Tag Archives: Frank Bartleman

The Azusa Street Revival: What Frank Bartleman’s Eyewitness Account Reveals about the Worldview of Early Pentecostals

Azusa collageThis Week in AG History —March 11, 1916

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 9 March 2017

It was an unlikely location for an event that would change the face of Christianity. In the summer of 1906, revival erupted in the newly formed congregation meeting at the small, run-down Apostolic Faith Mission at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Critics attacked the congregation because its mild-mannered black Holiness preacher, William J. Seymour, preached racial reconciliation and the restoration of biblical spiritual gifts. The Azusa Street Revival, as it became known, soon became a local sensation, then attracted thousands of curiosity seekers and pilgrims from around the world.

The spiritual intensity of the revival was red hot for more than three years, making Azusa Street one of the most significant Pentecostal centers in the early twentieth century. Just over 110 years later, the Pentecostal movement, broadly construed, now claims over a half billion adherents, the second largest grouping within Christianity after the Catholic Church.

Frank Bartleman, one of the participants at Azusa Street, wrote down his account of the revival and the precipitating events. In 1916, Bartleman wrote an article with his recollections of the revival that was published in the Weekly Evangel (the predecessor to the Pentecostal Evangel). He later wrote a book, How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles (1925), which became a widely-read portrayal of the Azusa Street Revival. Bartleman’s eyewitness account captured fascinating details about the revival, which give insight into the spirituality and worldview of early Pentecostals.

Bartleman noted that the Azusa Street Revival did not occur in a vacuum. The immediate catalyst for the revival happened in the summer of 1905, when Joseph Smale, pastor of First Baptist Church of Los Angeles, returned from a visit to Wales. He had attended meetings during the great Welsh Revival, during which entire towns experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Smale witnessed countless people repent of sin and turn toward God, and he prayed for God to do a similar work in Los Angeles.

Smale opened up his church for daily intercessory prayer meetings. Spiritually hungry people came from across Los Angeles and cried out to God for revival – praying specifically for a new “Pentecost.” Bartleman was among those who gathered at Smale’s church. He experienced a burden for “soul travail” – he sensed that God was calling him to win lost souls to Christ.

The prayer meetings attracted large numbers of people. However, some Baptist leaders opposed the spontaneous character of the prayer. They forced Smale to resign as pastor. He formed a new congregation, The New Testament Church of Los Angeles, which became a hub for people who committed themselves to pray for revival.

In the fall of 1905, Smale preached a series of sermons titled “The Pentecostal Blessing.” He encouraged believers to seek a restoration of the spiritual blessings described in the New Testament. Under Smale’s ministry, countless people developed a great hunger for God and engaged in deep prayer and Bible study.

When William Seymour came to Los Angeles in the spring of 1906 and began encouraging believers to seek biblical spiritual gifts, he found fertile ground for his message. People from varied backgrounds and from numerous churches – including Smale’s church – crowded into the Azusa Street Mission to experience the modern-day Pentecost for which they had been praying.

Bartleman offered some cautionary advice regarding the history surrounding Azusa Street. “It would be a great mistake,” he wrote, “to attempt to attribute the Pentecostal beginning in Los Angeles to any one man.” Bartleman stressed that the early Pentecostal revival was a sovereign move of God that had developed over time. He wrote, “Pentecost did not drop down suddenly out of heaven. God was with us in large measure for a long time before the final outpouring.”

Still, Bartleman reserved a special place in Pentecostal history for the Azusa Street Mission. He observed that the Pentecostal revival began “in earnest” under Seymour’s leadership at the humble, run-down location on Azusa Street.

Bartleman noted multiple ironies regarding the revival. The Azusa Street Mission, he wrote, took place in a dilapidated building and was led by “a quiet colored man, very unassuming.” Yet the revival attracted people from across the racial divides and news of the outpouring quickly spread across the world. Bartleman also noted that Seymour initially preached about the gift of speaking in tongues without having had the experience himself. Seymour did not receive the gift until several weeks into the Azusa Street Revival. Finally, Bartleman observed that many respectable Christian leaders looked down upon the revival because of its humble origins and interracial character. However, many of these critics ended up losing their own church members to the Azusa Street Revival.

The Azusa Street Revival has become iconic, symbolizing Pentecostal identity. Its emphasis on the restoration of biblical spiritual gifts certainly played a significant role in the early movement. Furthermore, the revival’s egalitarian character – men and women from varied racial and social backgrounds were both leaders and participants – is very appealing to our own twenty-first century egalitarian assumptions.

