THE LAW OF BELIEVING - NO GOD NEEDED
Many groups teach a form of "believing," sometimes called the "faith message," "word-faith" or "the law of believing." Of the many variations of this teaching, one of the most damaging is "the Law of Believing" taught by The Way International and its late founder Victor Paul Wierwille.
Like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and some other teachers, Wierwille teaches "believing equals receiving." In other words, whatever you believe will indeed happen. One of their favorite verses is Mark 11:23-24:
"(Jesus said, 'Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, "Be taken up and cast into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.... believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
Wierwille called this "believing equals receiving." When you truly believe, you will receive what you believe.
Mark 11 highlights an important Biblical principle: faith is an essential part of the Christian life. As Hebrews 11:6 adds, "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him."
LAW OR RELATIONSHIP?
Wierwille's form of "faith" teaching is the most damaging and unbiblical version. Unlike some teachers, he dubs this "the Law of Believing." His book and class, Power for Abundant Living (PFAL), calls this a law like the law of gravity. It applies to the whole world and dominates everyone's lives, whether they know it or not. In his view, the law is indiscriminate- it "works for saint and sinner alike."
Wierwille and The Way International (TWI) teach that many nonChristians or atheists operate this law far better than Christians. He says, "The law of positive and negative believing works for both Christian and non-Christian. When we believe, we receive the results of our believing regardless of who or what we are" (PFAL, p. 38).
In other words, "the law of believing" is an atheistic system. God is not involved and has no influence on whatever good or evil things enter people's lives. God is a only passive bystander, waiting to see what positive or negative results they get in their lives as a result of their own believing. God is out of the picture and is essentially powerless- he cannot refuse the good or hinder the bad (either for his children or his enemies). God is at the mercy of what people, good and bad, choose to believe.
Besides being an atheistic system, the law of believing is entirely man centered. People do not have faith in God- they have faith in faith. Your will and believing, not God's, determine what you get, whether pain or pleasure.
The law of believing is inherently law, not grace. God is stingy; He only responds to people's believing and gives no more than what people believe for, no matter how little that may be- or how negative the believing and the results are. There is no room for the grace of God, for God giving us more than we believe for. He "can't" treat people better than their believing deserves, because that would violate the law. God becomes not a Father, but an impassive weapons dealer, dealing out the weapon of believing to all people, Christians or not, to do whatever good or evil they wish to do with it.
The "law of believing" is very much like "the Force" in te Star Wars movies. People can use it to build or can use "the dark side of the force" to destroy.
The law of believing replaces relationship with God with a Law. People's own ability to operate the law takes center stage, not relationship with God.
Two other things fall along with relationship with God. First, "confession" takes the place of prayer. They reason that God already wants everyone to be rich and well, so there is no need to ask Him for these. Instead, people must "confess" that they have them. The power and will of God is replaced with the power of the word of human beings. This becomes like the Christian Science and Unity School of Christianity practice of making "affirmations" instead of prayers. Instead of communicating with God, people claim that what they are believing they will have.
"Believing" breeds an arrogant expectation that they will get 100% of what they want, when they want it, where they want it. No patience, faithfulness or relationship with God is required- just believing. You can get the American dream just by believing, no hard work or wisdom required.
Any profession of need ("I'm not well" or "I'm having trouble paying all my bills this month," even in prayer to God) becomes negative believing which will cause these bad results to happen or to continue. This leads to comical ways of trying to relate a need to other people in ways that don't sound like negative confession. In the process, people become opaque or even dishonest about there needs, and listeners become critical about how their friends are "confessing" things rather than being compassionate about their needs.
The name of Jesus becomes like a magic formula to get what you want. It is used almost like spells are used to accomplish the desired results, nearly breaking the command to not take the Lord's name in vain. The name is used, but at the cost of the relationship with the one who said "abide in Me."
Any "Christian" belief that is atheistic and man-centered at its core, as is the law of believing, has no place in Biblical Christian teaching.
THE DAMAGE PEOPLE CAUSE BY THEIR "NEGATIVE BELIEVING"
People are attracted to the "law of believing" because it feeds our lust for power and for the spectacular. By believing you can do wonders, the law of believing says The teachers assure people that they can in fact heal or prevent all diseases, cause prosperity, and bring people whatever job, material thing, or accomplishment they can believe for.
