John Alexander Dowie was born in
This is where he began his ministerial work in a small wooden hut near the World Fair facilities. In 1896 he formed his own church, the Christian Catholic Church. He had an enrollment of 500 followers. In 1897, he established the Central Zion Tabernacle. In 1895, he was arrested over a hundred times for protesting against alcohol use and practicing medicine without a license. Slowly he began buying large parcels of land some 42 miles north of
On New Year's Eve, he gathered all his followers to an all-night service at the Central Zion Tabernacle. As the clock struck 12, Dowie drew the large curtain 25 ft high and 25 ft wide that was hiding the blueprint of the
In 1860, the Dowie family moved to
The diary he kept on the voyage to
Upon his return to
In 1876, the first noted healing occurred in Dowie's ministry. He did not know this at the time, but healing eventually became the hallmark of his ministry. An epidemic had already killed forty of his flock. Dowie later wrote that as he was sorrowing and meditating in his study about the thirty others lying sick, whom he had just visited, the words of Acts "stood before him all radiant... revealing Satan as the Defiler and Christ as the Healer." He already believed that disease was not God's will but was the work of Satan consequent upon sin. As his heart was being strengthened from this reminder of the work of Jesus and the power of God, he received a call to come to the bedside of a young girl who was dying. Dowie's anger burned. He said he wanted "some sharp sword of heavenly temper keen to slay this cruel foe who is strangling that lovely maiden like an invisible serpent, tightening his deadly coils for a final victory."
Dowie hurried to the bedside of the stricken girl, where he joined the family. When the Christian doctor who was present asked, "Sir, are not God's ways mysterious?" Dowie said that the weapon he wanted was in his hand—"The Spirit Sword, the Word of God." "God's way!" he answered, "How dare you... call that God's way of bringing his children home from earth to heaven? No, sir, that is the devil's work, and it is time we called on Him who came to destroy the work of the devil." Dowie was frenzied, he said, with "Divinely imparted anger." Immediately the girl was healed in response to his prayers. The remainder of his parishioners recovered as well. Dowie had won a tremendous spiritual victory. His faith was increased for other major accomplishments. The many healings which followed in his ministry strengthened his belief that God was the source of all that was good."
Because he had little formal preparation in theology, the preacher's beliefs were based primarily on his own interpretation of the scriptures. As a young minister, he made up for his lack of schooling by spending long hours studying so he could rightly interpret the Word. For one who was to establish a new faith, his scant theological preparation seemed to be no hindrance. Dowie looked to no authority other than the inspiration of the Spirit and did not need a denominational framework for his ministry. By 1877, he had decided to found "by God's help, a Free Christian Church" in
In a letter to his wife, the young pastor explained how he had turned down the opportunity to accept a call to the Waterloo Congregational Church and how the deputation which invited him had applauded his reasons for leaving the Congregational Church. He said:
I told them I would more firmly than ever proclaim the infallibility of the Bible as the Word of God. I told them ... that I was determined to be independent in every way of the "Congregational Union," which was in its corporate capacity an aggregation of ciphers so far as spiritual power was concerned, and because Mammon seemed to be President, and mean Cliqueism seemed to be the standing Committee which managed its affairs;... I told them I had ... a radical want of confidence in a system which asserted the liberty of members, ministers, and churches, but which really killed individual energy, made denominational tools of many ministers, or worse, made them rich and worldly minded men's flunkies, and which separated the churches more than it united them, and then tying them in a heartless Union together, left them high and dry and useless for the most part—good ships, but badly steered, and terribly overladen with worldliness and apathy... .12
Dowie was going to order his own affairs in his service to God and democratic, denominational devices would never bind him.
Subsequently, in 1878, Dowie left the Congregational Church to begin independent evangelistic work. Later explaining this move, he said that he had become convinced that it was wrong for a minister "to sell and for a church to buy any man's spiritual power or services." Here, perhaps was the beginning of his later extreme independence and antagonism to denominations. In his own mind, Dowie was certain where most of the authority in the church body should lie, for he frequently said that he believed that the shepherd should call the sheep and not vice versa.13
In 1880, Dowie traveled the road of other preachers of the social gospel who entered politics, and ran for Parliament from