Have you ever heard teachers say, “Just name it and claim it!” What about, “Speak over your life”? Or how about, “Nothing happens without declaration”?
In this article series, we will learn why those phrases are unbiblical. But if you already believe the name it and claim it movement is unbiblical, you may learn something about the power of words you have never even thought of before. I assure you, a passage of Scripture we are going to study will help shape a biblical view of God within your heart.
There are different beliefs and teachings within the “Word of Faith” movement or “Prosperity Gospel,” but usually it is taught that faithful saints will be both wealthy and healthy. Typically the wealthiest of all are the preachers themselves. They receive their wealth from their own students who often believe that giving money to the preacher or ministry is “seed money.” This shows the craftiness of prosperity preachers. Is it true that Scripture teaches that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel? Is it the case that, for that to work, God’s people must give monetarily toward the ministry of God’s church? Is it true that that sometimes money and health are results of prayer in the Bible? Is it true you reap what you sow? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. While owning large houses in fancy neighborhoods, while flying around the world in their own private jets, prosperity preachers convince folks who are often sincerely wanting to please God that the key to sowing riches is to first “plant” their current possessions into the preachers’ pockets.
Let me go ahead and say this: Although many of the folks who do attend prosperity churches (or participate with them online or on TV) are sincere, they are not guiltless. If you are part of one of these churches, pay attention to these two points:
- You have a responsibility to the truth. In Acts 17:11, the people of Berea were called fair-minded, because they not only listened to the preachers, but they also checked what the preachers were saying with the Scriptures. Are you reading your Bible? Are you putting your teachers (including us) to the test with Scripture? The most effective lies are the ones that are mingled with truth. If the only knowledge of the Bible you have is what you hear from the TV, from YouTube, or from the pulpit, you are in a dreadfully precarious position, and you’re likely to fall. I assure you that no one who has honestly read the entire Bible, or even just the New Testament, has come away from it believing that God has untold comfort, health, wealth, and physical riches for His disciples in this life.
- Not only should you check your teachers, but you also need to check your heart. If you are attending a church like this and “planting” your “seed money” because you want riches, then your heart is corrupt, and you have already fallen into the trap of the devil.
And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.1 Timothy 6:8–9
The first hint that the Word of Faith movement or Prosperity Gospel is unbiblical is that the first commandment to anyone who would become Jesus’ disciple is to deny self and take up a cross, both of which cause suffering. The cross to Jesus was an execution device, and He calls us to suffer with Him and to die to self. In this series, we will analyze the false teaching of “Name it and claim it” through three biblical perspectives.
Words are powerful. Words have meaning. They can build up. They can tear down. The can declare war. They can declare peace. The biggest lie I told myself growing up was: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s absolutely true that sticks and stones can break bones. But surely we also believe words have power.
To really emphasize the power of words, many people have pointed out that words are the means by which God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1 shows us that God spoke the universe into existence. And this has led many people to believe the power was in the fact that God spoke. Surely the text emphasizes God’s speech here. Ten times in this creation chapter, the Bible says, “God said…”
Romans 4:17 reminds us, “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.”
Given that we have experienced the power of words in our own lives, whether through building up or tearing down, and that God spoke the universe into existence, some people have come to the conclusion that God’s power can always be harnessed or used through words of faith.
For example, Joyce Meyer once said: “I know that there’s power in life—in right words, that words are containers for power. […] Maybe you need to get your checkbook out and say, ‘O you checkbook, hear the word of the Lord: You are not gonna stay empty all of your life.’”1 Someone rises out of bed and says, “In the name of Jesus, I declare today will be a great day!” Perhaps you’ve seen the social media posts of so-called pastors saying things like, “A financial blessing is coming your way this week that will clear all your debts. Claim it in Jesus’ mighty name. Amen.” Although this sounds more like a fortune cookie insert than actual biblical theology, the comment section is full of people saying “Amen.” “I claim it.” “Thank you, Jesus.”
