“Pentecostal” can be a pretty nebulous term. Folks who are involved in the UPC and similar Oneness denominations generally consider themselves to be the only Pentecostals, but there are many other groups who also use that label. For example, those who are a part of the Word of Faith movement would also describe themselves as Pentecostal… and some would also see themselves as the only true Pentecostals… or even the only true Christians.
Being a part of Word of Faith churches has not been a positive experience for me. The church that I had such a difficult time leaving — the one that I’ve written so much about in these pages — was a Word of Faith church.
Word of Faith isn’t a denomination; it describes anyone who believes certain things: prosperity, divine health & healing, and authority are common themes in WoF preaching. Just as in any other group or denomination, there’s a wide spectrum: some are more extreme than others, and those who take it to extremes can put themselves and others in danger.
Kenneth Hagin Sr. was considered the father of the modern WoF movement. He didn’t necessarily originate the doctrines that became the core of the WoF movement, many of those same ideas were already being taught others who never acheived the same level of prominence. But Hagin put the whole WoF package together in a way that no one else had before and promoted it very effectively. He had a compelling story of his own healing as a teenager, a healing he attributed to WoF doctrine.
These days, you’ll hear echoes of those teachings from countless ministers, even those who are part of mainstream denominations. Word of Faith influence is everywhere. You’ll hear it from the most popular preachers on TV. It’s a “feel-good” message that puts on a lot of emphasis on getting things for yourself: YOUR healing, YOUR victory, YOUR prosperity. It fits very well into American “me first” culture. It’s really all about controlling your life and your destiny, and who doesn’t want that?
WoF is sometimes called “name it and claim it” since that is the teaching that made them “famous.” Essentially, since God created the world and everything in it with His words, and since we are created in God’s image, we have the power to create with our words.
In other words… if you are sick, you never say that you are sick because saying that you are sick will make you worse. You always say that you are healed. The idea is that God’s people should ALWAYS be healthy, wealthy, and wise. If we don’t look and act and speak like we’re healthy, wealthy, and wise… then why would the world want to be like us?
To contrast WoF with UPC teaching, here’s an example:
In my UPC church, folks could talk about how sick they were. In fact, it wasn’t unusual to hear folks talking about how awful they felt or hear them go on about how tough things were for them. Then at the end, they’d wrap it up with “But praise God, I know I have the victory!” as a kinda verbal “get out of jail free” card. It was OK to talk the negative as long as you ended up on a positive. In WoF churches, that’s not an option. ANY negative speech automatically overpowers anything positive that you might say.
In the UPC, anything bad that happened to you could be blamed on the devil or “spiritual attack” or even persecution. In a WoF church, nothing bad could happen to you unless you gave the devil a foothold through your words. So if you were sick, it was your fault. If your family member died an untimely death, it was your fault. Your faith just wasn’t strong enough. You could have prevented it if only you were more spiritual.
In the more extreme forms of WoF teaching, these folks do not go to doctors or hospitals (or delay treatment until it is too late). They believe that God will heal them if they can just get their faith in line. They often live beyond their means because conspicuous consumption is a sign of God’s blessing, which is a sign that you must be a solid believer.
The authority teaching can also be dangerous. These folks are fond of saying “Touch not God’s anointed!” The pastor is the final authority in a church. No one under him has the right to challenge his decisions. If you are a member of the church, you are under his authority, even in matters that are not church related. Choice of spouse, friends, work, when and where to take a vacation… you are expected to consult the pastor on all these things.
Your salvation is constantly in jeopardy as well. If you didn’t feel saved, you probably lost your salvation somewhere. Since you are saved by your words, you can become unsaved by your words at any time. If you question the teachings of the movement… or worse, question your pastor… you’re probably no longer saved (if you even were in the first place). Leaving the “covering” of your church exposed you to any number of hazards, including the loss of your salvation.
That’s what I dealt with when I left my Word of Faith church.