strange fires

Kenneth Copeland's Faith Teaching Under The Lights On Larry King Live

by Rev. Rafael D Martinez, Spiritwatch Ministries

When truth confronts error, and the stakes are life and death, subtlety is usually one of the first casualties of the melee. One of my favorite discernment proverbs was first created (and modified a bit by me) from some European gadfly a hundred or so years ago that really just says it all: 

"There is nothing so poignant as the tragedy of a beautiful fantasy freshly slain by an ugly fact .." 

Prime time TV is one of those places where such things can happen and CNN's "Larry King Live" soundstage was one of those crucibles, those choice arenas of encounter within which the butchery I speak of usually occurs. I've watched Franklin Graham get skewered there by New Age mavens and have listened to his wiser father Billy exalt and lift up the name of Jesus before skeptics - even if, sadly, in the last few years Billy's commitment to upholding the exclusive nature of the claims of Christ have become appallingly lacking. When it comes to divine truth, few more satisfying theophanies have occurred on King's show than when I watched him interview Jim Bakker several years ago as he toured promoting his book I Was Wrong. I was ringside and listened to Bakker's diplomatically priceless slaughter of the Word of Faith heresy in five of the most memorable minutes of TV I have ever seen in my life (Click here if you'd like to watch it). Our focus in this short article is the remembrance of how the Faith movement was again weighed and found wanting by reality itself on King's CNN program on August 17, 2001 - when Word of Faith teacher Kenneth Copeland was directly confronted with questions that squarely challenged his own theology on faith, healing and the sovereignty of God.

First of all, let me make one or two things perfectly clear before discussing the issue: 

I firmly hold to the Biblical teaching that God does yet heal today (as if He ended it sometime ago). He does not reveal himself to us as Jehovah-Rapha (the Lord our healer) for nothing. Despite the lame cessationist views on it, divine healing has never ceased and is an application of God's restorative power to a physical need that is fully met by His divine action. While cessationists who claim complete faith in the Bible's accounts of the healing ministry of God the Son, our Lord Jesus, as He walked in Israel over two thousand years ago, they so quickly dismiss it's presence today with their neat theological storage shelves, quite without any Biblical evidence that it ever was meant to end. While healing can come from legitimate medical means as referred to in both testaments, it is most often mentioned in the New Testament context as being the administration of a divine grace of God (in which it rightly should be called divine healing). 

Such healing, according to the Bible comes from either an answer to intercessory prayer or by the manifestation brought about through the ministration of a Christian who has received one of a plurality of spiritual gifts related to healing. Regardless of the means of divine healing, whether from the ministry of elders anointing with oil or from individuals who have been bestowed with one of these gifts, their glorious and operative power is entirely based upon the atoning work of Jesus Christ at Calvary. It was through the sacrificial death of our lovely Lord Jesus that the power of sin and death were once and for all shattered as the Kingdom of God conquered them and their consequential curse upon the created order. That is why divine healing can now be received - because it was at Jesus' Cross that the provision for the redemptive work upon all of the physical order was wrought. Faith alone in that precious sacrifice gives us access to that "power in the blood," and praise God, that's all it ever has taken.

One of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement's foundational spiritual axioms, is that healing is provided for in the atonement. This is one of the pillars of the Declaration of Faith of my home church fellowship, the Church of God (Cleveland). While I agree with the essence of the statement fully as a Biblical truth, I do not concede the almost immediate implication that is universally and wrongly squeezed out of the statement by most Pentecostals and Charismatics - that healing of ALL disease and ALL sickness can be obtained by ALL believers ALL the time in ALL cases where sought after by them. The pain and suffering many of our loved ones we know in our homes and home churches proves this all too well. Only in that day yet to come when the glory of the Kingdom of God fully restores all things in both the natural and supernatural orders at the great Day of the Lord will that blessed redemptive work of restorative power flow across the nations like a mighty river into a dry and dead gulch. 

That is why I have always taught that "Healing is provided for in the atonement, but guaranteed ONLY in the resurrection."  

Unfortunately, Faith theology is so warped enough to presume to teach that we frail, foolish Christians can cheat all sickness and all poverty by the sheer force of trust in what we say and in some nebulous "spiritual laws" so mighty even God has to use them to get anything done. The deceptive, unbiblical and materialistic carnality that subsequently proceeds from this position has been advanced by many so-called "anointed" Faith teachers, but very few have the impact, power, and influence over the course of this torrent of turpidity than the twisted ramblings of Kenneth Copeland. For more on the Faith movement's perverse distortion on faith, healing and God's sovereignty, click here to read an article on it.