Does Jesus truly equip me or a church leader to speak money into my bank account? Will today be a great day simply because I declare it while tacking on Jesus’ name? Are words powerful by themselves?
Certainly, they are not. Yes, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). But the power of words is not in the words themselves, even if they are coming from a person of faith. Power is nowhere in words if there are no definitions and knowledge of those definitions. What do I mean by that? Think of a situation where something is lost in translation. We’ve heard the stories, seen the movies, or perhaps even been in the situation where someone is learning a language and tries to compliment another person, but inadvertently offends them. In the movies, it’s comical. In real life, it’s terribly embarrassing (and sometimes dangerous).
There have also been moments when someone has used filthy language around my children. Of course, I cringed and wanted to shield my kids, but they were unfazed. Why? I cringed because I know the meaning behind those words. The kids were unmoved because they had no idea what those words mean.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul makes a comparison of the gift of tongues with a trumpet used on a battlefield. If no one understands what the trumpeter means by a given string of notes, who will know if it’s time to charge or retreat? Then, he says:
So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.1 Corinthians 14:9–11
If the words were inherently powerful, wouldn’t the effect be the same, whether someone knows the definition or translation or not?
On the other hand, when you and I know the meaning of words, we can use them to create stories, pray to God, build people up, or tear them down. These words are valuable because a creative mind is behind them.
And this fact, if I will let it, will build a deeper faith within me for the God who spoke the universe into existence.
I do not think the point of Genesis 1 telling us that “God said, and it was so” was to show us the power of words. It was to show God’s power to use inherently powerless things to build everything everyone has ever experienced. Every molecule, every butterfly, every book, every experience, every thing has its beginning in God’s stringing together of powerless syllables to do very powerful things.
Yet, the Word of Faith movement teaches you that you can have your desires simply by demanding it in Jesus’ name. You’re taught, “Do you want wealth? Name it and claim it.” “Do you need healing? Speak it over your life.” “Do you want that job? Declare it to be so.” For someone of my generation, this sounds very much like Aladdin who could command a Genie around, so long as he used the right formula of words. Is God my Genie? Will He do whatever I say if I have enough faith and use the right words? It doesn’t matter how many times I verbally wish for a bottle green Jaguar to appear in my garage, it doesn’t happen. And even if I believed it with all my heart, just speaking it does not make it true. What will make it true? We will study that with our third article. The current point is this: The Bible gives us scores of examples of how to pray. Not once does it include name it and claim it type of language. What kind of language is given? Here’s one example.
And He [Jesus] said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”Mark 14:36
The implication of prosperity teaching is that Jesus didn’t have faith. We are supposed to “speak over our lives,” because “nothing happens without declaration,” so we must “name it and claim it in Jesus’ name,” because our words are inherently powerful. (By the way, to study what it means to do something in Jesus’ name, check this out.) Jesus our Lord and example fell on His face and prayed to God, “not my will, but your will be done.” Yet, we are urged not to follow the example of Jesus here, as praying in this way is a “miracle-killer.” My friend, if you have an influence in your life who tells you not to follow the love and example of Jesus, they are teaching a different gospel. The entire purpose and premise of prayer is that God is in control, and we desire His will. Jesus taught:
In this manner, therefore, pray:Matthew 6:9–10
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Name it and claim it is all about my will. The faithful prayer Jesus teaches is all about His will. When those things—my will and His will—don’t match up, I must submit to His.
Why do we pray? Is it so God will give us all our heart’s desires? James warns us:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.James 4:3–4
God isn’t some servant you can order around with your speech. This “wish-craft” mirrors witchcraft, and is a perversion of Christianity. The true gospel provides Jesus, and the true Christian says Christ is enough.
Stop declaring and demanding, and fall on your face to seek God’s will for your life.
We have two more biblical perspectives through which we will analyze the name it and claiming teachings. Explore the next one here.
- Meyer, Enjoying Everyday Life, August 21, 2008. ↩︎