Historical Archives | Pentecostal History 3


 

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Bishop William J. Seymour

 

Probably the most recognized individual to attend he Bible Training School in Houston was William J. Seymour. In the book entitled Charles F. Parham, Sarah Parham (the wife of the noted evangelist) wrote on page (137) the following discourse concerning Seymour, "One colored man, William J. Seymour, became a regular attendant each day for the Bible lessons. In Texas, you know, the colored people are not allowed to mix with the white people as they do in some of the other states; but he was so humble and so deeply interested in the study of the word that Brother Parham could not refuse him. So he was given a place in the class  and eagerly drank in the truths which were so new to him and found for his hungry soul."

As part of the purpose of this project, we are attempting to give a correct analogy of the facts. While some historians are writing a different story concerning Seymour being constrained to the hallway and not allowed to enter into the class with the other students, this story has never before been written about with such clarity concerning the facts from those who were present. A second confirmation of this story comes from the late Howard Goss, who writes on page (73) in his book entitled, The Winds of God. "A Negro Baptist preacher from Houston was selected - a Brother Seymour, who had often attended the morning session of the school..." A third confirmation comes from a lecture given by Rev. Pauline Parham (Charles Parham's daughter-in-law) in 1989. She states that William Seymour humbly asked Bro. Parham if he could sit outside and take in the lessons, but that Bro. Parham gave him a place in the class-room with the other students to learn the truths about the Pentecostal message. A fourth confirmation comes from, The Apostolic Faith Report  dated, May, 1921. It states on page (5) "For the benefit of many who have been misled, we'll right here drop a word that our readers may fully understand the matter thoroughly. In this training school in the city of Houston, Texas, one Negro man by the name of Seymour, became a regular attendant, taking his seat in the classes: and it was here that he gained the full knowledge of the Full Gospel message."

If the Jim Crow laws of the south were so manifestly enforced, until William Seymour was not allowed into the classroom with the white student, maybe it would be responsible for us to ask why he was allowed into the building period, seeing that all the other students were white. This seems to be historically unbalanced with the keeping of the laws of that day. However you may view Parham's response to Seymour, there are at least (4) historical eyewitness accounts that place him diametrically in the class with the other students soaking up the biblical truths of the Apostolic faith.

Although Brother Seymour never received the baptism of the Holy Ghost while under Parham's mentorship, he nevertheless accepted it as part of the restored power to the church. Brother Parham's desire was that Seymour would reach the black community in Houston with the Pentecostal message, however, when a black woman named Neely Terry visited Houston, she became impressed with Brother Seymour, and requested that he come to Los Angeles and assume the pastorate of the small church that she attended. After conferring with Parham about going to California, arrangements were made, and early in the spring of 1906, Parham collected enough train fare to send Seymour on his way to Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles which Seymour entered was a bustling city, which at that time was in a boom that would taper off in the years following the Panic of 1907, only to be resumed by 1910. It was the fastest growing city in the nation from 1880  to 1910. Los Angeles had doubled its population in the 1890's, and more than tripled it in the next decade. The sprawling, residential character of the city reflected the rural, anti-urban sentiments of its inhabitants. And while industrial growth was even then eroding the rustic aspects of the city, the frontier ethos was still strong, and would linger on well into the future. As 1906 drew near, Los Angeles was ripe for a spiritual awakening. Several churches in the area had been praying for a revisiting of the first century Pentecost.

When Seymour preached his first sermon at the Holiness Church on Santa Fe Street, he took as his text Acts 2:4, and declared that speaking in tongues was the Bible evidence of receiving the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, although he had not yet received the impartation him self. After consulting with J.M. Roberts, the President of the Southern California Holiness Association, Mrs. Julia Hutchins the pastor felt that this teaching was contrary to accepted holiness views, and the following night she padlocked the church door to keep Seymour out, even though most of her members had accepted his message. With nowhere to stay in the city, and no money for lodging, Seymour was invited to stay at the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry. Seymour began holding cottage prayer meetings and Bible studies in the living room of the Asberry home located at 214 Bonnie Brae Street. 

