Saturday, December 13, 2008

Diatribe Against the False and Dangerous "Hyper-Faith" Teachings of Kenneth Copeland


Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

[ source ]

Someone asked about Kenneth Copeland on the CHNI forum. This was my series of replies:

Kenneth Copeland has false teachings concerning healing, and also some heretical material about Jesus needing to be born again. His definition of "faith" is not biblical. I wrote about the former topic years ago:

Biblical Refutation of "Hyperfaith" / "Name-it-Claim it" Teaching: Is it Always God's Will to Heal in Every Instance?

And here are further resources:

Books That Refute the "Health-and-Wealth / Prosperity" False Teaching [Links Page]

I would urge anyone to avoid his writings like the plague. They're spiritually dangerous. Many people have died because of believing false teachings that God will always heal if only one has enough faith. Don't believe it. We all will die one day, no matter how much faith we may truly possess.

* * *

Let's be sure not to confuse mainstream charismatics with this name-it-claim-it abuse, and not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Amazing stuff [someone was giving sordid information about the wreck Copeland's teachings made in lives], but sadly, it doesn't surprise me a bit. That is exactly how this diabolical mentality works: of blaming people for every problem they have. It stems from not only a deficient view of biblical faith, but also a woefully inadequate comprehension of the crucial role of suffering in the Christian life, that is all over the Bible.

* * *

I agree that this false teaching often runs rampant in charismatic circles. I saw it myself in many members of the Assemblies of God. But again, we have to distinguish between corruptions and ignorance "on the ground" as opposed to the official teaching of any given group.

If we talk about "in practice" then Catholics have as many problems as just about any Protestant denomination, with liberalism entrenched in many many parishes and dioceses and "Catholic" schools.

But we have to talk about what the Catholic Church actually teaches; likewise, what any Protestant denomination teaches. The fact that many Protestants believe things contrary to what their denominations teach is simply a fact of life and the human condition. That will always be the case, except in the strictest of groups, where there are other problems (manipulative control over peoples' lives, etc.).

* * *

Yes; we don't know where a person is at [spiritually], and I don't think anyone is blaming [name] (I'm certainly not), but I don't see how reading theological falsehood and a system of thought that has caused misery and self-contempt for many thousands of people does anyone any good. We are issuing a necessary warning. The appeal of these teachings is often precisely to those who are suffering some illness, as [name] is. As such, these false teachings play on and manipulate people's needs and fears in a despicable way. They create first a false hope (that all will always be well for the person of faith) and then a needless crushing of hope and despair, when reality sets in.

Every falsehood is mixed in with some good things, or else it wouldn't be believed, but it doesn't follow that we should think lightly of it. And yes, God can protect people from error, but we still have free will and are influenced by whatever we read. We are what we eat. We need to be -- all of us -- vigilant.

This is not just a matter of some variant of Protestantism, with its erroneous teachings, but of a new tradition outside mainstream Protestantism, involving a radical redefinition of a fundamental aspect of Christianity: the very definition of faith. It also distorts God's Providence and sovereignty and has some Christological errors as well (Jesus needing to be born again).

Very serious stuff . . .

My responsibility, in particular, as an apologist and moderator of a board with a lot of young Catholics and non-Catholics, is to warn against false teaching and to explain why it is false (as I have in my paper linked to above). I would be lax in my responsibility before God if I failed to do so. This subject happens to be one that I studied a great deal as a Protestant (and charismatic), over 25 years ago. I've seen it sometimes wreak havoc in my own extended family as well. I've observed people of this deluded mindset blaming my brother's death from leukemia on a supposed lack of faith.

It's poison, and needs to be opposed at every turn. It breaks my heart and makes me furious every time I hear these horror stories of the fruit of this error. It's the devil's victory when these things happen. He sits there and laughs and sneers at and mocks Christians and delights over their misery loss of faith altogether because of disenchantment.

Copeland and Kenneth Hagin, by the way, have, to my knowledge, opposed every attempt even by other Protestant charismatics, to reason with them for the purpose of godly correction. They simply blow off critics as themselves lacking faith for miracles and healing. How convenient. I've seen that, too, firsthand, along with a glaring contempt for Holy Scripture itself when it exposes the errors of this thought (as we see with all heretics and cultists: if the Bible disagrees with their teaching, so much for the Bible).

This is nonsense. Some critics disbelieve in all miracles, but many (including myself) believe that gifts and healings still occur. It's not antipathy to miracle that drives the critics of this, but allegiance to biblical and historic Christian teaching.

See a copiously documented analysis of Copeland's false teachings.

* * *

Concern was expressed by three people that several others jumped all over the initial person posting because she expressed a certain appreciation for Copeland's books. Here is how I responded:

I can see how it might seem to [name] that we have overwhelmed her with material against someone she was enjoying reading. It was not my intent, anymore than it was [name]'s or anyone else's, I don't think, to hurt [name]'s feelings. We were all trying to help her by issuing strong warnings to avoid a false teacher, as I saw it. Would anyone encourage her to keep reading, e.g., the Koran, or the Book of Mormon, or some work of Christian Scientists or Jehovah's Witnesses, or some occultic work? I highly doubt it. All of those works contain some truth too. Even the unplugged clock is right twice a day, after all (one of my favorite sayings :) ). But one can always critique manner and emphasis.

