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Fraudulent revival history? Why charismatics need to study John Collins’ work


I became interested in potentially misleading accounts of 20th-century revival history when I studied allegations of misconduct against Mike Bickle, the once revered leader of the International House of Prayer. Not only have allegations surfaced regarding predatory behavior, but manipulation using the famous “prophetic history” and “revival history” behind the so-called “Kansas City Prophets.”

This includes prophecies from such noteworthy figures as Bob Jones and Paul Cain. Repentant or not, Bickle, Jones and Cain all engaged in deception to cover sexual misconduct.

Why are so few Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian leaders asking questions? Nothing in the Bible supports suppression of the truth as a means of maintaining unity, preserving image or growing the church. A house built on sand is destined to collapse. Through several twists and turns, my research led me to John Collins and his study of William Branham, one of the catalysts for the wildly influential Latter Rain Revival.

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John Collins’ grandfather was head of the Branham Tabernacle (the lead church of Branhamism) for 50 years. Raised in The Message sect and extremely devout, Collins started gathering historical evidence in support of William Branham as a means of defending the "true church" against those who would seek to discredit it. To say his research backfired is an understatement.

The facts uncovered by John Collins in his William Branham historical research project, now spanning centuries of connections between various church movements, are shocking and of great significance. His insights into revivalists such as John Alexander Dowie, William Branham, and John G Lake contradict accounts contained in the beloved revival history series, “God's Generals.” For instance, new evidence suggests Branham grew up brewing and running liquor with his father for the Chicago mob. His famous halo picture is allegedly debunked. Research also suggests that his prophetic words were frequently revised and frequently inaccurate. He spent time in spiritualist camps where cold reading and other forms of deception were practiced, and his ministry used a system of numbered prayer cards to “call out” words of knowledge. Extensive ties to political movements have been found. I encourage healthy skepticism of Collins’ claims (a fascinating video can be found here) — his research site includes extensive footnotes, references, and photos of newspapers and public records, with which one can come to their own conclusions.

I find William Branham of particular interest, because in my 3 years at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California, we were taught to revere his prophetic gift, encouraged to receive his mantle, and were taught he set a bar we should aspire to reach. But it's not just Branham. John G. Lake also appears to have engaged in fraudulent activities. John Alexander Dowie appears to have started a criminal and ended up insane. Figures such as these became a template for subsequent “revival” leaders, apostles, and prophets. While God may have healed some in their meetings — in response to faith or in His mercy — it is unconscionable that we as charismatic believers continue to revere these individuals while overlooking their fraud and deception. A con man is a con man, not a hero of the faith. Teaching believers “the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable” means they should admire the gifts of known predators and leave them vulnerable to present-day abuse and deception. This casual tolerance of sin and deceit must stop. How many others are there? Are any such con artists alive today, masquerading as shepherds, apostles or prophets?

Charismatic Christians should not be threatened by the exposure of deceit and manipulation; we should champion it. This isn’t a continuationist vs. cessationist theological squabble, as problems exist in both camps. I happen to believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Bible remain in operation and the question of how they manifest today will remain long after the smoke clears. The real issue is not theological, but ethical and practical. All Christians can agree that a leader who engages in deception to make people believe he’s a prophet or miracle worker, to accumulate wealth, or to seduce women is never to be trusted. Any novel revelations or teachings from such people are immediately suspect and should be examined for legitimacy. This has nothing to do with believing in the gifts of the Spirit, but rather with protecting all believers from manipulation and unholy leaven. Let what is good remain.

Any clannish insistence on turning a blind eye is dangerous. How many of our leaders know the whole truth about Branham and other figures? Why do we still study them? Did any current leaders learn their deceptive practices and use them to swindle subsequent generations of sincere believers? Are we as continuationists being pressured to attain a standard of miraculous outpouring that is either completely unattainable or at the very least unattainable by means of following the teachings of these disgraced heroes? Have important truths been de-emphasized to our detriment?

I want to encourage my fellow continuationists, charismatics, and hyper-charismatics to engage with the historical research of John Collins. Don't ignore the concerns of “the Calvinists” and other members of the body of Christ who look down on us for our supernatural beliefs. They have their own blind spots and don't tend to be polite, but it is very difficult to correct a movement from within. Too many of our leaders put loyalty and friendship above truth and integrity. It’s a perfect storm of silence and inverted virtue where covering sins that should be exposed is perversely applauded. The Remnant Radio podcast is a helpful resource if you seek truth and balance as a charismatic Christian.

I neither share John Collins' theology nor his politics (one resource he recommended can be found here). Being Canadian; seeing the need for Christians to be engaged in politics to the best of our ability; and believing in intercessory prayer, I find some of his videos on the New Apostolic Reformation, for example, to be alarmist, conspiratorial, and counterproductive. But much of his research is excellent, and I've heard him refer to at least one Pentecostal as a friend on his podcast.

It's beyond time we brought back reason, accountability, and civility to the Church. We must learn to tolerate the discomfort of disagreement if we are to become a truly unified Body of Christ. The Roundtable discussion put out by AGTV was a start, but if you are a continuationist Christian I implore you: free yourself to ask questions. Let's honor our brothers and sisters — even if we feel they dishonor the Holy Spirit and us — enough to hear them out and look at what we can agree on. They called out Mike Bickle before allegations surfaced. Is it possible believers of a different temperament and worldview may be able to help us expose some of the corruption in our midst? I believe they can. And because I love Jesus much more than I love the time I invested in charismatic Christianity or my own presuppositions, I look forward to seeing those different from us continue to shed light on our blind spots. Maybe one of these days we'll be able to do the same for them.

Dusty May Taylor is a writer, artist and prayer servant living in British Columbia, Canada. Her testimony explores themes of trauma, generational occultism, a child's faith and the faithfulness of Jesus. She encourages the exploration of biblical truth without quenching the Spirit or despising one's humanity.

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