In my former articles "Dare to Test the Spirits" and "Don't Fear a false Prophet" I presented the prime Scriptural criteria for evaluation of spiritual truth according to the apostles John (1 John 4:1-6) and Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:21) to test the teaching of the faith-prosperity movement. But there is in fact one more Scriptural test criterion, which ought to be mentioned. Jesus Christ himself spoke of false prophets and how to recognize them. Jesus said: "By their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:15-20). But again we find that the investigated faith-prosperity teaching somehow has succeeded in disabling this criterion of evaluation through its accentuation on success. We should, however, beware not to fall into the trap of evaluating the faith-prosperity movement spiritually by the American value system of successfulness. (The criterion of Jesus concerns the quality of the fruit). If there is much fruit in a certain movement, God must be at work. Truly, if an omnipotent God is at work, something happens. Therefore, the forward argument is quite valid. However, it is not so with the backward argument. If something is happening it cannot safely be concluded that God is at work. If such were the case, we might as well conclude that the New Age Movement is from God. For the yoga movements for instance have been quite successful in the West. In the case of the faith-prosperity movement, its successfulness might simply be because of its accommodation of worldly values. Who does not want health, wealth and power? But all spiritual teaching must be tested, not by worldly values, but by the standard of the Holy Scriptures?
Let us now turn to the faith-prosperity teaching on identification for an evaluation of its serious consequences for its follower's spirituality and practice (D. R. McConnell, A Different Gospel, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993, pp.116-30). It is of course undeniable that identification with Christ is Scriptural. For the Apostle Paul himself teaches that "we were buried with him through baptism him into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:3-4). But the faith-prosperity movement's doctrine of identification is not just a spiritual application of the physical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It begins from Jesus' identification with us as sinners. This doctrine has been described and evaluated spiritually in more details in my former article "Dare to Test the Spirits". The teaching in retrospect is in short that Jesus died spiritually and was tormented three days in Hell for our spiritual (real) atonement. It is taught that his identification with man was so full that he actually made himself dirty. He got the Devil's nature and became sin. It was therefore not primarily a substitutionary death for us, who urgently need his sacrifice for our forgiveness. The appeal is not to humbly receive his mercy and forgiveness, but to imitate him assertively. According to the faith-prosperity teaching Jesus identified so fully with man, that we could identify fully with him. But for that to be possible God in Christ first had to be brought down to man's level. Jesus' experience is explained completely like ours (a born-again sinner), so that our experience can become like his without particular distinction. Therefore, the question we must ask is whether this teaching leads people towards being atoned by his perfect sacrifice, which was given once for all (Hebrews 7:27), or whether it leads somewhere else.
For most Christians the idea of full identification with God in Christ sounds a little wild and exaggerated. But so as long as the word "identification" is used, nobody gets too alarmed. However, maybe such laxness about this issue might come to an end, if it became clear that there only is a slight difference in meaning between the English word "identification" and the Indian word "yoga". In Indian yoga the search is for an ontological identity with the divinity (sameness). The word "yoga" literally means being yoked or in total unity. Already from its anthropological beginning point the faith-prosperity teaching identifies the original man as a spirit being in God's class (McConnell 1993, 113). In the teaching on identification it breaks further down the proper distinction between Jesus Christ, the savior and his followers in identification with him.
Although there is only some similarity between the teachings on identification and yoga in the abstract concepts, there is much more common ground concerning practices and objectives. For from its inspiration from the metaphysical cults the faith-prosperity movement practices denial of the sensory reality (McConnell 1993, 106-7). It is again and again taught that one should not rely on the senses, but one's own faith in the new spiritual life, which actually means that one should live in the reality that one is a spirit, a higher being, who has transcended the senses. As in Hinduism the material dimension of life is perceived as an illusion, which has to be denied as unreal. It is of course impossible to deny that we do not always perceive things as they are by our sensual system, that our mind can understand things incorrectly, and that not all emotions are good and helpful. It is different to totally dismiss the whole sensual system, the intellect and the emotions as unreal. To do so actually is an absolute denial of one's humanity. As in all other yoga exercises, such practice might of course be dangerous for the mental health. Although it is harmless for the non-serious person, who only circles in the thoughts without taking action, such teaching might endanger the lives of the desperate sick, the poor and the person entangled with sin. For the faith-prosperity movement sets a dangerous spiritual direction by declaring that leaving sense knowledge (the material reality) and entering the higher spiritual revelation knowledge can cure sin, sickness and poverty. It is not strange that much bad fruit has been found at the trail of the faith-prosperity movement.
