It began with a vision in which God told evangelist Oral Roberts to build the City of Faith, a $250 million medical complex including a 777-bed hospital.

"You build it exactly as I have given you vision," God is quoted in a 22-page booklet recounting the conversation with Roberts in the desert."I told you there would be a breakthrough from Heaven in '77. Therefore, you are to start in the fall of '77."

While Roberts, an internationally known faith healer, may have a hot-line of Heaven, he has received a cold shoulder from earthbound bureaucrats who so far have denied him permission to begin construction of the hospital in what is shaping up as one of the most divisive controversies in the 71 years Oklahoma has been a state.

Roberts announced his proposed medical complex last September. He said he had been instructed by God to build three towering, triangular buildings on a single base on an 80-acre tract adjoining Oral Roberts University in southeast Tulsa.

A 60-story clinic and diagnostic center is the focal point of the proposed complex. In the design, it is flanked on the west by a 30-story hospital and on the east by a 20-story research center.

Sixty-foot-high sculptured hands - meant to represent the hand of prayer and the hand of medicine - would front the complex, with a 40-foot-wide tree-lined stream leading to a flowing fountain.

Roberts said God instructed that the complex be opened debt free, and contributions were requested in the amounts of $7, $77, $777, and $7,777.

Contributors, called partners, can send special requests to be prayed over for 31 days and nights at the university prayer tower and in return are sent a color poster of the "healing hands."

Four months after the fund drive began, Roberts reported that more than 30,000 "partners" had contributed.

Other responses have not been so favorable.

In January, on his 60th birthday - Roberts held ground-breaking ceremonies complete with 77 white homing pigeons to symbolize faith for his project, spray-painted gold shovels and a crowd alternately chanting hallelujah with Roberts.

But at the same time, the Tulsa hospital council was adopting an emphatic resolution opposing the complex and endorsing "appropriate means to discourage project implementation."

Doctors expressed fears that the competition from the proposed hospital would empty local hospitals already suffering from an excess of beds. They also feared the hospital might drain technicians, nurses and doctors from local hospitals.

Roberts countered that the City of Faith will be similar to the Maye Clinic, aimed at a nationwide and even worldwide base to draw patients and staff. He said it would emphasize research on heart, cancer and aging problems.

Robert's $96 million plans were turned down twice by the Oklahoma Health Systems Agency (OHSA), one of two state boards involved in the hospital review process.

The rejections came despite a personal appeal by Roberts and an 11th-hour amendment to the application reducing the idea to a $55 million one.

"The facts are still very simple and very plain," one member explained. "Oral Roberts still has not demonostrated a real need for a 777-bed hospital, or for that matter, any type of hospital."

University administrators then appealed to the Oklahoma Health Planning Commission, to which OHSA is an advisory group.

Health planning officials have said Roberts cannot buck a negative vote by the commission without incurring daily fines and becomes ineligible to receive federal funds or reimbursement by insurance companies.

It is also doubtful that any of the 300 physicians needed to staff the facility would work for an unlicensed hospital.

But Roberts is not unaccustomed to defying the odds. In 1963 the former tent evangelist and faith-healer who never finished college opened Oral Roberts University amid nationwide skepticism.

ORU now has $3,800 full-time students, 20 major buildings on 500 acres on the southern rim of Tulsa. Its physical plant and endowment funds are worth $150 million, according to university officials.

In addition to its undergraduate program, ORU will have seven graduate schools when the dental and medical schools open this fall and the law school is completed next fall.

Roberts, who has compared his City of Faith campaign to moses leading the children of Israel out of bondage, apparently does not intend to lose his last round with the state.

In a massive letter-writing appeal to his estimated 2 million followers, Robert urged believers to contact state representatives and health planning officials.

"The City of Faith which God told me to build is under attack by people who misunderstand the City of Faith. . . . I'm writing to you since I'm trying to do all I can do and clear myself before God" Roberts wrote.

Two days after the mailing, a flood of supportive letters and telephone calls inundated officials, and letters supporting the project began circulating through the Oklahoma Senate and House.