Assess the impact of Azusa Street on 20th Century Pentecostalism.
Pentecostalism can be defined as a movement within Evangelical Christianity that places special emphasis on the direct personal experience of God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in tongues, as shown in the biblical account of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Robeck believes that the story of Azusa Street mission is really the account of God fulfilling a long-time promise that he would pour out his spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17-18). The mission is seen as a Pentecostal movement that changed the religious landscape and became the most vibrant force for world evangelisation in the 20th century. Certainly, it became the most significant revival of the century in terms of global perspective. In order to truly assess the impact of Azusa Street revival, we will brieflly look at the leadership of some key players, before and during the revival. We will also consider events leading up to the revival, together with some movements that combined to precipitate the first international Pentecostal missions, following the outbreak of Azusa. Close attention will be paid to the revival’s unique features and legacy.
Parham or Seymour
Anderson records that the influences of the Azusa Street movement included a belief in ‘missionary tongues’, a conviction that the Spirit had been poured out in revival power, causing the nations of the world to be reached before the imminent return of Christ. Now then, was Azusa Street the birthplace of Pentecostalism, or it was a catalyst to the movement? This debate about the origins of Pentecostalism rages on everywhere. Walter Hollenweger reminds us that 'it all depends on what we consider to be the essence of Pentecostalism' in this debate. Either the essence of Pentecostalism lies in a particular doctrine of a particular experience (i.e. speaking in tongues), or else it lies in its oral missionary nature and its ability to break down barriers. For him, the choice 'is not a historical, but a theological one'. If Hollenwenger’s choice is assumed, then credit for the birth of Pentecostalism is due to Charles Fox Parham, who formulated the ‘evidential tongues’’ doctrine that became the hallmark of Pentecostalism. It is reported that Parham, at a watch-night service on December 31, 1900, laid hands on a student named Agnes Ozman to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. After midnight on the first day of the 20th century, Miss Ozman began speaking in a Chinese language’. It is this particular event that is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement in America. Parham immediately began to teach that missionaries would no longer be compelled to study foreign languages to preach in the mission fields. His teaching laid the doctrinal and experimental foundations of the modern Pentecostal movement.
Dave Allen notes that Parham’s ‘Apostolic Faith Movement’, experienced notable success in Kansas, and later Houston, such that by the middle of 1906, Parham had nearly ten thousand followers. However, to Parham’s detriment, unsubstantiated accusations of ‘sodomy’ against him eroded his influence. Nevertheless, the Pentecostal revival would progress: but now under the leadership of Parham’s one-time disciple, William Seymour. I must say that I agree with Allen who comments that we must not allow, what was probably malicious rumour to obscure the fact that Pentecostalism owes more to Parham, than perhaps to anyone else. Synan puts it simply: it was Parham’s ideas preached by his followers that produced the Azusa Street revival and with it the worldwide Pentecostal movement.
Coloured and blind in one eye, William J. Seymour hardly seemed to be the person to lead the historic revival that would usher in the Pentecostal movement. Because of ‘Jim Crow’ segregation laws of the time, Seymour had listened to Parham’s lectures, in...
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