William J. Seymour walked across the sawdust-covered dirt floor of the simple frame building on Azusa Street and stepped up onto the low platform near the center of the room. Placing his hands on the plain cotton cloth that gave the packing-crate pulpit its dignity, he looked around at the rows of rude benches that served as pews. A deep contentment filled his soul as with hopeful anticipation he wondered what the evening would hold. Soon the place would be packed with people of every race and walk of life drinking in the spirit of the revival. Seymour himself was amazed at the phenomenon. Night after night, week after week, month after month the Azusa Street Mission had been pulsating with the songs, testimonies, and ecstatic utterances of what was rapidly becoming a spiritual movement of global proportions. And it had all started here, in these humble quarters, through the ministry of this humble man, a son of former slaves from a Louisiana plantation.
Pastor Seymour put his head down on the makeshift pulpit and began to pray fervently for that evening’s service, that the Holy Spirit would visit them in a powerful way. He had an earnest and unchanging desire that the miracle of Pentecost would come about on the earth again. He had the sincere expectation that the gift of the Holy Spirit would enable men and women to live holy lives and would foster unity in the church, even breaking down racial and economic barriers. By all accounts from those who knew him, William Seymour welcomed the full participation of all, whether black or white, male or female, rich or poor, young or old. He was not threatened by the gifting of others. All were free to bring a song, a testimony, or a message, whether intelligible or in an unknown tongue. He would often decline to preach a message himself if he thought God had already said all He wanted to say. He wanted God to have His way with His people.
It was not the first time in history that sincere, God-fearing men have longed for the restoration of the vibrant life of the first-century church that they read about in the New Testament, and it would not be the last. There are many examples of such men and the movements they inspired, from the Cathars and the Waldensians in the 1100s to the Anabaptists of the 1500s, the Pilgrim Separatists of the early 1600s, the Great Awakenings of the early 1700s and 1800s, the Welsh Revival at the turn of the 20th century, and the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As different as they all were from each other in their form and doctrine, they were all alike in the single most important aspect: the great disappointment of their demise. The Bride was not made ready, and the Son of God did not return to this earth to claim her.
Indeed, after three years the Azusa Street Revival had run its course. The unity that William Seymour had longed and prayed for remained beyond his grasp. Frank Bartleman, one of Seymour’s loyal friends and supporters, commented sadly of the condition of the Azusa and nearby Pentecostal missions near the end of the third year of the revival, “The missions had fought each other almost to a standstill. Little love remained.” Those who knew him best said that their beloved pastor died of a broken heart in 1922, the movement he helped birth having splintered along racial, doctrinal, and economic lines.
That is not to say that the Pentecostal movement ended with William Seymour’s death. On the contrary, it continued to grow tremendously and become an ecclesiastical force to be reckoned with. Today there are more than 12,000 Pentecostal/Charismatic denominations boasting almost 600 million members worldwide — almost ten percent of the world population.
It was said of the handful of disciples in the first century that they “turned the world upside down.”1 At that time they comprised perhaps three hundredths of one percent of the world population. Have you ever wondered what the effect ought to be if over half a billion people were actually filled with the Holy Spirit? What was the purpose for which the Holy Spirit was given anyway, according to the Scriptures?
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. (John 16:7-8)
When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14)
The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (John 17:22-23)
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
If you are a thoughtful person, you have probably wondered why it is that the more people claim to have received and even been baptized with the Holy Spirit, the more divisions there are in the church. We have pondered this question deeply, and we believe we have discovered a secret about the workings of the Holy Spirit — a secret that had been right there in the pages of our Bibles all along, though it had eluded us for years. It is a radical, revolutionary revelation, and with all our hearts we want to share it with you. Are you interested?