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Pentecostalism’s Future: Where Do We Go Now?

We must reclaim the spiritual fire we’ve lost. We must also be willing to bury what has become stale and outdated.

Pentecostals from around the world converged on Los Angeles this week to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the revival that launched their movement. About 3,000 people began the party on Saturday by marching through a downtown area carrying flags and banners. They ended their procession in the Little Tokyo neighborhood where Pentecostal pioneer William “Daddy” Seymour held his famous Azusa Street Revival a century ago.

As of yesterday a crowd of 23,000 had gathered at the Los Angeles Convention Center for special revival services. Other Azusa events were scheduled at Fred Price’s Faith Dome, Bishop Charles Blake’s West Angeles Cathedral and at Angelus Temple—the nation’s oldest Pentecostal megachurch.

Azusa is truly a miracle worth celebrating

Seymour’s unscripted, racially mixed prayer meetings, housed in a dilapidated building that was once a livery stable, attracted curious Christians from around the world between 1906 and 1909. Many of those who visited testified of receiving a life-changing “baptism of the Holy Spirit” that was contagious. Pentecostal fervor spread quickly, giving birth to countless new denominations.

What began in that tiny building on Azusa Street (furnished with crude plank benches and a pulpit made of shoeboxes) has grown to be a movement of 500 million Christians who believe that the miracles performed in the book of Acts still happen.

What started in a poor neighborhood has moved uptown. What was once derided as religious fanaticism has become mainstream. We’ve gone from rural clapboard chapels to sophisticated, glass-and-steel megachurches; from sawdust floors to plush carpets; from plank benches to cushioned seats; from tent revivals to climate-controlled television studios. And our pulpits today are made of clear plastic.

I hope this is progress.

As thousands more Pentecostals descend on Los Angeles this weekend, we need more than a festival. We must re-evaluate. What core values from Azusa Street must we reclaim? I can think of a few:

Racial equality. Azusa was an interracial experience. White pastors from Tennessee and North Carolina knelt at the altars in 1906—in an age of racial segregation—and allowed black men and women to lay hands on them and pray. In many of our churches today, the “color line” that Azusa historian Frank Bartleman said was “washed away” at Azusa Street has returned as an ugly stain.

Women’s empowerment.The Pentecostal fervor at Azusa Street dismantled gender prejudice. Some of the 20th century’s greatest women preachers trace their roots to that humble stable, where men and women shared the makeshift pulpit. Today, with all our technological advances, we tend to slam the door on women rather than give them the microphone.

Holiness and humility. Azusa was certainly not a celebrity event. Seymour and the others who frequented the Azusa mission were simple folks who lived in Los Angeles years before Hollywood’s big film studios were built. Today many Pentecostal and charismatic ministries look and smell more like Hollywood than anything holy.

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Category: Church History

About the Author: J. Lee Grady is an author, award-winning journalist and ordained minister. For 17 years he worked for Charisma magazine, one of America ’s most widely distributed evangelical Christian publications, and he served as editor for 11 of those years. He is the author of several books including Set My Heart on Fire: Ignite Your Confidence, Boldness, and Passion for God (2016), Ten Lies The Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage (2006), 10 Lies Men Believe: The Truth About Women, Power, Sex and God—and Why it Matters (2011), Fearless Daughters of the Bible: What You Can Learn from 22 Women Who Challenged Tradition, Fought Injustice and Dared to Lead (2012), 25 Tough Question About Women and the Church: Answers from God's Word That Will Set Women Free (2013), and The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale: Rekindling the Power of God in an Age of Compromise (2010). He founded The Mordecai Project, confronting the abuse of women globally and helping release women into ministry. Twitter: @LeeGrady

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