So imagine my delight when in the air conditioned comfort of my brother-in-law's home, both Joy and I and his wife watched brother Copeland get a primer in the limits of his Faith house of cards on the same CNN soundstage that Bakker had been on. The Lord was gracious, good, and all glorious enough to allow my rheumy old eyes another chance to see truth at work as it tears error up ... First, some context from the original CNN transcript

Tonight, Pat Boone is asking for your prayers. His grandson Ryan is in a coma after a freak three story fall. Pat believes prayer can save his life. With Pat here in Los Angeles, Ryan's mom  Lindy Boone Michaelis. Also joining us, Kenneth Copeland, co-founder  and president of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries. Max Lucado, best-selling Christian author and senior minister at the Oak Hills Church of Christ in San Antonio. and Dave Owen pastor of the Malibu Vineyard where Ryan attended church. We are talking prayer power. We are taking your calls, next on LARRY KING LIVE. 

This CNN program made for some of the most compelling viewing I've seen since it featured the real-time, real-life struggle that Pat Boone and his family were then grappling with, that being the dire medical state of one of Boone's grandchildren, Ryan, who had been in a coma after a four-story fall into a building through a skylight. Along with Pat Boone and Ryan's mother Lindy were Ryan's Vineyard pastor Dave Owen, Max Lucado, the irrepressible devotional writer we all have read or heard of some time and Kenneth Copeland, one of the most well known figures in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. The Boones and the Copelands apparently enjoy a longstanding friendship for years. 

Copeland's appearance was unforgettable (an in-law's VCR helped out). What made the whole thing so gripping was how the conversation, in between very real and heart felt expressions by all that everyone wanted to see Ryan raised up by God's healing power, took some very interesting turns. Off of the CNN site, I located the transcripts of these exchanges and highlighted them here. These were when Faith magnate Copeland was directly confronted neither by salaaming Word-people sycophants or good-ol boy Faith minister peers but by the harsh real-world realities of the sad situation by King and callers in a straightforward, fair manner that left him no room to dodge the bullets: 

KING: So what do you say to yourself when a patient you pray for doesn't get better? God wanted him or her not to get better? 

COPELAND: No, never. 

KING: What do you say? 

COPELAND: Well, it depends on what the circumstances were, but in most cases my first reaction is to apologize, because I don't know enough. And I'm trying my best, I'm learning everything I can get my 
hands on, I'm walking by faith. For instance, fear, in a lot of circumstances, can negate the faith that it takes to make the kind of connection and spiritual things and with God that it takes to bring results. 
So, there is just a whole lot to know. 

Note carefully Copeland's response, one that is a classic study in Faith theology that falls utterly short of relevance or believability. First, he unequivocally insists in the first part of his answer to Larry King that he would never tell someone he prays for that God doesn't want them well in face of their failing health. From anyone who has even the most cursory contact with Copeland's teachings, that is indeed consistent with his Word of Faith theology. This body of teaching unflinchingly assures us that it is God's will that everyone be healed of all sickness and all disease, a fundamental of the Faith teaching. If you have watched any of his "Believer's Voice Of Victory" telecasts, read any of his books or magazines or encountered any of Copeland's disciples there is no way you can not have encountered this claim that he and other Faith icons like Rod Parsley, Marilyn Hickey routinely assert in their own media. Surely the audience could not have missed the inherently presumptuous and inflated nature of that grotesque claim, let alone it's unbiblical base, something too many full gospel folk never study through. 

But Copeland never had a chance to trot out the appropriate strawman arguments he always resorts to when referring to healing (dry-bone religionists who deny belief in any kind of divine healing) because Larry went on to focus the question's thrust most conversationally: "What do you say?" The line was drawn in the sand and the whole world was watching. He was placed front and center into the pastoral spotlight of the proverbial sickbed and was compelled to explain himself. His answer is quite astonishing coming from someone who regularly pats himself on the back for delivering over three decades of the "uncompomised Word of God", producing "insightful messages of victory that have set hundreds of thousands of people free .. these solid teachings place the power of the Word into YOUR hands .." (BVOV Magazine, Sept 1998, p. 26). 

Copeland's teaching is chockablock full of his Faith theological absolutism on this point: I cite one of his partner letters we received in July of 1998, and could cite dozens of others ad nauseum

When your words are the Word of God, you have the power in your mouth to cast down doubt and deceit, and to bring heaven on earth in every situation of your life. .. You have a weapon that can overcome every troubling, nagging, terrorizing, doubting thought that would try to cross your mind. But that weapon isn't other thoughts. It's the Word of God. Don't fight thoughts with thoughts. Fight thoughts with words -- God's words. Put the Word in your mouth and fire it at every lying thought of the enemy.

