This series of teachings looks at these men and women, their impact on Christian culture and the times they lived in. For the sake of relevance we will focus on the people, places and events whose legacy still lives and influences us today. This first installment of this study gives a centuries wide overview of a living legacy of spiritual hunger and passion that still kindles hearts in the modern day.
Throughout history God has chosen select men and women to express His transitional purposes. These people and the movements that sprang up around them define for us what it means to purpose God’s glory with abandon. To begin we must travel back in time seven hundred years:
In the late 1300’s a Czech reformer by the name of John Hus led a protest movement against the Roman Catholic church at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Hus was arrested, tried for treason and burned at the stake 1415. As the flames licked his body he prophesied that within one hundred years a goose would arise that they couldn’t burn and couldn’t bake. That “goose” was Martin Luther, used of God a century later to restore the truth of justification by faith that brought the church out of the dark ages.
Persecuted and hounded across Europe the movement that Hus started became known as the Moravian church. Eventually some of them settled within the estate of a Saxon nobleman named Count Nicholas Louis von Zinzendorf.
Under Zinzendorf’s leadership the disgruntled, strife torn refugees, dissatisfied with themselves and hungry for God began to seek God and pray. They began a round the clock prayer meeting that lasted continuously for 100 years. In the first ten years this small contingent of impoverished refugees sent more missionaries throughout the world that the entire Christian church world wide had in the previous century. Moravian missionaries were known to literally to sell themselves into slavery in order to reach foreign fields with the message of the gospel.
Returning from a devastating failure on the Native American mission field in colonial America John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement met Zinzendorf and a Moravian band. Aboard ship in the stormy Mid-Atlantic Wesley’s life was forever changed by the time he spent in the company of these bold soldiers of the cross.
Out of Wesley’s deep experience with the presence of God the Holiness movement was born that would stretch into the 20th century providing the fuel for the Pentecostal fires that ignited in turn of the century Los Angeles. Throughout England it was the common opinion that if you didn’t want to see your whole house converted into religious fanatics, then you best not hire Methodist into your employ.
In the revival fires of the Methodist movement there arose a Church of Scotland minister by the name of Edward Irving. He was born 2 years after Wesley’s death, and in his short lifetime heralded the coming Pentecostal outpouring nearly a century later. He was the pastor of the most affluent congregation in the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) and as revival fires broke out, attended by outbursts of tongues, prophecy, miracles and healing, Irving was hounded out of his church founding the Catholic Apostolic Church. Even there his radical commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and the uncompromising preaching of the Gospel made him a de-facto exile from the church of his own founding. He returned to Scotland, preaching in the streets, feeding the poor, and proclaiming the power and glory of Full Gospel truth and especially about the Second Coming of Christ. Single-handedly Irving brought the teaching of the imminent return of Christ to the forefront of evangelical thought, and his teachings are the unacknowledged bedrock of modern eschatology.
After Irving’s death, Alexander John Dowie was born in Scotland in 1847. Raised in Australia and later immigrating to the U.S., Dowie was a formidable warrior of the faith, with a tremendous healing ministry. At the turn of the century he was known by millions. Abraham Lincoln’s sister, suffering from disease came to him in Chicago and was miraculously healed. His gospel tent was across from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
Dowie was arrested over 100 times on trumped up charges. His life was threatened constantly by anarchists who repeated bombed his offices. For some time he was the most influential voice for the gospel in America, and was a household name. In his middle age he ventured into land development and in time, distracted from his first calling as a healer.
Dowie deeply influenced many of the men and women whose ministries later laid the foundation for the movement that began at Azusa Street, Los Angeles. John G. Lake, a mighty healing evangelist and missionary to Africa met Dowie when he took his took his disease plagued family to Dowie’s meetings and they were all miraculously healed.
John Lake was wealthy even by today’s standards, gaining his fortune in real estate before he was 30. He owned a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade and earned over 50,000 a year before 1900. When the gospel light dawned in his soul he liquidated his assets and distributed all to the needy – and embarked on the life of faith. This was not done from a position of strength or in the absence of need. At the time he sold all, he had 3 invalids in his home all suffering from incurable or terminal diseases. He stepped out in faith and God miraculously met him, healing all his family members and launching him into a healing and deliverance ministry with over 100,000 medically documented healings.
