Over the last two millenniums, the church has experienced many revivals, renewals and reformation movements. Like the Welsh Revival, some have been used to spur entire church to spiritual advancement. In its far-reaching impact on the world and the church, none have equalled the Azusa Street Revival which began in 1906. One hundred years later its influence is not only felt, but is continuing to increase. The seed of almost every subsequent revival, renewal, or reformation movement can be traced to it.
Unfortunately, doctrinal differences, racism, competing churches, small differences of opinion, controversy, jealousy, persecution, and other minor conflicts eventually ended the blessed work at Azusa Street.
It is a well-known proverb that, “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” Almost all the great revivals in history died in some kind of infamy. Even though Jesus Himself affirmed that every time the Lord sows wheat the enemy will come along and sow tares in the same field (see Matthew 13:24-30), it is obviously not God’ will for any revival or movement to end the most of them do.
The enemy has been able to sidetrack almost every one using the very same tactics, and they are still seldom discerned. We need to honour the great leaders whose spiritual hunger and spiritual sensitivity enabled something as extraordinary as Azusa Street to happen in the first place. But we also need to examine some of the things that obviously went wrong at Azusa Street–not for the purpose of criticism, but if possible to avoid doing the same things if God desires to use us in a great way.
Faking The “Manifestations”
One of the most devastating attacks upon the work of Azusa 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. Seymour was thrilled by the visit from his mentor, warmly welcoming him with great honour and fanfare. However, Parham was deeply offended by what he saw. He thought that the various charismatic gifts were too openly demonstrated, and he was appalled by the way so many fell to the ground in apparent trances (a report from Frank Bartleman described Azusa as sometimes resembling a forest of fallen trees”).
Seymour did realize that some were faking the manifestations, and he believed that these were tares sent by the devil to foul the field of wheat. Even so, he held to biblical wisdom of letting the wheat and tares grow up together. 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 the work that was real. He determined that the risk of having some problems was acceptable in view of spiritual benefits. When he later succumbed to the pressure and changed his policy, the revival at the Azusa Street Mission quickly died, and the revival was carried on through others in other places.
Disunity in the Pentecostal Movement
Church historians believe that in 1906 during the Azusa Street revival, God gave the church the opportunity to unify itself, to bring all Christians of every ethnicity and colour together as one, to make a statement to the world. They were all brethren and on one level, brothers and sisters in Christ. The ministers were servants, according to the true meaning of the Word of God.
At the Azusa Street Revival, the color line was washed away in blood of Jesus. Nearly every account of the revival that sparked the American Pentecostal Movement notes that at Azusa, all people—Blacks, Whites, Asians, and Indians—worshiped freely together. Never in history had any such multiracial group surged at one time into one single church. This alone was miraculous, but for all of them to come together under the leadership of a black man made this revival particularly noteworthy.
There was no pride evident there either. Great emphasis was placed on Christ’s blood. Divine love was wonderfully manifested in the meetings. They would not even allow an unkind word to be said against those who opposed them or the churches in the area. The message was the love of God. The baptism of the Holy Spirit did not allow them to think, speak, or hear evil of any person. The Spirit was very sensitive, tender as a dove. They knew the moment they had grieved the Spirit by an unkind thought or word—they seemed to live in a sea of pure divine love.
Seymour felt that an essential element of Christianity itself was a unity which saw beyond the barriers of race, colour, gender, nationality, class, or status. This was a demonstration that God is respecter of persons and that all believers are truly one in Christ. Seymour’s leadership of such a renewal marked by interracial equality, harmony, and unity, is even more remarkable when it is understood that this took place during the most severely segregated time in American history.
It was also composed mostly of the two most embittered racial groups-the poor whites and poor blacks. When the revival spread, it was also most readily received in the Southern states where this racial conflict was then most prevalent. But such unity was not to last long. Frank Bartleman wrote,
The work had gotten into a bad condition. The missions had fought each other almost to a standstill. Little love remained. A cold, hard-hearted zeal had largely taken the place of divine love and tenderness of the Spirit. The leader abused his privilege, and the meetings began to be run in appointed order. There were some poor illiterate Mexicans who had been saved and baptized in the Spirit, but the leader deliberately refused to let them testify. Every meeting was now programmed from start to finish. Disaster was bound to follow, and so it did. The Holy Spirit was grieved and eventually left.
