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John MacMillan and the Authority of the Believer

MacMillan frequently exercised authority over demonic occult powers in China, the Philippines, and later in North America. On one occasion a spiritist witchdoctor was performing a ceremony, chanting in a trance-like mediumistic state and calling on the spirits. A drum in the room began to beat in rhythm without anyone touching it. Then it rose to the ceiling in a state of levitation. MacMillan walked into the room, took authority over the spirits, rebuking them in the name of Jesus Christ. The drum immediately dropped to the floor and ceased pounding.13This was a strong demonstration of what we call today a “power encounter.”

For nearly three years he battled the principalities and powers in the Philippines and encountered personal attack upon him and his wife. In the midst of his wife’s grave illness he wrote in his diary: “We are, by prayer in Jesus’ name, dislodging the spirits that have bound the people of this field. It seems to me that an infernal fiat has gone forth that we must be crushed. But, ‘rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; though I fall, I shall rise.’ God is with us and we shall live and triumph.”14His wife died a month later, but her death was not a defeat for MacMillan and the Philippine mission. Rather, it galvanized and united people in prayer more and more. The morale and fortitude the Enemy tried to destroy was actually strengthened. His son Buchanan remarked, “This seemed to be the beginning of a new era of spiritual life in the mission field, that … has been singularly unresponsive and discouraging.”15 The loss that resulted in the breaking of John’s heart actually became a breakthrough—a breaking of the Enemy’s stronghold on the peoples of the Philippines. The outbreak of revival for which MacMillan had been earnestly praying and waging war for more than three years began the latter part of 1929 as the floodgates opened and hundreds were converted in the ensuing months. MacMillan’s legacy continues into the twenty-first century, for out of the Philippine mission that MacMillan revitalized, the Christian and Missionary Alliance has grown to be the largest evangelical Protestant church denomination in the Philippines today. All this has been the outcome of the exercise of the authority of the believer.

MacMillan was a trailblazer in the concept of “territorial spirits,” describing what he called “praying geographically” in dealing with demonic strongholds over a region. He appealed for intercessors at home “to roll back the powers of the air, and make it possible to bring the Truth to bear on these regions where the devil is blocking the way.”16He had viewed his battle for Isabel’s life as an “infernal fiat” intended to crush them because they were dislodging the spirits that held the territories of the Philippines in darkness. He also was a pioneer of recognizing and dealing with generational bondage. Predating modern teaching on “generational sin” and “generational curses” by decades, MacMillan warned on the basis of Exodus 20:5, of the consequences of sin being visited upon succeeding generations, what he called “an inexorable law of return and of increase,” and the “principle of heredity.”17

The Development of Teaching on the Authority of the Believer

John MacMillan was not the first to teach principles on the authority of the believer, but he was apparently the first to combine many of those principles together into one treatise and to expand upon them, thus becoming the seminal writer on the concept. The notion of the authority of the believer arose originally out of the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of the believer and developed embryonically. A. J. Gordon notes that Swiss healing movement leader Dorothy Trudel realized the authority of the believer, declaring that it is the believer’s privilege to be kings and priests of God.18 The Keswick and Higher Life movements picked up the theme with their emphasis on Covenant theology and the privileges and inheritance of the saints through the Covenant. In 1885 Andrew Murray was teaching that believers have authority: “Church of the living God! Your calling is higher and holier than you know! God wants to rule the world through your members. He wants you to be His kings and priests. Your prayers can bestow and withhold the blessings of heaven.”19 He quoted famed Scottish preacher and hymn writer Horatius Bonar, saying, “God is seeking kings. Not out of the ranks of angels. Fallen man must furnish Him with the rulers of His universe. Human hand must wield the scepter, human hands must wear the crown.”20 In 1895, as interim successor to Charles Spurgeon, A. T. Pierson taught, “Obedience to Him means command over others; in proportion as we are subject to Him, even the demons are subject to us in His name.”21 Pierson also taught “the authority of faith”: “This we regard as the central, vital heart of this great lesson on Faith. The Master of all girds the servant with His own power and entrusts him with authority to command.”22

The concept of the believer’s authority was also taught in germinal form by Pierson’s friend A. B. Simpson, founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, in an article entitled “The Authority of Faith”:

The word “power” should be frequently translated “authority,” in the New Testament. “Behold, I give unto you authority,” Christ says, “to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

He did not promise the disciples power first, but the authority first; and as they used the authority, the power would be made manifest, and the results would follow.

Faith steps out to act with the authority of God’s Word, seeing no sign of the promised power, but believing and acting as if it were real. As it speaks the word of authority and command, and puts its foot without fear upon the head of its conquered foes, lo, their power is disarmed, and all the forces of the heavenly world are there to make the victory complete.

This was the secret of Christ’s power that He spake with authority, prayed with authority, commanded with authority, and the power followed. The reason we do not see more power is because we do not claim the authority Christ has given us. The adversary has no power over us if we do not fear him, but the moment we acknowledge his power, he becomes all that we believe him to be. He is only a braggart if we will dare to defy him, but our unbelief clothes him with an omnipotence he does not rightly possess. God has given us the right to claim deliverance over all his attacks, but we must step out and put our foot upon his neck as Joshua taught the children of Israel to put their feet upon the necks of the conquered Canaanites, and faith will find our adversaries as weak as we believe them to be. Let us claim the authority and the victory of faith for all that Christ has purchased and promised for our bodies, our spirits, or His work.23

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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 12 books and more than 60 articles, he was ORU 2006 Scholar of the Year. He has also served as Scholar-at-Large for the D.Min. program at Alliance Theological Seminary, Doctor of Ministry Mentor for the Randy Clark Scholars program at United Theological Seminary and Global Awakening Theological Seminary, Leadership and Church Ministry Consultant and Trainer, an ordained pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Interim Consulting Pastor for the Plano (Texas) Chinese Alliance Church, and Faculty Director of Purdue Ratio Christi/Christian Faculty and Staff Network. His books include God's Healing Arsenal: A Divine Battle Plan for Overcoming Distress and Disease (2011), Anointed Women: The Rich Heritage of Women in Ministry in the Christian & Missionary Alliance (2009), Only Believe: Examining the Origin and Development of Classic and Contemporary Word of Faith Theologies (2008), Genuine Gold: The Cautiously Charismatic Story of the Early Christian and Missionary Alliance (2006), Binding & Loosing: Exercising Authority over the Dark Powers (1999), and A Believer with Authority: The Life and Message of John A. MacMillan. Twitter: @PaulLKing.

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