Archive for the ‘Tongues’ Category

The Heavenly Anthem

10 May, 2011

In 1906, the Pentecostals in Los Angeles reported singing in tongues. In addition, they experienced a further Pentecostal phenomenon, which they termed the “Heavenly Anthem” which manifested as an ethereal corporate singing, and many participants and observers claimed to hear celestial accompaniment. Though enthusiastic singing was part of Pentecostal worship from the movement’s beginnings, ecstatic singing in tongues seems to have surfaced among those who eventually formed the Azusa Street Apostolic Faith Mission and added a further dimension of deep spirituality to the meetings at the Mission and beyond.

The inaugural September 1906 issue of the Apostolic Faith, the official organ of the Azusa Street Mission reports:

Many have received the gift of singing as well as speaking in the inspiration of the Spirit. The Lord giving new voices, he translates the songs into new tongues, he gives the music that is being sung by the angels and has a heavenly choir all singing the same heavenly song in harmony. It is beautiful music, no instruments needed in the meetings.

Chronologically, Sis. Jennie Evans Moore, who later married William Seymour, was the first to experience heavenly singing on April 9, 1906 when she became the first woman to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost at prayer meetings on Bonnie Brae Street, she testified: “I sang under the power of the Spirit in many languages . . . “

One of the clearest descriptions of the “Heavenly Anthem” comes from Bro. Frank Bartleman, an itinerant Holiness evangelist who joined the Pentecostal movement and chronicled the advent of the Apostolic Faith in southern California. On June 15, 1906, Bartleman participated in the inspired singing while attending a service at Azusa:

It [the “Heavenly Anthem”] was a spontaneous manifestation and rapture no earthly tongue can describe. In the beginning, this manifestation was wonderfully pure and powerful . . . No one could understand this “gift of song” but those who had it. It was indeed a “new song” in the Spirit.

Bartleman was intrigued by the miraculous melodies :

It was a gift from God of high order, and appeared among us soon after the “Azusa” work began. No one had preached it. The Lord had sovereignly bestowed it with the outpouring of the “reside of oil,” the “Latter Rain” baptism of the Spirit. It was exercised as the Spirit moved the possessors either in solo fashion or by the company. It was sometimes without words, other times in “tongues.” The effect was wonderful on the people. It brought a heavenly atmosphere, as though the angels themselves were present and joining with us. And possibly they were. It seemed to still criticism and opposition, and was hard for even wicked men to gainsay or ridicule.

Missionary George Berg recognized some of the languages used by the singers, including Hindustani and Gujerathi. On Christmas Day 1906, the Azusa saints experienced the phenomenon during an all-day meeting, and the singing was fittingly interpreted: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men.” According to Bro. Berg, “People are melted to tears in hearing this singing. It is the harmony of heaven and the Holy Ghost puts music in the voices that are untrained.”

Ever critical of the formalization of the developing Pentecostal movement, Bro. Bartleman attributed the demise of the Heavenly Anthem to the assertion of the “human spirit” and claimed that “they drove it out by hymnbooks, and selected songs by leaders.” The Heavenly Anthem seems to be a lost artifact of the earliest days of American Pentecostalism, though singing in tongues does continue with less frequency today. Ultimately, the miraculous musical manifestation brought a glorious power and presence of God and was evidence of the abandoned spirituality of our Apostolic Faith forefathers.


Messages from Azusa Street

29 November, 2010 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.

The Pentecostal Experience of William Booth-Clibborn

11 June, 2010

In 1921, William Edmond Booth-Clibborn preached a successful tent revival in Lodi, California. Inspired by the results, Bro. Booth-Clibborn suggested that the revival party continue meetings further south and set up a tent in Holtville. After acquiring the necessary permits and lighting, they began services. Sadly, heavy rains and low attendance literally quenched the fiery services. Unable to pay the light bill for the week of disappointing meetings, Booth-Clibborn and his comrades took temporary jobs as field hands, harvesting corn. The evangelist, unused to such labor and forlorn by his failure, did little work. Finally, he sat down, crestfallen and dejected.

