THE HARMFUL TEACHINGS OF KENNETH AND GLORIA COPELAND Written by Cedric Hohnstadt
(NOTE: I want to be honest and fair, so all quotes are footnoted. Any time I used a quote that I could not personally verify, it is preceeded by the word “allegedly”, as in “Copeland allegedly said…”. Also, in August 2004 I submitted an early draft of this article to the Kenneth Copeland ministry and asked for their feedback. I have yet to receive a response.)
Why worry about doctrine anyway? Click HERE to see what the Bible says.
Introduction: So What’s The Big Deal?
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland teach some wonderful things: We must have confidence in God’s Word and obey it; we must resist the Devil; we should praise God, and boldly pray, and have faith; we should serve God and love others and give sacrificially. But the Copeland’s also have some dangerous teachings that are not only unbiblical, but unhealthy and even harmful.
I have no desire to slander a well-meaning ministry. But I believe the Copeland’s teaching is very flawed–so flawed that, if followed wholeheartedly, it can only lead to disappointment, frustration and disillusionment…or worse. That bothers me. The Bible is very clear that false teachings are harmful and should be exposed (in humility and love). But don’t take my word for it; turn to the Scriptures. I will quote a lot of Scripture in this article. Please click on the links so you can test what I am saying. God’s Word is more powerful than any words I can come up with.
The Copeland’s are leaders in what is commonly referred to as the Word of Faith Movement or the “Prosperity Gospel”, which (falsely) teaches that God’s will for believers is always prosperity, health, and victory—no matter what. When hard times hit (and they eventually do), what are we to make of them? Could it be that God has some sovereign reason for suffering, or that He uses it to teach us or to help us grow? Copeland says no! In Word Faith theology failure, sickness, and hardship are always attacks from Satan and are never God’s will.
Copeland is wrong. The Bible clearly tells us that sometimes it is actually God’s will that we suffer (1 Peter 3:17; 4:19; Hebrew 12:7).
Here are twelve reasons why I believe this teaching is very harmful, followed by a critique of three false promises of Copeland’s prosperity gospel:
What’s Wrong with the Prosperity Gospel?
1. Materialism keeps people out of heaven.
The Copeland’s tout the Gospel as a way to live “the good life” and claim wealth is a sign of spiritual maturity. Such a message appeals only to our sinful, selfish nature. True Christians are not to love the world or anything in the world (1 John 2:15). Jesus repeatedly warned that wealth can be dangerous to our souls (Luke 8:14; 12:15) and even keep us out of heaven (Matthew 19:21-24; Ephesians 5:5). Rather than indulging ourselves with material “blessings”, the true Christian message is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ, for “you cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
2. Lack of true peace.
Word of Faith preachers teach that God is just waiting to bless us. So if the believer isn’t experiencing “victory”, the problem must somehow be with the believer. This false teaching causes the believer to constantly strive harder, sacrifice harder, confess harder, and believe harder in order to achieve some mystical level of pure, unpolluted faith. The believer has no true peace until this “victory” is achieved.
In reality the Bible does NOT promise constant prosperity and victory (see below, False Promise #3: Victory and Success for Believers). Sometimes it is actually God’s will that we suffer (1 Peter 3:17; 4:19; Hebrew 12:7). The apostle Paul was able to proudly rejoice in his sufferings (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)! The mark of the true Christian is not freedom from suffering but peace in the midst of suffering (2 Thess. 3:16; Phil. 4:6-7; John 14:27; 16:33; Romans 8:6; 15:13; Heb. 12:11).
Despite what the Copeland’s say, pain and hardship need not shake our faith or rob us of our peace!
3. Unnecessary guilt and worry.
Copeland’s teaching makes God’s blessing conditional on our ability to strive and perform. On their website Gloria Copeland writes: “So our protection depends on our walking in fellowship with God and obedience to His Word.”6 and “Your security will be determined by how much time and attention you give to God and His Word in this life”.7 This is not only unbiblical (our security is in Christ, not our efforts), it is the exact opposite of grace! The Copeland’s also insist we must tame our tongues to secure God’s blessing,8 even though the Bible says that is impossible (James 3:8).
