A Different Gospel

Introduction:
Charismatics at the Crossroads

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

—Apostle Paul, Galatians 1:6–9, NASB

   

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than truth itself.

—Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1:2

 

After the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, the gospel he had entrusted to the church was quickly perverted. Paul warned of "a different gospel" in approximately A.D. 55, a mere 20 to 25 years after the resurrection of Jesus. In Galatians, Paul expresses amazement that the "distortion" of the gospel had taken place so "quickly."1 He also expresses anger that false teachers in the church were "hindering" and "disturbing" it with false doctrine (Gal. 5:7–12). The Galatians were in danger of "being severed from Christ" and "falling from grace" as the result of listening to these "teachers" (Gal. 5:4).

If the church in Galatia were the only example of this phenomenon, then perhaps it could be dismissed as an isolated incident. There are, however, numerous examples in the New Testament of this bitter conflict with false doctrine. Paul also warned the church of Ephesus that soon after his departure, "savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29, 30). These predators were all the more dangerous because they had infiltrated the Christian community and were doing their damage from within. Through their false teaching, they were attempting to lure sheep from the flock so as to prey upon them in isolation. The churches in Rome, Corinth, Colossae, Thessalonica, Philippi, Crete, and the Diaspora all show additional evidence of the struggle with false doctrine. We often think of the first-century church in very idealistic terms. But had it not been for these "different gospels," the New Testament as we know it today would never have been written.

Sadly, the struggle with false doctrine did not end with the writing of the New Testament. History attests to numerous "different gospels," and from the first century on these gospels have found a ready market in the church. The true and orthodox gospel of Jesus Christ has always had to compete with false doctrine for the hearts and minds of believers. In fact, it has often been said that "the history of theology is in large part a history of heresies."2 In other words, the struggle between heresy and orthodoxy has taken place in every century of church history. Each new generation of church leadership has had "to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (Tit. 1:9). We can thank God that we have centuries of historical orthodoxy to fall back on in this struggle, but the struggle itself continues.

This is no less true today. The twentieth-century Christian is faced with a plethora, a virtual "legion" of gospels. All of these are garbed in the most alluring of dress and call to the believer in the most seductive of whispers. As quoted above, Irenaeus, the great second-century defender of the faith against the heresy of gnosticism, warned that error is never put forward in a manner that exposes its grotesque deformities. Instead, it is packaged in outward adornment so appealing that it appears "more true than truth itself." The tremendous appeal of heresy is that it looks and sounds like the real thing! Consequently, the demarcation between heresy and orthodoxy is rarely clear cut. The most dangerous heresies lie in the gray area, a shadowy place of both light and darkness. These "different gospels" may vary in the particular doctrinal error they propagate, but all heresies have one thing in common: their threat to the church is directly proportionate to the degree in which they appear orthodox. The most dangerous of lies is not the bald-faced lie, for that is easily detected and rejected. A half-truth always does far more damage than a bald-faced lie.

Not only do different gospels look like the real thing, they sound like it as well. Another great defender of the faith, Walter Martin, "cult-buster" par excellence, says this of the ability of cults to mimic the gospel of Jesus:

    The student of cultism then, must be prepared to scale the language barrier of terminology. First, he must recognize that it does exist, and second, he must acknowledge the very real fact that unless terms are defined . . . the semantic jungle which the cults have created will envelop him, making difficult, if not impossible, a proper contrast between the teachings of the cults and those of orthodox Christianity.3

The most successful cults in the U.S. today use the same terminology, the same phraseology, and the same proof-texts as evangelical Christians. Dialogue with people trapped in these cults is all but impossible because both sides use the very same terms with radically different meanings. Until terms are defined, any differentiation between cultic teachings and orthodox Christianity is an exercise in futility, which is precisely what the cultist wants. Those who preach different gospels want their deception to sound like such a perfect recording of the orthodox gospel that the believer is left scratching his head wondering "Is it live? . . . Or is it Memorex?"

