THE WORD-FAITH MOVEMENT
WOLVES IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING
By: Victor T. Stephens
"For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears." (Acts 20:29-31)
The Demotion of God
After Word-Faith teachers deify man, they climb even higher on the ladder of blasphemy by having the temerity to demote God. Let's look at the following verse:
"Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand." (Isaiah 40:12)
Referencing this verse, Kenneth Copeland claims that God is someone:
"very much like you and me.... A being that stands somewhere around 6'2" to 6'3", that weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of hundred pounds, little better; and has a (hand) span nine inches across." (Kenneth Copeland, "Spirit, Soul, and Body", audio tape, 1985)
Benny Hinn resounds:
"What was the appearance of God the Father? Like that of a man.... God has the likeness of fingers and hands and a face." (Benny Hinn, "Good Morning Holy Spirit", 1991, Page 82)
Since God is Spirit (John 4:24), Copeland and Hinn should be aware that Isaiah 40:12 is a figurative rendition rather than a literal interpretation. Failing to acknowledge their error, they have purposely misrepresented God by demoting Him into the image of man. This is plainly another tactical scheme designed by Word-Faith teachers to position God and man on equal status. To demote God by prescribing physical attributes to Him is a very serious challenge against the Lord and to the body of Christ. With that in mind, it should be questioned if Word-Faith teachers are referring to the God of the Bible or a false god they have fashioned in their own minds. If you believe such a charge is unwarranted, consider the following statements by Kenneth Copeland:
"I was shocked when I found out who the biggest failure in the Bible actually is. Everybody you ask, 'Who's the biggest failure?' They say, 'Judas'; somebody else will say, 'No, I believe it was Adam'; 'well what about the devil?' He's the most consistent failure. But he's not the biggest in terms of material failure and so forth. The biggest one (failure) in all the Bible is God. (Kenneth Copeland, TBN, April 1988)
For Copeland to demote God by alleging that He is the "biggest failure in all the Bible" is blasphemy of a higher order. The Bible clearly states that God is omnipotent and insusceptible to failure (Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Matthew 19:26).
In the disordered vanity of their own minds (2 Peter 2:13), statements of this nature echoed by Copeland and others are conveniently attributed as "new revelations" in spite of the fact that their claims are obviously unbiblical. If there is any veracity to Copeland's "new revelation" knowledge, it is solely because the Word-Faith camp does indeed worship a false god; for The God of the Bible never fails!
God's people should be cognizant of the fact that the atonement of Christ, the deity of Christ, and the sinless life of Christ are denied and assaulted by every cult and pseudo religion. Some of these false religions include Islam, Hinduism, and Jehovah Witness. Following on the same dangerous path, the atonement of Christ is another doctrine that Word-Faith teachers have iniquitously denied and modified to their own imaginations. According to Word- Faith theology, the sacrificial work on the cross by Jesus was insufficient to atone for the sins of mankind. Attempting to establish the argument that Christ died spiritually, became sin, was abandoned by the Father, and suffered in hell for three days, proponents of Word-Faith theology allude to and misconstrue the following passages.
"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matt. 12:40)
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46)
So when Jesus received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
(2 Cor. 5:21)
(Now this, "He ascended" -- what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) [Eph. 4:9-10]
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water." (1 Peter 3:18-20)
Word-Faith proponents have used these verses to formulate a variant doctrine --- a "reenacted gospel" that includes the inefficiency of Christ's blood alone to atone for the sins of mankind; the spiritual death of Christ; and salvation being concluded in the torments of hell. Consider the claims of Fred Price:
"Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into hell itself and to serve time in hell separated from God."
(Fred Price, "Ever Increasing Faith Messenger", June 1980)
Price's statements that rejects the cross --- insinuating that the thieves could pay the penalty for sin, is absolutely ridiculous. If such delusive claims were not so "cheap", it could be regarded as amusing.
Price's allegation that Jesus' death on the cross was ineffectual for sin is a direct reflection of the philosophies of Mary Baker Eddy. In her book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures", Baker asserts:
"The material blood of Jesus was no more efficacious to cleanse from sin when it was shed upon 'the accursed tree' than when it was flowing in His veins."
According to Kenneth Copeland, Satan and his demons tortured Christ's:
"emaciated, poured out, little, wormy spirit." (Kenneth Copeland, "Believers Voice of Victory", April 1991).
Copeland later says:
"The Word of the living God went down into that pit of destruction and charged the spirit of Jesus with resurrection power! Suddenly His twisted, death-wracked spirit began to fill out and come back to life. He began to look like something the devil had never seen before. He was literally being reborn before the devil's eyes. He began to flex His spiritual muscles.... Jesus was born again-the first-born from the dead."
(Kenneth Copeland, "The Price of it All", Believer's Voice of Victory, September 1991)
As reported by Copeland, it was at this point that Jesus defeated Satan in hell, seized his keys and rose from hell on the third day. Thus, our salvation was not completed on the cross, but in hell. It was in hell that Jesus was tormented for our sins by Satan and his company of demons.
