Why Was the Azusa Street Revival So Dynamic?

AA Allen and Azusa Street Revival

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Although the Azusa street revival was a well known phenomenon, most people today do not really know what happened at all during those three wonderful years in the early 1900’s in Los Angeles. This short post is just a short summary, which will bring you up to date on this historic revival that changed the world so dramatically:

In a nutshell, what really happened at 312 Azuza street, Los Angeles, California?

William J. Seymore, a black man, was born to former slaves Simon and Phyllis Salabar Seymour in Centerville, Louisiana on May 2, 1870. He was baptized at the Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption in Franklin, and attended the New Providence Baptist Church in Centerville with his family.

Moving into the home of Edward Lee, a janitor at a local bank, Bishop William J. Seymour began ministry with a prayer group that had been meeting regularly at the home of Richard and Ruth Asbery, at 214 North Bonnie Brae. Asbery was also employed as a janitor. Most of the worshippers were African-American, with occasional visits from whites. As the group sought God for revival, their hunger intensified.

Finally, on April 9, Lee was baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. When the news of his baptism was shared with the true believers at Bonnie Brae, a powerful outpouring followed. Many received the Holy Spirit baptism as Pentecostal revival arrived on the West Coast. That evening would be hard to describe. People fell to the floor as if unconscious, others shouted and ran through the house. One neighbor, Jennie Evans Moore played the piano, something she did not have the ability to do before.

Over the next few days of continuous outpouring, hundreds gathered. The streets were filled and Seymour preached from the Asbery’s porch. On April 12, three days after the initial outpouring, Seymour received his baptism of power.

Quickly outgrowing the Asbery home, the faithful searched for a home for a new church. They found their building at 312 Azusa Street. The mission had been built as an African Methodist Episcopal Church, but when the former tenets vacated, the upstairs sanctuary had been converted into apartments. A fire destroyed the pitched roof and it was replaced with a flat roof giving the 40 X 60 feet building the appearance of a square box. The unfinished downstairs with a low ceiling and dirt floor was used as a storage building and stable. This downstairs became the home of the Apostolic Faith Mission. Mix matched chairs and wooden planks were collected for seats and a prayer altar and two wooden crates covered by a cheap cloth became the pulpit.

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From this humble location, the Pentecostal truth was spread around the world. Visitors came from locations both far and near to be part of the great revival at the Apostolic Faith Mission at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles.

On April 17, The Los Angeles Daily Times sent a reporter to the revival. In his article the next day, he baffooned the meeting and the pastor, calling the worshippers “a new sect of fanatics” and Seymour “an old exhorter.” He mocked their glossolalia as “weird babel of tongues.” More important than the critical opinions expressed by the reporter was the providential timing of his visit. The article was published on the same day as the great earthquake in San Fransciso. Southern Californians, already gripped with fear, learned of a revival where doomsday prophecies were common.

Immediately, Frank Bartleman, an itenerate evangelist and Azusa Street participant published a tract about the earthquake. Thousands of the tracts, filled with end-time prophecies, were distributed. Soon, multitudes gathered at Azusa Street. One attendee said more than a thousand at a time would crowd onto the property. Hundreds would fill the little building; others would watch from the boardwalk; and, more would overflow into the dirt street. Services at the mission were conducted three times each day at 10 AM, noon and 7 PM. They often ran together until the entire day became one worship service. This schedule was continued seven days a week for more than three years.

It was common for the lost to be saved, sick healed, demonized delivered, and seekers to be baptized in the Spirit in almost every meeting. Many of the early leaders of the Pentecostal movement received their Holy Ghost baptism or worshipped at the Azusa “plank” altar.

In 1906 when there were more lynchings of black men then in any other year of America’s history, Seymour led an interracial worship service. At Azusa Street there were no preferences for age, gender, or race. One worshipper said, “The blood of Jesus washed the color line away.”

– 312 Azusa Street

In a nutshell, what characterized this revival?

