Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What happened at Azusa Street???

One hundred years ago, on April 18, 1906, history was in the making. In San Francisco, a mighty earthquake registering an estimated 8.3 on the Richter Scale shook the city killing and injuring thousands. Fire followed the earthquake, destroying even more. In Los Angles, 400 miles south, God was shaking the spiritual world as well. In a small humble building, the Holy Spirit was outpoured on a small group of spiritually hungry people who just wanted more. It began a firestorm that gave spiritual birth to Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations that we know today.
Much of this all began years earlier when a young Methodist holiness minister, Charles Parnham, met with a class of students in his small Bible College. He was convinced that the Bible taught an element that most churches, incuding the Methodists, was missing. For years he had been preaching that ‘glossalalia’ or speaking in tongues was Biblical and he challenged his class of students to search the Bible for evidence that believers had been baptized in the Holy Spirit.. They came to a conclusion that the phenomena experienced by the early church was meant for today.
During a New Years Eve service, they began to pray at the request of one student, Agnes Ozman, that she might receive this ‘baptism’ so she could go as a missionary to a foreign land and be able to speak the language. As they prayed, she began to speak in a strange language, later determined by linguistic experts to be Mandarin Chinese. Parnham related the experience: “Humbly, in the name of Jesus, I laid my hand upon her head and prayed. I had scarecely repeated three dozen sentences when a glory fell upon her, a halo seemed to surround her head and face and she began to speak in the Chinese language and was unable to speak in English for three days.” Soon other students were also speaking in strange languages. Parnham continued to preach. His teaching and influence touched a young black man, William Seymour, who listened to his teachings at the Bible School in an adjacent room. Segregation laws did not allow him to meet in the same room with the other white students.
William Seymour was a black holiness preacher, who was not what most of us today would expect God to choose for a vessel to bring revival. He was a simple man, son of slaves, without formal education, not a gifted speaker, blind in one eye, having not even experienced this new phenomena. He accepted a call to pastor a newly formed Baptist holiness congregation located in Los Angles located on Santa Fe Street. He preached his first sermon from Acts 2:4, and soon his new congregation rejected him by padlocking the church door. He went to the private home of Richard and Ruth Asberry who lived at 214 Bonnie Brae Street where he began to pray. Soon the Holy Spirit was poured out again, this time in a home meeting, with a racially mixed audience. They had no care for color, just for God. On April 12th, in the middle of a ten day fast, Seymour himself received what he had been preaching about. Word spread quickly and soon the house was so crowded that part of the porch floor collapsed under the weight of the gathering. The meeting was then moved to an abandoned church building located at 312 Azusa Street, a building that was dirty and had been used as a livery to house animals. When Seymour began to preach, revival began and scores of people ’fell under the power’ and were filled to overflowing, speaking in tongues. The services continued for 1000 days. The media picked up on the strange occurrences. Soon hundreds, then thousands began to come from all over the world. Service began at 10:00 AM and would continue for 12 hours. There were no pews, just rough wooden benches. There were no hymnals, no planned sermons, no orders of service, just hungry people gathering together to meet with God. Seymour’s pulpit was two wooden crates. Dignified skeptics would come to investigate this strange and unique revival, and would find themselves seeking God on the dirty floor, broken before God.
Today we wonder how God could use such simple vessels to start a bonfire that still burns today. It came through men of God, who were hungry, who were humble, who in spite of rejection, persecution, misunderstanding and criticism, pressed on to believe God. Just as God used Joseph who was rejected by his own brothers to save a nation, God used Seymour. Often it seems that God chooses men to carry out His purposes who are rejected by the mainstream. They move as the Spirit directs...not as men expect. Their ‘outside the box’ thinking challenges staid programs and rigid thinking. Their willingness to simply listen to God, and walk in obedience makes them vessels of honor.