 

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The Azusa Street Revival

(1906-1908)

The Azusa Street Revival was a historic Pentecostal revival meeting that took place in Los Angeles, California and is the origin of the Pentecostal movement. [1] It was led by William J. Seymour, an African American preacher. It began with a meeting on April 14, 1906, and continued until roughly 1915. The revival was characterized by ecstatic spiritual experiences accompanied by miracles, dramatic worship services, speaking in tongues, and inter-racial mingling. The participants were criticized by the secular media and Christian theologians for behaviors considered to be outrageous and unorthodox, especially at the time. Today, the revival is considered by historians to be the primary catalyst for the spread of Pentecostalism in the 20th century.

Contents

Background

Welsh Revival

In 1904, the Welsh Revival took place, during which approximately 100,000 people in Wales joined the movement. Internationally, evangelical Christians took this event to be a sign that a fulfillment of the prophecy in the Bible's book of Joel, chapter 2:23–29 was about to take place. Joseph Smale, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Los Angeles, went to Wales personally in order to witness the revival. Upon his return to Los Angeles, he attempted to ignite a similar event in his own congregation. His attempts were short-lived, and he eventually left First Baptist Church to found First New Testament Church, where he continued his efforts. [2] During this time, other small-scale revivals were taking place in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Texas. By 1905, reports of speaking in tongues, supernatural healings, and significant lifestyle changes accompanied these revivals. As news spread, evangelicals across the United States began to pray for similar revivals in their own congregations. [3]

Los Angeles

William J. Seymour, leader of the Azusa Street Revival.

In 1905, William J. Seymour, the one-eyed 34 year old son of former slaves, was a student of well-known Pentecostal preacher Charles Parham and an interim pastor for a small holiness church in Houston, Texas. [ 4] Neely Terry, an African American woman who attended a small holiness church pastored by Julia Hutchins in Los Angeles, made a trip to visit family in Houston late in 1905. [3] While in Houston, she visited Seymour's church, where he preached the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, and though he had not experienced this personally, Terry was impressed with his character and message. Once home in California, Terry suggested that Seymour be invited to speak at the local church. [5] Seymour received and accepted the invitation in February 1906, and he received financial help and a blessing from Parham for his planned one-month visit. [2] [ 3]

Seymour arrived in Los Angeles on February 22, 1906, [6] [ 7] and within two days was preaching at Julia Hutchins' church at the corner of Ninth Street and Santa Fe Avenue. [ 5] During his first sermon, he preached that speaking in tongues was the first biblical evidence of the inevitable baptism in the Holy Spirit. [ 8] On the following Sunday, March 4, he returned to the church and found that Hutchins had padlocked the door. [ 9] Elders of the church rejected Seymour's teaching, primarily because he had not yet experienced the blessing about which he was preaching. [ 3] Condemnation of his message also came from the Holiness Church Association of Southern California with which the church had affiliation. [ 2] However, not all members of Hutchins' church rejected Seymour 's preaching. He was invited to stay in the home of congregation member Edward S. Lee, and he began to hold Bible studies and prayer meetings there.

North Bonnie Brae Street

Seymour and his wife, Jennie.

Seymour and his small group of new followers soon relocated to the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street. [6] White families from local holiness churches began to attend as well. The group would get together regularly and pray to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. On April 9, 1906, after five weeks of Seymour's preaching and prayer, and three days into an intended 10-day fast, [9] Edward S. Lee spoke in tongues for the first time. [10] [11] At the next meeting, Seymour shared Lee's testimony and preached a sermon on Acts 2:4 and soon six others began to speak in tongues as well, [2] [10] including Jennie Moore, who would later become Seymour's wife. [12] A few days later, on April 12, Seymour spoke in tongues for the first time after praying all night long. [ 13] [14]

The Asberry home on 214 North Bonnie Brae Street.

