As a young Christian I remember reading about things such as the gifts of tongues, healing and prophecy in the New Testament and wondering why they were not practiced in the church to which I belonged. There have been two ways evangelical Christians have dealt with this discrepancy between the time of the apostles and today—there are those who say that such gifts were for then but not now (cessationists) and those who believe the such gifts should be pursued today (continuists). This evening I am going to look at the waves of the continuist movement in the twentieth-century.
Azusa Street Revival—Pentecostalism (1906-1915)
In a time of racial prejudice, a tiny group of poor, black and mostly women met with a pastor who had been thrown out of his church because of his claim that his people should be speaking with the gift of tongues. It was Los Angeles, America’s fastest growing city at the time, and one that had a great mix of people unburdened by old church establishment. It was 1906.
On the night of April 9th, 1906, the preacher, an African-American called William J. Seymour and seven other men were waiting on God ‘when suddenly, as though hit by a bolt of lightning, they were knocked from their chairs to the floor,’ the other seven men began speaking in unknown tongues and shouting out loud praises to God.
Crowds came to see what was happening. A few days later Seymour too began speaking in tongues. Meetings were moved outdoors to accommodate the numbers, and people fell down under the power of God as they approached. There were claims of healing, and people came to a living relationship with Jesus. The meetings took place every day, starting at ten in the morning and lasted until late into the night. There was not much in the way of formal preaching but a heavy emphasis on testimony. People regularly fell to the ground.
To accommodate the growing numbers the meeting moved to a depilated African Methodist Episcopal building on Azusa Street. In this humble building a three-year revival took place that became known around the world. The Azusa Street was multiracial, but black led, which was extremely unusual in America of that time.
Outside the building the words ‘Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission’ marked the building. Inside the building people sat on planks balanced on empty kegs or brought their own chairs. The room swarmed with flies. In the corner there was a discreet offering box, because Seymour did not want people pressurized by the passing of an offering plate. Around the box were wordless testimonies of transformed lives: abandoned pipes, bottles of liquor and crutches.
This revival is considered by historians to be the primary catalyst for the spread of Pentecostalism in the twentieth-century. As money came in they refused to prettify the building but spent the money on mission. Daughter churches were created who also refused to sink their funds into fixed assets, renting locations. By the nineteen-twenties the movement had splintered into a number of denominations. Seymour himself fell out with much of the community in 1911-1912 and was frozen out of the movement that was becoming increasingly white-led. He died in obscurity in 1922.
Criticisms of the movement is that tongues were regularly been spoken without interpretation, a practice that the apostle Paul forbade (1 Corinthians 14:28). Pentecostalism sees baptism of the Spirit as a secondary experience that occurs after conversion. Groups descending from the Azusa Street revival believed that speaking in tongues was an infallible sign of being baptized in the Spirit. Non-Pentecostals have always argued against this and it continues to be a debating point in Pentecostalism. Seymour himself eventually rejected the idea that only those who have spoken in tongues could have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.
As the movement spread there were reports of people speaking in known languages. Sadly, sometimes people thought that they were speaking in a known language and went ill-equipped to the mission field in the anticipation of being able to speak to those they were trying to reach. Some of these unprepared missionaries died destitute on the mission field. However, in India one Marathi girl with no previous knowledge of English suddenly prayed in English. Similarly, Sophia Hanson, a missionary in China, claimed to be given the Chinese language, though only for preaching.
The Charismatic Renewal
Less than twenty miles from the Azusa Street Mission almost sixty years later is Van Nuys. While many see Azusa Street as the beginning of modern Pentecostalism (it is a little more diverse in origins than that) many see Van Nuys as starting place of the Charismatic Renewal.
Dennis Bennet was the minister of saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys. He had been considering spiritual growth with a small group. Not all in the church agreed with the direction that he was taking. Tensions grew on Easter Sunday 1960 when he declared that he had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The news was not well received and Bennet later resigned.
In the wake of Bennett’s resignation, the bishop in Seattle assigned him to the floundering parish of Saint Luke’s in Seattle. His ministry grew there and the church became a training ground for charismatics.
The emphasis on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit began to spread quickly through the mainline denominations throughout the 1960s and 1970s. While many of the beliefs of this movement were in line with Pentecostalism, for cultural and theological reasons they avoided the label Pentecostal. This charismatic movement impacted post-Vatican 2 Roman Catholicism, including in Ireland.
Charismatics in mainstream churches tended to be evangelical in belief. As mainstream Protestant churches adopted more liberal views they tended not to fit in as well. Many, but not all, left their churches to form independent churches.
What is the difference between been Pentecostal and charismatic? They have different roots and slightly different emphasises. The Pentecostals were associated with their own denominations, whereas the Charismatic Renewal was a movement that very much began in already existing denominations. The Pentecostals put a big emphasis on calling people to faith and revival, and the charismatics emphasised the spiritual renewal in people already Christians (and using you gifts in the service of others, which led to an emphasis on every member ministry).
The Third Wave—Signs and Wonders
Two of the key people with regards what is called the third wave are Peter Wagner and John Wimber. Wagner was Professor of Church Growth at the Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Missions in California. Wagner wrote a book entitled ‘The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit’ in which he explained this third wave as a gradual opening of mainline evangelical churches to the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit without the participants becoming either Pentecostals of Charismatics. Wagner pointed out that the techniques of the church growth movement are not sufficient in themselves to bring growth, for the rocket needs fuel.
Wagner teamed up with John Wimber (who had been a part of The Righteous Brothers) and they launched a seminary course entitled, ‘Signs, Wonders and Church Growth.’ The principle of Fuller described this as the most popular and disruptive course in the seminary.
Third wave teachers do not believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experience secondary to conversion, but they do believe that all of the spiritual gifts are for today. The Vineyard Movement would be associated with this third wave, but the third wave goes well beyond any denominational label. The third wave is sometimes referred to as the sign and wonders movement.
Dramatic experiences of the Holy Spirit were not new to the twentieth century. There was a reason why Quakers were called Quakers! The radical Presbyterians of early seventeenth century Scotland and Ulster told tales of healings, resurrections, strange lights and preachers being moved to deliver sermons that they later could not remember. There was also some tongue speaking in the holiness movements of the late 1900s. But while the more dramatic gifts of the Holy Spirit were not new to the twentieth-century, an emphasis on such gifts as tongues, healing and prophecy is among the most notable features of twentieth-century Christianity.