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From Wall Street to Main Street

By Grant McClung

The banking industry meltdown in the United States and around the world has prepared the way for the catch phrase, “From Wall Street to Main Street” as a description of the economic woes facing mainstream America. Some observers have added “Side Street” to the mix, highlighting the cause of the marginalized and the underprivileged.

Whether we find ourselves on Wall Street, Main Street, or the Side Street, one has to ask the urgent question, “Where is the Pentecostal/Charismatic church?” “Are we in our sanctuaries or in the streets?”

American Pentecostals, especially the middle class variety, are settled in our sanctuaries — filled with the comfortable amenities of professional quality praise and worship and polished pulpit presentations. But our history reveals that we are typically as much at home in the streets as in the sanctuary.

Look at our historic watershed moment: the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Christ-followers who had been summoned to Christian discipleship from the Wall Streets, Main Streets, and Side Streets of their society obediently gathered in the Upper Room. Ten days spent in worship, intercession, and waiting on the promised Holy Spirit finally exploded in the rushing in of God’s powerful presence and His charismatic enduements. It didn’t stop there but wound up in the streets as a confused and curious crowd ran to that place with the question, “What does this mean?” From that point forward, the church grew in dynamic power as they moved from the sanctuary to the streets.

Fast forward to April 1906 and the humble wood-frame structure (called a “tumble-down shack” by the media) on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California. There the marginalized of society — immigrants, prostitutes, the poor — knelt side by side with those discontented with their own stale religious conformity. Together, they sought God for a new spiritual reformation and revival in their city. God answered them in signs and wonders. The Azusa Street Revival experience brought about an early Pentecostal missiology that developed from the pulpit and the pew but, more importantly, emerged from the seedbed of prayer and worship as a “missiology of the altar.”

These Pentecostal believers were not content to leave it there, however, but to take their newfound experience to the streets, living out a “sidewalk missiology.” The leader would often close the meetings with this commission: “Now, do not go from this meeting and talk about tongues, but try to get people saved.” And that they did, causing one newspaper reporter to write about Pentecostals’ pervasive presence in public evangelism “on street corners and trolley cars.” From Los Angeles, these street evangelists carried the gospel to the far-flung corners of the globe. Recent church history has demonstrated the wildfire rapid growth of international Pentecostalism as a major force for global social transformation (“Pentecostals: The Sequel” in Christianity Today, April 2006).

If, however, there will be a great spiritual awakening — with accompanying social transformation — we cannot afford to cocoon ourselves in our sanctuaries and sacred history. About Pentecostals and Charismatics, Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan has rightfully observed, “We’ve been in the upper room with our spiritual gifts. But we are supposed to go to the streets with our tongues and healings and prophecies. We believe Pentecostals and Charismatics have been raised up by God as shock troops for the greatest final assault on the Enemy.” As the American Pentecostal/Charismatic communities enter a new year and the challenges it brings to our country, will we remain in our sanctuaries or will we take this life-giving message to the varied “streets” where God has placed us?

Grant McClung is a member of the Church of God International Executive Council and Editor of Azusa Street and Beyond: 100 Years of Commentary on the Global Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement (www.azusastreetandbeyond.com).

 

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