It’s that time again, fellow eschatologists, to take a break from studying what God will do in the future and, instead, take a look at what He’s done in the past. In this series, we’re going to look at one of the most powerful and supernatural moves of God that’s ever taken place. We’re going to study the Azusa Street Revival. Every time God has moved in a powerful way through past revivals, He added something to the Church. And the Azusa Street Revival was no exception. In this powerful revival in 1906, He added to the Church the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with the gift of speaking in tongues!
THE AZUSA STREET REVIVAL
First in a Four-Part Series
by Karen Thompson
The Baptism of the Holy Ghost and Tongues
In the year 1906, the Azusa Street Revival began in Los Angeles, California and lasted for three years. The man most people connect to the revival was William J. Seymour, an African American preacher known for his humility and godliness. It all started when Seymour and seven other men were in a prayer meeting, waiting on God when the power of God hit them. They described the experience as being hit with a bolt of lightning. Simultaneously, all the men were knocked out of their chairs and onto the floor. The men began to speak in other tongues and shout praises to God. That was the start of the Azusa Street Revival.
Before we go any further, let’s set the stage. America had come a long way since her independence. In 1776, her population was 2,500,000 and consisted of 13 colonies on the east coast. In 1900, America’s population was 76,212,168 and consisted of 45 states, which spread all the way to the west coast. Oklahoma would become the 46th state to join the union in 1907. William McKinley was the 25th president of the United States from 1897 until his assassination in 1901. McKinley led the nation to victory in the Spanish–American War in 1898. Upon McKinley’s death by assassination, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency at age 42. He is the youngest person ever to become President of the United States. (John F. Kennedy was next at 43 years of age.)
Charles Fox Parham (1873–1929)
The Azusa Street Revival is famous for its manifested, supernatural works of God as well as helping to bring to the forefront the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. The Azusa Street Revival is greatly responsible for the baptism in the Holy Spirit becoming international, spreading to the nations. Though William Seymour is the person most people connect to this revival, it is Charles F. Parham who is known as the “Father of the Pentecostal Movement.” It was Charles Parham, not William Seymour, whom God used to usher in the gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its fullness. For that reason, the first subject in our series on the ushering in of the baptism in the Holy Spirit will start with Charles F. Parham.
The Early Years
On June 4, 1873, Charles Fox Parham was born to William and Ann Maria Parham in Muscatine, Iowa. The thing I found so unique about Charles is that he knew he was called of God at a very young age… even before he was born again! At age 13, he gave his life to the Lord at a Congregational Church meeting. At the tender age of 15, he preached his first meetings.
Though he was unknown to the community of Tonganoxie, Kansas, Parham stepped out in faith and asked the town leaders for permission to hold evangelistic meetings in the town’s school building. After he got permission, he did something that revealed he had the heart of an evangelist. Before his first meeting, he climbed a hill that overlooked the town. He stretched out his hands over the valley and prayed that the whole community would give their lives to the Lord. Though the meetings were slow at first, they picked up and many did, indeed, give their lives to the Lord. At the time, Charles was only 18 years old!
It was in those meetings that Charles met his soon-to-be wife, Sarah Thistlewaite. She attended one of his meetings and was convicted by his message comparing “so-called Christians who attend fashionable churches and go through the motions of a moral life and those who embrace a real consecration and experience the sanctifying power of the blood of Christ.” During those meetings, Sarah made a decision to give her whole life to the Lord.
At age 19, Parham was pastor of the M.E. Church in Linwood, Kansas for two years. Ultimately, he left the pastorate because he felt called to evangelism. At the beginning of his evangelistic ministry, he and Sarah were married on December 31, 1896.
Later, the death of a friend greatly affected Parham, so much so that he vowed to begin preaching the gospel of healing. That vow would result in a continual stream of sick people flowing to Charles and Sarah’s home in Ottawa, Kansas when they opened it up to minister to sick people who sought God’s supernatural healing power.