At first glance it appears as if this movement has the highest number of confessed healings among Christians. However, this does not necessarily imply that these testimonies are of true reality. People are simply confessing healings by positive confession and clings to it no matter what the true facts are. In the faith-prosperity movement nobody knows whether people are telling an actual truth or a dream (a lie), when they on the stage witness to their healing etc. In reality most of the professed good fruits might only be present (air) in the minds of the people (McConnell 1993, 148).
It is, however, a far worse condition that this movement refuses to count its costs. If there is no results in a person's life, such person is dismissed as a follower of sense knowledge and as one, who does not have the guts to live the higher faith life. People with negative confessions are simply dismissed as personal failures. It should not be hard to understand that such a life-style is tough for those, who are weak. For sinful habits, sickness and poverty are terribly real conditions and not overcome by simply denying their reality and building a spiritual dream world. Can dismissing the signals of the body and the senses cure diabetes, malaria or cancer? In its denial of the material reality this teaching has therefore already caused several deaths in the circle of the faith-prosperity movement. Larry Parker withheld insulin from a diabetes sick son, who ended up dying, but still the father kept on believing in his resurrection for a year. It caused a court case and the responsible parent was only given a mild sentence because of his sincere, innocent belief in what he did (McConnell 1993, 81). It has also been estimated that the number of preventable deaths associated with Hobart Freeman's teaching are as high as 90, but Freeman eventually died through shunning medical treatment and thus became the last victim of his own teaching (McConnell 1993, 81-82).
From the activities of this movement in Sweden we have reports about suicide attempts and mental disturbances, which let to hospitalization. It was calculated that at least 14 formerly normal persons had committed suicide after their encounter with the teaching of the Word of Life movement (Martin Boje Christensen 1991, 55). People with sins and spiritual problems, which they can not overcome, have to live in an unreal dream world. Each one stands alone with all his own problems and isolated from brothers and sisters, whose spiritual guidance and comfort they desperately need. The environment does not tolerate the existence of problems. One must be in control. Negative confessions are dangerous for the one, who speaks out, and others are afraid of being polluted by it. It is no wonder that isolated individuals sometimes break down or attempts suicide out of loneliness. But the true body of Christ should be there to carry one another's burdens, to comfort and to pray honestly about each problem and wait for God's answer (Galatians 6:1-2). Therefore, if you are sincere and truly have any of the problems of sin, sickness and poverty, keep away from this movement, which claims to posses the cure. You will only get more hurt. For the faith-prosperity movement and its artificial, lying environment is totally powerless concerning the solution of any real life problem.
It is strange that this teaching sometimes seems to move in a Buddhists direction. It becomes somehow impersonal. For instance in some words of Kenneth Copeland one find a reflection of several Buddhist ideas of nirvana and enlightenment, which at an initial level promises "seeing things as they really are, not as you (with your actual senses) perceive them to be". Copeland teaches that you must get hold of the Word of God, not by what you think it means, but by what it actually means. If one adds the idea of Kenyon that it is possible for man to reach the point of inerrant knowledge (McConnell 1999, 107), one finds a strong similarity with what the Mahayana Buddhists declare as the state of the highest enlightenment. The only thing, which remains then, is the impersonal teaching of Buddha (the Dharma). The denial of one's humanness corresponds to the Buddhist doctrine of Anatta (no soul), and the new human identity is sought in identification with the powerful Word of God, which corresponds to the Buddha Dharma. The result is obviously that man is getting depersonalized. It has to be mentioned that what the Word of God actually means according to Copeland' suggestion is authoritatively decreed from the side of revelation knowledge. It is just like in all yoga movements, in which a spiritual guru is required for the direction of the yogis. It is the Word of God as interpreted by the teacher's revelation knowledge, which is applied in identification. It is in fact recommended to bypass the understanding of the mind (McConnell 1993, 106). Therefore, the reference to the Bible is also nothing more than some kind of preying upon the divine authority of the Word of God. And faith does not mean trust in God, but decisive assertion of the higher knowledge. It is a new kind of yoga - American yoga.
In should be mentioned that the suggested cure of the faith-prosperity movement often is presented as the faith-formula. The cosmos is moved ahead according to universally working spiritual laws. And just like God created the universe by his word, man like a god has the creative power to create his own circumstances and environment through faith and positive confession. Like a god the spiritual man is full control over all things. There is actually no need to pray and ask God about anything. And there is no need for a personal Holy Spirit to act on our behalf. The faith formula works by itself and we can make our own way to the higher life by taking control and action. According to one of the visions of Kenneth Hagin, man can in fact freely write his own ticket with God. So the meaning of the spiritual life in Christ is no longer that man has become the subject of God and his will, but that God has become subject to man's will and desires. Even God is presented as subject to the law of faith in the explanation of the creation (McConnell 1993, 135). Thereby God has become impersonalized and almost identified with the impersonal governing laws of the universe, which is quite similar to what is called the Dharmas in Buddhism (distinguished from the Dharma of the Buddha). In Buddhism man can escape Karma and grow spiritually by relying on himself as long as he is submitting to the impersonal Buddha Dharma, in which the control of the governing spiritual laws of the universe has been crystallized.
