The Ratana church owes its existence to the influence of Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana who came into prominence in 1920 as a faith healer. Visions and a feeling of destiny followed the cure of a child after days of prayer. His fame spread rapidly and Maori people travelled from all over New Zealand to be healed by Ratana who gave them something more than mere hope of physical well-being. At that time there was need of a moral stimulus following the end of the war and the beginning of economic uncertainty. The Maori people were in a mood to respond to leadership on a national scale and Ratana provided a means by which their frustrations could be channelled into some kind of creative outlet. By December 1920 Ratana was able to build a temple at Ratana pa to the opening of which 3,000 Maoris attended from all parts of New Zealand. At first the movement cooperated with Christian churches but gradually a separate church evolved with ritual that was unique. In 1925 the Anglican bishops of Auckland, Wellington, and Waiapu were so opposed to the Ratana movement that they threatened to excommunicate any Anglican who belonged to it. The process of growth in ritual had led to the introduction of Holy Angels into the formula of healing and the inscriptions of the church. The names Jesus and Christ had been omitted and Ratana the Mangai or mouthpiece (of God to men, and men to God) was glorified, particularly in the closing of prayers: “For the mouthpiece is our leader, now and forever, Amen”. The Pakeha hymn and song tunes first used by the church gave way to Ratana hymns exalting the movement and the Mangai rather than helping to spread Christian truths.
A system of church officials evolved with apostles as important pillars of the movement. They conducted services and were registered as officiating ministers within the meaning of the Marriage Act. Below them were the disciples who stood in for the apostles where necessary. Spiritual nurses were helpers who cared for the sick and ministered to their spiritual needs but did not encourage the use of medicine. The rejection of medicine was one point of criticism by medical and lay people who blamed Ratana for unnecessary deaths because of lack of medical care. This argument was countered by Ratana who stated that lack of faith and contact with unbelieving Pakehas were the causes of relapses and death.
The movement took on nationalistic leanings and attention was given to the Treaty of Waitangi and the wrongs affecting the Maori people. From such an attitude it was a short, inevitable step to the field of politics. In 1922 Ratana supported his son as a candidate for Western Maori but it was not until 1931 that the first Ratana candidate was successful. Since then the Ratana movement has identified itself with Labour Party politics and has virtually controlled the four Maori seats in Parliament. In recent years the number of Ratana adherents has declined significantly but their influence in politics is still considerable.