There came a day when John Lake spoke out against some of Dowie’s methods and Dowie soon told him that “when he had had the vision that he has had, shed the tears he has, suffered what he had suffered and in God created a city of ten thousand Christians, then he would be competent enough to criticize.”
Smitten with conviction, and brought to repentance Lake took to heart what he had heard and left to establish a work in South Africa, which lasted for decades and grew to seven hundred thousand in number in a nation of fifteen million.
About this time just prior to the Azusa Street outpouring an impoverished young man in Wales sought entry to a well known Bible School. Upon returning home Evan Roberts asked his pastor if he could minister before the congregation. Hardly supportive, the pastor announced at the end of a Sunday morning service that if any of the young people cared to linger, that Evan Roberts would be given 15 minutes to share a brief testimony. This was the beginning of a revival that literally transformed the country.
Ministering with simple words and brief messages, the anointing upon Roberts life spread into a nationwide revival. Bars closed down, professional sports organizations liquidated. Police officers were laid off in scores as court dockets emptied and jails vacated. Even in the mines where men worked for 12 – 18 hours a day, the pit ponies stopped working unable to understand their masters commands because they stopped swearing.
Robert’s cry was “Bend Us – O God” and thousands would fall crying out for the saving grace of God.
Across the Atlantic seeking souls like Charles Parham, leader of a mid-western bible school, and William Seymour, a one eyed black pastor of a small mission in Los Angeles, were hungering for revival. Evan Roberts telegraphed Seymour, exhorting his followers to pray and seek earnestly and God would reward them with revival. Sure enough, revival came to the Azusa Street Mission. Evan Roberts however, withdrew prematurely from public life, suffering a nervous breakdown being taken into to the home of Jesse Penn-Lewis, a great holiness author who repudiated the Pentecostal Revival. In later years Roberts and Penn-Lewis co-authored scathing repudiations of the Welsh Revival and all its off-shoots.
Roberts was a humble man thrust into an extraordinary outpouring of God’s spirit. The people lifted him up to great status, but he didn’t have the personal strength to endure the pressures placed upon him. The Welsh congregations put Saul’s armor upon a David and the weight of it destroyed the servant of God.
Men and women always want a larger than life leader to pin their hopes and expectations on. This is a manifestation of doubt in God himself. Rather than trust in the Unseen hand of a mighty God, they as Israel of old cry out for a King, a leader like other nations. And their lust for carnal leadership destroys both them and the luckless unfortunate who wears the transient crown of their fickle favor.
At Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, a humble black pastor served the Lord in the midst of a sovereign outpouring of God’s power and glory. Traveling from the Mid-west at the invitation of a lady pastor, William Seymour brought with him teachings of Pentecost learned at Charles Parham’s bible school. He quickly found the doors shut against him. He turned to the home of a supportive family on Bonnie Brae Street. There a few souls gathered, praying for Pentecost, which came one night when a young lady told Bro. Seymour that if he would lay hands on her, she would receive a Pentecostal experience. Seymour was reluctant, stating that he couldn’t impart to her what he himself didn’t have. Nonetheless when he complied she was gloriously filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke in other tongues. The revival fire spread quickly. The little house on Bonnie Brae Street filled up until Bro. Seymour had to stand on the porch and preach to those in the yard. One night the porch collapsed under the weight of the people. They went out and found a condemned stable that had once served as a church. There on rough hewn planks for pews and straw on the floor they began to meet.
The meetings commenced with the prayers of intercessors crying out for God’s glory to come. Bro. Seymour took his place in the corner with his head stuck in a chicken crate, praying fervently. The plethora of manifestations of God’s power and grace beggared description. Healings, Salvations, Deliverances came spontaneously as earnest hearts cried out for God’s grace and mercy. Scoffers came to revile and ended up on the floor in their fine clothes crying out for forgiveness and mercy. The newspapers vilified the meetings after prophesies about a great earthquake that would strike the unrepentant city. The earthquake came and rather than taunt the stricken city, the Christians a the mission spread out ministering aid, and comforting the stricken. Missionaries went out from Azusa Street across the nation and around the world with no backing, no support, nothing other than a Pentecostal experience. Seymour’s mentor, Charles Parham came to see the work and denounced the manifestations as “darky camp meeting pranks and shenanigans”. Seymour met rejection on every hand but persevered and stayed faithful to God. Reportedly Parham in later years backslid and fell into homosexuality.
