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Both the Reformed / Evangelical / Cessationist (REC) and the Word of Faith teachers (WOF) are not completely correct. They both teach heresies, and the REC heresies are often as severe as the WOF heresies. The WOF heresies receive more attention partly because the charismatics, unlike the REC, are not so obsessed with persecuting Christians or with thinking of themselves as guardians of the faith. On many occasions, I have shown that REC heresies are at least as blasphemous, but they rarely have to pay for it, since other Christians tend to mind their own business.
When we bring up the WOF, some people immediately rant about how this preacher swindles money, what that preacher spends on his lavish lifestyle, and on and on. This tactic might work if you are talking to something like, say, a cat, since it is easily distracted. No one can get away with that when talking to me. Your Presbyterian pastor was fired for committing adultery last week, and your Baptist professor turned into a Catholic. I am not going to dismiss all the Presbyterian and Baptist doctrines because of that. Maybe some of these doctrines happen to agree with the Bible. And if you start to rant about WOF heresies, I can bury you with REC heresies several times over. So let us not play silly games.
We will focus on the ideas, and the ideas that relate to the present topic, and not become distracted because of prejudice. Moreover, it is acknowledged that we are making generalizations for the sake of convenience. So not every characteristic that we assign to a group would apply to every individual that belongs to that group. But when it applies, it applies. There is no running away from it by complaining about generalizations.
On this matter of faith and prayer, the WOF is clearly more biblical. There is no contest.
Let us take a look at three passages that people have distorted to endorse a prayer that says, “if it is your will.” If there are other passages, you will see that they are also similarly abused in order to reach a conclusion of unbelief and uncertainty.
First, Jesus said something like this when he prayed, a short time before he was arrested (Luke 22:42). However, it is outrageous when the REC applies this to many of our prayers. Jesus was making a prayer of dedication, committing himself to his mission. The REC applies this to praying for things like healing or other things that we want. They claim you do not know if it is God’s will to heal you, so you say, “If it is your will, heal me.” But if it is applied this way, this would have to mean that Jesus did not know if it was God’s will for him to perform the atonement, even though he mentioned it several times to his disciples. In other words, this interpretation becomes a denial of a basic and core doctrine of Christ. This demonstrates either utter incompetence or how far some people will go to annihilate God’s word in order to protect their unbelief.
Second, James instructs his readers to say, “If it is God’s will, then we will do this or that” (James 4:15). However, he is talking about our plans in life, not about things that God has already said that we should have, like healing (James 5:15), our daily bread (Matthew 6:11), and so on. He is talking about what we will do, not what God will do, or what we ask God to do. Also, James is referring to people who “boast and brag” (James 4:16) about their future and their plans. Therefore, this interpretation implies that if I accept the Bible as a revelation of God’s will and pray with confidence, then I am sinfully boasting, so that I become the target of this rebuke. In order words, the REC interpretation implies that it is sin to accept God’s will, that it is sin to accept the Bible. It is an attack on the authority of God and the inerrancy of Scripture.
Third, John writes, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). So God’s will is important to prayer. But John does not tell you to say it, as in, “God, if this is according to your will, give me this.” He tells you to do it — you should pray according to his will. He says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him” (v. 14-15). Many people would pray, “God, do this if it is your will,” and then if it happens, they would think it is God’s will. On the other hand, John says we can know that something is God’s will before we pray, so that we can approach him with confidence as we pray, and as we ask for something that we know is in line with God’s will, we can know that we have what we ask. Here there is no “if” when it comes to God’s will — you know before you ask, and because you know as you ask, you know that you have what you ask.
This contradicts many people’s theology and practice of prayer. The REC makes God’s will a basis for doubt, appealing to a secret will in God that they do not know, but the WOF makes God’s will a basis for faith, appealing to a revealed will that they learned from Scripture. As Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). Since this is exactly the WOF doctrine, the WOF is right, and the others are wrong. Unless you are making a prayer of dedication, it is often wrong to pray “if it is your will,” as if you do not already know his will. In a prayer of petition, it can be an indication of unbelief and rebellion.
When you came to Christ, how come you did not pray, “God, I am a sinner. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and he came to this earth to die for sinners. If it is your will, save me, but if not, let me burn in hell”? Now when you sin, how come you do not pray, “God, I have sinned. If it is your will, forgive me, but if it is not, then revoke my salvation and damn me to hell.” How come? Because you know Jesus already suffered for your sins and paid for your forgiveness. God tells you this in his word. You knew God’s will before you asked, and you received by faith. Well, Jesus paid for a whole lot of other things, and God also tells you about them in his word. Why don’t you find out about them instead of attacking other Christians who take advantage of these benefits?
The WOF is correct on Mark 11:23 and the REC is wrong, if you can even get the REC to talk about it.
And Matthew 17:20. And Matthew 21:21. And Luke 17:6.
You can make up funny labels for it. You can call it “name it and claim it.” You can mock it, and mock it, and mock it. Jesus still said what he said. And he meant what his words meant. You can criticize what the WOF infer from them, add to them, or build around them, but if any of your jeers so much as scratches those verses, you are attacking Jesus himself.