News of the events at North Bonnie Brae St. quickly circulated among the African American, Latino and White residents of the city, and for several nights, various speakers would preach to the crowds of curious and interested onlookers from the front porch of the Asberry home. Members of the audience included people from a broad spectrum of income levels and religious backgrounds. 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. Finally, the front porch collapsed, forcing the group to begin looking for a new meeting place. [11] A resident of the neighborhood described the happenings at 214 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.

Conditions

312 Azusa Street, Los Angeles, California, prior to its purchase by the revivalists.

The group from Bonnie Brae Street eventually discovered an available building at 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles, which had originally been constructed as an African Methodist Episcopal Church in what was then a black ghetto part of town. [11] The rent was $8.00 per month. [ 15] A newspaper referred to the downtown Los Angeles building as a " tumble down shack". Since the church had moved out, the building had served as a wholesale house, a warehouse, a lumberyard, stockyards, a tombstone shop, and had most recently been used as a stable with rooms for rent upstairs. It was a small, rectangular, flat-roofed building, approximately 60 feet (18 m) long and 40 feet (12 m) wide, totaling 4,800 square feet (450 m2), sided with weathered whitewashed clapboards. The only sign that it had once been a house of God was a single gothic-style window over the main entrance. [11]

Discarded lumber and plaster littered the large, barn-like room on the ground floor. [ 16] [ 17] Nonetheless, it was secured and cleaned in preparation for services. They held their first meeting on April 14, 1906. [ 10] [14] [ 18] Church services were held on the first floor where the benches were placed in a rectangular pattern. Some of the benches were simply planks put on top of empty nail kegs. [9 ] [11] There was no elevated platform, as the ceiling was only eight feet high. [18 ] Initially there was no pulpit. Frank Bartleman, an early participant in the revival, recalled that "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.... In that old building, with its low rafters and bare floors..." [ 2]

The second floor at the now-named Apostolic Faith Mission [ 10] housed an office and rooms for several residents including Seymour and his new wife, Jennie. It also had a large prayer room to handle the overflow from the altar services below. The prayer room was furnished with chairs and benches made from California Redwood planks, laid end to end on backless chairs. [2]

The Apostolic Faith Mission on Azusa Street, now considered to be the birthplace of Pentecostalism.

By mid-May 1906, [12] anywhere from 300 [ 3] to 1,500 people would attempt to fit into the building. Since horses had very recently been the residents of the building, flies constantly bothered the attendees. [ 18] People from a diversity of backgrounds came together to worship: men, women, children, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, rich, poor, illiterate, and educated . [14] People of all ages flocked to Los Angeles with both skepticism and a desire to participate. [3] [18] The intermingling of races and the group's encouragement of women in leadership was remarkable, as 1906 was the height of the " Jim Crow" era of racial segregation,< a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azusa_Street_Revival#cite_note-Washingtonpost-9"> [10] and fourteen years prior to women receiving suffrage in the United States.

Services and worship

Worship at 312 Azusa Street was frequent and spontaneous with services going almost around the clock. Among those attracted to the revival were not only members of the Holiness Movement, but also Baptists, Mennonites, Quakers, and Presbyterians. [15] An observer at one of the services wrote these words:

No instruments of music are used. None are needed. No choir- the angels have been heard by some in the spirit. No collections are taken. No bills have been posted to advertise the meetings. No church organization is back of it. All who are in touch with God realize as soon as they enter the meetings that the Holy Ghost is the leader. [8]

The Los Angeles Times was not so kind in its description:

Meetings are held in a tumble-down shack on Azusa Street, and the devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal. Colored people and a sprinkling of whites compose the congregation, and night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshipers, who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve racking attitude of prayer and supplication. They claim to have the "gift of tongues" and be able to understand the babel. [5]

