John Alexander Dowie

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For other people of the same name, see John Dowie (disambiguation).
John Alexander Dowie
John Alexander Dowie as Elijah the Restorer.jpg
Alexander Dowie in his robes as Elijah the Restorer
Born (1847-05-25)25 May 1847
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 9 March 1907(1907-03-09) (aged 59)
Zion, Illinois, United States

John Alexander Dowie (25 May 1847 – 9 March 1907) was a Scottish evangelist and faith healer who ministered in Australia and the United States. He founded the city of Zion, Illinois, and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church.[1] He was both an eloquent and eccentric figure with impressive powers of persuasion.[2]

Biography[edit]

Dowie was born in Edinburgh to John Murray Dowie, a tailor and preacher.[1] He moved to Adelaide, South Australia with his parents in 1860 and found work in a prosperous shoe business run by an uncle, Alexander Dowie. After a few months, Dowie left the employment of his uncle and had various jobs through which he advanced his position. At length, he became confidential clerk for the resident partner of a firm that was doing a business of $2 million a year.[2][3]

His father was president of the South Adelaide chapter of the Total Abstinence Society in 1867, and John Alexander an active member.[4] Around 1868 at the age of 21, Dowie returned to Edinburgh to study theology. He then returned to Australia and was ordained pastor of a Congregational church at Alma, South Australia (near Hamley Bridge) in 1872. Dowie received and accepted a call to a pastorate at Manly, New South Wales, in 1873 and at Newtown in 1875.[2] He married his cousin, Jane Dowie, on 26 May 1876. They had three children, Gladstone (1877–1945), Jeanie (1879–1885) and Esther (1881–1902).

He published Rome's Polluted Springs in 1877, the substance of two lectures given at the Masonic Hall, Sydney. In 1879 he also published at Sydney The Drama, The Press and the Pulpit, revised reports of two lectures given the previous March. About this time he gave up his pastorate as a Congregational clergyman and became an independent evangelist, holding his meetings in a theatre and claiming powers as a faith-healer.[1] He was for a time involved with the Salvation Army.[2] Coming to Melbourne in the early 1880s, he attracted many followers.[1] In 1882, he was invited to the Sackville Street Tabernacle, Collingwood. His authoritarian leadership led to a split in the church, and Dowie was fined and jailed for over a month for leading unauthorized processions. He gave his account of the incident in Sin in The Camp.[2]

After an arson scandal in which his church burnt down in suspicious circumstances (thereby enabling him to pay off large debts)[5] he moved to the United States in 1888. He first settled in San Francisco and built up a following by performing faith healings across the state.[6] His ministry, the International Divine Healing Association, was run largely as a commercial enterprise. All members were expected to tithe, and if they did, were eligible to request Dowie's aid in healing their ills. Such requests were made by mail or telegram (or later, by phone). Dowie would then pray in response to requests by paid-up members. Although Dowie funded his lifestyle largely through tithes, he also liked to buy up securities of bankrupt companies and sell them off to his constituents.[7] Unfortunately for Dowie, two women whom he had defrauded in this way took him to court and successfully sued him. In this aftermath of this legal and public relations defeat, Dowie moved to Chicago in 1890.

After a few unsuccessful years in Chicago, Dowie gained fame by renting property adjacent to the World's Fair in 1893. There he staged elaborate "Divine Healings" in front of large audiences. Many of these "healings" were staged using audience plants and other dubious methods. At other times carefully screened individuals were brought on stage to be healed.[8] By all indications Dowie could cure a range of psychosomatic illnesses with his stagecraft.

After developing his following through these methods, Dowie disbanded the International Divine Healing Association and formed the Christian Catholic Church in Zion in 1896. (He would rename it the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in 1903.) He established several tabernacles and healing homes in the Chicago area, although he spent much of 1895 in court fighting allegations that he was practicing medicine without a license.[9] With a following of some approximately 6,000, he sought land north of Chicago and bought up a large amount of real estate secretly. In 1900, he announced the founding the city of Zion, 40 miles from Chicago, where he owned all the property personally. He established a theocratic political and economic structure and prohibited smoking, drinking, eating pork, or any form of modern medicine. He also established a range of businesses, healing homes and a large Tabernacle. Followers from across the world descended on Zion. Zion has been characterized as "a carefully-devised large-scale platform for securities fraud requiring significant organizational, legal, and propagandistic preparation to carry out."[10] To this end Dowie forced his followers to deposit their wealth in Zion Bank, which had the veneer of being a registered entity but which was in fact an unincorporated entity under his control. He also sold worthless stock in an array of Zion's businesses.[11] The entire structure of Zion was continually in debt, and eventually crashed as he became increasingly senile.

