Believer’s authority – Part 1

A critical examination of the doctrine of “the believer’s authority” as taught by Kenneth Hagin in his book of the same title.

Kenneth E Hagin is often referred to as the father of the “Word of Faith” movement – a particular brand of the ‘health and wealth’ or ‘prosperity’ “gospel” – and I would submit to the reader that his definitive manifesto, if you will, was “The Believer’s Authority.”

If not in all cases, it is certainly within my personal experience with “Faith” people that the doctrines espoused within Hagin’s book are key and essential to these people’s very religion.

And so, in providing this examination and criticism of the book, I hope to prevent others from falling into the “Word of Faith” trap, and perhaps offer a light to help those who are already adherents a way out of that cloud and mire.

First, before addressing specific passages of Scripture quoted and statements made in the book, the reader must understand that, like all authors, there are a very many assumptions and presuppositions within what Hagin wrote. In reading anything – even my own words here – I urge the reader to think critically about the content of words and utilize what ever learning they have and resources at their disposal to test what they read. Just because someone makes a statement using a quote from something before it and then using similar language, does not mean their argument stems from or is consistent with what they quoted.

Secondly, if a teacher encourages verbal repetition and memorization or adjustment of a portion of Scripture with no emphasis toward critical thinking and study, be very wary of that teacher. For instance, in the first chapter (page 11) of the “Believer’s Authority” Hagin tells about how he “personalized” the prayers of Paul in Ephesians 1:16-20 & 3:14-19 to “pray” them for himself over and over again – and encourages the reader to do so, without giving any Scriptural basis or reason for doing so… I might point out that the words of our Lord in Matthew 6:7 came to mind as I read this account and suggestion.

Finally the reader should always have this question as a base to examine an idea that is presented to them: is the focus and goal of this idea to glorify God, or to puff up mankind?

And with that we shall begin the Foreword of “the Believer’s Authority” (I am using a PDF of the book that I found online – according to the file it is the “Second Edition – Twenty-Second Printing 1996. ISBN 0-89276-406-6”

The Assumptions of the Foreword

Right from the outset, Hagin gives us the unorthodox and man-centered assumption that he presumably will prove throughout the course of the book; that is that “believers” have some form of undefined, supernatural “authority” given them to use on earth, a power of which they have been failing to take advantage.

He gives us this assumption clearly not only in the foreword of the book, but in the very first sentence; “Back in the 1940s, I asked myself the question, “Do we have authority that we don’t know about – that we haven’t discovered – that we’re not using?””

May I suggest to the reader that this is never how you should approach the Religion of God? Starting with a question that didn’t even come from Holy Writ is dangerous territory to dabble in – the Scriptures should never be approached with a presupposing request for information on a topic it may very well never address.

Now the concept of “authority” is addressed in the Bible, but again, that doesn’t mean we approach the text with a question that presupposes something, because that opens the door to a plethora of misinterpretations.

Which leads to my next thought on the Foreword. Hagin then mentions that he did “word studies” on “power” and “authority,” another questionable and ill-advised tactic that often ends in the “studier” just finding the answers their question assumes – especially when they have no grounding in or understanding of the cultures or languages the original manuscripts of the Scriptures were written in.

In short, the assumptions of Hagin’s book are clear and manifest in the Foreword. The reader’s first questions should be, “why ask this question?” and, “is there even Biblical warrant for it?”

Chapter 1: the Prayers of Paul

In his introduction to chapter 1 Hagin tells us that his book is based on Ephesians, but he only encourages us to read (repetitively) the first three chapters of the Biblical text (pg 9). (I would encourage the reader to read the entirety of the Epistle, if they would like to follow in depth.)

Then he goes on to point out Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians in the first three chapters of the Epistle, at which point he writes “the turning point in my life came when I prayed these prayers for myself more than a thousand times.“(pg 10, italics original)

His subsequent explanation of that I have already addressed where it comes to the vain repetition, however, the reader’s other concern should be that Hagin seems to have a very twisted understanding of what Paul actually meant by what he prayed. But Hagin doesn’t even bother to explain to the reader what he believes Paul means or why he believes it.

