In 1928, the famous “faith-healer”Aimee Semple McPherson, in long, white, flowing clothes, proclaimed to the residents of Muskegon, Michigan that she had enough faith to walk on water. With full confidence she stepped out and fell right-in. There are some who will say that in all likelihood Aimee was not a Christian and was corrupt, and not a typical faith-healer, while others who would no doubt believe she was truly going to walk on water. There are others who believed she lacked faith at that present moment to walk on water, and had done it other times for real. Yet, some would believe Aimee was like all other “faith-healers” duping people of their trust and their money. This account may appear to have several explanations, and more than one possibility for the issue of healing and the questions it raises. Hence the purpose of this article is to answer the widely debated issue of how much faith is needed for healing?
DEFINITION OF TERMS
Machen notes that the word “faith” has become one of the most vague and confusing words in our vocabulary. Faith means different things to different people, and many of the current notions about faith are contrary to the biblical view. The Bible has a lot to say about faith and it is important for us to understand the Bible’s teaching on this subject. The New Testament writers have much to say about the subject of faith. Words like “faith” and “faithful” appear many times, and in the vast majority of instances they are based on one particular root word in the Greek. When this word appears as a noun pistis (πιστις), it is almost always translated “faith.” When this word appears as an adjective pistos (πιστος), it is usually translated “faithful.” However when this word appears as a verb pisteuo (πιστευω), it is very often translated “believe.” Vine’s definition of pisteuo (πιστευω) is, “to believe, also to be persuaded of, and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence.”
Berkhof remarks that in the common parlance the word “faith” is often used to denote the conviction that the testimony of another is true, and that what he promises will be done; a conviction based only on his recognised veracity and fidelity. It is really a believing acceptance of what another says, on the basis of the confidence he inspires. This faith, conviction based on confidence, often leads to a further confidence: trust in a friend in time of need, in the ability of a doctor to give aid in times of sickness, in that of a Captain to guide his vessel into the harbour, and so on. In this case, faith is more than a mere matter of the intellect. The will is brought into play, and the element of trust comes to the foreground.
On saving faith Berkhof also comments that when the Bible speaks of faith, it generally refers to faith as an activity of man, though born of the work of the Holy Spirit. Saving faith may be defined as a certain conviction, wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, as to the truth of the gospel, and a hearty reliance (trust) on the promises of God in Christ. Christ is the object of saving faith. Leon Morris states that faith is clearly one of the most important concepts in the whole New Testament. Everywhere it is required and its importance insisted upon. Douglas comments “faith means abandoning all trust in one’s own resources. Faith means casting oneself unreservedly on the mercy of God. Faith means laying hold on the promises of God in Christ, relying entirely on the finished work of Christ for salvation, and on the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God for daily strength. Faith implies complete reliance on God and full obedience to God.”
Wiersbe notes that faith is present in most of the healing stories in the Gospels. In the cases of the woman with the flow of blood (cf. Mt 9:22 and Lk 8:48), the faith is the faith of the person being healed, but such stories form only about one-third of the healing stories in the Gospels. In Mark 2:5 it is the faith of those bringing the person to Jesus that which is cited. In Mark 6:6 (and Mt 13:58) it is the general climate of unbelief, that is, the lack of faith, in Nazareth that made Jesus unable to do anything more than heal a few sick people. In Mark 9:23–24, Jesus counters unbelief and stimulates faith in the father of a demonised boy. Yet in many cases of healing the only faith that appears to be present, is that which Jesus has; for example, in the raising from the dead of the man (Lk 7:11–16), one searches in vain for faith in anyone but Jesus, as is also the case in John 11.
In synthesising these various accounts, while Jesus can talk about “great faith” (in the case of the centurion whose servant was healed) or “little faith” (in the case of the disciples in Mark), normally it is not the amount of faith but whether or not it is present that counts. In Mark 11:23–24, we read, I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours! Yet the parallel in Luke 17:6 reads, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you. In other words, the key element in prayer is not the amount of faith, but whether faith is present at all. The Scripture applies this to several different situations.