Let us finally look at the objective of the American yoga. It is not just the idea of becoming ontologically identical with God. It is more concrete and consequentially far more potentially dangerous. The presumed divinity of man must be acted out from the inside. It is not enough to think about oneself as a higher being; one must act like one. The true reality of man is being spirit and like God in full control, not only over oneself, but also over the physical and spiritual environments (including evil spirits). The world belongs to the spiritual supermen in Christ, and its riches can freely be claimed without regard for the rights of other human beings. Still the approximation of the yoga objective, the ontological identity with the divinity, is present. For besides being considered in God's spirit class from the beginning, the faith-prosperity movement perceives the believer as an incarnation of Christ. To make this point clear beyond doubt, let me quote directly from various words of Kenneth Hagin (McConnell 1993, 122):
In the new birth, God imparts "His very nature, substance, and being to our human spirit".
That's who we are; we're Christ.
In fact, in the Epistles, the Church is called Christ. The Church has not yet realized that we are Christ. When we do, we'll start doing the work we're supposed to do.
Christ is the head - we are the body - and the body of Christ is Christ.
Just like with the Buddhist Boddhisattwas it is anticipated that the spiritual elite of revelation knowledge more and more gets the character of bondage breakers and mini saviors for the rest of the human race (McConnell 1993, 113). Therefore, besides the doctrinal fallacy of the teaching of the faith-prosperity movement, we ought to be particular cautious, because this chauvinist teaching is as much lived out assertively as it is proclaimed in plain words. It can be hard to detect, and many from the body of Christ have ignorantly adopted its practices, even without subscribing to the occult doctrines. For it is asserted that these spiritual supermen in Christ exercise full control over their own lives (including the experience of abundance and excellent health until old age) and their environment (including the spiritual realms of evil).
There is no doubt that the mission of the Church is in great need of prayer and intercession. It is also acceptable to call intercessors prayer warriors, if it motivates the people of God to pray for their missionaries. However, why has the prevailing image of Christ in a span of only one or two decades changed from the Prince of Peace to a Mighty Warrior? And what is the Scriptural foundation of the so-called prayer warriors travelling from place to place asserting special powers of prayer to enhance the work of God in missions? It is hard to find any other explanation than that their practices have been derived from the strange faith-prosperity doctrines about evil. Such so-called prayer warriors go to all the high places of the world religions to pray and self-promote their ministry thereby usurping the glory of Christ's victory and the fruits of the hardworking missionaries in the fields. With their falsely usurped authority they act like some kind of spiritual mediators between God, the spirit world and mortals. For the true Evangelical Christian, however, there is no need for other mediators between man and God than the one we already have, who is Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
Since Christ identified 100% with mankind in all things, so these prayer warriors are able to compromise themselves with evil. They will even be able to identify with the Devil, if the doctrine of identification is fully at work within them. However, the major spiritual problem is that they operate at an intuitive level, not being aware of the various religious teachings of Asia, which as it has been proven in this article, only with difficulty can be distinguished from the strange faith-prosperity doctrine of identification. Thus they greatly compromise the Christian faith. It is not too far out to compare these prayer warriors to the Shamans of animistic religion, who are expected to be able to control the spirits, but who themselves already are mixed up with them. It should therefore be recalled that the Scriptures discourage worship on the Pagan high places because of the risk contamination (1 Kings 3:3, 14:23 etc.)? Even the prophet Daniel anticipated anti-Christ as the king who asserts himself above every god, who will show no regard for any god, but worships an unknown god of fortresses and who will honor those who acknowledge him with great possessions (Daniel 11:36-39).
Although I suppose that Peter Wagner from Fuller Theological Seminary does not subscribe to the occult doctrine of spiritual supermen, it still seems like he has been enrolled as the latest instrument to promote the practices of the faith-prosperity movement. It is a great shame, because Peter Wagner is a brilliant writer, who has served God well through his earlier writings. The problem is his pragmatic attitude, which leads him to subscribe uncritically to success without testing the spirits on Scriptural ground. But for this reason the faith-prosperity movement has gotten hold on a prominent Christian, who willingly grants a spiritual office to the prayer warrior along with the spiritual gifts of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher (Ephesians 4:11). But there is no Scriptural foundation for the so-called prayer warrior's special authority among God's people. Peter Wagner even goes as far as to acknowledge Christian practices based upon New Testament apocryphal books. He promotes spiritual warfare in Pagan temples by reference to the apocryphal Acts of John according to which the Apostle John supposedly exercised warfare prayer in the temple of Artemis with great physical manifestations of power and the submission of the Ephesians to the authority of God (Warfare Prayer 1992, 98). But it is not only an unethical practice, which blasphemes the humanness of non-Christian peoples and violates their sense of holiness. It is in fact not much different from the practices of Satanists, who secretly enters and desecrates churches. In addition such practices - if publicly known - might stir up religious feelings of anger, which could cause the closure of target nations for the entry of Christian missionaries. A continued Christian recognition of such practices might even end up with a disaster for God's mission to the unsaved peoples in Asia. Although the peoples of the world are in bondage, they are no devils. In fact the Devil and all the evil spirits are present in the world by God's permissive will. So to where do these prayer warriors send the territorial spirits? The Holy Scriptures, however, know of only one act of spiritual warfare in a temple. Jesus Christ entered God's Temple to drive out all those, who had made his temple into an opportunity to earn money (Mark 11:15-17).
