Azusa's Lost Revelation
Psa 133:1-3 (NKJV) Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.
Eph 4:1 (NKJV) I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
Rom 15:5-6 (NKJV) Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
I was in Charlotte, North Carolina last week hours after the protests had turned violent… This is not the America we knew a decade ago. I wept over the city as I prayed for the healing of our land. This is the most divided I've ever seen our nation and that divide widens with each passing day. We are literally tearing ourselves apart from the inside. If it is true, united we stand, divided we fall then, my friend, we are falling rapidly. The answer for America is not political, it is spiritual. No political leader has the solution for what ails us. We need divine intervention. We need revival! (Norris, 2016)
The quote above talks about the need for "divine intervention" and revival. Ironically this quote is from an article written about The Azusa Street Revival. It is ironic because "One of the supposed successes of this revival was how it brought together different races to seek God, an unprecedented sight for a setting in America in the early 20th century. In the revival meetings, blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, young, and old were joined together to experience the Holy Spirit together." (Chan, 2011)
Why would revival be today's answer to division, specifically across racial lines, if it was not the answer after the Azusa Street Revival which occurred 113 years ago (1906-1909)? I believe the reason revival wasn't the answer then is that the church, the body of Christ in America in 1906, missed the most important revelation of the revival. I propose to you that the revelation that the Holy Ghost could still be poured out in power upon men, specifically with the manifestation of speaking in tongues, as it was in the days of the early church, was not the greatest revelation of Azusa.
I believe that the greater revelation was that the Holy Spirit is poured out in great power when unity is present, especially amongst the races. The church at that time heralded the great manifestation of the Holy Spirit that they saw at Azusa. However, I do not believe that they had the revelation that unity in the Spirit across the races was the key ingredient for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the measure that was seen at Azusa.
Leviticus 8:10, 12 (NIV) "Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them…He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him to consecrate him."
In a blog entitled 'Anointing of the High Priest,' Wendy Blight shares this: "Moses then poured the anointing oil on Aaron's head, creating a beautiful image of God's Spirit pouring forth to equip and empower Aaron for service as God's high priest. In both the Old Testament and New Testament, oil often symbolized God's power being transferred to one called by God: Saul (1 Samuel 10:1, 6); David (1 Samuel 16:13-14); Jesus the Messiah (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38).
Psalm 133:1-3 pairs unity of the "brethren" with an overflow of "precious oil." We know from Leviticus 8 that the pouring of oil was symbolic of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the anointing or Spirit of God upon, an endowment of power. Twice in Psalm 133, the anointing is described as running, and it is also compared to dew descending down. Similar imagery used in Leviticus 8 of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. The Psalm makes clear that the source of the oil is God. God is commanding the downward flow of the blessing. It is important to note, however, why God has commanded the flow of His blessing (anointing, Spirit, and power).
The Psalm says that unity is "pleasant." I believe it is pleasant to the brethren, but most importantly, it is pleasing to God. The pleasantness of unity attracts God's attention; it draws Him. Wherever He is, His presence is. Wherever His presence is, His power and His anointing are present also to do mighty things.
If the church at the turn of the 20th century had received the revelation that unity across the races was a key ingredient to sustaining or even surpassing what was unleashed at Azusa, perhaps there would have been a greater effort to preserve this key spiritual component.
I reviewed the history of the origins of both the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and Assemblies of God (AOG) websites, both focus on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues:
COCIG Historical Origins
The turning point in Elder Mason's life came in March, 1907, when he journeyed to Los Angeles, California, to attend a great Pentecostal revival with Elder D.J. Young and Elder J.A. Jeter. Elder W.J. Seymour was preaching concerning Luke 24:49, "And behold I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high." Elder Mason became convinced that it was essential for him to have the outpouring of the Holy ghost. The following are excerpts from Elder Mason's personal testimony regarding his receiving the Holy Ghost.
"The first day in the meeting I sat to myself, away from those that went with me. I began to thank God in my heart for all things, for when I heard some speak in tongues, I knew it was right though I did not understand it. Nevertheless, it was sweet to me.