But the "dark side" of Wierwille's law of believing is negative believing- bad things will happen to people whenever (and every time) they fear them. Wierwille adds:
"If a person is afraid of not being able to hold his job, do you know what will happen? He will lose it. If one is afraid of a disease, he will manifest that disease, because the law is that what one believes (in this case, what one believes negatively), he is going to receive" (PFAL, p. 38).
The most shocking and disgusting story Wierwille tells in PFAL is that of a woman who was afraid and worried that her small child would be hit by a car on the way to school. One day, the child was hit by an automobile and killed. Wierwille writes,
"Do you know what killed that little boy? The fear in the heart and life of that mother. She was so desperately afraid something was going to happen to her little boy that she finally reaped the results of her believing" (PFAL p. 43-44).
At a time of grief such as this, Wierwille wants to heap the entire load of guilt for the child's death on the one who grieves the most- his mother. In addition, the driver of the car who hit the boy is absolved of any responsibility in the matter, because he or she did not kill the boy-- the mother's fear did. Any compassion for people who grieve is completely overshadowed by the desire to instruct them in the law of believing and condemn them for guilt in causing their own misery.
This emphasis on the painful results of negative believing was continued in TWI after Wierwille died. Wierwille's successor as President of TWI, L. Craig Martindale, taught a class called The Way of Abundance and Power (WAP) which replaced the PFAL class. WAP said that negative believing is "FEAR in believing... believing in Reverse... Wrong Believing... Negative Results" (WAP p. 53). Martindale spoke extensively in one of his "Life and Morality" dining room lectures at TWI headquarters about how the deaths of Wayers Steve Tully and Fred Brown were caused by their own spiritual attitudes and failures ("Death in the Promised Land," by Ex-TWI, in the Waydale document archive included in the www.greasespotcafe.com web site).
Some groups which were offshoots of TWI kept the emphasis on positive believing, but eliminated the teaching on negative believing, perhaps because of its guilt and negative results, a message few want to hear. Ironically, Martindale added that "God is a loving Father; He doesn't want us to get negative results." But TWI's God apparently is not gracious, neither giving them more than their believing requires, nor intervening to save them from the consequences of their negative believing.
WHAT DO THEY SAY TO THOSE WHO DON'T GET WHAT THEY BELIEVE FOR?
A critical question for TWI or any "faith teacher" to answer is this: "What do we say to those who do not get what they believe for?" The teaching holds that believers will- must- always do- get what they believe. So what do they say when people's sicknesses are not healed, when they die, or when prosperity does not come to them?
Wierwille and TWI revert to the "easy" answer- "you did not believe enough." To blame the needy or grieving person
for causing his own grief or need is a cold, unloving response far different from the attitudes and actions we see in Jesus Christ.
BELIEVE IN GOD OR BELIEVE IN BELIEVING?
Three of the Bible passages most often used to prove "the law of believing" are also the three least understood.
One of these was quoted above: "whoever says to this mountain, 'be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him (Mark 11:22)." This is taken to mean that people's believing, not a relationship with God or His will, is the critical element.
But note the context. This passage is book ended front and rear by statements that point us to depend on God and His will, not on our believing. Verse 22 reads, "have faith in God." Our faith in God, not in faith that something will happen, is the focus of the verse. The following verse, 24, adds "whatever you ask in prayer, believe...." Asking God humbly, with the possibility He may accept, decline, or modify what we ask for, is the key, not just confessing that something will happen. The Greek word for "ask" is the typical word for "ask" which is used the same ways we use the English word.
Wierwille also makes a false distinction between words in this passage. He uses the word "believe" as a verb and "believing" as a noun, but claims that "believing" is different from "faith." This is based on a fluke of the English language and has no basis at all in New Testament Greek. In English we commonly use the word "believe" as a verb and "faith" as the corresponding noun (rarely using the noun"belief'). But in Greek there is no such distinction. The noun form of the word for faith, pistis, has the same root as the verb form of the word "believe."
Wierwille also accurately notes that in Greek there is no preposition "in" in the phrase "have faith in God," so he changes the meaning from "have faith in God" to "have the faith of God." He does not understand that Greek frequently leaves out prepositions like "in" because they are not needed.
