by David W. Cloud

The man who founded the famous Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles was Black evangelist WILLIAM SEYMOUR. Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan says, "The Azusa Street revival is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement. ... In addition to the ministers who received their Pentecostal experience directly at Azusa Street, thousands of others were influenced indirectly" (Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, pp. 105,130). During 1901 and 1902 Seymour attended Martin Knapp's "God's Bible School" and joined the "Evening Light Saints" in Cincinnati. He adopted the false holiness doctrine of entire sanctification, believing that two "works of grace" were required to save and cleanse a man. One had to be born again through faith in Christ, but then one must subsequently be sanctified through a second work of grace.

Seymour believed that the true church was being restored in an end-times miracle revival. In 1903 he attended Charles Parham's Bible school in Houston, Texas. There he became committed to another false doctrine, that the Christian must be subsequently "baptized in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of tongues." In early 1906 Seymour was invited to Los Angeles to pastor a small holiness group which, at the time of the invitation, was pastored by a woman, Julie Hutchins. The group was formed of people who had been disciplined out of the Second Baptist Church for the "second blessing" sinless perfection heresy. On the way to Los Angeles, Seymour visited Alma White's Pillar of Fire movement in Denver, Colorado. This group taught sinless sanctification and believed the evidence of the same was dancing. Alma White was not impressed with Seymour. She later described him as follows: "I had met all kinds of religious fakers and tramps, but I felt he excelled them all."

Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, Seymour preached only one sermon before being locked out of the church which had invited him. In his sermon he had declared that tongues was the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. He said this in spite of the fact that he himself had never spoken in tongues! Romans 8:9 plainly says "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." This is a very strange matter. One of the key founders of the Pentecostal movement, by his own testimony, was preaching the deepest truth of the Word of God before he even knew Christ, and yet the Bible says the natural man cannot know the things of God (1 Cor. 1:14).

Seymour moved his meetings to a home and then to an abandoned building on Azusa Street, and strange phenomena began to be evidenced. The meetings lasted more than three years, and large numbers of people visited Azusa Street to seek their own Pentecost, subsequently taking the Pentecostal theology and experience back to their homes.

The meetings began in the mornings and continued for at least 12 hours. There was no order of services and usually no one leading. People sang at the same time but "with completely different syllables, rhythms, and melodies" (Ted Olsen, "American Pentecost," Christian History, Issue 58, 1998). The services were characterized by much confusion: dancing, jumping up and down, falling, trances, slaying in the spirit, "tongues," jerking, hysteria, strange noises, and "holy laughter." One visitor described the meetings as "wild, hysterical demonstrations." The seekers would be "seized with a strange spell and commence a jibberish of sounds." A Times reporter noted that the participants "work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal."

There was little or no order to the Azusa Street services. Whoever felt "moved by the spirit" to speak, would do so. Seymour rarely preached. Instead, much of the time he kept his head covered in an empty packing crate behind the pulpit. He taught the people to cry out to God and demand sanctification, the baptism with the Holy Ghost, and divine healing (Synan, p. 99). The firsthand descriptions I have read of the Azusa Street "revival" sound very similar to the current "Laughing Revival."

When Parham visited the meetings in October 1906, even he was shocked by the confusion of the services. He was dismayed by the "awful fits and spasms" of the "holy rollers and hypnotists." He described the Azusa "tongues" as "chattering, jabbering and sputtering, speaking no language at all" (Synan, p. 102). The Azusa Street meetings were so wild that Parham condemned them with the term "sensational Holy Rollers." He testified that the Azusa Street meetings were largely characterized by manifestations of the flesh, spiritualistic controls, and the practice of hypnotism (Sarah Parham, The Life of Charles F. Parham, Joplin, MO: Tri-state Printing, 1930, p. 163). According to Parham, two-thirds of the people professing Pentecostalism in his day "are either hypnotized or spook driven" (Parham, Life of Charles Parham, p. 164). In his writings about Azusa Street, Parham described men and women falling on one another in a morally compromising manner. I have seen this same thing in video recordings of Laughing Revival services.

When Parham arrived in Azusa Street in 1906, he began his first sermon by telling the people that "God is sick at his stomach" because of the things which were occurring at Azusa (Charles Shumway, A Study of the "Gift of Tongues," A.B. thesis, University of California, 1914, pp. 178,179; cited by Goff, Fields White Unto Harvest, p. 131). He never changed his opinion. To the end of his life, Parham, often called "the father of Pentecostalism," denounced Azusa Street as a case of "spiritual power prostituted." Thus the "father of Pentecostalism" roundly rejected the Azusa Street meetings as phony, manipulated, and demonic, even though practically all Pentecostal denominations trace their heritage directly from those meetings!

A man who helped popularize the Azusa Street meeting by his far-reaching reports was FRANK BARTLEMAN (1871-1935). In 1925 he published a book, How "Pentecost" Came to Los Angeles--How It Was in the Beginning, describing the Azusa meetings. It was reprinted in 1955 and again in 1980. Bartleman was a licensed Baptist preacher when, in 1897, he accepted the false doctrines of healing in the atonement and entire sanctification and joined the holiness movement. From then on he wandered about from group to group--Salvation Army, then Moody Bible Institute, then Wesleyan Methodist, then the Pillar of Fire organization led by woman preacher Alma White, then back to the Baptists, then to the Azusa Street Pentecostal meetings led by Seymour. Finally he was baptized into the "Jesus only" movement which denied the traditional biblical doctrine of the Trinity. He claimed the same sort of experiences which are common among Laughing Revival proponents today. Bartleman was "slain in the spirit" for one-half hour in front of a congregation where he had been preaching. On another occasion he said he felt "electric shocks" to the point that he fell unconscious (Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street, introduction by Vincent Synan, p. xiii). In spite of his doctrine that God has promised physical healing, Bartleman was often sick, at times despondent to the point of suicide, and his oldest daughter, Esther, died in childhood in spite of his faith in healing. Bartleman also promoted the same spirit of ecumenism which is popular in the current Laughing Revival. The final chapter of his book on Azusa Street was titled "A Plea for Unity."

"Every fresh division or party in the church gives to the world a contradiction as to the oneness of the body of Christ, and the truthfulness of the Gospel. Multitudes are bowing down and burning incense to a doctrine rather than Christ. ... The Spirit is laboring for the unity of believers today, for the 'one body,' that the prayer of Jesus may be answered, 'that they all may be one, that the world may believe'" (Bartleman, Azusa Street, pp. 172,73).

Note how Bartleman downplayed doctrinal purity and exalted a unity of experience. This is one of the theme songs of the Laughing Revival. One cannot bow down to the true Christ without maintaining true doctrine about Christ. The Bible warns that there are false christs, false gospels, and false spirits. The only way of protection in the midst of widespread spiritual apostasy and error is to cleave to sound doctrine and to mark and avoid false doctrine (Rom. 16:17). The Bible does not prophesy that all professing Christians will be united in a revival in the last hours of this age. It prophesies, rather, almost universal apostasy (Matt. 24:4,5,11,25).

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