I also thank God for Elder Seymour who came and preached a wonderful sermon. His words were sweet and powerful and it seems that I hear them now while writing. When he closed his sermon, he said 'All of those that want to be sanctified or baptized with the Holy Ghost, go to the upper room; and all those that want to be justified, come to the altar.' (COGIC History, 2015)
AOG Historical Origins
The General Council of the Assemblies of God (USA), one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the United States, was organized in 1914 by a broad coalition of ministers who desired to work together to fulfill common objectives, such as sending missionaries and providing fellowship and accountability. Formed in the midst of the emerging worldwide Pentecostal revival, the Assemblies of God quickly took root in other countries and formed indigenous national organizations. The Assemblies of God (USA) is a constituent member of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship – one of the largest Pentecostal fellowships in the world…
One of the focal points of the emerging Pentecostal movement was known as the Azusa Street revival (1906-09). It was an unlikely location for an event that would change the face of Christianity. In the summer of 1906, revival erupted in the newly-formed congregation meeting at the small, run-down Apostolic Faith Mission at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California. Critics attacked the congregation because its mild-mannered African-American Holiness preacher, William J. Seymour, preached racial reconciliation and the restoration of biblical spiritual gifts. The revival soon became a local sensation, then attracted thousands of curiosity seekers and pilgrims from around the world.
Seymour had been a student of Charles Parham, who provided the doctrinal framework for the young Pentecostal movement. Parham's identification in scripture of speaking in tongues as the "Bible evidence" (later called the "initial evidence") of Spirit baptism became a defining mark of the emerging Pentecostal movement. After students at his Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, began speaking in tongues at a prayer meeting on January 1, 1901, Parham, through his Apostolic Faith Movement, had some success in promoting the restoration of the gift of tongues. While the Apostolic Faith Movement was largely confined to the south central United States, the revival at Azusa Street catapulted Pentecostalism before a worldwide audience. (Assemblies of God, n.d.)
Both COGIC and AOG histories highlight revelations and the formation of denominational doctrine that were sparked by what was birthed at Azusa. Missing from these revelations is the notion that unity across all colors and races in the body of Christ was a key ingredient to the spiritual phenomenon that was outpouring of the Holy Ghost at Azusa.
Cecil M. Robeck Jr., author of 'The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement', describes Azusa as follows: "What began as a spontaneous gathering of believers quickly grew into a passionate revival and renewal of the work of the Holy Spirit. The movement spread at breathtaking speed. With little more than a printing press, a trolley stop, and a powerful message, the spiritual fire emanating from the Apostolic Faith Mission on Azusa Street rapidly crossed strict cultural and national borders—into Mexico, Canada, Britain, Scandinavia, Africa, India, and China." (Cecil M. Robeck, 2017)
Can you imagine Mexicans, Canadians, Africans, Chinese, and people from Britain, Scandinavia, and India all impacted mightily by the power of God? Obviously, God could too! The image of all these nationalities flowing under the power of the Holy Ghost is a reflection of Heaven, one in which all people groups, are unified in the worship of God. It seems obvious that the devil could not let the reality of what exists in heaven manifest on earth. As a result, he sent division, in the form of racism, to destroy it.
The AOG history points out that Bishop Seymour "had been a student of Charles Parham, who provided the doctrinal framework for the young Pentecostal movement." (Assemblies of God, n.d.) Specifically, that the key tenet of "speaking in tongues as the "Bible evidence" (later called the "initial evidence") of Spirit baptism," came through Parham's Apostolic Faith Movement.