In 1898, Charles and Sarah started a “divine healing home” in Topeka, Kansas for the purpose of providing “home-like comforts” for those seeking healing. They called this ministry Bethel, and it became much more than just a healing home. Bethel offered special studies for those called to the ministry to prepare them for the work. This was a key feature throughout Charles’ ministry where the Lord used him to teach and train others for the work of the ministry.
The Holiness Movement
Around this time, the holiness movement began to come to the forefront in America. Most people today have no idea what the holiness movement was all about. Today, when people think of the holiness movement, they automatically connect it with an austere lifestyle… no drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no theatre, and no gambling. They think of holiness being expressed in the outward appearance, which didn’t affect the men as much as the women, who took the full brunt: no makeup, no jewelry, long dresses, and long hair gathered high on top of their heads.
That is not what the holiness movement was about… at all!
For quite some time, there began to percolate among God’s people a desire and a conviction. The desire was for a greater experience of God. They didn’t know exactly what it was they were seeking, but they had a conviction there was more to be had after the initial born again experience. They just didn’t know what it was. There was a groundswell among Christian groups that felt there was a secondary work of grace, that God had something greater for them in the Christian experience. They didn’t know it, but they were being led of the Holy Spirit to seek the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
The Nazarene Church, which had the largest holiness denomination, defined the holiness movement thusly: “We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect. It is wrought by the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit…”
Charles Parham Joined the Great Groundswell
Charles Parham was one of those seeking the second work of God. It was his motivation for visiting several Christian holiness works around the country to check out the progress these groups made in obtaining this second work of sanctification. He left his own ministry in the hands of two holiness preachers and set off to visit several ministries that were experiencing a move of God. His assessment of the ministries he observed was that they had obtained genuine sanctification experiences but there still had not come a great outpouring of needed power for Christians who were to close this age.
The Bible School at Topeka
Due to the success of Bethel, people began to urge Parham to begin another Bible school. To that end, he began to look for a building in which to hold the school. Through a series of miracles, the Parhams were able to move into an incomplete mansion called “Stone’s Folly,” in Topeka, Kansas. The builder ran out of money before he could finish the project. The mansion was quite large and, though unfinished, was magnificent. There were two domes built on the mansion, one of which was designated as the Prayer Tower. Students volunteered to take turns at three-hour prayer watches, throughout the day and night.
The school accepted both ministers and lay people. There was no charge for tuition or board. It was a faith venture for the students, in which they had to believe God to meet their every need while attending school. God miraculously provided for the needs of the school and the students. They devoted themselves entirely to study and prayer. The students also helped with feeding the poor and ministering to the sick.
During the dedication service for the school, something quite extraordinary happened. A man named Captain Tuttle was looking out of the prayer tower when he experienced a vision. He saw a “vast lake of fresh water about to overflow, containing enough to satisfy every thirsty soul.” In the vision, the lake was situated right above the mansion, as though it was about to overflow onto the school! They didn’t know its meaning at the time but would soon learn that it was a foreshadowing of what was to come… the manifestation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the gift of speaking in tongues!
At the school, Parham taught on subjects of repentance, conversion, consecration, sanctification, healing, and the Second Coming of the Lord. But he had a problem with the book of Acts… specifically Acts 2:1–4: “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (KJV).
On the day of Pentecost, 120 of Jesus’ followers gathered together in an upper room and were “filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Nobody knew how to interpret that portion of scripture. Those filled with the Holy Spirit spoke in languages they did not know. At that time, no one understood the purpose of the gift of tongues. When Parham visited other ministries, he heard a lot of discussion on this subject. Many believed that speaking in tongues was a gift for missionaries to be able to speak in the native language of the nation to which they were sent.
Seek and You Shall Find
In December 1900, Parham had to leave for a meeting in Kansas City and wouldn’t be back until three days. Before he left, he gave his 40 students an assignment. They were to study the Bible on the subject of biblical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They were to have their report ready when he returned from his trip. When Parham gave that assignment, he had no inkling of what the Lord had in store for the school!