When suffering persists, Prosperity teaching actually creates doubt and worry (“What am I doing wrong?”; “When have I done enough?”) and destroys any real confidence in God’s sovereignty and mercy.
4. Unnecessary fear.
Anything negative, especially doubt, will supposedly cancel out your faith and short-circuit God’s blessing in your life. As a result, when hardships come the believer puts pressure on himself to do the impossible: to never have a negative thought. The result is bondage to a constant, superstitious fear of anything negative.
Actually, faith grows stronger if we ask questions and wrestle honestly with our doubts. The Bereans were commended for their healthy skepticism (Acts 17:11). We are to search for wisdom as for hidden treasure (Prov. 2:3-5) and test everything (1 Thess. 5:21).
Fear of anything negative shows how weak and fragile a person’s faith really is, and keeps it from growing stronger.
5. Emotional stress.
The Copeland’s teach that sadness, grief, anger, or frustration are signs of a lack of faith. According to Gloria Copeland, “If you are sad and depressed, that means you’re not believing God”9 . As a result, believers may stuff their true feelings and/or live in denial of them. This can create a host of unhealthy emotional and relational problems.
God knows our hearts better than we do (Psalm 44:21; Romans 8:27). When we mourn He does not shame us–He comforts us (Matthew. 5:4). He is “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” (2 Cor. 1:3). He desires that we be open and honest with Him about our negative feelings (as David did in the Psalms) so that He can help us to deal with them and overcome them with His peace.
6. Avoidance of serious problems.
Likewise, some people may avoid properly dealing with their problems. Simply accepting life’s difficulties supposedly shows a lack of faith. So when problems arise some feel they must prove their faith by patiently waiting for the “victory” they have been promised. An extreme example of this would be parents who let their children die rather than take them to the doctor, because they are claiming God’s promises to heal and taking them to the doctor would show a sinful “lack of faith”. How tragic!
When problems arise, we are to face them prayerfully with responsibility and wisdom, and then trust God to work all things out for His good (Romans 8:28).
7. A false view of God.
In Prosperity teaching, you must never pray “…if it be Your will”. To consider the possibility of a “no” answer from God supposedly shows a lack of faith (even though both Jesus and Paul did so–Luke 22:42; Acts 18:21; also James 4:13-15). Apparently Copeland’s God is a fickle being who is swayed into holding back blessing simply by praying one wrong phrase (“if it be Your will”). Copeland also allegedly believes God is not all-powerful: “God cannot do anything for you apart or separate from faith”.10 Such a God is not the true God!
8. Raising man and lowering God.
Copeland says believers have the same authority as God: “You have obtained an inheritance, and in that inheritance you have been given all authority.”11 He also says our future is in our own hands: “With [God’s] truth we can set our course…for a life full of success”;12 “You are the prophet of your own life…Your words in your life decide your future”.13 Apparently it is ultimately up to us (not God) to decide what is good for us and what blessings we should have.
Copeland’s God is also weakened by humans because he cannot truly bless us without our believing prayers and confession. So the real power is in our ability to “release the power of faith”. We must have “faith in our faith”14.
The roles are reversed–in a sense we become the masters and God becomes the servant. Copeland allegedly wrote, “As a believer, you have a right to make commands in the name of Jesus. Each time you stand on the Word, you are commanding God to a certain extent because it is His Word”.15 This is a backward, man-centered theology and is outright blasphemy. God is the King, we are but humble servants (Luke 17:10). Copeland’s emphasis is (wrongly) on our ability to drum up enough faith, when instead the emphasis should be on Christ to lead us, provide for us, and empower us to serve Him as He sees fit.