In this moment of self-pity, the Lord began to deal with him. As heavent-sent words began to flow in his spirit, Bro. Booth-Clibborn began to sing the words to one of the greatest anthems of the Apostolic Church:

Down from His glory,

Ever living story,

My God and Savior came,

And Jesus was His name.

Born in a manger,

To His own a stranger,

A Man of sorrows, tears and agony.

O how I love Him! How I adore Him!

My breath, my sunshine, my all in all!

The great Creator became my Savior,

And all God’s fulness dwelleth in Him.

What condescension,

Bringing us redemption;

That in the dead of night,

Not one faint hope in sight,

God, gracious, tender,

Laid aside His splendor,

Stooping to woo, to win, to save my soul.

Without reluctance,

Flesh and blood His substance

He took the form of man,

Revealed the hidden plan.

O glorious myst’ry,

Sacrifice of Calv’ry,

And now I know Thou art the great “I AM.”

This beloved song, which so gloriously articulates the revelation of the Mighty God in Christ, has inspired generations of Oneness Pentecostals and was perhaps Bro. Booth-Clibborn’s most enduring contribution to the movement.

William Booth-Clibborn was the grandson of General William Booth, British founder of the Salvation Army. Booth-Clibborn’s mother, Catherine, was a dynamic Salvation Army preacher and commanded the group’s work in France, Holland, and Belgium. William, named for her father, was born in France.

When William was a boy, his mother and father, Arthur, resigned their positions with the Salvation Army to pursue a more radical path. In 1902, the family joined Zion, Illinois, the utopian community led by John Alexander Dowie, a famous healing evangelist. Arthur was greatly influenced by Dowie’s message and began preaching holiness and healing on his return to England. Catherine also distinguished herself as an international evangelist and traveled extensively preaching amongst various evangelical groups.

In 1908, Arthur Booth-Clibborn learned of a burgeoning group of Pentecostals holding meetings in the Plumstead District of London. He persuaded his youngest son, William, to join him on the trip to London. On the train ride, Arthur asked his 15-year-old son, “William, don’t you think you ought to yield your heart to God afresh?” The question pricked his young heart. He had lost the zeal of his repentance experience at boarding school, and he approached the meeting in a small London mission hall with a renewed hunger for the Lord!

The service was led by a Mrs. Cantell, and the young William was transfixed by the passionate singing and speaking in tongues. Arthur Booth-Clibborn spoke eight languages, and William spoke five. The “strange language” was not recognizable to either, but Mr. Booth-Clibborn assured his son that “This is the unknown tongue you read about in Scripture.”

Mr. Alexander Moncur Niblock, a Baptist convert who had just received the Holy Ghost a few days before, was the speaker at the Booth-Clibborn’s first service. At the altar invitation, William made a strong repentance, praying from 10 PM ‘til 1 AM. He experienced a return of his zeal and desire for the Lord.

On Sunday, William and his father attended more Spirit-filled meetings at the Plumstead home of Mr. Bristow. At the evening service, William became insatiably hungry for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At the altar, he was enraptured by the presence of God, praying fervently, hungrily for the Holy Ghost:

I found myself singing in a beautiful language entirely foreign to me. Its charm and surprising sounds saturated me with an indescribable ecstasy. Every sweet sentence fully & adequately expressed the pent-up feelings of my inflamed heart . . . Direct from the altar of my heart, rising in surging burning billows, the most pleasing incense was reaching the Throne!

So began the experience of faith that led William Booth-Clibborn into an anointed ministry. He was later baptized in Jesus’ Name and proclaimed the great truth of the Oneness of God, joining the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Disillusioned with some of the later fragmentation of the Pentecostal movement, Booth-Clibborn eventually became less organizationally exclusive but maintained his Oneness stand, developing a remarkable Pentecostal ministry throughout his life. He founded several churches and led Immanuel Temple in Portland, Oregon until his death in 1969 at the age of seventy-six.

*Special thanks to Pat Clibborn, daughter-in-law of W.E. Clibborn, for granting an interview for this article.

