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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

The 20th-Century Pentecostal Explosion

The twelfth in a series on revival

By Ken Horn
Jan. 10, 2010

The 20th century was a remarkable period in the history of revival ... on several fronts. One of the most notable occurrences was the rise of modern Pentecostalism, a Movement that found fertile ground in churches of a holiness persuasion and thrived throughout the century. Today it numbers more than 640 million individuals worldwide.

In 1901, students at Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kan., were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. The first to receive this baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence - or what was called the "Bible evidence" - of speaking in other tongues was Agnes Ozman. This was a foreshadowing of the significant role women would take in the Movement. In 1905, Charles Parham, who had led the school, opened another Bible school in Houston, Texas. One of the students there was William J. Seymour, an African-American believer. Seymour was an eager learner and was greatly impacted by the message of the availability of the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Several elements were converging to light the fire of this revival. A Baptist pastor from California, Joseph Smale, visited the revival in Wales under Evan Roberts. (See "Evan Roberts and the Welsh Revival" in the Nov. 15, 2009, Pentecostal Evangel.) Roberts encouraged Smale to seek such a revival in Los Angeles. When Smale returned, he instituted prayer meetings. Other similar prayer meetings began to break out in the area.

Then God orchestrated a divine appointment that would launch the fledgling Movement to unprecedented heights. A woman from one of the California groups met Seymour in Houston. On her recommendation, Seymour was invited to pastor in Los Angeles. He accepted.

But when he came, his preaching was dominated by the theme of fullness of the Holy Spirit accompanied by tongues. Though many accepted the teaching, many others did not warm to the doctrine. Seymour was locked out of the church.

So he began services in a private home on Bonnie Brae Street.

Here, on April 9, 1906, seven worshippers were struck by the power of God and began to speak in other tongues. This led to further meetings where people of all races and from a rich variety of church backgrounds attended - and many spoke in tongues. This new Movement had a remarkable feature for its day. It initially produced a color-blind atmosphere and drew all sorts of people. As word spread, the crowds grew, and the Bonnie Brae house became too small.

There was an old abandoned building on a run-down street nearby. It had been an African Methodist Episcopal church - before that, a livery stable and a warehouse. The meetings moved to the building, and 312 Azusa Street became the home of the revival.

People visited the Apostolic Faith Mission there in large numbers. Revival continued unabated for three years. Services sometimes lasted from 10 a.m. until midnight. Organization was minimal, and no advertising was done. Offerings were never taken, but could be left at the door as worshippers departed.

Spontaneity was the unofficial order of service. Even the messages were generally spontaneous. When the sermon was completed, the altars were opened, and people flocked to them. Witnesses marveled that preaching so simple was attended by a power so great. As the Spirit moved, people would "fall prostrate under the power of God." They often got up speaking in tongues - with lives dramatically transformed.

Like other revivals, there was sharp criticism leveled at Azusa Street, mostly revolving around the practice of tongues and related outward manifestations. And there were indeed some excesses at Azusa Street, as in most revivals. But it could not be denied that people's lives were being changed significantly. The work of the Holy Spirit was not just outward - conviction of sin turned people to Christ. It brought unbelievers and backsliders to the Cross, worldly Christians to a deeper walk, and those who were seeking more of God into a fuller genuine spiritual experience.

Seymour made it clear the Movement was not about focusing on tongues. He set the tone for balanced Pentecostal doctrine early on when he said, "Now, don't go from this meeting and talk about tongues, but try to get people saved." All genuine revivals make salvation focal. Seymour preached that a power for service could be found in the baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire, that tongues would surely accompany this Baptism, and that witnessing about Jesus would increase in amount and effectiveness.

The revival influenced people from all over the world. They came and went, taking the fire of Pentecost with them - to Chicago, New York City, Oregon and throughout the U.S.; to England, Norway, Sweden and other countries. Gaston B. Cashwell returned to Dunn, N.C., where, in January 1907, a revival occurred that became the "Azusa of the South." Through his ministry, several existing holiness bodies became Pentecostal, including the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.). Soon the Movement was multiplying itself from new revival centers, which in turn stimulated the development of Pentecostal missions.

The Assemblies of God found its roots in the Movement, and organized officially in 1914 in Hot Springs, Ark. Today the U.S. Assemblies of God numbers nearly 3 million people, and the World Assemblies of God Fellowship counts more than 60 million adherents.

From these humble beginnings the Pentecostal Movement would spread around the world. It is remarkable that, in a day of prejudice, God used a small place and a humble black preacher to help open the church's eyes to the vastness of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Azusa tabernacle didn't last. It was eventually torn down. You can find no trace of the physical building today, just a small plaque. But you can still find its spiritual imprint - not only in Los Angeles, but also in virtually every corner of the globe.

Ken Horn is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at Snapshots (

View a PDF of this article.

This series began in the Jan. 11, 2009, issue.


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