Ya know, as humans, we like to think of ourselves as being complex, independent, free-thinking beings. We like to view ourselves as being in control of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, whatever... but it amazes me just how easy it is to manipulate people and get them to believe things based on nothing more than the ability to persuade. It also impresses upon me how quickly we fall into these games of “follow the leader” when just a few people around us start gravitating toward specific ideas. We see it with the Cult of 45 as a prime contemporary example, but there have been so many others, including the story we're going to be examining tonight. I'm Spider...
...and tonight we're going to take a look at the Azusa Street revival and all the circumstances and events that led up to it. We'll talk about some of the key players and show how the whole thing came together to form, among other smaller organizations, our beloved Assemblies of God. And by “beloved” I mean hated, despised, and worthy of any and all the mocking we can throw at it. But before we get into our discussion of William J. Seymour and Co....
Pathetic new policies at Patheos, the proliferation of plants in paradise, and the pettiness of a pope who hates pets, it's CBB: The functionally alliterative edition!
If you go to the “non-belief” section of the Patheos website, you'll see that they haven't updated much lately. In fact, most of their content is more than a month old. This is due to a change in rules in the website which has put a lot of their atheist bloggers off on using the platform.
The Patheos channel manager, Dale Mcgowan, said that the owners, BN media, wanted to rebrand in order to attract more religious business to advertise on their various channels—this could be difficult to do with a whole channel devoted to criticizing religions of all kinds. So “Patheos decided to change its editorial direction. Bloggers were advised they could stay at Patheos so long as they stopped writing negative or critical posts on religion or politics and instead focused on how to live a good life within their own worldview.”
So, at the end of 2021, about 15 atheist bloggers left the site to go to a new site specifically for atheits called “only sky”, a reference found in John Lennon's song, Imagine. (above us, only sky) It's slated to open in January, so hopefully soon. https://onlysky.media/friendlyatheist/ I've signed up for notification when the site goes live.
Next – Kat Kerr is still making her journeys to heaven and reporting back on all the candy coated nonsense she comes up with. For instance! Did you know that John Wayne is still making cowboy movies in heaven? It's totes true, Kat Kerr saw it herself! https://mobile.twitter.com/hemantmehta/status/1479276103227387909 apparently, you do in heaven what you do on earth. HMMM that doesn't sound biblically sound to me... https://twitter.com/hemantmehta/status/1479278875133816833 Also when you garden in heaven, all you have to do is speak over the ground and the plants just start growing. Steve Schultz looked really impressed with that one.
And finally, a guy who doesn't have children and runs an institution known for harming kids say that childless couples who adopt dogs and cats instead of children are “selfish”. https://twitter.com/CNN/status/1478797227929784327 Of course we're taking about Pope Francis. He argues that “their decision to forgo parenthood leads to a loss of "humanity" and is a detriment to civilization.” He goes on to say:
"We see that people do not want to have children, or just one and no more. And many, many couples do not have children because they do not want to, or they have just one -- but they have two dogs, two cats ... Yes, dogs and cats take the place of children," the Pope said. "Yes, it's funny, I understand, but it is the reality. And this denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity. And in this way civilization becomes aged and without humanity, because it loses the richness of fatherhood and motherhood. And our homeland suffers, as it does not have children."
Yeah...about that. You're just afraid people won't be having as many Catholics. Get ready for the Great Decline, dude.
When I started researching this topic I was led directly to the Assemblies of God's own website where they seemed enigmatically proud of the characterization the LA times made of the situation at Azusa street. This is just a bit of what they consider selling points. They think these are positives.
“According to the Los Angeles Times, a bizarre new religious sect had started with people “breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand.” Furthermore, “Devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories, and work themselves into a state of mad excitement.”
Colored people and a sprinkling of whites compose the congregation, and night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshippers who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve-racking attitude of prayer and supplication.” To top it all off, they claimed to have received the “gift of tongues,” and what's more, “comprehend the babel.” (Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street (South Plainfield, N.J.: Bridge Publishing, 1980)
I wonder if white evangelicals in the Assemblies of God (the largest pentecostal organization on the planet) realize that their roots, the foundations of nearly all they believe and practice, involve black congregations from all over the country.
