Archive for the ‘William Joseph Seymour’ Category

Messages from Azusa Street

29 November, 2010

https://i0.wp.com/www.azusastreet.org/picts/AFNewspaper.JPGThe 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
Holiness forevermore
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.

Advertisements

Man with a Mission: Frank Bartleman at Eighth & Maple

2 July, 2010

Frank Bartleman, who was so instrumental in the advent of Pentecost in Los Angeles, was an itinerant in spirit. He was possessed of a mild but mercurial nature, which led him hither and yon working for the cause of the Kingdom. Bro. Bartleman seemed always to be looking for the next deeper move, a sincere body of Christians that would pray, fast, and worship with his same level of intensity and desire. Ultimately, he was often disappointed in those who began in spiritual fervency but dulled to secular formalism. He was terrified of denominationalism; and once he discovered Pentecostal practitioners, Frank Bartleman was even more determined to follow the Spirit, wherever He might lead.

Bro. Bartleman was an early and enthusiastic participant in the Azusa Street Revival. Inspired by reports of the Welsh renewal, led by Evan Roberts, Bartleman had joined prayer bands throughout Los Angeles to seek a Pentecostal outpouring in the city. He prayed diligently, though he had little notion of what Pentecost might look like when it arrived. When William Seymour brought the newly-articulated Apostolic Faith doctrine to a small Holiness mission, it did not take long for word to reach Frank Bartleman, who began attending cottage prayer meetings on Bonnie Brae Street, where some of the first seekers in Los Angeles were filled with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues.

But, somewhat characteristically, Frank Bartleman became disenchanted with the Azusa Mission. According to him, the Spirit revealed a dangerous pitfall for the mission—the “party” spirit, which was Bartleman’s euphemism for denominational sectarianism. He delivered a message at Azusa, warning the saints to avoid becoming “entangled again in a yoke of (ecclesiastical) bondage.” He firmly believed that sectarianism had “been the curse and death of every revival body sooner or later.” If Azusa was to succeed where others had failed, she would have to contend for unity and resist organization and formalism.

Bartleman’s worst fears for the mission were realized when the day after he delivered his portentous sermon to the Azusa congregation, the words “Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission” were crudely painted on the building’s clapboard side. According to Bartleman, the Lord said to him: “This is what I told you.” This was enough for Bartleman to declare: “They had done it.” There is a sense of grave disappointment in Bartleman’s record of the change, which seemed so significant to him. He even declared: “The truth must be told. ‘Azusa’ began to fail the Lord also, early in her history.”

Disillusioned by the move, Bartleman began his own Pentecostal mission in an old German Church at Eighth and Maple about a mile from Azusa in August 1906. The Lord had led him to the building back in February of 1906, two months prior to the commencement of meetings at Azusa, but it had been occupied by the Pillar of Fire, a Holiness group led by Alma White, a fierce opponent of the spreading Pentecostal revival. However, by August, Bro. Bartleman says “The ‘Pillar of Fire’ had gone up in smoke, not able to raise the rent.” Bro. Fred Shephard provided Bartleman with the $50.00 for the first month’s rent, and the first service was held on 12 August.

Eighth and Maple, as the mission continued to be generically known, became another center of Pentecostal revival in the city. Bro. Bartleman described mighty outpourings in the church: “The atmosphere was almost too sacred and holy to attempt to minister in. Like the priests in the Tabernacle of old we could not minister for the glory.” Many were converted, and Bartleman said that the “atmosphere was terrible for sinners and backsliders. One had to get right in order to remain at Eighth and Maple.”

Frank Bartleman craved Spirit control. He had no tolerance for fleshly interruptions or the trappings of order. In his view, a Pentecostal service constituted hours of prayer, inspired exhortations, groaning and travail, and spontaneous manifestations of humility and ecstasy. He often remained prone on the floor throughout the services “while God ran the meetings.”

Though he had many times felt the control of the Spirit during his Christian experience, Bro. Bartleman received the Holy Ghost on 16 August 1906, while pastoring a Pentecostal work. Like Seymour, who received his own baptism after preaching it to others, Bartleman had witnessed several seekers filled at Eighth and Maple in the first few days of services when he had yet to acquire the Spirit himself.

In September, Eighth and Maple grew exponentially when an entire Holiness congregation of about 40 members merged with Bartleman’s mission after their pastor, William Pendleton, was excommunicated from the Holiness group for speaking in tongues. Shortly after this merger, Bro. Bartleman turned the mission over to Bro. Pendleton and resumed evangelization throughout southern California. Eighth and Maple continued to be a significant participant in the Apostolic Faith movement in Los Angeles and worked in good fellowship with Azusa and other Pentecostal works to spread the fires of revival that emanated from Los Angeles throughout the world.

Source:

Bartleman, Frank.  Witness to Pentecost:  the Life of Frank Bartleman.  New York:  Garland Publishing Inc., 1985.

God’s Property: a Look at 312 Azusa Street

10 February, 2010

In April 1906, William Joseph Seymour and a small band of newly-baptized Pentecostals moved cottage services from a small bungalow on Bonnie Brae Street to the Azusa Street Mission at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California. This humble building was to become the legendary epicenter of the Apostolic Faith movement that emanated in concentric waves of revival from its ramshackle frame structure to the farthest reaches of the world. The story of the building that housed the mighty move of God in the twentieth century is a fascinating chapter in Pentecostal history and reveals God’s penchant for exalting the humble and glorifying the lowly. Azusa Street is a modern euphemism for the boundless faith of our Pentecostal predecessors, who cared nothing for form or fashion but sought the face of God for the mighty revival that we still enjoy today.

Azusa Street was never much more than a rutted alleyway and has never been longer than about one city block. The street was formerly known as Old Second Street. In 1888, the Stevens African American Episcopal Church was constructed on the site. A small house was moved to the back of the lot and served as a parsonage. The Los Angeles City Directory (1898) reveals that the neighborhood included a mix of African Americans, Jews, and immigrants from Germany, Scandinavia, and Japan. Incipient businesses began to fill in the vacant lots near the church. A lumberyard is clearly marked next door to the A.M.E. church (Robeck “Uncovering . . . “ 12).

A single extant photograph of the Stevens African American Episcopal congregation reveals a large staircase in front of the church that ascended to the sanctuary, located on the 2nd floor of the structure. Three gothic windows are visible across the front of the frame church. In 1903, the congregation outgrew their facility and relocated to 8th and Towne and was renamed First African Methodist Episcopal Church (Robeck, “Uncovering . . . “ 14). Today, the First A.M.E. congregation is still the oldest and largest A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles.

After the church vacated the property, an arsonist set fire to the building, destroying the roof and damaging its structure. In order to sell the real estate, First A.M.E. elected to remodel the building as tenement housing and partitioned the interior 2nd floor into apartments with a central corridor. The first floor became a stable and housed horses and lumber. This was the condition of the building when William J. Seymour negotiated a lease with purchase option from First A.M.E. (Robeck, “Uncovering . . . “ 15).

