First Baptist Church of Los Angeles
Bro. Frank Bartleman, a journalist who meticulously documented the spiritual happenings in Los Angeles around the time of the Pentecostal revival, often frequented meetings at First Baptist Church. Bartleman, who was himself given to zealous evangelistic work and much prayer, described the environment at the church:
I found this meeting of an exact piece with my own vision, burden, and desire, and spent two hours in the church in prayer, before the evening services. Meetings were being held every day and night there and God was present. (Bartleman 16)
This prayerful church began attracting souls from all over the metropolitan area; and in July, Bro. Bartleman published articles in The Way of Faith, The Christian Harvester, and God’s Revivalist publicizing the expectant atmosphere at First Baptist. While the meetings predate William Seymour’s introduction of the Apostolic Faith, God was surely preparing the city for revival. Bartleman wrote: “The fear of God is coming upon the people, a very spirit of burning. Sunday night the meeting ran on until the small hours of the next morning. Pastor Smale is prophesying of wonderful things to come.” He closed the article with the plea: “Pray for a ‘Pentecost.'” (Bartleman 19). Even the secular press accepted Bartleman’s articles on the revival at First Baptist, and his article “What I Saw in a Los Angeles Church” was printed in the Pasadena paper, The Daily News (Bartleman 22-23).
In September 1905, First Baptist became embroiled in controversy when some of the church officials presented Smale with an ultimatum: ” . . . either stop the revival, or get out.” Choosing to leave rather than stifle the move of the Spirit, Smale formed the New Testament Church (Bartleman 28-29).
The church, which met in Burbank Hall, continued to seek the Lord.
When the Holy Ghost fell in April 1906, Smale was reluctant to receive the manifestation; but by June, he had fully accepted the message. First New Testament became another center of Pentecostal revival in the city. A July article in the Los Angeles Times sensationally describes services at Smale’s church much like the meetings at Azusa Street Mission:
Believing they have the “gift of tongues” and are chosen of God to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, members of Pastor Joseph Smale’s First New Testament Church worked themselves into a wild religious frenzy at a meeting last night in Burbank Hall. (“Rolling on Floor” . . . II1)
Saints in the church reportedly rolled on the floor, screamed, screeched, jumped, and spoke in tongues.
While Azusa Street has assumed a central place in the Pentecostal story, the Apostolic revival may owe a great debt to the seeking souls of Pastor Joseph Smale’s assembly whose quest for a spiritual outpouring prefigured the Azusa meetings and certainly prepared the city for the widespread outpouring of the Holy Ghost and fire. Revival never comes without prayer and expectation, and Joseph Smale and the First New Testament Church were hungry for the “real Pentecost” that came to Los Angeles in 1906.
“Rolling on Floor in Smale’s Church.” Los Angeles Times. July 14, 1906. pg. II1.
“A Wave of Religion Spreads Over Wales.” New York Times. 18 Dec 1904, pg. 4.