And here's just how far group hysteria can go...
“A visiting Baptist pastor said, “The Holy Spirit fell upon me and filled me literally, as it seemed to lift me up, for indeed, I was in the air in an instant, shouting, 'Praise God,' and instantly I began to speak in another language. I could not have been more surprised if at the same moment someone had handed me a million dollars.” (Bartleman)
This guy literally thought he had been levitating and had no qualms telling people about it. Funny how they don't expect us to look for that as part of initial physical evidence...
And just like the Brownsville and Toronto revivals (that we WILL be covering in future episodes), Azusa Street seemed to have a companion revival happening around the same time in Wales. Just about a year to two years prior, the same kinds of reports were coming from believers in Wales and the media was projecting that at least 100,000 people had converted to “real” Christianity during that time.
You can only imagine that things were already brewing in certain places in the States, but like with anything else, strength in numbers proved to be a powerful force. The Welsh revival lasted from September 1904 to June 1905. The welsh converts and leadership behind the revival became convinced that they were experiencing the “latter rain” that was prophesied throughout the Nebiim and reinforced in James 5:7: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.”
I searched a number of sources about the difference between former rain and latter rain and every last one looked at it from the standpoint of prophecy and symbolism. I personally think that it had to have a more agricultural context, like former rain for your main harvest and latter rain that would produce a bumper crop. In my brain, that makes a lot more sense. But, when your goal is to apply meaning to things that suit your argument, you do things like this: say it means one thing and then make it difficult as fuck to suss out the real meaning. I have no idea how these people do it... creating these walls of false information that you have to digitally scale to find the truth. Or better still, the way things get hidden and nearly impossible to dig up.
So these people latched onto the latter rain concept as a means of justifying everything I just described and much, much more. This was also one of the things that, on the heels of John Darby and his end-times platform, put the concept of imminence in the minds of evangelicals. These manifestations were the latter rain they had been promised, and it was the fulfillment of Joel 2:28, repeated in Acts 2:17: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions...”
It was a real, “See? SEE?” kind of moment and it only took one or two people to point this out before it turned into mass group hysteria.
But there was also a problem here that they have yet to resolve: that being the tie-in between the latter rain and the return of Christ because it was supposed to be a sign that the end was near. Like... really, really near. And, welp... here we still are 115 years later.
Azusa Street also had started infiltrating more fundamentalist circles and was causing lots of waves, particularly in the Baptist community. Oddly enough, Baptists were adopting pentecostalism in droves and were thoroughly convinced by the concept of a “second act of grace.” Salvation was necessary to purge the soul of sin so the Holy Spirit could indwell the believer.
And even then, I sat there thinking to myself, “So how many acts of grace are there? I had the baptists telling me I was saved just because I asked for it, but then later I was told that I also needed to be baptized as an outward sign of faith. But wait, wasn't that why I was dragged to the altar during camp? And these pentecostals are driving the whole water baptism thing with me now, too. Do I need to do that before I can get Holy Spirit baptism? It sounds like a disjointed and very dull RPG.
So my question then, and it never got answered, was this: how much grace is sufficient? I think that Asuza street and many of the things that came after it blurred those lines considerably and, after a while, it all boiled down to what people were going to believe. Hardline baptists never bought into the second act of grace nonsense and their doctrine just lived on. New churches formed and over time the disconnect from all this latter rain stuff was complete.
But people change churches and flavors of churches all the time. You have to admit that the things going on in pentecostal revivals was a lot more entertaining than singing along with A Mighty Fortress Is Our God in some stuffy Baptist church service. And people being people, the things that excite, engage, and entertain will always at least turn a few heads.
Pentecostalism Pre-Azusa Street
It's funny to me how there are different organizations out there who think they can take credit for pentecostalism being a thing, but really what it boiled down to was a mutation of the Holiness movement in the late 1800s.
According to author and blogger Tim Challies:
“The roots of the Azusa Street Revival and the Pentecostalism it birthed are entwined with the Holiness Movement of the late nineteenth century. This was a renewing movement within the Wesleyan tradition that emphasized complete sanctification and taught that moral perfection is available to Christians. It was marked by a heavy emphasis on personal holiness, most often displayed through a close adherence to the law as a means of drawing near to God. In general, early Pentecostal theology took Wesleyan theology as its starting place, then added to it certain new elements.”
