Azusa Street Revival is a name that we hear alot and we hear that the revival just magically ended one evening. No one seems to know what happened. The reasons for this is really 1) history only gives the highlights 2) the internet didn’t exist and 3) people have different stories.
Many think it could have been over racism in the church and that is very possible. Even though they claimed “all racism was washed in the blood of Jesus,” that is not quite true. You are still dealing with Americans at the turn of the 20th century. If it was true, then why did the black Pentecostals form the Church of God in Christ and the whites form the Assemblies of God.
Another issue that many believe including J.D. King from World Revival Network is that the mailing list went missing and that they could not continue to have revival without that list in place. This theory has too many holes in it. One of the issues is does God believe in corporate models for pouring out His Spirit. I do not think so.
The two reasons that the Azusa Street Revival ended are: doctrinal disagreement over sanctification and William Seymour lost his mind.
Azusa Street Revival and Finished Work
Here is the deal. From early on in the revival, there was alot of discussion about holiness and its’ impact on the believer. Many came out of the old Holiness movement of the 1800’s and still believed in the “sanctification experience.” Yet, many new Pentecostals and theologians were openly questioning this belief because Jesus said “It is finished.”
At one point, it got so ugly that even William Seymour nailed the door of the church closed because he was against the teaching of the finished work of Christ. The longer the revival went on, the deeper the issue became until it was splitting the Azusa Street Revival at the seams. It really was no bump in the road.
When I hear people downplay the issue, I have to smile. This very issue is the main reason that the Pentecostal remains split together. The Church of God (Cleveland, Tn) and the Assemblies of God can come to terms on about everything else on some level but this issue, there is no common ground. Many attempts have been made and all have failed because of the issue that started at the Azusa Street Mission.
People think it was just William Durham preaching the finished work and just William Seymour questioning it. It was not. It started with Seymour saying that Durham was the most anointed man in the revival and ended with the former hating the latter all because of a difference on the issue of sanctification.
For the record, Latter Rains disagrees with both positions. We do not believe there is a “baptism” where you become sanctified. We also do not believe it is a process over your life. We believe when you are born again; you are sanctified, justified, and glorified. You are Holy. It is not what you become, it is what you are based on the Blood of Christ.
William Seymour lost his mind
Some accounts of him in later years tell us that he even started to question the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the initial physical evidence of a prayer language. He started preaching that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was an ability to “divinely love each other.” He began to teach things that would later be used in the Sheperding movement. I do not believe that they got the teaching from Seymour though.
What we do know is that when Seymour started questioning the cardinal foundations of Pentecostalism and the fact that William Durham had planted a church in Los Angeles; he lost complete control of the ministry and it made question some core values of the Azusa Street Revival. In many ways, the life story of Seymour after the revival is quite sad.
The other issue is that William didn’t know the time to disappear. General Douglas McAuthur was right when he said, “old boys don’t die, they just fade away.” The problem was Seymour didn’t know to fade away. He didn’t want to raise up spiritual sons. In order to that, he would have to admit that he would not be the “man of God” in the future. This was a major flaw that he carried with him to the grave.
While no leader of a revival has ever done very good at raising up people to replace them, what happened at Azusa Street Mission was very bad.
What can we learn from it?
The lessons of the revival dying the way it did are many but I believe there are three major lessons that we must grab.
Doctrine is important but souls are more important. The issue of the Finished Work vs. Second Grace was never something that should have become the ugly mess that it become. When you care more about having a flawless “Statement of fundamental truths” more than ripping souls out of the grips of hell’s flame; you have turned your theology into your golden calf that you worship!
Learn to move by the Spirit, not by what benefits the ministry. The Mission was trying to building a national following and was very committed to that, almost to the point of idolatry. This is where the mailing list issue arises. It seems that they wanted to start some type of writing ministry where people could order books by mail. Decisions were being made with this vision more than what will made the easiest platform for the presence of God to flood the meetings.
Leaders have to fade away. The revival did grow and became movements like the Assemblies of God, Church of God (Cleveland, Tn) and Church of God in Christ to name a few. However, the vision for William Seymour to raise up leaders within the Mission never really existed. He never foresaw a time that he would not be the leader. This is the biggest error among revival leaders through history.
Are you a revivalist?
If you want to be used in revival, make sure you learn this things from what were wrong at the Azusa Street Revival. At some point, we have to stop repeating the same mistakes we have made over and over.