Can there be an overemphasis on grace? On love? On prophecy? On faith?
From personal experience I suggest there can be.
Back in the 1980s I was caught up in Word of Faith teaching – in particular that of Kenneth Copeland.
It wasn’t the confess and possess (blab it and grab it) aspect that seduced me – my involvement started quite innocently and probably for legitimate reasons. As my friends continued to rave about Copeland’s teaching, and as I resisted their recommendations, out of the blue I suddenly had an understanding of faith that I’d never had before.
To that point I probably had no real clue what “faith” meant. It was an airy-fairy word. Faith was what made us believe something for which we had no proof, or had no logical reason to accept. It was a bridge between the provable and something we could not prove.
In experience it was tantamount to wishful thinking.
As I resisted the proselytizing of my WoF friends, something broke through. I saw faith in God as believing Him and His Word, no matter what other evidence may suggest. If God said it – THAT was truth, THAT was reality.
At the very basic level, I didn’t need to FEEL saved in order to be confident I was saved. As long as I met the requirements of salvation revealed through the Bible, it didn’t matter what I felt.
If God had promised something, and the conditions of the promise were met, then I could believe in that promise no matter how long it seemed to be unfulfilled, or how unlikely eventual fulfillment seemed to be.
But WoF teaching moved far beyond the initial understanding (revelation) that I’d received one night in the early 1980s. I made the mistake of filling my time with a lot of teaching that veered in dangerous directions. I was hooked, thinking these people were teaching worthwhile things that would expand upon that new understanding. They seemed to offer the kind of answers I longed for – to bring my experience of Christianity closer to what I was reading in the Bible. My church seemed to fall short in practice, of a lot of things they claimed to believe.
Over time, however, I found that WoF was just a different version of what had already disappointed me. Big on talk, small on results. How could something that had excited me so much become such a let down? Clearly something was wrong.
I eventually suspected that a major problem with WoF teaching was it’s constant focus on “faith”. Where does a “faith” teacher go once the basic aspects of faith have been covered?
He or she starts to push the boundaries – and it doesn’t take long to push beyond the very thing that is allegedly the foundation for their belief: the WORD part of the Word of Faith label.
Definitions and characteristics were given to “faith” that were less and less biblical. Faith became a “force” that anyone could use, either positively or negatively, especially through speech. Hence the phrase “confess and possess”, with positive confession bringing about good results, and negative confession bringing about bad results. Faith being a force put the power within the individual using it, instead of in God.
Having faith in God was altered to having the faith OF God – that believers could have the “God kind of faith” that brought things into being. It was no longer a matter of believing God or having faith in Him. It was taught that we needed to have faith in our faith. Faith was the active ingredient that worked (for good or bad) separate from God.
So many things that were promoted in WoF teaching, even though it was supposed to be based on scripture, were in reality based on parts of scripture ripped out of their context. Scripture phrases were cast around like magician’s spells, spoken (confessed) out loud to release the power of the word, just like God spoke creation into existence.
Scripture was being made to mean things it was never intended to mean. Individual verses were viewed as universal promises, even if their context made it clear they were intended for a specific person or specific people. The justification for that was another out of context (partial) verse – ” God is no respecter of persons” – so, according to WoF teaching, what He gives to one, He makes available to all, not to do so would mean God was favouring one person above another.
Returning to my opening questions, I have seen that even the most central realities of the Christian faith can become exaggerated beyond the truth.
My personal experience relates to “faith”, but I’ve seen others fall for equally distorted beliefs through an exclusive focus on other things. I would even consider that ALL theological error has its roots in that kind of unbalanced emphasis.