We are going to talk more in-depth about the pentecostal holiness movement in a later episode too.
But, no, the modern pentecostal movement didn't begin at Azusa street. That's just where it blew up. It began with a guy named Charles Parham. Parham was the founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement which had its roots in the midwest and would eventually morph into what we call pentecostalism today. And if you need any further reason to detest bible college as an overall concept, all you have to do is realize that pentecostal evangelicalism officially began at a bible college in Topeka, Kansas. Bethel Bible School was Parham's baby and boy did he take the opportunity to indoctrinate the shit out of young minds...
And, like any good charlatan, he made his mark in Topeka and then made his way south, starting revivals and planting another bible school because, why not?
You know, I wrote papers on this stuff in college and it was amazing how so much of it came rushing back while I was researching all this. Rushing back like pissing into the wind, it did... but what I find interesting now, that I didn't notice then, is just how hollywood parts of this narrative are. It makes a person wonder if all these pieces just fell together or if a bunch of people got together and... agreed on certain things. It could be either. We probably won't ever know. I mean... it happened. Secular news sources at home and abroad said so, but they didn't have all the details, of course. All I know is that I'm sitting here reading this story and thinking, “This reads like the plot of a movie. It's all very cinematic.” How? Let's move on with the story...
So Charles Parham is spreading his apostolic holiness message far and wide. He is fleecing and aggressively indoctrinating as he goes. And along the way, he meets a guy named William J. Seymour. Seymour would eventually prove integral to the Azusa Street narrative and he was black.
So here's the hollywood part of the story (well.. one of them)...
William J. Seymour was born May 2, 1870, in Centerville, Louisiana. He was the child of former slaves Simon and Phillis Seymour. The AG says his parents raised him Baptist. Other sources have him being raised Catholic. Looking at the Wikipedia entry about him, it would appear that BOTH were true. His family started eventually attending a Baptist church because... well, it was there. And it was more accessible than any Catholic church at the time. Another Catholic boy turned Baptist then drunk on the Kool Aid. Looks like my story isn't unique...
There are certain holes in his story, just like with Jesus, because we pick his up years later in Cincinnati, OH. It is speculated that because racial tensions were growing in the south, he decided to migrate north to escape persecution and have some small guarantee of at least heightened safety. There are conflicting reports here, too. The AG plants him directly in Cincinnati, but public records show that his first stop was actually in Indianapolis, where he was exposed to apostolic holiness doctrine through Daniel S. Warner's "Evening Light Saints." This is where he started becoming indoctrinated to beliefs like “non-sectarianism, faith healing, foot washing, the imminent Second Coming of Christ, and separation from "the world" in actions, beliefs, and lifestyle.” This included things like not wearing jewelry or neckties.
In the summer of 1900, Seymour returned to Louisiana and worked briefly as a farm hand. Who knows why...
In 1901, Seymour made his way back north, this time to Cincinnati, Ohio. He found work there as a waiter and it is speculated that he attended God's Bible School and Training Home, founded by God's Revivalist Movement founder Martin Wells Knapp. The allure of this came in no small part with the fact that there was no segregation at this school. All students studied side by side regardless of race.
The teachings there were a lot like those he had already discovered in the Evening Light Saints movement. Both Revivalist and Evening Light Saints believed that they were living in the “twilight of human history” but the Revivalists had what looks to me like more clearly defined lines when it came to doctrine. They were end-timers who believed in the rapture and that the rapture would happen before Christ's 1000 year millennial reign on earth. They also preached of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that would precede the rapture as outlined in the verses we already cited. They also believed in special revelation that manifested in things like dreams and visions, tongues and interpretation, etc. William Seymour bought it all hook, line, and sinker. The AG website says the people he interacted with at this time in his life, “deeply impressed him.” In other words, they planted the seeds and he instantly started obsessing over their beliefs.