9. A distorted prayer life.
Copeland teaches that just as there are laws of physics that control the power of electricity, there are also spiritual laws that control the power of faith. The secret to the the victorious Christian life is learning how to master these supposed “faith laws” through speaking and believing God’s promises. As a result prayer becomes a constant mantra of “taking authority” and “rebuking Satan” and “speaking faith” and “rebuking doubt”–none of which is a true interaction with God. Prayer sadly gets twisted into a magical, manipulative formula rather than a loving, trusting relationship with Jesus.
10. A false road to maturity.
For Copeland, spiritual maturity equals prosperity. The Bible says the opposite: spiritual maturity comes by persevering through trials (James 1:2-4). Jesus warned strongly against prosperity. Rather than strengthening our faith, wealth can actually choke it out (Luke 8:14), pull us away from God (Matt. 6:24) and even keep us out of heaven (Matt. 19:21-24; Eph. 5:5). “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt. 6:24).
Instead of following after prosperity, we grow in maturity as we “put to death the desires of the flesh” (which includes greed–Col. 3:5) and take up our cross and follow Christ.
11. It promotes laziness and irresponsibility.
If simply claiming God’s promises entitles us to a life of victory, health, and wealth, then why bother with hard work, education, discipline, exercise, etc.? To the poor and uneducated his teachings may have the same appeal as the phony get-rich-quick philosophy promoted by lotteries, casinos, and other hucksters.
12. It is a trap that leads to disillusionment.
Tragedy and suffering strike everyone sooner or later. When they do, no amount of believing or giving tithes or rebuking the devil can get us out of them. Believers either become trapped in a constant cycle of striving and sacrificing until things improve, or they become bitter and disillusioned and leave Word of Faith teaching (and perhaps Christianity) altogether. Either way, the believer is kept from resting in the true inner peace and comfort that Christ promises in the midst of life’s tragedies.
GETTING SOME BALANCE
Copeland repeatedly bends Scripture to fit his beliefs rather than bending his beliefs to fit Scripture. Let me take three of Copeland’s biggest false promises and balance them with Scriptures that he usually (and conveniently) ignores:
False Promise #1: Financial Prosperity for Believers
The Copeland’s insist that true faith will bring the believer loads of money, despite a long list of Scriptures that teach otherwise. On their website Gloria Copeland writes:
“God’s will concerning financial prosperity and abundance is clearly revealed in the Scriptures”. 16
But what did Jesus teach about prosperity and abundance? While He never condemned money outright, He did warn us not to store up earthly treasure (Matt. 6:19) and preached that those who serve God must despise money (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:15) because their hearts will be wherever their treasure is (Matt. 6:21). He said giving is better than receiving (Acts 20:35). He warned that wealth is deceitful and can choke out our faith (Matt. 13:5,22; Luke 8:14), and to be on guard against self-indulgence and greed in all its forms (Matthew 23:25; Mark 7:21-23; Luke 12:15). He preached woe to the wealthy (Luke 6:24) and said it is almost impossible for the rich to enter heaven (Matt. 19:21-24). Jesus commands all his followers to lay down their lives in self-denial (Matt. 16:24) and told a wealthy would-be disciple to sell all his possessions (Matt. 19:21-24). Jesus himself did not even have a bed to sleep on (Matt. 8:20).
Yet Kenneth and Gloria Copeland teach that if we shun wealth we are sinning against God:
“The man who holds to poverty rejects the establishment of the covenant. The man who holds to the covenant rejects poverty. Faith in the covenant pleases God. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him.” 17 and (allegedly), “Poverty is an evil spirit”18 .
What about the Apostles–did they put a lot of emphasis on financial prosperity? Paul once described himself as “poor” and “having nothing” (2 Cor. 6:10). He wrote that a Christian must flee the desire to get rich (1 Tim. 6:10-11), because greed is idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). We must purge every hint of greed from our lives (Eph. 5:3) and be content with whatever little we have (Heb. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:6-8).
