Early Wednesday morning, April 18, 1906, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the northern coast of California. It remains to this day the greatest natural disaster in that state’s history and one of the greatest in U.S. history. Approximately 3,000 lives were lost, and 80 percent of the structures in San Francisco were destroyed.
Nine days earlier and 400 miles south in Los Angeles, a spiritual earthquake took place whose tremors are still being felt. On April 9, William J. Seymour laid hands on Edward Lee and prayed for him. Lee began to speak in tongues. Soon after, others in their prayer group did the same. In time, the group moved from 214 N. Bonnie Brae St. to 312 Azusa Street. And thus was born the Azusa Street Revival.
The modern Pentecostal Revival has multiple origins, but its epicenter is Azusa Street. For three years (1906–1909), Azusa served as the center of a network of revival-minded radical evangelicals who longed to evangelize the world with the purity and power of New Testament Christianity. The Assemblies of God, founded eight years after Azusa began, can trace its own roots to what happened there.
Frank Bartleman was one of the first chroniclers of the revival. His book, How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles, has now been reprinted by the AG’s Gospel Publishing House as part of its new Azusa Street Series edited by Cecil M. Robeck Jr. and Darrin Rodgers. The text of the book is identical to Bartleman’s 1925 edition. What makes the GPH edition valuable is its 25-page introduction by Robeck and an index of names. Robeck is the nation’s premier historian of Azusa Street. (See his The Azusa Street Mission and Revival [Thomas Nelson, 2006] for a more in-depth treatment.)
Bartleman’s memoir is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the character and history of early Pentecostalism. Bartleman doesn’t focus exclusively on Azusa Street, however. Rather, building on his own experiences as a faith evangelist, Bartleman portrays the precursors to and spread of the Pentecostal Revival throughout metropolitan Los Angeles. What emerges is a picture of a revival in which Azusa Street plays an important role — but by no means the only one.
Reading Bartleman’s account, two things stood out to me in particular. On the positive side, Frank Bartleman was a man of great faith, deep prayer and singular vision. He longed to see Christ’s church unified in love, and he opposed the prayerlessness, selfishness and over-attention to manmade doctrine and organization that stood in the way of unity.
My dad likes to say that your greatest strength is your greatest weakness. If that’s the case, then the flip side of Bartleman’s ideal was his never-ending criticism of churches that fell short of it. This included the Azusa Street Mission itself.
“The truth must be told,” Bartleman wrote. “‘Azusa’ began to fail the Lord also, early in her history.”
Why? Because, according to Bartleman, the mission erected a sign reading, “Apostolic Faith Mission.” He felt that this sign was a concession to “party spirit.” He also disliked worship services that weren’t totally spontaneous, as they had been at the start of the Azusa Street Revival. If Frank Bartleman were part of your church, my guess is that he would be a handful.
Even so, it’s the high ideal that shines best in How the Spirit Came to Los Angeles. Today, we long for revival in our churches. Bartleman’s testimony forces us to ask whether we’re praying enough, selfless enough and trusting God enough to move in our day as He did from 1906 to 1909 in the humbler sections of Los Angeles.
Frank Bartleman, How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles: The Story Behind the Azusa Street Revival (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2017; orig. 1925).
P.S. This review originally appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.