Now another time jump and here we are in Houston. After contracting smallpox and losing vision in his left eye (and blaming himself for it because, apparently, he thought he was resisting God's call to full-time ministry), Seymour makes the move toward a life of ministry in 1903.
“During the winter of 1904–1905, he was directed by a "special revelation” to Jackson, Mississippi, to receive spiritual advice from a well-known [black] clergyman". He probably met Charles Price Jones and Charles Harrison Mason, founders of what would become the Church of God in Christ. Between 1895 and 1905, Seymour also met other holiness leaders, including John Graham Lake and Charles Parham, who was leading a growing movement in the Midwest.”
And here is where the story starts to come full circle...
While Seymour had already had at least an academic exposure to the concept, Parham's Apostolic faith movement was pretty much founded on the belief in and ability to speak in tongues. From 1900 on, this was the focal point of practically all of Parham's teaching and preaching. He was also the first one to suggest the concept of initial physical evidence.
This part I remember distinctly from college because it got me thinking about what I had been taught about glossolalia and I had kind of a “wait a minute...” moment over it...
“On January 1, 1901, Parham and some of his students were praying over Agnes Ozman when she began to speak in what was interpreted to be Chinese, a language Ozman never learned. Pentecostals identify Ozman as the first person in modern times to receive the gift of speaking in tongues as an answer to prayer for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Parham also spoke in tongues and went on to open a Bible school in Houston as his base of operations in 1905.”
The “wait a minute” factor for me was in that she was speaking an actual language because that's not the kind of glossolalia I was taught to believe in as IPE. You do, however, see it in the book of Acts and it's worth noting that I learned of this kind of glossolalia FIRST in religion class in Catholic school. They were cool with it. Of course, all these years later I can easily conclude that a) the story was bullshit or b) those present decided she was speaking Chinese because they couldn't understand her and it sounded like what they thought Chinese sounded like...
So when Seymour moved to Houston, he met Lucy Farrow who was working for Charles Parham's ministry as his children's nanny. It's worth noting, though, that she actually had a bit more clout than that. She held a leadership position in Parham's ministry and was the acting pastor of a small church in Houston. With responsibilities pulling her left and right, Farrow, impressed with what she saw in him, offered Seymour a chance to pastor her church so she could focus on other aspects of Parham's ministry.
And just to make sure he was teaching “sound doctrine,” in 1906, Seymour was invited, and accepted the invitation, to attend yet another Bible school founded by Parham. This time, Jim Crow laws would reel their ugly heads and Seymour was forced to study while sitting just outside the classroom door.
“Parham and Seymour shared pulpits and street corners on several occasions during the early weeks of 1906, with Parham only permitting Seymour to preach to blacks. During this time, Seymour continued praying that he would receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Though unsuccessful at the time, he remained committed to Parham's beliefs about speaking in tongues but he rejected Parham's belief in the annihilation of the wicked and in the use of tongues in evangelism. Parham understood the gift of tongues to be xenoglossy, unlearned human languages to be used for evangelistic purposes.”
And that, is where the story starts making its way to Los Angeles and the Azusa Street revival.
So, one day in late 1905, Neely Terry was in Houston visiting family, probably for the holidays. She was also black and from Los Angeles where she attended a small church that was part of the Apostolic Holiness movement. The pastor of the church in LA was Julia Hutchins. Amazing how things were MORE progressive then. Lots of women involved in key ministry roles. That wouldn't last long in the AG...
So while she was in Houston, Neely Terry heard Seymour preach on HSB and IPE. It amazes me how this guy who, up until now, hadn't even “received the gifts” for himself had such a charisma that he was able to convince people – lots of people – that this was a real thing and that people should be seeking it actively. Terry was so impressed that when she got home, she asked Julia Hutchins to invite him to speak there. Seymour received that invitation in February 1906 and got a little money from Charles Parham to cover his expenses. The trip was supposed to last a month.