And that’s not funny.
Once Scripture becomes collateral damage — and it always does when the REC attacks, because they are really using the WOF as a pretext to move against Christ — the greater guilt falls on the heresy hunters. When that happens, it is better to drop your weapons and “name and claim” the forgiveness that you know belongs to you through the blood of Christ. This is one reason I am so harsh with the REC. They are flying their plane straight into a mountain, and they are too stupid to know or too stubborn to care. Some people even make it their profession to commit spiritual suicide.
Oh, you better name it and claim it!
Now, it is wrong to say that our words in themselves contain the power to go out and make things happen. Although their general teaching is correct, this particular detail is a false inference from some of the verses they use. Without dealing with these, we can instead illustrate the truth by one passage:
On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: “O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a man. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:12-14)
Note: “There has never been a day like it before or since” (v. 14) does not mean that no miracle like this or greater than this has happened or can happen after Joshua. It only says that no miracle like this happened again up to the time of the writing of this verse.
Verse 12 is one of the clearest examples of a teaching like Mark 11:23. Although Joshua’s statement addressed only the sun and moon, the verse says that he spoke to the Lord. And verse 14 says it happened because the Lord listened and carried out the words, not that the words themselves went forth and fulfilled themselves. Therefore, the command of faith is merely one form of prayer, spoken in faith before God. This makes Mark 11:23 come into harmony with Mark 11:22 and 24.
As a side point, Joshua 10 makes the REC total criminals when it comes to their position on the “greater works,” or works greater than those Jesus performed (John 14:12). It is arguable that Joshua already performed greater works than Jesus did, or at least the same works. Elijah and Elisha also raised the dead. It is stupid to be nervous about the greater works, because they are all the works of God, not the works of men. The REC has their eyes on men, and so the greater works become a problem. Their eyes are fixed on men, and they cannot see how men can perform greater works than God. However, I see God working miracles with Moses, God working miracles with Elijah, God working miracles with Jesus, with the apostles, and with us. God performs miracles at certain times greater than the ones he performs at other times.
What the John MacArthur is wrong with this?! God receives all the glory. But no, you have to explain it all away. So you cannot do greater works, you cannot do even the same works, you pretty much cannot do any works. You cannot move mountains, unless we are talking about your ever-increasing pew-splitting behind. And forget about moving trees, because even the bushes are slapping you around. This is our Christianity now. This is, you tell us, better. This is resurrection power! This is Christ ruling on the throne! Hallelujah!
Some of the WOF seem to think that it is better or even necessary to speak in faith only in the present or past tense. Again, Jesus offers the best example. He went to a dead girl and said to the people, “Stop wailing. She is not dead but asleep” (Luke 8:52). Then, the Bible says, “They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead” (v. 53). The girl was indeed dead. His “faith confession,” to use the WOF expression, was not only positive, as in “She shall live” or “She is asleep,” but he denied the present reality and said, “She is not dead.” He was not using sleep as a metaphor or a cultural expression for death, since he explicitly denied that she was dead, and because the mourners laughed at him. They understood him to mean sleep, not death.
When Lazarus had died, Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (John 11:11). They really thought that he was only sleeping, so they said, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better” (v. 12). So Jesus explained, “Lazarus is dead” (v. 14). This exchange tells us several things. First, Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead. By the time he arrived, Lazarus would have been dead for days. Thus he was literally denying the reality. Second, when Jesus said that Lazarus was asleep, he did not intend it as a metaphor for death. His disciples understood him to mean that Lazarus was merely sleeping. This prompted him to change his statement to say that Lazarus was dead. Again, this shows that he was literally denying the reality. Third, when Jesus needed to clarify the situation, he was not afraid to acknowledge the natural reality, that Lazarus was dead. He was not worried that this would nullify the miracle. In other words, although he denied the reality, he also freely acknowledged it when needed. Fourth, Jesus did not think of his words as things that possessed independent power — independent of his person and intent — once they were spoken. Otherwise, he would not have changed his statement from saying that Lazarus was merely asleep to that he was dead.
The first and second points are consistent with WOF doctrine, but the third and fourth points contradict at least some teachers and practitioners of WOF doctrine. The WOF should learn that one does not necessarily doom the situation by speaking according to the natural circumstances, and that words are not things that possess independent being and power once spoken. That said, there is no biblical justification to fault a Christian who claims healing by saying, “I am not sick. I am healed.” (I have addressed the matter of medication in another place. Briefly, healing comes not because we take away something, but because we add something. But I wish to stay on topic here.) Nevertheless, he should do this only if he truly believes it on the basis of the word of God, and the sickness should indeed leave — what he says should actually happen. Otherwise, it is not faith, but presumption. There is no power in simply going through the motions, but there are many people who identify with the WOF who operate on this level. They do not believe any of it. Their words and actions do not naturally proceed from faith in their hearts. They are mechanically performing what they have been taught. The doctrine is not wrong. These people are wrong.
