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John MacMillan and the Authority of the Believer

MacMillan expanded upon Simpson’s teaching. An article by Simpson in The Alliance Weekly on June 14, 1919, would appear to be a source for MacMillan’s policeman analogy of spiritual authority: “‘I give you authority.’ This is the policeman’s badge which makes him mightier than a whole crowd of ruffians because, standing upon his rights, the whole power of the state is behind him. … Are we using the authority of the name of Jesus and the faith of God?”24 MacMillan, further expounding upon the idea in The Authority of the Believer, changed the illustration from a mob to bustling traffic stopped by a policeman at a busy intersection.25 MacMillan’s illustration has since been frequently used to describe the believer’s authority.

At a China Inland Mission conference in 1897 Jessie Penn-Lewis, whose writings MacMillan absorbed, taught on the believer’s position in Christ according to Ephesians 1 and 2.26Later, in 1912 she and Evan Roberts included a short section on the believer’s authority in their book War on the Saints.27 Also about 1897, A. B. Simpson, also began teaching the believer’s position in Christ according to Ephesians 1.28 Whether he was influenced by Penn-Lewis, or vice versa, we cannot be sure, but apparently they all came to the same basic insight, either through the Holy Spirit independent of one another or perhaps through interchange of ideas. MacMillan’s book The Authority of the Believer is a more thorough exposition of the position of the believer according to Ephesians 1 and 2, expanding on the germinal thought of both Penn-Lewis and Simpson. Alluding to Simpson’s exposition of Ephesians entitled The Highest Christian Life, MacMillan wrote, “The Epistle to the Ephesians is the manual of the higher life. In a fuller degree perhaps than any of the others its leads the believer up to the heights of fellowship, of authority, and of victory.”29

The concept of throne life described by Simpson is one of the foundational principles of MacMillan’s understanding of the authority of the believer. MacMillan declared that the believer can assert “in prayer the power of the Ascended Lord, and the believer’s throne union with Him.”30 Again he writes, “Where in faith the obedient saint claims his throne-rights in Christ, and boldly asserts his authority, the powers of the air will recognize and obey.”31 Commenting on Exodus 17, he writes, “The rod [of Moses] symbolizes the authority of God committed to human hands. By it the holder is made a co-ruler with his Lord, sharing His throne-power and reigning with Him. … So today, every consecrated hand that lifts the rod of the authority of the Lord against the unseen powers of darkness is directing the throne-power of Christ against Satan and his hosts in a battle that will last until ‘the going down of the sun.'”32

The theme of throne life permeated the Keswick, Higher Life, and Overcomer movements. In 1888, George B. Peck, a friend of A. J. Gordon and A. B. Simpson, wrote his book Throne-Life, or The Highest Christian Life, in which he wrote concerning “throne-power,” or the “command of faith.”33 Also in the late 1800s George D. Watson, popular Methodist holiness leader who later affiliated with the C&MA, wrote Steps to the Throne.34 In 1906, Jessie Penn-Lewis wrote a booklet entitled Throne Life of Victory which was hailed as “God’s answer to powers of darkness.”35 MacMillan developed his concept most directly from George D. Watson’s book Bridehood Saints in a chapter entitled “The Hand on the Throne” (also one of MacMillan’s sub-titles).36

MacMillan’s Impact on Evangelical Christianity

MacMillan’s first and almost immediate impact on the evangelical world came just a year after the publication of his series of articles on “The Authority of the Believer” in The Alliance Weekly in 1932. The seventh edition of War on the Saints by Jessie Penn-Lewis and Evan Roberts, published in 1933, included in its introduction a reference to MacMillan’s recent writing: “It is perhaps striking that in recent months a magazine so well informed of Christian work in many lands as The Alliance Weekly of America, should feel it necessary to publish some very able articles by The Rev. J. A. MacMillan dealing with demon possession.”37 It goes on to quote a lengthy section of MacMillan’s writing. Shortly after this, the articles were published in pamphlet form.