So on February 22, 1906, William James Seymour arrived in LA and just two days later was preaching at Julia Hutchins' church, a very small space at the corner of 9th and SantaFe Ave. During his first sermon, he told the congregation that speaking in tongues was the first biblical evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
[SHELLE] I don't remember ever learning about the women of Azuza Street in bible college. And frankly, I wasn't really interested much in the history of the AG, mostly because the little I heard didn't involve women. This didn't surprise me; I knew it was hard (but not impossible) for a woman to be a pastor. But I was today years old when I found out that a woman, Rachel Sizelove, and her sister returned to their hometown in Missouri and opened the Central Assembly of God, the 'mother church' of the Assemblies of God, founded a year later. I'm still kind of surprised I didn't know this. But as far as I know, the presence and importance of women in the founding of the denomination I was working with was never really discussed. That the AG was founded out of the movement that saw its beginnings at Azusa Street was all I knew.
How did this California audience receive the message?
On Sunday, March 4 Seymour arrived for church to find that the pastor, Julia Hutchins, had padlocked the door! So not only did we have women in key ministry roles, we had at least reasonably smart ones in them. What happened???
As it turned out, the elders of the church kinda thought Mr. Seymour was a bit of a loon and THIS group of people was also at least smart enough to question anyone teaching on something like this who couldn't demonstrate that it was real (at first at least...). The Holiness Church Association of SoCal also condemned his messaging. This was kind of the anchor organization with which Hutchins and, by association, the church, was affiliated.
But of course, you can find followers for any lunatic. I mean, just look at the 2016 presidential election. And there were some people who caught Seymour's drift. Some were taken in by his charisma and wanted him to stay. A member of the congregation, Edward S. Lee, invited Seymour to stay in his home and this is where Seymour started holding Bible studies and slowly but surely started building momentum for his messaging from a small band of the less-enlightened among a congregation whose pastor was clearly smarter than they were.
I do believe this is where the notion of modern pentecostalism being the product of rebellion comes from. I heard that a lot back in the day, sometimes in the context of criticism, but usually in one of praise. I mean, there would have been no AG if this guy had accepted defeat and went home...
We're inching ever closer to Azusa street, but we have one more stop to make along the way...
So Seymour was amassing followers. Not in huge numbers, but enough to get that forward mmentum his messaging needed. Needing a bit more space, they relocated to the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry at 216 Bonnie Brae St. At that point something interesting started to happen: they started getting the attention of white families and several of them followed Seymour down the IPE rabbit hole. All of them were from local holiness churches.
This group started getting together regularly and would pray long and hard to receive HSB. And then, on April 9, 1906, something significant happened. After five weeks of regular gatherings, the constant indoctrination coming from Seymour and three days into a TEN DAY fast that Seymour had called them to, it was Edward S. Lee who broke the ice and began “speaking in tongues.”
From there the whole thing just snowballed. I was sitting taking notes thinking, “how often do we see this? People waiting until that first person goes to the altar, etc.” Human nature is like that in general. “Let's see who else decides to do this...”
So once Lee did it, it just felt safe for others to give it a go and at the very next meeting, six more people began speaking in tongues, among them Jennie Moore who would later become Mrs. William Seymour. It took a few more days but, with much prayer and persistence, Seymour also began to speak in tongues. I mean, he was also fueled by the crowd and that gathering momentum but I'm convinced he thought it was all legit. I don't think this guy was trying to pull one over on anybody. I just think he was a lunatic and, in certain contexts I can agree with the LOA set: like does tend to attract like. One person started babbling and it made other people feel better about just doing it.
Now, southern california always being a huge melting pot, the attention that this thing was getting crossed all present racial, economic, and cultural lines. Black, hispanic, white... everyone was gathering together and night after night speaker after speaker would come in to keep the crowd whipped up. And since this was all happening in a private home, it was that much more visible. And it's not like they were trying to hide anything either – these people were out on the front porch of this house using it as a platform and pulpit. But here's the absolute kicker for me...
“Hutchins eventually spoke in tongues as her whole congregation began to attend the meetings. Soon the crowds became very large and were full of people speaking in tongues, shouting, singing and moaning.”