The desire to get rich is a trap that brings ruin, destruction, and all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:9-11). We are to have nothing to do with greedy people (Eph. 5:5-7). A true Christian leader must not be a lover of money (1 Tim. 3:2-3), and a greedy teacher may exploit his flock (2 Peter 2:3). Those who think godliness leads to financial gain have been corrupted (1 Tim. 6:5). A Christian must not focus his mind on earthly things (Col. 3:2) or love anything in the world (1 John 2:15-16). He must not pray for money to spend on pleasure (James 4:3), but rather be content with whatever little he has (Heb. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:6-8). Being poor is a high position while being rich is a low position (James 1:9-10).
Nevertheless, the Copeland’s insist:
“Prosperity is a major requirement in the establishment of God’s will,” and “God’s will for His people today is abundance”19.
This is easy for them to say, because the Copeland’s themselves don’t really live by faith at all.
Instead they live lavishly off the donations of poor, struggling Christians who are “sowing” what little they have for the promise of “reaping a hundredfold blessing”20 . If the Copeland’s really believe giving reaps such an increase, shouldn’t they be giving away their own wealth? By asking for donations don’t they show a lack of faith?
False Promise #2: Health and Healing for Believers
On their website Gloria Copeland writes:
“[God’s Word is] so powerful it can cure every sickness and disease known to man. It has no dangerous side effects. It is safe even in massive doses. And when taken daily according to directions, it can prevent illness altogether and keep you in vibrant health.”21
Is this incredible claim really true? If so, are things like wearing glasses, using a wheelchair, and having surgery unnecessary or even sinful?
While God can and does heal, the Bible is clear that it is not His will in every situation. Paul suffered a “thorn in his flesh” which God refused to remove in order to keep Paul humble….and rather than chide himself for lack of faith, Paul rejoiced! (2 Cor. 12:7-10). God used an illness of Paul’s to bring the gospel to the Galatians (Gal. 4:13), and Paul probably suffered from poor eyesight (Gal. 6:11). Timothy was sick frequently (1 Tim. 5:23), but rather than telling Timothy to “claim a healing” or “rebuke the devil”, Paul simply instructs him to add wine to his diet (wine was used as a form of medicine). Paul also left a man named Trophimus sick in Miletus, without healing him (2 Tim. 4:20).
Pastor and author John MacArthur lists the three primary reasons why Christians get sick:
Some sicknesses are from God. “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). God made the disabled and infirm. Babies are born every day with defects. Many children grow up with congenital deformities. Some people have illnesses that last for years. While it is unexplainable according to our human logic, it is all part of God’s sovereign, loving plan.
Some sicknesses are from Satan. (Luke 13:11-13). God may allow Satan to inflict illness for His own sovereign reasons. The classic example is Job (Job chapter 1).
Some sickness is God’s chastisement for sin. (Numbers 12; Deut. 28:20-22; 2 Kings 5). “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word” (Ps. 119:67)22
Other examples include God tormenting the Egyptians with skin boils (Ex. 9:8-12), inflicting King Jeroboam with leprosy (2 Kings 15:5), and striking Saul with blindness (Acts 9:1-19).
The Bible also tells us plainly that God disciplines the Church through sickness, hardship, and even death (1 Cor. 11:28-30; Heb. 12:7; Acts 5:1-11) and that we should joyfully accept trials “of many kinds” because God uses them to make us mature (James 1:2-4; Psalm 119:71,75). Clearly God allows and even causes sickness for His own sovereign purposes.
Yet Kenneth Copeland allegedly writes:
“Tradition has taught that God uses sickness, trials and tribulation to teach us. This idea, however, is not based on the Word of God. God HAS NEVER used sickness to discipline His children and keep them in line. Sickness is of the devil, and God doesn’t need the devil to straighten us out!”23
and on his website:
“God never inflicted anyone with disease or anything listed under the curse. SATAN WAS AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN THE ONE WHO KILLS, STEALS, AND DESTROYS (see John 10:10).” 24
Copeland is wrong, and he is on dangerous ground because He is taking the work of God and attributing it to Satan. That is blasphemy!