FAITH THAT LEADS TO SALVATION
Grudem recognises the faith that leads to salvation, the New Testament Greek term for faith (pistis) (πιστις) or believing (pisteuō) (πιστευω) normally means trust in or commitment to some person. The woman in Luke 7:50, may have had all sorts of weird ideas about Jesus; she is not commended for her theology. Yet whatever her ideas about Jesus, she had something in her heart which pushed her to express trust in or commitment to Jesus. That faith, however rudimentary from a theological standpoint, brought about her “salvation” from her disease (the term translated “healed” is the same one often translated “saved”).
Elwell notes that the woman was not seeking deliverance from sin, yet the same principle holds throughout the New Testament: for it is not how much we understand about Jesus that saves us, but the mere fact that we trust in him. Saving faith is commitment to Jesus and is not dependent on our understanding how he will save us or even that he will save us. McArthur acknowledges that some people might be willing to obey Jesus as God’s king (that is, confess “Jesus is Lord” as Paul says in Rom 10:9–10) and yet think that in the end Jesus would still send them to hell. Even in such a case, their faith in Jesus (their commitment to him, their trust in him) saves them even though they are ignorant of the fact that God would never send someone to hell that repents and turns to him.
Murray notes this, where Matthew 5:13 states, we either have “flavour” (saltiness or faith) or do not. Minimal faith leads to salvation, while its lack leads to a far sadder result. Likewise in Mark 9:42–49, the issue is not one of the amount of faith, but that of leaving the faith altogether (which is the sense of the Greek word translated “causes to sin”). It would be better to be maimed for life rather than to leave faith; a miserable death would be better than turning another person from faith. The issue is whether people trust in or are committed to Jesus, not which theological ideas they have about him. Thus, salvation is said to be a product of faith, and in the case of salvation, the mustard seed of trust (or faith) appears to reside in the individual.
Murray states that the efficacy of faith does not reside in itself: faith is not something that merits the favour of God. All the efficacy unto salvation resides in the Saviour. It is not faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ. It is not even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The primary value of faith is never in the faith itself, but always in the object of the faith. Paul says that our faith is “useless” and “futile” if Christ has not risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:14,17). It is God, who is good. Lincoln comments, it is Jesus Christ, the object of our faith, who saves. The correct “formula” is not that we are saved “by faith,” but that we are saved “by grace” (that is, by God who is gracious) “through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
FAITH FOUND IN PERSONS WHO WHERE SICK
Wessel acknowledges that when it comes to praying for healing, the locus of faith is more widespread. We noticed in the Gospels that in about only one-third of the cases is faith found in the person who is sick. After all, illness often sucks faith and other forms of willing to be healed out of a person. Barnes states that thus, the gifts of healing in 1 Corinthians 12:9, are normally given through someone other than the person who is ill. In James 5:14–15, there may be little or no faith in the sick person, for we do not know whether he or she calls the elders of the church out of a spark of faith, or only because the church said to do it, covering all their options before they die. Whatever the case of the sick person, the only faith actually said to be present is in the elders, for it is they who pray, and their “prayer offered in faith” which makes the sick person well.
FAITH IS A GIFT OF GOD
Blue affirms the fact that people who do not believe that God wants to heal a sick person normally do not see those they pray for healed; conversely, those with even a mustard-seed-sized belief in their hearts often do. Blue goes on to mention that this perspective fits with Mark 11:23–24 and Luke 17:6. In those cases, the context is that of a miracle, which is also a gift of God. Again, not the amount of faith but the presence of faith is the criteria that leads to prayer being answered. Does something in our hearts say that God will do this, or is there no expectation in us? It is this spark of faith, which is the mark of the person who prays and sees miracles happen.
Enns acknowledges that faith is also a gift of God, which too is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9; but Jesus says the same about saving faith (for example, Jn 6:64–65). Moreover, whether one talks in Pauline terms about gifts of healing or whether with James in terms of a prayer of faith (which surely comes because the elders have heard the heart of God), the source is God. So, even faith is not a work of ours; it is a gift of God. Our only action is to respond appropriately to the faith in our heart.Therefore we should not get worried about whether we have enough faith or not. What Christians are called to do is to look into the face of the Father and pray what they do have faith for. If they lack faith, they should honestly say, “Help my unbelief.” Trying to work up “faith” within us will not result in faith at all, but in emotional persuasion or mere positive thinking. Kole remarks that when faith-healers use the excuse “you lack faith” when a person is not healed, it only takes the healer “off the hook.” God does not make excuses. Our lack of faith never negates His power.