The Pentecostal mission at Azusa Street was serviceable but far from sumptuous. Arthur Osterberg organized a work crew that consisted of the interracial converts from Bonnie Brae and some Mexican workers, who worked with Bro. Osterberg at the McNeill Construction Company during the week. Much of the debris was hauled away in a wagon, and straw and sawdust were scattered on the mission floor. The walls, which were eventually painted, were exposed down to the studs in the earliest days. The saints decided to worship on the first floor, which had a low ceiling of only 8 or 9 feet. The assembly room was lit by a single row of incandescent lights. Redwood planks supported by nail kegs made up benches, which were shortly supplemented by an assortment of mismatched chairs, which were arranged in a square around the makeshift pulpit. Mr. McNeill, Osterberg’s employer, donated lumber for a proper altar in the mission despite the fact that he was himself Catholic (Robeck 72-73).

Other interesting fixtures in the building included a mailbox inside the entrance for offerings. Following the precedent of his mentor Charles Parham, Bro. Seymour did not receive offerings in the mission. As miracles began to take place, walls were covered with the leavings of the healed and delivered, including crutches, braces, and smoking pipes. This tradition also had precedent amongst others in the earlier holiness movement.

There was also some signage in the mission. Interestingly, the words of God’s judgment to Belshazzar “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharisin” were displayed in the mission, painted in green (Robeck 74). A sign hung in the upstairs tarrying room where many prayed for Spirit baptism that read: “No talking above a whisper” (Bartleman 62). The most controversial sign at Azusa proved to be the crudely painted name of the mission: “Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission.” Many early Pentecostals were fiercely anti-denominational, and some feared that this nomenclature indicated sectarianism. Bro. Bartleman, who chronicled the early revival in Los Angeles, lamented:

The truth be told, “Azusa” began to fail the Lord also, early in her history. God showed me one day that they were going to organize, though not a word had been said in my hearing about it . . . Sure enough, the next day after I dropped this warning in the meeting, I found a sign outside “Azusa” reading “Apostolic Faith Mission.” The Lord said, “That is what I told you.” They had done it. Surely a “party spirit” cannot be “Pentecostal.” (Bartleman 78-79)

All said, the Azusa Street Mission was never to grow into an ecclesiastical showplace. The people were hungry for God and eschewed the trappings of denominational decorum—no stained glass, organs, or choir robes for these humble people! Money was not used to embellish the edifice but to build the Kingdom of God—to send forth missionaries and to distribute the Apostolic Faith, a free publication that was instrumental in disseminating the Pentecostal message around the world.

 

Despite its initial status as the focus of Pentecostal revivalism, Azusa Street was not destined to remain at the center of the spreading movement. The very evangelistic nature of Pentecostalism meant that revival was carried place to place, and the enthusiasm of Azusa was replicated over and over again around the globe. After 1915, the mission reverted to the home of a small, mainly black congregation led by William J. Seymour. After Seymour’s death in 1922, he was succeeded by his wife, Jennie Evans Moore Seymour, who continued to lead the Apostolic Faith Mission. In 1931, the old mission, which had fallen into greater disrepair, was declared unfit for use as a church by the Building Department of the City of Los Angeles. The small congregation vacated the structure. The property was offered for sale to the Assemblies of God for preservation, but church leaders reportedly said: “We are not interested in relics” (Synan xxxiii). Sadly, only a commemorative plaque marks the spot of the Azusa Street Mission in modern Los Angeles. It is perhaps fitting that God chose this ephemeral edifice as a tinderbox for Pentecostal fire. Christ seems to have a penchant for humble abodes. He, who was born in a stable, returned to a converted stable in Los Angeles, favoring a rundown construction over an opulent cathedral.

Sources:

Bartleman, Frank. Azusa Street, an Eyewitness Account: the Roots of Modern-day Pentecost. Alachua, FL: Bridge-Logos, 1980.

Robeck, Cecil M. “Uncovering the Forgotten Story of the Azusa Street Mission.” Heritage (11 Dec 2005), 12-17.

Robeck, Cecil. Azusa Street Mission and Revival: the Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2006.

Synan, Vinson. Frank Bartleman and Azusa Street. Azusa Street, an Eyewitness Account: the Roots of Modern-day Pentecost. By Frank Bartleman. Alachua, FL: Bridge-Logos, 1980.

Earthquake Evangelism: the San Francisco Quake & the Azusa Revival

12 February, 2009

At 5:12 AM on the morning of April 18, 1906, San Francisco, California was struck by a deadly and powerful earthquake. Most seismologists believe the quake exceeded 8.0 on the Richter Scale. Though it only lasted between 45 and 60 seconds, the earthquake and subsequent conflagration left over 3,000 people dead, destroyed over 28,000 buildings, and rendered over a quarter of a million people homeless (“San Francisco Earthquake”). The devastating disaster caused panic throughout southern California, and the saints of the newly-formed Azusa Street Mission, who viewed the convulsions as a sure sign of God’s judgment and might, used the opportunity to escalate evangelism and call men to repentance.

Frank Bartleman, who chronicled the early Pentecostal revival in Los Angeles, was spiritually spurred by the event and went to great lengths to spread the Gospel in the weeks following the earthquake. Before the quake, Bartleman had written a tract entitled “The Last Call.” He and other Christian workers in the city distributed over 10,000 of the pamphlets on April 22. According to Bro. Bartleman, many preachers in California were “working overtime to prove that God had nothing to do with earthquakes and thus allay the fears of the people.” Bartleman, along with other Pentecostals, aptly attributed the destruction to God’s hand and felt compelled to warn others of their need to speedily repent before incurring the further wrath of the Almighty.

Bartleman clearly saw the disassociation of God with the quake as an infernal campaign: “The devil put on a big propaganda on this line . . . He [God] showed me all hell was being moved to drown out His voice in the earthquake, if possible” (Bartleman 50). In 1907, John Casper Branner, a renowned geologist published a chapter in an anthology about the earthquake, which denies the divine origin of tectonic activity:

But whatever theory one adopts regarding the remote causes of earthquakes, the conclusion is inevitable that they are produced by natural causes, one of which is the relief of strains within the earth’s crust along the lines of fracture. The knowledge that they are due to natural causes ought to contribute to a philosophical view of them and rid them to some extent of the terror they inspire in the minds of those who attribute them to the wrath of God and other supernatural causes. (76-77)

In Bartleman’s view, scholars, scientists, clerics, and schoolteachers were all involved in the diabolical conspiracy to undermine God’s voice in the earthquake.

On 28 April 1906, God began to give Bro. Bartleman a firm message about the earthquake, and he penned a tract on the subject. He finished writing at 12:30 AM and interceded in prayer for California until 4 AM, rising at 7 to take the tract to the printer. The pamphlet was primarily a conglomeration of Old and New Testament Bible verses, systematically strung together to demonstrate the sure judgments of the Lord against evildoers with repeated references to the shaking, turning, quaking, trembling, and melting of the earth. He concludes the tract with a quote from John Wesley, the primogeniture of the Holiness Movement, from which the Pentecostals in Los Angeles had emerged: “Of all the judgments which the righteous God inflicts on sinners here, the most dreadful and destructive is an earthquake” (Bartleman 52-53).
Bro. Bartleman and a network of Pentecostal and Holiness workers throughout southern California distributed 75,000 of the tracts throughout Los Angeles and the surrounding cities. Frank Bartleman personally carried the publication to “missions, churches, saloons, business houses, and in fact everywhere, both in Los Angeles and Pasadena.” He documents resistance to the message by both people on the streets and “nearly all the preachers.” He was even followed by a policeman, but he claimed: “The Spirit warned me and I saw him coming. I was enabled to dodge him” (Bartleman 51).

