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John MacMillan and the Authority of the Believer

Many other evangelicals have cited MacMillan and/or his themes, including Moody Press, Baptist pastors C. S. Lovett and Ernest Rockstad, Episcopalian John Richards, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professors Tim Warner and Wayne Grudem.51 Mark Bubeck, in his 1975 book The Adversary quotes from MacMillan’s The Authority of the Believer, avowing, “This is one of the finest expositions on the subject and basis of the believer’s authority that I have ever read.”52 Professor Ed Murphy, in his monumental volume The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare, frequently cites Unger and uses a variation of MacMillan’s policeman illustration. Though he does not mention MacMillan, in a personal interview he confirmed to me that MacMillan’s writings have influenced his ministry and teaching.53 It is clear that MacMillan’s works and concepts have been cited as standard fare in scholarly books and bibliographies, and have been highly regarded by evangelical leaders and academics from a variety of backgrounds.

MacMillan’s Impact on the Charismatic Movement

By far the greatest popular dissemination of teaching on the authority of the believer has been through the charismatic movement. In fact, it has been so much so, that some have erroneously believed that the concept originated with charismatics, or more specifically, the Word of Faith movement. The periodical Herald of His Coming had circulated among Pentecostals, as well as the evangelical community, so undoubtedly the Pentecostal movement picked up the concept of the authority of the believer from MacMillan’s material that was featured from time to time.

The first known recorded impact of John MacMillan’s teaching in Pentecostal/ charismatic circles is found in the Pentecostal publication Herald of Faith, published by Joseph D. Mattsson-Boze, which featured news and articles about Pentecostal ministries, especially that of William Branham. Beginning the June 1963 issue, MacMillan’s booklet was published for three months as a series of articles. It was advertised as a “New series of articles that will thrill our readers.”54 At the end of the third article (August 1963) a note appeared saying “continued next month” as in the prior issues.55 Inexplicably, however, the September issue did not continue the series, nor did any future issue. No explanation was given. In what appeared to be a substitution, an article by Pentecostal missionary Cornelia Nuzum appeared, entitled “The Authority of the Blood.”56 One can only venture a guess as to why the series which would “thrill” their readers was cancelled.

The next influence of MacMillan’s writings, which has become the major impact on the charismatic movement, comes from the writings of Kenneth Hagin. In 1967 Hagin began teaching on the authority of the believer in churches and on radio. Also in that year, his booklet Authority of the Believer was published.57Like Billheimer, Hagin quoted MacMillan’s writing extensively so that some have accused him of plagiarism, though others have exonerated him. (See endnotes for a discussion of this controversy.)58 In his 1984 edition retitled The Believer’s Authority, Hagin acknowledged his indebtedness to MacMillan: “Then [in the 1940s] I came across a wonderful pamphlet, entitled The Authority of the Believer by John A. MacMillan, a missionary to China who later edited The Alliance Weekly.”59 The chief point for this study is that MacMillan’s concept of the authority of the believer has been propagated widely in the charismatic movement, predominately through the teaching of Kenneth Hagin. In particular, other Word of Faith leaders such as Kenneth Copeland and Charles Capps have further expanded upon Hagin’s teachings on the authority of the believer.60 Though their present form and application differs in some respects from MacMillan’s original teaching, MacMillan’s basic principles furnish the foundation of contemporary charismatic understanding and practice of the concept.

While Hagin’s popularization of MacMillan’s principle of the authority of the believer predominates, other charismatic leaders have made use of MacMillan’s concepts and/or writings on the authority of the believer and spiritual warfare as well, including Michael Harper, Don Basham, Dick Leggatt, and New Wine magazine.61 In addition to MacMillan’s writings and the referencing of Unger, other evangelical writers influenced by MacMillan have also impacted the charismatic movement. Paul Billheimer’s books and teachings, which, we have seen, are founded in large part by MacMillan’s principles, have been popular among charismatics. Oral Roberts University has used Destined for the Throne in a course on prayer for several years. Billheimer also appeared a number of times on the charismatically-oriented Trinity Broadcasting Network—TBN.62 Wayne Grudem, now associated with the Vineyard movement, has also been consulted by serious-minded charismatics. Because of the proliferation of current teaching on spiritual warfare, additional leaders could be cited ad infinitum.

This review has demonstrated that John MacMillan’s ministry and writings have exercised great influence in these significant contemporary Christian streams. In many instances, MacMillan has not been given credit for his role. The impact of MacMillan has resurfaced and is being extended once again through the recent publishing of the book Binding and Loosing: Exercising Authority over the Dark Powers by K. Neill Foster in collaboration with myself, in which we cite MacMillan’s principles and experiences. In fact, my dissertation was birthed out of that book in order to bring to light the extent and significance of MacMillan’s contribution.63 Whether dependence on MacMillan’s concepts has been direct or indirect, his thought has been seminal to most teaching on the authority of the believer that has followed. In some cases, his principles have been expanded upon and modified, sometimes in ways he would not agree with or approve of today (such as “little gods” and “name it and claim it”).64 Former Nyack College President Rexford A. Boda (who was a student of MacMillan) aptly summarizes MacMillan’s contribution: “In his ministry and writing, he laid down the basic principles which, in theory and practice we, the Body of Christ, continue to work out in the battle for souls as we approach the twenty-first century.”65

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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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