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A Legacy of Azusa Street

April 18, 2012

William J. Seymour

While there are many famous buildings and other landmarks in Christianity, there aren’t very many famous addresses. One of the most well-known has to be 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles. That was home to what has become known as the Azusa Street Revival. This is the event that lasted from 1906 through about 1919 and largely birthed the modern Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.

While I have many friends and some family who are part of the Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition, I am not. But just because I do not agree with all of their theology does not mean that I cannot learn from them and their legacy.

I recently read a short article about the Azusa Street Revival. I was surprised to discover that the pastor/leader of the revival was William J. Seymour. He was 34 years old, disabled (he only had the use of one eye), and the son of former slaves. 1906 was the height of the “Jim Crow” era of racial segregation in America.

That’s right, the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement was started by a black man. From its beginning, it was not only open to individuals of any race, it was actively welcoming to every race. Sadly, this is an area where most modern evangelicals have failed miserably.

There was a very logical, theological, and observably verifiable reason they were so open- minded toward all races. When the Holy Spirit’s presence was evidenced through the speaking in tongues, it was without regard to race. The phenomenon was happening to rich and poor, men and women, and individuals from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. This was evidence that God truly is no respecter of persons. If the Holy Spirit made no distinction why should they?

While I personally disagree with their understanding of baptism with the Holy Spirit, I am still able to observe his working in the lives of rich and poor, men and women, and individuals from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. If this is true, why are our churches so white? Or black? Or Latino? Or Asian? Or whatever? Why?

More importantly, are we doing anything about it?

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