“The leaders of the movement were convinced that speaking in tongues stood as proof that the Spirit was beginning to work in a fresh way that foretold the imminent return of Christ. This added an urgency to the movement that often overwhelmed reason and discernment. So missionaries were dispatched to foreign lands without preparation, without any view to biblical qualification, and without any thought as to when and how they would return.”
(Tim Challies) It is impossible to consider the modern history or contemporary state of Christianity without accounting for the sudden rise, the explosive spread, and the worldwide impact of Pentecostalism. To that end, I’ve been reading several books on the subject, focused especially on the Azusa Street Revival, which most historians consider the setting in which Pentecostalism began. Here are a few key points I’ve learned about the Azusa Street Revival and the Azusa Street Mission that housed it.
Its roots were in the Holiness Movement. 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.
It was led by William Seymour. The Azusa Street Mission was led by William J. Seymour, an African American son of former slaves who was born and raised in Louisiana. In his early twenties he traveled to Indianapolis where he had a conversion experience at a Methodist Episcopal church. He left that tradition, though, after becoming convinced of premillennialism and special revelation. He likely migrated to a group called Evening Light Saints where he was exposed to their policies of non-sectarianism, non-creedalism, and equality between races and genders, all of which he adopted and promoted. Though he felt the call to ministry, he battled it until he contracted smallpox and came to believe this was God’s chastisement for his disobedience.