There is a lot of interest in the anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival this year. This is largely due to massive commemorations of the revival taking place in the LA Coliseum as well as in DC.
For all who participate and for all involved, it is vital to read first hand, eyewitness accounts of the Azusa Street Revival lest we miss the whole point of what the Spirit is trying to say to the body in this hour.
In the reading of these accounts, there are many features of the Revival that are striking and run contrary to how Christian gatherings of any size and nature are conducted today.
THERE WAS NO PROGRAM
As the Holy Spirit fell in the early days of the Revival, it was absolutely anathema to allow any human organization. There was no worship leader. The Spirit of Jesus led the singing spontaneously through the people and not from a platform.
Actually, there was no platform. There was no pulpit. There was no auditorium style seating that would focus attention on a few leaders, turning the congregation into spectators.
Messages could be brought by anyone in attendance. There was no roster of well-known speakers lined up. All, young and old, ignorant or educated, presented the word fresh from the Spirit as He gave them utterance. There was no filtering by professional leaders of what could be said. There was no asking of permission to address the group. Hearts burning with a freshly-downloaded message from the throne spoke as those possessed by the Spirit of God.
In the words of Frank Bartleman, an eyewitness and participant in the early days of the revival:
“All was spontaneous”
“We had no human program. The Lord Himself was leading”
“We had no hierarchy”
“We did not even have a platform or pulpit in the beginning. All were on a level”
“These things have come in later, with the apostatizing of the movement”
“They had cleared space enough in the surrounding dirt and debris to lay some planks on top of empty nail kegs, with seats enough for possibly thirty people, arranged in a square, facing one another.”
“Brother Seymour generally sat behind two empty shoe boxes, one on top of the other. He usually kept his head inside the top one during the meeting, in prayer”
“No special speakers”
“No one knew what might be coming. All was spontaneous, ordered of the Spirit”
“All were equal”
“We were delivered right there from ecclesiastical hierarchy and abuse”
“The meetings started themselves spontaneously”
“We had no prearranged program to be jammed through on time”
“We did not have to get our cue from some leader”
“The Lord was liable to burst through any one. It might be a child, a woman, or a man. It might be from the back seat, or from the front. It made no difference”
“The meetings were controlled by the Spirit, from the throne”
“I never saw an altar call given in those early days. God himself would call them”
“The presence of the Lord was so real.”
“Presumptuous men would sometimes come among us. Especially preachers who would try to spread themselves, in self-opinionation. But their effort was short lived. The breath would be taken from them. Their minds would wander, their brains reel. Things would turn black before their eyes. They could not go on”
“The Holy Spirit Himself is taking the lead, setting aside all human leadership largely. And woe to the man who gets in His way, selfishly seeking to dictate or control. The human instruments are largely lost sight of.”
Excerpts from: Bartleman, Frank. “Azusa Street.”
Some might argue “that was then, this is now” and “Azusa was just an exception not meant to be the norm”. On the contrary, in almost every move of revival, the Holy Spirit has tried to reestablish the Lordship of Jesus over the gatherings of His own body. Whether it was the Welsh Revival, Azusa, Asbury, or even the afterglows of the Jesus Movement, the Spirit of God sought to wrest control from the hands of professional human hierarchy. He sought to express Himself through the members of His body and not through a select, educated, and privileged few. His heart was to “level the field” and put everyone on an equal plane instead of having a professional pulpit class of Christian who belonged on a platform and a spectator class who belonged in the pew (or stadium seat).
Every Sunday morning, across the world, the Spirit struggles with the human hierarchy that has time and again killed revival in its deepest and purest form. In virtually every case the human element wins with its insistence on program, leadership from the stage, and professional monopolization. There may be a few token bones of prayer ministry, testimony, or prophetic utterance tossed in the direction of the congregants but, by and large, hierarchy prevails.
As tens of thousands witness the proceedings of this week live and on tv, as the parade of church leadership makes its way across the platforms, as the body sits as silent spectators, as the Spirit of God continues to grieve, as Jesus is continued to be robbed of His very Lordship over the gatherings of His own people…what is the outcome?
If leaders truly want to bring Azusa to the flock, let them lead the charge, crowbar in hand, and dismantle the platform, tow the podium off to the dump, donate away the sound system, tear down the projector screens, and have true Holy Ghost led gatherings with Jesus finally in charge and not the program.
…but they won’t.