Walter Martin's warning against the "semantic jungle" through which the cults attempt to envelop the believer with confusing terminology should not be heard as just a warning against blatant cults "out there somewhere." It is a strange curiosity that those Christians who are most adamant that ours is the generation that will see the Lord's return—and the end-time deception and apostasy associated with his return—look for signs of this deception outside the church, in such conspiracies as the New Age movement, and in such cults as Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christian Science. Admittedly, these movements pose potential threats to the church, but perhaps we would do better to look for the deception of the end-times where Jesus and the New Testament predicted it would occur: within the church, within groups that call themselves "Christian" but which actually preach a different gospel.

In speaking of the possibility that sincere believers could be deceived into believing a different gospel, we are not referring to the legitimate doctrinal differences that exist among Christians. What Paul was referring to in Gal. 1:6–9 was much more than that. This different gospel was not just "another" organic variety of the same gospel; the meaning of the Greek words indicates that it was an alien gospel that was of an altogether different kind.4 One need look no further for evidence of the absolute difference between the Pauline gospel and the false gospel with which the Galatians were being deceived than to the fact that Paul invokes an anathema, a curse of destruction by God, on any being, human or angelic, who preaches any gospel other than the gospel delivered to him by the Lord Jesus himself.5 Clearly, to preach or believe a different gospel is an extremely serious matter.

We who count ourselves "charismatics" are at a crossroads. The charismatic renewal has reached a spiritual intersection in its history, and the decisions made by charismatic leadership in the next five years will, I believe, forever determine our place in the annals of church history. Nothing less than the doctrinal orthodoxy of our movement is at stake. Responsible leadership within the charismatic renewal must weigh seriously the evidence presented in this book—and the other books like it that I believe will be forthcoming—and, at whatever cost, lead the renewal on the road of return to the orthodox faith of the Christian church.

I am writing this book as a confirmed, unapologetic advocate of and participant in the charismatic renewal. Furthermore, while I am not a Pentecostal by way of theology, I believe that there is sound, biblical evidence to support many of the practices and experiences of charismatic renewal. Those who interpret this book as a rejection of charismatic renewal interpret it wrongly. I would no more reject charismatic renewal than I would reject the Holy Spirit who gave it.

Nevertheless, there has been, and still is, much that passes for "truth" in the charismatic renewal that I believe deeply grieves the Holy Spirit, who is "the Spirit of truth." I would go so far as to say that many in the present charismatic renewal preach and practice a different gospel. This is a most serious charge and one that is not lightly made. It is rendered all the more serious because those preaching this error are some of the most prominent figures in the charismatic renewal. I am referring to Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, and all the other ministers and churches who are a part of what we shall refer to in this book as "the Faith movement."6 With its "faith-formulas" for health, wealth, and prosperity, the Faith movement has taken the charismatic renewal by storm. No one could seriously question its success. The price tag of its success, however, has been nothing less than the orthodoxy of the charismatic renewal. Those in the Faith movement are now, and have been for years, preaching a different gospel.

One may well ask how this different gospel of the Faith movement escaped the notice of the church. The answer is that it hasn't; at least, not entirely. In the last decade, the Faith theology has been described in various publications as "heresy," "cultic," "gnostic," and "a work of Satan." This book is only the latest in a whole series of publications that have challenged the orthodoxy of the Faith movement; it is neither the first, nor the last, of its kind.

Nevertheless, it must be admitted that, with a few notable exceptions,7 the Faith movement has enjoyed increasing acceptance by charismatics, and the voices being raised against it are fewer and quieter. The reasons for this growing silence are twofold. First, the church has not seen this gospel for what it is largely because of what Walter Martin calls "the language barrier of terminology." The Faith movement uses so much evangelical and Pentecostal terminology and so many biblical proof-texts that most believers are lulled into a false sense of security as to its orthodoxy.

Second, as even one of its arch-critics has admitted, the Faith gospel is "without question the most attractive message being preached today or, for that matter, in the whole history of the Church."8 Seldom if ever, has there been a gospel that has promised so much, and demanded so little. The Faith gospel is a message ideally suited to the twentieth-century American Christian. In an age in America characterized by complexity, the Faith gospel gives simple, if not revelational, answers. In an economy fueled by materialism and fired by the ambitions of the "upwardly mobile," the Faith gospel preaches wealth and prosperity. The Faith gospel promises health and long life to a world in which death can come a myriad of different ways. Finally, in an international environment characterized by anarchy, in which terrorists strike at will and nuclear holocaust can come screaming from the sky at any moment, the Faith gospel confers an authority with which the believer can supposedly exercise complete control over his or her own environment. Little wonder that armed with such a gospel the Faith movement has grown to the extent that in the minds of many it is no longer just a part of the charismatic movement: it is the charismatic movement.