In time strife and jealousy entered in because Bro. Seymour would not develop the business side of the Azusa street movement. Two women stole his mailing list cutting him off from his supporters. The congregation divided as the result of a jealous white woman when Seymour declined to enter into an inter-racial marriage. Years went by and the Mission foundered and the crowds departed. Seymour died a broken hearted man.
Brother Seymour was a humble man with a simple faith that God could work everything according to his will. He refused to strive or wrangle with his brothers and sisters in the work or with those out in the world. In the eyes of his detractors he lacked the “vision and sophistication” to carry the revival forward, and these critics sought to “steady the ark” of God’s outpouring and ended up giving the devil occasion to hinder the work of God. We need to be careful in the midst of the moving of the hand of God. Our ideas and opinions about the way things should be or what should be done are just that – our ideas, our opinions. “Touch Not the Anointed” the scripture says, lest we do harm to a servant of God and bring the work of the Spirit to a pre-mature end.
In spite of the problems at Azusa Street, William Seymour is the undeniable spiritual forerunner of a movement that boasts well over 500,000,000 adherents world wide. Azusa Street is the high water mark for the outpouring of God’s spirit in modern times.
In the 1930’s and 40’s the Pentecostal outpouring began to settle in to various denominations such as the Assemblies of God, Four Square, Pentecostal Holiness, etc. The old religious structures were re-emerging and threatening to destroy the freshness and vibrancy of the work of God that crested in Los Angeles at the turn of the century.
On to the scene in the late 40’s came a humble, unassuming man by the name of William Branham. Uneducated, simple to the point of child-likeness, Bro. Branham’s ministry of signs miracles and wonders is unparalleled outside the book of Acts.
At the height of his ministry Bro. Branham couldn’t travel openly in the streets without pandemonium breaking out as scores of healings and miracles took place right out in public. Spiritualists and mediums who attempted to harass him were known to die on the spot. All this and Bro. Branham with his quiet voice and country ways stayed faithful to God, moving mightily in healing and word of knowledge. Tens of thousands flocked to his early meetings and his influence launched what became known as the healing revivals of the 1950’s. Almost every major healing and deliverance ministry from the 1950’s down to the present day can trace its roots to Branham’s ministry.
It was a frustration to Branham to see many of the ministries that took off, copying his own, but employing unethical and shameful fundraising tactics and bringing reproach on the revival. In all his work Bro. Branham lived simply, almost impoverished, although his handlers and managers took hundreds and thousands of dollars out of the ministry. The IRS investigated him levying heavy fines and taxes that were not paid off till long after his death. They couldn’t believe that Branham would live so simply while those in his employ reclined in the lap of great luxury.
Under Branham’s ministry the dead were raised, blind eyes opened, and every conceivable miracle and manifestation of the spirit were in evidence. Many unique signs and wonders were seen and experienced. Yet later toward the end of his life, Brother Branham shifted his emphasis from Prophet and healing minister to that of a teacher. His messages were at times off base and often misconstrued by the thousands that nearly worshipped him, some claiming he was virgin born.
In a sad repetition of ministries that had gone on before him, Branham died in a horrible car crash. His body was mangled in the wreckage and he lingered for days. After his death his followers delayed for months to bury his body thinking that he would rise from the dead.
After Branham’s ministry we see many other mighty men and women of God such as Jack Coe, Oral Roberts, A.A. Allen, Katherine Kuhlman that God used in a great outpouring of his spirit that eventually birthed the Charismatic movement in the 60’s that swept the world, and continues in a measure even to this day.
Hebrews 13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
We should study the lives of these men and women and learn from them. We certainly don’t want to follow them in their errors and foibles, but the scripture commands us to FOLLOW THEIR FAITH. They sacrificed all and risked everything to find the glory of God and see revival in their day.
We can sit back and languish in self absorbed religious experience or we can cry out as Evan Roberts, “Bend Us O God – Bend our Hearts to your Will and Save the World!” God is no respecter of persons but he is a respecter of faith. If we do with our faith, what these did with theirs. We will see the same results.