eventually overcome death has been around since the turn of the century and it is coming back into vogue but you have to listen carefully to get the drift of this teaching. It is there if you listen closely.
This first portion emphasises the importance of learning the spiritual laws and then using faith filled words to activate those laws.
You can see here the emphasis has shifted away from God's will over to MY will. The shift is made to sound so scriptural and acceptable that you'd hardly notice it. The idea of getting God to dance to our tune is all part of the system. Once we've reduced God to an impersonal force, and spiritual life to a set of laws that we can learn to manipulate (the force) then of course the game is all about writing your own ticket with God, not listening to and obeying Him.
Though Romans 8 tells us that the law of the spirit of life is just that, the law of the spirit, not our own, it's here turned into a spiritual law, one we can learn to operate for our own benefit.
And what is it that supposedly operates these spiritual laws? Words. The whole Word of Faith doctrine rests on the vital importance of words. The power is not God's but the power of words and God has to use words to utilise His own power they say. And we were saved by the power of the words too according to this next extract.
Notice that it wasn't God who brought you to new life in Christ but the law. The law that was activated by your words. It was an impersonal transaction. You just said the right words. Even worse, God himself has to do the same thing. It wasn't the Spirit who recreated the formless earth but the "energy force of light" and that force was put into operation by the faith in Gods' words: "let there be light".
The scripture in Hebrews 11:3 is then made to sound as if faith was the power of creation but if you read that verse for yourself you'll see that it says 'by faith, we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God.' This means, it is BY FAITH that we understand it, not, as Copeland says, 'by faith the worlds were framed' = the worlds were framed by faith.
[Also, it should be said that many other scriptures show Jesus Christ the pre-existent God as being the Creator of this world. Jesus Christ is the Word of God of course, and in the verse we refer to, the worlds are framed by the Word of God, that is, Jesus Christ.]
You see how scriptures are twisted to make the doctrine sound biblical. We must always check up on the scriptures people use to support their beliefs because they may be using them wrongly. Even Satan used scripture to tempt Jesus, and he still uses scripture today to enhance his own lies.
It should be plain enough that God does not have to work by faith or to have faith in His own words. For a start, in what would He place His faith? There is nothing greater than God. What is God going to believe in? Secondly, God knows everything. All there is to know God knows, therefore, what need does God have of faith since He knows everything?
There was never any doubt in His mind that that universe would obey His word because He is God. So God is not using a spiritual law or a force of faith or any such technique. The power resides in God Himself and when He speaks, the universe obeys simply because He is God.
If we were to speak the anointed words given to us by God the Holy Spirit then what we said would also come to pass. But why? Not because we spoke, not even because we had faith, but because we spoke the words of God.
So if anyone is going to dominate the circumstances it is God - not me, not you. God has the power. God has the right motivation and God alone has the knowledge that enables Him to direct our lives. We don't have that.
Copeland's teaching, however, describes a God who is forced to submit to certain laws once they're set into motion - laws as fixed as the law of physics:
So you see God is governed by law according to this teaching. That means if we say the right words with enough faith in them God must obey. He's obliged to respect the laws of faith.
Copeland now goes on to illustrate this with three bible stories. He says David slew Goliath with his words, because "he said he would defeat him". Once he confessed his victory there was no way David could fail to kill Goliath.
In the same way the woman with the issue of blood said she would be healed and Jairus' father said Jesus would heal his daughter.
In each case it was the fact of their having made a positive confession of faith that supposedly brought about the healing. But was God forced to kill Goliath? Was Jesus forced to do healings by mans words? Wasn't it rather that they responded to the heartfelt plea and the faith that accompanied it? Though God is not obliged to hear anyone, no matter how much he asks, He will respond to faith because He is a loving, giving Father, but making God subject to a law means He is obliged to do miracles to order whether He wants to or not.
God would have to heal the most blasphemous sinner so long as he said the right words in faith. This reduces God to a push button robot. It takes the control out of His hands and makes man the master of his own destiny.
Anyone, however irreligious or sinful could learn this method of getting God to dance to his tune. What a mockery of the gospel. The illustrations Copeland uses, electricity, gravity and later he uses water as an example, all show the same thing, that God's power is supposed to be as fixed as a natural law and we only need to learn these laws to know how to operate the power.
It also means that Satan's power is the same power but wrongly directed. Just as electricity can harm as well as heal, so Copeland says, God's power without law will destroy. So, you see, even evil and sin and disease and death is God's power, this force that they believe in. And the only problem is that through ignorance of the spiritual laws we have failed to control our circumstances.
If adverse circumstances are the result of ignorance then what do we need in order to dominate the circumstances? Do we need a deliverance out of the kingdom of darkness? Do we need the power of God to reach down and bring us out? No, it seems what we most need here is revelation knowledge.