Edward Irving and the Pentecostal Baptism

16 July, 2008

     Edward Irving was a controversial and often conflicted preacher. His important legacy is the recognition of the continuance of New Testament spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues. The Catholic Apostolic Church, the denomination founded by Irving in 1833, was the culmination of his theological evolution, transitioning from an ordained Calvinist in the Church of Scotland, to the pastor of a large group of England’s social and ruling elite to the leader of working-class revivalism.

     The fervent preacher was educated at Scotland’s Edinburgh University and pursued post-graduate studies in preparation for entry into the ministry, learning French and Italian and reading extensively 16th and 17th Century theology, which he mimicked in his early pulpit ministry. His clerical success in Scotland was limited, and he accepted an invitation in 1822 to become pastor of the 15-member Caledonian Chapel in Hatton Garden, London. The sermons that had been perceived as pretentious by parishioners in Scotland were now viewed as powerfully engaging to London audiences, and the chapel began to fill on Sundays with hundreds of spectators. Irving attained a certain amount of fame and was introduced to London society through a growing network of enthusiasts. In 1823, George Canning, foreign secretary, observed in a speech before the House of Commons that the most eloquent preaching he had ever heard was at Irving’s Caledonian Chapel. Irving’s services were also patronized by the wealthy Mrs Basil Montagu, and Irving received invitations to Samuel Taylor Coledridge’s Highgate residence (Brown). Early in his pulpit career, Irving believed that true national revival was going to be affected through his influence with this circle of prominent people.

     In the mid-1820s, Irving developed an interest in prophecy and postulated about the pre-millennial sequence of final events, including the destruction of the Church, the rise of Jews in Palestine, the return of Christ, and the establishment of the 1,000 year reign of Christ and the saints. In time, he developed a dismal hopelessness about the prospects of Christianity in Britain, and his sermons and writings were filled with castigations against the lethargic Church and dire warnings of impending judgment and tribulation, hearkening back to the zealous sermonizing of the early Puritans. Titles like A Discourse on the Evil Character of These Our Times Proving to be the “Perilous Times” of the “Last Days” [1828] and Babylon and Infidelity Foredoomed of God [1828] epitomize Irving’s apocalyptic slant.

     In 1830, Irving began hearing reports of strange spiritual manifestations at the church of a friend in Rhu, Scotland. John Macleod Campbell’s congregation was experiencing outbreaks of fervent worship, prayer, and phenomena like quaking and speaking in tongues. Initially, Irving was skeptical, but he became persuaded that this may be a further sign of the end times. On 30 October 1831, a parishioner burst forth speaking in tongues at Irving’s London church. Though Irving silenced the expression, many in the congregation were disturbed. By November, Irving had fully accepted and allowed the free manifestation of speaking in tongues and interpretations in his church. The decision to accept the charismatic gifts of the New Testament distanced Irving from more intellectual and prominent parishioners, who began to leave the church en masse (Brown).
     Later that year, Irving published a treatise on the subject of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, identifying tongues as a sign of spiritual baptism and a mechanism of prophecy. The work is clear, and systematically sets forth a new theological position on the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Irving, antecedent to Charles Parham’s Apostolic Faith Movement by a full fourscore years, posits that speaking in tongues is evidential of the infilling of the Spirit:

These remarks are of the utmost importance, not only as confirming and entirely establishing the doctrine as to what the baptism of the Holy Ghost is not, but also for an end of charity, which, though I have kept it out of view, lest it should warp the reader’s judgment, I have had fully in my mind-namely, for preventing the church from falling into despair upon the discovery that she possesseth not the baptism with the Holy Ghost, whose standing sign, if we err not, is the speaking with tongues (Irving 28).