Talk about “if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em. She'd locked Seymour out of her church. Smart move. But only a short time later she was guzzling the Kool Aid. Also a smart move. Why? Because she would have had no church (and no tithes) left if she didn't. I mean, it's possible that she got caught up in the hysteria (and that's what this was – group hysteria 101) but it's far more probable that she just decided to give the market what it wanted because it's been the same old story since the beginning of time: the most popular product is determined by the market, not the marketer. Her messaging went stale, so she adopted this. I'm willing to think she believed it on some surface level, but it took losing her entire congregation to reach a workable point of belief in this thing that only weeks before she was locking out of her church like the Devil in the night.
Finally, the front porch collapsed, and the group had to find a new place to meet.
A resident of the neighborhood described the happenings at 216 North Bonnie Brae with the following words: They shouted three days and three nights. It was Easter season. The people came from everywhere. By the next morning there was no way of getting near the house. As people came in they would fall under God's power; and the whole city was stirred. They shouted until the foundation of the house gave way, but no one was hurt.
The group from Bonnie Brae Street took their operations to 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles. The building was originally purposed as an “African Methodist Episcopal Church.” That's quite the hybrid. I was today years old when I realized a church could be a mutt. The place wasn't exactly in the best part of town, either, so I have to imagine that it mast have seemed sketch to anyone on the outside looking in. Then again, I did some work with an inner city church in Philly that was the definition of sketch and, I don't know what it is, but the bad element has a tendency to leave churches alone for the most part. Maybe they're afraid God'll get 'em. IDK...
But the people at Azusa seemed pretty comfortable there and the price was right. Rent was $8 a month for what one local paper described as a “tumble down shack.” Still, it was standing empty and now it wasn't which, I'm sure, made the landlord happy. It had been used for other purposes over time, my favorite one being a tombstone shop. What an unlikely foreshadowing. I wonder if they were whitewashed tombstones...
But there was more! This place provided lodging. The church could rent rooms or use them to house guest preachers as needed. It basically looked like a big cube with some gothic architecture on the outside so people would know (originally) that it was a church.
The Asuza property would come be known as the Apostolic Faith Mission. and Seymour and Jennie made use of the onsite accommodations. There was also a large prayer room with chairs and benches to manage overflow from the altar services below.
By the middle of 1906, you could find anywhere from 300 to 1,500 people trying to fit into the building for services.
I'm sitting here in the current health and social climate thinking, “What if this had happened a decade or so later? Would we be talking about Asuza as a hotbed for the Spanish Flu?” Because you have to know that people this drunk on the Kool Aid weren't about to quarantine and social distance....
Another interesting fact here is that since the building had recently been used to house horses, there were flies. Lots and lots and lots of flies. I'll just drop the Baal Zebul reference and leave it there...
I also find it fascinating that this movement seemed to be founded on a platform of diversity and it defied all social norms that were present in the Jim Crow era. And yet, with all that diversity and acceptance, the pentecostal movement has played no small role in the uprising of White Evangelicalism. It would appear that social attitudes and prejudices were just a tad bit more powerful than the Holy Spirit. It was true then, and it's way true now.
But the movement did have its detractors, most of them secular because, somehow this thing that would eventually be called pentecostalism seemed to be a huge ecclesiastical black hole sucking in anyone within its reach. But...
In a skeptical front-page story titled "Weird Babel of Tongues", a Los Angeles Times reporter attempted to describe what would soon be known as the Azusa Street Revival. "Breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand", the story began, "the newest religious sect has started in Los Angeles".
And... In September, 1906, another local paper described the happenings at Azusa this way:
[It was called 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."
This is where we get the term “Holy Rollers.” There were other monikers that didn't really stand the test of time like “holy jumpers” “Tangled tonguers” and “Holy ghosters.” But despite the detractors, Azusa street started gaining both national and international attention. Some sources painted them in a good light, others not so much.
By the end of 1906, most leaders from Azusa Street had spun off to form other congregations, such as the 51st Street Apostolic Faith Mission, the Spanish AFM, and the Italian Pentecostal Mission. These missions were largely composed of immigrant or ethnic groups.
So you can see the cultural split beginning only months in...
The movement grew rapidly throughout the American Southeast, mostly because there were similar movements taking place there. It only takes a spark... Seymour had his messaging down and it just made sense to people who were already of the mindset to receive it and it seemed like the more charismatic and energetic the preacher, the faster the message would spread. Again, human nature 101 and the concept of “the better story.”