With this kind of mindset, it's impossible to see how Copeland can escape the trap he sets .. for someone who confidently lopes around his packed auditorium every week on his telecast and who can sound so certain of what to do in such a terrible moment as critical injury and illness, Kenneth's answer is a bitter laugh. 

Think about it: here's a minister of the Gospel that for 30 years supposedly produces anointed teachings to "break the yoke" and in the full and harsh klieg lights of reality, suddenly pleads ignorance and a need to learn more! It's pathetic .. what a dodge, and right before the eyes and ears of his Partners who certainly were watching. Larry King obviously was dwelling too much on those troubling, nagging, terrorizing, doubting thoughts, I guess. But by default, everyone else was too, I guess. He just wanted to make sure Kenneth weighed in.

Things didn't get easier for him either: 

CALLER: My husband recently had a miraculous healing from leukemia by prayer. And I want to know what to say to those people who say to me, why has God not healed my loved one. 

COPELAND: Well, the... 

KING: Good question. 

COPELAND: The receiving is on our part. God is giving. If we are not receiving, then there is a -- there is a misconnection a breakdown, there in spiritual communication. God sent Jesus to the cross, he raised him 
from the dead, he seated him at his right hand on high, he has given us his word. 

We have 6,000 years of experience of this word and the people that have lived it over the years. This idea that well, God healed one but he didn't heal the other, could it be that there was something wrong on our 
part rather than God? There is a breakdown in the receiving, more than there is in the giving. 

I think Copeland must have found his second wind by then, because here he finally began to trot out his warped reasoning that he tries to employ to explain away the gaping holes now torn in the sails of his Faith frigate. When asked directly why people don't get healed, Copeland here first tries to establish that God does indeed heal in spite of the failure of many to receive it - something I would emphatically agree with him on. This exchange more than any other sheds light upon the twilight zone of personal encounter with God in the context of the manifestation of healing .. that outer limit of reality where the supernatural power of God meets the natural weakness of man and where Christians confronted by it often walk either too fearfully or too presumptuously (a shepherding time where pastors must routinely walk where even angels would fear to go). The question is again direct and demands an answer - why isn't God healing those who may be asking Him to heal? 

Copeland tries to contain the profoundly fluid boundaries of the question through both assertion of Biblical truth and futile damage control for his unbiblical error (it was a nice try). In short, he says "God's giving healing to us and we just aren't taking it because of a breakdown in spiritual communication" .."God provided healing in the atoning death of His Son and now that Jesus is glorified in heaven, it's provided, but we simply have a problem on our part in receiving that gift.". Copeland cites by implication the "divine health" his Faith people enjoy and the several thousands of years of historicity that supposedly proves that people are receiving in the manner he's been advancing. Again, he's being consistent with his own teaching (I have to give him that) and in so doing, gets us to understand he feels that the problem is either lack of knowledge, lack of communication with God on our part. 

To be blunt, that's his diplomatic way of using the same disgusting and tired old Faith saw to hammer over the heads of the bewildered and suffering Christians who don't find they or their loved ones healed: "YOU didn't have enough FAITH .. so there's something WRONG WITH YOU, brother." 

That's one of the cruelest and most infuriatingly insensitive barbs Faith theology lashes out at you with .. how many of us have seen genuine saints of God be tormented by this lie from hell? How many of God's people have left this earth with that accusation echoing in their hearts, that they who had believed God faithfully for years NOW have an evil deficiency in their ability to trust "God's words". What a towering insult to those who have stood on the Word of God all their lives and who, when confronted by the inevitable and inexorable advance of pain, sickness and suffering in this cursed world order, are then told they are dying because they didn't get a hold of God! 

My Sunday School class a few years ago ministered at the death bed of one of our members dying of inoperable brain cancer and whose wife (a precious and passionately devout sister) did ALL the stuff these Faith (and other) teachers proscribe - from the Stick-it posting of "healing Scriptures" all over the house to the playing of audio tapes containing readings of these 24/7 in that small, sad home (I have never had the courage to ask her how many "seeds" she'd planted). She had "words" he would live, and not die. 

Suffice it to say that this dear brother lost his battle on this plane, but achieved glory on the next .. and our dear sister almost ceased to function for a time .. but does this mean she didn't have faith? Does this mean then that there was some deficiency, some secret sin on her part that her beloved husband did not rise and be healed. I'd just have to give Copeland the right foot of fellowship had he dared suggest that to our sister before me. But he boldly made no bones about it live before the nations .. 

