Some revivals on the earth have spurred the entire church to spiritual advancement; one of such is the Azusa street revival of 1906 in Los Angeles, California. Even though such movements are inevitably called “New” when they first appear, they have actually been a progressive restoration of the biblical truth which was lost or neglected during the middle ages.
An understanding of the essence of past spiritual movements is essential for anyone who is called to leadership in these times if we are going to be responsive to what the Spirit of God is doing per time.
In all that we study, we must recognize that the seed of the church is Jesus Christ. When we examine Scripture, the church or history, Christ is whom we are looking out for. We must have a clear picture of Jesus in our hearts and remove everything that isn’t Him.
There were a number of powerful ministries and movements which both experienced and promulgated the baptism of the Holy Spirit prior to Azusa street, but it was recorded that none had same continual impact as the Azusa street revival.
William J. Seymour and Frank Bartleman are the two names most often associated with the Azusa street revival. Seymour was the unquestioned leader of the revival. He had authority that gave birth to the movement on earth. Bartleman was the intercessor who had authority in heaven. These different pictures complimented one another for the purpose of the revival.
Charles Fox Parham (1873-1929) is considered the father of the Modern Pentecostal Movement. He was a seeker of God who was constantly challenged what he viewed as the great chasm between Biblical Christianity and the state of the church in his day.
Parham was a conservative and resolute man, not known for emotionalism or exaggeration. This made his baptism experience create a great deal of interest, and more credibility.
A couple of years later, he became ill and was forced to move to Houston with friends. When he recovered, he began a Bible school in Texas port city. William Seymour became one of his students, but because he was black and Parham was a strict segregationist, Seymour had to sit outside of the classroom and listen through a door that Parham would leave cracked open for him.
Seymour wanted the Lord so much that he would embrace any humiliation to be close to what the Lord was doing. He was convinced that a new Pentecost was coming to the church and that what Parham had experienced at the dawning of the century was a prophetic indication of what was to come.
Meyer had an encounter with Evan Roberts, the leader of the Welsh Revival, and was greatly impacted him.
On April 8, 1904, Frank Bartleman listened to Meyer and promised the Lord that he would have his full devotion from that time on…and he kept his promise.
With his heart broken from the recent death of his 3 year old daughter, Bartleman felt his treasure was now in heaven and he wanted to do everything for the sake of the Gospel.
A great burden came upon him to see the kind of revival that he had heard about in Wales, that changed cities. And this growing expectation fell on other Christians around the world.
Bartleman’s zeal for the Lord at this time was so great that his wife and friends began to fear for his life. He missed so much sleep and so many meals in order to pray that they didn’t think he could last much longer.
His response always was; I’d rather die than not see revival. He was addicted to the presence of God and would rather do without air than prayer.
Seymour found his identity in Jesus Christ, believing that the Lord was the only liberator of mankind. He was a sensitive, high-spirited youth, and hungry for the truth of God’s Word. It is said he experienced divine visions, and that early in life began to look for the return of Jesus Christ.
At the age of twenty-five, Seymour finally broke through the mental bondage of his inferiority complex. Then doing what few black men dared, he left the homelands of southern Louisiana and headed north to Indianapolis, Indiana.
According to the U.S. census of 1900, only 10 percent of the black race had ever left the South. But Seymour was determined, so he left. He was determined that man-made shackles would never hold him.
In Los Angeles a spiritual hunger was stirring. There was a deep desire and longing for something to happen.
There was evidence of a spiritual revival even before Seymour arrived. Turn of the century evangelists had spread the fire of God throughout Southern California and many groups of people were praying and witnessing throughout the city door to door. In fact, the entire city was on the verge of a great spiritual happening as many Los Angeles congregations of Christians were earnestly seeking God.
When Bartleman met Seymour, both men realized they lived and breathed passion for only revival. Alone, they each were not accomplishing much, together, they created an explosion that rocked the entire Christian world.
This is one of the unique elements of the Azusa street revival, it was not just centered around one person.
The calming leadership of William Seymour was noticed all.
Following his investigation, the Asberys asked him to move into their home on North Bonnie Brae Street and to begin holding regular meetings there.
