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What Makes a Pagan Pagan?: The Word Faith Heresy

Prosperity bibleI am a patient scholar. I regard the entire process of biblical interpretation as a complex interdependence of people over millennia trying to plumb the depths of Scripture through an ongoing dialogue. Many souls bring things to the corporate table. Most Bible interpreters have done their best, even if they have been hindered by a myriad of disadvantages, some known, others unknown.

I am ready to entertain a number of possibilities resident in Scriptural texts, knowing that neither I nor anyone else is likely to have the ultimate word on the meaning or implications of any given passage. There always seems to be something else to say, something else to discover, to deepen our sense of some truth. Anything I do know, holding a strong measure of certainty over, I have come to through a mutual exchange with thousands over the centuries (often unseen and unconsidered) who have played roles big and small in the accumulation of the Christian community’s available information.

Some groups, however, provoke in me “Jesus cleansing the temple” bouts of fury.

Those that I confront the most under the umbrella of Evangelical are “King James Only” groups (whose positions are beyond ignorant and have the unseemly audacity to also be beyond arrogant) and Word Faith Preachers… who will occupy my thoughts today.

I have compassion for those duped by Word Faith Teachers, but regard Word Faith Teachers themselves to be heretics, false prophets, false teachers and wolves among God’s Sheep. Greedy and ignorant, they shed more than their fair share of blood… both in spiritual deception and ruin, and in the actual physical harm that their doctrines cause many.

In the next couple posts, I’d like to confront two primary criticisms about their teachings. I could write non-stop for a year and not reach an end to the criticisms that might be rallied against them on a variety of fronts, from their complete ignorance of biblical language, to their abuse of almost every text they touch, but far more important is to get to the roots of these errors.

  1. Their entire approach to spiritual disciplines is pagan.
  2. They envision “faith” as a thing, a power, a force, something independent of God, himself.

Today, let’s talk about their pagan vision of God and worship.

To say that Word Faith Teachers preach a pagan vision of spiritual disciplines is to suggest that at their root, these teachers believe that things like worship, prayer, fasting, & Scriptural meditation are tools to turn God to fulfill the purposes of the worshiper.

One of the ways they do this is to claim, based on a handful of quotes from Scripture, that perfect health & wealth is always God’s will, that the only thing standing in the way of the believer having all of his heart’s desires is the worshiper’s own faith. At the root of this false portrait of God is a failure to interpret & apply Scripture in light of all Scripture & often in light even of immediate context. Texts are ripped out of historical/grammatical/literary context, twisted, then applied cart blanch to every situation & used to discolor the very portrait of God in Scripture.

Given the larger plan and process of God as revealed throughout the entire text of Scripture, do we really believe that God’s great plan for our lives is money and perfect health? And why doesn’t this perfect health also include not aging (as all these false teachers are doing) and not dying? This is the logical end of their ideas.

I imagine rather that the great plan of God both in and through us is the advancement of His Kingdom in the hearts and souls of the lost, who are called to abandon selfish pursuits, to forsake their wickedness, to repent before God, and turn to be disciples (note the association with Discipline in that word) of God and Christ. I imagine that we are called to forsake our own selfish pursuits in order to win others, suffering whatever needs to be suffered to win them. The gospel is not an inward pursuit of ease and comfort, but an outward pursuit of sacrificing for others.

Word Faith Teachers have no theology of suffering, which is an important part of Biblical Theology from first to last among the YHWHists & Apostles. By twisting the Christian’s relationship to suffering they rob their followers of all that God seeks to do in their lives by way of different kinds of suffering.

They accredit the work of God through suffering to Satan & to the Christian’s own sinful lack of faith. As such, they lack compassion, empathy, and sympathy, turning on their own when their “faith” fails them. They do not weep with those who weep, but scold and tsk at those who mourn.

Now, as 1 Peter clearly envisions, much of the suffering of the world is self-inflicted. Most suffer from sinful choices, general folly, poor diet (See my posts about the glories of lobster and bacon) and ignorance about how to successfully navigate this sinful world. Scripture as a whole, however, has too much to say about suffering as a divine tool in the lives of the righteous to sustain Word Faith teacher’s claims.

They put the lazy, ease seeking, greedy Christian’s desires upon the throne of their hearts, and portray God as a sycophantic servant hopping to the whims of the worshiper… if their faith is strong enough. They preach faith as a tool for greed, self-aggrandizement and human perfectionism. “If you have faith then you are in control of your own destiny.”

While some Scriptures do talk about God acting in keeping with human request, these texts are balanced by the larger Scriptural vision of God in relation to humans—Divine sovereignty, Divine unchangeableness and the unsearchable wisdom of God. An interpreter must read each text in context and weigh its relationship to other texts, NOT snag one portion of Scripture as the controlling vision of God, forcing all other texts to bend to it no matter what they say.

Prayer, fasting and Scriptural study are not designed to turn the power of God to the fulfillment of our desires. God is not moved to fulfill our purposes because we say the right thing, believe the right thing, perform the right ritual, or quote the right text at God. This belief is the very essence of pagan worship; it’s what makes pagan worship pagan.

Prayer, fasting and Scriptural study are, instead, designed to move the worshipper into God’s will, to get the pray-er participating in God’s work, to teach the student of Scripture about the essence, character, will & plan of God. Through these, the worshiper increases his or her reflection of God’s character and purpose to the world.

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