When Parham returned, he found that the students had fulfilled their assignment and reported to him their findings concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They observed different things that occurred when the Pentecostal blessing fell upon people. But the one thing that stood out to them was that on every occasion in which people had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they were all able to speak in other tongues. Their conclusion: The baptism in the Holy Spirit is accompanied with the ability to speak in tongues.
Parham returned to the school in time to join the night watch service at the end of the year, 1900–1901. In addition to the 40 students, there were 75 others who joined the students for the night service. Everyone agreed there was something different about the service. All present said they felt an intense supernatural power.
The turning point for the service came when a student named Agnes Osman asked that hands be laid on her to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. She was called to the missions field and thought the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the ability to speak in tongues would help equip her to minister to the people in their native language.
Parham laid his hands on her and began to pray. Suddenly, an outpouring of glory fell upon her. He said, “A halo seemed to surround her head and face.” All were astonished when Agnes began to speak in the Chinese language. Amazingly, she spoke Chinese for three days. In fact, that’s all could speak. She was unable to speak in English. She tried to communicate by writing notes, but she wound up writing in Chinese! All were amazed. When the report of what happened to Agnes got out, the local newspapers wrote about her experience, and included in the story were the notes she wrote in Chinese!
Tongues of Fire
After this happened, the students together waited on God for two nights and three days. All were seeking to be baptized in the Holy Spirit as well. While this was happening, Parham had to leave the school for another scheduled meeting at Free Methodist Church in Topeka on January 3, 1901. He shared with those at Free Methodist what had happened with Agnes at the school. He said he expected the entire student body to all be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
When Parham returned to the school, his expectation was not disappointed. Parham heard wonderful sounds coming from the prayer room. Upon entering the prayer room, he said it was filled with a “sheen of white light above the brightness of the lamps.”
Parham questioned those present and learned that 12 denominational ministers had received the baptism and were all speaking in other tongues. Some were so affected that they were gently trembling under the power of the glory that had filled them. An elderly woman, Sister Stanley, told Parham that she saw “tongues of fire” sitting on top their heads just like in the Bible.
Parham was overcome by what he saw. He said his heart “melted in gratitude to God.” Filled with thanksgiving, he fell to his knees and poured out his heart to God. He asked God for the same blessing. The Lord responded by calling him to preach “this mighty truth to the world.” The Lord warned him that with the call to preach this message would come persecutions, hardships, trials, and slander. The Lord told him that if he was willing to preach this call and endure everything that went with it, then He would give him the blessing.
Parham expressed to the Lord he was willing to endure whatever came his way as a result of preaching this message. Immediately, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues. He said, “There came a slight twist in my throat, a glory fell over me and I began to worship God in a Swedish tongue, which later changed to other languages and continued so until the morning.”
In the days following, half the student body had also received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of tongues.
News Spread Fast
When news of what happened at the school got out, everything kind of exploded. The school was besieged with reporters looking for interviews. They had language professors come to listen to the different tongues people were speaking. Even foreigners and interpreters came to determine what was happening. They were not disappointed. All the language experts agreed that the students were speaking various languages of the world… with the proper accent and intonation. The newspaper headline read, “Pentecost! Pentecost!”
Now called and anointed to preach about this gift, Parham preached his first sermon on the baptism of the Holy Spirit with tongues at the Academy of Music in Kansas City on January 21, 1901. Thus his call to introduce this gift to the body of Christ began, earning him the title, “Father of the Pentecostal Movement.”
Parham went throughout the country preaching and teaching about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, telling everyone what happened at the school. Wherever he went, the Lord confirmed the word with signs and wonders following. Many people gave their lives to the Lord. There were outstanding healings and deliverances as well as people receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Sadly, the building where the Bible school was held was sold to be used as a resort, forcing the school to shut down. The Parhams then moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and Charles devoted all his time holding meetings all over the country. Believers from all denominations received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with tongues and divine healing.
