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John Alexander Dowie: Big Hoax or Amazing Man of Faith?

Who was John Alexander Dowie?
Dowie was full of charisma and power. He brought the gospel of healing to America and Pentecostal revival. He fell by pride and sin.

Dr. Dowie has been a familiar figure to me all my life. This is because my parents were Pentecostal ministers, saved and baptized in the Holy Ghost in the 1920’s by Pentecostal ministers who had come to Jesus through the divine healing ministry of John Alexander Dowie.

In my college days, I ran into him again, as he passes through the mind of Leopold Bloom, in James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses. Here he is presented as a singing revivalist making his farewell tour amid charges of larceny, fraud, and financial scheming.

Reading secular sources, like Wikipedia, we find charlatan and worse, but reading Christian sources an apostle of God, one of “God’s Generals.”
How are we to reconcile these 2 John Alexander Dowie’s? Let’s look at his rise and fall.

Dowie: Rise and Fall: Scotland/Australia 1847-1887

John Alexander Dowie was the son of a preacher/tailor in Edinburgh and grew up in the faith. He was a precocious little boy and read the Bible through at 6. He said he felt a call of God on his life at 7, but then drifted off to other things…

His family emigrated to Australia when he was 13, but he came back to Scotland for university training at 21. While there, he had his own personal experience of divine healing. In answer to prayer, God healed him of chronic dyspepsia.

“He was brought to trust God for healing, and in answer to prayer, was completely delivered from this affliction.(LINDSAY, PAGE 15)

Rise and Fall: the healing ministry begins.

After completing his theological studies, he returned to Australia and was ordained a Congregationalist minister in 1872 and served in 3 churches over the next 10 years. In 1875 the bubonic plague struck his church in Sydney and 40 people died.

Distraught, Dowie began to pray: ‘God, is everybody going to die?’ he cried. ‘Are you going to take everybody? Where did this plague come from? Are you the author of this?’

He was heartsick at the thought of the families that would be torn apart by the plague; at the children who would be left orphans.

Immediately after this, he was called to the bedside of Mary, a plague victim near death. Dowie prayed a prayer of faith for her, her convulsions ceased, and she fell into a deep sleep. When she awoke, she exclaimed, “Mother, I feel so well!”

Dowie then went into the adjoining room and prayed for Mary’s brother and sister, also plague victims. They too were healed, and from that moment on, DOWIE WAS CERTAIN OF HIS CALL.

He took Acts 10:38 as his text for his healing ministry:

How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.

From this Dowie drew inspiration for the anointing of the Holy Ghost and the power to go about doing good like Jesus did, especially healing the sick. Dowie realized in a way that others seldom did that sickness was the work of the devil. One recurring theme of his ministry was naming Satan as the Defiler and Christ the healer.

His ministry was a war against the devil, sickness, and sin, not as ends in themselves but as the FULNESS OF THE GOSPEL.

“God help me now to preach the Word to all the dying around, and tell them how Satan still defiles, and Jesus still delivers, for He is just the same today.”

Rise and Fall: Australian success

In 1883 he founded the International Divine Healing Association and had remarkable success. In one widely publicized healing at Dowie’s Melbourne Tabernacle, a woman totally blinded by cancer of the eye was spectacularly healed:

He laid hands upon her and prayed. The miracle happened at once.
The cancer burst and discharged into two handkerchiefs. The swelling disappeared and the opening closed.
When she opened that eye, she was immediately able to see, and that perfectly.
The internal cancer disappeared, and a few months later she became the mother of healthy child.

This case of healing was published far and wide in many newspapers and was never challenged. It was miracles of this kind that caused Dr. Dowie’s work to achieve rapid prominence in Australia. pp 74-75 The Life of John Alexander Dowie, by Gordon Lindsay

Soon he was preaching to large crowds, thousands at a time. Along with his healing ministry, Dowie was a fierce enemy of alcohol and its proponents, what he called “the liquor interests.”

When the municipality passed a law forbidding street meetings, Dowie refused to comply and was jailed for 30 days.

Later, his Tabernacle was bombed and later still burned down, and in 1887 Dowie resolved to leave Australia for America.

Rise and Fall: move to America

In 1888, the Dowie family immigrated to the United States, first to San Francisco where he launched a campaign of healing meetings up and down the Pacific coast.

Again, there were remarkable and well-publicized results, notably of a 69-year-old woman with cancer of the larynx whose doctors had given her up to die.

When Dowie prayed for her at a Presbyterian church in Oakland, the cancer disappeared, and the woman lived another 34 years.
This healing was circulated and reported all over the world and never challenged.

Rise and Fall: Chicago ministry begins

An analogous situation occurred when he prayed for a woman dying of cancer in Chicago.

When he prayed, she was instantly healed, and a full account given in the Chicago newspapers.

Dowie then made Chicago his base and opened a small tabernacle just outside the gates of the World’s Fair, opposite Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

From here, the story accelerates:

1894: He built Zion Tabernacle and founded Zion Publishing (weekly Leaves of Healing newspaper)

These meetings were so spectacular that the front wall of the meeting room was covered with crutches, braces, and other medical paraphernalia left by those healed in the meetings.

Nor was this all:

…he preached to thousands every Sunday. He bought a building so that people who traveled to Chicago, for healing, would have a place to stay.
He began to publish a journal called “Leaves of Healing”, which went to thousands of people, promoting the divine healing message.

Hundreds of people were flocking to his ministry to receive teaching and prayer. Many were healed dramatically. Dowie’s congregation fed the poor, was highly evangelistic, and had a MAJOR IMPACT ON A NOTORIOUSLY CORRUPT CITY.

