Tim Challies

I think we all love the story of the Garasene Demonaic, don’t we? It is the story of a poor, pathetic, hopeless, demon-oppressed man and his life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And there is something in the story I find particularly fascinating.

Though at one time in his life this man had been a normal person with a normal life, at some point demons had begun to oppress him. Maybe he was a young man still living in his parents’ home when something about him began to change. Over time his parents and family saw him start to exhibit erratic and downright scary behavior. Or maybe he was a married man and it was his wife who first began to notice that strange behavior. He began to act in ways that were out of character. He began to cry out in weird ways. Though he used to love his kids and cuddle them and tell them stories and play with them, over time he became distant, then even dangerous. Soon she had to protect the kids from their own father.

Eventually his behavior became so outrageous that the people around him acted in the only way they knew how—they chained him and locked him up. But then he grew so strong that he could break those chains and attack anyone who approached him. So they did the only thing left to do and drove him away. By the time we meet him in Mark 5 (and parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke), he is living in the tombs, roaming the hills naked, cutting and brusing himself, crying out in agony of body, soul and spirit. He can go no lower.

And then Jesus meets him. And then Jesus frees him. Jesus sends that horde of demons into a herd of pigs which immediately rushes into the sea and drowns. And then we come to a part of the story I find absolutely fascinating. The nearby townsfolk come running to see what has happened, to see this oppressed man in his right man, to see thousands of dead pigs floating in the water. And we see two very different reactions to this encounter with Jesus Christ.

When this man has been freed by Jesus, he begs Jesus to be able to go with him. Please let me remain with you, let me learn from you, let me serve you. Where you go I will go. This man saw Jesus and wanted Jesus more than anything.

When this crowd of villagers saw this man freed by Jesus, they had a reaction that was exactly opposite. They begged Jesus to leave. Please go. Get back in your boat and leave and don’t come back. They saw Jesus and wanted Jesus less than anything.

The people wanted Jesus as far as possible, this man wanted Jesus as close as possible. And in those two reactions we see something fascinating: Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. Some people encounter Jesus and find him the most dreadful thing in the world; some people encounter Jesus and find him the most desirable thing in the world. Some beg him to leave and some beg to follow.

When we preach Jesus today, we preach for a response. And there is always a response. Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. But an encounter with Jesus never accomplishes nothing.

In February 1906, William J. Seymour, a 24-year-old, one-eyed son of former slaves, began what had been planned as a one-month visit to Los Angeles. Seymour was a preacher based in Houston who had become convinced that speaking in tongues was the first evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Barred from many churches in Los Angeles, he and a group of followers began a series of meetings in the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street. They prayed, they pleaded with God, they fasted, and finally, after five weeks, a man named Edward S. Lee spoke in tongues for the first time. Others soon followed, and Bonnie Brae House soon became known as the spot where the modern Pentecostal movement began. For that reason, it is the next of the twenty-five objects through which we are telling the history of Christianity.

Bonnie Brae HouseThe Pentecostal movement is such a significant force within Christianity today that it can be difficult to believe that it, in the sweep of Christian history, it is still in its infancy. The history of the Reformation, the history of the Great Awakening, the history of the early missionary movement—these were times where God was powerful present and powerfully accomplishing his purposes and plans. Yet the signs and wonders that marked the early church—the prophecies and miracles and speaking in tongues—were neither sought nor seen.

And then, rather suddenly, there were Pentecostals, those who longed for and believed in the restoration of the apostolic power of the early church. Most historians believe that Pentecostalism emerged from the American and British revival movements of the late nineteenth century. One of the significant themes during these times was holiness and a higher life. Many taught that the end times were near and that during this time the church should expect a great outpouring of God’s power through signs and wonders.

Charles Parham, a holiness pastor and evangelist, was an early leader in this movement. In 1900 he founded a school near Topeka, Kansas, where he taught that speaking in tongues was the first and necessary evidence of baptism with the Holy Spirit. On January 1, 1901, many of his students prayed for and experienced tongues, believing that God had given them miraculous knowledge of foreign languages. Parham soon closed his school and began a four-year tour through Kansas and Missouri, propagating his teaching. In 1905, he settled in Houston, Texas, where he founded a second school and among his most devoted students was William J. Seymour.

On April 9, 1906, under Seymour’s influence, Edward Lee spoke in tongues for the first time. Almost immediately several others began doing the same, and the small congregation believed they were experiencing a modern-day Pentecost. Just a few days later Seymour himself would have his first experience of tongues-speaking.

The news of this event spread rapidly and soon people of all religious, ethnic, and financial stripes began to migrate to Bonnie Brae Street, eager to see what was happening and to experience it themselves. The crowds quickly grew so large that it became difficult to even come near the house. The sheer number of people pressing up against the house undermined the foundation and caused the front porch to collapse, though amazingly, no one was hurt. Within a week of the outbreak of revival the church had to look for a larger facility and they soon settled in a former African Methodist Episcopal Church at 312 Azusa Street. Having begun on April 9, the Azusa Street Revival would carry on for 9 years.

The services there were enthusiastic and chaotic:

Worship at 312 Azusa Street was frequent and spontaneous with services going almost around the clock. Among those attracted to the revival were not only members of the Holiness Movement, but also Baptists, Mennonites, Quakers, and Presbyterians. … Among first-hand accounts were reports of the blind having their sight restored, diseases cured instantly, and immigrants speaking in German, Yiddish, and Spanish all being spoken to in their native language by uneducated black members, who translated the languages into English by “supernatural ability”. … Singing was sporadic and in a cappella or occasionally in tongues. There were periods of extended silence. Attenders were occasionally slain in the Spirit. Visitors gave their testimony, and members read aloud testimonies that were sent to the mission by mail. There was prayer for the gift of tongues. There was prayer in tongues for the sick, for missionaries, and whatever requests were given by attenders or mailed in. There was spontaneous preaching and altar calls for salvation, sanctification and baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Beginning in September 1906, only five months after revival began, Seymour began publishing a newsletter called The Apostolic Faith so he could communicate what was happening at Azusa Street. Copies were printed and distributed freely worldwide. The publication proved hugely influential across America and across the world. It drew many people to the revival and convinced many others that they, too, could experience the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. What had begun in Bonnie Brae House soon spanned the globe.

Today Bonnie Brae House is owned by the Church of God in Christ and is a museum, open to the public, though only by appointment. The porch has been rebuilt and the house looks much as it did in 1906. It houses a variety of exhibits, including portraits of William Seymour and several of the important leaders of the early revival. The house is still regarded as a special location, as evidenced by a recent report in Charisma: “The Los Angeles Revival broke out Friday night on Bonnie Brae Street with the laying on of hands by evangelist Verna Linzey, who was the keynote speaker and minister. The revival saw ecstatic utterances, slaying in the Spirit, violent quaking, crying, tears, people falling on their faces, hands lifted up toward the heavens, screaming in the Spirit, calling the fiery Holy Ghost down from heaven. Event organizers say they’re seeing a repeat of the initial outbreak of the revival in 1906, except more people were present this time.”

Seymour PortraitFrom that inauspicious beginning, Pentecostalism experienced a meteoric rise. Though estimates vary, we do know that today there are some 600 million Pentecostals around the world, and they trail only Roman Catholics as the largest force within Christendom. Bonnie Brae House sparked a religious fervor that shows no signs of decline.