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“You can have what you say!” “What you confess is what you possess.” “Name it and claim it!” We keep hearing these statements from the proponents of the ‘prosperity gospel’ on television and in several churches. Believers are taught that there is power in their words and that they can control their destiny by confessing God’s Word. The basic Bible text that is used to support the doctrine of ‘positive confession’ by the proponents of the ‘prosperity gospel’ is Proverbs 18:21: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” The ‘faith teachers’ teach their congregations to confess positive things and to visualize health, prosperity, and success. But can we really have what we say?
The Roots of Positive Confession
Though some critics of the ‘prosperity gospel’ claim that the teaching of positive confession originated with the metaphysical cults, it is not limited to these cults. Even some of the classic faith leaders of the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries taught a form of positive confession which was more balanced and biblical. For instance, F. B. Meyer, a Baptist minister taught that one must repeatedly confess that God’s presence is with us. Even prominent preachers like Andrew Murray, Charles Spurgeon, and A. B. Simpson emphasized that confession must accompany faith. So, the roots of positive confession are not completely cultic, as some suppose.
Striking the Balance
We can believe in and teach positive confession without agreeing with the contemporary teaching on positive confession by the ‘prosperity gospel’ preachers. For instance, on the one hand, the ten spies’ perception of the Canaanites as giants and themselves as grasshoppers is condemned due to their unbelief. On the other hand, the strong faith of Caleb and Joshua is commended (cf. Num. 13:26-33). However, it should be noted that Caleb and Joshua’s faith was strongly rooted in God’s promises to their forefathers. So, we must confess what the Word of God says rather than wrongly assuming that our own words have creative power.
While it is good to have a positive attitude and avoid negative talk, one cannot teach that positive or negative confession always leads to corresponding results. If that is true, then one can argue that several godly people in the Bible made ‘negative confession.’ Job says, “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me” (Job 3:25). Jonah requested the Lord, “O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:3). Paul tells the Church at Thessalonica that “Satan hindered” them (1 Thess. 2:18).
Furthermore, one can even contend that Jesus repeatedly made ‘negative confessions’ about his death and eventually received what he confessed (see Mt. 16:21-28; Mk 8:31-38; Lk. 18:31-33). Such an inference is obviously ludicrous. While it is good to have a positive mental attitude, I also think that God allows us to express our negative feelings and emotions. The book of Psalms is filled with such ‘negative confessions’ (esp. the penitential Psalms, Pss 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143). However, God does not condemn us when we confess our weaknesses and feelings. We have the liberty to pour out our hearts before God. In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15).
The Official Position of our Denomination
In 1980, the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God made an official statement on the teaching of ‘positive confession.’ Some of the observations in this position paper are instructive. While this paper agrees that the doctrine on ‘positive confession’ is “an important truth,” it contends that God actually intervened when his people made a ‘negative confession.’ For instance, the paper points out that
King Jehoshaphat admitted he had no might against an enemy alliance, but God gave him a marvelous victory (2 Chronicles 20). Paul admitted weakness and then stated that when he was weak, he was strong because God’s strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10). . . . It was after the disciples recognized that they did not have enough to feed the multitudes and admitted it that Christ marvelously provided a more than adequate supply (Luke 9:12, 13). It was after the disciples admitted they had caught no fish that Jesus directed them to a most successful endeavor (John 21:3-6).
The paper concludes that one should study the total teaching of Scripture on ‘positive confession’ rather than taking a few verses out of context and presuming that we can compel God to act through our ‘positive confession.’
The Bible does not teach a strictly cause and effect relationship between our confession and its supposed consequences. While we must believe in and confess God’s Word, we must not view confession as a formula to receive what we desire. Rather, we must recognize the sovereignty of God and realize that no matter how much we confess, we cannot constrain God to act. The Lord does whatever pleases him (Ps. 135:6). Ultimately, we can only have what he wills!
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