Unlike English, Greek "declines" nouns, that is it spells nouns differently depending on how they are used in the sentence. English does not decline most nouns, but does decline some pronouns, such as "he." We say "he went to his store with him." "He" is the subject of the sentence, "his" is the genitive form of "he" and "him" the dative case. We would never consider saying "his went to him store with he." We know that when "he" is used it is always the subject of the sentence, and "his" can never be. Since Greek declines nouns like "God" we know the meanings of the words even when prepositions are left out. "Have faith in God" uses what is called the "genitive of aim" or the "genitive objective." That is, the object of faith is God, so we know that this phrase means "faith in God" by its context even when the preposition is not used. English also leaves out prepositions sometimes without loss of understanding. For instance, if one asks, "How did you get there," another can answer "Car" and be understood even though the preposition "(By) car is left out.
Teachers of the law of believing in essence leave God out of Mark 11. This essentially unChristian view shifts the focus from faith in Christ to faith in it (whatever you want). It shifts the focus from who we believe in, to how much we believe in something. This shift away from Christ to it and how much is a shift away from the central theme of Christianity- the centrality of Jesus Christ.
WHAT DID NAZARETH REFUSE TO BELIEVE?
Another verse misunderstood by teachers of believing is Jesus' encounter with the people of Nazareth recorded in Matthew 13 and Mark 6. They assume that verse 58 "he (Jesus) could not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith" means that the people of Nazareth did not believe they would be healed.
However, the context of the verse offers a different reason. Nazareth did accept that Jesus could do miracles, because they said, "where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" (13:54). The problem was not that they did not believe they would be healed, but that they did not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah with Divine power. They said, "Isn't this the carpenter' son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things? And they took offense at him." (13:55-56). They could accept the reality of the miracles, but could not accept Jesus' character and mission as divine Messiah. "They took offense at HIM," not at his teaching on the law of believing. Their criticism was "isn't this the carpenter's son?" not "no one can believe to be healed." They rightly understood that the central issue was Him, notit, though they came to the wrong conclusion.
HEALING THE UNBELIEVING
One revealing passage about believing is the story of a man who brought his son to Jesus' disciples to be healed of a demon who tried to destroy him (Matthew 7:14f, Mark 9). The disciples could not help, so when Jesus arrived the father said
"'if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.' And Jesus said to him, 'If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.' Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, 'I believe, help my unbelief!'" (9:22-24)
The father outright admitted that he had as much unbelief as belief. This would be a great time for a "believing" teacher to correct his negative confession and tell him to overcome his unbelief with believing in order to be healed. Jesus did no such thing. Instead, he healed the boy, knowing that the man was unbelieving to a great degree. Everyone can find comfort in this story, because in truth we are all a mixture of faith and doubt. It reminds us that God is gracious and responds to the smallest amount of faith (even a mustard-seed size), and does not wait passively as we work to generate enough believing to be healed or blessed.
Oddly enough, Jesus does not censure the father or child for their unbelieving. He does censure his disciples who later asked why they could not cast out the demon. Jesus answered, because of your little faith" (17:20). Jesus censured the apostles who by experience with Jesus should have been able to minister to the boy, not the needy man and boy. If anything, teachers of believing should be censuring themselves when they cannot minister healing to people, not censure the sick who come to God and his ministers looking for help. The people who came to Jesus for healing showed faith by that act alone.
I CAN DO EVERYTHING... THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH
One verse that teachers of believing often rip out of context is Philippians 4:13, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." They usually use "I can do everything" like a cheerleader does, to pump people up so they can "believe" for miracles.
However, the context says exactly the opposite. Paul says nothing about the power of believing to bring him prosperity, healing and success. Instead, he speaks of being in need and how God gives him strength not to believe for prosperity, but to find contentment in need as readily as he finds contentment in prosperity:
"... I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:11-13).
IS IT GOD'S WILL THAT ALL BE HEALED (OR RICH)?
Two assumptions underlie the assertion that enough believing will bring about every kind of healing and prosperity. First, they assume that it is always God's will to heal. The healing is available- all people have to do is believe for it. When the need for healing arose, people in TWI would often say, "it's available!" Second, they assume that people can always know God's will in any matter.
