IN RESPONSE TO THE many calls and emails I receive from our Frances and Friends audience on this subject, I felt like I needed to share this article on hyper-faith with all of our SBN listeners. It was written by my husband and published in The Evangelist in May 1982. As you will read, this was an extremely difficult subject for my husband to address, but one he felt the Spirit of God gave him no choice but to address. Although this article is now more than 30 years old, its message is timeless and so apropos for the body of Christ in 2014.
HYPER-FAITH: NEW GNOSTICISM? BY Jimmy Swaggart
I Tim. 6:20-21 – “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith.”
If this is not the most difficult article I have ever written, it is certainly one of the most difficult. I have fought a great battle in my spirit. While my natural tendencies have all cried out to shelve this discussion, the Spirit of God has prevailed to where I feel I have no choice.
What will be said is not meant to be an attack on any individual. It is, however, an attack upon a philosophy - a philosophy I believe to be extremely detrimental to the kingdom of God today. I speak of the faith ministry.
Of course, when we use the term “faith ministry,” I assume that knowledgeable Christians know what I mean. I am a faith preacher myself. Every preacher should be. Faith is the great rock-like foundation of God’s plan for the ages. The term “faith ministry,” however, has taken on a more restricted meaning lately - that of a ministry which over-emphasizes one isolated aspect in the man/God relationship. I feel this might better be referred to as hyper-faith, with the prefix hyper meaning “something blown out of proportion; emphasizing one element beyond its true perspective.”
Some of the prominent teachers in the hyper-faith movement are long-term acquaintances of mine. I still consider them friends, even though we have little or no current contact. I love them dearly. Sensing this unfortunate direction in the hyper-faith movement today, I pray for these leaders continuously. I believe the majority of them love the Lord with all their hearts; that they are sincere and dedicated people. This is not, however, reason enough to meekly accept everything they say when they build their philosophy on wrong premises.
MUCH ERROR RIDES INTO THE CHURCH ON THE BACK OF TRUTH
Many elements in this teaching are positive. Much of it is wholesome and edifying. Emphasizing faith does tend to elevate victorious Christian living, and this is essential within the body of Christ. If the hyper-faith teaching stopped here it would be of untold value to the work of God - but it doesn’t stop here. Sad to say, the ultimate condition of many individuals participating in this movement will not be victory - but complete defeat!
To the unlearned - to those new to, or unfamiliar with, the Word of God - it sounds logical, scriptural, and inviting. This, of course, is why it ensnares so many people.
Some might very well ask, “Why should you, as a preacher of the Gospel, speak out on this subject?” They might even suggest that such a discussion could cause division. My answer would have to be this: Someone must take a stand in regard to doctrinal error. I realize full well that what I say here will win me no friends. It will far more likely cause heartache. However, a stand must be taken in defense of scriptural truth.
No matter what the price, no matter what the cost, if (sometimes) unpopular stands had not been taken over the years, we would not have had the pure Gospel we have today. Someone always has to speak out.
It is only human to choose the road of least resistance. None of us enjoys doing something that will bring the anger of people down upon us. But - any preacher of the Gospel who desires to be led of the Spirit - must follow what he perceives to be the leading of the Spirit. And this must be done without our considering the cost or the consequences. Even through I dearly love many of the people involved in the hyper-faith movement, I still feel that the foundation of their movement is in error and thus detrimental to the cause of Christ. I believe that many Christians will suffer because of it - many perhaps even losing their souls. When viewed in this perspective, the subject of course assumes tremendous importance.
I have asked myself, “Why say anything? Why get involved? You will only be misunderstood and falsely accused.”
But then, down in my heart of hearts, I know that all error must be refuted. If it isn’t, the consequences are inevitably bitter. I firmly believe that some of the teachings of the hyper-faith movement are the work of Satan. And let me hasten to emphasize that I am not saying that the individuals involved are of Satan. I am confident that all, or most, of them are not. As mentioned, I believe that the overwhelming majority of them love God very much; and I would not question either their sincerity or their integrity. But I do question what they are teaching!
I will do my best to outline the adverse factors in the hyper-faith movement that I see as causing great difficulty for the body of Christ.
THE PRESENT-DAY HYPER-FAITH MOVEMENT DERIVES SOME OF ITS TEACHINGS (I BELIEVE) FROM ANCIENT GNOSTICISM
Gnosticism comes from a Greek word-root which means “knowledge.” It describes a cult (or error) that sprang up within the church, and probably reached its zenith in about the second century. The book of First John (as written by John the Beloved) was basically written to refute the errors of Gnosticism. Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth (I Corinthians), and also Colossians, contain numerous statements warning against the errors of Gnosticism.
The basic teachings of Gnosticism are so broad in scope that it would be difficult to go into a total dissection of the subject. I will, therefore, touch only a few of the high points. Although most of the present-day faith teachers probably know little or nothing about Gnosticism, as such, this is where some of their teaching originates. I will endeavor to expose some of the parallels, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will quicken this truth to your heart.
What I will say has been influenced by my beliefs and my observations over the years. I have sought God earnestly - that He will not only help me to say these things, but that He might help me say them in a way that will convey the love with which I feel they must be said. In view of the gravity of the subject matter, this will be difficult. Some of my statements might, therefore, anger people. I sincerely hope this will not be the case, however, as all will be said in love. With all this in mind, I will now do my best to expose what I see as error.