Charles Parham was also sharp in his criticism:

Men and women, white and blacks, knelt together or fell across one another; a white woman, perhaps of wealth and culture, could be seen thrown back in the arms of a big 'buck nigger,' and held tightly thus as she shivered and shook in freak imitation of Pentecost. Horrible, awful shame! [5]

The first edition of the Apostolic Faith publication claimed a common reaction to the revival from visitors:

Proud, well-dressed preachers came to 'investigate'. Soon their high looks were replaced with wonder, then conviction comes, and very often you will find them in a short time wallowing on the dirty floor, asking God to forgive them and make them as little children. [9]

Among first-hand accounts were reports of the blind having their sight restored, diseases cured instantly, and immigrants speaking in German, Yiddish, and Spanish all being spoken to in their native language by uneducated black members, who translated the languages into English by "supernatural ability". [8]

Singing was sporadic and in a cappella or occasionally in tongues. There were periods of extended silence. Attenders were occasionally slain in the Spirit. Visitors gave their testimony, and members read aloud testimonies that were sent to the mission by mail. There was prayer for the gift of tongues. There was prayer in tongues for the sick, for missionaries, and whatever requests were given by attenders or mailed in. There was spontaneous preaching and altar calls for salvation, sanctification and baptism of the Holy Spirit. Lawrence Catley, whose family attended the revival, said that in most services preaching consisted of Seymour opening a Bible and worshipers coming forward to preach or testify as they were led by the Holy Spirit. [19] Many people would continually shout throughout the meetings. The members of the mission never took an offering, but there was a receptacle near the door for anyone that wanted to support the revival. The core membership of the Azusa Street Mission was never much more than 50–60 individuals with hundreds and thousands of people visiting or staying temporarily over the years. [5]

 

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The Apostolic Faith Periodical

Below is a copy of the first "Apostolic Faith" periodical produced by the William J. Seymour. This volume describes how the baptism of the Holy Ghost fell on believers in Los Angeles, CA. 1906.

 

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Highlights of the Latter Rain Outpouring (1906)

By: Elder Glenn A. Cook

In the early Spring of 1906, Brother Seymour arrived here (in Los Angeles) from Houston, Texas. He had been a hotel waiter in Indianapolis. While there (Houston) he attended meetings for some time where the people spoke in tongues. The Holy Ghost had fallen in Topeka, Kansas, quite a while before this, and had spread as far as Houston. Brother Seymour did not receive his baptism at the Houston meeting. The doctrines preached by this people were very confusing, and there was a lack of love and power in meetings. The writer later on learned about this visitation Topeka. The leader became puffed up, declared himself the progenitor of the movement, and would strut around with a high silk hat like a dictator. The results that followed could not be otherwise but great confusion in doctrine and the absence of the spirit of love.

When Brother Seymour arrived in Los Angeles he did not have the baptism, but surely was meek and humble, and could preach love and a clean life as a preparation for the baptism. He received the baptism a short time after the power fell. He gathered together a small group of people, black and white, and started a meeting in the old church building.

A few benches and chairs, with a packing case for the pulpit was the equipment. Every time he preached he would quote from Mark 16 and Acts 2:4, insisting that no one had received the baptism of the Holy Ghost unless they spoke in tongues. This caused a great deal of opposition by the holiness people who began to attend the meetings. The writer was preaching in a tent at Seventh and Spring Streets when some one told him about the meeting. He went to the meeting, thinking he might be able to straighten the people out in their doctrine, as he had been professing this experience for a number of years.

I was not alone in this effort, as many more preachers and gospel workers began together to contend with Brother Seymour. But the contention was all on our part. I never have met a man who had such control over his spirit. The Scripture that reads, "Great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them," was literally fulfilled in this man. No amount of confusion and accusation seemed to disturb him. He would sit behind that packing case and smile at us until we were all condemned by our own activities.

