The separate black and white streams in Azusa Street Revival movement were not the way it began, and obviously was not the way that the Lord wanted it. The spiritual battle that began to rage against the baptism in the Holy Spirit itself was probably the most fierce persecution that Christians had experienced at the hands of other Christians in centuries.
Until the Charismatic Renewal made speaking in tongues almost fashionable, the price for being a Pentecostal was very high, and those early Pentecostal pioneers must be considered some of the great heroes of the faith. Caricatures of Pentecostals were carried in newspapers across the country, depicting them as anything from devil worshippers to lunatics. Employment was difficult, if not impossible, for anyone found to be a Pentecostal. The houses and church buildings of Pentecostals were often burned, and their children were ostracized, called “devil worshipers,” and subjected to ruthless beatings by other children. Many had to flee from homes and towns that they had grown up in.
Both the press and historians have turned a blind eye to this persecution against Pentecostals. It was, at times, as terrible and degrading as what African-Americans suffered under segregation. For black Pentecostals, it was a double jeopardy, as they were secluded from the white culture because of their race, and then from the black culture because of their religion.
Just as the first Reformers risked all that they had so that later generations could enjoy religious freedom, two generations of Pentecostals paid the price for our freedom to know the Holy Spirit in our churches the way we do today. They did it because they loved the Holy Spirit, and they counted knowing Him and allowing Him in the church as more important than any freedom that this world could give them.
Those who paid this great price for our freedom are worthy of great honour, even if they did not get everything right. It was their sacrifices that made possible the truth and liberty in the Holy Spirit that so many Christians enjoy today.
For this reason, William Seymour is, and should be, considered one of the great Christian leaders and reformers of the church age.
Because of this intense persecution against Pentecostals, to add to this battle with the powerful forces of segregation and bigotry, was understandably more than many felt they could handle at the time. Military history teaches that to try to fight a two-front war will almost always result in defeat, so the battle against racism in the church would have to wait for another generation while the early Pentecostals devoted themselves to making a way for the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Even so, we must not forget that the Pentecostal Movement began with those from every race, every creed and social position, in unity, seeking the Lord together. The power that was released to impact the world has never been as great as it was in those first years at Azusa when this unity existed. It is apparent that the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement, and indeed the church, will never come into its full potential until this unity is permanent.
From the first Day of Pentecost in the beginning of the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit has proven that He will only come to the degree that we have unity. Like those who came to the Azusa Street Mission, we must want the Holy Spirit more than we want to hold on to our differences. Christianity was born as a multicultural entity, on the Day of Pentecost when men had gathered from every nation (see Acts 2:5). It was fitting that this is the way that the Holy Spirit came again to Azusa.
In the little group at Antioch which sent out the first missionaries to the Gentiles, there were representatives from different races and social positions. When the Lord wants to do something truly great on the earth, this seems to be a requirement. In its most pure form the church will always be multi-cultural. That is why Paul had to resolutely confront Peter concerning his hypocrisy of not eating with the Gentiles. Racial equality before God is fundamental to the Gospel, and even Peter “stood condemned” (see Galatians 2:11) if he had fallen to this basic deception that tries to divide the church and humanity.
The Lord is the “Blessed Creator” who so loves diversity that He made every snowflake, every leaf on every tree, as well as every one of us different. In all of this diversity one of the great marvels of creation is the harmony and balances that is found throughout it. Every species of every plant and animal have all a part to play in keeping the whole process going. The same is true of man. God created man in His image, and gave different aspects of His nature as gifts to different races and cultures.
We all need each other to be the complete reflection of Him. That is why His House must be a house of prayer for all the nations (see Mark 11:17). The word often translated nations in the New Testament, including this text, is the Greek ethnos, from which we derive our English word “ethnic.” The Lord’s house must include all ethnic groups. We will never be who were created to be as the church until this is a reality.
The Curse of the Sectarian Spirit
According to Frank Bartleman, Azusa began to fail the Lord early in her history.
God showed me that they were going to organise, though not a word had been said in my hearing about it. The Spirit revealed it to me. He had me warn them against making “party” spirit of the Pentecostal work. The “baptized” saints were to remain “one Body” even as they had been called, and to be free as His Spirit was free, not “entangled again in a yoke of (ecclesiastical) bondage.”
The New Testament Church saints had already arrested their further progress in this way. God wanted a revival company, a channel through whom He could evangelize the world, blessing all people and believers. He could naturally not accomplish this with a sectarian party. That spirit has been the curse and death of every revival body sooner or later. History repeats itself in this matter.
Sure enough, the very day after I had spoken this warning in the meeting, I found a sign outside the building reading “Apostolic Faith Mission.” The Lord said: “That is what I told you.” They had done it. Surely a “party spirit” cannot be “Pentecostal.” There can be no divisions in a true Pentecost. To formulate a separate body is but to advertise our failure as a people of God. It proves to the world that we cannot get along together, rather causing them to believe in our salvation. “That they all may be one…that the world may believe” (John 17:21 KJV).
