Living Water Church

A Charismatic Church

North Arlington, New Jersey


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The Background of Azusa Street

The Azusa story revolves around the leadership of one man, William J. Seymour, a self-educated, one-eyed Black preacher who was affectionately known as “Daddy” Seymour.  There are a lot of people that were involved both before and during the revival, but the cast of characters in this story move in relation to Seymour. Before we can look at Seymour, we must look at what happened in Topeka in the year 1900. 

Charles Fox Parham was a Methodist minister, who left the Methodist church to begin an independent ministry.  He led healing and evangelism crusades throughout the Midwest before starting Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas in 1898.  By this time Parham was a part of the Holiness tradition, which taught that after conversion there was a separate and subsequent experience of the Spirit that they called sanctification.  First your sins are forgiven and then you are saved.  Then in a second experience you are sanctified or made holy by the Spirit. Some called this “the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Parham taught this doctrine and keeping with the other Holiness ministers of the time, he taught that you must tarry to receive it.  The struggle for these Holiness people was not  that they would tarry or wait in prayer for the Holy Spirit to come, but they were often not sure when He would come.  The desperately sought for some assurance that they had indeed been baptized in the Holy Spirit. 

In December of 1900, Parham had planned a three-day preaching crusade in Kansas City.  He left his students at Bethel Bible College with one assignment – search the Scriptures for the “Bible evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”    He returned and his students had a single report.  He said in his own words, “To my astonishment they all had the same story, that while there were different things [which] occurred when the Pentecostal blessing fell, that the indisputable proof on each occasion was, that they spake with other tongues” (as quoted by Goff, Fields White…, 67). According to Parham, one of the students, Agnes Ozman, asked that Parham would lay hands on her that she might receive the Holy Spirit.  He felt reluctant at first, but then laid hands on her and prayed.  After just a few sentences of prayer, Parham says that the Holy Spirit fell on her and she spoke Chinese and was unable to speak English for three days.

For Parham, the evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was speaking in earthly languages that were unknown to the speaker.  He taught that this had a missionary purpose.  God was enabling people to speak in other earthly languages so that they could go to those countries and preach the gospel in those indigenous languages. While Parham claimed that they spoke in different earthly languages, most of them did not.  Some of Parham’s disciples went to other countries and they were quickly disappointed when they found out that they were not speaking in a foreign language.  This does not mean that they had not received the gift of the tongues, but the gift did not enable them to speak in earthly languages as Parham taught.  Until his death, Parham taught that the true gift of tongues was the supernatural ability to speak in known languages.  

Calling his movement the “Apostolic Faith,” Parham moved his headquarters to Houston, Texas where he opened “The Bible Training School.”   In 1905, William Seymour approached Parham about attending his classes at the school.  Segregation laws prevented blacks and whites from sitting in the same school together.  Parham who agreed with the segregation did not allow Seymour in the classroom, but allowed him to sit in the hallway and listen through a cracked door. From there, Seymour learned from Parham that the gift of tongues was the Bible evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. 

Seymour did not learn everything he believed from Parham.  In 1895, while living in Indianapolis he accepted the Holiness doctrine of a sanctification experience of the Spirit after conversion.  In 1900, he moved to Cincinnati where he sat under the teaching of Martin Wells Knapp, who taught the need for a Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit as a second experience.  Knapp published his teaching in the popular Lightning Bolts from Pentecostal Skies, where he taught that there were two experiences.  First we are saved and born again by the Spirit.  Then as a second experience, we are sanctified and empowered as we are baptized in the Holy Spirit. 

Seymour learned two primary things from Parham while attending his school in 1905.  First, that Knapp and the Holiness people did not have it right.  There are not two experiences, but three. Seymour learned from Parham that there are three experiences – conversion, sanctification, and Spirit baptism.  During the Azusa Street Revival, Seymour taught that you must be sanctified by the Spirit before you could received the empowerment of the Spirit.  Seymour often said in his teachings, “The baptism with the Holy Ghost is a gift of power upon the sanctified life” (Seymour, Apostolic Faith, Sept. 1906, p 2, col. 1). Second, Parham taught Seymour that the Bible evidence of this third experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues – that is known languages but unknown to the speaker.

In 1906, Seymour was invited to take the pastorate of a small Holiness Church in Los Angeles.  He accepted and with a train ticket paid for in part by Charles Parham, Seymour moved to Los Angeles in February of 1906.  On his first day in the pulpit at his new church, Seymour opened his Bible and read from Acts 2:4, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”  And although He had never received the experience himself, Seymour preached that speaking in tongues was the “Bible evidence” of receiving the Holy Spirit.  Most of the members eagerly accepted the message, but the leadership did not.  The next day Seymour found a padlock on the door to his church.  He was locked out and dismissed as pastor.

With no church in which to preach, Seymour took his message to 214 Bonnie Brae Street.  There he held meetings in the living room of Richard Asbery.  On Monday, April 9, 1906 Seymour and seven others experienced a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  All of eight of them fell to the floor in the living room of that house on Bonnie Brae Street and many of them spoke in tongues.  Services continued the following days. Prayer meetings were held in the daytime and late into the night.  People were seeking power from on high.

 Scores of people came to the Bonnie Brae Street meetings seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  So many came that they moved the services outside onto the large front porch.  Jennie Moore, who had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, played piano and led worship.  (She would later marry Seymour.)  Both whites and Blacks came to hear Seymour’s messages.  Seymour had been preaching that the “Bible evidence” of Spirit baptism is speaking in tongues, but he had not had that experience yet. 

On Thursday, April 12, Seymour was praying along with a white brother.  They were tarrying, waiting for the baptism in the Holy Spirit and suddenly they received it (Riss, A Survey…, 53).  Both of them began to speak in tongues and glorify God.   [The history is not exactly clear when Seymour first spoke in tongues.  Vinson Synan claims that Seymour first spoke in tongues April 9th when he and seven others were laying out on the floor under the power of the Spirit.  Other reports say he did not first speak in tongues until April 12th.  Nevertheless, by the end of the Bonnie Brae Street meetings.  He was speaking in tongues.]

So many flocked to the porch for the April 12th evening service that the floor of the porch broke through under the weight of the worshipers.  An old abandoned AME Church building was quickly secured for the meetings to continue.  It was located on 312 Azusa Street.  The two-story building, which at one time served as a church, had most recently been used as a livery stable.  The doors where broke, the windows were busted out and it was cluttered with debris and junk.  They quickly went to work to convert the old livery stable into a church.  They gathered the used lumber and made benches.  They purposely aligned them in a circle.  They did not want to have a platform and they did not want to make a superstar out of Seymour or any speaker.  A makeshift pulpit was constructed out of wooden shoebox shipping crates.  They started holding services on the first floor of the Azusa Street building on Saturday, April 14thThe next day it happened.


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