The Azusa Street Revival Of 1906 To 1909

2527 words - 10 pages

The Azusa Street revival of 1906 to 1909 was an event that popularised the practice of charismatic worship first in the United States and eventually throughout the Christian world. However, representations of the revival in the early years of the 20th century were biased, and distorted the events that occurred. Early believers portrayed the revival as an eschatological narrative in which the power of God came down to earth and revolutionised the church, especially with the gift of tongues. Pentecostal historians later mythologised Azusa Street representing the revival as the birthplace of Pentecostalism. On the other hand, conservatives portrayed the events of the revival as unbiblical and sinful, while secular critics depicted the revival as a phenomenon which was irrational and defied human logic.

After the civil war, protestant churches began to ignore the significance of emotional expression in worship. According to historian Thomas Nicole, American churches transformed into ‘dignified, rational, middle class congregations’ which limited emotional expression. In contrast, various fringe groups fought the cold formalism that had developed in American Christianity as they believed that the power of the Holy Spirit would soon move in charismatic power as prophesied in Joel 2:28-32. By 1906, great anticipation had built up in such groups located in Los Angeles as Menzies explains that several congregations held prayer meetings which cried for ‘a Pentecost’ in Los Angeles’. It appears that ministers began to represent Los Angeles as the centre, out of which a charismatic outpouring would inevitably occur. Frank Bartleman for example reported that the people of Los Angeles would soon find themselves ‘in the throes of a mighty revival’ which was echoed by other preachers such as William Seymour and Joseph Smale. Shortly after, a small group of Los Angeles church members encountered a supernatural experience on April 9th 1906, when they allegedly ‘fell to their knees by some mighty power’ and ‘began to speak in unknown tongues’. Blumhofer explains that members believed the phenomena was the restoration of New Testament experiences of the Holy Spirit in modern times which was equipping believers for the end of the age. This ideology shaped the earliest representations of the revival.

The early perception of the Azusa Street revival was first spread through oral tradition. Hollenweger explains that African American Pentecostalism was based on an oral culture and that the spread of Pentecostalism was in fact due to oral narrative, liturgy and ministerial rhetoric as opposed to printed media. For example, one minister, Jennie Moore, discussed the movement on April 15th at the first New Testament church, where she announced ‘Pentecost has come to Los Angeles’ and proceeded to speak in tongues to the churches amazement. Shortly after Ruth Asbery spoke at the Peniel mission where she explained that the Azusa street phenomena was ‘that which...

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