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Reformed. Christianity. Evangelism. Modern Culture.
When talk show host Oprah Winfrey so much as spits on a book it immediately catches fire. The ashes can so much as sell for a lump sum that can earn you enough money for an early retirement. In 2006 an Australian Rhonda Byrne got much more than she bargained for when she wrote the New Age self help book, The Secret. Her book did not get spat on. No. The book got featured not once but twice on the Oprah Winfrey show and (wait for this) by the Spring of 2007 the book had sold almost 4 million copies, and the DVD had sold more than 2 million copies. Byrne was listed among Time Magazine’s list of 100 people who shaped the world in 2007.
Byrne writes, “Disease cannot live in a body that is in a healthy emotional state.” But be warned: “If you have a disease and you are focusing on it and talking to people about it, you are going to create more disease cells.” The tenet of the book is that an individual’s focused positive thinking can result in life-changing results such as increased wealth, health, happiness and more.
Wait a minute that sounds so much like Word of Faith you say. Isn’t that what modern day evangelicals are doing these days? The health, wealth and prosperity gospel is synonymous with the Word of Faith theology which is perhaps the fastest brand of Christianity with about 147 million followers in Africa (according to Christianity Today magazine). They make up more than a fourth of Nigeria’s population, more than a third of South Africa’s, and a whopping 56 percent of Kenya’s.
“One of the greatest distinguishing marks of a false prophet is that he will always tell you what you want to hear, he will never rain on your parade, he will get you clapping, he will get you jumping, he will make you dizzy, he will keep you entertained, & he will present a Christianity to you that will make your church look like a Six Flags over Jesus.” –Paul Washer
Through faith and positive confession, so goes the ideology, we can obtain anything we want — health, wealth, success, or whatever we please. The formula is simply: “Say it, Do it, Receive it, and Tell it.” Rhonda on the other hand explains that this New Age technique is the law of attraction, which is the principle that “like attracts like.” Rhonda calls it “the most powerful law in the universe.” The principle is that we create our own circumstances by the choices we make in life. And the choices we make are fuelled by our thoughts—which means our thoughts are the most powerful things we have here on earth.
Word of faith allegations are heretical and differ from Biblical orthodoxy. God wants you to be rich is the mantra. “He [also] wants His children to eat the best, He wants them to wear the best clothing, He wants them to drive the best cars, and He wants them to have the best of everything.” “That’s the reason why I drive a Rolls Royce,” boasts a mega church pastor.
The twisting of scripture to approve materialism gets from sad to worrying and eventually totally depraved. No, depraved indifference is the best description. “Financial prosperity is just as much a part of the Gospel as anything else…and I’m going to tell you something right now. I’m with the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter one: I’m not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…I’m not ashamed of prosperity. I’m not ashamed that Jesus bought and paid for me to be wealthy….Let me just tell you from the heart of God, preachers are supposed to be rich,” said another prominent pastor.
“It’s a matter of your faith. You got one-dollar faith, and you ask for a ten thousand-dollar item, it ain’t gonna work. It won’t work. Jesus said, “According to your faith”, not “according to His will, if He can work it into His busy schedule.” He said, “according to your faith be it unto you.” Now I may want a Rolls Royce and don’t have but bicycle faith. Guess what I’m gonna get? A bicycle” -(Frederick K.C. Price, “Praise the Lord” broadcast on TBN, 21 September 1990, taken from Documentation for Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff)
It’s not that often that Christian books are bestsellers in both religious and secular circles. What? Not after what was highlighted in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe first published in 1563. It was a spine chilling fly on the wall account of all the persecution and Christian deaths and martyrdom throughout Western history from the first century through the early sixteenth centuries. The early followers of Christ were left to preach an offensive gospel. One that proclaimed that all men were sinners and had broken God’s Laws and that the Gospel is the news that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, died for our sins on a cross and rose again, eternally triumphant. That there is now no condemnation for those who repent and believe, but only everlasting joy. This message of the cross became a stumbling block to the Jews and and an offense to the Gentiles. Persecution has always been the portion of the godly. Perhaps some may argue that the Christian life is a wonderful plan because God works all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). That fact is wonderful in the truest sense of the word. No matter what happens to a Christian, he can rejoice because of that promise. No book so profoundly influenced early Protestant sentiment as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It still is more than a record of persecution. Kept in the back shelves of most church book stores and is even considered volatile by some store owners. How times have changed. Foxes’ Book of Martyrs has however been replaced by Joel Osteen’s multi-million Best seller- Your Best Life Now.