False Promise #3: Victory and Success for Believers
On their website Gloria Copeland writes,
“God’s prosperity isn’t just financial blessings. It also includes healing, protection, favor, wisdom, success, well-being and every good thing you could possibly need—all the good things Jesus paid for you to have.”25
“It just boils down to this: We have to live by faith and trust in God. In Him we have already been delivered from the whole curse. We’re protected from danger, sickness, lack or any other bad thing that’s under the curse. God promised us in Psalm 91, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect
those who trust in my name’ (verse 14, New Living Translation).”26
Despite what Copeland says, the Bible is very clear that following Christ does not lead to an easier life, but rather to an increase in hardship.
Jesus said that we are actually blessed not through victory and success but through mourning, persecution, insults, poverty, hunger, weeping, hatred and rejection (Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23; John 15:18-20). He said that those who follow Him may see their family members become their enemies (Matt. 10:34-36; Luke 14:25-26), and that the world would hate them (Matthew 10:22; John 15:18). All who follow Jesus must give up everything (Luke 14:33) and deny themselves and take up a cross (Matt. 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23), which means embracing an instrument of torture and death.
Throughout the book of Acts the disciples were persecuted, hauled into courts, threatened, imprisoned, beaten, flogged, stoned to death and put to the sword. They faced riots and mobs. False witnesses were brought against them. They were scattered from their homes (Acts 8:1) and some believers even had their property confiscated (Heb. 10:34).
At one point Paul was imprisoned for two years (Acts 24:27). According to 1 Cor. 4:9-13, he and his companions suffered hunger and thirst, their clothing was reduced to rags, they were brutally treated, they were homeless, cursed, persecuted, slandered, and they compared themselves to scum and refuse. They was “hard-pressed”, “perplexed”, “persecuted”, “struck down”, and “always given over to death” (2 Cor. 4:8-11). They faced troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, dishonor, bad report, beatings, sorrow, and poverty. (2 Cor. 6:4-10). Paul himself was chained and imprisoned frequently, flogged five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, and was constantly on the move from danger. Cold and naked, he sometimes went without food, water or sleep. (2 Cor. 11:23-27) At one point in his ministry everyone deserted him (2 Tim. 4:16), and at another time the pressure and despair was so great that he no longer wanted to live (2 Cor. 1:8-9).
Yet Copeland writes:
“The only suffering we encounter in sharing His victory is spiritual. That’s what the Word is talking about when it says we are to be partakers of Christ’s suffering. In other words, the only suffering for a believer is the spiritual discomfort brought by resisting the pressures of the flesh, not a
physical or mental suffering. Jesus has already borne for us all the suffering in the natural and mental realms. . .That’s why it’s to God’s glory when we are healed or delivered physically and mentally, for we only have to fight in the spirit realm.”27
Apparently Paul just never learned how speak to victory into his life. Are we to assume Copeland is a stronger man of faith than Paul was?
Hardly. Paul understood the essential Christian doctrine of self-denial. He was willing to take up his cross, put to death his sinful nature, and face persecution and death daily as a bondslave of Christ and for the benefit of others. Yet this crucial Christian concept is strangely absent in Copeland’s prosperity teaching.
Hebrews 11:35-39 describes men of God who were tortured, jeered at, flogged, chained, imprisoned, stoned, sawed in two, and put to death by the sword. They wore sheepskins and goatskins and wandered the deserts and mountains, living in caves and holes in the ground. The were destitute, persecuted, and mistreated. The Copelands would say these were people of weak faith, but verse 39 says they were commended for their faith!
