The Pentecostal Century
Apr 28, 2006
One hundred years ago this month, the Azusa Street revival began in Los Angeles, which brought Pentecost to the world. It came through the ministry of William J. Seymour. The first to speak in tongues at that time was Edward Lee, a janitor who worked at a bank, on April 9, 1906. This occurred at the home of Richard and Ruth Asbery, 214 Bonnie Brae Street, in Los Angeles.
The outbreak of Pentecost at that time greatly overshadowed the fact that Pentecost had actually begun over five years earlier in Topeka, Kansas on January 1, 1901. It came through the ministry of Charles F. Parham. His version of Pentecost has gone largely unnoticed for a number of reasons.
First, there was some conflict between the two movements that had to do with the character of the meetings (how wild and enthusiastic they should be and how much to control it). Parham's Pentecost was much more subdued, and emphasized that the tongues that were spoken were genuine languages, documented even by government translators. They documented at least 30 Chinese dialects being spoken, along with many other languages.
Secondly, Parham's Pentecost manifested white culture, method, and ways of thinking, while Seymour's Pentecost was largely interracial with mixed methods. Seymour was from a poor black family background, and his earliest meetings at Azusa Street were primarily attended by black people. Yet with the outbreak of Pentecost there, this soon changed, and the crowds came to be a mixture of Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian. Thus, the flavor was quite different from Parham's Pentecost, even though Seymour had actually been one of Parham's students at his school in Houston.
Thirdly, Parham was very much opposed to setting up a denomination. In 1907 he wrote an article printed in The Apostolic Faith,
"Unity by organization never can be realized; for all churches, movements, and leaders want the supervision of that unity. Therefore all present movements, churches, and leaders will have to be shaken to pieces; then the truth held by real Christians will prevail, and the unifying be accomplished by the Holy Spirit." [from The Life of Charles F. Parham, by his wife, p. 177]
Again, he wrote later,
"The people who are to compose the glorious church without spot or wrinkle will be the truly spiritual who will be drawn out of all these babylon churches and movements into a free and independent Christian living, thus permiting the Christ of God to assemble this material into the glorious Church.
"In spite of all our prejudices, divisions, sisms, creeds, doctrines, and teachings that now separate the true people of God, that day is soon coming when purged from sectarianism, self exaltation, etc., all the true people of God are going to be brought into blessed unity, fellowship and love (see eye to eye, have the same mind and same judgment) and then, and not until then will the mighty work of Christ and the apostles again be seen on earth.
"When fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners, the Christed Church will go to the ends of the earth in the last evangelistic war of the age raising the dead, casting out devils, cleansing the lepers, healing the sick, and causing multitudes to flow into the hill of the Lord." [p. 179]
From her perspective in 1930, when this book was written, Mrs. Parham wrote,
"In spite of Mr. Parham's protest, we all know what followed. The Pentecostal work has been organized not only into one church, but many different organizations." (p. 177)
As I tried to point out in my article on Kingdom Government, true unity is a matter of love, not of structure (organization). While Pentecost did much good in the past century, and continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, its government is based upon the reasoning of the carnal mind. Denominationalism can have some value, as long as it remains a servant, but never yet has one been formed that did not ultimately become the master that must be served for its own sake.
Parham understood that the Church was not an organization ruled by a religious aristocracy over the laity, called in the Bible "nicolaitanes" (Rev. 2:6). But it is doubtful that Parham understood that nicolaitane thinking was built into Pentecost and was the essence of its leaven. This is seen clearly in the coronation of King Saul on the day of "wheat harvest," which is Pentecost (1 Sam. 12:17). King Saul was certainly ordained of God, even as Pentecost was a God-ordained feast. However, Saul was an accommodation for Israel's rejection of God as their King (1 Sam. 8:5). Saul, the type of the Church under Pentecost, was a type of the political side of the denominational church.
And so, Parham, whose hopes and dreams for the Pentecostal movement were as high and idealistic as found in the early Church, fought against the inevitable carnalization of the feast. But he could not prevent the insertion of leaven into the feast any more than the high priest could have prevented the leaven from being put into the pentecostal offering in the Old Testament. It was written, so it had to be. Yet this does not mean we should be ignorant of its meaning. As we study the Scriptures, we should learn how to avoid the pitfalls of the majority view. Then when the pillar of cloud lifts and moves on, we will not find ourselves entrenched in a house that we cannot leave.
It is important to understand the Pentecostal Century of the past hundred years, because I believe it was a precursor to something greater--the Kingdom. With the passing of the hundred-year milestone, one can only wonder how long it will be before we see the outbreak of the feast of Tabernacles, which will be the real power that drives the Kingdom. Right now, we are largely in the learning and training phase.
There are many today who are looking for a greater move of the Holy Spirit, but they are still thinking in terms of a greater Pentecost, rather than an entirely new feast to be fulfilled. If this greater outpouring were to come through them, it would soon be denominationalized once again. Someone would find a way to make money with it. Someone would use it to gain power over others in the name of the Lord. It would again degenerate with the same leaven, and after sweeping the world, we would still not have the Kingdom of God.
The leaven of Pentecost (Lev. 23:17) is the leaven of King Saul. You can read its consequences in Samuel's description of the kind of king that Israel would have in 1 Samuel 8:11-18. "He will appoint for himself commanders. . . He will also take your daughters. . . and he will take the best of your fields . . . and he will take a tenth of your seed. . . He will also take your male servants and your female servants. . . He will take a tenth of your flocks."
It's all take and no give. "Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day." The choice to denominationalize is its own judgment. Once Saul was made king, the people were stuck with him for 40 years. Once done, we have to let it run its course until God does a new thing with King David. That is Tabernacles, and that is the Kingdom which we seek today.