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John MacMillan and the Authority of the Believer

“John A. MacMillan’s Teaching Regarding the Authority of the Believer and its Impact on the Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic Movements” by Paul L. King 

Most people associate teaching on the authority of the believer from a charismatic source, usually Kenneth Hagin or Kenneth Copeland. Some evangelicals, such as Hank Hanegraaff and John MacArthur tend to regard exercise of the believer’s authority, especially binding and loosing, as an excessive teaching of the charismatic movement.1 However, the original source of teaching on this vital doctrine comes not from the charismatic or Pentecostal movements, but from John A. MacMillan, a former Presbyterian layman who became a missionary, writer, editor, and professor, and from and his classic holiness roots in the Higher Life and Keswick movements. My doctoral dissertation presented a case study of the life, ministry, and impact of John MacMillan, particularly as it relates to the authority of the believer and spiritual warfare.2 This paper is a distillation of that dissertation.

Introducing John A. MacMillan

John MacMillan (1873-1956) was a Canadian Presbyterian businessman who became actively involved with ministry to Chinese and Jewish people in Toronto.3 At the age of 41 he married Isabel Robson, who had been a missionary to China with China Inland Mission from 1895 to1906 and a personal nurse to J. Hudson Taylor. Ordained in 1923 at the age of 49, MacMillan and his wife went to China as missionaries with The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA). He then became field director of the floundering C&MA mission work in the Philippines. Following the death of his first wife in 1928, he returned to North America to do pastoral and itinerant ministry. Subsequently, he became Associate Editor of The Alliance Weekly magazine, a member of the Board of Managers of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, and a professor at Missionary Training Institute in Nyack, New York, now known as Nyack College. In 1932 after nine years of many dramatic experiences with spiritual warfare, he wrote a series of articles in The Alliance Weekly, the periodical of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, entitled “The Authority of the Believer.”4 Eventually they were published in book form, distributed widely and also republished in other periodicals. MacMillan had a remarkable and extensive ministry in the exercise of the authority of the believer and spiritual warfare spanning more than thirty years.

MacMillan’s Exercise of the Authority of the Believer

John MacMillan’s practice of the authority of the believer began when as a businessman, he was informed that the house next to his house caught on fire. Calmly, “he committed the crisis to God in prayer, claiming divine protection according to Psalm 91:10 that ‘no destruction would befall the house.'” He drove home to find out that the fire had miraculously stopped at a wooden fence that separated the two houses.5

MacMillan turned his business over to another man when he left for the mission field, designating a portion of the profits to go to his missionary support, but the man reneged on his contract, failing to forward the funds. Speaking with the believer’s authority, MacMillan prophesied, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” Eventually the business went bankrupt. So through MacMillan’s application of the believer’s authority, he was vindicated and the dishonest contract-breakers suffered the judgment of God.6

On the mission field in China an Asiatic cholera epidemic threatened the mission. MacMillan again confessed Psalm 91:3, “Surely he will deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence.” He prayed, “May we be enabled to keep the Home ‘in the secret place of the Most High and under the shadow of the Almighty.'” They emerged victorious and received divine protection from the plague. 7

MacMillan told of how Christian and Missionary Alliance missionaries would claim land from demonic control in China and bind the powers of darkness. On a certain occasion, the missionaries took possession of a piece of land and began moving logs. Evil spirits resisted the takeover by projecting a supernatural voice from a log. The voice in the log threatened, “Don’t you dare move it!” The missionaries were not taken aback, but rebuked the voice. They then removed the log without any further incident and gained the victory over the dark powers.8 MacMillan’s most dramatic illustration of exercising the authority of binding and loosing occurred in 1924 when several missionaries were kidnapped. As MacMillan and the remaining missionaries exercised the believer’s authority of binding and loosing, the missionaries were released without harm.9

John MacMillan’s exercise of the authority of the believer and engagement with the powers of darkness increased during his ministry in the Philippines. He exercised authority over nature, binding the Enemy as a tree fell toward him and the mission buildings. As a result, the tree fell between the buildings, causing no harm to the buildings or himself. MacMillan perceived in this startling occurrence of divine protection a spiritual message from the Lord, “The way out is blocked—is it not a gracious call to prayer, lest the great adversary block our efforts and shut us up in a small place? We have prayed for the binding of the strongman—we must watch and pray that the strong man does not bind us.”10 As he took authority over tobacco addictions, many people were set free and in one district in the Philippines, all the believers stopped growing tobacco.11

Another remarkable and dramatic demonstration of MacMillan’s authority as a believer resulted in miraculous healing of his broken leg. Retired pastor Otto Bublat recalls that MacMillan described the incident years later in a class at the Missionary Training Institute: “Once on an emergency mission trip where he was alone on the rainy slippery trail, he slipped and broke his ankle. … His only recourse was the Lord since he was alone and about twenty miles from even a first aid station. In simple faith, he stepped out and began walking those many miles. He got home safely, and shortly thereafter had the ankle X-rayed. There had been a clean break, but it was perfectly healed.”12

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About the Author: Paul L. King holds a D.Min from Oral Roberts University and a D.Th. from the University of South Africa. He served for 16 years on the faculty of Oral Roberts University as Coordinator of Bible Institute programs and Adjunct Professor in the College of Theology and Ministry. Author of 10 books and more than 50 articles, he was ORU 2006 Scholar of the Year and also served as Scholar-at-Large for the D.Min. program at Alliance Theological Seminary. He is currently Doctor of Ministry Mentor for the Randy Clark Scholars program at United Theological Seminary, Leadership and Church Ministry Consultant and Trainer, an ordained pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Interim Consulting Pastor for the Plano (Texas) Chinese Alliance Church. www.higherlifeministries.com

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