We apparently need knowledge to enlighten our minds and show us the spiritual laws of the universe so we can change everything around us. It's not a deliverance out of the world but a domination of the world that Copeland is preaching. It's not God's power that delivers us but we find a way to use power to dominate all that threatens us. As a method it's as reliable as using any other mechanical device, he says.
We could perhaps go on to say 'begin to worship yourself' because if you've found a power this reliable to use to dominate your circumstances, so that even God Almighty cannot resist, then you've become a god.
You can decide what to do, you can call the shots; you can choose your environment - why would you need a Father in heaven? You might just as well dispense with Him and worship yourself.
Isn't that just what Satan wanted Adam and Eve to do, to believe in themselves and their own power and ability? Isn't that just what the New Age is all about, man can save himself and transform his environment?
Copeland then gives us a technique for putting your faith in words to work to get what you want. He says
This means that no matter what your relationship with God is like, or even if you don't know God, you can browbeat Him into giving you what you need.
Unfortunately this method sometimes works. The Rosacrucians have been using it for years - not using the Bible of course. Pagans know all about this method because it's the one they've always used to cast spells and to cause various things to happen - to get riches for example. It's called the exercise of the self will and it's nothing to do with God.
Returning to the text of Romans 8, Copeland now gives us a novel way of transforming that chapter into a positive confession manual by making the spirit mean the word, and the flesh to mean the five physical senses.
This is a very neat trick. Copeland has, at a stroke, transformed a gospel of faith in the work of Jesus on the cross into faith in words operating in the spirit realm as opposed to anything operating in the sense realm.
Though the word and the spirit do agree they're NOT THE SAME THING and we therefore cannot substitute one for the other like this. Even less are Jesus Christ (the Word) and the Holy Spirit interchangeable. We cannot change the text of the scriptures to suit our own interpretation, as Copeland does here.
One could equally argue that Jesus and the Father agree, so everywhere the Bible speaks of Jesus we can substitute the Father. The Father was crucified on the cross, for example. But that's not what the Bible said is it?
So here in Romans 8, the Spirit of God is not "words", and the flesh actually isn't the five senses either. In the Bible the term 'the flesh' is used in several ways but mainly and certainly in this passage, it means the whole human nature without God, fallen human nature. That would include the body, the soul and the dead spirit of an unbeliever. His whole earthly nature without God.
It's the flesh that opposes God and drags us away from God, not our five senses. Our senses, sight, hearing, taste and so on are purely neutral and given to us by God as a way of finding our way round the earth. Our senses can be used for good or evil - they are not in opposition to God in themselves, indeed we can utilise our senses in our Christian walk without committing sin.
Let me illustrate that point: you may have been out to a restaurant recently. There, you exercised your senses. You looked around you and saw the other diners; you heard them chattering, you saw and smelt and tasted your food. None of this is evil in itself. Yet Copeland seems to denigrate whatever is of the five senses as being in opposition to God..
What resists God is the fallen nature of the flesh, and our evil desires that impel us away from holiness and sanctification. But it is perfectly possible to be guided by the flesh in something natural, without sin. For instance, when we smell dinner cooking, we salivate and desire to eat!
But if you read this passage the way Copeland suggests, you end up with two opposing realms. One is the word realm and the other is the five senses. So the word of God becomes some kind of mystical, esoteric revelation knowledge that's on a spiritual plane above the natural world.
Reality and truth, for Copeland and the Gnostic heresies and many cults today, is on a spiritual plane, and to have victory over the earthly plane we have to deny the evidence of our senses they would say.
Read the passage for yourself, trying it both ways and just see the difference it makes. Sinners walk in the sense realm Copeland says - but don't we all do that? When's the last time you used your senses? You are using them all now - the sound of the rain on the window perhaps, the smell and taste of your coffee, the sight of your computer screen, the touch of the keyboard --- are you condemned for these? According to Copeland, YES, because you are "living in the sense realm".
And godly people walk in the word, Copeland says. But, can't we do both at the same time? Spiritual people acknowledge their natural senses, and the world around them, but they recognise at the same time a higher reality. The two work together. Only a Gnostic doctrine condemns "the sense realm" as "the flesh" and denies its contribution to our Christian lives.
This teaching, of course, leads up to the vital importance of words, of governing what you say in order to gain control of this spiritual realm.
What we have to realise in order to understand this teaching is this: Copeland says that Jesus died in Hell and was reborn as a regenerated man filled with the glorious power of God which in several places, by the way, he identifies as light.
Now because Jesus did this, so can you. You also, he says, have a power source inside you and that power is released by words. Jesus did miracles by words and that is how you do miracles. Both you and Jesus draw on the same energy source of light that originally created the heavens and earth.
With this sort of power available to man, it's no wonder some Christians believe we can take dominion of the world, defeat sin and death and transform ourselves and our environment completely. But the problem is this, we'd be doing all that outside of God's will, because in fact the glory of God is the glory of God, not of man. He will give His glory to no other it says in Isa.42:8.