What the AOG History does not point out was that in 1905 "when William J. Seymour attended Charles F. Parham's Bible school in Houston, Mr. Parham required him to sit in the hallway and listen to lectures through an open door." (Sack, 2000) In his article, "The Pentecostal Church in America,' Kevin Sack also makes it clear that the division that split the Azusa revival came along racial lines, specifically dividing blacks and whites:
When Mr. Parham came to visit his former student's revival in October 1906, he was dismayed to find scenes of ecstatic praying and frenzied dancing. A Ku Klux Klan sympathizer, he was particularly displeased by the mixing of the races at services that he derided as "Southern darky camp meetings." The two men dissociated, and not long after the revival ended the Pentecostals split along racial lines into two major denominations, one black, the Church of God in Christ, and one white, the Assemblies of God (Sack, 2000)
In his paper, 'The Dubious Legacy of Charles Fox Parham: Racism and Cultural Insensitivities among Pentecostals,' Allan H. Anderson shares this Parham quote:
I have seen meetings where all crowded together around the altar, and laying across one another like hogs, blacks and whites mingling; this should be enough to bring a blush of shame to devils, let alone angels, and yet all this was charged to the Holy Spirit… all our public services should be for the edification of the church, not to get worked up into an animalism creating magnetic currents tending to lust and free love rather than purity.
Anderson points out that among the early Pentecostals there were leaders who "disassociated themselves" from Parham. He specifically mentions E.N. Bell who later became "first Chairman of the Assemblies of God" and, "wrote a repudiation" of Parham in his periodical Word and Witness in October 1912:
Chas. F. Parham, who is claiming to be the head and leader of the Apostolic Faith Movement, has long since been repudiated. He has refused to "hear the church" and we are obeying the command of Christ, the Head of the church by letting him be unto us as a "heathen and a publican." We are sorry it is so, but until he repents and confesses his sins we cannot obey God and do otherwise. Let all Pentecostal and Apostolic Faith people of the churches of God take notice and be not misled by his claims.
The AOG History says that "Parham, through his Apostolic Faith Movement, had some success in promoting the restoration of the gift of tongues. While the Apostolic Faith Movement was largely confined to the south central United States, the revival at Azusa Street catapulted Pentecostalism before a worldwide audience." (Assemblies of God, n.d.)
I believe that the reason Parham's "success" restoring the gift of tongues was limited was because of his incomplete revelation. Parham "continued to endorse the Ku Klux Klan as late as 1927." (Cecil M. Robeck, 2017) There was no way Charles Parham could have received the revelation of unity among the races in the body as a key component to the outpouring of the Holy Ghost as long as he held onto the racist views he held in his heart.
In addition, the restoration of the gift of tongues though a marvelous evidence of the Holy Spirit, is just a sign of His presence, His indwelling in the believer. The outpouring of the presence of the Holy Spirit at Azusa and in the days of the Acts of the Apostles is something greater. It requires unity in the body. Acts 2:1 (KJV) says, "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. Moreover, on the Day of Pentecost, as was the case at Azusa, there was a multi-ethnic body of believers present (Acts 2:6-11):
And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
I believe the outpouring at Azusa was an endorsement by God the Father of what He would like to see on earth, all races in unity worshipping before Him. Just as the Spirit of God descended and rested upon Jesus when the Father endorsed Him as the "Son in whom He was well pleased," (Matt 3:16-17) the mighty presence of the Holy Spirit "resting" at Azusa, was God saying I'm well pleased by what I see in this picture.
I believe in tongues. I speak in tongues. I believe it is one "evidence" of the indwelling of the Spirit of God. But the manifestation of tongues cannot supersede other matters of the heart. One South African, when reflecting on Azusa, posed the question: "Can someone be Spirit-filled and racist at the same time?" (Chan, 2011) I believe this is where Parham missed it. What good is it to have the manifestation of tongues while breaking one of Jesus' greatest commandments: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt 22:36-40).
Loving your neighbor is an individual challenge, as is the battle of resisting the spirit of racism and division. But they are necessary battles because of the command of the Lord to love one another. We cannot expect the power of God to rest upon us in a mighty way if racial hatred and division reside in our hearts—that is precisely why Parham didn't achieve the results that his "student" Seymour did. Here is a story of white Pentecostal preacher who attended Azusa and overcame the challenge of racism:
It was the fall of 1906 when G.B. Cashwell, a holiness preacher from Dunn, North Carolina, boarded a train to make a six-day, cross-country trip to Los Angeles, California.