The atmosphere in Los Angeles was frenetic. Bro. Bartleman reported that business in the city was at a standstill and that “the people were paralyzed with fear” (Bartleman 52). “Men were at the breaking point,” writes Bartleman, “They would fly to pieces even on the street, almost without provocation” (53). Despite the palpable terror, Bartleman says: “I found the earthquake had opened many hearts” (50).

In October 1906, William Seymour, pastor of the Azusa Street Mission, published an article entitled “Earthquakes” in The Apostolic Faith, the official organ of the mission. Bro. Seymour claimed prophetic warning of the San Francisco quake in 1905 and believed it to be a harbinger of future destruction.

The Lord says that earthquakes will come as they never have before and more often, because of the wickedness of the people. He wants His people to get ready. The only way He can get you ready is to bring disaster. If you do not repent, a great many of you will be lost. (2)
Bro. Bartleman certainly saw the cataclysm as a catalyst for the Azusa revival: “The San Francisco earthquake was surely the voice of God to the people on the Pacific Coast. It was used mightily in conviction, for the gracious after revival” (Bartleman 53).

There is no way to quantify the impact of the great San Francisco earthquake upon the Apostolic Faith revival that swept Los Angeles and the surrounding cities in 1906. However, considering Frank Bartleman’s passionate account of his own personal burden after the earthquake and the swift response of Christian workers throughout southern California, we can well imagine the evangelistic emergency sensed by the Azusa saints. Undoubtedly, the reverberating effects of the seismic rupture created a social and spiritual juncture that facilitated the spread of the Gospel message and attracted seeking souls to the humble mission at 312 Azusa Street, the true epicenter of Pentecostal revival in California.

Sources:

Branner, John Casper. “Geology & the Earthquake.” The California Earthquake of 1906. David Starr, Jordan, Ed. San Francisco: A.M. Robertson, 1907. Pgs. 64-7.

Seymour, William Joseph. “Earthquakes.” The Apostolic Faith 1 (2), October 1906, pg. 2.

“San Francisco Earthquake.” The Great American History Fact-Finder. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Credo Reference. 09 November 2008 <http://www.credoreference.com/entry/6601476/.&gt;.

“And They Heard Them Speak with Tongues”

27 May, 2008

When the Pentecostal baptism first fell in 1901, the students at Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas were unsure of the deeper meanings of their experience. Agnes Ozman first received the Holy Ghost on 1 January 1901, and Bro. Charles Parham, founder of the Bible college, quickly identified her speaking in tongues as “Chinese” (Blumhofer 83). Bro. Parham became increasingly convinced that Spirit-filled tongues were always identifiable human languages and were given expressly for the final evangelization of the world before Christ’s return:

We have for long believe that the power of the Lord would be manifested in our midst, and that power would be give us to speak other languages, and that the time will come when we will be sent to go into all the nations and preach the gospel, and that the Lord will give us the power of speech to talk to the people of the various nations without having to study them in schools. (Parham 4)

A.B. Simpson, who founded the Christian Missionary Alliance, held a similar view:  “We are to witness before the Lord’s return real missionary “tongues” like those of Pentecost, through which the heathen world shall hear in their own language ‘the wonderful works of God'” (qtd. in Bartleman 65).

Unfortunately, their understanding of tongues as a mechanism to evangelize the world was somewhat misunderstood, and many missionaries were sent out into the field ill- equipped to overcome the language barriers they faced.

The hypothesis that tongues was intended for this purpose was primarily founded on widespread reports of Pentecostals speaking in human languages understood by their hearers. These miracles were popularly detailed in The Apostolic Faith, official publication of the Azusa Street Mission, and a selection of these testimonies follow:

 On Aug 11th, a man from the central part of Mexico, an Indian was present in the meeting and heard a German sister speaking in his tongue which the Lord had given her. He understood, and through the message that God gave him through her, he was most happily converted so that he could hardly contain his joy. All the English he knew was Jesus Christ and Hallelujah.” (“Untitled”).

 The power of the Holy Spirit was greatly manifested in the meetings by the speakin [sic] in unknown tongues. This was much criticized by the town and vicinity, so that the principal physician, who was familiar with several different languages, was prevailed upon to go to the meetings in order to denounce the whole as a fake. Miss Tuthill, in an unknown language to herself, but known to him as Italian, spoke his full name, which no one in the town knew save himself, telling him things that had happened in his life twenty years ago, and on up to the present time until he cried for mercy and fell on his knees seeking God (“Tongues Convict Sinners”).

 Sister Anna Hall spoke to the Russians in their church in Los Angeles in their own language as the Spirit gave utterance they were so glad to hear the truth that they wept and even kissed her hands . . . The other night, as a company of Russians were present in the meeting, Bro. Lee, a converted Catholic, was permitted to speak their language. As he spoke and sang, one of the Russians came up and embraced him. It was a holy signt, and the Spirit fell upon the Russians, as well as on others, and they glorified God (“Russians Hear in Their Own Tongue”).

 A preacher’s wife, who at first opposed Pentecostal truth, went home and read the second chapter of Acts, and while she read, the Spirit fell upon her and she began to speak in tongues . . . As she was on the way to the church she met a brother whom she had been instrumental in leading to the Lord. He is a foreigner and as soo[n] as she saw him, she began to pour out her soul in French. He was amazed and said, “When did you learn French?” “What did I say?” she asked. “You said: “Get ready! Get ready! Jesus is coming soon!” (“The Second Chapter of Acts”).

 Pueblo, Colorado is a city of many nationalities . . . The Lord had opened up a mission there when the Pentecostal Gospel came. The woman in charge of the mission went right to seeking and received the baptism and before she got off her knees, was speaking in Chinese. One day when she was speaking, the Spirit began to speak another language through her. Nobody understood till they saw some uneasiness manifested in the back of the room where some Japanese were sitting. They began to wring their hands and cry and bury their face in their hands. Someone went to them and they said, “Talk my tongue. Tell me all about my God how he died for the Japanese” They had never heard anything like that before (“Japanese Hear in the Their Own Tongue”).

These brief accounts remind us that speaking in tongues is a supernatural manifestation of the Holy Ghost. A myriad of such stories exist and have been retold in Pentecostal biography, missionary accounts, and circulars. While the early vision of world evangelization through speaking in tongues was largely unrealized, unknown tongues was certainly one method that God used to spread the wonderful message of salvation and the power of the Pentecostal baptism.
 
Sources:
Blumhofer, Edith. The Assemblies of God: a Chapter in the Story of American Pentecostalism. Vol. 1. Springfield: Missouri. Gospel Publishing House, 1989.

Bartleman, Frank. Witness to Pentecost: the Life of Frank Bartleman. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985.

“Japanese Hear in Their Own Tongue.” The Apostolic Faith, Vol. 1, No. 4. Dec. 1906, p. 4.

Parham, Charles F. Topeka Journal 7 (1901), 4.

“Russians Hear in Their Own Tongue.” The Apostolic Faith, Vol. 1, No. 1. September 1906, p. 4).

“The Second Chapter of Acts.” The Apostolic Faith, Vol. 1, No. 2, October 1906, p. 2.

“Tongues Convict Sinners.” The Apostolic Faith, Vol. 1, No. 1, September 1906, p. 4.

“Untitled.” The Apostolic Faith, Vol. 1, No. 1, Sept. 1906, p. 3. 