FAITH THAT MOVES MOUNTAINS
Harris points out that of these sayings, or variations on an original saying which emphasises the limitless possibilities open to faith, Mark’s form (followed in Mt 21:21) has its setting in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, during Holy Week; Luke’s form may be from the Q collection, in which case, the form in Matthew 17:20 (an amplification of Jesus’ words to the disciples after the healing of the epileptic boy at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration) combines features from Mark and Q. Jesus illustrates the power of faith by analogies from the natural world. If faith is present at all, even if it is no bigger than a mustard seed, it can accomplish wonders: think what a large plant springs from something as tiny as a mustard seed. “We are not afraid when the earth heaves and the mountains are hurled into the sea,” so Psalm 46:2 describes a convulsion of nature that leaves men and women of God unshaken because he is their refuge and strength. It may be that Jesus is using such a form of words figuratively to describe the incalculable effects of prevailing faith.
However in Mark’s account there may be some more explicit point in the form of words. In that account, the words are addressed to the disciples after the incident of the cursing of the fig tree. There may not seem to be much to connect that incident with a lesson on the power of faith. The connection, however, may be provided by the place where, according to Mark, the words were spoken. They were spoken in the morning, as Jesus and his disciples made their way from Bethany to Jerusalem, crossing the Mount of Olives.
So, in Mark’s account, “this mountain” in the saying would be the Mount of Olives. Laverdiere proposes that in current expectation regarding the time of the end, the Mount of Olives played a special part. It would be the scene of a violent earthquake on the day of the Lord. “On that day,” said one of the prophets (referring to the day when the God of Israel would take final action against the enemies of his people), “his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zech 14:4). If Jesus had this and related Old Testament prophecies in mind on his way across the Mount of Olives, his meaning might have been, “If you have sufficient faith in God, the day of the Lord will come sooner than you think.”
Faith-healing has a bad reputation in much of the church. The media has exposed cases of people who have been mishandled by faith-healers. Many who go to faith-healers for prayers, and are not healed are given the explanation that they did not have enough faith. With this background, James 5:14–16 concerns us, for it appears to many to give support to these very faith healers who have abused and misled people as to what scripture says. James gives us the picture of a person sick in bed. The proper response to this situation, he instructs, is to call for the elders of the church; they will pray over the person, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. Prayer for healing is mentioned frequently in the New Testament. Jesus healed many (although we never hear him using prayer as a means), and he sent his disciples to do the same. It is they, not Jesus, who anoint with oil (Mk 6:13).
The Book of Acts continues the enactments of Jesus (now being done through the Holy Spirit) and notes numerous healings, beginning just after Pentecost (Acts 3) and continuing to the end of the book (Acts 28:7-10). Paul’s mission and preaching were characterised by miracles (Rom 15:18-19- Paul’s miracles appear to have been mainly healing miracles and demon expulsions), and his converts experienced the same (Gal 3:5). Furthermore, he mentions “gifts of healing” among the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:9). It is not surprising then, to find James writing about healing prayer in the close of his letter where a pagan writer would have put in a health wish (a normal Greek letter of this type characteristically ended with a summary, an oath, a health wish and a purpose statement; Christian versions of all of these occur in James 5). He is not introducing something unfamiliar to his readers (one did not do that in the closing), but underlining a practice they knew about and shared in common with others in the early church.
While anointing with oil is mentioned in the context of this passage (Jas 5:14), probably as a type of acted prayer, it is clear that the operant force in healing is God’s activity in response to prayer: “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.” However, this prayer is to be a “prayer offered in faith.” We would expect the elders to be able to pray in faith, for they were supposed to be the most mature spiritual leaders of the church and should have the most faith. It is the elders’ faith, not the person’s faith that is mentioned; there is absolutely no basis in this verse for blaming continuing sickness on a person’s lack of personal faith. If anyone is to be blamed, it is the elders, the people who prayed. Faith itself is a commitment or trust in God, akin to the asking in faith of James 1:6. It is a personal relationship, not simply an intellectual conviction; it is also a gift of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:9). So, we are not talking about prayer based on an intellectual conviction that God heals: we are talking about praying out of a relationship with God in which the conviction has grown that God will heal. This is not in the sense that it is the general will of God (which it always is), but that it is the specific desire of God..
