Wednesday, February 27, 2008
KENNETH COPELAND AND THE GOSPEL OF HIS OWN MAKING
Kenneth Copeland stands today as one of the Faith Movement’s leading spokesmen. His numerous materials, combined with his crusades and international outreach centres, attest to his vast influence. Copeland is responsible for spreading many of the Faith Movement’s unbiblical teachings.
The Force of Faith
Of the multiple views of faith held by Faith teachers, Copeland focuses primarily on an understanding of faith as a force. “Faith is a power force,” he claims. “It is a tangible force. It is a conductive force.” Moreover, “faith is a spiritual force … It is substance. Faith has the ability to affect natural substance.” As “the force of gravity … makes the law of gravity work … this force of faith … makes the laws of the spirit world function.” Copeland affirms that “God cannot do anything for you apart or separate from faith,” for “faith is God’s source of power.” Moreover, “everything that you’re able to see or touch, anything that you can feel, anything that’s perceptive to the five physical senses, was originally the faith of God, and was born in the substance of God’s faith.” In other words, “faith was the raw material substance that the Spirit of God used to form the universe.”
Copeland mistakenly derives his erroneous definition of faith from Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Neither the original Greek text nor any English translations support Copeland’s understanding of faith. The same holds true for his understanding of spoken words. Besides, the idea of words functioning as faith-filled containers makes no sense if there is no such thing as a “force of Faith” (requiring packaging and transportation) in the first place.
A God of Human Proportions
Copeland’s view of God fares no better biblically than his understanding of faith. He describes God as someone “very much like you and me … A being that stands around six foot two inches or six foot three inches, that weighs around a couple of hundred pounds, and has a [hand] span nine inches across.” Copeland’s statement is based on his misreading of Isaiah 40:12 (“Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the [nine inch] span …”). Yet, following the same line of interpretation, Hagin’s 6 foot or so god must also have “weighed the mountains in [a gigantic set of] scales, and the hills in a [huge] balance” (v. 12b).
However, the Bible never intended to convey the notion that God has physical features like His human creation. Human-like descriptions were simply meant to help us understand and relate to our Maker. Jesus declared, “God is spirit” (John 4:24), not a spirit-being with a body (cf. Deuteronomy 4:12). The Creator is, after all, “God, and not man” (Hosea 11:9). Copeland’s diminished view of God is further amplified by a correspondingly inflated view of the universe in general and man in particular. He claims that the earth is “a copy of the mother planet [i.e., heaven] where God lives.” Exactly how Copeland could “squeeze” God on any planet is difficult to fathom, especially since Solomon pointed out that heaven itself cannot contain the infinite God (1 Kings 8:27).
Members of God’s Class
Copeland overemphasises similarities between God and man to the point where any distinction becomes virtually nil: “God’s reason for creating Adam was His desire to reproduce Himself … Adam is as much like God as you could get, just the same as Jesus … Adam, in the Garden of Eden, was God manifested in the flesh.” Actually, the terms “image” and “likeness” refute Copeland’s point. The Hebrew word for “likeness” (demuth) simply means similarity or resemblance, not identity.
Copeland states that “man was created to know that great life force and he longs for it in his dreams. Adam had that life force in him before he committed high treason.” This is yet another sense in which Copeland believes Adam was created in God’s class for he was made to partake of “the unseen force that makes God, God.” This destroys the vital distinction between the infinite Creator and His finite creature.
Covenant of Convenience
According to Copeland, “God had no avenue of lasting faith or moving in the earth. He had to have covenant with somebody … He had to be invited in, in other words, or He couldn’t come.” In fact, “the reason that He’s making covenant is to get into the earth.” “God is on the outside looking in,” says Copeland. “In order to have any say-so in the earth, he’s gonna have to be in agreement with a man here.” “Since man was the key figure in the Fall,” Copeland argues, “man had to be the key figure in the redemption, so God approached a man named Abram.” An agreement was struck between God and Abram that “gave God access to the earth.” God, in turn, “promised to care for Abraham and his descendants in every way—spiritually, physically, financially, socially.”
Commenting on the “deal,” Copeland writes that God “re-enacted with Abram what Satan had done with Adam, except that God did not sneak in and use deception … and Abram bought it.” As his comments indicate, Copeland views divine covenants no differently from business contracts. They are benefit-oriented, not relationship-oriented. They are formed by mutual agreement (for mutual benefit) through negotiation, as opposed to being initiated by the stronger party offering non-negotiable help (not of necessity but of grace)—which is the traditional Christian understanding of God’s covenants. They focus on the fulfilment of certain terms (performance) rather than personal loyalty. Copeland himself states that “the Word of the living God is a contract.” (For the biblical teaching of God’s covenant as a living, spiritual bond between Him and His elect people in Christ, click here.)
The Spoken Word Made Flesh
“God is injecting His Word into the earth to produce this Jesus,” explains Copeland. “These faith-filled words that framed the image that’s in him … He had to sneak it in here around the god of this world [i.e., Satan].” Using a combination of faith and confession, “God spoke His Word and then spoke His Word again … he kept saying, ‘He is coming. He is coming.’” However, “the only avenue God had to get His words into the earth was through men … through the mouths of His prophets … Finally, the great moment came when that Word was brought forth in human form.” During this final phase, “the angels spoke the words of the covenant to her [i.e., Mary], and the Spirit of God hovered over her and generated that seed, which was the Word that the angel spoke to her. And there was conceived in her, the Bible says, a holy thing. The Word literally became flesh.”