For months he had been reading accounts of how the baptism of the Holy Spirit was being poured out at a little mission on Azusa Street. The stories stirred a hunger in the preacher for his own personal Pentecost. He began seeking the Lord for the baptism of the Spirit but could not receive. The frustrated pastor finally decided his only choice was to go to the revival itself.
Cashwell arrived in Los Angeles on a Sunday and immediately went to Azusa with great expectation. However, when he entered the mission the scene was not what he expected. Being a white preacher from the south, he found the mixing of the races to be too much for his own personal prejudice. He left offended. He could not bring himself to allow a black man to lay hands on him in prayer.
Cashwell felt he had a wasted the trip. That night he wrestled with the Lord in prayer. He came to the conclusion that if he wanted to experience Pentecost, he would have to crucify his own prejudice. He went back to the mission and straight to the altar. There he prostrated himself in the dirt and sawdust and repented before the Lord. As Cashwell wept and prayed, William Seymour, the black pastor leading the revival, came and laid hands on the white preacher. Cashwell was immediately baptized in the Holy Spirit.
This man's life was forever changed because he took down the wall that stood between him and the blessing. Cashwell spent the next six days at the mission before making his way back to the Carolinas where he would eventually rent a warehouse and begin holding his own services. These meetings became known as Azusa East.
Today hundreds of spirit-filled churches on the east coast trace their roots directly back to G.B. Cashwell and his meetings in Dunn, North Carolina. Oh, how things could have turned out differently had Cashwell not humbled himself that first night at Azusa. So many have been blessed because of the willingness of a man to surrender his own prejudice and find the reconciliation afforded by revival. (Norris, How Azusa Street Exposed—and Overturned—Racism in the Church, 2016)
In the case of Cashwell, we could see the presence of the Lord showed up when his heart was clear, and when unity was embraced. Though resisting racism and surrendering to love are individual decisions, they are best modeled by leaders. Jesus modeled this kind of love. God the Father modeled this kind of love by loving us "while we were yet sinners" (Rom 5:8) and while we were "at enmity against God in our minds." (Rom 8:5-7, Rom 5:10)
Isaiah 9:16 says, "For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed." Review of COGIC history shows that doctrinal issues between Seymour and COGIC's founder, Bishop C. H. Mason caused a rift in the black Pentecostal community. (COGIC History, 2015) However, Charles Parham's leadership failure seemingly played a key role in diminishing the effect of Azusa in terms of the effect God wanted it to have on the spiritual landscape of this country.
Parham actually "went on to establish a small, competing congregation blocks from the revival, consisting of only white members." (Chan, 2011) (Hocken, 1993) Parham referred to his work with The Apostolic Faith Movement as "a dignified work, full of power and precision." (Anderson, 2004) He referred and the Azusa revival's results as follows: "The Pentecostal Assemblies originated in a negro mission in Los Angeles, California, and is a cross between the old-fashioned negro worship of the South, and Holy-Rollerism. Three-fourths of their so called speaking in tongues is only a chatter and jabber and they have Pentecostal power at all." (Anderson, 2004)
I noted earlier that Parham was repudiated by some in the Assembly of God. However, his leadership may have had a lingering effect. In a 1994 paper, Cecil M. Robeck Jr. wrote: that the Assemblies of God "record on racial issues has been unequivocally abysmal." With a very few exceptions, the denomination did not ordain black ministers until 1962. And in 1964, when pressed to take a stand on integration, the group's executive presbytery adopted a statement leaving such positions up to individual churches." (Sack, 2000)
In detailing the progress made by the AOG, Kevin Sack stated that "In 1965, the Assemblies passed a resolution discouraging "disciminatory practices wherever they may exist." In 1989 it declared that it opposed "the sin of racism." And in 1995, its governing body acknowledged that racism had separated white Pentecostals from their black counterparts and it resolved to "repent of racism and ask our black brothers and sisters for forgiveness." (Sack, 2000)
Sack goes on to share that one year after the AOG issued a resolution to renounce racism, that "the miracle in Memphis" occurred. In this meeting, "black and white Pentecostal leaders came together to adopt a racial reconciliation manifesto. In a moving and apparently spontaneous moment, a white Assemblies of God pastor washed the feet of one of his black counterparts and a black bishop then did the same to Thomas E. Trask, the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God." (Sack, 2000)
Kevin Sack's article was written in 2000. At that time he reported that AOG was seeing "seeing notable growth in black, Hispanic and Asian membership, both in single-race congregations and in multiracial churches." (Sack, 2000) In 2019, the AOG reports that its demographic in the U.S. is more than 43 percent ethnic minority. (Assemblies of God, n.d.)
