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Countdown To Azusa Street: Pentecost Before 1906

“Pentecost Has Come,” blazed the headline of The Apostolic Faith newspaper published by leaders of the Azusa Street revival. “God has been working with His children mostly, getting them through to Pentecost, and laying the foundation for a mighty wave of salvation among the unconverted. … Many are speaking in new tongues, and some are on their way to the foreign fields, with the gift of the language.”1 The Los Angeles revival would soon enlarge the international scope of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through Spirit-baptized believers traveling across North America and overseas to preach the gospel.

Events prior to the revival’s beginning in April 1906 also tell of happenings that profoundly shaped the course of Pentecostalism. Charles F. Parham’s Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, witnessed the first Pentecostal revival of the 20th century in January 1901. Parham and his students believed that the restoration of Spirit baptism, marked by the Bible evidence of speaking in tongues, signaled the inauguration of the last days. It would inspire a new wave of missionaries equipped with the languages of the world to speedily evangelize non-Christian populations before the return of Christ. The reception of Spirit baptism at Topeka set in place the theological course for succeeding Pentecostal revivals. (Pentecostals eventually came to believe that tongues-speech constitutes prayer in the Spirit.)

Three years later in Galena, Kansas, hundreds testified of conversion, healing, and Spirit baptism. A newspaper reported that at one service “over four hundred remained at the meeting the entire night singing, praying and speaking in different languages. Not until daylight did they disperse.”2 Parham’s meetings in the city breathed new life into the “Apostolic Faith Movement,” as the Pentecostal movement was originally known.

Parham and his growing band of followers, however, remained unaware of a Pentecostal renewal that occurred in 1904 in Moorhead, Minnesota. From the Swedish Free Mission church where the revival took place, Mary Johnson left for South Africa in November 1904, the first North American Pentecostal to venture abroad as a missionary. They also would have been surprised to learn of Spirit-filled believers in Sweden and Finland.

With 24 coworkers, Parham relocated to Houston, Texas, in 1905. “I started out [for Houston] with my pockets empty of money, but my heart brimful of zeal and courage for the Lord,” recalled Howard Goss. “It was really a step of faith for all of us. But, we felt that if He had led us to go, He would care for us, and thanks be to Him, He has never failed through all these years.”3

Opening another Bible school in the fall, Parham began to train more workers. William J. Seymour, an African-American, attended as well. Unfortunately, the segregation laws required that he listen to the lectures outside the classroom. Seymour moved to Los Angeles in February 1906 to share his newfound Pentecostal faith and shepherd what would become the interracial Azusa Street revival. By the summer of 1906, there were approximately 8,000 to 10,000 Pentecostals, with most of them living in the Midwest.

Few people outside of Topeka, Galena, Moorhead, and Houston knew of these revivals, due in part to their being overshadowed by news of the great Welsh revival, an event that spawned many other revivals and helped prepare Los Angeles for the Azusa Street revival.

The confidence of evangelizing the world in the power of the Holy Spirit consumed these early Pentecostals. May the Spirit rekindle the fire of Pentecost in our hearts to do the same in the 21st century. Indeed, “Pentecost Has Come.”

Gary B. Mcgee, Ph.D., is professor of church history and Pentecostal Studies at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri.

Endnotes

1. The Apostolic Faith, September 1906, 1.

2. Sarah Parham, Life of Charles F. Parham (Baxter Springs, Kan.: Apostolic Faith Bible College, 1930) 98.

3. E. Goss, Winds of God (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1990), 60.

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