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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]

John Alexander Dowie
John Alexander Dowie in his robes as Elijah the Restorer.jpg
Alexander Dowie in his robes as Elijah the Restorer
Born(1847-05-25)25 May 1847
Died9 March 1907(1907-03-09) (aged 59)



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 employ 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] Two women whom he had defrauded in this way took him to court and successfully sued him. In the 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.

Dowie's following grew, and in 1894 he established the Zion Tabernacle downtown, was holding regular services for large crowds at Chicago's Central Music Hall,[9] and launched Zion Publishing with his weekly newsletters Leaves of Healing.[10] Dowie disbanded the International Divine Healing Association to form the Christian Catholic Church in Zion in 1896. (He would rename it the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in 1903.)

By the late 1890s, Zion headquarters had moved to the seven-story Zion Home on Michigan Avenue, which also housed many worshippers in residence from all walks of life; nearby were the New Zion Tabernacle, Zion Junior School, Zion College, Zion Printing, and the Zion Hall of Seventies; scattered around Chicago were the Zion Home of Hope, more Zion Tabernacles, and various healing homes, while Dowie was now leasing Chicago's Auditorium Building to accommodate swelling crowds attending his services; and, beyond Chicago, his teaching spread through evangelists and publications across the U.S. and around the world.[9][11] As his following expanded, Dowie also met with considerable opposition, and spent much of 1895 in court fighting allegations that he was practicing medicine without a license.[12]

Now 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 of 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, and 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."[13] 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.[14] 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 carpetbags full of money

The Irish M.P. and journalist T.P. O'Connor wrote of him: "the one incomprehensible element in the man's gigantic success is the personal luxury in which he lives, and his superb refusal at the same time to account for any of the sums of money entrusted to him. His horses are worth a fortune in themselves; his carriages are emblazoned with armorial bearings; his wife is said to dress with the gorgeous extravagance of an empress. When he travels, hemmed round with a little army of servants, the prophet of humility and self-denial has a special train chartered, and whenever the spiritual burdens become too great a tax there is a delightful country residence belonging to him in which to retreat from the clamour and importunate appeals of the faithful.[15]

His wife and family left him[when?] on account of some of his practices. He revisited Adelaide in 1904, but his attempts to conduct services met with hostility.[16] In 1905, he suffered a stroke, and travelled to Mexico to recuperate.[17] 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 Cemetery, Zion, Illinois.[18]

Theology and influenceEdit

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.[19] 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.[20] He emphasized faith in God, "entire consecration", and holiness.[21]

Dowie was a forerunner of Pentecostalism, and many of his followers became influential figures in the early twentieth century revival.[22] Though Dowie did not visit South Africa, his emissary Daniel Bryant between 1904 and 1908 established churches at Wakkerstroom and on the Witwatersrand.[23][24] After Bryant left these churches proliferated into a number of denominations of Zionist Churches, all claiming their origin in Zion, Illinois, which together constitute the largest group of Christians in South Africa.[23]

Contest with Mirza Ghulam AhmadEdit

Dowie is of particular significance to the Ahmadiyya movement in Islam due to a well-publicized contest that took place in the early 1900s between himself and the movement's founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908).[25][26] Dowie had claimed to be the forerunner of Christ's second coming and was particularly hostile towards Islam, which he believed Christ would destroy upon his return.[27] In northern India, Ahmad had claimed to be the coming of Christ in the spirit as well as the promised Mahdi of Islam, who would usher in the final victory of Islam on earth. In 1902, Ahmad invited Dowie to a contest, proposing a "prayer duel" between the two in which both would pray to God that whichever of them was false in his prophetic claim die within the lifetime of the truthful.[27][28][26] The challenge attracted some media attention in the United States and was advertised by a number of American newspapers at the time which portrayed the contest as one between two eccentric religious figures.[29][27] Dowie, however, dismissed the challenge.[30][31][32] Ahmad reissued it the following year adding a unilateral death prophecy.[30] Dowie died in March 1907 and Ahmad in May 1908.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Percival Serle (1949). "Dowie, John Alexander". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Angus & Robertson. Retrieved 3 September 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e H. J. Gibbney (1972). "Dowie, John Alexander (1847–1907)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4. MUP. pp. 95–96. Retrieved 3 September 2007.
  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. ^ a b Wolfe, Stephanie John Alexander Dowie and Zion City, Illinois
  10. ^ Dowie, John Alex. "Leaves of Healing: A Weekly Paper Edited by the Rev John Alex Dowie" 1894-1909
  11. ^ Zion, General Overseer, The Story of Zion, Fallen Leaf, Feb 10, 1900, Vol.VI, No.16, Pg.482
  12. ^ Blumhofer, 32-33.
  13. ^ B. Morton, "The Big Con: John Alexander Dowie and the Spread of Zionist Christianity in South Africa."
  14. ^ “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.
  15. ^ Personal Items, The Bulletin (Australia), 27 August 1903, p16
  16. ^ "Family Notices". The Narracoorte Herald. XXXI (3, 204). South Australia. 12 March 1907. p. 3. Retrieved 25 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  17. ^ Newspaper Article, Stroke Lays Dowie Low, Chicago Tribune, Oct 1, 1905, pg.3
  18. ^ "Zion Historical Society". Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Blumhofer, 31-32.
  21. ^ Blumhofer, 34.
  22. ^ Blumhofer, 31-34.
  23. ^ a b Adrian Hastings, The Church in Africa: 1450–1950. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994 pp. 499-505, 520-521, 537-538
  24. ^ 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
  25. ^ Geaves, Ron (2017). Islam and Britain: Muslim Mission in an Age of Empire. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 60–1. ISBN 978-1-4742-7173-8.
  26. ^ a b McDermott, Kevin. "A.J. Christ Dowie and the Harmonial Philosophy": A Biography of John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907) Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  27. ^ a b c Geaves, Ron (2017). Islam and Britain: Muslim Mission in an Age of Empire. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 61. ISBN 978-1-4742-7173-8.
  28. ^ Valentine, Simon (2008). Islam and the Ahmadiyya jamaʻat: history, belief, practice. Columbia University Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-231-70094-8.
  29. ^ Valentine, Simon (2008). Islam and the Ahmadiyya jamaʻat: history, belief, practice. Columbia University Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-231-70094-8.
  30. ^ a b Valentine, Simon (2008). Islam and the Ahmadiyya jamaʻat: history, belief, practice. Columbia University Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-231-70094-8.
  31. ^ Leaves of Healing, ed. J A Dowie, Chicago, December 27, 1902; and December 12, 1903
  32. ^ The Sunday Herald. Boston, Massachusetts. June 23, 1907

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