George Müller, famous for his prayers about funds for his orphanages but and his prayers for the sick, noted that while he always had faith for funds, only until 1836 did he have faith for healing the sick. He still continued to pray for the sick and people were often healed, but apparently he no longer did so with the certainty and success that he continued to experience in praying for funds. It was no longer the prayer of faith in that sense. James, like Jesus (Mk 11:22–24), promises that a prayer of faith will be answered. His statement is a straightforward expectation, which must have been the experienced in his community. James is clear that sin is not always the cause of illness. He says, “If he has sinned.” Like Jesus in John 9:1–2, he apparently knows of situations, perhaps many situations, in which sin was not involved, but like Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:30, he knows of other situations in which it was involved. If James 5:16 is any guide to the practice of his community, an opportunity was given under the wise guidance of the elders for self-examination and confession, with prayer for forgiveness (if needed) being included in the prayer for healing.
PERVERTED UNDERSTANDING OF FAITH
The modern misconception of faith is often referred to as a power force, which is tangible or conductive. Copeland states: “faith is God’s power.” In other words, the source of God’s power does not reside in Himself, but in the believer’s faith. This notion distracts believers by subtly shifting their focus from faith in God, to faith in faith. Capps notes, “you can speak God’s words after Him and they will work for you.” Rather than trust in God, there is trust in one’s recitation of God’s words, which Joyce Meyer adds, “Words are containers of power.” Faith and, by extension, the declarative act itself become a force whose power is catalysed by the Christian’s confession. In effect, God becomes a servant who is directed by the speaking of faith-filled words.
The “name it and claim it” or “blab it and grab it,” as well as references to “faith muscles” which need only to be flexed in order to obtain whatever is wanted from God. Meyer states, “faith has to be active…keep saying and don’t give up hope.” The tongue agrees that the power the Christian needs is in his speaking: “turn loose of the problem and get hold of your confession. Quit praying the problem and start saying the answer. There is a creative power within you. Learn to use it wisely.”This would imply that the power of faith within the believer might be used unwisely, like a loaded gun that could misfire. Meyer goes on to mention “the tongue promises, “you can have what you say.” This philosophy that is widely spreading, has replaced God with “faith-works” as both the source and object of faith, making God subservient to the “creative power” within the believer. Hagin affirms “you can write your own ticket with God.”
Despite the ever-growing popularity of this notion of faith, it cannot be found in the scripture. A good example of this is Hagin’s report that Jesus physically appeared to him while he was in a trance- “He stood within three feet of me” and discussed in “King James English,” Hagin’s ministry and his finances. Then Jesus outlined for him a four-step plan for writing “your own ticket with God” so that “you can have what you say.” Hagin describing his dream quotes Jesus verbatim: step one is to simply “say it: according to what the individual says, that shall he receive.” Step two is to “do it: I’m going to get my healing.” Step three is to “receive it: if we can learn how to plug into the supernatural power we can put it to work for us.” Step four is to “tell it so others may believe.”
Jesus purportedly assured Hagin, “if anybody, anywhere, will take these four steps or put these four principles into operation, he will always receive whatever he wants from Me or from God the Father.” In this formula, faith has been reduced to a set of metaphysical principles to put into operation for the purpose of obtaining whatever one desires. Copeland maintains that victorious Christians “have exerted the force of faith, and that they “cannot get faith’s result without exerting the force of faith.” What is even more surprising is that Meyer has a “faith” principle that works for unbelievers. The story of a doctor who was not a believer but who had discovered the power of the principle I am sharing with you. His prescription to his patients was to go home and repeat several times daily: “I am getting better and better every day.” He had such marvellous results.
That is not faith: that is a confession, or denial in pretending something is not happening to you, although realistically there is no difference. Our society is full of deluded people who live outside reality and these formulas are no different. McArthur states that Word-Faith teachers owe their ancestry to groups like Christian Science, Swedenborgianism, Theosophy, Science of Mind, and New Thought, not to classical Pentecostalism. It reveals that at their very core, Word-Faith teachings are corrupt. Their undeniable derivation is cultish, not Christian. The sad truth is that the gospel proclaimed by the Word-Faith movement is not the Gospel of the New Testament. Word-Faith doctrine is a mongrel system, a blend of mysticism, dualism and Gnosticism, that borrows generously from the teachings of the metaphysical cults. The Word-Faith movement may be the most dangerous false system that has grown out of the Charismatic movement so far, because so many Charismatics are unsure of the finality of Scripture.
