It was 100 years ago when a small group of worshippers gathered to pray in a meager clapboard house on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Led by William Joseph Seymour, the gathering burgeoned into a revival that served as the conduit for what has become known as the birth of the modern Pentecostal movement, now comprising more than 400 million people worldwide.
We asked Contagious Christian (Zondervan) author and speaker Mark Mittelberg to sit down with one of the Pentecostal movement’s most venerable leaders, Dr. Jack Hayford—president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel denomination, founding pastor of The Church On The Way (tcotw.org) and author of the recently released book The Charismatic Century (Warner Faith)—to share with us about Azusa and its continuing influence on today’s churches. As Mittelberg, born and bred Baptist, soon discovered, our churches, regardless of their theological leanings or denomination, have much to learn from this 71-year-old pastor and man of the Spirit.
Mark Mittelberg: Dr. Hayford, can you give our readers a snapshot of the Azusa Street Revival and what happened there 100 years ago?
Dr. Jack Hayford: There are probably two aspects to look at. The first is the phenomenon of the birth of the Pentecostal movement. But its real significance, I think, was what this Revival unleashed into the life of the whole Church, including large parts of the evangelical community, as the most remarkable revival in the life of the Church since the Reformation.
MM: That’s incredible—especially since I understand it had such humble beginnings.
JH: Yes, it really was, especially the simplicity of it. The leader was an African-American man named William Joseph Seymour, who was pretty well-trained in the scriptures—a remarkably humble man. He believed that he and the other Azusa Street worshippers had received the gift poured out on the early Church in Acts and felt they must share this gift with the world. In these meetings, he would literally sit in prayer at what he used as a lectern—a couple of shipping crates stacked on each other—with his head in a box while the Spirit of God moved. The sensational aspect, of course, was what the press picked up on.
The depth of the movement lies clearly in the hundreds of reports that went forth and the newsletter that began to emanate from Azusa Street and spread across the world. They say that 50,000 letters were going out toward the end, which in those days was really remarkable. And people came from around the world to visit the Revival, and were dramatically impacted by it.
The foremost phenomenon, of course, was the new outbreak of speaking with tongues. But the foremost impact was people’s response to the Holy Spirit. And in that response, the passion was awakened for global evangelism, as well as the passion for evangelism in this country.
MM: What do you identify as Azusa’s lasting impact on the local church?
JH: It really did confront churches with the truth that they were neglecting the Holy Spirit. I have pastored for half of that century and have observed the ongoing transition and increased openness toward the Holy Spirit in all sectors of the Church, not just charismatic and Pentecostal. And that really began with Azusa Street.
MM: Most of us would tend to think Azusa’s impact was just on believers going deeper in the Spirit, but you’ve indicated it also impacted non-believers around the world.
JH: Yes, there was a sense that Azusa Street was the revival that was saying God was doing this supernatural thing as a sign of the nearness of the coming of Christ. Participants felt obligated to quickly go throughout the world sharing the Gospel.
So there was unquestionably a surge of global evangelism that has continued to this day. Even with all the good things happening in Europe and North America, we are probably the least profound site of the move of the Spirit in the world!
MM: Compared to places like South America, Asia, and Africa?
JH: It’s just surging there. For example, in the mid-1950s, the Foursquare Church began our work in Nigeria. After 10 years there, we probably had six to eight churches birthed out of fledgling Bible colleges. Now we have 2,400 churches there, and they are planting churches at a rate that will bring them to 5,000 in less than three-and-a-half years.
I remember being in college preparing for ministry when our work in Brazil began, and a single American missionary had a vision of putting up a tent in Brazil. It was unheard of because it was a Catholicized nation with mostly ornate cathedrals. But he put up this tent and held meetings. As a result, there are now 17,000 Foursquare churches there. These kinds of stories can be told in any number of environments where God is moving.
MM: It’s really exciting what’s happening in these countries. But Dr. Hayford, why don’t we see more of this kind of revival outbreak in this country? Is it repeatable? If so, what are we missing? What needs to happen?