I'm the apologist, which is a bit of a "prophet" and "truthtelling" type, so you can always expect me to correct a serious doctrinal error if I see it, or if I see that someone may be in the process of being led into it. The others can speak for themselves, but I think we go astray if we too broadly categorize (generally speaking) correction of error with a lack of love. That can sometimes get into postmodernist, relativist sorts of thinking that are best avoided. When Jesus and Paul corrected error in the Bible it was pretty forceful stuff, after all. And we are commanded to imitate both of them. This is part of the Christian life.

That said, there is something else that could be noted, I think. The three of you, who have all felt that we have "stampeded" [name]'s simple post (and you're perfectly entitled to your opinions), also could have offered much more positive feedback to her, if that was your concern (and it is a valid one). If you agree with the vocal critics in this thread that the teachings are dangerous, and misrepresent biblical faith, then by all means, take it upon yourself to offer [name] what you are concerned is lacking in the "anti-Copeland" comments.

For the most part, you haven't done that, publicly. Perhaps one or more of you did privately, which would be good. Why not take it further and offer her direct positive support, by going into, for example, what biblical faith is; how it is not as Copeland and that school of thought portray it; how there is possible healing but that we can't order God to do it; the role of suffering in the Christian life, how it ties into penance; "offering it up," perhaps how you could personally assist [name] as a "listening ear," or empathetic or sympathetic soul, etc.?

Again, speaking for myself, my main job here is to explain the Catholic faith and answer hard questions, including the refutation of error. I'm not an unfriendly sort of guy at all (I think anyone who has meet me will confirm that), but I can't get personally close to everyone on this board to a really deep extent because I wouldn't be able to do my job as moderator and apologist. My role is to stick mainly to the theological issues. That's what I'm trained to do. If I see someone reading a dangerous book, I have to warn them about it (all the more so in a public setting, where many people are reading and being possibly influenced).

If in so doing, I have offended [name] in any way, shape, or form, I sincerely apologize. When someone asks, "has anyone read so-and-so's books?", to me it leaves the door wide open for either a positive or negative appraisal of the book. She liked them, but then I would say it is all the more a dangerous situation (granting that the teaching has serious errors), because she is being led into false teaching.

That's dangerous to her, and thus calls for a strong warning, in love. I didn't see anyone condemn her; I saw people warning her in love that this writer is dangerous for her and her soul. That is love! In fact, I would say that it is a lack of love to know that something is dangerous and refuse to speak up about it, for fear of offending.

We don't act that way when someone is in physical danger. If we see a child about to be crushed by a huge falling branch, we cry bloody murder and do all we can to prevent it. Yet when it comes to a danger for a soul, in the spiritual realm, we often want to leave that completely in the private, subjective realm, as if there are not objective truths and falsehoods. This is how our society tends to think (and I find myself, too, falling into it, too often). Why are we far more concerned with physical health than spiritual health, when the latter has far more possibly dire consequences, and can even lead to hellfire if it gets out of hand?

I'm not saying any of the three of you are doing that (please don't take this personally; it is not how I intend it at all!); but I'm making a general statement of these sorts of matters, and am defending how I and others have acted in this thread. I'm also encouraging you to assist [name] in the ways you think are appropriate, that can nicely complement what we have done: either privately or publicly. Granted, we all could have done that, alongside the condemnations of Copeland's teachings, but then you three could have, too, and I didn't see it. So to the extent that it was required in this situation, we have all together failed to offer her more positive encouragement and support.

I think this forum does very well at personally encouraging folks. I generally step back and let other members offer the more personal support, because it is done so well, and everyone can join in on that, and I want to encourage the "helping" / "fellowship" qualities of this board that so many appreciate. But where is it in this thread?

Thus, the criticism of how this was approached works both ways, I think. We can all examine ourselves and our own houses in this. If someone doesn't care for the content or style of one or more answers given in the thread, then by all means, I encourage them to give a better one, in the way they see fit. It's the "both/and" Catholic approach again, that relates to so many things. And it is the glory and advantage of group settings of seriously committed Christians. There is more than one way to do most things, and there are many gifts and roles in the Body of Christ . . . .

I welcome any feedback. This is not a "final" statement. I engage in conversations; I don't just issue decrees (moderator or no). Not my style at all . . .

* * *

I had another thought on this, too. If we are concerned about [name]'s feelings (as we should be), should we not also allow others the freedom to write emotionally about painful experiences that they themselves have gone through (as many on this thread have stated)?

Tolerance and charity allows someone to emote and perhaps be a little "extreme" for our tastes, because they are reacting to painful things in their own past. It seems to me that we need to allow them to do that. To not do so would be to disallow the human aspects of failure and being a past victim of abuse and false teaching (or observing much of the same while not personally being a victim). It's shutting down people from expressing things they need to express. And that ain't good.

After all, this is everyone's forum. Each thread is not solely about the one who happened to have started it. Things come up that resonate with other people, or that affect them deeply, and they have a need to express their feelings about it. And if they want to warn others to avoid the same misery, to me that is a good thing, and a loving thing, not something bad and unsavory. Sometimes the topic shifts a bit. That's natural to spontaneous human conversation.

Someone who has seen the fruit of these teachings firsthand (as I have too, to a lesser extent), is gonna be more emotional and passionate about it. It's not intended to put anyone else down, I don't think. It may not be the total package of assisting someone else, but a well-intentioned warning about a truly bad thing is unquestionably an act of love and compassion and concern.


The Code is the Code! said...

You offered a couple of books as evidence against Copelands' teaching. How come you didn't offer any Biblical evidence?

Dave Armstrong said...

Dun did that in the first link mentioned in the paper.