FAITH AS A WORK
The result of such teachings, as borne out in the history of the “faith healing” movement, is that faith inevitably becomes a work to the believers. This often can be seen in the application of “faith” principles to healing. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, many Christians discovered that God still, on occasions, chooses to heal His believers from certain sicknesses and that such miracles did not cease with the twelve apostles. Andrew Murray was miraculously healed from a serious throat ailment, which had robbed him of his voice for two years. Afterwards, he wrote a book about God’s healing ability. His publishers strongly urged him to entitle it Faith Healing, the catch phrase for the nascent movement. Nevertheless, Murray resolutely refused, maintaining that faith heals no one, that it is the divine life that heals the believers. He therefore entitled his book Divine Healing.
Word-Faith teachers claim that God operates by spiritual law and is obliged to obey the faith-filled commands and desires of believers. He not only reveals prosperity teaching supernaturally to the Word-Faith teachers, but also personally and verbally confirms their unique interpretations of Scripture. The Theology of the Spoken Word (rhematology), or thought actualisation, is commonly known as positive confession. It stresses the inherent power of words and thoughts. Each person predestines his own future by what he says verbally and by how well he uses spiritual laws. As such, it is as if we live in a mechanistic universe instead of a personal one.
God is the only One who ever created reality by the power of His Word (Genesis 1:3). He does not have or need “faith.” Faith is depending on something outside ourselves. If God depends upon something outside Himself, He is not Supreme and therefore not God. Man, not God, is in need of faith. The faith referenced in Mark 11:22 and Hebrews 11:3 is clearly “the faith, which has God as its object,” not “the kind of faith that God has.” Once the believer shifts his focus and trust from God to his own faith, he confronts every difficulty in life with an attempt to muster and exert, faith to move “mountains.” This is works, not genuine faith, and this work of proclaiming “words of faith” can easily degrade into more mundane applications. Meyer recounts experiences of speaking “faith-filled words” in order to “get a good table and excellent service” at a restaurant, as well as to buy a coat for half-price. She concedes that such efforts do not always work: “I cannot honestly say that it always works for me, but I would rather stay positive and get fifty percent good results.” Such “acts of faith” are common in today’s materialistic society and “faith-filled” speaking becomes nothing more than positive thinking for the sake of self-improvement and an enhanced, more convenient life-style.
Ultimately, God’s ability to accomplish miracles is dependent on one’s ability to summon adequate faith. Meyer tells us, “we will never receive a miracle unless we believe that God can do the impossible and that He will do it for us.” However, Meyer has not considered the Bible story about Lazarus: he was dead in the tomb and was unable to believe for his miracle. Even the Lord was surrounded by doubters, yet inspite of the unbelief, He chose to raise Lazarus from the dead. He did not have to wait for anyone’s faith to perform His miracle. Faith and Patience reinforces the notion that healing depends on effort: “confess with your mouth that it is yours, and by your actions show that it is yours. You must talk healing, and you must act healing.” Thus, healing is dependant on the believer’s words and actions.
THE BIBLE DEFINITION OF FAITH
Many faith teachers quote the King James Version notion that faith is a substance, an inanimate entity that has existence and power independent of God. However, Vincent suggests that it should be interpreted as the “substantiation, or apprehension of things hoped for,” and that, “it cannot be said that faith is substantial being. It apprehends reality.” This verse defines faith as the Christian’s believing ability, assurance, or confidence. Faith is not the substance, but the substantiating of the substance of the real things of God that are “not seen.” Christ has accomplished much for His believers, and faith is imparted to them as the substantiating ability to make these accomplishments real and experiential to them.
This leads us to ask, “where then does faith come from?”
SOURCE, OBJECT, AND RESULT OF FAITH
Our faith derives neither from our will nor from our ability to reject doubts and summons up positive, believing thoughts. Faith is Christ Himself, and our faith. Romans 3:22 says, “even the righteous of God through the faith of Jesus Christ to all those who believe.”
Faith has an object, and it issues from its object. The object is Jesus, who is God incarnate. When man hears Him, knows Him, appreciates Him, and treasures Him, He causes faith to be generated in man, enabling man to believe in Him. Hence, this faith becomes the faith in Him, and it is also the faith that belongs to Him.