Although Azusa’s Revival only lasted for 1000 days, the powerful effects of it spread world wide to over 50 nations, transforming churches and causing new denominations to spring up. Today those same groups are again struggling with maintaining the fire that started 100 years ago. It is time once again for a refreshing of fire. It is time to stir dying embers and add fresh fuel to the fire. Denominations birthed in the original flames have so organized themselves that it leaves little room for the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit. Some have never experienced their own baptism of fire. They have leaned on the experience and enthusiasm of history. They have satisfied their hunger with conferences, conventions and church services. Sunday meetings have become a regimented order of events designed to satisfy our religious sense of duty to God. Our hearts remain barren and dry. Some fall into strange new teachings in an attempt to find more. Some boast in their abilities as apostle or prophet. Others demand doctorates and pedigrees as candidates for pulpit ministry. We forget our roots. God wants to use simple men and women who are just hungry for God, and nothing else.
At Azusa Street, one characteristic that marked them was their ethnic, gender and social diversity. At a foot washing service, it was noted that twenty nations were represented. During times of prayer, you could see bank presidents and wash women praying side by side, prostrate in the presence of God. They all came for the same purpose, to receive the fullness of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and meet with God.
On the Day of Pentecost in the book of Acts, the same conditions existed as people of all nations heard them speaking in their own native languages, glorifying God. God moved on men and women. Peter and Mary were in the upper room. He used ordinary unlearned men. God chose the simple to confound the wise. Today, God wants once again to remind us that He never changes. However, we, flawed humans beings, do change. We drag with us our past into the house of God. With it comes all the judgmental, prejudicial, critical notions we learned from parents, educators, and history. Revival comes when we allow God to wipe the slate clean. When we recognize that each human being is a vessel created by God, loved by God and capable of being redeemed by God. It is His desire that all of his creation…..all of mankind….come to know Him, in fullness and power. Revival comes when we get our eyes off man and onto God.
We can learn some vital lessons from the past. Seymour’s ministry struggled when he gave in to pressures from others to control the ‘fanaticism’ that began to develop. Soon the Azusa Street church became controlled and racially divided. The ‘presence of God’ slowly waned, and the revival came to an end. His original thoughts were to let the Spirit move freely, and let the ‘wheat and the tares’ grow together. Pulling out the tares, or the weeds would destroy the wheat. It did just that. Every true revival is marked with the Godly and the demonic. Satan always wants to destroy what God is doing. God’s people need a sense of deep spiritual discernment to know how to deal with difficult dimensions. The Holy Spirit was given to lead the church into all truth, not error. Letting the Spirit lead is mandatory. Leadership must know the Word, and must be aligned with it. Authority must be taken and used with the Spirits guidance and direction.
There is coming a day, when God will again stir His people, causing them to hunger for more and more until they are satisfied with nothing less than seeking His face. It may not happen today or next week. God needs to wipe our slates clean. We are so caught up today with our materialism, humanism and religiosity, that we make no room for God. We have our schedule to follow. We have no time for God. We don’t want to go to prayer meeting when we can go to the latest movie, spend hours decorating our fancy homes, or do an extreme makeover of our wardrobe. We’ll go to church if there is a free meal, a fancy drama production, a gifted ‘Christian’ entertainer, or a seminar on how to fish and hunt, or loose weight. Our hearts are just not ready for revival.
I believe God desires every church and individual to experience revival. All God needs is a servant who wants more of God. Our revival may not be exactly like the Day of Pentecost or Azusa revival. Each revival is unique to history. Your revival will be life transforming. Revival happens when we yield our wills to His, when we allow His Spirit to flow unhindered through our frail vessels. It’s time to move from our entertainment mode to an entreaty mode. As we humble our hearts, seek God, turn from our sin, he will be faithful to His Word.
Lord, Thank you for the revivals of the past, for the foundations of your Word, for the faithfulness of your love. Today, we need you as never before. We cannot live without your presence in our lives. Forgive us. Cleanse us. Change us. Melt us. Mold us. We are yours! Amen! J. Johnson