The Pentecostal revival of the twentieth century changed the world’s religious landscape.
Throughout its history, the Church has experienced numerous revivals and reformation movements. Many of these movements progressively restored to the Church Biblical truths that had been lost or neglected during the Middle Ages. One of the most significant of these movements was the Pentecostal Revival of the twentieth century—a revival that changed the world’s religious landscape and became the most vibrant force for evangelization in that century.
The roots of that revival are traced to a Bible school in Topeka, Kansas, under the leadership of Charles Parham. Parham believed that those who had been converted and had received the “second blessing” of sanctification, as taught by John Wesley and holiness organizations, should seek “a baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire.” At times prior to the twentieth century, God had poured out His Spirit on individuals here and there. In 1901, under Parham’s ministry, a student received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the Biblical evidence of speaking in tongues. The concept of seeking for the baptism of the Holy Spirit spread; interest was heightened by news of the revival taking place in faraway Wales.
William Seymour, a young black holiness preacher, was put in touch with Parham, where he learned of the “third blessing”—the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Though Seymour had not personally experienced the Holy Spirit infilling, he occasionally preached on the subject.
In early 1906, Seymour was invited to help pastor a holiness church in Los Angeles, where he continued to expound upon the Pentecostal doctrine, using Acts 2:4 as his text. When the church where he was assisting rejected that message and locked him out of the building, Seymour received an invitation to stay at a home where he was encouraged to hold prayer meetings. He was also invited to prayer meetings held in a home at 214 Bonnie Brae Street, where a group of people met to pray for revival. At the end of March, Seymour called for a ten-day tarrying meeting. On April 9, after ten days of prayer and fasting, several received the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in tongues. On April 12, Seymour also received the baptism. Word spread quickly, and soon crowds began to gather in the street to hear Seymour preach from the front porch.
Before long, the crowds became too large for the home on Bonnie Brae Street, so a search was made for a suitable building where the revival meetings could continue. An old abandoned church was located on Azusa Street. Though the building had been recently used as a warehouse and livery stable, a small band of workers cleaned it, set up seating made from planks put on top of empty nail kegs, and made a pulpit out of old shipping crates. The building was named the “Apostolic Faith Mission,” and the first service was held there on April 14. Soon, dramatic conversions and astounding healings were taking place almost daily, and the revival broke out with such intensity that it knew no bounds. Within weeks, a steady stream of seekers was coming from every continent on earth, drawn by the testimony that the Holy Spirit’s power was being poured out. Several hundred people would crowd into the whitewashed 40-by-60-foot wooden building, and sometimes people were forced to stand outside because there was no more room in the building.
Within weeks, a steady stream of seekers was coming from every continent on earth, drawn by the testimony that the Holy Spirit’s power was being poured out.
Reports in the Los Angeles daily news media, though ridiculing the events taking place on Azusa Street, fueled interest. The written accounts of Frank Bartleman, a man who had built a reputation in holiness circles as a prolific reporter, also played a key role in describing the historic events occurring there.
Almost as amazing as the miracles that were taking place was the diversity of people who attended the meetings. The revival had begun with home meetings attended by a few black men and women, but soon, over twenty nationalities were counted in one meeting in the building on Azusa Street. Prominent government officials and businessmen sat elbow-to-elbow with vagrants and derelicts. Women from high society were found prevailing in prayer next to domestic servants and washerwomen. The expansion of the Early Church described in the Book of Acts indicates that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit transcends racial and cultural lines, and the Azusa Street revival was an illustration of this fundamental truth. Bartleman eloquently summarized this distinctive feature of the revival, writing, “The ‘color line’ was washed away in the blood.”