Some scholars feel that ancient Gnosticism influenced Simon the Sorcerer. An account of his first exposure to the Gospel and the early church is found in the eighth chapter of the book of Acts. God dealt with this man, but he refused to pay the price for a complete walk with God. It is not known how deeply he was influenced by Gnosticism, but many knowledgeable Bible scholars feel he could have been involved. In any case, Gnosticism became an insidious factor in the early church. It drew scores of Christians into its web of deceit and erroneous teaching.
Gnosticism is basically derived from Greek philosophy and mythology, and other ancient religions. Its originators took what they considered to be the most attractive teachings of ancient Greece, Judaism, and the Eastern cultures and incorporated them into Christianity. They promoted this conglomerate “religion” as a deeper and greater revelation. It covers such a broad scope that it is difficult to discuss all the details. But it did create tremendous confusion in the early church.
The clearest analysis of the many doctrines collected within ancient Gnosticism can be found in the book, Against Heresy, by a bishop of the early church, Irenaeus. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of John the Beloved. Polycarp was nearly one hundred years of age when he was burned at the stake.
Irenaeus told of the Apostle John’s encountering a Gnostic at a public bath. (Public baths were common in those days.) It is said that John drew back, saying to his companion, “Let us flee this place, lest any water washing off him fall upon us.”
Another confrontation is described - this one between Polycarp and one of the chief teachers of Gnosticism as they met on a street in Rome. In the course of their conversation, the man (who had formed his own school of Gnostic theology), said (with an air of importance about him) to Polycarp, “Do you know who I am?”
Polycarp replied, “Yes, I know you are a son of Satan.”
It seems that the apostles and their followers made no accommodations to either the Gnostic teachers - or to their philosophy. They labeled it exactly what it was - satanic!
With this background of information, I will give to you some of the basic teachings of Gnosticism:
A. The flesh and the Spirit are diametrically opposed - they are like the opposite poles of a magnet or a battery.
B. All flesh is evil. All Spirit is good (God’s Spirit, that is).
C. The two natures cannot be present in the same person at the same time because of this duality of flesh and Spirit.
D. Knowledge is the source of salvation.
E. The material world is all that is left to be conquered. Knowledge has brought about all other spiritual goals.
F. There is a “redeemed redeemer” (Jesus) who Himself had to obtain salvation - through knowledge.
One particular scholar stated that their “formulas, or laws” were based upon principles which “brought the forces of good and evil into play.” A little thought reveals this same “scientism” (closely akin to Christian Science) evident among the new Gnosticism (hyper-faith) popular today.
Gnosticism is partly a mythological and mystical effort to understand the universe and man’s role in it. This scholar went on to say that the only control this philosophy has on man is through his knowledge - thus preventing him from being mere mortal and raising him to a level almost equal to co-divinity with his creator - God.
This theory satisfies two perverted needs in fallen mankind: One, the need to be his own god, in control of his own life; and, two, the need to glorify himself beyond his proper place in creation. It is obvious that the same serpent who beguiled Adam and Eve is still in our earthly garden offering his same old temptation: to partake of the knowledge of good and evil.
THE BASIC TEACHING OF MODERN-DAY GNOSTICISM FROM WHICH THE HYPER-FAITH MINISTRY HAS EVOLVED
The new Gnosticism, as taught by most of the faith teachers in the United States and Canada today, seems to be derived largely from the teachings of E.W. Kenyon, who seemed to lean somewhat upon ancient Gnosticism for his understanding of scriptural doctrines (or perhaps developed some similar doctrines). He went to Seattle, Washington, around 1937 and there pastored a church and aired a radio program throughout the city.
I do not doubt Kenyon’s love for God or his sincerity (just as I do not doubt the sincerity and love for God of the modern hyper-faith teachers). But his teaching, as one understands it, seems to wander about on the perimeters of the orthodox view of the Scripture. As one begins to study his teachings, they seem tremendously helpful. But interwoven throughout is a feeling of oppression that “something isn’t right.” Until one understands the background of Gnosticism, it is very difficult to develop a real grasp of his philosophy. Kenyon’s teachings seem to fall into certain patterns, and we will investigate some of these:
A. Words of Scriptures seem to be deified - apart from the living God - and collected into various “laws” which activate the forces of good and evil. Anyone who would question these specific interpretations is immediately branded as “denying the Word of God and its power.”
B. Knowledge (Gnosticism) is said to be the way to achieve a divine place in creation. Attainment of “a new creation status for the believer” makes him a part of a superior, elite, or master race.
C. Confession - the use of scriptural formulas to “confess” results, releases the forces of good on one’s behalf.
D. The teaching that sin is a consequence of the Law (which disappeared with the New Covenant) becomes a false perception, representing behavior made right by confessing “who one is in Christ Jesus.” Forgiveness then plays but little part in our present-day experience because it relates to sin - which ended with the Law.
E. The denial of human nature: the teaching that we are either divine or satanic (dualism).
F. Scientism: the teaching of “laws” and “formulas” that can control circumstances around us.
G. The denial of Christian suffering and the bearing of the Cross of Christ, which apparently puts the Cross in the position of “past miseries.”
Whether the present-day hyper-faith teachers realize it or not, it would seem their interpretation of the atonement is not consistent with the tenor of teaching throughout the Word of God. This lies at the heart of this teaching and it strikes at the very core of Christian belief.
Some of the “doctrines” of the hyper-faith philosophy are similar to ancient Gnosticism. As such we want to delve deeper, prayerfully hoping that we can reveal the similarities and, through comparison, demonstrate the errors of the present-day hyper-faith movement.
[This article will be continued in the September issue of The Evangelist.]