There's no way anyone with half of a brain could walk away from Copeland's pearls of wisdom here and not come up with some version of this conclusion. I guess he must have thought he was reaching the masses for Christ - instead he was making revolting to the masses our blessed Christ. And things didn't get any easier .. 

COPELAND: Yes, sir? 

KING: ... if you believe in heavenly life and life goes on, then maybe Ryan is blessed if he goes on? 

COPELAND: Well, he's blessed either way. 

KING: So death isn't terrible? 

COPELAND: No, death isn't terrible. 

KING: So why all the concentration on keeping him alive? 

COPELAND: Well, I believe -- now, this is just my opinion, particularly knowing this young man's life, I believe he has a calling from God on his life to accomplish here on the Earth. 

And I think there is one thing that needs to be injected right here. We have not been without answered prayer where he's concerned. He started off at death's door. His liver has been healed, his pancreas has been healed, his jaw has been healed, his lungs have been healed. I mean, this -- we're taking back the ground one stage at a time, but thank God it's been... 

Yet again, we're treated to a brief but revealing glimpse into Copeland's thoughts concerning the vagaries and outrages of our fallen world order. For Copeland, and most "Faithers", a world filled with pain and sickness that simply will not go away no matter how many decrees, seeds or words one immerses their situation with is a world they ultimately cannot avoid nor escape. But as the old saying says, it's not the destination but the journey that makes the difference. And "Word people" - Copeland included - are those unfortunate believers who have been tasked with the responsibility for confessing their way out of their problems, with making sure they write their tickets with God, with having whatever it is they say, thus rendering their pilgrimage through this vale of tears one that THEY carry. 

Faith is a substance, Copeland has taught, and one that must therefore be produced by humans to power the spiritual-law machinery that moves mountains. He also has taught that battling with one's own way of thinking about the presence of the symptoms of sickness is a major sticking point, one that must be overcome with the victorious frame of mind that refuses to believe one is sick, but to see themselves as "healed," even if one is still deathly ill (this is perhaps the most frightening dimension of Faith teaching that confronts Christians constantly and which has caused untold amounts of suffering by too many people ..) 

This is what he had in mind, I think, when he mentions Ryan's healings as "ground" that THEY took back one stage at a time, as if they were the U.S. Marines Corps leapfrogging across the islands of the Pacific from one horrific battle with the Japanese Imperial Army to another as World War II wound down. Copeland is pretty quick in grabbing the spotlight here, I think, and how telling this is. Perhaps he thought he was giving God glory here. Instead, he was showing us just how human-centered the whole Faith enterprise really is, and implicitly, how unbiblical it was. 

How sad it is to see how far Christians will go to do any and everything but simply trust in their God and to rest in His promises of care, even if healing does not come! How terrible to see the flesh try to finish
what can only be completed in the Spirit (shades of the Galatian error), to work up what only God's grace by faith will do. And how truly piteous to see Copeland, one of the undisputed capo di tutti capi of the Faith galaxy, be revealed to be nothing more than a Biblically impoverished, slogan spouting character who diminishes himself every time he tries to be profound and sagelike. 

I could go on quite a bit more, but I will leave it with this final exchange that I think was the high point of the evening: 

KING: Let's start include some phone calls. Costa Mesa, California, hello. 

CALLER: Hello, Larry. Hello, Pat. 


KING: Hi. 

CALLER: Lindy, my prayers are with you and your family, of course. And of course, with Ryan. You know, I'm religious and I believe in prayer, but I don't have 1 percent the knowledge that you have about religion, and I was just wondering -- you talked about the Red Sea and how it parted and now Ryan is just waiting for the Red Sea to be parted. What if that does not happen? How does somebody with such faith as you and your family, if Ryan does, God forbid, not come out of his coma, how do you answer those, how do you come with an answer to why that prayer is not being answered? 

KING: Pat? 

BOONE: Yeah, thank you. Of course, you know, I don't like to think about that possibility, but I do know that the God we are praying to had to hear his own son cry out to him from the cross, "my God, my God, 
why have you forsaken me?" And God had to let his son die, because there was a purpose, it was for our own salvation. 

There was no other way, because man -- every man's and every woman's in this world sins separates them from God and there had to be a sacrifice. He was the ultimate (UNINTELLIGIBLE), he was the ultimate Passover sacrifice, that lamb that was slain. Isaiah 53 paints the picture of the messiah who had to die. And so, God has had to hear his own son cry for his help... 

KING: So, that is your rationale? 

BOONE: My rationale is that God has -- He is in charge. He is not surprised by it. He is going to work it, as Max said, for our good. Ryan has a relationship with God that is eternal. This life so is short that if God said, "I'm taking Ryan to myself," we could accept it, because we know we are going to see him again, we know we are going to be together, that Ryan would not come back from that place if he could, once he experiences what's on the other side. 

