Just as God moved the Children of Israel from place to place in the wilderness, His church embraced or rejected new revelations, shifting through the centuries. By the early 1900s, across the United States, it had divided into innumerable denominations—a new one formed every time a few folks didn’t want to go on with the next reformation.
Puritans, Quakers, Baptists, Mennonites, Methodists, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, the Disciples of Christ and more. Even the denominations splintered and fractions rose such as the Southern Baptists parting with the Northern Baptists over slavery pros and cons. And Catholicism kept a growing foothold in America as well.
Congregations led by men remained racially segregated. Though the Seventh Day Adventists met and worshiped on the seventh day—the one God named the Sabbath, and today is called Saturday—Sunday had become the more common meeting day. Pastors spoke from pulpits before congregations with singing, announcements, and offerings each having their allotted times. Most all churches advertised special times of revival.
One of the most famous American revivals just happened in the early spring of 1906 in Los Angeles, California at a home gathering. The meetings were led by a thirty-four-year-old son of freed slaves, William J. Seymour who’d traveled from Houston to minister at a Holiness Church in lieu of a call.
But he came preaching the baptism of Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues, a new and unpopular idea. Though he’d been invited to spend a month, the elders of the church (and its state association) rejected Seymor’s teaching and padlocked the doors the next Sunday.
However, not all the members sided with the church leaders and began meeting in a home on Bonnie Brae Street.
After five weeks of near round-the-clock preaching, praying, and fasting, Holy Spirit came with His promised power. So many people came and tried to squeeze into the modest home, the front porch collapsed under their weight.
Meetings then moved to a dilapidated two-story building on Azuza Street in an undesirable part of town.
Though originally built to house an African Methodist Church, after they left, it'd served many purposes: lumberyard, stockyard, warehouse, wholesale, making tombstones, most recently, a livery.
They rented it on April 14, 1906, and immediately resumed meetings. Sitting on benches of planks on top nail kegs, the people had nothing fancy.
Bare floors covered only by sawdust, no pulpit or elevated platform; the eight-foot ceilings didn’t allow for one. Men and women spoke in strange tongues. They shouted, sang and moaned. People even coming close would fall out as if dead, slain in the Spirit.
Miracles happened, and the news spread quickly. Curious Christians flocked from all over in great numbers. Roads became clogged for blocks and blocks. Services consisted mostly of prayer that went on round the clock. Singing would be sporadic and acapella, sometimes in the tongues, praising and worshiping an altogether good God.
None were planned though. People often twirled and leaped. Some shared testimonies. Money was never asked for, but the faithful paid titles and offerings into a box at the back of the room. From its start, the unusual worship services attracted attention.
One newspaper reported: “Colored people and a sprinkling of whites compose the congregation, and night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshippers who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve-racking attitude of prayer and supplication.” Yet Seymour and his initial small group of worshippers persisted, and more people were attracted to the services.”
By mid-May, three to fifteen hundred folks came daily, trying to get in, get healed, get saved, or baptized by fire. The intermingling of folks from all walks of life and of all colors of skin, the rich and poor together came across denominations. They came to see what was happening there then fell under the Spirit’s power. Thousands accepted Christ as Savior.
One observer in an early meeting reported this: “No instruments of music are used. None are needed. No choir- the angels have been heard by some in the Spirit. No collections are taken. No bills have been posted to advertise the meetings. No church organization is back of it. All who are in touch with God realize as soon as they enter the meetings that the Holy Ghost is the leader.”
Firsthand accounts of the blind receiving sight or the lame coming in wheelchairs or on crutches and walking out were plentiful. Crutches no longer needed were left in droves. Diseases were healed.
One visiting Baptist pastor said, “The Holy Spirit fell upon me and filled me literally, as it seemed to lift me up, for indeed, I was in the air in an instant, shouting, 'Praise God,' and instantly I began to speak in another language. I could not have been more surprised if at the same moment someone had handed me a million dollars.”
News spread around the world as the Azuza Street Revival gained momentum; it was likened to the “latter rain” falling, and people came from all over to attend. A missionary, Bernt Bernsten traveled all the way from North China to investigate the happenings reported.
Not all the reports were favorable though. Just as today Christians pray for a fair representation of the public media, the saints dealt with nay-sayers. An early-on front-page story in the Los Angeles Times titled “Weird Babel of Tongues” called the believers a sect.
It began: "the newest religious sect has started in Los Angeles" and reported: "Breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand."
By that fall, papers were harsher, printing “disgraceful intermingling of the races...they cry and make howling noises all day and into the night. They run, jump, shake all over, shout to the top of their voice, spin around in circles, fall out on the sawdust blanketed floor jerking, kicking and rolling all over it.
“Some of them pass out and do not move for hours as though they were dead. These people appear to be mad, mentally deranged or under a spell. They claim to be filled with the spirit. They have a one-eyed, illiterate, Negro as their preacher who stays on his knees much of the time with his head hidden between the wooden milk crates.
“He doesn't talk very much but at times he can be heard shouting, "Repent," and he's supposed to be running the thing... They repeatedly sing the same song, "The Comforter Has Come."
Attendees were called Holy Rollers and Tangled Tongues or Holy Ghosters as Christians from many traditional denominations criticized them for being too emotional, accusing the believers of misusing scriptures and losing the focus on Christ by overemphasizing the Holy Spirit. From pulpits across the country, pastors warned their congregations to stay away from the Azuza Street Mission.
Seymour’s wife Jennie, with a few others, started a paper called The Apostolic Faith distributed free that reported the following in September 1906, the same month as the publication of the harsh story:
“In a short time, God began to manifest His power and soon the building could not contain the people. Proud, well-dressed preachers come in to 'investigate.' Soon their high looks are replaced with wonder, then conviction comes, and very often you will find them in a short time wallowing on the dirty floor, asking God to forgive them and make them as little children.”
Five thousand copies came out as the first printing and by 1907, reached forty thousand souls. The revival went on for ten years with a plethora of new denominations who believed in the baptism of God's Holy Spirit. There are many reasons given for its ending . . . limiting the time for praise and worship or the length of the services, but few can deny the movement of God seen in 1906 on Azuza Street.
In book nine of my Texas Romance Family Saga, MIGHTY TO SAVE, my characters travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles and attend the famous revival. I have arranged for it to be FREE today and the next two at Amazon. You're welcomed to TELL YOUR FRIENDS!
It’s always free in Kindle Unlimited. I hope you’ll enjoy attending yourself through the eyes of Nathaniel and Evelyn Nightingale.
It's set during World War I times, and the visit to Azuza Street is written as a remembrance of how the revival change their family's lives. I know that in 1975 the experience certainly changed my and my husband's when we--a Southern Baptist girl and Church Of Christ fellow--were swept into the "Charismatic Renewal." In the series, ten novels, each is a stand-alone.
GET YOUR COPY FREE of MIGHTY TO SAVE today!
BIO: Award-winning Author Caryl McAdoo prays her story brings God glory! And her best-selling novels are blessed with a lion’s share of 5-Star ratings! With forty-four-and-counting titles, she loves writing as well as singing the new songs the Lord gives her—listen to a few at YouTube. She and husband Ron share four children and eighteen grandsugars. The McAdoos live in the woods south of Clarksville, seat of Red River County, in far Northeast Texas, waiting expectantly for God to open the next door.
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