We are given a pretty good indication of the vague, superpowerish view Hagin has of some of the things Paul prayed for by his statement in the last paragraph of page 10 when he writes “the spirit of revelation began to function!”

His following proclamation of “I began to see things in the Bible I had never seen before”(pg 10) and his declaration that he “grew spiritually” more in six months than he had “14 years as a minister”(pg 11) does not help me trust that he suddenly gained a “better” understanding of Scripture. Especially not when almost immediately after quotes himself as saying to his wife, “I was so ignorant of the Bible…”(of 11); his ignorance is plain from his view and use of the text of Scripture.

The verse he works these claims, quotes/paraphrasing, and conclusions from, in context is this (I have emphasized the phrase Hagin pulled from the text)

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:15-21 (ESV)

From reading the passage in its entirety it becomes obvious that the “spirit of revelation” mentioned in verse 17 is one in the same with the “spirit of wisdom” – and, regardless of what you think this “spirit” actually is, it is obviously that it’s primary purpose is to grant knowledge and confidence or hope in who God is. The entire idea that Paul lays out in verse 18 and following is the awesome greatness of God the Father in His glory, who has granted us salvation and relationship/peace with Him through Jesus Christ.

The fact that Hagin just rips “the spirit of revelation” out of that context to claim some kind of “new” ability to “see things” in the text for himself just indicates to me that Hagin never had or gained a proper understanding of Scripture…

I will return to this subject later, for now I will leave the reader to consider the thoughts and questions posed this far.

~ J D White

More on Positive Confession

In hope of helping the reader study and guard themselves against “positive confession” I thought I’d share a couple helpful articles/videos that were helpful to me…

The Christian Research Institute has a lengthy and good article presenting the mistaken assumptions and ideas used to promote positive confession and refuting them with careful observations from Scripture – http://www.equip.org/article/positive-confession/

And last would be Justin Peters’ Clouds Without Water seminar (previously titled “A Call for Discernment”). This is a well done seminar critiquing the Word of Faith movement from a Biblical perspective… although he does not spend a lot of time on positive confession, Mr. Peters does a good job of addressing other heretical doctrines that lead to and spring from it.

A Brief Examination of Positive Confession…

What is “positive confession?” Positive confession is one of THE key doctrines in the Word of Faith movement – also known as the “health and wealth” or “prosperity” gospel – and can be summed up thusly: it is essentially the doctrine of man’s ability to speak things(primarily circumstantial, relational, emotional, and/or physical) into existence – stated differently, it is the doctrine of man’s god-like ability to create and/or modify reality merely by the power of his spoken words.

Like many doctrines of false religion, this one has many forms and extents – depending on who’s teaching it – and it also touches upon many different concepts in its full consideration; however, for the sake of keeping this post fairly short, I will be addressing the purely verbal/spoken end of the doctrine.

Though there are quite a few passages in the Bible used by those who teach the doctrine, Proverbs 18:21 – in my experience – is the most often quoted “go-to text” by those who assume the doctrine to be orthodox. I notice, however, that they rarely(if ever) quote the last half of the verse. Indeed, if my experience with those who quote it for this purpose were any gauge, one would assume there was no “other half.”

It is almost funny how often just going one or two verses back or ahead will undercut the misinterpretation of those who teach that this has anything to do with the supernatural “power” of a human being’s words. For instance, verses 19 & 20 seem to be in the same vein and are entirely ‘relational’ in nature. Nothing metaphysical or supernatural is implied. So why assume so in verse 21?

NOTE: the same principle is suggested in Proverbs 12:12-20 – and I would point the reader to the context of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:36-37… also, the reader of the Book of Proverbs should always keep in mind that it is not the same form of literature as is found in the Old Testament Prophets or the New Testament Epistles, etc…

James 3:6 is a close runner-up I’ve heard used to teach positive confession. The context, however, would again indicate a primarily ‘relational’ concept.The god-like ability to “speak things into reality” can be nowhere accurately drawn from these passages of Scripture – the idea must be forced upon them; or they must be ripped and twisted out of context to even get there.

