Pentecostalism can be defined as a movement within Evangelical Christianity that places special emphasis on the direct personal experience of God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in tongues, as shown in the biblical account of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). [1] Robeck believes that the story of Azusa Street mission is really the account of God fulfilling a long-time promise that he would pour out his spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17-18).

The mission is seen as a Pentecostal movement that changed the religious landscape and became the most vibrant force for world evangelisation in the 20th century. [3] Certainly, it became the most significant revival of the century in terms of global perspective. In order to truly assess the impact of Azusa Street revival, we will brieflly look at the leadership of some key players, before and during the revival. We will also consider events leading up to the revival, together with some movements that combined to precipitate the first international Pentecostal missions, following the outbreak of Azusa.

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Close attention will be paid to the revival’s unique features and legacy. Parham or Seymour Anderson records that the influences of the Azusa Street movement included a belief in ‘missionary tongues’, a conviction that the Spirit had been poured out in revival power, causing the nations of the world to be reached before the imminent return of Christ. [4] Now then, was Azusa Street the birthplace of Pentecostalism, or it was a catalyst to the movement? This debate about the origins of Pentecostalism rages on everywhere.

Walter Hollenweger reminds us that 'it all depends on what we consider to be the essence of Pentecostalism' in this debate. Either the essence of Pentecostalism lies in a particular doctrine of a particular experience (i. e. speaking in tongues), or else it lies in its oral missionary nature and its ability to break down barriers. For him, the choice 'is not a historical, but a theological one'. [5] If Hollenwenger’s choice is assumed, then credit for the birth of Pentecostalism is due to Charles Fox Parham, who formulated the ‘evidential tongues’’[6] doctrine that became the hallmark of Pentecostalism.

It is eported that Parham, at a watch-night service on December 31, 1900, laid hands on a student named Agnes Ozman to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. After midnight on the first day of the 20th century, Miss Ozman began speaking in a Chinese language’. [7] It is this particular event that is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement in America. Parham immediately began to teach that missionaries would no longer be compelled to study foreign languages to preach in the mission fields. [8] His teaching laid the doctrinal and experimental foundations of the modern Pentecostal movement.

Dave Allen notes that Parham’s ‘Apostolic Faith Movement’, experienced notable success in Kansas, and later Houston, such that by the middle of 1906, Parham had nearly ten thousand followers. However, to Parham’s detriment, unsubstantiated accusations of ‘sodomy’ against him eroded his influence. [9] Nevertheless, the Pentecostal revival would progress: but now under the leadership of Parham’s one-time disciple, William Seymour. I must say that I agree with Allen who comments that we must not allow, what was probably malicious rumour to obscure the fact that Pentecostalism owes more to Parham, than perhaps to anyone else.

Synan puts it simply: it was Parham’s ideas preached by his followers that produced the Azusa Street revival and with it the worldwide Pentecostal movement. [11] Coloured and blind in one eye, William J. Seymour hardly seemed to be the person to lead the historic revival that would usher in the Pentecostal movement. Because of ‘Jim Crow’ segregation laws of the time, Seymour had listened to Parham’s lectures, in Houston, while sitting apart from other students. Seymour accepted Parham’s view of baptism in the Holy Spirit and soon began to proclaim it.

Gee states that by plainly testifying of his conviction, churches locked the door against Seymour. [12] However, he began meetings at a private home (214 Bonnie Brae Street), and there, on the 9th of April 1906, the ‘fire fell’: seven seekers commenced speaking in tongues. [13] It would only be later on the 12th of April that Seymour himself would receive his personal Pentecost. As a result, people began to come from everywhere, forcing Seymour and his followers to procure an old frame building (once a Methodist church) on 312 Azusa Street in the industrial section of Los Angeles. 14] Seymour was often described as meek and a gracious man of prayer.

Such was the impression that he made on people that John G. Lake, Pentecostal missionary to South Africa, meeting him in 1907, commented that Seymour had ‘more of God in his life than any man I had ever met’. [15] Seymour’s ministry, however, did not come without a price. He personally endured the biting criticisms of his opponents, especially the holiness leaders not sympathetic to Pentecostalism.

Evidently, as we shall discover, Azusa Street revival under the leadership of William J. Seymour was a catalyst that, as Robeck suggests, 'played a significant role in Pentecostal and Charismatic self-definition'. [16] Undoubtedly, Seymour was a spiritual father to thousands of early Pentecostals. Critically, Gee has argued that the Pentecostal movement does not owe its origin to any outstanding personality or religious leader, but was a spontaneous revival appearing almost simultaneously in various parts of the world. [17] His point is that leaders of the Pentecostal movement are themselves the products of the movement.

True as that may sound, we must never underestimate the roles Parham and Seymour, among others, played. Definitely, a choice between Parham and Seymour is an important theological decision to make in defining the essence of Pentecostalism. Other Events Some scholars have suggested that the role of Azusa Street was not as central as has been generally accepted, and that the importance of other centres has been overlooked. Blumhofer mentions Toronto as having its own network of radical evangelicals who inclined toward the same spirituality before they heard about Azusa Street revival.