Azusa in the News: Early Pentecostals Make Headlines

21 May, 2008

In April 1906, a small group of newly-baptized Pentecostals began meetings at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California. Moving meetings from a small, private cottage on Bonnie Brae Street, these zealous saints led by Bro. William Joseph Seymour could not have possibly anticipated their place in Pentecostal history. The revival that burgeoned in the humble mission at Azusa Street was destined to reach millions around the world, and Los Angeles became the veritable birthplace of all modern Pentecostal groups.

Worshippers at the Azusa Street Mission were determined to be led by the Holy Ghost, laying aside the structural trappings of orthodoxy. The meetings were largely unorganized guided by the supernatural spontaneity of inspiration and anointing. The rediscovered power of the baptism of the Holy Ghost had a completely democratizing effect on the saints, and these early Pentecostals recognized God’s sovereignty in ordering songs, testimonies, exhortations, and sermons. No vessel was too humble, and social class and ethnic distinctions dissipated in the egalitarian atmosphere. Bro. Frank Bartleman, a journalist from Los Angeles, reported: “The color line is washed away in the blood.” Azusa Street epitomized Paul’s declaration to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

The raucous, all-night gatherings brought complaints from local residents, and the police were dispatched on more than one occasion to break up the meetings held at the mission. The media reports in the Los Angeles Times throughout much of 1906 offer uncharitable depictions of the Pentecostals, criticizing their spirited worship, incessant preaching, and intermingling of class, race, and gender. The century-old newspaper stories represent the unfortunate prejudices of turn-of-the-century America and reveal a great deal about the unflappability of the Pentecostal pioneers who defied cultural norms to create a New Testament Christian community of believers.

In April, shortly after opening meetings at the converted stable on Azusa Street, the Times printed its first article on the revival: “Weird Babel of Tongues: New Sect of Fanatics is Breaking Loose.” The story notes the noise created by the saints: “. . . night is made hideous by the howlings of the worshipers who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve-racking attitude of prayer and supplication.” The piece caricatures Bro. William J. Seymour, calling him “an old colored exhorter, blind in one eye.” While Bro. Seymour was, in truth, blind in one eye, the newspaper derides the fact, adding: “With his stony optic fixed on some luckless unbeliever, the old man yells his defiance and challenges an answer.” The congregation is described as largely “colored” with only a “sprinkling of whites.” Furthermore, the article pejoratively satirizes an African American sister speaking in tongues and questions the credentials of a Jewish rabbi who had been converted through the meetings (“Weird Babel . . .”).

In June, the LA Times wrote about the “rolling”, “diving” and “jumping” at Azusa Street. Patrolmen responded to complaints from vicinity residents about the late-night meetings and watched from outside the mission. A clear picture of Azusa’s demographics emerges in the article. The congregation is estimated at about 700 people again “mostly colored men and women with a sprinkling of whites” and is made up of a “queer mixture of rich and poor . . . all afflicted alike-with some peculiar impulse to perform astonishing gymnastic feats and shout so they may be heard for blocks.” A wealthy mining tycoon wearing diamonds that “would have attracted attention in the lobby of the swellest [sic] hostelry in town” is described in detail with obvious surprise at his attendance and greater surprise at his confession of conversion a “few nights ago” (“Rolling and Diving Fanatics . . . “).

In July, the newspaper’s new epithet for Azusa worshippers was “Holy Kickers”: ” . . . all the time the kickers who are ‘coming through’ and are about to be sanctified beat a tattoo on the floor with their heels.” Police finally caused several of the sisters to desist, which made them “wildly hysterical.” Ultimately, law enforcement officials were completely unsure about how to handle the phenomenon at Azusa Street:

The ‘holy kickers’ present a problem which the local police department has not as yet been able to solve. Every night worn-out kickers and shouters are seen stretched out on the dirty floor of the meeting room apparently unconscious and the meeting goes on just the same, those who still have breath jumping, kicking and making the night hideous with their yells and squeals. (“‘Holy Kickers’ Baffle Police”)

In August, police responded to a different kind of problem at Azusa Street. A meeting was held to protest the trial of Charles H. Moyer, the president of the Western Federation of Miners (“Police Asked to Raid Reds”). The case in question surrounded the murder of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenburg. The man who carried out the murder implicated the mining union officials who were arrested and tried for the crime (“Who Planned the Steunenburg Murder?”). The trial caused a national outrage, and the United States government was keenly alerted to the threat of the growing labor movement. According to the LA Times, a fervent protest was held on the night of 5 August 1906, and Azusa saints threatened to join a flash mob rebellion intent on freeing Moyer if he was convicted. Neighbors reported the incident to police but no arrests were made (“Police Asked to Raid Reds”). This is an interesting interlude because it demonstrates both the social awareness of Azusa attendees and an apparent departure from the usual holiness line that opposed organized unions.

Later in the month, two evangelists from the mission were taken down to Central Station by police for holding street meetings. Mrs. J. Wiley and C. Woodside were conducting curbside evangelism. Apparently, their fervency had “so disturbed the neighborhood that the police were forced to take up the permit allowing them to preach” (“‘Holy Roller’ Has It Bad”). Sis. Wiley, undeterred, continued to preach and sing to the patrolmen on her way to the police station.

The following months brought further criticism from reporters. An article entitled “Women with Men Embrace” vilifies the Azusa Street saints and includes the subtitles: “Whites and Blacks Mix in a Religious Frenzy” and “Disgusting Scenes at Azusa Street Church.” Perhaps more than any other, this piece evidences the revolutionary commitment of the Pentecostals to create interracial unity: “Whites and negroes clasped hands and sang together.” The paper decries the racial integration of the meetings, concluding: “The surprise is that any respectable white person would attend such meetings as are being conducted on Azusa street [sic]” (“Women With Men . . .”). Police were dispatched to monitor the actions of the Black participants.

Ultimately, the news stories spawned by the occurrences at Azusa Street Mission provide modern readers with a sense of Pentecostal tenacity. These empowered believers were unmoved by criticism or police harassment. They willingly bore the reproaches and continued preaching, singing, and shouting their way through to revival. The meetings at Azusa Street continued for nearly seven years, leaving behind a beautiful legacy of religious fervor and social and racial unity in the Family of God. The accounts in the LA Times provide us with a colorful picture of the genuine spirituality of our ancestors and encourage us to go forward with this faith, undaunted by the mocking of an on-looking world.

Sources:

“‘Holy Kickers’ Baffle Police: Hold High Carnival in Azusa Street Until Midnight.” Los Angeles Times. 12 July 1906.

“‘Holy Roller'” Has It Bad.” Los Angeles Times. 14 August 1906.

“Police Asked to Raid Reds: Azusa Street Residents are Annoyed by Anarchists.” Los Angeles Times. 6 August 1906.

“Rolling and Diving Fanatics ‘Confess’.” Los Angeles Times. 23 June 1906.

“Weird Babel of Tongues: New Sect of Fanatics is Breaking Loose.” Los Angeles Times. 18 April 1906.

“Who Planned the Steunenburg Murder?” New York Times. 29 April 1906.

“Women with Men Embrace: Whites and Blacks Mix in a Religious Frenzy.” Los Angeles Times. 3 September 1906.