Editorial cartoon by Bob Satterfield, depicting Dowie leaving Chicago with his pockets full of money

In 1905, he suffered a stroke in Mexico. While absent, he was deposed by Wilbur G. Voliva, his chief lieutenant,[2] Voliva and official investigators maintained that anywhere from $2.5 to 3.4 million was unaccounted for. Dowie attempted to recover his authority through litigation but was ultimately forced to accept an allowance until his death in 1907.[1] Dowie is buried in Lake Mound cemertary in Zion IL and it is believed that he was placed under six feet of concrete to encrypt his body from ever rising again.

Theology and influence[edit]

Dowie was a restorationist and sought to recover the "primitive condition" of the Church. He believed in an end-times restoration of spiritual gifts and apostolic offices to the Church.[12] In 1899, he claimed to be "God's Messenger" and in 1901, he claimed to be the spiritual return of the Biblical prophet Elijah, and styled himself as "Elijah the Restorer", "The Prophet Elijah", or "The Third Elijah".[1] He was also an advocate of divine healing and was highly critical of other teachers on healing. This criticism largely stemmed from differences of opinion on the use of "means" or medicine; Dowie was for total reliance on divine healing and against the use of all forms of medicine. He opened a number of healing homes where people could come for instruction in healing and for specific prayer.[13] He emphasized faith in God, "entire consecration", and holiness.[14]

Dowie was a forerunner of Pentecostalism, and many of his followers became influential figures in the early twentieth century revival.[15] Though Dowie did not visit South Africa, his emissary Daniel Bryant between 1904 and 1908 established churches at Wakkerstroom and on the Witwatersrand.[16][17] After Bryant left these churches proliferated into a number of denominations of Zionist Christian sects, all claiming their origin in Zion, Illinois, which together constitute the largest group of Christians in South Africa.[16]

"Prayer Duel" with Mirza Ghulam Ahmad[edit]

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad

Dowie is of particular significance to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Herein the Ahmadiyya find a sign of God and a proof of their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's claim to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi.[18] Dowie had claimed to be the forerunner of Christ's second coming. He was particularly hard on Muslims, whom he believed Christ would destroy upon his return. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had claimed to be the coming of Christ in the spirit (as well as the promised Imam Mahdi), who would establish the final victory of Islam on earth. Ahmad challenged Dowie to a prayer duel, stipulating that the false claimant would die in the lifetime of the truthful. Dowie died in March 1907 and Ahmad died in May 1908.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Percival Serle (1949). "Dowie, John Alexander". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Angus & Robertson. Retrieved 2007-09-03. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f H. J. Gibbney (1972). "Dowie, John Alexander (1847–1907)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4. MUP. pp. 95–96. Retrieved 2007-09-03. 
  3. ^ The Life of John Alexander Dowie, Gordon Lindsay, Voice of Healing Publishing Co. 1951
  4. ^ "TOPICS OF THE DAY.". The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858–1889) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 18 May 1867. p. 2. Retrieved 1 December 2011. 
  5. ^ London Daily Mail 24 October 1900; Melbourne Truth 19 March 1904.
  6. ^ J. Dowie, American First Fruits (San Francisco: Leaves of Healing, 1889)
  7. ^ London Daily Mail 24 October 1900; I.D. Bowman, Dowieism Exposed (Philadelphia: 1904) 10-1.
  8. ^ R. Harlan, “John Alexander Dowie and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion,” (PhD Dissertation, University of Chicago, 1906), 117; ; J. Swain, “John Alexander Dowie: the Prophet and his Profits,” The Century 64 (1902): 941.
  9. ^ Blumhofer, 32-33.
  10. ^ B. Morton, "The Big Con: John Alexander Dowie and the Spread of Zionist Christianity in South Africa." https://www.academia.edu/6779053/The_Big_Con_John_Alexander_Dowie_and_the_Spread_of_Zionist_Christianity_in_Southern_Africa_Paper_Presented_at_the
  11. ^ “Holmes vs Dowie et al,” Federal Reporter 138 (1906-7); “Samuel Stevenson vs John Alexander Dowie (January 31, 1902).” In Illinois Circuit Court Reports, 3. (Chicago: T. H. Flood, 1909), 153-92.
  12. ^ Blumhofer, Edith L. The Assemblies of God: A Chapter in the Story of American Pentecostalism Volume 1—To 1941. Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1989. ISBN 0-88243-457-8. Page 33.
  13. ^ Blumhofer, 31-32.
  14. ^ Blumhofer, 34.
  15. ^ Blumhofer, 31-34.
  16. ^ a b Adrian Hastings, The Church in Africa: 1450–1950. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994 pp. 499-505, 520-521, 537-538
  17. ^ Hennie Pretorius and Lizo Jafta, "A Branch Springs Out: African Initiated Churches" in Christianity in South Africa, edited by Richard Elphick and Rodney Davenport. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997 pp. 216-224
  18. ^ Life & Times of Dowie at Ahmadiyya Gazette

External links[edit]