Seymour accepted, and the small group began to meet in late February of 1906. Their meetings consisted of hours of prayer as they sought for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
While in the middle of a ten-day fast, Seymour and the others in this little band were dramatically baptized in the Holy Spirit and received the gift of tongues, as well as other charismatic gifts. This outpouring of
the Holy Spirit was not unique in history, but never before had this experience itself become an actual movement. This time it did.
Word spread “like fire in a dry wood,” and like the first Pentecost, multitudes came to see what had happened at Seymour’s prayer group. This was caused Frank Bartleman’s stream of articles, tracts and faithful ministry throughout the city, exhorting churches and prayer groups to seek the Lord for “a new Pentecost.”
Everyone knew another meeting place had to be found quickly. The Asbery home could no longer accommodate the crowds. So on April 14, 1906, Seymour and his elders set out to find the perfect place. They wandered around the city near their area, until they came across an old Methodist church. After people helped to renovate it, they knew they were ready for an international revival.
April 18, 1906 marked the day in U.S. history of the great San Francisco earthquake. The next day, a lesser shock was felt in Los Angeles, causing many out of fear to repent of their sins. Hundreds of them fled to Azusa to hear the Gospel message and to experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. Even the very wealthy came to this lower-class area to hear of God’s power.
The seating arrangement at Azusa was very unique. Because there was no platform, Seymour sat on the same level with the rest of the congregation. And the benches were arranged so the participants faced one another. The meetings were spontaneous, so no one ever knew what would happen or who the speaker would be.
At Azusa Street, sermons were inspired in English or in tongues with interpretation.
Sometimes the services ran continuously for ten to twelve hours. Sometimes they ran for several days and nights! Many said the congregation never tired because they were so energized the Holy Spirit. Many could be seen after the services ended in the early morning hours congregating under the street lights talking about the Lord.
A remarkable characteristic of the Azusa Street Revival from the beginning was the diversity of the people who were drawn to it.
Within weeks, a steady stream of missionaries was coming from every continent on earth. Those who were on the front lines of the battle against the forces of darkness were the most acutely aware that they needed more power. Just as the Lord told His disciples that they would receive power to be His witnesses when the Holy Spirit came upon them, this same baptism had become the only hope for effective ministry.
They came as desperate seekers and left filled with the power they had sought.
Within months, gospel fires were burning all over the world. In just two years, the movement had taken root in more than 50 nations and was thought to have penetrated every U.S. town with a population of more than 3,000.
John G. Lake visited the Azusa street meetings. In his book, Adventures With God, he
would later write of Seymour: “He had the funniest vocabulary. But I want to tell you, there were doctors, lawyers, and professors, listening to the marvelous things coming from his lips. It was not what he said in words, it was what he said from his spirit to my heart that showed me he had more of God in his life than any man I had ever met up to that time. It was God in him that attracted the people.”
One of the most devastating attacks upon the work at Azusa Street came when Charles Parham visited Seymour, his former student, in the fall of 1906. He wanted to see for himself the great work that had so quickly become the talk of Christians around the world.
Thrilled the visit from his mentor, Seymour warmly welcomed and honored him. However, Parham was deeply offended what he saw. He thought that the various charismatic gifts were too openly demonstrated, and he was appalled the way so many fell to the ground in apparent trances (one report described Azusa as sometimes resembling “a forest of fallen trees”).
While Seymour realized that some were faking the manifestations, he believed that these were tares sent the devil to foul the field of wheat, and so he held to the biblical wisdom to let the wheat and tares grow up together (Matthew 13:24-30). He knew that if he tried to root out the tares, the wheat would also be uprooted. He responded to Parham that if he stopped that which was not real, he would also quench the Spirit and His work that was genuine.
Seymour determined that the risk of having some problems was acceptable in view of the spiritual benefits. He was right. When he later succumbed to the pressure and changed this policy, the revival at the Azusa Street Mission quickly died, and this move of the Holy Spirit was carried on through others.
Even more than the faking of experiences, Parham was appalled the unusual social and racial integration. Parham admired the Ku Klux Klan and especially objected to racial mixing or mingling during worship and at the altar. However, he did not believe this out of racial pride, but because of a false doctrine. He believed the great sin of humanity that caused the judgment of the flood was racial mixing and that Noah was chosen to survive because of his pedigree, being “without mixed blood.” This tragic misunderstanding of Scripture has been the twisted theological basis upon which many racist groups—including the Nazis—have been built.
