Posts Tagged ‘Azusa Street’

Pentecost Sunday is this coming Sunday.  Pentecost and the Book of Acts are not museum pieces to be pulled out and marveled at once a year or given a bit of a religious obligatory perusal.  But rather, the are living realities that we as the Church today are called to walk in as our inheritance in Jesus.


Astrophysics is a trip.  One of the very interesting things I have discovered is the concept of entropy.  Entropy is the measure of chaos and decay that is evident in any physical system that does not experience new infusions of energy.  For instance, let us consider the universe:  the great majority of scientists agree that this system (the universe as a whole) is slowing down and cooling, as its original energy (from the big bang) dissipates through the vastness of space, over time.  This leads to more and more random, and less ordered systems — and if left to itself, will one day result in the death of the universe.

And as is so often true in creation, the created order is a sort of metaphor or parable pointing to greater realities in the spiritual realm.  It is clear to me that the human race as a whole (and the Church specifically) is constantly struggling against the encroachment of spiritual entropy.  If you look at the history of the Church, you will see a number of explosions or infusions of God’s Glory, Power and Love that have seemed, at least for a season, to jump-start and re-invigorate a very anemic (and increasingly entropic) Church.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost might (metaphorically) be compared to the big bang.  It was this power-infusion and explosion that made the third member of the Trinity available to humanity as a whole (BOOM!).  And from this explosion, the Church was birthed.  And since that time, there have been many seasons of increasing entropy, interrupted and transformed by glorious infusions of God’s Presence — and these infusions we call revivals.  A few of the great ones are the Reformation, the Great Awakenings, the Welsh Revival and the Azusa Street Revival.

And one of the things that I believe the Holy Spirit pointed out to me regarding this process of entropy and revival, is that one of the reasons the Church in America is so lifeless, is that it has relied more on entropy-management than seeking to be revived.  I see it all the time:  church-growth seminars,  problem-solving seminars, pain-management programs, etc.  Don’t get me wrong — in some ways, for a good number of people, these things have been helpful and effective.  The problem is that such things will never be enough to reverse the relentless march of spiritual entropy in the Church as a whole.  As we continue to meet and strategize, church membership continues to dwindle.  As we continue to meet in 12-step programs and divorce-recovery gatherings, addiction and family brokenness become more and more pandemic.

I am not saying that we should stop all such gatherings and attempts.  What I am saying is that such attempts at entropy management will never be enough.  They were never meant to be enough!  And I believe that God is waiting for enough people to come to an end of themselves and their own abilities and management schemes and entropy-control attempts, and cry out in true desperation for the one and only thing that can turn things around — true, God-inspired, Jesus-centered, Holy Spirit-infused revival.

OK, maybe my title is a little “inflammatory”.  It is perhaps a bit of an over-the-top venting of the frustration I feel as I see much of the American Church slowly imploding before my eyes.  And regarding relevance…I know — I know.  The Apostle Paul says that we should be “all things to all men” in order to reach the lost.  And I get it — I really do.  I think it’s useful to take the time to remove unnecessary cultural/generational roadblocks and to do what we can to communicate the Truth of Jesus in a way that makes sense to people.  This is not only helpful, it’s a labor of love that reveals how much we really want to see people saved.  Just like in a marriage – if people aren’t willing to work on their communication skills, it shows they don’t care much for the relationship.

BUT…having a culturally relevant message is not enough.  It has never been enough.  It was never meant to be enough.  The same Paul who mentioned being all things to all men also said this:“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.  We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.”  (1 Corinthians 2:4-6)

Relevance was never meant to be a destination, merely a tool and a vehicle.  The real destination is true transformation.  And this transformation cannot happen without the power and anointing of God.  We can make a lot of mistakes and missteps culturally (and in our attempts at communication) and still see marvelous transformation when the power of God shows up.

A great example is William Seymour, God’s point man for the great Azusa Street Revival in 1906.  People came from all over the world to attend these meetings.  And I am sure that Reverend Seymour was tempted to make a good impression and to bridge with the crowd (as we all would be), and yet instead, he obeyed the Holy Spirit when the Spirit told him to sit on the platform (sometimes for an hour or more) with a box on his head, while the people were waiting for him to speak.  (doh!)  And there was every kind of reaction among those sitting in the congregation, from awe to curiosity to mockery.  But when William sensed the Holy Spirit releasing him to take the box off his head, he would take it off and say something like this (pointing at a group of maybe 50 people in wheelchairs to his left):  “You are all healed in the name of Jesus.”  Then there would be the loud sound of bones popping and people shouting and crying and laughing and EVERYONE in wheelchairs would rise up healed!

The power and impact of this revival has continued to resonate throughout the world, ushering in a new era of the power and reality of Pentecost that is responsible for hundreds of millions of people being saved globally.  And this is just one example of how the power of God can trump a lack of relevance.  Evan Roberts, one of the main leaders associated with the Welsh Revival, would sometimes speak nothing at all at a meeting, even though many had come to hear him speak.  He did not want to get in the way of the Holy Spirit moving in the meeting, even at the risk of initially disappointing those in attendance.  He was not concerned with the opinions of men – only the opinion of God.

Yes, relevance is useful —  and we should never purposely seek to alienate people or be weird for weird’s sake.  But in an age of church growth and relevance seminars, so much effort and time and money is spent on the vehicle and the style of our delivery, and so little time and effort is spent pressing into God for the power and anointing of true transformation.  And so the Church in America continues to shrink in size, drowning in a sea of cultural relevance while at the same time becoming more and more spiritually irrelevant.

“It is extraordinary spiritual unction, not extraordinary mental power, that we need.  Mental power may gather a large congregation, but only spiritual power will save souls.”  (Charles Spurgeon)

O that in me the sacred fire
Might now begin to glow!
Burn up the dross of base desire,
And make the mountains flow!
(Charles Wesley)

“Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!”  (Psalm 96:9)

There are so many different things that can take hold of our hearts and lead us down nasty alleys to messy dead ends.  But there is only One thing that can lead us rightly:  true devotion to a God we really know and have experienced.

The main struggle with the issue of holiness is that many see it as a list of do’s and don’t’s, and that if we don’t avoid certain things, they will defile us.  But the real definition of holiness is connected to devotion and being set apart — it is really about passionate pursuit of an amazing, fascinating, beautiful God who makes all other pursuits seem like the death and grayness that they really are.  And when you really know this God, the do’s and don’t’s make a lot of sense.

That is why many second-generation people after the great Azusa Street Revival rejected the Pentecostal Holiness experience.  The ones who were at Azusa and elsewhere experienced the fire of Pentecost, and it made them willing to “forsake all other lovers” in order to stay in communion with HimBut the next generation didn’t have this experience, so the form of religion their parents practiced seemed legalistic and boring.  But when God shows up, everything changes.  That is why we so desperately need real revival — why we so desperately need a fresh, life-transforming encounter with the Living God.