The notion of Jesus being the end product of generations of positive confession is categorically unbiblical. It suggests that the “Word” in John 1 was a creation (the personalization of the previously impersonal words of God) rather than the eternally existent Creator (see vv. 1-3), thus subverting the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the blessed Trinity. Copeland asserts Jesus did not openly claim to be God because “He hadn’t come to earth as God, He’d come as man. He’d set aside His divine power.”
Misunderstanding Philippians 2:5-7, Copeland states that the incarnate Christ “had no innate supernatural powers. He had no ability to perform miracles until after He was anointed by the Holy Spirit.” In Copeland’s view, three basic factors enabled Jesus to perform miracles. First, “the force of faith was controlling His ministry.” Second, “He exercised that authority by the use of words.” Third, “He used the covenant to control the laws of nature.” And all these factors are based on complete misinterpretation of the Word of God.
Spiritual Death and Rebirth in Hell
When it comes to defining the Christ’s atonement, Copeland says, “It wasn’t a physical death on the cross that paid the price for sin … anybody can do that.” Jesus supposedly “put Himself into the hands of Satan when he went to that cross, and took that same nature that Adam did [when he sinned].” Copeland is here referring to the nature of Satan, as God pronounced that “Adam would die spiritually—that he would take on the nature of Satan which is spiritual death.” He adds that “the day that Jesus was crucified, God’s life, that eternal energy that was His from birth, moved out of Him and He accepted the very nature of death itself.” Copeland would have us believe that during an alleged conversation with Jesus, the Son of God said, “It was a sign of Satan that was hanging on the cross … I accepted, in my own spirit, spiritual death …” Jesus, according to Copeland, “had to give up His righteousness” and “accepted the sin nature of Satan.”
Copeland’s account, vivid though it may be, is not in the Bible. It misuses the phrase “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18) to bolster the “born again Jesus” doctrine. Actually, the Greek wood for “firstborn” (prototokos) primarily denotes primacy, headship, and pre-eminence. The phrase itself points to Christ’s supremacy “over all creation” (Colossians 1:15) in general and those who will be raised from the dead in particular, alluding to Christ’s bodily resurrection—not some spiritual resuscitation in hell.
Moreover, Jesus was not dragged into hell by Satan, but instead committed His spirit to the Father (Luke 23:46) and went directly to paradise (Luke 23:43). Nor was He tortured by a host of demons; He triumphed “over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). Jesus paid for the sins of His people in full at the cross (Matthew 1:21; John 19:30) — not by becoming a satanic being, but through his physical sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10; Colossians 1:22).
The Believer’s Authority
Copeland’s basis for the believer’s authority is that upon conversion the believer undergoes a total and immediate change of nature. At the moment of spiritual birth, “the spirit of God hovered over you, and there was conceived in your body a holy thing identical to Jesus … And there was imparted into you zoe, the life of God.” Hence, “you are to think the way Jesus thought. He didn’t think it robbery to be equal with God.” Copeland states, “You are not a spiritual schizophrenic, half-God and half-Satan, you are all-God” and “You don’t have a God in you; you are one …”
Yet Scripture states there is only one God who indwells all believers (John 14:17, 23). Moreover, the Bible views spiritual birth not in terms of a change of nature (from satanic to divine), but as our regeneration by the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5). Copeland teaches that the believer’s change of nature (into a god) brings with it a proportional change in ability. The believer is thus allegedly able to “speak things” into existence by way of faith-filled words, or positive confession.
In Copeland’s teaching on the believer’s authority, we are told that knowing and exercising the rights set forth under the covenant guarantees success. He remarks that he Bible “is the wisdom of God placed in covenant contract … Everything in it is mine … You just keep looking at it, and keep reading it, and that covenant will turn you into that kind of person—whatever it is you decide to be.” Copeland translates his concept of covenant rights into what has been termed the “health and wealth” or “prosperity” message. “The basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary,” he asserts. “For Him to put any of this on us now would be a miscarriage of justice.”
Virtually every error we have noted in Copeland’s theology can be attributed to the following four reasons.
First, Copeland seems vehemently opposed to sound reasoning. “Believers are not to be led by logic,” he writes. “We are not even to be led by good sense.” Isaiah 1:18, on the other hand, quotes God as saying, “Come now, let us reason together.”
Second, Copeland fails to observe some basic principles of biblical interpretation. His neglect in this area is made clear by his gross misunderstanding of key words and utter disregard of the context in which they appear. The Bible, however, stresses the importance of correctly handling the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Third, Copeland does not seem to acknowledge the importance of systematic theology, as indicated by his statement, “I don’t preach doctrine, I preach faith.” Although he may not realize it, his preaching on faith and other topics do in fact constitute doctrines, which combined form his theology (however inconsistent). He would do well to heed the divine command to “watch your life and your doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Fourth, Copeland displays an open attitude of disdain and disrespect for the historically established views of the Christian church. Admittedly, tradition must ultimately be tested by the Word of God. However, it should be recognised that certain historically accepted views, especially as they apply to essential Christian doctrine and are stated in the Reformed creeds, are significant, time-tested summations of fundamental Bible-based truths. To deviate from them is to reject the heart of Christian faith.
Scripture warns, “My brethren, be not many masters [i.e., teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1).
Copeland, being a false teacher, has made himself an enemy of the gospel: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).
By Angus Stewart