The Blessings of Suffering, Sickness, and Hardship
Suffering can be a blessing (Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23; 1 Pet. 3:14; 4:14). Christians should not be surprised at suffering (1 Peter 4:12; 1 John 3:13; 1 Thess. 3:3-4; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Thess. 3:4) but embrace it joyfully (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:13). Godliness and suffering go hand in hand (2 Tim. 3:12). Sometimes suffering is actually God’s will (1 Peter 3:17; 4:19; Hebrew 12:7) and He uses it to bring about many positive results, such as:
A greater dependance on God (2 Cor. 1:9; 12:7-10)
Joy (Matt. 5:10-12; Luke 6:22-23; Acts 5:41; Rom. 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 12:9-10; Col. 1:24; 1 Thess. 1:6; 1 Peter 4:13; Heb. 10:34; James 1:2-4)
Patience (2 Cor. 1:6; James 5:10; Rev. 1:9)
Courage (Matt. 10:28; Phil. 1:28; 1 Thess. 2:2; Rev. 2:10)
Freedom from Shame (2 Tim. 1:8,12; 1 Peter 4:16)
Perseverance/Endurance (Rom. 5:3; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:3; 2 Tim. 4:5; Heb. 10:32,36; 12:7; James 1:2-4,12; 1 Peter 4:19; Rev. 1:9, 2:3,10,13)
Character (Rom. 5:3-4)
A harvest of righteousness and peace (Heb. 12:11)
Closeness to Jesus and a longing for heaven (Rom. 8:17; Phil. 3:10; Heb. 11:26,35; 12:2-3; 13:13; 1 Peter 4:1; Rev. 21:4)
Thankfulness (1 Thess. 5:18)
Blessing and Kindness (1 Cor. 4:12-13)
Gentleness and Respect (1 Peter 3:14-17)
Opportunities to show forgiveness to others (Matt. 5:39-45; 2 Tim. 4:16)
Blessings and Comfort for others (1 Cor. 12:25-26; 2 Cor. 1:3-7; 8:2-4; Eph. 3:13; Phil. 1:14; Col. 1:24; 1 Thess. 3:2-4; 2 Tim. 2:8-10; Heb. 13:3)
Rather than being a sign of “lack of faith”, suffering can be one of the greatest tools God uses for strengthening our faith, and a sign that we are indeed living according to His will!
Yet on his website Kenneth Copeland writes:
“Over the years, this unscriptural doctrine of suffering for God by submitting to such works of the devil as sickness, lack and oppression has become a veritable sacred cow. But it’s time we knocked that cow in the head.”28
One has to wonder if Copeland is even reading the same Bible as the rest of us.
Blessed by God?
Does God desire to bless us? Absolutely!!! But the greatest blessings of God are not the things this world admires, for “what is highly esteemed among men is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15).
We are blessed through suffering and persecution (Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Pet. 3:14; 4:14). We are blessed through being meek and pure in heart, through showing mercy and making peace (Matt. 5:1-10). We are blessed through faithful devotion to Christ (Matt. 11:6) and in understanding who Christ really is (Matt. 16:17). We are blessed by giving to others (Acts 20:35) and by helping the hungry, lonely, naked, sick, imprisoned, poor, crippled, lame and blind (Matt. 25:34-36; Luke 14:13-14). We are blessed by obeying the word of God (Luke 11:28; John 13:17; James 1:25) and by persevering through trials (James 1:12; 5:11). We are blessed by believing in Christ (John 20:29) and through repentance (Acts 3:26). We are blessed through the forgiveness Christ purchased for us on the cross (Rom. 4:6-8) and the hope of eternal life (Titus 2:13; Rev. 20:6)
There are good reasons why the Bible commands us to “test everything” and “preserve sound doctrine”, and warns us repeatedly about false teachers. While the Copeland’s have some good things to say, we must remember that Satan does not feed us poison outright— he hides it in the meat.
Whether they mean to or not, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland mislead people with false promises. Their supposed “life of victory” ultimately breeds guilt, fear, confusion, worry, disillusionment, and lack of true peace.
They keep people from dealing properly with the struggles of life. They present a false view of God, give man control of his own destiny, and attribute some of God’s work to Satan. They turn prayer into manipulation. They lead people to put their faith in the wrong thing and then prevent that faith from truly growing stronger.
They preach a gospel of materialism instead of self-denial, and make it harder for people to learn what God wants to teach them through suffering. Their theology is sloppy and they are misleading many for their own financial gain.
For all of this the Copeland’s must be held accountable. God holds teachers and prophets to very high standards (James 3:1; Deut. 18:20), and so should we.
(KCM is short for Kenneth Copeland Ministries)
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