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Revival Part One
While researching for my novel The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles my friend Olga was writing poems that included prayers for revival, and I got excited by what I was learning about William J. Seymour, a Texan and descendant of slaves who delivered revival to millions.
In 1904, William Seymour became interim pastor for a small Holiness church in Houston. The Holiness Movement was a brand of Methodism that followed John Wesley's contention that the sin nature of humans could be fully defeated by the Holy Spirit.
\A visitor from Los Angeles, after hearing Pastor Seymour preach, returned to her home church and arranged an invitation for him to come and deliver a message.
Seymour arrived in Los Angeles in February 1906 and gave a sermon that contended speaking in tongues was mandatory evidence that a believer had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. A week later, he arrived at the church to find the door padlocked, perhaps because the church leaders didn't take to being led by a "Negro", or because they suspected he was a wacky heretic. But some members approved of him and his doctrine and invited him to hold Bible studies and prayer meetings at a private home.
Families from local Holiness churches heard reports and came to join in. On April 9, 1906, after five weeks of Seymour's preaching and prayer, one Edward S. Lee spoke in tongues for the first time. Soon many others, including Seymour and his future wife Jenny, also spoke in tongues.
News soon reached African American, Latino and White residents of the city. Seymour and others preached from the front porch of the Asberry home on Bonnie Brae Street until the over-crowded porch collapsed. Then the group found a home at 312 Azusa Street in what had recently been a stable.
Seymour and helpers cleaned and made benches from planks resting on empty nail kegs. Soon anywhere from 300 to 1500 people would attempt to squeeze in. Among them were men, women and children, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, rich, poor, illiterate, and educated.
While believers and the curious from around the world began coming to see for themselves, the intermingling of races and the group's encouragement of women in leadership outraged many citizens. 1906 was the height of the "Jim Crow" era of racial segregation, and fourteen years prior to women’s suffrage.
Among those attracted to the revival were Baptists, Mennonites, Quakers, and Presbyterians. An observer at one of the services wrote: “No instruments of music are used. None are needed. No choir. The angels have been heard by some. No collections are taken. No bills have been posted to advertise the meetings. No church organization is back of it. All who are in touch with God realize as soon as they enter the meetings that the Holy Ghost is the leader.”
Pastor Seymour and his followers held to five core doctrines: salvation by faith; sanctification of the believer; tongues as evidence of Spirit baptism; faith healing as part of God's plan for witness and redemption; and the "very soon" return of Christ.
Secular media condemned the revival. The Los Angeles Times reported: "Breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand, the newest religious sect has started in Los Angeles."
Established churches joined in the condemnation. Preachers warned their congregations to stay away, claiming the movement was hyper-emotional, and that it misused Scripture and lost focus on Christ by overemphasizing the Holy Spirit. Some called the police with complaints about the "chaos."
Charles Parham, once Pastor Seymour’s mentor, wrote, “Men and women, white and blacks, knelt together or fell across one another; a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen in the arms of a poor negro man and held tightly thus as she shivered and shook in freak imitation of Pentecost. Horrible, awful shame!”
But the mission’s own magazine reported: “Proud, well-dressed preachers come to 'investigate'. Soon their high looks are replaced with wonder, then conviction comes, and very often you will find them in a short time wallowing on the dirty floor, asking God to forgive them and make them as little children.”
Visitors returned to their home churches and reported that blind people had their sight restored, diseases were often cured instantly, and immigrants were spoken to in their native language by uneducated members of the congregation.
Pastor Seymour and Clara Lum created and published Apostolic Faith. 5000 copies of the first edition were printed, and by 1907 the press run was over 40,000. The magazine was distributed worldwide. A 1907 edition stated, "One token of the Lord’s coming is that He is melting all races and nations together, and they are filled with the power and glory of God. He is baptizing by one spirit into one body and making up a people that will be ready to meet Him when He comes.”
By 1908, most leaders from Azusa Street had spun off to form other congregations around the country, usually among immigrants and the poor. The Church of God in Christ was formed in 1907, the Assemblies of God, and United Pentecostal Church in 1914.
Today, with more than 500 million Pentecostal and Charismatic believers across the globe, the Azusa Street Revival is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern-day Pentecostal Movement.
And the Azusa Street movement plays a starring role in The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles. In (fictional) fact, Tom Hickey, as a small boy, got abused there by his wicked mother.
Coming next week, God willing, I will introduce Sister Aimee Semple McPherson.
If, in the meantime, you want more to read, I am betting you can guess what my suggestion would be.
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