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Frank Bartleman: Azusa Street

Pastor Joseph Fiorentino reviews a classic book about the Azusa Street Revival in the early Twentieth Century, the birthplace of the Pentecostal movement.

 

Cover from the 2000 edition.

Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street: An Eyewitness Account to the Birth of the Pentecostal Revival (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982), 171 pages, ISBN 9780883686386.

The turn of the twentieth century marked a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. New life was breathed into receptive parts of the Church universal as a result of the overwhelming spiritual hunger for God in people like Frank Bartleman. In the aptly named book Azusa Street, originally published as Another Wave Rolls In, Frank Bartleman painstakingly records the events leading up to the apparent and influential revival at the Azusa Street Mission in 1906 and a behind-the-scenes look at the many other supernatural works of the Holy Spirit taking place in various locations around the world. In addition, Bartleman unknowingly lays the early groundwork for burgeoning Pentecostal doctrines such as the baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues, prayer, revival, and eschatology—all important emphases in his reflections.

Frank Bartleman was the son of a Pennsylvania farmer who decided that farming was not for him. Shortly after his conversion to Christ, Bartleman engaged in full-time ministry; however, his allegiance to any one Christian organization was always short-lived, moving from church to church or group to group. His constant migration brought him and his family across the entire country to Sacramento where he worked at a Holiness mission. Difficult circumstances brought Bartleman and his family to Los Angeles in December of 1904. Just one month later, the family lost their first-born child, Esther. Her death prompted Bartleman to give his life fully to God which was realized as “a great burden and cry … for a mighty revival” (8).

According to Bartleman, the key to a true revival has to do with the status of one’s heart; there must be a spirit of repentance.

Bartleman’s story is comprised of excerpts from his diary, numerous articles, and tracts and is narrated in chronological fashion. This evocative composition covers many of his experiences from late 1904 to 1911. The revival in Wales under Evan Roberts and a corresponding move of the Spirit at the nearby First Baptist Church led by Joseph Smale ignited a spirit of prayer for revival in the churches of the greater Los Angeles area, especially in Smale’s fledgling work, the New Testament Church. According to Bartleman, the key to a true revival has to do with the status of one’s heart; there must be a spirit of repentance (10). After several months of revival, people’s fervency in prayer began to wane, spurring Bartleman to reveal his disdain for human organization and programs within the church context. Organization seemed to bring with it a laxity in prayer and failure in their mission (28-29). For Bartleman, “the ministry of prayer and spirit of revival as a body” took precedence over organization, programs, and buildings which tend to marginalize the Spirit (29). The spirit of revival born of prayer eventually led Bartleman to Bonnie Brae Street—this is where “the Spirit had fallen” on April 9, 1906 (39).

The Azusa Mission was a spiritual haven for people from diverse races, colours, and national origins. The atmosphere seemed to be filled with God’s love and many desired the baptism of the Holy Spirit. All people were treated with equity at the Azusa Mission. Bartleman wrote, “We had no respect of persons. The rich and educated were the same as the poor and ignorant …” (56). It was this egalitarian belief that reinforced Bartleman’s negative attitude towards any form of hierarchy and ecclesiasticism. William J. Seymour was responsible for the Mission, but ultimately God was in control of the revival. Bartleman described God’s direction by writing, “Demons are being cast out, the sick healed, many blessedly saved, restored, and baptized with the Holy Spirit and power” (64). In Bartleman’s understanding, this three-year move of God was possible because “the whole place [Azusa Mission] was steeped in prayer” (58).

It was prayer that led Bartleman to start a mission at Eighth and Maple Streets, and it was in this particular mission that he first spoke in tongues. Almost ten pages of this book are dedicated to his supernatural experience. Bartleman, quite unintentionally, laid out a simple doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit—which is quite ironic since, in his view, doctrine binds and causes division within the church. One element of the baptism, which stands out from the rest, is Bartleman’s observation that all who received the baptism of the Spirit also spoke in tongues. In his personal experience, a person fully yielded to and wanting more of God will not struggle or have difficulty receiving the baptism of the Spirit. But “the baptism is not all tongues,” writes Bartleman, it is a “place of illumination and abandonment” (80). Finding himself in this spiritual place, Bartleman decided to hand over responsibility for the Eighth and Maple Streets mission and started out on a global ministry tour that lasted about three years.