Without Form and Fashion: the Early Pentecostal Service

20 May, 2008

 When the Holy Ghost baptism was given at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, the seekers of the Father’s promise were caught up in a state of spiritual ecstasy. Their Upper Room experiences inspired curiosity and ridicule as onlookers surmised that these passionate Pentecostals were early-morning drunkards (Acts 2). Along with the restoration of Apostolic truth in the early part of the twentieth century came a return to an authentic style of worship and service, driven not by dead liturgy or ritualistic tradition but rather infused with anointing and fresh power. Countless descriptions of early Pentecostal services help us recapture the spiritual spontaneity of our Apostolic ancestors. Universally, the narratives recreate an atmosphere of divine direction unfettered by denominational traditionalism and formality.

Some of the most poignant vignettes of Pentecostal meetings come from Los Angeles, the humble cradle of worldwide Pentecostal revival. Bro. Frank Ewart gives an early description of the earliest Pentecostal baptisms received in the home of one Sister Asbury of 214 Bonnie Brae Street in Los Angeles:

When Brother Lee walked into the house, he threw up his hands and began to speak in other tongues. Six people were already on their knees praying, and the power fell on them and all six began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. This happened on April 9, 1906. This was followed, as at Pentecost, by a great noise that was spread abroad. The new recipients were beside themselves with joy. They shouted and praised God for three days and nights. It was the Easter season. The people came from everywhere. By the next morning there was no way of getting near that house. Those who could gain an entrance would fall under God’s power as they entered and commence to speak in other tongues; and this continued until the whole city of Los Angeles was mightily stirred. (Ewart 66-67)

When services moved to the mission at 312 Azusa Street, the saints operated with great spiritual freedom. Bro. William J. Seymour, the African American leader of the group, assumed no position of direct authority or governance over the proceedings at Azusa. Bro. Frank Bartleman’s early depictions of the Azusa mission demonstrate both Bro. Seymour’s personal humility and the liberty of the Spirit:

Brother Seymour generally sat behind two empty shoe boxes, one on top of the other. He usually kept his head inside the top one during the meeting, in prayer. There was no pride there. The services ran almost continuously. Seeking souls could be found under the power almost any hour, night and day. The place was never closed nor [sic] empty. The people came to meet God. He was always there. Hence a continuous meeting. The meeting did not depend on the human leader. God’s presence became more and more wonderful. In that old building, with its low rafter and bare floors, God took strong men and women to pieces, and put them together again for His glory. It was a tremendous overhauling process. Pride and self-assertion, self-importance and self-esteem, could not survive there. The religious ego preached its own funeral sermon quickly. No subjects or sermons were announced ahead of time, and no special speakers for such an hour. No one knew what might be coming, what God would do. All was spontaneous, ordered of the Spirit. We wanted to hear from God, through whoever [sic] he might speak. We had no “respect of persons.” The rich and educated were the same as the poor and ignorant, and found a much hard death to die. We only recognized God. All were equal.” (Bartleman 58-59)

The services at Azusa were truly free, and early practitioners of the Apostolic Faith were afraid to grieve the Spirit or to hinder God’s sovereign work in their midst.

Worship, testimonies, and even preaching were spontaneously conducted. An early issue of The Apostolic Faith, the periodical published by the Azusa Street mission, describes how the saints sang in other tongues:

One of the most remarkable features of this Apostolic Faith movement is what is rightly termed the heavenly anthem. No one but those who are baptized with the Holy Ghost are able to join in-or better, the Holy Ghost only signs through such in that manner. Hallelujah! . . . a beautiful song was sung in tongues: Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest” (Matt. 21:9) . . . We afterward learned of a remarkable coincidence. The same song was being sung at the Pentecostal Mission at 3271/2 S. Spring St., and was interpreted there the same.” The saints worshiping in these two places were in perfect harmony of spirit, and the Holy Ghost witnessed to it. (“The Heavenly Anthem” 3).

Bro. Bartleman himself experienced this Pentecostal phenomenon:

Friday, June 15 [1906], at “Azusa,” the Spirit dropped the “heavenly chorus” into my soul. I found myself suddenly joining the rest who had received the supernatural “gift.” It was a spontaneous manifestation and rapture no earthly tongue can describe . . . In the beginning in “Azusa” we had no musical instruments. In fact we felt no need of them. There was no place for them in our worship. All was spontaneous. (Bartleman 56-57)

Preaching was also impromptu, wholly inspired by the Spirit:

The Lord was liable to burst through any one. We prayed for this continually. Some one would finally get up anointed for the message. All seemed to recognize this and gave way. It might be a child, a woman, or a man. It might be from the back seat, or from the front. It made no difference. We rejoiced that God was working. No one wished to show himself. We thought only of obeying God. (Bartleman 59)

Likewise, the altar invitation was spiritual and spontaneous:

Some one might be speaking. Suddenly the Spirit would fall upon the congregation. God himself would give the altar call. Men would fall all over th house, like the slain in battle, or rush for the altar enmasse [sic] to seek God. The scene often resembled a forest of fallen trees . . . God himself would call them. And the preacher knew when to quit (Bartleman 60).

The space allotted here is not ample enough to depict the composite service enjoyed by early Pentecostals in the glorious days of the Los Angeles outpouring. But the details, fortuitously preserved for us, recapture a time when worship was not synthesized from syncopation, sermons were not recycled from revival to revival, and altars were not gratuitously graced by passionless penitents. We must be careful not to replace spiritual unction with modern function, extinguishing the flames of revival with form and fashion. Rather, we must reserve spacious room in our contemporary worship for a Pentecostal visitation of the Holy Ghost, allowing God’s Spirit to direct and define every service for by His divine power and for His eternal purposes.

Sources:

Bartleman, Frank. How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles: as It was in the Beginning, 2nd. Ed. Los Angeles, 1925.

Ewart, Frank. The Phenomenon of Pentecost. Word Aflame Press: Hazelwood, MO, 2000.

“The Heavenly Anthem.” The Apostolic Faith 1 (5). January 1907, p. 3.

 

Pentecost in Print: Papers and Tracts from Pentecostal Pioneers

12 May, 2008

Pentecostals have always been prolific, and the turn-of-the-century rediscovery of the New Testament truth of Spirit baptism, evidenced by speaking in tongues at Charles Parham’s Bethel Bible College, spawned a plethora of circulars, papers, and tracts. Parham launched The Apostolic Faith in March 1899 and used this publication to promote the activities of his school in Topeka, Kansas. While the initial publication predates the Pentecostal outpouring that took place at Bethel, the name of the periodical evidences his school’s dedication to recreating a New Testament model of Christianity. Before the baptism fell, Parham’s curriculum was mainly focused on healing and prophecy, and the facility included a Healing Home, a spiritual retreat for the physically and spiritually infirmed (Goff 46-7). When Agnes Ozman, one of the Bethel students, received the baptism of the Holy Ghost on 1 January 1901, The Apostolic Faith became the first Pentecostal publication and began promoting Spirit baptism with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.

When the famed Azusa Street revival began, William Joseph Seymour borrowed the name of Parham’s publication and began publishing The Apostolic Faith from Los Angeles in September 1906. The headline of the first issue read boldly: “Pentecost Has Come: Los Angeles Being Visited by a Revival of Bible Salvation and Pentecost as Recorded in the Book of Acts.” This periodical was seminal in promoting the Pentecostal experience. It included a broad spectrum of testimonies, conversion reports, missionary news, and theology. Tens of thousands of copies were soon in circulation, and printed reports of unprecedented revival in Los Angeles brought thousands to the true birthplace of modern Pentecostalism, the mission at 312 Azusa Street.

