Part 3. Pentecostalism
It is so easy to live in the present and forget our heritage. Especially in these frantic days of speed, immersed in a consumer society, with all the wonders and delights (!) of modern technology at our finger tips, we tend to lose sight of our national background, and the meaning of the present in terms of the activities of the past. Our American friends have two days in the year in which they stop for a moment and reflect – Independence Day, and Thanksgiving Day. Here in Britain we do not have such days, but in November we have Armistice Day, in which we remember those who died in two world wars.
This preamble prepares the way for what must be said in this number, because in Part 1 we saw that a number of very significant events were beginning to arise during the 20th century and it is of vital importance to stop and consider the meaning of them. As believers, and especially because we tend to sense the nearness of the Lord’s return, we must try to understand where we are now, in terms of what has occurred within that century. Having done so, I believe it can help us to adjust our minds to current events, and know more clearly the significance of the “signs of the times.”
Out of the list of twelve items in part 1 there are two which stand out from the rest as being of paramount importance, namely the return of spiritual gifts to the Church, and the rise of Jewish Zionism leading to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Furthermore, there seems to be a definite parallelism between these two, as though the Lord is leading by hand two horses, with the reins in His left hand attached to the Christian horse, and the reins in His right hand attached to the Jewish horse, to attempt to apply some figurative language to the situation. Indeed, by even a cursory glance, the progress of one is often highlighted by the progress of the other, whether it be victories or drawbacks.
Because of this, we shall now devote some little time to look back and recapture some of these highlights during the last 100 years. In this number we shall investigate the rise of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement, and reserve the rise of Zionism for number 3.
The preponderance of spiritual gifts in the early church is clear from the writings of the New Testament, and other contemporary literature, but it would seem as though these miraculous gifts largely died out in the ensuing centuries, not to be observed again until the 20th century. Those who have delved into historical records have found spasmodic references to gifts throughout the intervening centuries, but never on the scale of the first century, or what we find today.
The Pentecostal movement, when it emerged 100 years ago, inherited something from the Holiness movements, but other strains were contributed from the tradition of American revivalism, particularly Torrey, and especially by the Welsh Revival of 1904-5. This latter movement is of particular importance in our study, because it was the watershed from which the power of the Holy Spirit was manifested across the world. From September 1904 to June 1905 some 100,000 people were converted to Christ in South Wales.
The Rev. Alexander A. Boddy, vicar of All Saints, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, saw the Welsh Revival at first hand, and took back an account of it to his own church, where not many months later he led a prayer meeting to await a “Holy Ghost visitation.” Later he met up with T.B.Barratt (mentioned later) who helped him in the pursuance of spiritual gifts for his congregation.
Joseph Smale, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Los Angeles, heard of the Welsh revival, and travelled to Britain to witness for himself the amazing work of God. On returning he told his congregation about the revival, and wrote that “fully two hundred of them came out of their seats and wept in penitence before the Lord.” He began holding daily services in which members sought earnestly the power of the Holy Spirit and the gifts.
However, most people associate the Pentecostal revival with Azusa Street, Los Angeles, which arose through the instrumentality of an African American preacher by the name of William J. Seymour (1870 – 1922). Knowing what had been happening in Wales, and then with Joseph Smale, he began preaching that speaking in tongues was the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. His first Los Angeles parish therefore expelled him. But he continued preaching, and gathered around him a small nucleus of those who had received the gift of tongues. This revival drew many people from the Holiness Movement, the Baptists, Mennonites, Quakers, Presbyterians, and other denominations.
In April 1906 Seymour became pastor of the Azusa Street Mission in downtown Los Angeles. 312 Azusa Street was an old disused building in the industrial part of the city. According to the Los Angeles Daily Times, a “bizarre new religious sect” had started with people “breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand.” Headlines in the paper spoke of “Weird Babel of Tongues”, “New Sect of Fanatics is Breaking Loose”, “Gurgle of wordless talk by a Sister,” “Wild Scene last night on Azusa Street” (Wed. April 18th edition) A visiting Baptist pastor said, “The Holy Spirit fell on 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.”
About 350 people crammed into this old whitewashed 40 by 60 foot wooden framed structure, with many others forced to stand outside. The services were held on the ground floor, (which in America is called the First Floor). They had no furniture, but sat on planks placed across empty nail kegs. There was no platform, and no pulpit. Everything was of the most rudimentary kind, and nobody cared in the least. What mattered was what God was manifestly doing in their midst. One brother wrote that “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 . . . In that old building, with its low rafters and bare floors, God took strong men and women to pieces, and put them together again, for His glory . . . The religious ego preached its own funeral sermon quickly.”
A magazine was produced by them in those days, entitled Apostolic Faith, and in September 1906, their first issue, was the following report. “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.” The Azusa Street revival illustrated the fundamental truth about the acquisition of spiritual power: the desire to love others and win the world for Christ begins with brokenness, repentance, and humility.