Sack cited "recent" research by Mark A. Chaves, a sociologist at the University of Arizona, which concluded that more than 90 percent of all congregations in the United States were at least 80 percent one race. Though that article was written nearly 20 years ago, I wonder how different the statistic is today. (Sack, 2000)
Interestingly, Chaves' research indicated that "theological differences are not the primary obstacle, though there are important racial variations in church governance, music, preaching, and liturgical structure. A larger issue may be control." (Sack, 2000)
"The only way we can include minorities in a significant way," said the Rev. David J. Moore, the Assemblies of God's director of intercultural ministries," is for white people to surrender power, and that's tough." Any change may have to start at the top. (Sack, 2000)
I don't know that the "white" leaders of the body of Christ in 2019 need to "surrender power." I don't know what the answer is. But I know the responsibility for restoring unity across racial lines, the very foundation for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, lies on the shoulders of the leaders of the body of Christ; white leaders, black leaders, Hispanic, Asian, Indian and every other leader. Could it possible that the leaders of the body of Christ today would place lesser issues such as "governance, music, and liturgical structure" over the move of the Holy Ghost?
That was the mistake Charles Parham made. He looked at the style of worship and the ethnicity of the leaders and said that the greatest outpouring of the Holy Ghost that had been seen, possibly since the day of Acts, had no Pentecostal power at all and should not be attributed to the Holy Ghost.
If we the church in America, are the light of the world and our light is dimmed by racism, manifested in overt acts or in subtle toleration of overt acts, how can we expect the racial climate in America to change?
I have seen some commentary on Azusa suggesting that the early 1900s was too early to expect that racial reconciliation could be possible. It was too close to the end of slavery etc. However, hard it may be for us to conceive of racial reconciliation in America in 1906; it was not too early from God's vantage point.
Azusa was God's statement that with God nothing is impossible, and that through the power of the Holy Ghost upon and within it was possible for men and women of all ethnicities to worship God together under one roof. Seymour was a black preacher. The next Seymour might be an Asian preacher or a Hispanic preacher, etc. The leaders of the body of Christ in America in 1906 were primarily white and were accountable to God for their decisions.
The leaders of the body of Christ in 2019 may be more ethnically diverse but will be held accountable for carrying the mantle of racial unity forward. They will be accountable for displaying in their congregations and in their communities, the vision of unity described in Heaven to the unchurched and the unbeliever.
I believe God has given America a mantle of leadership in the earth. I believe that God has created our melting pot to serve as an example to the world. I believe that God gave us Azusa as a blueprint for how to make a diverse compilation of cultures work. Grasping that the unity across races, in one nation under, God is what makes America Great, is the revelation that our Founding Father's failed to grasp and that the church lost at Azusa.
Overcoming demonically-inspired division across racial lines in our culture and in the church is only possible through the power of the Holy Ghost. Only the Spirit of God can help us to love across cultures and differences in race, social status, etc. And only through unity across racial lines will the church be able to manifest an Azusa-like outpouring of the Holy Ghost that is needed to turn America back to God and heal its racial divisions. This is God's plan for the making of a great America.
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