While the secular press wrote articles criticizing the Azusa Pentecostals as fanatics citing their long, raucous services and mixing of racial and social classes in an environment of unbridled revivalism, The Apostolic Faith provided glowing details of conversions, miracles, and the phenomenon of speaking in tongues, often accompanied by interpretation. A May 1907 article declared: “The interpretation of many of the messages in nearly every language spoken by the Holy Ghost in unknown tongues is that Jesus is coming” (Untitled).

Many missionaries visited Azusa Street filled with hunger or curiosity returning to their labor filled with the Holy Ghost. In October, the paper reported that eight Pentecostal missionaries had been dispatched from Los Angeles (Seymour 1). Hundreds of preachers, mainly from Holiness denominations, received their Pentecostal baptism at Azusa and returned to their churches declaring its truth. The paper also chronicles the Spirit baptisms of a spectrum of immigrants including: Mexicans, Chinese, Russian, Italians, and Japanese, many of whom were converted after hearing messages in tongues delivered in their native languages. Additionally, The Apostolic Faith records the conversions of Catholics, Jews, and Muslims to the Pentecostal faith. Racism and bigotry were forgotten in the presence of God, and the Spirit produced a miraculous unity amongst the early Pentecostals.

Bro. Frank Bartleman, a Los Angeles journalist and former Holiness preacher who received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, saturated California with thousands of Pentecostal tracts during the Azusa revival. Before Azusa, Bro. Bartleman and other Christians in Los Angeles, inspired by published accounts of the Welsh Revival led by Evan Roberts, were anticipating another Pentecost and praying fervently to that end. The Azusa revival filled that hunger, and Bro. Bartleman’s writing captures the deep hunger and spiritual zeal of the early Pentecostals and their singular belief in God’s soon coming. Following the San Francisco earthquake, he published a tract called “The Last Call.” In less than three weeks, Bro. Bartleman and his workers distributed over 75,000 of the pamphlets, and the revival at Azusa increased (Bartleman 50-4).

Initially, Bro. Bartleman continued writing articles about the Pentecostal outpouring in Los Angeles for Holiness publications. Gradually, proponents of the Holiness Movement distanced themselves from the Pentecostals, and Bartleman began submitting his work to other exclusively Pentecostal publications including The Way of Faith, Christian Harvester, and Apostolic Light (Bartleman 61). While little is known of these publications, they provide evidence that a growing number of Pentecostal circulars were in existence.
Pentecostal periodicals were influential and provided a rudimentary cohesiveness for the burgeoning movement. In 1914, the newsletter Word & Witness called for a general convention of members of the Church of God in Christ and “all Pentecostal or Apostolic Faith Assemblies who desire with united purpose to co-operate in love and peace to push the interests of the kingdom of God everywhere” (Bell 1). From this advertised meeting emerged the Assemblies of God, one of the earliest and largest Pentecostal organizations.

The restorationism of the early Pentecostal Movement is strongly evidenced in the published writings of early apologists, and periodicals very often included strong, doctrinal defenses. The notion of the “Finished Work of Calvary” championed by Bro. William H. Durham, the well-known pastor of Chicago’s North Avenue Mission, penetrated Pentecostalism through his paper entitled The Pentecostal Testimony (“William Durham” 255). The controversial “New Issue”, the contemporary name for Oneness theology, emerged at the Worldwide Pentecostal Camp Meeting held in Arroyo Seco, California, when Bro. R.E. McAlister, a Canadian evangelist, declared that the Matthew 28:19 formula for baptism was never used by the New Testament Church. Several brethren, including McAlister, Frank Ewart, Glenn Cook, and John Scheppe, became convinced, through prayer and study, that the proper biblical baptismal invocation was “in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This idea spawned an untold number of publications and tracts dedicated to the furtherance of the revelation of the Mighty God in Christ.

A 1913 notice in Word and Witness announced the launch of The Good Report edited by Brothers Ewart and McAlister, the oldest known Oneness periodical (Notice). Bro. Ewart also edited a paper called The Present Truth. Perhaps the three most influential Oneness publications, however, were Bro. Ewart’s Meat in Due Season, Bro. D.C.O. Opperman’s The Blessed Truth, and Elder G.T. Haywood’s The Voice in the Wilderness. These papers were filled with articles about the advancement of the Jesus’ Name message, including international news of rebaptisms in the name of Jesus.

Bishop G.T. Haywood was one of the most prolific and profound Oneness apologists. He wrote: “Much of the early Pentecostal movement was promoted and introduced to various islands, countries, and continents of the world through tracts and periodicals that we published.” His paper, The Voice in the Wilderness, became the official organ of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World in 1918, and Haywood retained editorial responsibility for the publication after he was elevated to presiding bishop in 1925 (Tyson 16). He also wrote a prodigious number of tracts and booklets, including his masterpieces: “The Finest of Wheat” and “The Victim of the Flaming Sword.” His incomparable ability to articulate biblical truth with theological proofs, historical context, and eschatological importance makes him one of the most beloved twentieth century Pentecostal authors.

While Oneness brethren promulgated truth in their periodicals, their detractors were also busy campaigning against the spread of their message. In 1915, J. Roswell Flower, General Secretary of the Assemblies of God, lamented the penetration of the “New Issue” literature in the Assemblies of God’s Weekly Evangel :

Another letter, this very week, tells of the unsettled conditions in an eastern State where the Los Angeles [Oneness] literature has been scattered broadcast [sic] among the Pentecostal Assemblies, and where unstable souls, who know not the Word of God, are being swept off their feet. And that is not all, the new teaching has been carried to the foreign fields, and already hearts that are sore and distressed are writing us stating the awful results and after-effects of this teaching . . .

He further warns: “These workers are scattering over the country, and methinks they drive like Jehu. They are liable to drop in your assembly any day, and the day after, your assembly is possibly on the verge of dissolution” (Flower 1). Clearly, Trinitarians were worried about the wildfires of doctrinal truth ignited worldwide by Oneness Pentecostal publishers and preachers, and the “New Issue” battle was largely fought on front pages of their respective periodicals.

Ultimately, the Pentecostal press was a key component in reshaping the face of twentieth century Christianity. With the ink of inspiration, great Apostolic believers penned, printed, and published the full gospel message; and while thousands of evangelists, missionaries, and Christian workers canvassed the globe with New Testament truth, they were often preceded by or armed with Pentecostal literature. From the writings of our Pentecostal pioneers, we can create a composite picture of the passion and zeal that fueled the fires of revival that made Pentecostalism the fastest growing religion on earth (McClung 1). The yellowed records of our past must inspire us, and their voices urge us on toward increased worldwide evangelism as we carry the blessed truth of the Apostolic faith to a new generation of believers. Founded on our strong Pentecostal heritage of the written word and empowered with modern tools of mass communication, we can publish “The Whole Gospel to the Whole World.”

Sources:

Bartleman, Frank. From Plow to Pulpit: from Maine to California. Los Angeles: 1924.
Bell, E.N. General Convention of Pentecostal Saints and Churches of God in Christ, Hot Springs, Arkansas, April 2 to 12, 1914. Word & Witness 9.12 (1913): 1.

Flower, J. Roswell. Editorial Comment on Issue. Weekly Evangel, 99 (15 July 1915): 1.

Goff, James. Fields White unto Harvest : Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1988.