KING: And since you believe there is another side... 

BOONE: Yeah. 

KING: That has to diminish grief. 

BOONE: It does. 

KING: The grief then is self -- I mean, you miss him. 

BOONE: Yeah. 

KING: But if he's gone to a better place. 

BOONE: We wouldn't bring him back if we could, once that has happened. 

LUCADO: Well, it's like you said earlier, you know, if what the Bible says about heaven is true, then the ultimate prayer, the ultimate answered prayer, forever life, is heaven. 

KING: You go there. 

LUCADO: That's right. That's right. 

KING: So, if someone gets there sooner, maybe that's a blessing. 

LUCADO: Exactly. You know, all of our lives, we're just... 

BOONE: We all want to go there. 

KING: But Ken believes he has a calling to stay here. 

COPELAND: I really do. 

How pathetic and empty Copeland's thinking on this ultimately is! Of course we all live by faith that God has a purpose for us all here, a "calling" if you will, but what happens when the Rude Awakening of a crushed spinal cord or a rampant mutation of cancer cells remain uncontrolled? Why won't he at least concede the point here? His failure to be forthright on this issue is both predictable yet still so terribly shocking. The Faith movement's imbalanced obsession with "overcoming" and with accepting nothing less than tangible victory as seen in a 100 % healing and/or resurrection of a terminally ill or injured person is a horridly bloated thing that surfaces here like bodies after the sinking of a ship. It refuses to accept any kind of discussion or clarification of how to live and believe as a Christian in the face of life's final journey's with pain that perhaps only death can end. 

And all of this from the lips of a "Spirit-filled" Christian who refused to accept any kind of answer other than the one he expected from God - that is to say, total creative miracles that result in healing and deliverance each and every time. The Faith movement, I have contended, is a clumsy attempt to provide a full-gospel response to the classical apologetic problem of pain and suffering, and so utterly falls on its face that the resulting sound of the self-implosion is frightening and deafening for all of us to hear. 

Still, somehow, the Spirit of God must have been working in Larry King to bring the onerous error of Copeland and his bankrupt Faith theology shtick to task on air, live to over 210 countries around the planet. It may be that the Spirit of God may be choosing to use as instruments of judgment among the errant members of the Body the penetrating introspection of live TV interviews rather than fire from heaven to get us to take notice. As I said a while back (originally in reference to Robert Tilton's Texas bubble as it got flattened in the early 1990's), if you live by the sword, you'll die by it. Or at least get cut .. 

I have to make a confession of my own .. In the comfort of my brother in law's home, we had camp meeting as we watched (I shouted, to be honest) as we got to see Ken squirm, futilely dodging as much of the blow that these painfully simple yet powerful questions brought to bear (and failing miserably since it got asked several times of him). In retrospect, nothing Copeland said really surprised me since he was at least being as consistent with his teaching as one might expect after 30 plus years of self-delusion. What was tragically refreshing was seeing how his Faith perspective was weighed and found sorely wanting .. and how powerless (if not spineless) Copeland (and all Faith practitioners) ultimately are when confronted by the screaming reality of a suffering planet confronted by the eternal apologetic problem of pain and suffering. 

Eight years later, Ryan's survival is no longer a question. He survived the initial critical stage of emergency care and came out of his coma but after many surgeries and rehabilitation, the fact remains is that Ryan's severe brain injury has made him completely dependent upon 24 hour care. He is now able to speak, feed himself and is conscious of his surroundings, even having some movement in his legs, but his long term prognosis remains uncertain. It seems that, barring a miracle, Ryan will not walk or stand again, nor enjoy the kind of independent lifestyle he had at the time of the accident, in which he was a production assistant for, of all things, "Will And Grace". The Boone and Corbin families have rallied around Ryan's acute need and created a foundation for traumatic brain injury victims called Ryan's Reach, and regularly post video updates of Ryan on their website and on YouTube. We of course pray and wish only the best to them and pray that God does indeed continue to give them the small successes and improvements over the years to come, should Jesus tarry. 

But I still wonder .. what happened to the creative miracles of Copeland's Faith teaching? What happening to the speaking of life into Ryan and why is he not healed when Kenneth said we were taking the ground back one stage at a time? I wonder if Kenneth will find time to fly into Coto de Caza, California where Ryan lives under the watchful care of his family and speak that word.

I bet Job and Kenneth Copeland will have a good talk in heaven .. I hope I'm there to listen in when Job asks him "Now, what did you say I meant?"


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