How are we glorified then? Just by being united with the glorified Son of God, not by ourselves. Jesus has the glory, and we only share it in unity with Him. For instance, a piece of coal is a dead chunk of dirty rock until you put it on a fire, then it takes the glow and the flame and the heat of the fire and it becomes changed, it becomes part of the fire. But if it falls out onto the hearth it's no good to anyone, it's just a chunk of coal again.
You are only able to have power or to be glorified so long as you stay in the fire of God, and abide in Christ.
But here we have a teaching which encourages bits of coal to join together and try to generate enough flame to cleanse the hearth rug. It's senseless and totally unscriptural but it does appeal to some who want power outside of God's will.
Well, the logical answer is "YOU CAN", in this scheme of things, if only you could develop as much faith and understanding as God.
The way to become a god in all the cults is through secret wisdom, the knowledge of the cosmic laws that will enable you to control your environment and even to overcome death.
Next, Copeland uses the story of Abraham and Sarah at great length to show how their ageing process was halted and they were able to conceive a child in old age. How? By faith, because they exercised the power of faith and confessed the promises of God until it came to pass. So, logically every Christian ought to be able to overcome the ageing process and even eventually overcome death itself if he will become advanced enough in the knowledge of spiritual laws.
Here we have another aspect of the struggle to gain dominion and it's really the same struggle that we see with the New Agers - to change the world.
The fear of pollution and chemical additives and fertilisers, and all the other threats we appear to face today is forcing many people today to set up campaigns to change our lifestyle. Some will even exaggerate the dangers to scare us into giving up certain foods, scare us by talking about heart disease, cancer, allergies and so forth until we feel guilty if we are not making strenuous efforts to improve our health and fitness levels.
And Copeland's desire to overcome the ageing process is really in the same category because he sees age and death as a threat to his faith. Also, as we saw earlier, it's the spiritual realm that is important in this teaching, not the material, so it must be possible, they believe, to develop to such an extent spiritually that we can dominate the material realm. And Copeland stresses that not only prayer but diet and exercise are essential to achieve this domination. (Again, gnostic overtones in this belief!)
Now, of course, there's nothing wrong with being fit and healthy. We should take care of our bodies. But when the Apostle Paul spoke of "disciplining his body" did he mean getting up early to jog around the block? Did Paul force himself to do press-ups every morning? Is that what he meant? Was Paul seeking to develop dominion over the natural realm so that he could have victory over the ageing process?
Let's look at the scripture Copeland used (from the New King James): [And By the way, Copeland quotes this scripture incorrectly. He obviously quoted from memory, but his memory is faulty, and he ends up forcing the scripture to fit in with his own philosophy. But note the correct reading.]
OK, then, what from that scripture do we learn about Paul's attitude to his physical flesh? And what did he hope to gain? Did he undergo rigorous physical exercises in order to defeat the ageing process and to gain dominion over the sense realm? NO! It is clearly shown that Paul kept his flesh in subjection so that he would not fall into sin, thereby forfeiting his "imperishable crown". This passage has nothing whatever to do with diet and health issues.
A similar mention of the flesh/body is found in Rom 6:12-14
Now returning to Abraham and the covenant of promise to Abraham, we can see an illustration of Copeland's confusing treatment of this whole subject. Instead of teaching on the blessings of God in the seed of Abraham, (that is, in Christ) Copeland turns it into a personal and individual blessing for yourself alone.
You, Copeland says, are entitled to claim all the blessings of Abraham because the promise is individual for you.
You see, Copeland is telling us that what was promised to us 'in Christ', the Seed, is now ours on an individual basis. He stresses that the "seed" is singular. Of course it is - as the Bible itself says in that passage, the "seed" IS CHRIST. But the real focus of blessing for Copeland in this passage is YOU AND ME, not just Christ.
The implication in what Copeland says is that the promise of God to Abraham (which on the previous tape he told us were the blessings of the Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy 28!) are promised to us as Christians, not just to Christ and thus ourselves as members of Christ.
Please consider the important difference in the two concepts. If I take your credit card and take money out of your account in your name, that's robbery folks. The money doesn't belong to me.
Even if you gave me permission to draw out money it would still come from your account, not mine. It's your money, not mine.
The blessing God made to Abraham was made to The Seed, which is Jesus Christ. Every bit of glory or blessing or favour or power belongs to Jesus Christ. It's His. He was the one who died for our sins and rose again to be Lord over all the Church and we're complete 'in Him' not in ourselves. The blessings are in Him not in us. We receive them by His grace as we walk in Jesus.
The second point is this: once again as in Part Two of this series, Copeland has confused the blessings of Abraham with the covenant blessings of Moses. He talks about social, material and physical blessings.