Meetings began at 10 o’clock every morning and continued until near midnight. There were three altar services daily. The altar was a plank on two chairs in the centre of the room, and here the Holy Ghost fell on men and women and children in old Pentecostal fashion as soon as they have a clear experience of heart purity. Proud preachers and laymen with great heads, filled and inflated with all kinds of theories and beliefs, have come here from all parts, have humbled themselves and got down, not “in the straw,” but “on” the straw matting, and have thrown away their notions, and have wept in conscious emptiness before God and begged to be “endued with power from on high,” and every honest believer has received the wonderful incoming of the Holy Spirit to fill and thrill and melt and energize his physical frame and faculties, and the Spirit has witnessed to His presence by using the vocal organs in the speaking forth of a ‘new tongue.’”

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There were no hymn-books nor musical instruments, and no collections were taken. A sign on the wall over a free-will offering box declared, “Settle with the Lord.” No teachings or ministries were prepared; everything was left to the spontaneity of the Spirit. The pulpit was composed of two large wooden “shoe boxes.” The preaching was simple and direct and covered themes taught in many other holiness missions: salvation by a personal acceptance of Jesus as Saviour sanctification by renunciation of sin and turning from worldiness, abandonment of rigid traditions and the legalisms of man-made religion, the baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues, divine healing and the premillennial return of Jesus. Often personal testimonies were given or were read from correspondence from those elsewhere.

In Bartleman’s ‘What really happened at Azusa Street’ he states, “ Suddenly the Spirit would fall upon the congregation. God himself would give the altar call. Men would fall all over the house, like the slain in battle, or rush for the altar en masse to seek God. The scene often resembled a forest of fallen trees…. Some claim to have seen the (shekinah) glory by night over the building.”

Especially did the enchanting strains of the so-called “Heavenly Choir,” or hymns sung under the evident direction of the Holy Spirit both as to words and tune, thrill my whole being. It was not something that could be repeated at will, but supernaturally given for each special occasion and was one of the most indisputable evidences of the presence of the power of God. Perhaps nothing so greatly impressed people as this singing; at once inspiring a holy awe, or a feeling of indescribable wonder, especially if the hearers were in devout attitude.”

Divine love was wonderfully manifest in the meetings. They would not even allow an unkind word said against their opposers or the churches. The message was ‘the love of God.’ It was a sort of ‘first love’ of the early church returned. The ‘baptism,’ as we received it in the beginning, did not allow us to think, speak or hear evil of any man. The Spirit was very sensitive, tender as a dove.”

One man at Azusa said, “I would have rather lived six months at that time than fifty years of ordinary life. I have stopped more than once within two blocks of the place and prayed for strength before I dared go on. The presence of the Lord was so real.”

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Scores of people were seen dropping into a prostrate position in the streets before they ever reached the mission. Then many would get up, speaking in tongues without any influence from the Azusa people. God had come to accomplish His work!

G. H. Lang reports that some who came to investigate were baptised in the Holy Spirit in their lodgings.

Scores of personal and eyewitness accounts attest that many who came to ridicule the meetings were knocked to the floor where they seemed to wrestle with unseen opponents, sometimes for hours. These people generally arose convicted of sin and seeking God. One foreign-born reporter had been assigned by his paper to record the “circus-like” atmosphere in a comic-relief fashion. He attended a night-time meeting, sitting far in the back. In the midst of the meeting a young woman began to testify about how God had baptized her with the Holy Spirit when she suddenly broke into tongues.

After the meeting the reporter sought her out and asked her where she had learned the language of his native country. She answered that she didn’t have any idea what she had said, and that she spoke only English. He then related to her that she had given an entirely accurate account of his sinful life, all in the language of his native tongue .” IDFC art.

Other eyewitnesses reported seeing a holy glow emanating from the building that could be seen from streets away. Others reported hearing sounds from the wooden building like explosions that reverberated around the neighbourhood. Such phenomena caused onlookers to call the Fire Department out on several occasions when a blaze or explosion was reported at the mission building. The Child Welfare Agency tried to shut down the meetings because there were unsupervised children within and around the building at all hours of the day and night. The Health Department tried to stop the meetings because they said the cramped quarters were unsanitary and a danger to public health. God-hungry Christians flocked in from everywhere.

