John Alexander Dowie (seen in the picture above with his wife Jane) was born in Scotland in May of 1847. He was a shorter man of approximately 5’4″. You will notice that in all pictures with others he’ll either be standing or sitting so that the height differential would not be noticeable. His father, John Murray Dowie, was a tailor and part-time preacher. In 1860 his family immigrated to Australia and moved to the town of Adelaide. Dowie became a member of the Congregational church and decided he wanted to enter the ministry. He went to the University of Edinburgh to study.
While there he was exposed to the teachings of Edward Irving, who had been a student there. Irving believed that cessationist theology was wrong, and the gifts were still available to the church today. Upon graduation, he returned to Australia and became pastor of a Congregational church in a small town, about 50 miles from Adelaide.
In 1876 he moved to Sydney and became minister of the Newtown Congregational church. It was here that God revealed that healing was still for today. Several members of his church became sick and died during a wave of disease that hit the city. God spoke to Dowie and showed him that sickness was of the devil and to be resisted. He began to pray for his parishioner, and from that day forward none died. This revelation so impacted Dowie that he left the pastorate, and became a full-time healing evangelist. He moved to Melbourne in the early eighteen-eighties, began to gather a following, and eventually built a church there. He published a magazine about healing called “Jehovah Roshi”.
In 1888 Dowie did a preaching tour in New Zealand, and then San Francisco. Two years later so he went to the Chicago world’s fair and had healing meetings outside the fairgrounds. 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. Next, he set up his headquarters in Chicago, where 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.
Dowie was extremely antagonistic towards government officials and the medical profession. He regularly preached against using doctors. Some medical professionals rose up to stop his work, by suing him for practicing medicine without a license. At one point, he was taken to jail almost every day over this issue. The publicity from these arrests only served to draw more attention to his ministry and increased the size of his congregation. In fact Dowie “declared war” on the medical profession, so that the publicity would cover his activities of purchasing land outside of Chicago.
Dowie also attacked any church that he perceived didn’t support him, even those that believed in Divine Healing. He attacked denominational churches and told people that they needed to leave them. He spoke against A. B. Simpson and the Christian and Missionary Alliance, as well as the Salvation Army. He particularly attacked D. L. Moody and R. A. Torrey in their work of the Moody Bible Institute and Chicago Avenue Church. In 1898 that battle moved to an all-out war. Dowie declared that Moody would die because of his criticism against him. When Moody did die in 1899 Dowie declared it was the judgment of God. The battle continued and Dowie took up the war with Moody’s successor, R. A. Torrey. He declared that Torrey, like Moody, would die under the judgment of God. (Torrey would go on to hold some of the most successful evangelistic campaigns up to that time and live 20 years beyond Dowie.)
Dowie was drawing people by the thousands, but there were some major cracks in the spiritual foundations of Dowie personally and his family. He began to envision a new church similar to the Catholic church, where he was the pope. In 1896 he organized the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion. In 1901 he founded Zion City, about 40 miles from Chicago. He was the owner of all the property, and tenants leased the land they built their houses on. Their savings went into the Zion bank. He visited New York and took a European tour in 1903. He then traveled to New Zealand and Australia in 1904. These trips were taken using Zion bank money, even though the bankers assured him that the bank could not support the drain.
Things began to crumble, and Dowie declared himself “Elijah the Restorer” or Elijah III. (First Elijah, then John the Baptist, then himself) He walked around dressed in an Old Testament-like priest’s outfit. In 1905 he had a stroke and traveled to Mexico where he bought a large tract of land for a “plantation paradise.” In April 1906, the community and his family had finally had enough. Zion City was in financial ruins, his daughter had died, and his marriage had disintegrated. His wife claimed that he was promoting polygamy.
Dowie had a second stroke, which immobilized him. He was removed as the head of Zion, and lived as a broken man for a few more months, until his death on March 11, 1907. At his request his grave was filled with concrete, after his coffin was put inside, to stave off anyone taking his body and suggesting he had miraculously arisen. (An idea reportedly promoted by Dowie himself.)
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 into their ministries. These included: John G. Lake, F. F. Bosworth, Martha Wing Robinson, Raymond T. Richey, Lilian B. Yeomans, Cyrus B. Fockler, and many others.
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