So, what is so bad about this association? What is so "different" about the gospel of the Faith movement? Why are there so many outside the movement who are bitterly outspoken in their opposition? Why are such inflammatory words like "cultic" and "heretical" being used by these opponents to describe the Faith movement? The purpose of this book is to answer these very questions. We shall attempt to prove that both the "roots" and the "fruits" of the Faith movement are those of a different gospel, not the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The charges of cultism and heresy leveled against the Faith movement in the past are not without basis. The Faith movement is cultic because of its roots (its historical origins) and it is heretical because of its fruits (its doctrines and practices).

Although most people assume that the Faith theology is a product of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, this assumption is not historically accurate. The historical origins of the Faith movement are not primarily Pentecostal or charismatic. The Faith movement can be traced historically to cultic sources. As a result, both its doctrines and practices contain heretical elements. The first part of the book will examine the historical origins of the Faith movement and the second part will critique its theological doctrines. Our analysis of the historical origins of the Faith movement will begin with determining who it is that authored the teachings upon which the movement is founded.

Notes

1. In this context, "quickly" could mean "so soon" after their conversion, or quite possibly, "so rashly" after the first opportunity to desert presented itself. J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (reprint; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1981), p. 75.

2. Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present (New York: Doubleday, 1984), p. xxiii.

3. Walter R. Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults: An Analysis of the Major Cult Systems in the Present Christian Era (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Fellowship, 1977), p. 18.

4. In the Greek this effect is achieved by the use of two different words to indicate "another." Allos means "another of the same kind" or "another in a series," while heteros means "another of a different kind" (e.g., "heterosexual"). Although some scholars rightly note that heteros and allos can be used interchangeably, in this context the difference is apparent. Cf. Amplified Bible .

5. Many have interpreted anathema to connote the idea of excommunication, but it was actually used of objects, either good or bad, consecrated to God for his use and purposes. Anathema could be used of "votive gifts" to the glory of God as in Luke 21:5, or it could be used of an invocation of the curse of God, as in Acts 23:14; Rom. 9:3; 1 Cor. 12:3, 16:22. The destructive element of anathema in Galatians is corroborated by the fact that in Gal. 5:12 Paul prays, "Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves." The word translated by the NASB as "mutilate" actually means "to castrate," as indicated by the NEB translation, "As for those agitators, they had better go the whole way and make eunuchs of themselves."

6. The "Faith movement" is also known as "the Word movement" and "the Word of Faith movement" or, by its detractors, as "the Faith-Formula movement" or "the Hyper-Faith movement." Besides Hagin and Copeland, some of the main preachers and authors of the Faith movement are: Ken Hagin, Jr., Gloria Copeland, Fred Price, Jerry Savelle, Charles Capps, Norvel Hayes, John Osteen, Robert Tilton, Lester Sumrall, Ed Dufresne, Charles Cowan, Marilyn Hickey, Ken Stewart, Roy Hicks, Don Gossett, and Buddy Harrison. Until his death on Dec. 8, 1984, Hobart Freeman was regarded as a renegade preacher of the Faith movement who was ostracized for his radical beliefs on healing. More shall be said of Freeman later.

7. In the last two years, there have been three major publications which have critiqued the Faith movement. Two of these are by Dave Hunt: (with T. A. McMahon) The Seduction of Christianity (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1985) and Beyond Seduction (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1987). A third critique is Bruce Barron's The Health and Wealth Gospel (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1987).

8. Charles Farah, This Cancer Kills: A Critical Analysis of the Roots & Fruits of 'Faith-Formula' Theology (Portland: Charis Life, 1982), p. 15.

 

     Add to Shopping Cart

Back to Product Detail Page