Although most of the holiness people who attended continued to reject the preaching, all had a secret reverence and admiration for this man who really lived what he had been preaching for years, of sanctified life. It was the wonderful character of this man whom God had chosen that attracted the people to keep coming to this humble meeting.

The meeting had been running for about a month when the power fell. My, what a change took place. When I saw Sister Moon's shinning face and heard her sing in the Spirit, I felt as though I had never had any experience. That old building seemed to have been annexed to Heaven and had become the habitation of legions of the Heavenly Host. People began to pour in from everywhere, representing all religious beliefs.

After asking forgiveness of Brother Seymour and all the rest, for all my hard sayings, I fell on my face and began to pour out my soul in prayer, but could not receive the Holy Ghost. Then followed a period of about five weeks of repenting and prayer. My eyes were seldom dry during this time, and although quite a number had spoken in tongues and the building was filled with people, I seemed to get farther and farther away from God.

I felt that I was really lost and unless I received the Holy Ghost and spoke in tongues I would miss all. When I had just about given up all hope, the holy Ghost fell on me as I lay in bed at home. I seemed to be in a trance for about twenty-four hours, and the next day in the meeting I began to speak in tongues.

The crowds kept increasing until the people could not get in the building. It was on a little used side street, and soon the street was filled with people from every walk of life, and every nationality. The meetings would start at about nine in the morning and run continually until far into the night. There was such a drawing power about the place that saint and sinner wanted to be there all the time.

I was working on a daily newspaper at the time, but my work had lost all interest. I would weep and cry as I went about my work until my wicked companions said that I was going crazy. About this time the Lord spoke to me and told me to quit my work, as He had something for me to do. I resigned my position, and a few days afterwards Brother Seymour made me his business manager without salary. No one received any pay in the meeting, and no offerings were taken. A box was on the wall by the door, and all support came through this box or in the mail unless handed to workers by individuals.

A few days after I took my new position, a rancher came to me and said the Lord had spoken to him in the field to come to town immediately and give me $20.00. I was just about broke when he met me, and after handing me a $20.00 gold piece, said that the Lord had told him to give me $20.00 every month, which he continued to do for over a year. There was never any lack of funds for every purpose needed, although money was seldom if ever mentioned in the meetings.

One of the great features of the meetings was the singing of heavenly anthems in the spirit. I was seldom away from that old building for nearly a year, except to go home to sleep, and much of the time slept in the building in a room adjoining Brother Seymour. We all seemed to live in an atmosphere that was separated from the rest of the world. Evil speaking, and even evil thinking was all departed. We were saturated with the spirit of love and prayer and the days passed all to swiftly.

The Apostolic Faith paper was soon published, telling about the wonderful outpouring. The first number issued was 5,000 copies, and soon 50,000 was the number. People began to pour in from all over the united States and Canada, and from different parts of the world. The place was packed morning until far into the night, with many receiving the baptism all the time. We had one communion service and footwashing that lasted until day break. Over twenty different nationalities were present, and they were all in perfect accord and unity of the spirit.

In recent years I have heard preachers speak lightly of the Azusa Street Meeting, saying they had just as good meetings under their ministry. The old timers can only feel sorry for such and pity them.

In this meeting you are not only baptized in the Holy Ghost, but also lived in such a heavenly atmosphere of love that you never can forget it, and all else seems so empty and void. Even as I write these pages, the memory of the meeting comes floating back, my eyes begin to swim with tears, and such a longing and yearning seizes me for a return of such a condition. I can feel that sacred fire still burning, and the conviction that God will again visit His people in a like manner before the present dispensation ends.

If God's people would only come together and forget about doctrines and leaders whose vision is blurred by building churches and collecting tithes, having only one objective, and that, to be filled with all the fulness of God, I know God would answer prayer.

Doctrines and teachings have their proper place in the Gospel plan, but that over-powering, drawing power of the love of God must come first, a lack of this love that nothing can afford.

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