That is precise; however, it is not under debate that Azusa Street happened not in Isolation. The fact is; it was that which happened there that first received widespread attention, and attracted visitors from all over the world. The revivalists in Los Angeles believed the revivals in Wales and India were especially significant. Frank Bartleman, a participant in the Azusa Street revival, wrote, “The present worldwide revival was rocked in the cradle of little Wales. It was brought up in India, following; becoming full-grown in Los Angeles later. [19] The Pentecostal presence and power of the Spirit were emphasized in the Welsh revival (1904–05).

McGhee states that expectancy of revival intensified in Los Angeles, when believers there heard about the remarkable revival in Wales, where from September 1904, 100 000 people were converted to Christ. “These spectacular results in Wales suggested that the great end-times revival had begun”. [20] Anderson mentions George Jefferys and Daniel Williams[21], among several early British Pentecostal leaders that were converted in the Welsh Revival. 22] Pastor Joseph Smale, minister of First Baptist church, Los Angeles also visited the place in 1905. [23] On returning to his church, he began to conduct daily services in which there were many manifestations of the Spirit, but soon the church board complained and Smale left to found First New Testament church. Bartlemann referred to him as ‘God’s Moses’, who had led people to the brink of the ‘Promised Land’ but had failed to enter himself – which task was left to Seymour.

Dave Allen seriously suggests that the Welsh revival takes an important place alongside the teaching of Parham and the events at Azusa Street, in shaping the beginnings of Pentecostalism. [25] In India, the revival at Pandita Ramabai’s Mukti Mission for young widows and orphans in Kedgaon, commenced in 1905 and lasted two years. [26] It was at this revival that made the Mukti mission an important Pentecostal centre of international significance. Elsewhere, the ‘Korean Pentecost’ of 1907-8 commenced at a convention in Pyongyang, and followed an earlier revival that had begun among Methodist missionaries. 27] None of these seemed to have any direct influence on international Pentecostalism at the time. However, these revivals were characterised by loud repentance and simultaneous prayer.

The difference then of the Azusa Street revival to all these is that, it was the fire that spread to make it the best known of the earliest centres of Pentecostalism in North America and that which immediately sent out missionaries to other places. [28] Impact The story of the Azusa Street revival is so well known it does not need to be ecounted here. The revival’s global impact, however, is significant. The Azusa Street revival had a number of distinguishing characteristics that shaped the contours of the Pentecostal movement. Much of the focus at Azusa was on missions because of the promise of Acts 1:8, that when the Holy Spirit was received people would become witnesses to the ‘uttermost parts of the earth’. [29] Both Parham and Seymour were passionate evangelists and the Azusa Street Mission fuelled missionary fires in the hearts multitudes.

McGhee states that the revival illustrated the fundamental truth about the acquisition of spiritual power; the desire to love others and win the world for Christ begins with brokenness, repentance, and humility. [30] People affected by the revival started new Pentecostal centres, in the Los Angeles area, so that by 1912, it is recorded that there were at least 12 in that city. [31] Azusa outreach centres had been planted in Seattle and Portland under the direction of a woman by the name of Florence Crawford.

According to Anderson, at least 26 different American denominations trace their Pentecostal origins to Azusa Street, including the two largest: the Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God. [32] It is true that Azusa’s impact was felt more outside its own sphere of influence. Within three years of the beginning of the revival in 1906, Apostolic Faith missionaries who had received their experience of Spirit baptism at Azusa Street were found in at least three African and six Asian countries. In 1907 African Americans from Azusa Street were the first missionaries to go to Liberia.

Three of the largest Pentecostal denominations in Ghana have origins in the work of a remarkable Ghanaian, Peter Anim and his Irish contemporary James McKeown. [33] Today, Nigeria is one of the most Pentecostal countries in Africa. It has some of the largest congregations in the world, with vigorous national and international outreaches. In 1908, John G. Lake among several independent Pentecostal missionaries arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa form Azusa Street. They founded South Africa’s largest classical Pentecostal denomination, the Apostolic Faith Mission.

Elsewhere In 1907, Pentecostal missionaries became active in China. The McIntoshes and the Garrs from Azusa Street were among the first. China may now have the largest number of charismatic Christians in Asia, especially in unregistered independent house churches. These have developed in isolation from the rest of Christianity for at least 50 years, and in spite of severe opposition. [34] Most European Pentecostal churches have their origins in the revival associated with Thomas Ball Barratt, a pastor in the Methodist church in Norway, who had visited the USA in 1906 to raise funds, but unsuccessfully.

However, after reading about Azusa in New York, and coming in contact with people that had been at the revival, Barratt received the baptism of the Spirit on October 7, 1906. [36] He sailed back to Norway with the ‘fire’, and found ‘Pentecostal Revival’, a fellowship of independent churches which caused an explosion in numbers and was a place of pilgrimage for people from other European centres, including Pentecostal pioneers Alexander Boddy from England, Jonathan Paul from Germany and Lewis Pethrus from Sweden.