Faith is expressed in a command. Faith is expressed in a present or past tense statement, even in contradiction to reality, not as a way to deceive, but as a form of prayer to alter reality — performed by God, not by the words themselves. And it is fine to speak according to the present reality when it is needed to eliminate confusion. In some circles, this is a bizarre discussion, because the people never speak in faith. Faith itself is foreign to them. Thus they think it must be heresy. In any case, it is certainly not wrong to express faith as a command, or as a present or past tense statement. If it is a natural expression of your faith in a given instance, then speak accordingly, as a form of prayer.
Faith can also be expressed in a future tense statement, although the WOF is often wary of this. This is partly because they think that the words themselves create or alter reality, so that a future tense statement and the repetition of a future tense statement would indefinitely delay its realization. This would also apply to a prayer of petition. Instead of receiving by faith, the future tense keeps pushing the fulfillment into the future, and “tomorrow never comes.” Instead of an expression of faith, it is probably an expression of wishful thinking.
The reasoning is understandable, but not entirely sound. First, a faith statement is only a form of prayer. The words themselves do not go forth to create or alter reality; rather, when our prayers are so full of certainty that they are spoken as a statement of fact or command, God hears and honors them. He performs the work. Second, although the literal meaning of the statement matters, the intention of the heart also counts. Let us take an illustration from Mark 11. When Jesus cursed the fig tree, he said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (v. 14). He did not specify how this would happen, and for the tree to wither up was not the only way the statement could be fulfilled. Another way would be for humanity to perish, so that no one could eat from the tree again. Evidently Jesus meant to destroy the tree, not all of mankind, when he spoke the statement, and the intention determined the manner of fulfillment.
Therefore, although it is true that a future tense statement might be selected because of a lack of faith, this is not necessarily the case. One can make a future tense statement by faith with an intention that does not suggest mere wishful thinking or an indefinite delay. Perhaps it is just a more natural way to express his faith on that occasion, and he fully expects what he says to happen.
The WOF frowns upon certain types of repetition, especially prayers in the form of requests and future tense statements. It seems that if you ask God for something the second time, it implies that you did not believe when you asked him the first time. This reasoning would be correct given WOF assumptions, but their assumptions are not completely correct.
In my encounters, most of the people who identify with the WOF do not in fact grasp their teachings, and they do not practice them, or they practice only the mechanics, and usually not in the way taught by the WOF. In such cases, any failure cannot be used as evidence against WOF doctrine. However, since we are a culture of slanderers, these are pretty much the only kind of cases cited against the WOF. A recent one describes a woman who refused medication and died. Some examples are cited in which WOF teachers criticize medical science, but I have heard medical doctors make the same criticisms. The reality is that medicine is not omnipotent, but God is: “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse” (Mark 5:26). Do you know how many people have died under medical science, sometimes because of medical science and not in spite of it? For some reason, if you die trusting medicine, it is a tragedy, but if you die trusting God, it is heresy. Hypocrite.
They found that the woman wrote in her journal: “God heal me. God heal me. God heal me.” But she withered away and died. This is supposed to invoke indignation against the WOF. However, what the woman did was precisely what the WOF says could get a person killed. According to the WOF, you are supposed to know God’s word on the matter, and then receive by faith. You are supposed to take it. There is no indication that the woman ever took anything by faith. It was all wishful thinking. She did not do what the WOF taught. So whether the WOF is right or wrong, an anecdote like this cannot be cited against them or their doctrine. A person could repeat, “God forgive me. God forgive me. God forgive me.” There is no faith there, but only a worldly sorrow that leads to death. He is supposed to believe in the blood of Christ, and receive his forgiveness by faith. We should not even make up charges against the devil. If he is so bad, you would not need to make things up to discredit him. When the REC resorts to slander, they have joined forces with Satan, the father of lies, and they are no longer in position to criticize anyone.
Again, prayer cannot be judged only by the outward mechanics, but the intention of the heart counts. Repetition can come from unbelief, and indeed for most people it does, but it can come from faith. Jesus also spoke against meaningless and mechanical repetition, but repetition is not always meaningless and mechanical. Elijah offers one example that illustrates how faith can be consistent with repetition. James refers to him as an example of praying with faith, and also applies it to healing (James 5:17-18). He prayed repeatedly, and seven times he told his servant to go back and check for rain. Then he stopped when there was an indication of rain (1 Kings 18:41-44).
So asking for something repeatedly and checking if it is coming does not always suggest a lack of faith, but it can be an expression of faith in that the person keeps on believing instead of giving up. Elijah kept praying, but look what he was praying for! Elijah kept checking, but look what he was checking for! He expected a miracle of nature that overturned a weather condition that had lasted for more than three years. Even before he prayed, he said to the king, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain” (1 Kings 18:41). No one can accuse him of unbelief. He fully expected it to happen, and his persistent prayer was his expression of faith.
Jesus wondered if he would find faith on earth when he comes, and there he referred to a woman who persisted with a judge to hear her case (Luke 18:1-8). This is faith — keep asking, never giving up, and expecting God to perform what you ask, even if it takes a miracle. Faith is not crippled by the mechanics of expression. As long as the expression comes from certainty, and not chosen to mask unbelief, there is some freedom in the form that it takes.