Now, there appears to be some misunderstandings about the meaning of Hell and who goes there. Therefore, before continuing with our analysis, let's establish for the record that hell consisted of various compartments. Contrary to the common presumption that hell was solely a place of torment for the unrighteous, there was also a section for the righteous. The area for the righteous was separated by a great impassable gulf from the latter region.
"The Hebrew people regarded Sheol (hell) as a place to which both the righteous and unrighteous go at death (Gen. 37:35, Ps. 9:17, Is. 38:10), a place where punishment is received and rewards are enjoyed."
("Illustrated Dictionary of The Bible", Herbert Lockyer, Sr., Page 979)
With that established fact, let's now examine the aforesaid scriptures which Word-Faith teachers use to argue their case for the atonement of Christ.
Analysis of Matthew 12:40 and Ephesians 4:9-10
In Matthew 12:40, Ephesians 4:9-10, the phrases "the heart of the earth" and "He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?" is in reference to a temporary section in hell (Sheol [Hebrew] / Hades [Greek]) known as "paradise". Paradise was the place where the righteous dead remained until after the death of Christ. It was a place of extraordinary blessedness and was regarded as "Abraham's Bosom" (Luke 16:22). Recall in Luke 23:43 that Jesus said to the thief on the cross, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." At Christ's ascension, He transported the righteous saints (including the thief) along with the region of paradise from the "lower parts of the earth" to Heaven; its current location (2 Cor. 12:2-4; Rev. 2:7).
Analysis of 1 Peter 3:18-20
This passage has brought some difficulty and confusion for some in the body of Christ. One popular perspective, which is also shared by Word-Faith teachers, is that during the three days Christ's body was in the tomb, Jesus went to Hell. When we look at 1 Peter 3:18-19, at first glance that angle appears to be a valid point of view. However, I do not support such a viewpoint.
Verses nineteen (19) and twenty (20) say "by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah ...." Notice that verse nineteen (19) says "by whom also He went and preached ...." This segment is alluding to the time of Noah when Jesus (in Spirit), through Noah, also preached .... Through Noah, Jesus was preaching God's Truth to the wicked people of that generation. When Jesus preaches to people, His primary goal is to bring them to repentance. Once a person/people die and enter Hell, it is then too late to repent. Hebrews 9:27 says,
"And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment ...." (Heb. 9:27)
Luke 16:26 says,
"And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us." (Luke 16:26, emphasis mine) See also Matthew 25:1-12.
Thus, clearly there is categorically no indication from Scripture that there is more than one opportunity for redemption following death. When using proper hermeneutical interpretation, no rendition should be enforced upon a difficult biblical passage which causes it clash with other clear text.
Now ... taking a step back, the people of Noah's generation were very wicked and rebellious when Christ preached to them through Noah. As a result, they suffered the results of their disobedience; and at death, went into Hell's prison. In 1 Peter 3:19, Peter is alluding to the spirits in prison at the then current time whom Jesus through Noah preached to during the time of Noah before their deaths. To put it another way, when Christ spoke through Noah and preached to those wicked people, they were living. However, at the date that Peter penned his letter, this generation of wicked people had long died, and their spirits were imprisoned in Hell. In essence, Peter was bringing two time periods together to portray one well-organized expression. Thus, this passage has no connection with the thought that Jesus went into the section of Hell for the unrighteous.
Analysis of Matthew 27:46 and 2 Corinthians 5:21
In reference to Matthew 27:46 and 2 Corinthians 5:21, Kenneth Copeland asserts:
"On the cross, Jesus was separated from the glory of God. He allowed Himself to be made sin for us, and He became obedient to death." (Kenneth Copeland, "The Power of His Resurrection")
"The righteousness of God was made to be sin. He accepted the sin nature of Satan in His own spirit. And at that moment that He did so He cried, 'My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?'"
(Kenneth Copeland, "What Happened From The Cross To The Throne.")
Factually, Jesus was never abandoned by God. In His humanity, Jesus cried these words of dereliction in fulfillment of the Psalmist's prophecy (Psalm 22:1). When God inflicted His wrath and judgment on Christ, like David, Jesus was experiencing a sense of abandonment rather than an actual disseverance. Psalm 22:24 clearly indicates this; and thus repudiates Copeland's belief that God abandoned Christ on the cross.
Further, Jesus did not become "sin for us" in the sense that He became a sinner and inherited the nature of Satan. The word "sin" in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is employed as a metonym. A "metonym is:
"a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. For instance, 'London,' as the capital of the United Kingdom, could be used as a metonym for its government", Source: Wikipedia.
T.J. Crawford states:
"there can be no doubt that the expression is metonymical, since it is impossible that Christ, or any other person, could be literally sin." (Thomas J. Crawford, The Doctrine of Holy Spirit Scripture Respecting the Atonement, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954)
The Word of God says that Jesus is God the Son; and He is changeless. Hebrews. 13:8 states:
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Heb. 13:8)
Although Jesus came to earth as a man, He still retained the attributes and nature of God. In order for Jesus to become sin, it would be necessary for Him to change in His nature ... which of course is contrary to Scripture. If Christ had become a sinner and acquired the nature of Satan as Copeland suggests, then it would seem reasonable that Jesus would need a savior. But, such speculation is unnecessary.
"Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin." (1 John 3:4-5)
Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:31 also disinherits Copeland's contention that Christ was made sin and "accepted the sin nature of Satan." In actuality, Jesus became the "likeness" of sin ...", "taking the rap" for us and bore the sins of mankind on the cross (Isaiah 53:12, Romans 8:3). However, He did not become defiled with mankind's sinful nature. It was on account that Jesus was a sin offering, eternally righteous and Holy without blemish (Heb. 9:14, 1 Peter 1:19) that qualified His sacrifice acceptable to God.
Although Christ was not a sinner, God substitutionally treated Him as though He were. Similarly, granting the fact that Christians are sinners, God treats them as though they were righteous. Using this concept of substitution, God inaugurated a restyling in the sinners' condition that delivers them from a state of isolation to a place of forgiveness and reconciliation. Thus, by way of Christ, God will display believers "faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." (Jude 24)
Analysis of John 19:30
In reference to John 19:30, Copeland claims:
"When Jesus cried, 'It is finished!' He was not speaking of the plan of redemption. There were still three days and nights to go through (In hell) before He went to the throne .... Jesus' death on the cross was only the beginning of the complete work of redemption." (Kenneth Copeland, "Jesus -- Our Lord of Glory", Believers Voice of Victory, April 1982)
Factually, when Jesus spoke the words, "It is finished!" He sacrificed Himself as a sin offering; bore our iniquities and paid the debt for our sins on the cross (Matt. 26:28; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:5-18). The single Greek word for "It is finished" is "tetelistai", which does not mean "It has just begun and will continue later", but rather is defined as "fulfilled", "completed" or "paid in full". The Bible does not denote any other incidents continuing thereafter which contributed to our salvation.
Continuing in their resistance to truth, it is argued by Word-Faith teachers that Jesus' closing words "It is finished" is referring to the termination of the Abrahamic covenant. There are no scripture references; however, which provides credence to this allegation. On the contrary, it was the Mosaic covenant with its sacrificial laws that was fulfilled by the atoning death of Christ (Matt. 5:17-19; Col. 2:13-14). The completion of Christ's work on the cross and the issuing in of the new covenant is made evident by the instantaneous splitting of the temple curtain (Mark 15:38).
The conclusion of Christ's work on the cross is also demonstrated in the account of Luke 23:46 where Jesus stated:
"Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit." (Luke 23:46)
There are no scripture passages in the Bible that indicate Jesus submitted His Spirit to Satan in hell. The truth of mankind's redemption is clearly seen on the cross, not in the unrighteous regions of hell as inferred by Copeland and other Word-Faith advocates.
"God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (Gal. 6:14).
Paul most certainly did not ever speak of a magnificent redemption achieved in hell. It was in the glory of the cross which he alluded to. The Bible has much to say regarding the atonement of Christ on the cross. The following scriptures references are particularly worth noting for study:
"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28)
"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace."
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." (Eph. 2:13)
"... in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:14)
"... and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross." (Col. 1:20)
"... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Peter 1:19)
"But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)
"Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." (Rom. 5:9)
"... how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:14)
"Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, ...." (Hebrews 10:19-20)
"Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate." (Heb. 13:12)
"... and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth."To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood," (Rev. 1:5)
"And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death." (Rev. 12:11)
Nothing is ever mentioned in the above scripture references or in any other place in the Bible where salvation was completed in hell. Word-Faith teachers misconstrue carefully selected passages of Scripture while ignoring other passages which clearly teach that believers are made righteous by Christ's physical death on the cross.
Word-Faith atonement theology is contrary to New Testament scriptures as well as the sacrificial system of the Old Testament model of substitutionary atonement. In the Old Testament model of substitutionary atonement, it was required that the animal sacrifice be perfect and holy. Any sort of defect would invalidate the animal. The animals selected for sin offerings were to be a bull, a goat, and a lamb (Lev. 4:3, 23, 32). According to Word-Faith theology, the sacrifice (Jesus) became imperfect (sin). Under the Old Testament sacrificial system, the animal sacrifice was perfect. According to Ron Rhodes:
"... the sacrificial animal did not thereby actually become sinful by nature; rather, sin was imputed to the animal and the animal acted as a sacrificial substitute." (Ron Rhodes, "What Does the Bible Say About…?", Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1997, Page 351)
The Word of God reveals that Christ's sacrifice was a proper substitutionary sin offering on account that it was a perfect and sinless. Peter refers to the Old Testament sacrificial system when he says:
"but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." (1 Peter 1:19)
For Word-Faith teachers to continually hold fast to this erroneous viewpoint that redemption was completed in hell are in effect saying that Christ was accursed (1 Cor. 12:3); and His work on the cross was imperfect. Such allegations are a dangerous charge of monumental proportion; and like a hazardous virus, should be quarantined from the body of Christ. Unless they repent, it is this type of heresy coupled with a doctrine of greed (more on that later) that may cast these revelators of a different gospel into the other region of hell for the wicked (Proverbs 21:6; Luke 16:19-26; 1 Cor. 1:18; Gal. 1:9-10; Rev. 3:15-22).