The strongest argument (meaning non-Olympian level eisegesis) for the doctrine I have heard made from Mark 11:22-24. However, positive confessors seem to miss the fact that Jesus here is primarily speaking of prayer. The context itself also precludes inserting any form of constant, non-God-commanded, daily speech being full of “power,” idea.

NOTE: see also James 4 for a good idea of how the apostles took and practically applied Jesus’ teaching later on…

Obviously this doctrine is quite a bit more complex (as is it’s refutation) and pervasive in the worldview of it’s adherents than has been drawn out here, but, again, for the sake of brevity I’ll leave the reader to ponder and study further on their own.

I hope this was interesting and/or helpful.

“If/Then” Statements in Relation to the Nature of God

My theological knowledge that was more orthodox than heretical began to develop in leaps and bounds around the age of 20 (I have no specific “conversion” memory, so I have no specific year to point at – let alone day) when I began to seriously study and read through whole books of the Bible in one sitting. That said, the idea that I am about to argue for was only a seed in my mind that wasn’t articulated until discussing origins theories with (at the time) my soon to be wife – so I will mostly be framing this concept within that realm.

This may come as a shock (or mild surprise) to some readers, but in my experience there are three groups of thought on origins theories within the Church (I.e. True believers disagree on which theory is the most Biblical). Those groups are “Young-Earth Creationists,” “Old-Earth Creationists,” and “Theistic Evolutionists” (I’ve heard Hugh Ross recently tossing around “young universe” etc. but as far as I know these terms are still widely used, so I’ll stick with them). Neither my wife or I find evolution to be a valid theory on any basis, so I will mostly be speaking in terms of the other two – also, both the former views tend to shy away from evolution as a validly scientific theory.

The names pretty much speak for themselves so I will not here go into more detail than this; Young-Earthers believe in a literal, 24-hour interpretation of Genesis 1 and a global flood, while Old-Earthers take a slightly less “literal” approach to Genesis 1 (thus allowing for about fourteen-billion years as opposed to ten-thousand for the age of the universe), and they believe in a “local” (but HUGE) flood…

That said, some groups in the Church are incredibly passionate about this topic and there has unfortunately developed a quite aggressive mindset among some in debating it. Though my wife and I have quite a few thoughts on what many Christians do wrong (and right) in this debate among brethren, one thing has always stood out to both of us as an essential that both sides SHOULD agree on; and that is this matter of “if/then” statements about God.

It has seemed to us that Young-Earth advocates seem to make this mistake more often than others in that many of them will make negative statements about God having been “wasteful” or “evil/sadistic” if He allowed or caused death and/or sickness to exist before the Fall of Man. However, I have also encountered Old-Earth advocates making negative statements about God being “deceptive” if the earth is young(thousands of years) because it looks old(millions of years)…

As the wise, unbiased, God-fearing reader will already know, even a hypothetical statement claiming that God is “bad” in any of those ways indicated above is an utter blasphemy that should never even cross a Christian’s mind, let alone his lips!

It shocks me how many professing to know and follow Christ do not seem to grasp this basic concept: God is the very DEFINITION of “Good.” (Revelation 4:8, Job 38-40, Isaiah 45:5-10, Psalm 24, Psalm 50, Colossians 1:16-17, etc.) As the Maker and Sustainer of all things He is the only being that can dictate “right and wrong,” define “good or bad.” And anything or anyone who rejects His Rules and/or Definitions is the very epitome of Evil.

The very expression “God is Holy, Holy, Holy,” is an acknowledgment of the fact that He is completely OTHER from His creation; He is SEPARATE in every meaning of the word as far as existence and/or being are concerned. Thus it is an absolute and obscene absurdity for any mere creature to pretend to be able to say something God does is “wrong” on any level!

So how should this effect our thoughts? Like so – if God deems it good/necessary to afflict the righteous or the wicked with a disease, then He is Good. If God decides to send a hurricane upon a continent, killing thousands of people and upsetting the lives of many more, He is Good. If God preserves the life of a child but gives it an intense disability, He is Good. So on and so forth, no need to explain His motives or reasons.

However, He HAS explained His reasons and motives to us in Scripture; He seeks to glorify Himself in Judging the wicked and unrepentant, and in showing Grace to a people for Himself. (Isaiah 45:5-10, Job 38-40, Psalm 50, Ezekiel 36:22-32, Exodus 4:11, Colossians 1:13-20, Romans, etc.)