During this time, Seymour’s thoughts turned to marriage. Jennie Evans Moore, a faithful member of his ministry in Los Angeles, became his wife.
She was known for her beauty, musical talents, and spiritual sensitivity. She was a very gentle woman, and was always faithful to stand beside Seymour. It was Jennie who felt the Lord would have them marry, and Seymour agreed. So the couple married on May 13, 1908.
After the ceremony, William and Jennie moved into a modest apartment upstairs in the Azusa Mission. But the news of their marriage angered a small, yet very influential group at the Mission.
One of the main antagonists was Clara Lum, the mission’s secretary responsible for the newspaper’s publication. After learning of Seymour’s marriage, she abruptly decided that it was time to leave the mission.
A few believers at Azusa had some very odd ideas about marriage. Lum’s group believed marriage in the last days to be a disgrace because of the soon return of Christ and severely denounced Seymour for his decision.
It may have been that Clara Lum was secretly in love with Seymour, and left because of her jealousy.
Whatever the reason, she relocated to Portland, Oregon, to join the mission headed a former Azusa associate, Florence Crawford. And when she did, she took the entire national and international mailing lists with her.
This unthinkable action crippled Seymour’s worldwide publication outreach. His entire national and international lists of over fifty thousand names had been stolen, leaving him with only their Los Angeles list.
The new body of believers also had a misconception of the “tarrying” concept. They would simply wait for hours for the Spirit to come, and restlessness began to surface when they felt many were abusing this time. What they didn’t realize was that the Holy Spirit had already come. He was there! Always had been, always will!
Seymour was called to lead a revival. For a few years, he exercised the wisdom to remain in prayer and allow the Holy Spirit to do the leading (he actually kept a box over his head during the meetings so that his prayer would not be distracted all that was going on around him!).
However, he allowed himself to be pressured into an increasingly protectionist stature the fierce persecution raised up against the movement. Gradually more and more control of the meetings was assumed a few leaders, and soon they were following a program for the meetings.
Those who were witnesses said that just as gradually as this happened, the Holy Spirit seemed to depart. But actually in essence, they lost consciousness of Him.
But the old Azusa Mission remained open to anyone who would come.
Seymour remained its leader and kept his doctrine the same, though no one seemed interested in attending. He changed Azusa’s meeting schedule to one all-day service to be held on Sunday. And he regularly attempted to increase the meetings, but the interest was not there.
In the end, only twenty people remained. And they were mainly those from the original Azusa group. At times, visitors came from the previous “glory days,” and of course Seymour was elated in welcoming them. But he spent more and more time reading and reflecting.
In 1921, William Seymour made his last ministry campaign.
When he returned to Los Angeles in 1922, people began to notice that he looked very weary. He attended many ministry conventions, but was never publicly recognized from the platform.
Finally on September 28, 1922, while at the mission, Seymour suffered a sudden attack of severe pain in his chest. One of the workers ran for the doctor who was only blocks away. Upon examination, Seymour was told to rest. Then at 5:00 P.M. that same afternoon, while dictating a letter, another chest pain clinched him. He struggled for breath, then went to be with the Lord at the age of fifty-two. The cause of his death was officially cited as heart failure.
Though the legacy and ministry of William J. Seymour, William Seymour’s Pentecostal ministry increased public awareness to such a degree that it not only turned around a major U.S. city, it also spread throughout the world at an incredible pace.
Today, many denominations attribute their founding to the participants of Azusa. Most of the early Assembly of God leaders came out of Azusa. Demos Shakarian, founder of the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship, said his grandfather was an original Azusa member. The evangelistic efforts of the Valdez family, the Garr family, Dr. Charles Price, and countless others are also linked to this revival.
Azusa Street Revival was one of the greatest movements in all of church history. It can be argued that it has not yet ended, but has gone on in many different forms and in many different places.
It is right for us to give honor to whom honor is due, and William J. Seymour must be considered one of the greatest Christian leaders of all time. He was a great leader for as long as he maintained the leadership style to which he was called, not taking the initiative, but instead remaining sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Pray: Lord, help us give all of ourselves to You; EVERY TIME, EVERYDAY.