However, there is a danger that modern readers will boil down historic Pentecostal identity to consist merely of spiritual gifts and egalitarianism, while failing to understand the spirituality and worldview of early Pentecostals. The early Pentecostal worldview, at its core, encouraged believers to seek full consecration to Christ and His mission. The consecrated life, as illustrated in the Azusa Street Revival, was lived out through holy living and spiritual disciplines. Early Pentecostals committed themselves to prayer, fasting, and Bible study. They demonstrated a gritty determination to share Christ, no matter the cost. Importantly, they avoided worldly entanglements that would dilute their testimony, insisting that their heavenly citizenship should far outweigh any earthly allegiances.

With each year, we become further removed from the generation that birthed the prayer movement that became Pentecostalism. Testimonies from the iconic Azusa Street Revival provide insight into the spirituality that sparked the Pentecostal movement. Perhaps these testimonies will inspire future generations to likewise seek to be fully consecrated to Christ and His mission.

Read Frank Bartleman’s article, “The Pentecostal or ‘Latter Rain’ Outpouring in Los Angeles,” on pages 4, 5 and 8 of the March 11, 1916, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “The Five Judgments,” by S. A. Jamieson

* “A Great Opportunity in the Mexican Work,” by H. C. Ball

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Review: Portraits of a Generation

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Portraits of a Generation: Early Pentecostal Leaders, ed. by James R. Goff, Jr. and Grant Wacker. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002.

Portraits of a Generation talks about many of the early Pentecostal leaders. Instead of giving a large, drawn-out list of every leader in the Pentecostal movement, it gives the testimonies and interests of those leaders that maybe weren’t quite as famous. It gives insight into who really had the vision and those who desired seeing those visions put into real life. In this book, they represent leaders from all different walks of life. They differ on areas from ideas about theology, ethnic and social background, and areas of living. There is a common view that Pentecostalism was a movement without structure or leaders, but this book instead shows that the movement had a strong sense of both.

Portraits of a Generation is separated into three sections: “Forerunners,” “Visionaries,” and “Builders.” All of the chapters are about individual early leaders. Many of the contributors are known scholars of Pentecostalism while others aren’t very well known in the academic world.

In the first section, “Forerunners,” the leaders that the editors include are John Alexander Dowie, E. L. Harvey, Charles Price Jones, Frank Sandford, and Alma White. They are all leaders who paved the way toward the formal Pentecostal movement. These leaders were not directly tied with the Pentecostal movement, and some didn’t believe in the same standards that Pentecostals do today, such as speaking in tongues. Though not specifically under the Pentecostal umbrella, they laid out some of the ground beliefs and ideals that were later accepted into Pentecostal doctrines.

In the section on “Visionaries,” there are discussions about Minnie F. Abrams, Frank Bartleman, William H. Durham, Thomas Hampton Gourley, Alice E. Luce, Francisco Olazábal, and Maria B. Woodworth-Etter. These leaders were between the forerunners and the builders. They were the ones who envisioned what the movement eventually became and helped provide for the structure. Francisco Olazábal was one of the main contributors in the growth of Pentecostalism in the Hispanic culture while Minnie F. Abrams, Alice E. Luce, and Maria B. Woodworth-Etter gained popularity in being some of the first female leaders for the Pentecostal movement.

“Builders,” the last section, discusses the leaders Florence Crawford, G. T. Haywood, Charles Harrison Mason, Carrie Judd Montgomery, Antonio Castañeda Nava, Ida B. Robinson, George Floyd Taylor, and A. J. Tomlinson. In this section, Pentecostalism begins to take on the form of classical Pentecostalism. The people included in this section are those who heard and saw what the other leaders were trying to do and started to put their beliefs and ideals into action.

Because the volume is collective, there are some essays that were different in the quality of their sources than others. Some of the arguments had limited sources so are based on suppositions. Overall, the quality of the essays is very professional. All twenty-two chapters looked at Pentecostalism in three different lights: those who came before, those who had the vision, and those who put the vision into action. This gives us a good understanding of the early stages of the Pentecostal movement and how it was viewed by those with whom it began.

Reviewed by Samantha Beck, Evangel University student

Softcover, 430 pages, illustrated. $34.95 plus shipping. Available from amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com

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