It is not strange if this movement, which holds power and position as its key values, should be concerned about the issue of dominion. However, what is more important is the corrupting effect of the spread of its teaching. It is hard to think of the emergence of the kingdom now theology and the rise of postmillennialism as nothing but a product of this movement. The faith-prosperity movement teaches that the power is totally in the hand of the saved. All the believer needs to do is to exercise his rights in Christ (McConnell 1993, 121). The power rest in the name of Jesus, which has legally been handed down to the church, which exercises his authority on earth by it. And God is obliged to respond favorable to the name of Jesus (McConnell 1993, 142). But it should be recalled from the Ten Commandments that misuse of God's name is strictly prohibited (Exodus 20:7). Is this the spiritual foundation for the emerging belief that the factual dominion already now belongs to the victorious Christ, who rules on earth through his Church? And is this the reason why progressive Christians, just like the faith teachers, are using their creative positive thinking to prophesy great progress of the Church throughout the earth in contradiction to the Scriptural prophesy that a night, when no-one can work, is going to come (John 9:4)? Has the body of Christ already forgotten the history of the mistakes of the medieval Catholic Church? Already at the time of the turn of the first millennium did the Catholic Church try to assert its right to rule the secular world along with its spiritual guidance and authority. And it has gotten refuted for its faulty notions since then. It is hard to understand how Christians can be so naïve and again go along with such theories. Has any fascist movement ever started without first tempting young people to believe that they have been specially chosen to rule the world? The Scriptural truth is that, although the Christ evidently is the appointed heir to the kingship (Colossians 1:16), dominion was handed over to Nebuchadnezzar and the four empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome) ending in the hands of the Antichrist until the visible return of Jesus Christ, the true heir (Daniel 2:36-45).
The spiritual life might somehow be compared to computers continually being under attack by new destructive computer viruses. Although new viruses often include known elements, it is only the new variants, which pass the protective system undetected. It is also not surprising with a virus attacking the very virus-protection system. Everybody is getting affected occasionally. It is therefore no unbearable shame to admit having been mistaken about the faith-prosperity teaching and its practices. For this movement has enticed and deceived most of the body of Christ, even numerous prominent Christian leaders. It is also only to be expected that the most vulnerable limbs have been the more spiritually oriented groups, who have their protective system directed towards anti-Charismatic attitudes. Spiritual viruses might not appear at the same speed as computer viruses, but as in the case of computers it is better not to be caught with an outdated version of the virus protection system.
It has in many ways been demonstrated that this critique of the faith-prosperity teaching not is anti-charismatic by nature. It has to do with the rejection of numerous false doctrines and practices. It is not a simple rejection of the initial Charismatic renewal and the search for unity within the body of Christ. But with the faith-prosperity movement we have a spiritual movement accepted within the body of Christ, which builds upon false doctrines with occult roots, and which is indeed compromising the Christian faith. It sets aside sober interpretations of the Word of God to authoritatively promote its occult revelation knowledge. It diminishes the position of Jesus Christ and elevates its own followers to spiritual supermen, preaching another Christ, while it assigns most of God's people to a place of lower class spirituality. In addition its claimed fruits of healings are of questionable quality and much bad fruit has appeared at its trail. Therefore, the body of Christ has no reason to still linger, not rejecting this teaching and expel its propagators from unconditional spiritual fellowship with true believers in Christ. Obviously, it is not sufficient just to mentally agree with the conclusions of this article. For the faith-prosperity movement, its teachers and books have for years been allowed unrestricted access to the whole body of Christ. It is also not enough just to reject its occult teaching and continue its practices without some serious reconsideration about their Scriptural ground. For learning through doing is even more efficient than learning through words, and what is worse - the occult spiritual ground will remain hidden. Therefore, let not the Church of God hesitate to stand up for the truth but protect its sheep against spiritual violence!