The Azusa Street Revival was a Pentecostal gathering that occurred in Los Angeles, California, in April 1906. Most of today’s Pentecostal denominations point to the Azusa Street Revival as the catalyst of the worldwide growth of the Charismatic movement, as they believe the Holy Spirit was once again poured out in a “new Pentecost.”
The Azusa Street Revival had its roots in Kansas. A preacher named Charles Parham was one of the early proponents of the Pentecostal movement in the United States and the first to suggest that speaking in tongues was the inevitable evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Parham started a Bible school in Topeka, Kansas. One of his students was an African-American preacher named William Joseph Seymour.
In 1906, Seymour (who had been pastoring in Houston) was invited to preach at a church in Los Angeles. There he preached Parham’s doctrine that speaking in tongues was evidence of the Holy Spirit. After a couple of sermons, the elders of the church barred him from preaching anymore because they disagreed with his message. However, Seymour began to hold Bible studies in the home of one of the members of the congregation.
Shortly after, Seymour’s group relocated to another home. Within a few weeks, various members of the group began to speak in tongues for the first time. As word spread about what was happening, larger and larger crowds began to form—not only of African-Americans but also Latinos and Whites—this in a time when segregated church services were the norm. In need of a facility, the group rented a run-down building at 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles. The building was used to house the main meeting room, offices, a prayer room, and lodging for Seymour and his wife. Seymour also started a rescue mission there.
In less than four months after arriving in Los Angeles, Seymour was preaching to crowds in Azusa Street that numbered anywhere from three to fifteen hundred. The meetings were loud and boisterous. There were reports of healings and, of course, speaking in tongues along with shouting and spontaneous preaching by those who felt led of the Spirit to speak. The leaders were sure that this was evidence of revival and even a new Pentecost.
Seymour published various testimonies in his newsletter, The Apostolic Faith. Those who participated in the Azusa Street Revival had this to say: “The audience was carried into ecstasy of amens and hallelujahs. Emotion mounted higher and higher; and the glory of God settled on Azusa Street” (A. G. Garr). “The fire fell and God sanctified me. The power of God went through me like thousands of needles” (Florence Crawford). “The power of God descended upon me, and I went down under it. I have no language to describe what took place, but it was wonderful. It seemed to me that my body had suddenly become porous, and that a current of electricity was being turned on me from all sides; and for two hours I lay under His mighty power” (William H. Durham). “Some one might be speaking. Suddenly the Spirit would fall upon the congregation. God himself would give the altar call. Men would fall all over the house, like the slain in battle, or rush for the altar enmasse [sic.], to seek God. The scene often resembled a forest of fallen trees” (Frank Bartleman).
These meetings continued with intensity for about seven years with hundreds of thousands having attended and missionaries being sent out. Many Pentecostal denominations today trace their roots back to the Azusa Street Revival, and many individual Pentecostals trace their spiritual roots back to the same. Unfortunately, the emphasis on tongues as the only evidence of filling by the Holy Spirit is unbiblical and leads to error and excess.