Listening to Word of Faith movement preachers talk, an uninformed Christian might think they have been missing out on some great secret all their life.
In fact, many Word of Faith (WOF) beliefs bear more resemblance to the New Age bestseller The Secret than to the Bible. It's no stretch to substitute WOF's "positive confession" with The Secret's affirmations, or the Word of Faith idea that humans are "little gods" with the New Age notion that humans are divine.
The Word of Faith movement, commonly known as "name it and claim it," "the prosperity gospel," or the "health and wealth gospel" is preached by several television evangelists. In a nutshell, the prosperity gospel says God wants his people to be healthy, wealthy, and happy all the time.
Word of Faith Movement Founders
Evangelist E.W. Kenyon (1867-1948) is considered by many to be the founder of Word of Faith teaching. He began his career as a Methodist minister but later moved into Pentecostalism. Researchers disagree on whether Kenyon was influenced by Gnosticism and New Thought, a belief system that holds God will grant health and success.
Most scholars agree, however, that Kenyon was an influence on Kenneth Hagin Sr., often called the father or "granddaddy" of the Word of Faith movement. Hagin (1917-2003) believed that it is God's will that believers would always be in good health, financially successful, and happy.
Hagin, in turn, was an influence on Kenneth Copeland, who worked briefly as a co-pilot for TV evangelist Oral Roberts. Roberts' healing ministry promoted "seed faith": "Have a need? Plant a seed." The seeds were cash donations to Roberts' organization. Copeland and his wife Gloria founded Kenneth Copeland Ministries in 1967, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Word of Faith Movement Spreads
While Copeland is considered the leader in the Word of Faith movement, a close second is TV evangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn, whose ministry is located in Grapevine, Texas. Hinn began preaching in Canada in 1974, starting his daily television broadcasts in 1990.
The Word of Faith movement got a major boost starting in 1973 with the founding of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, headquartered in Santa Ana, California. The world's largest Christian television network, TBN airs a variety of Christian programming but has embraced Word of Faith.
Trinity Broadcasting Network is carried on over 5,000 TV stations, 33 international satellites, the Internet, and cable systems all over the globe. Every day, TBN takes Word of Faith broadcasts into the United States, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, India, Indonesia, southeast Asia, and South America.
In Africa, Word of Faith is sweeping the continent. Christianity Today estimates that more than 147 million of Africa's 890 million people are "renewalists", Pentecostals or charismatics who believe the health and wealth gospel. Sociologists say the message of money, cars, houses and the good life is almost irresistible to poor and oppressed audiences.
In the U.S., the Word of Faith movement and the prosperity gospel have spread like wildfire through the African-American community. Preachers T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and Frederick K.C. Price all pastor black megachurches and urge their flocks to think right to get their monetary and health needs met.
Some African-American pastors are worried about the Word of Faith movement. Lance Lewis, pastor of Christ Liberation Fellowship Presbyterian Church in America, in Philadelphia, said, "When people see that the prosperity gospel doesn't work they may reject God altogether."
Word of Faith Movement Preachers Questioned
As religious organizations, Word of Faith ministries are exempt from filing Form 990 with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. In 2007, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, (R-Iowa), a member of the Finance Committee, sent letters to six Word of Faith ministries about complaints he had received regarding nonindependent boards and ministers' lavish lifestyles. The ministries were:
- Benny Hinn Ministries; Grapevine, Texas; Benny Hinn;
- Kenneth Copeland Ministries; Newark, Texas; Kenneth and Gloria Copeland;
- Joyce Meyer Ministries; Fenton, Missouri; Joyce and David Meyer;
- Bishop Eddie Long Ministries; Lithonia, Georgia; Bishop Eddie L. Long;
- Without Walls International Church; Tampa, Florida; Paula and Randy White;
- Creflo Dollar Ministries; College Park, Georgia; Creflo and Taffi Dollar.
In 2009, Grassley said, "Joyce Meyer Ministries and Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church provided extensive answers to all questions in a series of submissions. Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church, Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church/Eddie L. Long Ministries, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries have submitted incomplete responses. Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries declined to provide any of the requested information."
Grassley concluded his investigation in 2011 with a 61-page report, but said the committee did not have time or resources to issue subpoenas. He asked the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability to study the problems raised in the report and make recommendations.