Lord, take my lips and speak through them; take my mind and think through it; take my heart and set it on fire.
- W. H. Aitken
Today, May 23 2010, is Pentecost, the Coming of the Holy Spirit: 10 days after Jesus' Ascension, when the Disciples were waiting, as Jesus had told them, for "something" to happen. Suddenly, the room they were in was filled with "a sound like the rushing wind" and "they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other [languages] as the Spirit enabled them."
That was the first outpouring, which has continued at different times and places ever since, and will continue until Jesus comes again. This is the story of one such occasion.
A hundred years ago, on April 9, 1906, William J Seymour opened the Apostolic Faith Mission in a converted stable in Los Angeles, California, to preach renewal through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The events over the next several years, known as The Azusa Street Revival, fostered the charismatic Pentecostal movement that continues to bear fruit in half a billion practicing Christians worldwide.
Three services a day, seven days a week for more than three years relied on the Holy Spirit for their order and events. Anyone moved could speak, singing was spontaneous, unaccompanied. People of all colors, nationalities, and denominations flocked by the tens of thousands and were healed, saved, and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and praising God continually.
According to Wikipedia,
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."
William J. Seymour was a black man from Louisiana, and from the beginning people of English-American, Irish-American, German-American, Swiss-American, Spanish-American, Chinese-American, Mexican-American, Jewish-American, Scots-American and African-American descent all participated in Azusa street services without regard for any differences.
The official website for Azusa Street remembrance tells us:
"In 1906 when there were more lynchings of black men then in any other year of
America’s history, Seymour led an interracial worship service. At Azusa Street there were
no preferences for age, gender, or race. One worshipper [Frank Bartleman] said, "The
blood of Jesus washed the color line away." "
This, too, reflected the original Pentecost, where people from many nations heard the Gospel together, and reflects the teaching of the Apostle Paul: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Seymour's ministry here was not long - the outpouring lasted only three years, and the congregation began disintegrating a few years thereafter. Seymour himself died of a heart attack in 1922.
By the end of that three years, the revival had spread to 50 other countries and it never stopped. Missionaries went forth by the dozens, carrying the Fire of Pentecost to every corner of the earth.
As an expression of faith - a revival - rather than a denomination, Azusa Street influenced dozens of organized congregations, and led to the formation of the Assemblies of God, the United Pentecostal Church, the Church of God in Christ, the Pentecostal Church of God, as well as the Charismatic movements in the Catholic and Mainstream Protestant churches.
God moved throughout the world at the turn of the last century. Other revivals occuring independently in the same era included the Welsh Revival of 1904 and The Pyongyang Great Revival of Korea (1907).
Pentecostal practice, particularly that which grew out of the Azusa Street Revival, is the fastest growing form of Christian worship today, with an estimated 600 million Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians worldwide.
The Lord always works and is active in our world. Today the Chinese House Church movement increases exponentially through the power of the Holy Spirit despite ongoing persecution, including arrest and imprisonment. Charismatic Christianity grows by leaps and bounds in Korea, India, Indonesia, African nations, Mexico, South American nations. Christianity is outlawed and heavily persecuted in countries under Moslem rule, and in Communist countries, and God upholds the faithful still to spread the Gospel in spite of dungeon, fire and sword.
The fire of the Holy Spirit sits as surely on these Christians today as it did on the people of Azusa Street a hundred years ago. Out of the third world and the global South come Christians who are passionate missionaries, bravely undertaking the Great Commission to "go into all the world and preach the Gospel" as fearlessly - and as successfully - as the early Christians of the Holy Land, as the medieval Christians of Ireland, Egypt, Persia and the Byzantine Empire, as the old world Christians of Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia, as the new world Christians of America, Australia and Canada.
It is likely we will look back years from now, and be able to pinpoint times and places in which Pentecost was renewed for this new generation.
William J. Seymour, the son of freed slaves, walked humbly with God and man. In a dirt-floored stable, he preached Jesus in a voice the Holy Spirit carried to the four winds, his life's work is still saving souls the whole world over.
Following is a portion of the New Testament scripture for Pentecost: the Book of Acts (the Acts of the Apostles), Chapter 2.
" When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [languages] as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. ...
Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine.
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
'In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.' ...
"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."
(Photo of from Wikipedia, stated to be in the public domain in the USA, pictures Seymour in front row, second from right, his wife Jenny in back row, third from left, among other leaders in the Azusa Street congregation )
For Further reading, good articles about William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival can be found at these websites:
William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival
What We All Owe William J. Seymour
The Assemblies of God Beliefs Statement
Open Doors - Reliable information about persecution of Christianity worldwide