Racism and False Doctrines
Unfortunately, even more than disunity and the faking of experiences, Parham was appalled by the unusual social and racial integration. Parham admired the Ku Klux Klan, and he 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, which caused the judgement of the flood was racial mixing, and that Noah was chosen because of his pedigree, being “without mixed blood.” This is a tragic misunderstanding of Scripture that has been the twisted theological basis upon which many racist groups, including the Nazis, have been built.
The Bible does say that Noah was chosen because he was “perfect in his generations” (see Genesis 6:9), or literally, “perfect in his genealogy,” but this had nothing to do with the mixing of human races. The mixture that so offended the Lord was the mixture of the fallen angels with men, which had produced the superhuman “nephilim” (see Genesis 6:4). This was a race that the Lord did not create and they threatened the destruction of men whom He did create and also planned to redeem. This seems to have been Satan’s attempt to pre-empt the “new creation” that would be brought forth when the Lord gave His Spirit to men.
Furthermore, Noah’s curse according to biblical and historical experts was not directed toward any particular race, but rather at the Canaanite nation itself. The Lord knew that this nation would become wicked. The curse was fulfilled when the Israelites entered the Promised Land and drove the Canaanites out as recorded in the book of Joshua.
Marriage with a Canaanite was forbidden, but not with a Kushite or Egyptian, who were both black races. In fact, Joseph married an Egyptian wife (see Genesis 41:45). If at all the black race was cursed, as some people claim, then the Lord would not have become angry with Miriam and Aaron for criticizing Moses because of his Kushite wife, who was black.
Charles Parham had been mightily used by God at times, but the seeds of deception from some of his doctrines were maturing at a time when the enemy could make the greatest use of them. This has been a tragic way in which history has continually repeated itself. Those who begin a movement will almost always persecute those who seek to take it further, or who are used to start another subsequent movement. The apostasy of the church has brought this terrible curse upon itself, in almost every generation. Tragically, spiritual fathers seem to inevitably try to devour their own spiritual children just as Parham ultimately did.
Many others played on Seymour’s ethnicity and doctrinal differences to establish their own churches. It was not long before new denominations were formed, the most notable being the white-dominated Assemblies of God that was founded in 1914, less than two years after Charles Parham, whose segregated Bible classes Seymour had once sat outside, declared that the free intermingling of worship between the races at Azusa was “an awful shame.” By 1916, the American Pentecostal Movement had divided into three major doctrinal camps, and by early 1930s each of these had split along racial lines.
This pattern of racism set such a precedent that in 1948, when the Pentecostal Movement had divided into three major doctrinal camps, and by early 1930s each of these had split along racial lines. This pattern of racism set such a precedent that in 1948, when the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America was formed for the distinct purpose of demonstrating to the world the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer for unity, only white organizations were invited to join. And by 1965, it remained exclusively white.
When Parham could not force his style of leadership upon the Azusa Street Mission, he denounced it and started another rival mission at the fashionable Women’s Christian Temperance Union Building. This was the first schism in the Pentecostal Movement. This man who could have had such a place of honor was used to sow the tares of racism and division into the Pentecostal Movement. When the rival mission started by Parham failed, he spent the rest of his life denouncing Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival. By this, he sealed the doom of his own ministry. He continually lost influence and followers until his death in 1929.
The tares of racism and division that Parham sowed into the work at Azusa remain in many parts of the Pentecostal Movement to this day. It was the same fashion that the great reformer, Martin Luther, who was used to so dramatically change the church and the world for good, also sowed seeds of racism, especially in relation to the Jewish people, doctrines which many believe to have been the foundation of the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
In this sad part of the story, we can see how the enemy will often use spiritual fathers and leaders whose most powerful guise is as “the accuser of the brethren.” One of the most powerful forces at work in the Azusa Street Revival was its racial and national diversity, so this is what Satan used as his biggest weapon of attack.
The Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement began under the leadership of a black man and with a small group of black people. They freely shared what they had been given, and were delighted when they saw the Spirit poured out on those from other races, especially whites. They felt that the Lord had given them the greatest gift, and they were thrilled that they were able to share it with their white brethren. That this great worldwide revival was a contribution from the black community has never been denied by white Pentecostals, but is often forgotten.
Many of the white leaders who themselves went to Azusa Street to receive the baptism, remarkably still held to the prevalent segregationist beliefs of the time. They took the blessing back home to their all-white congregations in which blacks were not welcome. This was not true of all, but it was of most, and the entire Pentecostal Movement quickly developed into the white and black streams that still prevail today.
Excerpted and analyzed from The Power to Change The World, The Welsh and Street Revivals, Rick Joyner © copyright 2006, 2008, published by Morning Star Publications.