JH: Well, I think there are two or three things to begin with. In North America, I think—and I say this cautiously, I can’t say it casually because it’s such a grievous thing to me—the commitment of sectors of the Church to divide breaches the freedom of the Spirit. And it exists as a commitment to division—in the name of righteousness. We judge people as unworthy because they don’t have the insight we do or they don’t follow our model.
MM: Almost a competitiveness?
JH: Yes. We need to hear Jesus say again, “Nobody can lightly work a miracle in My name—if they are not against us, they are on our side.” The thing with Azusa Street—it was a trans-denominational breakthrough. People were hungry for God!
The second thing [that obstructs revival] is our tendency to let our intellect get in the way. I’m the founder of a college and seminary, so I’m certainly not averse to education and training and the exercise of our intellect. But so much of the North American Church is using our intellect at the expense of the Spirit. God is not against us using our minds. But when our minds are not subordinate to our spirit, and in turn the Holy Spirit, they get in the way. And we just reason God right out of the mix without recognizing what we’re doing. In fact, we often think we’re being fairly smart. And that is an unfortunate fact of much of our evangelical tradition.
The third thing is just a matter of an outright hunger for God. People aren’t sure if they really want to go to heaven, at least right now—“Jesus, if You were to come now, that’s a nice idea, but could You hold off for a few weeks?”
We live by a self-imposed mandate to busy ourselves with the technological resources that theoretically are going to give us more, make us smarter. And God ends up on the short end of the stick of getting much of our passion and pursuit.
I think those three things I would assess as keeping us from revival.
MM: How can our churches apply the lessons of the Revival 100 years ago to our outreach efforts today?
JH: One thing that’s very important to me: I truly believe the gifts of the Spirit—the nine gifts referenced in 1 Cor. 12—were given as a cutting edge to evangelism. These are gifts you don’t accumulate; they don’t come to reside in you. You deliver them as though I were to hand you this Bible and say, “Here’s a present for your wife, Mark.” Then you become the agent of delivery. The Holy Spirit wants to make us agents to deliver gifts.
Here’s my point: there are so many people in need today. People who are sick and need healing. People who are tormented and need words that flow from the gift of prophecy. These gifts can penetrate a heart and cause people to know Jesus—similar to what happened with the woman at the well. Jesus told her He knew she’d been married five times and wasn’t living with her husband.
MM: That got her attention!
JH: It broke the door open. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not given to entertain the saints or meet the saints’ needs. They’re given to allow us to give answers to people’s perceived needs. Now, you and I know that people don’t perceive their need for salvation. That need only appears to them when their back’s against the wall. And in that environment—when people start to show any interest in a spiritual value and a response to the Holy Spirit’s presence—you don’t need to have a theology that’s Pentecostal or charismatic. You need a heart that says, “Spirit of God, what do You want to do through me today?”
So I think the willingness to say, “Have thine own way, Lord” all over again is a call upon us, and I think those lessons are clearly taught in the wake of the Revival that took place 100 years ago. The cost of revival doesn’t change. It always requires the sell-out of our human presumptions, with us being sincere enough to say, “Lord, we give ourselves over to You.”
When we speak that prayer and act upon it, the result will be transformation in the Church and evangelization in the world.
MM: Thank you, Dr. Hayford, for taking this time to share your wisdom and insights with us. I know this is a little unusual, but I’d like to ask you to pray for our readers who want to follow Christ fully, as well as reach more people for Him.
JH: Lord, we come together with a heart cry that throughout Your Church You would let there come a fresh rain of the Holy Spirit. Your Word says the latter rain that characterizes Your Spirit’s outpouring was to hasten the harvest. And as that latter rain in the land hastened the harvest in ancient Israel, our heart’s desire is to see the harvest advanced—the souls coming to Christ.
So I pray that we would be open. In the natural realm, how quickly we would run for cover if the rain falls. Let us stand, Lord, and in our souls be naked before You, and open to first be washed from anything of our own mindset. And then to be refreshed with the dew of heaven and thereby equipped to reach others in the newfound power of Your Spirit. To touch with Jesus’ light, His grace and power. And to thereby cause hearts to be attracted just as the multitudes came to Him.
So our hearts are to say, Spirit of God, fill, overflow, empower, and transform unto us by Your power and Your resources to reach people for Jesus’ sake, and unto His salvation.
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