He identifies a falling away from Apostolic truths after the first three centuries and writes of recent ecclesiastical history: ” . . . we have no signs of the Holy Ghost’s baptism, nor tokens of an indwelling Father, to produce” (Irving 28). He prophetically challenges the Church to accept the work of the Holy Spirit and fears for the future of those who reject His manifestation:



My heart is exceeding heavy while I indite [sic] these things; for I feel assured that the time is near when the church in these lands shall be brought to this perilous test. We shall ere long have lifted up amongst us the full manifestation of the Holy Ghost, which is already present in the speaking with tongues; and when to this are added the other manifestations (and the time, I believe, is not distant), then things are come to a crisis with the church; and she must either decide for the Holy Ghost or against him, for her own salvation or her own perdition for ever and ever. It is the sense of this near and unknown crisis which chiefly moveth me to put forth these views of the baptism of the Holy Ghost; that, by the grace and mercy of God, I may do my part to prevent the overhanging ruin, and lead many, if not all, away from the brink of perdition unto the green pastures and still waters of peace and truth and love. (Irving 109)

     Irving’s theology placed him outside of the Calvinist tradition of the Church of Scotland, and he was indicted on charges of heresy on 13 March 1833. He returned to London and formed the Catholic Apostolic Church. The new church’s nomenclature demonstrates Irving’s commitment to recovering universal, New Testament faith. While the influence of Irving and his group ultimately proved to be limited, they were unquestionably theological forerunners of the early Pentecostal movement. As contemporary Apostolics, we can integrate Irving’s legacy into a history of the Holy Ghost’s workings throughout history, and we must admire Edward Irving for his theological commitment to groundbreaking truth, an allegiance which cost him the fellowship of revered clergy and affluent society. He counted the cost and is recorded in history as a man of conviction and passion equal to the task of non-conformity and spiritual rediscovery.





Brown, Stewart J. ‘Irving, Edward (1792-1834)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 9 March 2007]

Irving, Edward. The Day of Pentecost, or the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1831.

“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.
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.


“‘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.

Unto to You and to Your Children: a Historical Survey of Speaking in Tongues

8 January, 2008

The theological centerpiece of the modern Pentecostal movement is the belief that speaking in tongues, or glossolalia, is evidential of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and replicates the experience of the Apostolic Church on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. While the New Testament is replete with examples of the miracle of speaking in unknown tongues, history includes infrequent accounts of the phenomenon.

Irenaeus, a 2nd century bishop in Gaul, makes clear references to the practice:

When the Apostle says “We speak wisdom among the perfect,” by the “perfect” he means those who had received the Spirit of God, and in all tongues speak through the Spirit of God, as he himself also spake. As also we now hear many brethren in the Church having prophetic gifts, and speaking in all sorts of languages through the Spirit . . . (qtd. Cutten 33)

Irenaeus also went to Rome to defend the Montanist sectarians against excommunication in 177. Montanus spoke in tongues at his baptism and promoted the prophetic gifts and glossolalic utterances of two prophetesses, Prisca and Maximilla (Latourette 128).

Origen (185-254 A.D), a Greek apologist, records the comments of Celsus, an ancient pagan philosopher who opposed Christianity. Celsus describes Christian prophets who utter prophecies to which “are added strange, fanatical, and quite unintelligible words, of which no rational person can find the meaning” (Origen vii. 9).

By the time of Chrysostom (345-407 AD), speaking in tongues seems to have completely disappeared from the nascent Catholic Church. Writing of Paul’s treatment on tongues to the Corinthians, he concludes: “The whole passage is exceedingly obscure; and the obscurity is occasioned by our ignorance of the facts and the cessation of happenings which were common in those days but unexampled in our own” (qtd. in Cutten, 37).

There are numerous descriptions of tongues or similar glossolalic “miracles” throughout the Middle Ages, but they lack apostolic authenticity and are primarily the stuff of ecclesiastical hagiography. In his La Mystique Divine, Naturelle, et Diabolique, Joseph Gorres offers a lengthy catalog of Catholic saints who were apparently gifted with “tongues.” Among these were St. Pachomius (292-348), St. Hildegard (1098-1179), St. Vincent Ferrier (1357-1419) and St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552). It is, in fact, possible that many of the Catholic examples are demonic, as various saints preached to the heathen to bring them into popery. In one case, Jeanne of the Cross ecstatically spoke Arabic to “two Mohammadeans” who demanded baptism. Later, she instructed them “in tongues” concerning the tenets of the Catholic faith (Gorres 451). Undoubtedly, the true Holy Spirit of God would not inspire utterances in any language that would bring the hearers into the bondage of false doctrine, and such outlandish tales can only be considered fiction or lying signs and wonders.