Scripture records several examples of godly men who had diseases, some of them apparently chronic, which were not healed. Bruce Barron points this out in his excellent book, The Health and Wealth Gospel (THWG):
"Two references stand out as examples of the illness of godly men: Paul was once sick with an illness that apparently forced him to stop in Galatia (Gal. 4:13). This was perhaps an eye problem, since he later wrote to the Galatians that if possible you 'would have torn out your eyes and given them to me." Elisha died of an unnamed disease (2 Kings 13:14,2). Three other passages in Paul's letters provide further evidence along the same line: Timothy's stomach ailment (1 Tim. 5:23), the near death of Epaphroditus (Phil 2:30) and the unabated illness of Trophimus (2 Tim 4:20). In all these cases, faithful men of God were sick. The fact that Elisha lived under the old covenant (that is, before Christ) is not relevant, since the faith teachers point to Exodus 15:26 ("I am the Lord who heals you') and Deuteronomy 28 as promises just as good as any in the New Testament. In two of the cases (Timothy and Trophimus), Paul does not avoid stating that discomfort persists. But the faith teachers seldom refer to these passages." (THWG pp. 82-83)
Paul does not chide them for their lack of believing nor exhort them to claim the healing that is available. He doesn't exhort his readers to "agree" that they be healed, nor offer his readers a testimony of how these godly men overcame their ailments by their believing.
Barron also points out that faith teachers who claim that failure to receive healing is due to lack of believing sound much like Job's friends who concluded that righteous people do not suffer, so Job must have done something to cause his illness. In the end they are shown to be in the wrong and Job prays that they might be restored.
Wierwille and TWI expend a lot of effort trying to show that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" must not be a physical ailment because it threatens their teaching on the law of believing. Wierwille's followers such as Geer and Martindale who wrote classes to replace Wierwille'sPFAL class apparently recognized this, because they try to answer the "thorn" also. But they all conveniently overlook these verses which challenge their claims.
Hebrews 11 offers a list of people of faith. It does not picture faith as a tool that even nonChristians can learn to operate in order to become healthy and wealthy. Instead, it describes faith as something that shows itself in action when people trust and obey God. It is faith in God not faith in faith. It even singles out people who were "put to death... destitute, persecuted and mistreated" and those who saw promises ahead but never received them (Hebrews 11:37,39). Instead of criticizing their lack of believing, it says "these were all commended for their faith" and "the world was not worthy of them" (11:39,38)
.SHOULD WE ALWAYS BELIEVE THAT WE KNOW GOD'S WILL?
Christians should readily trust God, be confident of his promises and pray with boldness. But Barron adds perspective to this:
"But to remove the 'if' from all our petitions ignores passages like James' assertion that those who think they know precisely God's plans for their future are acutely guilty of false boasting. 'You do not even know what will happen tomorrow,' James reproaches such people. 'Instead, you ought to say, "if it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that"' (Jas 4:15-16)." (THWG p. 109)
He points out that the three men in the fiery furnace are a good example of godly men who express uncertainty that they will be saved, and yet were not censured for it (THWG p. 108):
"The God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18*.
By the rules of the law of believing, their negative confession ("if he does not") should have led to their destruction in the furnace.
Like Jesus in Gethsemane, these godly men are commended by Daniel for their submission to God's will rather than
their confident believing in the promises of God to overcome. Given the human desire for success, healing, prosperity
and avoidance of suffering, submission to God's will is perhaps a greater miracle than the desire to see God's power.
THE RESULTS OF WIERWILLE'S BELIEVING
Wierwille confidently said that the law of believing works for everyone- you receive what you believe for, whether illness or health. How well did the law work for him?
Wierwille had ocular cancer, had an eye surgically removed, then died of liver cancer about a year later at only age 67 (he also had a series of strokes). This is a very young age to die, almost ten years younger than average in his generation. By his law, he died because he caused both cancers by his own negative believing. As he wrote, "If one is afraid of a disease, he will manifest that disease, because the law is that what one believes (in this case, what one believes negatively), he is going to receive" (PFAL, p. 38).
TWI was apparently aware that his illnesses and early death call into question either "The Man of God's" (a title TWI commonly used for him) believing or the accuracy of the teaching on the law of believing itself. Instead of facing these issues, TWI hid Wierwille's illnesses and cause of death from all but a very few devotees who worked at the New Knoxville headquarters. They most commonly rationalized that Wierwille "died of a broken heart" because some of TWI's leaders had not followed his direction for a couple years before his death. Most (ex-)followers of TWI were shocked years later when they finally heard from sources outside TWI that Wierwille had died of cancer (Wierwille's death certificate is available at www.abouttheway.org).
