OK, so I’ve thrown my energies this week into reading and reviewing a couple books so I can start on the fresh stack I picked up at Missions Fest over the weekend… I realized I still had a book I’d picked up there last year but not yet read. So it’s now been read and underlined in, reviewed and regurgitated for your perusal at: http://thestackofdawn.blogspot.com/2012/02/azusa-streetbartleman.html
It’s called Azusa Street (by Frank Bartleman) and is the account of the revival there from 1905-1911 that birthed the Pentecostal Movement. I picked it up out of curiosity I guess, to know what exactly did happened there. The church I grew up in was birthed at very nearly the same time so I wanted to see if there was any connection. We’ll let the old bones lie. The connection wasn’t a friendly one. Those were controversial times for sure. Churches and theologians were polarized over the revival. Was God in it? Doubtless. Was everything sensational attributable to His Spirit. Not likely. But as I picked through the author’s observations trying to separate fact from opinion I realized he had a lot of wise insights to share based on the glories and the pitfalls of revival as he’d experienced them.
Let me whet your appetite with a few pertinent quotes:
“Nothing hinders faith and the operation of the Spirit so much as the self-assertiveness of the human soul, the wisdom, strength, and self-sufficiency of the human mind.”(76)
“A true Pentecost will produce a mighty conviction for sin, a turning to God. False manifestations produce only excitement and wonder. Sin and self-life will not materially suffer from these.” (91)
“Any work that exalts the Holy Spirit or the gifts above Jesus will finally end up in fanaticism.” (91)
As we headed down the highway to Missions Fest I read the final chapter—a fascinating epilogue entitled “Revival and Recovery”, written by another author, Arthur Wallis. In it he offers a panoramic survey of the major operations of God’s Spirit in the history of the church, with a view to demonstrating that the purpose of God in each subsequent renewal is not only to revive the church of that generation but to recover some truth that has been lost that will equip the bride to fully experience and fully express the life of Christ to the world. He proposes that “since truth and experience are inseparable and must be in balance if either is to reach its divine objective, we see the Lord moving to emphasize either doctrine and principle, or purity and fullness of life and power.” (149)
Then commencing with the early church he cites the characteristics of God’s working in each era. The early church gave us the New Testament and the model for walking in the light and correcting error. It thrived in persecutions.
The fourth century brought the church under official favor and a spiritual decline set in as the church came under pagan influence and an ecclesiastical hierarchy not based in Scripture. She descended into the dark Middle Ages until true Christianity was almost extinguished, but for a giant of faith here and there. There were no widespread movements and ‘for a whole millennium the tide of spiritual life continued to recede.” I tried to imagine how different it would have been to live at this time. What would my understanding of God be like? What would my life be like without the Word of God to anchor it?
The Fourteenth Century came ‘round and the revolutionary idea that the people should be able to know God’s Word. England’s only Bible was in Latin! Enter, John Wycliffe’s translation into English. The recovery of true Christianity commenced with the return to the Word of God.
“Poor Priests” called Lollards took off with this word in the following century until half of England were either Lollards or sympathetic to their teaching. Life had come to hungry people. The way was being paved for…
The Sixteenth Century brought the Reformation under an unlikely poor priest, Martin Luther. Other reformation giants arose to free the church from bondage to works and introduce salvation by faith. There were still plenty of traditions to shake but they got the ball rollling.
In the Puritan movement of the seventeenth century “God raised up expositors, men mighty in the Scriptures”. They emphasized the importance of being grounded in the Word. Two church movements stemmed from their work: The Congregational Movement rejected ecclesiastical hierarchy in favor of local church autonomy. And the Baptist Movement added to this believer’s baptism by immersion.
By the eighteenth century the emphasis on doctrine to the neglect of ‘life’ had led to corruption in leadership and immorality and blasphemy in the culture. England was saved by the revivals under Wesley and Whitefield. The Methodist Revival brought a threefold emphasis—instantaneous salvation with assurance of the Holy Spirit, a strong focus on the subjective side of faith, i.e.holiness of heart and life, and the realization that formal education wasn’t essential in order to preach the Word of God. Multitudes were saved.
By the 1800’s revival was again wanting. Multiple smaller revivals occurred, among them the Brethren Movement emphasizing the sufficiency of the Bible for daily life and church business. To balance the emphasis on positional truth came the revival of 1859 in England and a great wave of evangelistic and missionary work across denominational lines. The Salvation Army was born. The Keswick ‘deeper life’ movement came into being with its proponents: Andrew Murray, Hannah Whitall Smith and Jesse Penn-Lewis and others.
Then with the twentieth century came the Welsh Revival and the birth of the Pentecostal Movement emphasizing the filling of the Spirit and the still active gifts of the Spirit to the church. The author points out that there were excesses and separatist tendencies that caused this movement to be alienated from the rest of the Church. Developing in isolation its bent to substitute the Spirit’s empowerment for thorough Bible study, weakened its potential. Arrogance of superior experience sometimes slipped in to further the alienation from the rest of the Body. However the author cautions against discrediting the whole movement based on its weaknesses. It continues to make an enormous impact worldwide.
And so we come down to our times. Having surveyed even briefly what God has done down through the history of the church Wallis says, “we should not think that any movement has recovered everything, or has consummated the process. The attitude of ‘we have it all’ has all too often characterized the more enlightened of God’s people. In fact, the more light we have, the greater the danger of falling into this trap. This is spiritual pride and inevitably results in the halting of further spiritual progress.”(160)* Gulp. With these and other warnings the author proceeded to knock me off my sometimes flighty horse. Good to put my feet back on the ground and consider how to be ‘cautious without being critical’ and ‘discerning without being destructive.’ Who am I to tell the Almighty how He should do His work? He is the Potter. I’m a lump of clay for His purposes… More and more my heart cry is to be all He has for me to be, nothing more, nothing less. Isn’t that what revival’s about?
Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.
–William P. Mackay, 1863
[*The epilogue by Arthur Wallis was excerpted from his booklet entitled “Revival and Reformation of the Church”. My comments were drawn from pages 147-167 of Azusa Street by Frank Bartleman. For the full review go to: http://thestackofdawn.blogspot.com/2012/02/azusa-streetbartleman.html ]