Bartleman states that “about a dozen saints,” met at Azusa on Thursday, Apr. 19, although this may be how many were there when he arrived. Arthur Osterberg, an early member, later claimed the first service at Azusa, was made up of 100 people. The Los Angeles Times reported a “crowd” that included a majority of blacks with “a sprinkling of whites.” Weekend crowds were larger than those on weekdays.

Growth was quick and substantial. Most sources indicate the presence of about 300 to 350 worshipers inside the 40-by-60-foot whitewashed, wood-frame structure, with others mingling outside before the end of summer, including seekers, hecklers, and children. At times it may have been double that.

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By summer, crowds had reached staggering numbers, often into the thousands. The scene had become an international gathering. One account states that, “Every day trains unloaded numbers of visitors who came from all over the continent. News accounts of the meeting spread over the nation in both the secular and religious press.”

– Revival Library

In a nutshell, why was the Azuza street revival so significant, so successful and so dynamic?

Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, was actually in control of the meetings:

At Azusa, the services were so anointed that if anyone got up to speak from their intellectual understanding, the Spirit filled believers would break out in wailing sobs. This had been illustrated well in a story about a woman called Mother Jones. One man arose to speak, apparently not being led by the Spirit. As he stood and preached, Mother Jones is said to have quietly hurried up to the platform, where she sat at the the foot of the pulpit, then stared up at the fellow with icy, foreboding eyes. Finally she said, “Can’t you see that you aren’t anointed to preach?” Because of this incident, Mother Jones quickly earned a reputation that discouraged any unanointed preacher from standing at the pulpit. It is said that all she had to do was stand up, and the unanointed preacher would run from the pulpit!

– Roberts Liardon

At Azusa, the body of Christ, as an “all partaking and all functioning” unit, ministered unto each other as instruments in the hands of God, equal in position despite their race, gender and age.

With the Holy Spirit free to move as He pleased, the meetings were spontaneous. No one ever knew what would happen or who the speaker would be. All the music was impromptu without the use of instruments or hymn books. The meetings began with someone singing a song or giving a testimony. There was no program to follow. Under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, someone would finally arise to bring forth the message. Everyone knew it was instigated, anointed, and approved by the Holy Spirit. The speaker could be any race, age, or gender. Everyone felt that God was responsible for the altar calls which would take place at any point during the meetings.

The sermons were inspired in English or in tongues with interpretation. The anointing of God was so strong that if anyone got up to speak from their own flesh for glory, the Spirit would move on the believers and they would break out in wailing cries and sobs. Sometimes the services would last continuously for ten to twelve hours. Some for several days and nights! The people never tired because they were so energized by the Holy Spirit. When services ended in the early morning hours many could be seen congregating under the street lights talking about the Lord. Great emphasis was placed on the blood of Jesus. A higher standard of living in Christ was stressed. Divine love began to manifest among the people, allowing no unkind words to be spoken of another. Everyone was so careful that the Spirit of God would not be grieved.

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The experience of this group of people was very interesting. It tells us a lot about the will and the ways of God when it comes to the church of Christ getting together in his Name. To me, it was the body of Christ gathering together as equals to meet God. It was a gathering where God was in control. People were not in control and programs were not in control.

This changed everything. It is for this reason that people converted to Christianity at an unprecedented pace. This is why the church expanded dramatically and why there was so much spiritual growth. This is why so many people were delivered and healed and restored. This was the true Biblical church in action. They truly got together the Biblical way as described in 1 Corinthians 14:26.

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

These meetings were truly New-Testament house church style! It is my honest opinion that this is what God wants to bring into existence in the world. This is what the world needs right now. They need to meet Spirit-filled Christians who are not only capable of delivering them and heal them and restore them, they also need churches and congregation that can introduce them to an authentic and powerful lifestyle and an authentic living God that they can truly experience in a significant and wonderful way every time that they get together.

When we live holy lives and if we learn to allow the Holy Spirit to move freely among us, we will change the lives of many people. If we allow Jesus Christ to be the Head of the church again, we will change this world.

For more about this move of God, read my post, “The latest news on house churches

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