Comment: I appreciate what we have said about our need for discernment and why some people seem to be interested in fringe areas of Christianity. There is much out there that most of us aren’t able to understand or deal with in an appropriate manner. I recently went to a meeting featuring John Arnot, who promotes the Toronto blessing. He gives a good talk in regard to why we should be careful not to condemn “manifestations.” Then he proceeded to walk through the crowd praying and touching people, and I saw some serious “manifesting.” I’ve thought a lot about what Arnot had to say. Something didn’t ring quite right. It reinforced for me that we need great discernment as we interact with the diversity that is in Christianity — and our history shows that discernment is not our strong suit. We have much to learn, as well as much to teach.
Response: Some people are concerned that we are pointing out errors in the Word of Faith movement. Members have said that we are reverting to the very thing that we used to do — belittling and bashing “other Christians.” We do not want to belittle or bash other Christians. We recognize that there are true Christians in many churches. But we as a church are charged with teaching and believing truth, and holding to “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). As we do so, we are bound to ruffle a few feathers. We are reminded of the old maxim, “the gospel comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable.”
We believe that we have a duty to point out pitfalls into which we fell in the past. In that way, others can benefit from the lessons we have learned. Why should people die, thinking that going to a doctor is a lack of faith? Should we not point out theological and biblical errors that cause pain and anguish?
The Word of Faith movement departs from the historic Christian faith. Several prominent leaders of this movement teach that humans can become God, that Christ had to go to hell to atone for our sins (the cross wasn’t enough). These and other unbiblical teachings lead to misery, heartache and disillusionment in people’s lives. Therefore, we have a duty to point out the truth. As part of our pastoral responsibility, we cannot idly watch as sheep jump over the cliff following a pied piper who seduces them with false promises. We must point out that feelings and experience are not the ultimate test of truth.
We must also be big enough to realize our own weaknesses. Most of us are not well grounded in the historic Christian faith, and our theological training is incomplete, which means that we might be misled by those who mix truth with error. While we study to shore up this weakness, we must at the same time guard against abuses that can occur because of this weakness.
I recommend the following books and pamphlets:
- The Prosperity Gospel, by Charles E. Hummel.
- Christianity in Crisis and Counterfeit Revival, both by Hank Hanegraaff.
- A Different Gospel, by D.R. McConnell. McConnell’s book points out, at great length, that the Word of Faith movement has roots in metaphysics, mysticism, Christian Science (Mary Baker Eddy) and what is called New Thought. The Word of Faith movement is not part of orthodoxy.
In contrast, the charismatic and Pentecostal movements have completely different roots. The vast majority of charismatics and Pentecostals subscribe to an orthodox statement of faith. McConnell points out that charismatic churches tend to be fertile ground for the subjective and experiential promises of the Word of Faith movement, but the two are not synonymous.