Christ is not only the source but also the unique object of our faith. We became those blessed ones “who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29). Through the gospel we were drawn to Christ (12:32) and fell in love with Him; He alone is the object of our belief as Paul explicitly proclaims: “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12).
Believing in Christ brings us into a union with Him. Faith joins us to His precious person. When speaking of living “in faith”, Paul speaks of “Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:30). He also tells us “Christ may make His home in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17). John’s words indicate that believing in Christ is actually believing into Christ (John 3:16). The result of faith is that we are brought into an experiential and actual union with Christ. By faith, we are in Christ and Christ is in us. By faith, Christ also is spreading into our entire being, making His home in our hearts. Faith results in an intimate union with Christ (1 Cor. 6:17).
So, what leads so many believers to teach or believe such errant notions as “faith in faith?” In part, no doubt, it is due to a fundamental deficit in their apprehension of God’s plan. For example, when a believer understands that faith’s source is Christ, he is delivered from working to exert faith. He understands that as Christ grows in him, faith grows also. When one understands that Christ is the unique and immediate object of faith, he is delivered from any subtle shift in focus away from the precious person of Christ. Furthermore, when one understands that the result of faith is a union with God, he is delivered from any temptation to use faith as a “creative force” for personal gain. Faith ushers believers into union with God Himself.
THE GOAL OF FAITH
The Scriptures clearly define the goal of faith as the pure salvation of our mind, emotion, and will that is our soul. Hebrews 10:39 declare that we “have faith to the gaining of the soul,” and 1 Peter 1:9 reaffirms, “receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” The goal of faith is not the fulfilment of material desires. It is the renewing, sanctification, transformation, and conformation of our soul into the glorious image of Christ. This pure salvation is the end of our faith; it is “the gaining of the soul.” Merritts notes that “it is both presumptuous and inaccurate to refer to my faith or our faith when, in reality, the faith we have is God’s faith” He goes on to mention that faith continues by warning us that faith “is not something magical, mystical, or spooky.”
Larry Parker in his book, We Let Our Son Die tells the tragic story of how he and his wife, after being influenced by leading word-faith teachers withheld insulin from their diabetic son, Wesley. Predictably, Wesley went into a diabetic coma. The Parkers, warned about the impropriety of making a “negative confession”, continued to “positively confess” Wesley’s healing until the time of his death. Even after Wesley’s death, the Parkers, undaunted in their “faith,” conducted a resurrection service instead of a funeral. For more than one year following their son’s death, they refused to abandon the “revelation knowledge” they had received through the Word-faith movement. Eventually, they were tried and convicted of manslaughter and child abuse.
Many other similarly tragic stories could be recounted. And yet, the carnage unleashed by this movement is not limited to physical death. Literally thousands are swallowing the spiritual cyanide dispensed by the Word-Faith teachers, leading to the shipwreck of their faith in God. Jesus said, “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In sharp contrast, the Word-Faith teachers promise unlimited health and wealth to believers who can conjure up their brand of faith. Jesus exhorted His followers not to “labour for that which perishes” but to “labour for that which is eternal” (John 6:27). The prosperity gospel, by contrast, encourages Christians to focus on what they can receive from Christ in the here and now. Much so-called Christian television and radio programming today panders to what people’s “itching ears” want to hear: the promise of earthly gain.
Over and over again, we hear the testimonies of businessmen who “turned on to Jesus” and saw their business double. Sacrifice and service have been traded in for self-fulfilment and self-aggrandisement. Furthermore, while there is an element of reality in the message (e.g., faith is essential to effective prayer; Christ does meet our needs), sadly, the emphasis renders it merely the skin of the truth stuffed with a lie. Christ has become merely a means to an end, and believers are induced to come to the Master’s table, not to experience fellowship and intimacy with the Master, but to enjoy what is on the Master’s table. In sharp distinction to this message, the Jesus of the Scriptures is not a means to an end; He is the end (cf. Phil. 3:7-8). McCullough writes, “the church is more often influenced by cultural trends than theological commitments. Our obsession with self has led us astray into the temple of idols: in particular the god-of-my-comfort, and the god-of-my-success.” Shakespeare says it most succinctly, “you pay a great deal too dear for what’s given freely.”
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