Many will not like my implications that God is the source of calamity, disease, or any other thing that is not necessarily “good” for a person as people perceive it – but if they do not, that is merely because they have a sub-biblical view of God.

So, coming to a simple summary of my topic to close; God, as He IS and as He ACTS, is the VERY ESSENCE of what is Good, Right, and Perfect, and He dictates what is considered as such in His interactions with His creation, and in His creatures’ interactions with Him.

Life Altering Books

I thank God for books, and try to read as many as I can. It is partly through books (extra-biblical and Biblical) that He saved me.
My wife suggested that for my next post I list and talk about some of the more influential/helpful books that I have read… And that is pretty much what is pictured above.

The first book that truly shook me to my core was The Holiness of God by R C Sproul. I peruse the book now and find the principles taught within it so foundational and simply primary to what the Bible teaches – but when I first read the book, around the age of 19 or 20, I had hardly ever heard the word “holiness” explained, let alone heard it expounded and taught as an essential of God’s nature. My almost constant reaction as I went to reference after reference of Scripture that the book pointed to was a jaw dropped in astonishment at how much of the Bible I was completely ignorant about. Though I have no “conversion story” that could indicate a time and place in which God saved me, I would almost be willing to bet that it was in the course of reading this book that He did.

Having soaked up so much profound truth from that book, I sought out more by R C Sproul at the library I frequented and came across the title Surprised by Suffering – and again God used Mr. Sproul to open my eyes to a gaping hole in my knowledge and understanding of Scripture.

Here I should probably note that my memory on the separation of time between reading the books in this list is a little hazy, because at that point in my life I was always reading several books at a time, and it was around this point that I began to listen to at least three sermons a day that I found online – this was possible because I had no job and only attended a trade school two days out of the week, so I was in my room studying for vast amounts of time.

All that to say I’m not sure if I found A W Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy because I heard it quoted in a sermon or read it quoted in a book. Regardless, I’m fairly certain I read it fairly soon after Mr. Sproul’s work, and found it incredibly helpful and thought-provoking. Although Tozer rarely actually quotes Scripture and deals more with conceptual application, his way of thinking, I believe, is very convicting and helpful for breaking one of any form of mental stupor they might have fallen into.

Again, I’m not sure how I found J I Packer’s Knowing God, but it was extremely helpful in continuing my study of theology in the Bible.

Throughout the course of reading, studying, and listening to sermons, I had heard many people mention and quote a man by the name of John Piper – enter God is the Gospel and Don’t Waste Your Life. I had actually looked up and listened to quite a few hours of Mr. Piper’s preaching through the Desiring God website before I found and read these books (I think). But they were incredibly thought-provoking and convicting on their own particular topics.

I heard about Voddie Baucham and his book Family Driven Faith (which I’ve always thought would have been better titled “Faith Driven Family” 😉 from a good friend at the trade school I was attending at the time. I subsequently added his itinerant and pastoral preaching to my list of things I listened to regularly, and have also read nearly all of his other books since then.

Radical by David Platt, was incredibly helpful and influential in helping me to see the way our culture was effecting Christians’ practice of their religion – and it was supposed to, ‘cuz the book’s subtitle is: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.

Another impactful book I would add to this list is The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a book that I would almost recommend that every Christian read at least once.

Finally – just because this article has already gotten way longer than intended, and I have to stop somewhere – I heard Paul Washer highly recommend The Exemplary Husband by Stuart Scott on numerous occasions and so eventually bought the book. I found it to be one of the best books aimed specifically at husbands and their duties that I have ever read.

Well, I could add a LOT more to that list – considering that I think I read more than a hundred books in the three+ years following my discovery of The Holiness of God – but again, I need to conclude somewhere; and not everyone has the kind of time to read that I did then and still spend sufficient time in Scripture.

So I will close with an acknowledgement of the sufficiency of Holy Writ, and a reminder to myself and others that – though wide reading is good and necessary for developing the brains God gave us – disciples of Christ must hold Scripture as the highest standard and be students of God’s Word above and before anything else.