What is the Word of Faith?
If I told you that, for every pound (or dollar, US visitors) you gave me, you could expect a hundred back, you would bite my hand off. Think of what I’m saying. If you give me £100, I will give you £10,000. You’d be crazy not to take it.
Well, as a reader of this blog, I would expect you to treat my claim with great scepticism. But this is the offer that Word of Faith preachers make to their congregations. The Word of Faith, if true, is the best news ever. It guarantees that you can be rich, free from sickness, and conquer all of your problems. Their insistence that “You can have what you say” has led to it being dubbed the “blab it and grab it” lot.
This prosperity gospel has thousands of adherents in the UK. It is followed by a significant proportion of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians.
The Charismatic Movement is, essentially, Christians of other denominations behaving like Pentecostals. It is characterised chiefly by speaking in tongues, as well as the other gifts of the spirit (prophecy), and a very expressive worship style (raising your hands in worship, dancing before God, pop- and rock-influenced worship music).
The Charismatic movement has had quite an impact in the Church of England. Holy Trinity Brompton is one prominent Charismatic Anglican church, best known for being the place that invented the Alpha course. The New Church Movement and the Vineyard movement are also Charismatic. A lot of Charismatic churches are completely independent, though.
There are half a million Charismatic Christians in the UK, and a further million Pentecostals (statistics at the end of this post). By all accounts, they are the fastest (some say only) growing churches in Britain. They’re also the only mega-churches: 9% of Pentecostals attend a church with weekly attendance of over 1,000, according to Tearfund.
Placing a number on how many of these people put stock in the Word of Faith is pure guesswork. I’ve attended a number of New Churches, and found them generally sympathetic to the Word of Faith. At Bath City Church, a “new” church, the WoF was not preached from the pulpit, but they frequently gave a platform to my Dad to preach it midweek. He was quite well-known locally for preaching the prosperity gospel.
In my experience, some Charismatic Christians are deeply suspicious of the Word of Faith. Praying in tongues, shaking uncontrollably, casting out demons, being “drunk” in the Holy Spirit – that’s all fine, but they draw the line at the prosperity gospel. Overall, though, I’d say a majority of Charismatics are sympathetic to the Word of Faith, and a significant minority follow it devoutly.
The best-known Faith preacher is Kenneth Copeland. I spent most of my childhood listening to him; he popularised the hundredfold return message I referenced at the start of this post. He frequently ran week-long conventions at the 9,000-seater NIA in Birmingham. This coming weekend, he is hosting a three day conference at London’s ExCel Centre. While the NIA was never packed, Copeland has always drawn thousands to his UK meetings. Copeland’s UK office is in Bath. I emailed them to find out how popular he is in the UK. The answer came back that KCM has “more than 17,000 friends and partners in the UK and Europe.”
Another popular Word of Faither is the faith healer Benny Hinn. I went to a meeting of his at the Albert Hall in the 90s, hosted by Colin Dye’s 15,000-strong Kensington Temple. There seemed to be more people outside than inside; getting a ticket was next to impossible. It seems Hinn still enjoys this popularity. At a 2006 meeting at the ExCel Centre, he claims there were 7,000 people outside, unable to fit in the auditorium.
Hinn was back in the UK this year, at London’s Victorious Pentecostal Assembly. According to this local council report, the church hosts numerous weekly meetings, the most popular of which, bizarrely, is on Tuesday mornings and pulls 2,000 people. Weekday evening services attract 1,750, and Sunday services 750.
Of course, when you’re promising unlimited money and miracle healings, it’s hard to predict whether the crowd is made up more of the devout or the desperate.
In 2012, England will also see a visit from Creflo Dollar, Pastor of the 30,000-strong World Changers Christian Centre in Atlanta. Dollar has come under fire for driving two Rolls-Royces, but to his followers this is only proof that the gospel he preaches is true. Dollar will be hosted by Kingsway International Christian Centre, which had planning permission for an 8,000 seater auditorium denied in 2008.
So I can’t tell you how many Faith Movement/ Word of Faith/ Prosperity Gospel/ Blab n’ Grabbers there are in the UK, but I’d be amazed if it’s not a six-figure number. Adherents would probably overestimate the number massively. These type of preachers always host massive events in arenas and stadia, and build megachurches. The social proof that comes from meeting in those numbers makes the message appear more credible.
Of course, most Christians consider the Word of Faith to be heresy and/or a cult. Next time, I’ll explain how they manage to get people to believe this stuff, and consider whether it really is a cult (spoiler: Yes).