[Life of Pi drops in two weeks]
Many existing Wesleyan-holiness denominations adopted the Pentecostal message, such as the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the Church of God in Christ, and the Pentecostal Holiness Church. The formation of new denominations also occurred, motivated by doctrinal differences between Wesleyan Pentecostals and their Finished Work counterparts, such as the Assemblies of God formed in 1914 and the Pentecostal Church of God formed in 1919. An early doctrinal controversy led to a split between Trinitarian and Oneness Pentecostals, the latter founded the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World in 1916 and the United Pentecostal Church in 1945.
Today, there are more than 500 million Pentecostal and charismatic believers across the globe, and it is the fastest-growing form of Christianity today. The Azusa Street Revival is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern-day Pentecostal Movement.
So that all covers the “what” in terms of how things got moving with pentecostalism but I also think it's important to understand the “why.” Next week, we are going to take a closer look at that question and zero in on how charismatic preachers and cult leaders manage to amass so many followers, even among those that don't meet a specified demo. How were so many people in LA won over to this? Why does it still work today in cases like the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate, Jonestown, etc. We aren't going to go into a lot of detail on these specific things, but there are common threads that run through all of them which we WILL get to examining next week.
Right now, just a few parting thoughts...
The Azusa Street story is a prime example of how one person can make a difference, especially if his (or her) messaging comes with generous smatterings of things like personal power and mysticism. As people, we love being able to see through the shadows of our understanding of things. For many, the baptism in the holy spirit provided clarity and completeness to people's faith. They had no other tangible “proof” that their god even existed until they saw and experienced the supposed IPE.
For many, this “manifestation” was the proof they'd craved and even the skeptics, even the traditionalists among them, even the ones who literally closed themselves off to Seymour's messaging eventually joined his ranks because finally, at long last, there was something there to justify their faith. Where was god during the height of American slavery? Where was god in the midst of the poverty and urban plight that surrounded the Azusa street church? Where was he in the static messaging of mainline protestant denominations?
Why did pentecostalism catch on and spread like wildfire? Because it supposed to answer those questions. God was there all along, waiting for the right moment to reveal himself and provide the proof that people were craving. The problem was that it wasn't god. It was textbook group hysteria that was spurred on by the energy and excitement of just a few – beginning with just one – in their midst and when one person purported to have achieved this thing, now everyone wanted it. And just like popcorn in the microwave, it started with that one crucial “pop!” in the form of Edward S. Lee. Then six more followed him. “Pop pop pop pop!” Then more, then more, then popopopopopopop.... clean into the year 2022. And while the popping is starting to slow a bit, it's far from done.
This is why it's so important that we keep drawing attention to the man behind the curtain. In this case, it's a man named William Seymour whose own vigor and zeal managed to drive him crazy in the end.
Some accounts of him in later years tell us that he even started to question the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the initial physical evidence of a prayer language. He even started preaching that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was more of a biblically symbolic way of expressing how Christians should “divinely love each other. He sank further and further into self-doubt and eventually found himself without a ministry. That's a whole side story we don't have time for but if you look up Seymour and google William Durham along with it, there's a lot more to be learned here.
When his ministry fell apart, his entire perspective on this changed. It's easy to ride the high in a large group, but when the ashes smolder away to nothing and the people disappear, what's left to fuel that zeal? The whole thing left William Seymour empty and with some very large cracks in his own faith. That fucking rational mind will get ya every time... and we all have it. It's just a matter of using it. Sometimes people have to be told they have it and that is one of the primary goals of this show: to demonstrate how important it is to start thinking for yourself and stop suppressing the thoughts you have about this thing not really being all it's supposed to be.
Because if you can figure out that you have the ability to think rationally, you might also reach a place where you no longer find it necessary to babble like an infant and call it proof of god. And once you have that straight in your head, you have two choices: be like William Seymour, let the regret take over and start wrapping its tendrils around your overall experience of life, or simply let go of the time lost, forgive yourself for the crazy shit you did trying to justify your faith in a god that wouldn't deserve it even if he was real, stop looking for reasons to believe in something that will never prove real, and start getting Unbound.