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A Charismatic Looks at the Birth of Pentecostalism

Seymour became a student at Parham’s school, but due to the Jim-crow laws, had to sit in the hall and listen to Parham’s instruction via the open door of the classroom. Seymour accepted Parham’s Pentecostal theology and especially his understanding of tongues – although he did not immediately speak in tongues.

An African-American Holiness congregation in Los Angeles invited Seymour to come and preach (and audition to become its pastor). When Seymour arrived in California, February, 1906, many of the local Holiness and other evangelical churches there were in anticipation of revival. This had been sparked by the news of the great revival in Wales (1903-1904).[20] In Los Angeles one of Seymour’s first sermons to his potentially new congregation was on the necessity of tongues for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. In response, they locked him out of the church – and with that went his job as pastor.

However, he continued preaching and holding Bible studies in several private homes. These meeting had an unusual anointing from the beginning. Both Blacks and Whites mingled together – very unusual for the era. At this point Seymour and several others received the gift of tongues, and this sparked curiosity and growth that could not be contained in any private home.

A search found a vacant two story frame building that had recently served as a warehouse and stable – 312 Azusa Street. It was quickly cleared and prepared with crude pews (planks set on empty barrels) and a “mourner’s bench” to receive converts. Seymour named the church “Azusa Street Mission.” In its first meetings, April 1906, the church did not even possess a preacher’s stand. But from the first services there was a tremendous anointing with tongues and other revival manifestations present, such as “falling under the power.” News of the new “tongues” manifestation spread quickly in Los Angeles and the small church attracted both the pious and the curious. Within a week, The Los Angeles Times sent a reporter to investigate. The result was a negative, but lengthy report on the meetings. The headline read: “Weird Babble of Tongues.”

In September 1906 another reporter described the events taking place and wrote that the Azusa Street mission:

[It is a] disgraceful intermingling of the races…they cry and make howling noises all day and into the night. They run, jump, shake all over, shout to the top of their voice, spin around in circles, fall out on the sawdust blanketed floor jerking, kicking and rolling all over it. Some of them pass out and do not move for hours as though they were dead. These people appear to be mad, mentally deranged or under a spell. They claim to be filled with the spirit. They have a one eyed, illiterate, Negro as their preacher who stays on his knees much of the time with his head hidden between the wooden milk crates. He doesn’t talk very much but at times he can be heard shouting, ‘Repent,’ and he’s supposed to be running the thing… They repeatedly sing the same song, ‘The Comforter Has Come.’[21]

These newspaper accounts attracted even more people. More importantly, people began coming in from across the country to see what was happening. The Holiness preacher named Frank Bartleman, who ultimately became Azusa Street’s first historian, came and left us a more discerning account of the early meetings.

Brother Seymour generally sat behind two empty shoe boxes, one on top of the other. He usually kept his head inside the top one during the meeting, in prayer. There was no pride there. The services ran almost continuously. …The people came to meet God. He was always there…

No subjects or sermons were announced ahead of time, and no special speakers for such an hour. No one knew what might be coming, what God would do. All was spontaneous, ordered of the Spirit….

Someone might be speaking. Suddenly the Spirit would fall upon the congregation. God himself would give the altar call. Men would fall all over the house, like slain in battle, or rush for the altar enmasse, to seek God. The scene often resembled a forest of fallen trees…The shekinah glory rested there. In fact some claim to have seen the glory by night over the building. I do not doubt it.[22]

Seymour maintained order with a firm but gentle hand. He often ceded the preaching to visiting preachers. The upstairs served for overflow crowds and for a “tarrying” place for those seeking the Baptism of the Spirit. That is, a period of prayer and pleading in which the seeker waited for God’s power as in the Acts 2 “upper room” Pentecost.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2014

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook AnglicalPentecostal.blogspot.com

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