Outside the Roman communion, tongues and other ecstatic speech were attributed to a number of religious sects. Between 1688 and 1701, the Huguenots of Southern France under heavy persecution from Louis XIV began to experience glossalia amongst children, who would prophesy and preach in various languages (Cutten 51). The Jansenists experienced tongues in France in 1731; and during Protestant revivals in Norway and Sweden from 1841-1843, young people experienced what became known as “sermon sickness” in which they uttered unintelligible words and sang hymns in other languages (Cutten 67).

Mormons regularly “spoke in tongues”, and both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young claimed the experience (Bugress & McGee 339). Again, it seems unlikely that Mormonism, which is so theologically antichrist, could produce a manifestation that is authentically Christian.

Perhaps the most complete and convincing documentation of speaking in tongues comes from the Irvingite revivals in England during the 19th Century. Edward Irving was a Presbyterian minister who gained a great and wealthy following in England, opening a church in Regent Square. In October 1831, a lady named Miss Hall began speaking in tongues (Allen 75). Irving had, in fact, encountered the manifestation at a church in Rhu, Scotland where his friend, John Macleod Campbell, served as pastor (Brown). But, Irving, like modern Pentecostals, hailed speaking in tongues as evidential of Spirit baptism: “We shall ere long have lifted up amongst us the full manifestation of the Holy Ghost, which is already present in the speaking with tongues . . . ” (Irving 109).

It was, however, not until Charles Parham and the students at Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas claimed to replicate the Pentecostal experience in Acts 2 by receiving the Holy Ghost with speaking in tongues that the practice became the central tenet of a theological movement. Purportedly, Parham set his students on a “Berean” search for the Bible evidence of Spirit baptism, and they “all had the same story, that while there were different things which occurred when the Pentecostal blessing fell, that the indisputable proof on each occasion was, that they spake with other tongues” (Parham 52). Modern Classical Pentecostalists, universally trace their “initial evidence” perspective on glossolalia to Parham and believe that the outpouring in Topeka marks an important watershed in the restoration of Apostolic truth.

Today, the Pentecostal experience along with its correct soteriological centrality has been fully realized by the contemporary Apostolic Pentecostal Church. Speaking in tongues is no longer an infrequent, undocumented, or abnormal experience but a powerfully recognized source of spiritual renewal for over 400 million Pentecostals worldwide (Gonzales 1). Considering the historical and ancient eminence of the Roman Church and the oppression of those who opposed catholic dogma, it is not surprising that we lack clear documentation of the manifestation of the Holy Ghost, for surely His divine work was alien to the apostate. While history does not offer us a recorded continuum of tongue speaking from the time of Apostles until now, it is certain that the gift of the Spirit was bestowed throughout generations upon those who sought the Lord with sincerity and with careful attention to the enduring promise of God’s Word: “For the promise is unto you and to your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).


Allen, David. “Regent Square Revisited: Edward Irving, Precursor of the Pentecostal Movement.” Evangel. Autumn 2004, 22 (3), pp. 75-80.

Brown, Stewart J. “Irving, Edward (1792-1834″‘, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 31 Dec 2007].

Cutten, George Barton. Speaking with Tongues, Historically and Psychologically Considered. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1927.

Gonzales, David. “A Sliver of a Storefront, a Faith on the Rise.” New York Times. 14 Jan 2007, p. 1.

Gorres, Joseph von. La Mystique Divine, Naturelle, et Diabolique. Paris: Poussilque-Rousand, 1861.

Irving, Edward. The Day of Pentecost, or the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. London: Baldwin and Craddock, 1831.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity, Volume I Beginnings to 1500. San
Francisco: Harper, 1975.

Origen. Chadwick, Henry trans. Contra Celsum. Cambridge: University Press, 1980.

Parham, Sarah E. The Life of Charles F. Parham, Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement. New York: Garland Publishing Co., 1985.