McClung, Grant. Pentecostals: the Sequel. Christianity Today. 50.4 (2006): 1-8.

Notice. Word & Witness 9.6 (1913): 8.

Seymour, William J. The Pentecostal Baptism Restored: the Promised Latter Rain Now Being Poured Out on God’s Humble People. The Apostolic Faith. 1.2 (October 1906): 1.

Tyson, James. Before I Sleep. Indianapolis: Pentecostal Publications, 1976.

Untitled. The Apostolic Faith 1.8 (May 1907): 3.

“William Durham.” Dictionary of Charismatic and Pentecostal Movements. Eds. Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.

“Bishop” Alma White: Pillar of Fire and Pedestal of Folly

7 October, 2007

Every authentic move of God meets with opposition; and when the experience of the Pentecostal baptism evidenced by speaking in other tongues began to spread, there were many detractors. Some of the most active opponents of the new message came from within the Holiness Movement. Theologically, they equated the Pentecostal baptism with the crisis of sanctification. The notion of a “third blessing” seemed absurd and even heretical to many within the Holiness camp. One of the most prolific and vocal adversaries of Pentecostalism was Bishop Alma White, founder of the Pillar of Fire Church.
White began preaching in the Methodist Church, occasionally occupying the pulpit of her husband, Kent White. In 1902, she founded the sect that became the Pillar of Fire and was consecrated as “Bishop” of the church in 1918, a flagrant violation of scriptural teaching on church leadership (“Bishop Alma White . . . 21). White split with the Methodists because of their progressive “loosening up.” The Pillar of Fire was pejoratively known as “Holy Jumpers” and was described in the New York Times as ” . . . pretty much like the Methodists except that they are more in the habit of working themselves up to a state of religious frenzy which calls for groans and dancing and laughing and shouts to give it adequate vent” (“‘Holy Jumpers’ . . .” SM7). Interestingly, one follower, William Werner, met his death when he was jumping on the roof of one of the commune’s buildings in New Jersey. He lost his balance and fell thirty feet to his death (“Fall Kills a ‘Holy Jumper'” 2).
Despite their zealous worship, which bears some similarity to Pentecostal enthusiasm, Alma White outright rejected the Pentecostal message and authored Demons and Tongues, an extended refutation of Pentecostal theology and practice. In the book, she describes her encounter with William Joseph Seymour, pastor of the Azusa Street Mission. En route to Los Angeles, Bro. Seymour stopped at White’s Bible School in Denver, Colorado. According to Mrs. White, Seymour introduced himself as a “man of God,” and she asked him to lead a prayer at the close of a meal: “He responded with a good deal of fervor, but before he had finished I felt that serpents and other slimy creatures were creeping all around me. After he had left the room, a number of the students said they felt he was devil possessed” (White, D&T 67). Certainly Alma White could not have sensed Seymour’s Pentecostal experience as he had not yet received the baptism of the Holy Ghost when he went to Los Angeles (Sanders 87).
White recorded her “impressions” of Seymour:

He was very untidy in his appearance, wearing no collar, and had a greenish-looking brass button exposed in the band of his shirt. In my evangelistic and missionary tours I had met all kinds of religious fakirs and tramps, but I felt that he excelled them all. There was a cause for this. The Lord knew that Satan was going to use him the outbreaking of the so-called “Pentecostal” movement with the baptism of unknown tongues, on the Pacific coast; and permitted me to see the person that the devil was going to use, before the winds of perdition began to blow. (White, D&T 68)

White should hardly have been surprised at Seymour’s disheveled appearance considering the strict transportation laws that separated the races and disallowed African Americans from occupying berth or parlor cars (Stephenson 193). Certainly, when he boarded the train in Houston, where Jim Crow laws were fully enforced, he would have had inferior accommodation, and interstate rail travel was not particularly easy or posh for anyone at the turn of the century.
White even suspects that Seymour was chosen by Satan because of his race: ” . . . I must say that it is very fitting that the devil should choose on of the sons of Ham to launch out the Tongues or so-called Pentecostal movement in which the works of the flesh are so plainly manifest” (White, D&T 100-101).
Despite repeated claims that she was interested in the spiritual welfare and enlightenment of African Americans, White was a confirmed racist and a member of, or at least a sympathizer with, the Ku Klux Klan. She toured rallies and viewed the supremacists as the true salvation of America. She repeatedly extolled the hateful society and published a book entitled The Ku Klux Klan in Prophecy, in which she clearly reveals the depths of her own demonic possession with her false and evil prophecies:

Klansmen, with their undying principles, will yet be promoted to the highest offices of the country and will hold the reins of government, as truly as Omnipotence rules. They will see the time when their enemies will be humbled in the dust for ever having raised the religious issue, making it necessary for them to rise up on defense of Americanism. (White, KKK 78-79)

Further, she writes:

The Klansmen are the prophets of a new and better age . . . These men with the banner of truth and the tenets of the Christian religion are now running before the Chariot of State, trying in every way possible to arouse the sleeping multitudes. Their program must be carried out if the country is saved from moral, social, and political ruin. (White, KKK 78-79)

Her passionate support of the Klan explains her condescending attitude toward William Seymour and her uncharitable description of the humble preacher.
Her publication, The Pillar of Fire, satirized Pentecostals and railed against the “Tongues Movement,” with tirades and cartoons. Ironically, her own husband deserted the Pillar of Fire sect and converted to the Pentecostal Movement in 1909, and the two separated. Kent White associated himself with the Apostolic Faith movement and moved to England in 1922, where he served as a pastor and teacher until 1939 (Burgess & McGee 883).
Alma White died in 1946, convinced that the Pentecostal Movement was “one of the worst abominations yet known” (White, D&T 45). Despite her venomous attacks against Pentecostals, the Apostolic Faith continued to grow. “Bishop” White continued in the gross error and foul folly. She would have benefited from the wise counsel of Gamaliel, “Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5.38-39). Her fervent efforts could not derail God’s work. Ultimately her criticism of Pentecostalism had no real impact on the movement and her grand predictions about the future glory of the Klan never materialized. Seymour went on to lead a mighty revival that brought together every creed and color in the humble Azusa Street Mission. The Pillar of Fire has been reduced to a veritable column of smoke with only a small number of adherents and only 6 congregations in the United States while Pentecostalism has become the fastest growing form of Christianity worldwide!

Sources:

Burgess, Stanley M. and Gary B. McGee. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic
Movements
. Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, 1988.

“Fall Kills ‘Holy Jumper.'” New York Times. 14 Mar 1907, p. 2.

“‘Holy Jumpers’: an Old Religion Headed by a Woman.” New York Times 11 Dec
1910, SM 7.

Sanders, Rufus G.W. William Joseph Seymour: Black Father of the Twentieth Century
Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement
. Sandusky, OH: Aldexandria Press, 2000.

Stephenson, Gilbert Thomas. “The Separation of the Races in Public Conveyances.”
The American Political Science Review 3(2) May 1909, pp. 180-204.

White, Alma. Demons and Tongues. Zarephath, NJ: Pillar of Fire Publishers, 1936.

—. The Ku Klux Klan in Prophecy. Zarephath, JN: Pillar of Fire Publishers, 1925.