The British deeper life periodical The Overcomer, founded by Jessie Penn-Lewis and edited by J. B. Metcalfe, also published MacMillan’s articles in the 1930s.38 MacMillan’s sequel article “The Authority of the Intercessor” was also produced in pamphlet form, then later published by another evangelical organization.39 Eventually it was included with The Authority of the Believer and produced by Christian Publications in book form. MacMillan’s 1948 series of articles in The Alliance Weekly on demonization and deliverance ministry were compiled together in a small book entitled Modern Demon Possession, later republished with additional material under the title of Encounter with Darkness.40 These writings have been referenced again and again through the years by ministers and theologians alike. Herald of His Coming became a popular interdenominational evangelical newspaper in the 1940s and 50s. It featured articles by many evangelical leaders including Keswick and Higher Life holiness writers such as A. B. Simpson, A. W. Tozer, G. D. Watson, A. T. Pierson, Oswald J. Smith, and others. In July 1948, the editor of the monthly journal wrote regarding The Authority of the Believer, “This is so far as I know the very best presentation of the great subject of the believer’s place and power with the Lord Jesus to be found anywhere.”41 They advertised and reprinted MacMillan’s works several times between 1948 to 1956.42Hence, this journal became one of the most extensive disseminators of MacMillan’s teachings in the mid-twentieth century evangelical community.

Even more significantly, Paul Billheimer, a Bible college president and radio preacher in the Wesleyan holiness tradition, gave a radio message entitled “Deliverance from the Hands of Our Enemies,” which was printed in Herald of His Coming in 1952. He did not mention MacMillan by name, but he spoke on MacMillan’s themes, declaring on the basis of Ephesians 1 that believers are “made sharers potentially of the authority which is His. They are made to sit with Him. That is they share His throne.”43 This and other parts of the article are virtual quotes of MacMillan’s words. My dissertation compares Billheimer’s article and MacMillan’s The Authority of the Believer, showing some of the parallels and discussing the question of plagiarism and other possible explanations.44 On other occasions he expanded upon MacMillan’ themes.45 He became a leading holiness proponent of the overcoming Christian life.

Additional influence from MacMillan can be observed in Billheimer’s more recent book Destined for the Throne. Though he does not make reference to MacMillan, he does make mention of some of the same themes of the authority of the believer based on Ephesians 1:20-22 taught by MacMillan in his chapters entitled “Christ’s Gift of Authority” and “The Legal Basis for the Authority of the Church.”46 Other similar MacMillan-like themes can be found throughout the book. The ramification of this is that Billheimer’s popular book Destined for the Throne is based on and birthed out of MacMillan’s principles.47 MacMillan’s teachings clearly predate and furnish the foundation of thought upon with Billheimer built. When a person thus reads Billheimer, he is reading a magnification of what MacMillan originally presented in germinal form, and no doubt, MacMillan would add his “Amen!”

The most widespread referencing of MacMillan’s material by an evangelical occurs in the writings of Merrill F. Unger, one-time Foursquare Church minister who became a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. Unger was a 1934 graduate of the Missionary Training Institute at Nyack. Although he graduated the semester before MacMillan joined the Nyack faculty, he likely had known of MacMillan and his popular classic. He makes four references to MacMillan in What Demons Can Do to Saints and eight references in Demons in the World Today.48 In addition to numerous citations of MacMillan’s published writings, he included a lengthy, previously unpublished letter written by MacMillan, describing a significant and difficult case of exorcism which took place in 1951 at Nyack.49 It is apparent that Unger, himself a scholar, regards MacMillan as an authority on dealing with demonic forces. Unger has become the foundational scholarly work on spiritual warfare and demonology upon which other academic study has been built.50 Unger’s theology, in turn, was influenced in part by MacMillan.

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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. Twitter: @PaulLKing. www.higherlifeministries.com

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