This will ring alarm bells for anybody who believes in the promised blessing of Israel in the endtimes, or anyone who has encountered "replacement theology" where the Church is supposed to replace Israel in the Old Testament blessings.
Copeland is here talking about the blessings promised to the tribes of Israel under the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 28. These were national blessings and they were conditional on the people obeying the law. They included prosperity, fertility, victory over enemies, and personal and national dominion over others.
Now I'm not saying we can't receive physical or material blessings from God - of course we can. The word of God says that we can expect God to provide for our physical as well as our spiritual needs. ( Rom 8:32 /1 Cor 3:21-23 /Phil 4:19 ). So we should confidently ask for whatever we need. But that promise is not based upon the covenant of Moses, it's based on the new covenant or new testament sealed in the blood of Jesus.
If you have needs, you have a greater covenant in Jesus than the Jews had in Moses. Jesus has fulfilled the law in Himself and brought us to greater blessing by His life. So you see, Copeland is deceiving his followers by telling them that they, individually, are the seed of Abraham. We're only the seed if we're united to the seed, and even then the blessings are still HIS not ours.
Now, what is the method that we have to use to receive these blessings, according to the Word-of-Faith doctrine? Well, one of the main methods that Copeland suggests we use is visualisation.
Here we have, then, the core of the Positive Confession teaching which is really a technique of applying Bible promises to yourself by visualising them and confessing them until they come to pass.
Abraham is supposed to have used this technique when he believed God's promises. But did he? No doubt the illustration of the number of stars in the sky and the sand underneath him impressed on Abraham the immensity and scope of God's promise to him - yet would this have made him MORE inclined to believe, or LESS?
This also misses the point of the blessing, for it was based upon Abraham's total OBEDIENCE, and not upon his mental capabilities, much less upon techniques of visualisation. Abraham did not bring the promise to pass through visualising the night sky, but by being obedient to God, and believing the promise.
However, Copeland says "That's the way you get it. You go to the word of God, you find the promise concerning the situation and you start confessing that promise and you start seeing it."
This is a technique that's now being used by thousands of deluded Christians to achieve success, prosperity and spiritual power in order to change themselves and this world. Instead of submitting themselves to God's will for their lives, they set out to make every Bible promise come true for themselves, in their own wisdom, regardless of their circumstances. They've strayed off the path of gospel truth and are following myths and fables in the pursuit of personal advancement.
This is a religion governed by self. Let's pray that God will deal with every aspect of selfishness in our lives so that we can avoid falling into this sort of error.
Another worrying aspect of this technique is that it will work (as Yonggi Cho states) whether you are a Christian or not. MANY people in the world are practising visualising and receiving the end-result of their desires. This is undoubtedly a psychic technique which - if perfected - will bring results. But should a born-again Christian have anything to do with it?
For example, the new-age article I referred to earlier in this series, on "Spiritual Healing of All Things" has almost exactly the same sequence of events - affirmation, confession and visualisation - for producing the desired result:
I want you to consider in what way this occultic practise above differs from the Word-of-Faith doctrines of Ken Copeland? Does he not teach the same things? Is their god one and the same?
Visualisation is not only a psychic/mental and occultic device for obtaining things for our own selfish needs, but it makes God a slot-machine in the sky. We hold Him to ransom by demanding that He perform for us every promise in the Book. But where is God's will in all this? It is overruled! God - they say - has no choice! God's will is not considered, and it is an error even to pray "if it be Thy will" since God has already promised us everything. All we need to do is activate the promises by seeing them, speaking them and claiming them.
As in the above quote, "god" become an Energy, a Force, that can be manipulated to cause certain miracles to occur. But this is not biblical Christianity or biblical faith.
Is your God a robot who is required to answer your every desire? Is your Bible just a source-book of goodies, a chocolate box of things that God wants you to claim? Is prayer a matter of Name-it and Claim-it? of Blab-it-and-Grab-it? Or is it an interaction of TWO minds and hearts - both yours and God's?
If seeing a picture of yourself healed, blessed, prosperous (or whatever) is the key to answered prayer, then what becomes of those devoid of imagination, or slow, or uneducated, or with a damaged mind? This is a technique that only some can follow, and which penalises the Christian who has never learned the process, or who is unable to make it work properly!
But what does the Bible say about prayer? It is something we do "boldly" and without fear, but "in His will" and "believing" that He is a God who cares and who knows our every need. And we can be confident of an answer to prayer IF we are walking IN HIS WILL and doing what is pleasing to God:
In Part Four we will expose some of the more extreme teachings that are a direct result of these errors. Is Copeland heading right into the New Age? Move on to Part Four by clicking the link below.
© 2003 Tricia Tillin of Banner Ministries. All rights reserved. Cross+Word Website: http://www.banner.org.uk/ This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information. One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.