The Azusa Street Mission is renowned as the epicenter of early Pentecostal revival and as the site of thousands of Spirit baptisms as sinners, Christian pastors, evangelists, workers, and international missionaries flocked to the humble clapboard building in a muddy side street of the teeming city of Los Angeles to take in the Pentecostal outpouring. In addition to the mighty conversions, healings, and deliverances, Azusa Street also became an auditorium for divine communication as the apostolic gifts of prophecy and tongues and interpretation were restored to the Body of Christ. Some of these messages were transcribed in The Apostolic Faith, the official organ of the mission published by Elder William Joseph Seymour and were disseminated around the globe through Seymour’s vast mailing list.
In the inaugural issue of The Apostolic Faith, Bro. Seymour indicates that “many have received the gift of singing as well as speaking in the inspiration of the Spirit. The Lord is giving new voices, he translates old songs into new tongues, he gives the music that is being sung by the angels.” The phenomenon of singing in tongues was commonly known amongst the early saints as the “heavenly choir” and was deemed one of the most unusual and stunning manifestations of the Spirit at the mission as the congregation would join in singing in unknown tongues. One such song was interpreted:
With one accord, all heaven rings
With praises to our God and King;
Let earth join in our song of praise,
And ring it out through all the days.
Another heavenly anthem which was “sung through in the Spirit by all” said:
Jesus Christ is made to me
All I need, all I need;
He alone is all my plea,
He is all I need.
Wisdom, Righteousness and Power
My Redemption full and sure,
He is all I need.
The Azusa adherents were strongly convinced that the outpouring of the Holy Ghost signaled the last great revival before the return of Christ, and they valued inspired prophecy and found in utterances, visions, and interpretations divine revelation of unfolding events. One sister, “who is unlearned and works and [sic] washing and ironing for a living” received a message from the Lord prior to the commencement of the Azusa revival predicting the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War. One Bro. H.M. Allen uniquely interpreted messages he received in tongues by recording them phonetically and consulting foreign language dictionaries to translate the English meanings. Bro. Allen’s lexical work revealed “ . . . things that are speedily coming on the whole earth. “ While the Holy Ghost told him that he was “not at liberty to tell all,” he was bound to declare that “if He [God] speaks only two words they are well worth listening to.” Lillian Keyes, daughter of a Los Angeles physician, gave a stirring message on the coming of the Lord in an African dialect recognized by veteran missionary Sister S.K. Mead: “Jesus is coming again, coming again so soon . . . Prepare your hearts now, for the Lord is coming soon, and ye know not the hour.”
Many of the messages glorified Christ and the work of the Holy Ghost. One transcribed message said: “The Spirit comes in mighty power upon His people. Look up unto Jesus now and receive from Him. O Jesus is my Almighty King . . . God came into the world to see and to save that which was lost. He has redeemed us by His own precious Blood.”
In several issues of The Apostolic Faith, Bro. Seymour made an effort to make important theological clarifications about the gifts of prophecy and tongues. He appealed to Paul’s writing in I Corinthians 14 to argue that tongues with interpretation is as valuable as prophecy. Elsewhere, he defends the inclusion of women in the ecstatic gifts, citing I Corinthians 11. He encourages women to work in humility, admonishing them: “The more God uses you in the Spirit, the more humbled and meek and tender you are and [t]he more filled with the blessed Holy Spirit.” To the man, he says: “We have no right to a lay a straw in her way, but to be men of holiness, purity and virtue, to hold up the standard and encourage the woman in her work . . . It is the same Holy Spirit in the woman as in the man. When one considers how very new these manifestations were in his church, it is remarkable that he possessed such a mature and orthodox view of the gifts of the Spirit in ecclesiastical context and practical operation.
In many ways, the freedom of Pentecostals at Azusa to participate in the prophetic established a precedent for the greater movement. Prophecy and tongues/interpretations remain an integral part of the modern Church. It is interesting that the messages of the Los Angeles revival were transcribed and preserved, as this publication of interpretation of tongues was not widely continued beyond the first decade or so of the Pentecostal movement. But, they heard in the inspirative words and songs the voice of the Lord promising revival and His soon return. Though the utterances recorded in The Apostolic Faith are over a century old, they continue to thrill the soul with their spiritual power and anointed unction.