From that time the trouble and division began. It was no longer a free Spirit for all as it had been. The work had become one more rival party and body, along with the other churches and sects of the city. No wonder the opposition steadily increased from the churches. We had been called to bless and serve the whole Body of Christ everywhere. Christ is one and His Body can be but “one.” To divide it is but to destroy it, just as with the natural body. In “one Spirit are we all baptized (organised) into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Church is an organism, not a human organisation.
They later tried to pull the work on the whole coast into this organization, but miserably failed. The work had spread as far as Portland and Seattle. God’s people must be free from hierarchism. They are “blood-bought,” and not their own. An earlier work in Texas later tried to gather in the Pentecostal missions on the Pacific Coast and Los Angeles, but they also failed. Why should they claim authority over us? The revival in California was unique and separate as to origin….the grate battle from the beginning, both in Los Angeles and elsewhere, has been the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, between Ishmael and Isaac.
God Can Never Wait for a Perfect Instrument
Brother Smale was God’s Moses, to lead the people as far as the Jordan, though he himself never got across. Many Stumbled in the beginning at Azusa because of the nature of instruments first used. Here again is Frank Bartleman analysis of what transpired when Brother Smale rejected the call to go on.
Someone has said, it is not the man who can build the biggest brush heap, but rather the one who can set his heap on fire that will light up the country. God can never wait for a perfect instrument to appear. If so, He would certainly be waiting yet. Luther himself declared he was but a rough woodsman, to fell the trees. Pioneers are of that nature. God has more polished servants to follow up and trim and shape the timber symmetrically. A charge of dynamite does not produce the finished product, but it does set loose the stones that later stand as monuments under the sculptor’s skilled hand. Many high dignitaries of the Roman Church in Luther’s time were convinced of the need for reformation, and they knew that he was on the right track. But they declared, in so many words, that they could never consent that this new doctrine should issue from “such a corner.” That it should be a monk, a poor monk, who presumes to reform us all is what we cannot tolerate, they said. Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
Brother Smale could have had the honour to ignite the great Pentecostal outpouring of the twentieth century for eternity, but his local congregation became so successful that he lost his bigger vision. Bartleman provided a summation of why Smale rejected the call to go on, saying:
As long as the people were willing to be obscure, keeping low enough for Him to really work through them. He only really uses us when we are little in our own eyes and really humble at His feet. The fact is when a man gets to the place where he really loves obscurity, where he does not care to preach, and where he would rather sit in the back seat than on the platform, then God can lift him up and use him, and not very much before.
The fire did not continue to burn because some people were jockeying for position and recognition. As soon as self-seeking, self-promotion, or even self-preservation enters, we become more focused on protecting what we have than in seeking more of God. These things brought an end to the little mission on Azusa Street Revival. It would move on to other places, and did become one of the greatest moves of God in history. Seymour was used mightily to begin the revival and lead it through its most fragile times, but then he, too, succumbed to the temptation to exalt the lesser purposes above the higher one.
By the end of 1907, it seemed that a control spirit had taken the place of the Holy Spirit, not just at Azusa, but at many of the other Pentecostal meetings in the city as well. There was little discernible love between the brethren, and lot of jealousy. Fights between the Pentecostals became increasingly vicious. That was the final affront to the presence of the Holy Spirit at Azusa, and He departed. The Pillar of Fire moved and grew into possibly the greatest move of God in church history, but the mission at Azusa faded into obscurity and then died altogether.
Seymour was called to lead in a revival. For a time he exemplified the remarkable wisdom of just staying in prayer and letting the Lord do the leading (he actually kept his head in a box during the meetings so that his prayer would not be distracted by all that was going on). However, the fierce persecution that rose up against the movement soon pressured him into an increasingly protectionist stature.
Gradually he allowed more and more control of the meetings to be taken over by a few leaders. 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.
This explanation of how the revival ended seems to be accurate. However, it is also possible that it was simply time to move on, and that the Spirit was withdrawing His presence so that people would go forth….It does not seem that the Lord ever intended for revivals to last in their initial form forever.
It is true that most revivals do end prematurely, or in way that is not preferable. This usually happens because of human mistakes. We should learn from these, but let us also not fall into the trap of wrongly worshipping revival. Even without revival we can be as close to the Lord today as anyone has ever been. The issue is not seek revival or not, but to seek the Lord and His will.
Excerpted from The Power to Change The World, The Welsh and Street Revivals, Rick Joyner © copyright 2006, 2008, published by Morning Star Publications.
- Robert Liardon, First Hand Accounts of the Revival Frank Bartleman’s Azusa Street (Destiny Image 2006)
- Timothy E. Fulop and Albert J. Raboteau, African –American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture (New York: Routledge, 1997)