‘Til Death Do Us Part: Early Pentecostals on Divorce and Remarriage

2 September, 2007

In August 2007, high-profile “Pentecostal” evangelists Juanita Bynum and Paula White announced that they are leaving their husbands.    While these tele-evangelists are not Apostolic and are not representative of the Pentecostal norm, it is troubling that their decisions have had little impact on their respective ministries.  The Church is always vulnerable to cultural influences, and the divorce and remarriage question, which is thoroughly treated by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, continues to be interpreted and reinterpreted in the modern Church.  Early twentieth century Pentecostals (both Oneness and Trinitarian) were vehemently opposed to Christian divorce, and their writings reveal the honest and sometimes controversial struggles to deter marital dissolution, to define the conditions for sanctioned separation, and to provide for spiritual reconciliation. 

In The Apostolic Faith, William Joseph Seymour, leader of the Los Angeles Azusa Street Mission, describes new converts to the Pentecostal faith who believed that God’s call superseded their commitment to family and home:  “Many homes today have been wrecked and brought to naught through false teaching.  Wives have left husbands and gone off claiming that the Lord has called her to do mission work, and to leave the little children at home to fare the best they can” (Seymour, “Bible Teaching . . .” 3).  He also admonishes others who “have come to think that it is a sin for them to live as husband and wife,” concluding, “It is no sin to marry” (Seymour 3).  Incidentally, Seymour’s own 1908 marriage to Jennie Evans Moore, a fellow worker at Azusa, precipitated the exodus of some workers, including Florence Crawford and Clara Lum who began a mission in Portland, Oregon (Sanders 110-113). 

In an effort to clarify Azusa’s stand on the issues of divorce and remarriage, Seymour took a catechetical approach in a January 1908 article.  “On what grounds did the Lord Jesus teach that a man and wife could separate?” Seymour’s response admits that fornication constitutes biblical justification for divorce, however he posits:  ” . . . but he has no right to marry another according to the Scripture, while she lives” (Seymour, “Questions . . . ” 2).  In answer to the question:  “Do you have preachers and evangelists of the Apostolic Faith that have two wives or two husbands?” Seymour acknowledges a transition in his understanding of the issue.  Initially, the mission did ordain converts who were divorced and remarried before their conversion, “thinking that everything was under the Blood.”  However, he concludes:  “But after searching the Scriptures, we found it was wrong; that the widow was to be the wife of one man and the bishop was to be the husband of one wife” (Seymour, “Questions . . . ” 2). 

Charles H. Mason, original presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, shared Seymour’s view that conversion did not release a saint from marital entanglements before regeneration.  In fact, Mason openly criticized “Elder C” [Bro. Glenn Cook], who was teaching that baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ remitted sins, including divorce and adultery:

. . . the anti-Christ also put into Elder C. to say that those who had other men and women’s husbands and wives before they came to light that they did not have to leave them that [sic] the water washed it all away, he would put before them 1 Cor. 6:9-11.  But ye are washed now.  That meant to him, any man that had another man’s wife or another woman’s husband before they got washed, that the washing made it all right to stay on, one with another and go on doing the same things that they did before only the washing made it so they could do it and it would not [sic] longer be a sin.  (Mason 81)

Here we have evidence of the primitive Pentecostal idea that divorce and remarriage could only be corrected by divorcing the subsequent spouse and returning to the first.  Bro. Cook clearly opposed this interpretation for those who had so sinned before their baptism.

            Like C.H. Mason, G.T. Haywood initially taught that converts to the Apostolic Faith must make restitution by returning to his or her original spouse, but he recognized the error of this teaching and is in agreement with Bro. Cook’s assessment:  ” . . .when a man repents and is baptized in ‘water and the Spirit’ he is a new creature in Christ, which is the church, his body.  The fact that God sets him in the body is a proof that God has judged his case and exonerated him from all sins and mistakes of the past . . .” (Haywood 116). 

            While most Pentecostals believed that divorce was allowable in the case of fornication, there was a universal rejection of remarriage.  Discussing the “exception clause” from Matthew 19.9, Seymour wrote:  “Jesus makes it very plain.  If the innocent party marries, they are living in adultery” (Seymour, “The Marriage Tie” 3).  Andrew Fraser, an Assemblies of God pastor from Chicago, wrote a very plain treatment of the issue in 1915:

The Bible then grants no permission to marry again while one’s companion is living. But some one asks, What about Matt. 5:32 and Matt. 19 :9? Doesn’t it say “except for fornication?” Yes, but the “except for fornication” pertains to the putting away and has absolutely nothing to do with any permission for the parties to marry again. We yield the point as to the putting away, but this fact stands forth clear and unquestioned that there was absolutely no permission given for re-marriage during the life-time of either party. No one can violate this express command without becoming an adulterer in the sight of God. (9)

Stanley Frodsham, another early AG pastor and historian, wrote similarly: 

There is however a basis for the inference that adultery is a legitimate ground for divorce in Jer. 3:8 in which Jehovah says, “When for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce.” But there is clearly no ground for remarriage given in this scripture. God kept the door of repentance always open.  (9)

Bishop Haywood declares: “In the church if a brother and sister, being married separate and marry another while either of the other is living, they are living in adultery . . . When such as this takes place then it is time for the church to act.  We could not stand clear before God and permit such to be carried on in the House of God” (Haywood 118).  Yet more plainly, he writes:  “In the church of God, there is to be no divorcing to remarry.  In the world it is bad enough, but when we come into the Body of Christ, (I Cor. 12.12-13) such practices are no longer to be tolerated” (Haywood 123).

These early Pentecostals conscientiously divided the Scriptures, protecting both the souls of the flock from the stain of sin and the Body of Christ from reproach.  While there are points of contention and disagreement in their writings, Pentecostal pioneers universally agreed that Scripture forbade divorced believers from remarrying during the lifetime of their first spouse.  Despite their rigidity on the subject, all agreed that God’s mercy was extended to all transgressors, and the blood of Christ was powerful to save and cleanse.  Stanley Frodsham wrote:  “Is there no hope for the adulterer?  Yes there is hope” (9).  While the Church must combat the worldly paradigm of dissolving flawed relationships, we must also extend to those without and within the Body of Christ heartfelt mercy as conduits of God’s healing and compassion, tempering the letter of the Law with the Spirit of Jesus Christ who absolved the sinful woman at the well saying, “Neither do I condemn thee:  go and sin no more” (Jn. 8.11).

Works Cited

 

Fraser, Andrew.  “Marriage and Divorce:  “But from the beginning it was not so.”  Latter Rain Evangel.  8 (1) Oct 1915, pp. 6-14.Frodsham, Stanley H.  “Marriage and Divorce.”  The Pentecostal Evangel.  No. 707 23 July 1927, p. 9.

Haywood, Garfield T.  God’s Word Exhorted, Revealed, and Prophesied.  Indianapolis:  Christ Temple Apostolic Faith Church, 1990.

Mason, Mary.  The History and Life Work of Elder C.H. Mason Chief Apostle and His Co-Laborers.  Memphis:  Church of God in Christ, 1924.

Sanders, Rufus G.W.  William Joseph Seymour:  Black Father of the Twentieth Century Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement.  Sandusky, OH:  Alexandria Publications, 2001.

Seymour, William J.  “Bible Teaching on Marriage and Divorce.”  The Apostolic Faith 1 (5) Jan 1907, p. 3.

—.  “The Marriage Tie.”  The Apostolic Faith 1 (10) Sep 1907, p. 3.

—.  “Questions Answered.”  The Apostolic Faith 1(11) Oct-Jan 1908, p. 2.