Between 1907 and 1911, Frank Bartleman traveled throughout the United States, the Middle East, and Asia preaching in various churches. When he was back home in Los Angeles, he observed that the local missions were in bad shape spiritually, especially Azusa Mission. But this condition at Azusa would change upon the arrival of William Durham to the mission in early 1911. Durham ministered in Azusa Mission until Seymour had him locked out: Durham rented a mission at Seventh and Los Angeles Streets and “Azusa became deserted” (118). According to Bartleman, 1911 was a wonderful year for Durham’s mission because “much of the old-time power and glory of the Azusa Mission days returned to us” (120). Subsequently, the years 1912 to 1914 were spent doing mission work in Europe, but the war forced Bartleman to return home.

The last chapter of Azusa Street consists of a message that Bartleman wrote in 1925. In this message, Bartleman presents his concerns about movements and what must take place so that they continue moving forward according to God’s eternal purpose. There are five “we must” statements which pave the way towards the full restoration of the true Church. The first and fourth declare unity, “We must work for the kingdom of God as a whole, not for some pet individual party, organization, or movement” (137) and “We must recognize the whole body of Christ” (142). Bartleman speaks out against the “isms” that separate the one, whole body of Christ: hierarchicalism, ecclesiasticism, sectarianism, and denominationalism. The second of the five statements is simple yet motivating, “We must keep moving!” (138). Bartleman’s point is that until “full restoration” of the Church is realized, Christians must continue to forge ahead seeking God in unity. The third statement pushes toward theological reform, “We need a readjustment of all our doctrines to the full, clear light of God in the Word” (138). Analyzing and redefining past experiences in “clear light” will bring the “church within the church” to full maturity. The fifth and last declarative touches on heart and attitude, “We must have the spirit of Caleb and Joshua, a different spirit from the multitude” (144). For Bartleman, the key to full restoration involves joining “God in His great movement” for the end is near!

Early Pentecostals used eschatological rhetoric quite frequently because they believed that the return of Jesus Christ was imminent. Throughout the book, Bartleman uses phrases like “we are rounding the corner,” “the end of the age,” “we are nearing the awesome climax,” “we are rapidly approaching the last days,” “we are reaching the culmination of this age,” and “this last hour,” which provides the reader with a powerful sense of urgency. His tract, “The Last Call” is another example of an urgent call to repentance and is strongly indicative of the early Pentecostal understanding of the apocalyptic Scriptures.

We must work towards unity in the body of Christ. We must continue to seek all that God has for us, while maintaining a spirit of humility and repentance before the Spirit of God. Jesus is coming back soon!

Bartleman’s book is a great primary source for students or scholars who conduct research on early Pentecostal history and doctrine. I found his writings to be humorous, insightful, and heartfelt, but at times I felt that the author thought more of himself and his value to the local missions—as if the various works fell apart because he was not around to hold them together. His negative view of organization, though well-intentioned, fails to recognize the biblical support for organization. Regardless, this primary account of early Pentecostalism is vital to a Pentecostal self-understanding.

As much as Azusa Street is an eyewitness account of the mighty spiritual revival at the Azusa Mission, it is also a cautionary corrective for every Pentecostal or Charismatic follower of Christ. We must work towards unity in the body of Christ. We must continue to seek all that God has for us, while maintaining a spirit of humility and repentance before the Spirit of God. Jesus is coming back soon!

Reviewed by Joe Fiorentino

 

Further Reading:

Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., The Azusa Street Mission And Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

Darrin J. Rodgers, “The Azusa Street Revival: What Frank Bartleman’s Eyewitness Account Reveals about the Worldview of Early Pentecostals” iFPHC.org (March 9, 2017).

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Category: Church History, Summer 2020

About the Author: Joseph Fiorentino is the pastor of Quadeville Pentecostal Church in Ontario, Canada. He earned a Master of Arts in Ministerial Leadership from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and is currently completing the requirements for the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) at Tyndale Seminary at Tyndale University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His research interest centres on the kenotic participation in God through the indwelling Christ. Joseph is married to Lori who recently gave birth to their first child, Joseph.

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