For the avoidance of confusion: The Charismatic movement and the Word of Faith have nothing to do with Accelerated Christian Education. Although all three parties claim to believe the Bible is literally infallible in all parts, they still manage very different interpretations. ACE is based on Southern Baptist fundamentalist theology. I went to an ACE school and a Word of Faith church at the same time. The two are in agreement on the first four or five points of their statements of faith, but the places where they differ get each side very, very angry indeed. Surprisingly, this hasn’t stopped the ACE curriculum being popular with Charismatics and Pentecostals.
And now the statistics…
The Evangelical Alliance, via British Religion in Numbers, found in a survey of 17,000 British Christians that just under 14% identified as Charismatic. Taking Tearfund’s figure of 2 million regular churgoing Evangelicals, that gives 280,000 Charismatics.
That still doesn’t give us the total number, because the Charismatic Movement is influential within the various denominations. Given the either/or choice on the Evangelical Alliance’s survey, Charismatic Anglicans, for example, might understandably go with their denomination.
In the 2005 English Church Census, 16% of regular churchgoers identified as Charismatic. That gives a weekly church attendance in England of 500,000 Charismatics.
In Tearfund’s 2007 survey, 7.8% of Christians identified as Charismatic. Using Tearfund’s numbers, that projects to 588,000 adults.
In a massive Cambridge-YouGov survey, “Evangelical/ Charismatic” was, unusually, one of the listed denominations. It was selected by 2% of Christians (who represented 55% of those surveyed). Projected into the adult population, that’s 550,000.
Estimates on Pentecostal numbers vary from one million (BBC, 2006) to three million (BRIN). Writing in the Telegraph, David Modell quotes the EA’s figure of two million. I’ve gone for the lowest figure because I don’t want to be sensationalist.
Posted on May 9, 2012, in Christianity, Fundamentalism, Word of Faith and tagged Benny Hinn, Charismatic Movement, Christianity, Creflo Dollar, Faith Movement, Jesus, Kenneth Copeland, pentecostal, Prosperity Gospel, Word-Faith. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.
It all works mate, If one hundred of you give me £100 I’ll have £10,000 If I can persuade a million of you to give me £100 I’ll have a £100,000,000, see the prosperity gospel works for me. If it it didn’t work for you, the obviously you haven’t got enough faith.
Blast I forgot to to include the donate button.
Haha! Although – and this will probably be the subject of a future blog post – I think some of those televangelists really believe what they are saying. I know it sounds incredible, but I don’t think they are all conning people intentionally.
It’s hard to separate the delusional from the cynical, but I know people who spent a lot of time with the Copelands et al and never suspected any foul play. If they’re actors, they’re really good.
I didn’t realize that these folks were that popular over in England. Copeland and Hinn are on TV in the US all the time. Personally, I would much rather watch Benny Hill than Benny Hinn any day of week, even though Benny Hinn can unintentionally be funnier than Benny Hill’s worst skits.
On a side note, I was at the NIA last year to see Iron Maiden and I can guarantee that they were MUCH better than sitting though Kenneth “Send me your money” Copeland
Actually, I loved Kenneth Copeland meetings back then. Even when I was 9, I would go to the adult meetings rather than the kids’ church. He was there telling me how God was going to give me unlimited money, stop me from getting sick, make all my dreams come true, and defeat all life’s problems. All I had to do was listen to find out how. Awesome.
These days, an Iron Maiden gig sounds much better. I bet they rocked.
How do they rationalize it when it doesn’t happen? Because, let’s face it, it doesn’t.
1) you don’t have enough faith
2) the lord is trying to teach you not to rely on material wealth
3) you have unconfessed sin in your life
4) you aren’t praying hard or often enough
5) the hasn’t said no, he is saying not yet. persevere and you’ll see the results.
Benny hinn got ran out of Orlando, fl, I used to run with the word of faith, then I started to read my bible, and then that all changed.
Well, I can be more generous than that, If you give me $100, I will give 50% of it back to you. That’s a better deal than many companies like Goldman Sacks does. Heck, I’ll go the extra mile for you and give you 75% back. Now you can’t beat that deal anywhere. And is anything but complicated. Now that you are aware of my need to have your money– 25% of it, to be precise. I can prove that this works.
You hand me $10,000 and I’ll give you $7,250 back. Now think about it. That IS a good deal. Think about how many other ways you could lose $2,500. There’s many of them. But this one is for a good cause–and it’s tax deductible. Everybody wins, everybody goes home in a limousine. Well, not me. I’ve only got a lousy 2500 dollars of your money, but if you can get 200 friends to go in on this deal, I’ll have half a million dollars. Now that’s good for you, it’s good for me, and it’s good for the economy.
If you ever do decide to start a cult ripping people off, Don, I’m going to feel very guilty for giving you the idea.
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