Rise and Fall: Dowie vs. Doctors

1895: Medicine in the early 19th century was more of a hit-and-miss art than a science, and Dowie had seen it up close, witnessing countless live operations when he was at university in Scotland. He preached against doctors and the medical profession thereby triggering charges against him for practicing medicine without a license.

He was arrested 100 times in 1895 alone but drew great publicity from this that increased his popularity.
Although he lost the local court decisions, he appealed, won, and established the right to preach about divine healing.

He was also at war with the churches of his day. He attacked A.B. Simpson and the Christian & Missionary Alliance, D.L. Moody and the Moody Bible Institute, and the Salvation Army.

In 1896 Dowie disbanded the International Divine Healing Association to form the Christian Catholic Church in Zion. with himself as the “Chief Overseer.” Critics claimed he saw himself as another Pope. He renamed it the CHRISTIAN CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH in 1903.

But Dowie soldiered on, undaunted with even bigger plans. He was a powerful speaker and charismatic leader. LISTEN HERE to hear him sing!

The City of Zion

1900: Dowie envisioned a utopian society when he founded the City of Zion, 40 miles northwest of Chicago on land that he owned. It had only one church and bank, both of which Dowie controlled.

It was to be a haven for Christians and outlawed alcohol, tobacco, pork, and modern medicine. It was welcomed by his 6,000 followers and prospered.

According to WIKIPEDIA:

Zion has been characterized as “a carefully-devised large-scale platform for securities fraud requiring significant organizational, legal, and propagandistic preparation to carry out.”
To this end Dowie forced his followers to deposit their funds in Zion Bank. It was a registered entity but was, in fact, an unincorporated entity under his control.
He also sold stock in an array of Zion’s businesses which proved worthless. The entire structure of Zion was continually in debt, and eventually crashed as Dowie became increasingly senile and unable to handle his affairs.

Dowie became wealthy and well-known worldwide. He traveled to New York and London in high style and LIVED EXTRAVAGANTLY.

He had also amassed a fortune more than $10 million. His annual income from tithes alone was reported to be $250,000. One contemporary scholar has DUBBED HIM a “religious robber baron.”

Wealth and worldwide fame

Dowie was not ashamed of his wealth, and he lived in unabashed luxury. “Jesus came to make His people rich,” Dowie preached. Not in the “life to come,” but a “hundredfold now in this time.”

1901: Dowie announced that he was “Elijah the Restorer,” the 3rd man of God by that name, and the one promised in the last book of the Old Testament:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: Malachi 4:5

And he assumed the demeanor and authority of the first Elijah, who stood boldly for the LORD God of Israel and called down fire from heaven. This was vastly different from the 2nd Elijah, sent just before Jesus came, who said “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

This statement was widely denounced by the Christian establishment, but Dowie would not back down. Instead, dressed in the robes and miter of an Old Testament priest, he announced further expansions of his ministry, including “crusades” to New York and London and plans to build other cities like Zion throughout the world.

His wealth and influence grew. He spent an hour with PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT in 1903 endorsing him for the 1904 election.

But disaster lay ahead. While he traveled the world, his wife left him, he suffered a stroke, and his financial lieutenant forced him into retirement and took over Zion and Dowie’s authority. He had a second stroke and died in 1907.

Rise and Fall: AFTERMATH

The tragic end of Dowie’s life and work impacted those who had come into the work of the Lord through his ministry. They took what they could and continued to work for Jesus as they regrouped in “Faith Homes” in Zion and elsewhere.

These workers and these small groups were key to the success of the Pentecostal movement.

My own family came to Jesus through the ministries of Martha Wing Robinson and ELDER EUGENE BROOKS*, both of whom were healed and saved through Dowie’s ministry.

Before giving my own summary and takeaways from Dowie’s Rise and Fall, I share this one from ONE OF HIS BIOGRAPHERS:

Tens of thousands of people were touched by the truth that God still heals, but Dowie was a seriously flawed messenger.
He brought Divine Healing into the national consciousness, but also tainted it with the deception he fell into.
The greatest legacies that Dowie left were the lives of the men and women of God who carried the truth of God’s healing power on into their own ministries.
These included: John G. Lake, F. F. Bosworth, Martha Wing Robinson, Raymond T. Richey, Lilian B. Yeomans, Cyrus B. Fockler, and many others.

Rise and Fall takeaways:

John Alexander Dowie was a mighty man of valor, a giant champion of the Gospel. When I think of him, I think of 3 Bible figures, king Saul, king Uzziah, and the Apostle Peter.

Like Dowie, Saul was a man of charisma and strength.

Anointed by Samuel to be king, this once humble man grew proud and overstepped. He stepped out of his role as king and tried to take over Samuel’s as priest and prophet.

Uzziah too was anointed to be king, and he was a good king, and God blessed him. He did what was right in the sight of the LORD and reigned for 52 years.

But when he overstepped and tried to offer incense at the altar in the Temple, God struck him with leprosy.

Peter reminds me of Dowie in temperament. He was a forceful outspoken man, a fighter, who cut off the ear of the man arresting Jesus.

But he overstepped too, by trying to admonish Jesus, and for that received a stern rebuke.

But Peter took the rebuke, humbled himself, and became a rock in Christ’s church.

All these were called of God, anointed for a specific purpose, and tremendously blessed. I hope to see them all in heaven, all much nearer the throne of grace than most of us.

I agree with what Kenneth E. Hagin said of Dowie: “You can follow his faith, but you can’t always follow his doctrine.”

I would add this:

Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins. James 5:20
Oh, the joy of sins forgiv’n, Oh, the bliss the blood-washed know, Oh, the peace akin to Heav’n, Where the healing waters flow. Where the healing waters flow, Where the joys celestial glow, Oh, there’s peace and rest and love, Where the healing waters flow!

you can listen or sing here:

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