A newspaper said about Parham, “Whatever may be said about him, he has attracted more attention to religion than any other religious worker in years.”
Signs and Wonders Confirming the Word
The Parhams moved to Galena, Kansas and began to have meetings in the homes of believers. But the homes were too small to accommodate the large crowds that showed up for the meetings. They were able to get a large tent that seated 2,000 people. Soon, it too could not accommodate all the people that came. Eventually, they were able to locate a large enough building to contain the crowds that came to the meetings.
The newspapers reported on the meetings with headlines like, “Blindness and Cancer Cured by Religion.” The papers reported that many came to the meetings just to make fun or to scoff, but quickly changed their tune when the saw God’s mighty works.
Jim Crow Era
After changing locations a few more times, the Parhams moved their headquarters to Houston, Texas in 1905. It was there they began a new Bible school that was set up much like Bethel in Topeka, Kansas. That is when Charles Parham encountered William J. Seymour for the first time. Seymour talked to Parham about attending his Bible school. Unfortunately, it was the Jim Crow era.
The Jim Crow era began soon after the civil war ended on April 9, 1865, and slavery in the United States was abolished. After losing the war, the southern confederate states pushed back by legalizing racial segregation with what were called Jim Crow laws (Jim Crow was the name of a black minstrel show character). The laws were for the purpose of marginalizing African Americans.
Everything in society was divided: one space for whites and one space for blacks. Blacks had their own waiting rooms in bus and train stations; their own water fountains, restrooms, entrances, elevators, cemeteries. Segregation was enforced in public pools, phone booths, hospitals, asylums, jails, and homes for the elderly. Blacks could not live in white neighborhoods. These laws would be in place for 100 years. The first of these laws was overturned in 1954, when the Supreme Court reversed Plessy in Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka. It declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional, which also applied to other public facilities. In the years that followed, Jim Crow laws began to fall one by one.
Unfortunately, the Jim Crow laws were still in effect when William Seymour approached Charles Parham about attending his Bible school. According to the law, whites and blacks could not “mix,” so legally, Parham shouldn’t have allowed Seymour to attend his school. But Parham was persuaded by Seymour’s humility and strong desire to study the Bible. Parham agreed to accept Seymour in his school and thought of a way to work around the law. He had Seymour sit in a chair outside of the classroom in the hallway by the door. Seymour, a humble man and hungry for the Word of God, conceded to the arrangement.
Through a connection, William Seymour was invited to California to minister to a small group of holiness people. Believers there too were seeking the second work of grace. Their seeking brought forth the Azusa Street Revival, where the power of God was poured out the likes of which had never been seen before. Seymour was new at heading up a ministry. As a result, there were problems with order and confusion during the services. Seymour wrote letters to his mentor and teacher, asking Parham to come help him with the revival. Parham did not come right away, but eventually made his way to California.
Charles Fox Parham continued traveling throughout America teaching on the subject of the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Just as God warned, he was subjected to ridicule, persecution, and false accusations. But through it all, Parham was faithful to the call of God.
There was great spiritual fruit from his ministry. Either directly or indirectly, over two million people got saved as a result of his ministry. Wherever he went, he attracted crowds well over seven thousand people. As a result of his teaching, churches embracing the doctrine of the baptism in the Holy Spirit sprang up all across the United States and throughout the world.
At the age of 56, Charles Fox Parham died on January 29, 1929. His funeral was held at Baxter Theatre; over 2,500 people were in attendance. His greatest legacy is that he ushered in the revelation of the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, making him the “Father of the Pentecostal Moment.”
Revival on the East Coast
What is not commonly known is that all the while the Azusa Street Revival was taking place on the west coast of the United States, there was a great outpouring of God taking place simultaneously on the east coast. Wesly Duewel wrote about the results of the east coast revival in his book entitled, “Revival Fires.”