Wierwille's son Donald, who as one of only three trustees who controlled all aspects of TWI, died of cancer at just age 60 in the year 2000.
Other faith teachers also died young. A. A. Allen died at age 59 because of alcoholism and liver problems. The most outstanding example is Hobart Freeman who led the Faith Assembly. He lived with the consequences of polio his whole life and died of heart failure and bronchial pneumonia at age 64. He advocated that seeking medical treatment is a form of negative confession. As a result, many in Faith Assembly died needlessly of treatable ailments. Barron cites confirmed reports that Faith Assembly saw about eight deaths a year from treatable illnesses through 1984.
These deaths are tragic. However, the early deaths of faith teachers like Wierwille, who they say are masters of believing, show how false the teachings on believing are.
All faith teachers, including Wierwille, were influenced by E. W. Kenyon, who was born in 1868. Kenyon popularized the idea of positive and negative confession as forces that people can operate, just as Wierwille did. Wierwille sometimes admitted that he "learned from" Kenyon, but never admitted that he plagiarized Kenyon's writings, including portions of Kenyon's The Father and His Family.
Wierwille adopted his theories of "laws" that govern human beings from metaphysical writers such as Albert Cliffe. Wierwille took Cliffe's theory of "the law of cause and effect" and renamed it "the law of believing." Wierwille also copied Cliffe's ideas on positive and negative believing and confession, though Cliffe used a variety of terms for these. (Let Go and Let God [LGLG] p. 145-152). Like Cliffe, Wierwille's God is entirely uninvolved in the operation of these "laws." Wierwille also took Cliffe's idea of "the law of giving" and renamed it "the law of tithing." (Wierwille's idea of an impersonal power "Christ in you" was taken from Cliffe also.)
Cliffe, Glen Clark, Rufus Mosley, Starr Daily and others who Wierwille admired came from a metaphysical and New Thought background, not an evangelical Christian foundation. As a result, they had a metaphysical orientation in which God is impersonal and the universe is something for humans to manipulate, using their thought (believing) as a tool. (New Thought groups today include Christian Science and Unity School of Christianity which teach concepts very much like Wierwille's law of believing.) Wierwille adopted many of their New Thought based teachings, and perhaps did not have the discernment to see how much they contradicted the Bible.
Cliffe was a spiritistic medium who freely talked about his "psychic work" and wrote, "Many of the subjects I have given in my Bible class have been dictated to me by my loved ones long since passed on" (LGLG p. 157). Wierwille said he considered mediumship to be wrong and insisted that his followers burn books by mediums at TWI's annual "Burn the Chaff" day. But apparently Wierwille never burned Cliffe books and instead bragged that he learned from Cliffe. Wierwille was very short on Biblical and spiritual discernment.
TWI has continued teaching the law of believing since Weriwlle's death in 1984. When Martindale was president from 1981 until he resigned due to lawsuits against himself for sexual relationships with married women in TWI, he publically criticized TWI staff for becoming ill or dying as a result of their negative believing. Since Rosalie Rivenbark became president in 2000, TWI has avoided condemning sick people for their negative believing. However, the law of believing and teachings on negative believing are still in their books and classes. It may be that they acknowledge that aspects of the teaching are false, but they don't want to admit it because it would be an admission that their "research" is false. Or it may be that they are theologically incapable of dealing with the questions that arise when the simplistic "law" is abandoned. As it is, TWI continues to implicitly teach negative believing and its disastrous results in believers' lives.
Many former TWI leaders began their own groups which emulated much of TWI's teaching and practice. Some of these continue to teach the law of believing in some form. For instance, Chris Geer's class Walking in God's Power has a chapter called The Law of Believing (Chapter 6.2).
THE LAW OF BELIEVING HAS NO AUTHORITY
The Bible commends those who have faith in God and challenges them to live by faith not by sight. However, advocates of positive confession go beyond Scripture by switching the emphasis from Who people believe in to how much they believe. The grace of receiving blessings from God through faith becomes a means to gain success by your own work of believing.
The Law of Believing is the worst form of this teaching, because it truly is an atheistic system, in which a passive and
detached God lets both saints and sinners learn to operate the law to their benefit or to their destruction. The law of
believing results in guilt, hypocrisy and condemnation when believing does "not work," and prompts people to focus on
themselves instead of on God.
Dr. John Juedes, 2007 /rsr_believing
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