In three and a half years, during which this revival took place, people from all over the world gathered to witness what God was doing, and took the flame of revival back with them to their own countries, R.E McAlister and A.H.Argue to Canada; T.B.Barratt (directly and indirectly) to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England, Germany, and France; Dr.W.C.Hoover to Chile; Daniel Burg and Gunnar Vingren to Brazil; and Ivan Voronaeff to the Ukraine and Russia.
So much for Azusa Street. I have gleaned this information from two articles on the Internet, one from Wikipedia, the other on William Seymour. It is important to see the emphasis that God placed on this new outpouring. Many people associate the rise of Pentecostalism with emotional excesses, raving, out-of-control happenings, which only tend to feed the emotions, rather than the spirit. In point of fact, that did happen, and the unsavoury part of the movement began to give the activities a bad name. One needs to focus on the true work of God, and separate it from mere emotional display. However, it must be appreciated that these were pioneering days for those endued with the power of the Holy Spirit. Compare that with the excesses of the present time in such places as Toronto, where no such excuse can be given, after nearly a century of growing experience of the Baptism of the Spirit.
And that brings us through the years from 1906 nearer to the present day. Pentecostal churches grew, and as time passed so the power decreased, and formalism took its place, so that the “brokenness, repentance, and humility” were replaced by church organisation, salaried pastors, smart buildings, and all the usual paraphernalia of churchianity. The Spirit of the Lord was grieved. But in 1967, just as the Zionists recaptured Jerusalem, the Lord began a new work amongst believers. It soon became known as neo-Pentecostalism, but eventually the word “Charismatic” became the recognised title of the movement. The influence of this movement was soon to spread across the world, so that today (2007) it is found almost everywhere, in almost every denomination.
Rosalind and I were present at the outset of this new work in 1967, and we remember the general excitement in England amongst those who were seeking a new move of the Holy Spirit. In a special “Prayer and Waiting Conference” in Exeter, Devon, attended by about 150 believers, we waited upon the Lord to know the way ahead, and God’s word was given prophetically through such men as Edgar Parkyns and Arthur Wallis. The full text of those prophecies has been preserved, and we have placed them in “God’s Spoken Word” on our web site. (First item in the list.) We encourage our readers to look at them, because they are of paramount importance to anyone who seriously anticipates the return of the Lord, and what the Lord requires of His people when He comes.
The word spoken was virtually the same as that spoken at the Welsh revival, and at Azusa Street. Even now we can hear the words, as Edgar Parkyns received them from the Lord, when he said, “How is it that my people are in darkness when I have left them light? How is it that they are hungry when I am their bread? How is it that hungering after truth, they are not able to consume it or take it? How is it that there is a negative answer, dullness, and lack of perception amongst those who are my children, my elect? How is it, says the Lord, that you have been brought thus far and yet your spirit is in bondage? . . . The Lord is calling each man to the place of the cross.” And when Arthur Wallis said,
“Is there not a way, saith the Lord? Is there not a way through the stormy seas? Is there not a way through the wilderness, and the barren place, and the parched ground? Is it not the Lord your God who leads you even through the storm and through the wilderness into the place that He has appointed? Though you cannot see the end, and though you cannot see the way that the Lord is leading you, are you not to trust yourself into His hands and know that He is leading by the right way? And though there be times when things seem dark and uncertain, though there be times when it seems the end is not being reached, is it not then that you are to trust and not be afraid? For it is the Lord your God who teaches you to profit, and even in the present state of wilderness and confusion, is it not thus that I am teaching you and preparing you and training you? Is it not thus that I am fitting you for that large place, that place of bounty, that place of richness and of abundance? For thus is your God fitting you and preparing you that you might be such that you can be entrusted with my blessing, even with the authority with which I will clothe my church in these end days. Therefore take heart; be not disconcerted or confused in your mind because you cannot reason your way through. It is not for you to reason saith the Lord, it is for you to trust and not to be afraid. Even yield yourselves into my hand and I will take you by the right path, yea, I will lead you through the stormy seas and bring you into the haven of your desire.”
The Lord was calling to each one of us to yield ourselves to Him, that He might hear our vows, and take us by the right way, and prepare us for His great day of blessing, in resurrection, to be amongst those who could, and would, share in the government of this world in the Kingdom of God.
But within a short space of time the new movement developed into yet another form of worship which tended more towards the satisfying of the flesh than the uplift of the spirit, so that today the essence of what the Lord was bringing to our notice in 1967 has been exchanged for yet another denominational-type Christianity just 40 years later. However, here and there, and we believe particularly amongst the tens of thousands of “out of church Christians”, there is still that same earnest desire to be conformed to the Lord’s word, and be fashioned in readiness for the New Day. We shall have to return to this subject later in the series.