In chapter 28 of his book, Duewel recounts the results of this great revival. He said revival on the east coast began only weeks after the Wales revival began in 1904. The Welsh revival in 1904 was the largest revival during the entire 20th century. The Welsh revival triggered revivals in other countries, like the revival in the United States which began in Pennsylvania on December 1904. It spread to small towns and the cities like fire, and within four months, Methodist churches alone declared 10,000 conversions! In chapter 28 of his book, Duewel described the results of the revival in the various cities and states.
Atlantic City, New Jersey: Atlantic City had a population of 60 thousand. Revival spread across the city so much so that there were only 50 people who did not receive salvation! The churches were filled up to overflowing.
Schenectady, New York: All the evangelical denominations worked together with the rallies in Schenectady, New York. The revival went on for months. The women were especially bold in that they teamed up and went witnessing in all the saloons.
Troy, New York: Twenty-six churches in Troy, New York were at maximum capacity. The number of new congregants flooding into the churches was astonishing. In one Sunday morning service, a total of 364 people were received into membership in just one church alone!
Louisville, Kentucky: The press in Louisville, Kentucky reported on the revival, calling it the “most remarkable revival ever known.” There was a total of 4,000 conversions in the city. In simultaneous meetings in Louisville, Kentucky, there were 1,500 inquirers and one thousand people joined the churches at once. Soon the press reported, “The most remarkable revival ever known,” with 4,000 recorded conversions in the city.
Paducah, Kentucky: In Paducah, Kentucky, the Southern Baptists experienced a great “Pentecostal revival” that lasted for five months. In that time, one specific church added one thousand new members.
Danville, Kentucky: In Danville, Kentucky, all businesses closed and management and employees attended services together.
Houston, Texas: The revival in Houston was described as a tidal wave. The churches became quite crowded and the gambling houses closed for lack of business.
Lansing, Michigan: Lancing, Michigan experienced 1,100 conversions and the Methodist churches added 740 members. The Albion district 1,000 and Big Rapids added 500.
Minneapolis, Minnesota: Awave of revival came to many churches in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In just one Minnesota town, one-sixth of its population gave their lives to the Lord.
New England Area: Great numbers of people poured into the churches in the New England area (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont). It was the greatest outpouring of the power of God since 1858. What is amazing about these numbers is that they were brought in without large evangelistic campaigns. It was reported that God worked in special ways, like drunks being instantly transformed.
Florida: The move of God was reported throughout the southern states. Florida especially was experiencing a great move. Rev. Mordecai F. Ham, known for leading Billy Graham to Christ, was greatly used of God throughout Florida meetings.
Atlanta, Georgia: In Atlanta, Georgia, nearly 1,000 businessmen met to pray for an outpouring of the Spirit. On November 2, every business closed at noon to pray. From the Supreme Court to the saloons, business was closed so whoever wanted to attend the prayer meeting could.
Indianapolis: All the churches in Indianapolis held prayer meetings for revival.
Chicago: There were prayer meetings held at noontime in Chicago.
Ohio and Michigan: Ohio and Michigan reported churches where the spirit of prayer fell on the entire congregation where they prayed nonstop for two hours straight.
Louisville, Kentucky: A total of 58 leading business firms closed at noon for prayer meetings.
In every state, the Methodists and the Baptist churches were experiencing the greatest increase of membership. Throughout the east coast and the Midwest, these two denominations experienced the greatest numbers of conversions, baptisms, and deliverances.
During this time of revival, the Methodists added a shocking 35 thousand new members every year during the four years of revival. What is interesting is that a few years later, the Methodists had a nationwide campaign to gain two million new members. Sadly, their best efforts resulted in adding just a few people… nationwide! That just shows you what God can do through revival versus what men can do through their campaign programs.
The Baptist denomination was the next largest after the Methodists. Here are their numbers: Missouri baptized 10,000, Oklahoma 5,000. In Colorado, the Baptists grew by 10 percent. In Oregon, they grew by 12 percent. In the south, Baptist churches increased 23 percent in one year alone.
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