Monday’s Influence online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk with the nation’s foremost historian of Azusa Street about the history and significance of this revival. Prof. Cecil M. Robeck Jr. — “Mel to his friends” —is senior professor of church history and ecumenics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A credentialed Assemblies of God minister for 47 years, he is the author of The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, as well as the editor of the new Azusa Street Series of books from Gospel Publishing House.
  • George O. Wood — aka, Dad — shares the story of how an Assemblies of God church planter changed the trajectory of his father’s and hence his family’s life. Then, he concludes: “We may plant churches differently today than standing on a street corner, but plant churches we must! Thousands of communities in the U.S. do not have the witness of a Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered church. Therefore, we must be more aggressive than ever in our church-planting efforts.”
  • Chris Railey talks about the AG is growing the kingdom of God through church planting.”The task ahead is overwhelming, but the One who hung the stars is faithful and will show us the way. God wants to continue growing His family by multiplying His church. We must pray, believe, and work like never before as we embark on the next 100 years. More souls saved! More lives changed! More people coming to Jesus! The vision is big, but we’re thankful Jesus can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine!”
  • Christina Quick relates the story of J. J. Vasquez, an AG church planter in Winter Park, Florida. “Though the young Hispanic ministers initially wondered whether they would connect with the predominantly white, affluent, middle-aged residents of Winter Park, the couple trusted God with their ministry as well. ‘Our skin color didn’t match, and our age demographic didn’t match,’ Vasquez says. ‘We don’t blend in, but we’ve learned that loving people is the universal language and culture.’”

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The Azusa Street Revival | Influence Podcast


In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I interview Prof. Mel Robeck about the Azusa Street Revival. Mel is a friend and fellow Assemblies of God minister, but in his day job, he’s senior professor of church history and ecumenics at my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is the author of The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, as well as the editor of the new Azusa Street Series of books from Gospel Publishing House (see my reviews here and here). If you’re ever in the Los Angeles area, make sure to take Mel’s self-guided tour of early Pentecostal sites.

The Pentecostal Blessing | Book Review


In How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles, Frank Bartleman offered this interpretation of the history of the Azusa Street Revival: “God found His Moses, in the person of Brother Smale, to lead us to the Jordan crossing. But He chose Brother Seymour, for our Joshua, to lead us over.”

Bartleman’s biblical allusion accurately captures the historical sequence of events at Azusa Street. “Brother Seymour” is, of course, William J. Seymour, the well-known and much-loved pastor of the Azusa Street Mission. “Brother Smale” — Joseph Smale — is less well known, however, even though his preaching laid the groundwork for revival in Los Angeles.

That preaching is on display in The Pentecostal Blessing, first published in 1905 and now brought back into print by Gospel Publishing House. The book contains the substance of several sermons Smale preached at the First New Testament Church of Los Angeles in the fall of 1905.

Smale describes the purpose of his book this way:

In the following pages a treatment of this subject of subjects [i.e., the ministry of the Holy Spirit] is attempted in the hope of imparting a vision, where it does not exist, of the Holy Ghost as the one and all-sufficient and divinely ordained Person, and inspiration, to meet the manifold needs of Christian souls individually, and in their corporate character of churches; and that a faith may be born in such that this blessed Person of the Trinity is only waiting to be rightfully honored by us before he will fill with glory and power these lives of ours and those of the whole church of God throughout the earth [emphasis in original].

Chapter 1 identifies four misconceptions of the gospel “which seriously affect a true embodiment and illustration of Christian life, experience and service.” Chapter 2 contrasts “The Church of Today” and “The Church of the Scriptures,” concluding that modern Christians “pretend to be what they are not, God’s representatives, and men know it.” Chapter 3 explains the contrast between today’s church and the biblical church. “Having failed to honor Him [i.e., the Holy Spirit], we have failed in all things vital to Christianity, and therefore vital to a true representation of the church of Jesus Christ.”

Chapter 4, “The Pentecostal Blessing,” argues that “Pentecost involves a second work of grace” [emphasis in original]. “There is something more than the act of union with Christ,” Smale writes. “There is a growing knowledge within the soul of all that is involved in that union.” Pentecost is this soul-knowledge or spiritual experience in ever-increasing measure. “Oh, believer, be ever going in for more and more, and more and MORE” [emphasis in original].

Chapter 5, “The Magnificence of Pentecost,” is the longest chapter in the book. It outlines Smale’s understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 6, “The Secrets of Pentecostal Fullness,” answers the question, “How are we to know the Holy Ghost in this, His Pentecostal character and fulness [sic]?” This knowledge is experiential and practical rather than abstract and theoretical.

Reading The Pentecostal Blessing, you can understand why Bartleman depicted Smale as the Azusa Street Revival’s “Moses.” On point after point, Smale enunciated a practical theology of the Holy Spirit that shaped the Pentecostal movement as it emerged from Azusa Street.

And yet, Smale never experienced what Charles Parham and William J. Seymour called “the Bible evidence” of baptism in the Spirit. He never spoke in tongues. Many of his congregants participated fully at Azusa Street, and he himself spoke well of Azusa Street and William J. Seymour to the end of his days. But in Bartleman’s arresting image, Smale was Moses, not Joshua. He came to the edge, but he did not cross over.

So why read The Pentecostal Blessing today? For historical purposes, of course. Revivals don’t happen in a vacuum, after all. They have precedents. Read it for spiritual purposes, too. The Pentecostal Blessing can still bless Pentecostal readers today as it challenges them to go deeper with the Holy Spirit. And finally, read it as a reminder that while God has worked mightily through the global Pentecostal revival that sprang from Azusa Street, He is at work in broader Christianity too. Pentecostals can teach the broader Christian community, but we can also learn from them.

Two final comments about this book: First, it has an excellent 21-page introduction to the life and thought of Joseph Smale by Tim Welch, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Smale. Second, the book itself is a serendipity. Though historians knew of its existence, no one had a copy. Then, in 2008, a friend of the Assemblies of God archivist, Darrin Rodgers, found a copy in a garage sale in Oklahoma, bought it for 25 cents, and donated it to the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. It is the only known copy of this little gem of a book.

 

Book Reviewed:
Joseph Smale, The Pentecostal Blessing: Sermons that Prepared Los Angeles for the Azusa Street Revival (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2017; orig. 1905).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles | Book Review


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.

 

Book Reviewed:
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.

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