Joel Osteen is the Word of Faith pastor of America’s largest church, Lakewood Church, in Houston Texas. With attendances staggering to over 43,000 per sunday and television broad casts to over 7 million viewers in 100 countries, Mr Osteen is usually referred to as “America’s pastor”, “Prosperity Gospel’s Cover Boy” or “Mr Nice Guy” and in Hollywood circles because of his ever smiling face there’s an adage that goes, “And on the eighth day God created Osteen”. As the face of a new form of Christianity, Gospel lite, he never courts controversy, Joel has admitted he never preaches about sin, hell or judgement but rather the emphasis of his ministry is maintaining a positive outlook on life rather than a right relationship with God. Your Best Life Now outlines simple motivational principles to life enhancement and achieving “your full potential” for any one and every body. The methodology remains just like in Rhonda Byrne’s New Age doctrine: visualisation, faith or believe you can achieve it and confession.
According to the Christian Sentinel, Joel lists Kenneth Hagin Sr., Tommy Tenney, C. Peter Wagner, and Joyce Meyer as his notable inspirational mentors. To begin with, Kenneth Hagin Sr. popularised Word of faith movement but his own mentor was a man known as the father of the Word faith movement Mr. Essek William Kenyon. Mr E.W. Kenyon studied at the Emerson College of Oratory in Boston which was a hotbed at the time for the emerging New Age thought where a rudimentary Christianised version of the occultism was birthed. There you have it! Word of Faith is a form of Christianised New age-ism.
In the 1930s Kenneth Hagin Sr added E.W Kenyon’s teachings to his Pentecostal beliefs to create the full fledged “Word of Faith” and “Rhema” movements and taught that Christians could get rich by mustering enough faith. “Say it, do it, receive it, tell it,” he said. He touted this “Rhema doctrine,” which held that words spoken in faith must be fulfilled, spawning slogans like “name it and claim it.”
“God wants to increase you financially, by giving you promotions, fresh ideas and creativity”, Osteen promises just like Hagin Sr and Rhonda. Without qualification, he declares that all of us are destined for greatness of every kind: “You were born to win; you were born for greatness, you were created to be a champion in life”. “He wants you to live in abundance. He wants to give you the desires of your heart…God is turning things around in your favour”. As a matter of fact, apparently irrespective of our relationship with God, “Before we were ever formed, He programmed us to live abundant lives, to be happy, healthy, and whole. But when our thinking becomes contaminated it is no longer in line with God’s Word”. Do not for a moment think “God’s Word” means the Bible. In Word of Faith lingo the “God’s word” or “rhema” or “the word” is synonymous with your visualised desire that becomes your positive confession.
There’s more to the allegory, Osteen promises, “God wants you to live an overcoming life of victory. He doesn’t want you to barely get by. He’s called El Shaddai, ‘the God of more than enough’”. While on the contrary: El Shaddai is a title used for our Lord in the Old Testament which is often translated “God Almighty.” It speaks of the all sufficiency of God, and is a special title of reverence. Osteen is honest enough to say his views are not drawn from scripture but from other peoples’ experiences and his own.
The creative power of thought is now receiving increasing acceptance in the West, which is in some cases taking over, and in others, discovering anew, for itself, what was thought by the ancients in India. Because they have discovered it anew, they call it “New Thought”; but its fundamental principle is as old as the Upanishads which said, “what you think that you become”. All recognize this principle in the limited form that a man who thinks good becomes good, and he who is ever harboring bad thought becomes bad. But the Indian and “New Thought” doctrine is more profound than this. In Vedantic India, thought has been ever held creative. The world is a creation of the thought (Cit Shakti associated with Maya Shakti) of the Lord (Ishvara and Ishvari)
Joel promises the same thing as Rhonda. A few years ago, The Secret was drawing cheers and even some jeers. The cheers were for the theory’s emphasis on positive thinking and living your best life through the idea of the law of attraction—but criticism arose because some believed people would use The Secret to focus more on obtaining material possessions. But this was quickly swept under the carpet.
To be honest, Word of Faith usually draws numerous coverts and most of the evangelical churches with Word of Faith inclination always manifest with exponential growth in numbers. The message is popular and every one is seeking to improve their lives, enhance their prospects, become successful and become master of their own destiny. Man becomes his own master (a little god) just like in New Age. One then asks how genuine are the new Christian converts to such churches? I do not know is the answer. How sound is the foundational teaching such new converts receive? Nothing if any. Many conservative evangelicals are question the need for Word of Faith ministers to live in great luxury, demanding millions of pounds for an ever-increasing and never ending number of projects, some of which never materialise. Joel Osteen’s Your Best life Now promises a crazy materialistic lifestyle not found anywhere in the Bible. The Spanish call this -living la vi da loca (living the crazy life).
The Bible persistently says “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things below. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” But if in this life , we have no other hope then come on and join Joel’s La Vi Da Loca.
Editor’s Note: “If we do not preach about sin and God’s judgment on it, we cannot present Christ as Saviour from sin and the wrath of God. And if we are silent about these things, and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible . . . Such preaching may soothe some, but it will help nobody; for a Christ who is not seen and sought as a Saviour from sin will not be found to save from self or from anything else”