He also went to the Middle East and India in 1908, and wrote to the Hoovers in Chile, encouraging them and others wherever he went to establish self-propagating and self-governing Pentecostal churches. By 1910, Norwegian Pentecostal missionaries had already gone to India, China, South Africa and South America. The AOG, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, etc. , are representatives of Pentecostal groups that acknowledge the revival as an important factor in their later origin. Their impact in the world can be illustrated by looking at the number of members and adherents.

If just the AOG, it came into existence in 1914 when it emerged from a gathering of people, many whom had been directly touched by the Azusa street revival. Today, the AOG claims 2. 5million members and adherents in the US and 53 million worldwide. [38] These are only a few stories that could be told to illustrate the impact of the Azusa street revival on the spread of the Pentecostal movements throughout the world. By the 1930s, there were only a few countries without some type of Pentecostal witness — a truly remarkable achievement.

The revival reached out to the rest of the world with the rapidity that is hard to imagine. However, some have argued, as Robeck points out, that such things took place because the Azusa Street Mission had a plan to proselytise its neighbours – especially those churches theologically close to it. [39] This cannot be true: the mission stated both clearly and regularly that its intention was not to harm any other church, but to bring about unity. If some sparks set off fires that damaged some congregations, others caught fire in ways that spread the revival.

But how could Azusa Street impact the world in such a way? The mission mindset that the participants had, as we saw earlier, was key. Importantly, Frank Bartleman’s writings in various periodicals and newspapers carried the message of Pentecost around the world, igniting fresh fires of the Spirit as they went. Blumhofer believes that more than anyone else Bartleman is responsible for placing Azusa Street at the heart of the story of modern Pentecostal origins. [40] The influence of the publications was immense and ensured a continuous flow of visitors to the mission.

It was even the hostile press reports that helped further publicise the revival. Leaders participating in the Azusa street revival used the public transportation system to spread the revival, and as a result, many Azusa street participants moved out of the mission to hold meetings on heavily trafficked street corners in the nearby towns of Pasadena, Monrovia, etc. [41] Also, the mission saw its interracial and intercultural nature as one of the reasons for its success, and this too, Anderson suggests, was a reason for Pentecostalism’s remarkable expansion across the globe.

Ethnic minorities, at least at the start of Azusa Street, discovered the sense of dignity community denied them in the larger urban culture. Much of the United States was in the grip of Jim Crow segregation. Yet eyewitness, Frank Bartleman wrote, “that the colour line was washed away in the blood. ”[43] Important was that the core leadership team was fully integrated with blacks and whites being responsible for various aspects of the work and more than half were women. [44] Even though Azusa Street was succeeding, it also produced some negative impact.

Nichol says that Azusa Street soon became a ‘veritable Pentecostal mecca’ to which pilgrims from all over the world came. [45] It seemed that everybody had to go to Azusa, possibly making it a ‘magic’ place in people’s minds. Also, because many missionaries from the revival had adopted this dogmatic position of ‘missionary tongues’ first enunciated by Parham, they left for Africa and Asia almost immediately after they had received their Spirit baptism. [46] Inevitably, the missionaries were not understood by their hearers, resulting in them itinerating from country to country, without real progress.

Moreover, these early Pentecostals went on to live on the ‘faith line’ as Anderson calls it, without any fixed plans for their arrival and certainly none for their return. Many of these unprepared missionaries would refuse to take medicines, because to do so would show a lack of faith in divine healing, only for them to perish with small pox or malaria as soon as they arrived. [48] The migrants who carried the Pentecostal message all over the globe were mostly poor, untrained and unprepared for what awaited them.

Some ended up depending on local people for their basic needs, becoming a burden and an embarrassment to the movement. The sacrifices made by these missionaries were in some cases quite extreme. Conclusion Azusa Street was the seminal revival of modern Pentecostalism. Bartleman said, if Topeka, Kansas had given life to the movement, the Azusa revival nurtured the movement until it had become a robust child. On a worldwide scale, the Azusa street revival contributed to a new diaspora of missionaries who anticipated that global evangelisation would be achieved by gospel preaching accompanied by miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 5:12).

McGhee mentions that while only a small number of missionaries travelled from Azusa Street to minister overseas, it impacted many more who started other Pentecostal revival centres that surfaced as a result of hearing the news of the outpouring of the Spirit in Los Angeles. [49] Just over a hundred years later, the Azusa Street revival remains an important touchstone in the history of modern Pentecostalism. The building has long since been torn down, but still Pentecostals fondly look on the site and the revival housed there as the cradle of Pentecostalism.

Directly or directly, Synan says practically all of the Pentecostal groups in existence can trace their lineage to the Azusa Mission. [50] According to estimates, there may have been more than 500 million adherents of Pentecostal movements worldwide in 2000. [51] This Pentecostal movement is too large to be confined in any denomination or sect. It works outside, drawing all together in one bond of love, one church, and one body of Christ. Since then, Pentecostalism, including the Pentecostal-like independent churches and the Catholic Charismatics, has become one of the most significant forms of Christianity, through to this 21st century.