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Some Lessons Can Only Be Learned IN the Fiery Furnace

shadrach-meshach-and-abednegoIn a recent set of posts on Hebrews 11:3, I was pretty brutal on Word Faith teachers… what some call Hyper-faith teachers, or the Name-it-Claim-it bunch.

They teach that God HAS promised you a rose garden, and, if you aren’t living in it, that’s your fault; if you only had enough faith you would never be sick, your bank account would never be empty, and you could have your every heart’s desire in this world. They don’t say it outright, but strongly suggest that God exists to serve you, and His every purpose is your short-term happiness.

I, who am typically open to discussion and dialogue on points of Scholarship and interpretation, consider this heresy of the first order, and I am unapologetic for this accusation.

Word Faith doctrine is insidious.

Webster’s online dictionary defines insidious perfectly: harmful, but enticing; having a gradual and cumulative effect; of a disease—developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent.[1]

Just so, Word Faith doctrine propels itself into the heart of its adherents with a lot Scripture quoting (Rarely quoted in context or unpacked for each text’s relationship to Scripture as a whole) and an abundant use of power phrases trumpeted authoritatively… like Faith, Believing God, Taking God at His Word.

Who doesn’t like faith? Who wants to be the one to NOT take God at His Word?

Not me that’s for sure. Sign me up. I want faith too!

It is easy, in the face of such a popular, but erroneous, group to shy away from the call to faith. Biblical faith requires many caveats to distinguish itself from the error, to keep one’s audience from accidentally confusing the two. Some even go so far as to say that God the healer stopped His work of healing long ago, saving it all up for eternity alone… wouldn’t want to set people up for disappointment, or make them feel guilty on top of feeling ill.

Don’t do it. Don’t believe it. Perfect abstinence IS easier than perfect moderation, but the truth of God is found in the tension… in casting one’s self upon the will of God, seeking His touch, His presence, His power… while remaining faithful amid the trouble, trusting His sovereign hand… and obeying His known commands. Sovereignty isn’t merely an issue of reformation theology vs. Wesleyan theology, it is about believing that God is at work in your life in ALL circumstances and not just the fun ones.

Faith is a powerful tool… indeed, it is THE powerful tool by which we risk everything for God and receive everything from God specifically because we risk everything. We must never shy away from joining the great cloud of witnesses in Scripture who changed the world by becoming willing instruments of God through faith… some receiving great rewards in the here and now, some doing great works of power that YHWH might make Himself known, and many suffering greatly to bring great rewards to others near and far.

Word faith doctrine accuses even these saints, some of whom went blind, and suffered with life-long limps. They accuse Paul, who suffered illnesses and left sick friends behind to be tended, who gave practical advice to Timothy over his frequent stomach troubles. These claim to know the whole mind of God, to see His every purpose in the world… no need to trust Him IN the suffering… that’s a lack of faith… you must trust Him to keep OUT of the suffering.

In a recent sermon by Mike Caparrelli, pastor of Sacred Exchange Fellowship in East Greenwich RI, an old student of mine, I was reminded again of the surface subtlety, but monumental substantive difference between being a thunderous preacher of biblical faith vs. being a willing or unwilling deceiver through a thunderous proclamation of the Word Faith perversion. Amid Rev. Caparrelli’s triumphant call to faith two elements stuck out as essential.

I’ll discuss the first today.

Rev. Caparrelli quoted Oswald Chamber’s wonderful adage, “There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.”

Far from preaching life as a rose garden that is yours for the taking, a biblical faith preacher recognizes that God’s blessings and God’s purposes both in and through you involve many things… and one of these things is suffering.

Some suffering is our fault, even if we don’t know it… we don’t eat right, exercise enough, or use that hair tonic which, unbeknownst to us has harmful side-effects. We ride our motorcycles in the rain, and…Yes, Mom, you’re right; we don’t floss and brush enough.

Some suffering is at the hand of the wickedness of others. They break our hearts, steal our stuff, injure us in accidents, or deliberately attack us.

Still other suffering is natural… simply part of living in a fallen world—storms, earthquakes, spreading diseases, genetic failings, animal attacks (like those pesky and sometimes deadly mosquitos), and AGING… You have noticed that even the biggest of the big wigs of the Word Faith camp are aging… right?  And let’s not forget Dying. We are all headed for the grave… less Jesus comes first.

In the Word faith camp, all your suffering is a sign of failure,[2] of weak faith. You are accused. You are secretly despised. You are the negative example for others… You are the before picture to their self-glorifying after picture… craggy as some of their faces are getting, paunchy as some of their bellies are becoming.

In biblical faith preaching, however, we focus on God’s power, God’s unchangableness, God’s wisdom, God’s omniscience, God’s goodness, God’s love… but also on God’s sovereign hand in accomplishing His purposes both in and through His servants… knowing that some lessons can only be learned IN the fiery furnace, not from being delivered from the fiery furnace.

No pain, no gain is not just for working out in the hopes of keeping that girlish figure or beefing up to display six pack abs… a six pack of wholesome seltzer water of course. No pain, no gain is one of the great underlying principles of life… struggle makes us strong, too much ease makes us weak… in mind, body and soul.

In biblical faith we cry, “Father, use me by hook or by crook, in sickness and in health, through joy and sorrow, indeed through joy in sorrow… I’m in your hand, you are able to save me from this suffering, but you are also able to teach me special things through this suffering. Your will be done.”


[2] Some exempt persecution… Maybe because Word Faith teachers suffer so much of it from less noble Bible teachers who actually read Scripture in context.

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