The Legacy of Azusa Street

Has the global Pentecostal movement done enough to share Azusa's racial, ethnic, and gender diversity with the world?


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Another problem is the so-called "health and wealth" or "name it and claim it" theology that is springing up in many Pentecostal churches both here and abroad. Its thesis is that God wants us not only to be happy, but also to be rich and successful, and if you ask for anything, you will get it. If you do not achieve wealth or health, it is your fault—your lack of faith—and not a deficiency in God's grace. I wonder what William J. Seymour and his coworkers at Azusa Street would think of worshippers who claim that God has bestowed on them a large-screen color TV, or the latest model in dishwashers. Pentecostals of a more traditional bent can argue against this blatant distortion of the message of Jesus, but can do nothing to stop it.


Perhaps the saddest part of the Pentecostal story is how little, after a century, they have done to bring their message of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity to the larger society. In part this is because so many Pentecostal churches themselves remain monochrome. So many congregations are all white, all black, all Asian, or all Latino. (Some of this—but not all of it—is attributable to language barriers.) Pentecostals are painfully aware of this shortcoming. They have been trying various ways to restore some of the joyous inter-ethnic unity that convinced their earliest forebears that a second Pentecost was happening in their midst.


In this century, relationships between and among the different religious traditions of the world will become more and more important as we strive to promote a "dialogue" of cultures instead of a "conflict of civilizations." How Pentecostals will fit into this picture is still a mystery. Will their zeal for proselytism make it more difficult to find common ground with their neighbors of other faiths, especially in Africa and Asia? Or will they begin to recognize, as some already are (including the prolific young Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong), that the same Spirit that touches their hearts may also be speaking to those who do not share their theological beliefs?


In any case, Martin Marty may well have been right when he wrote that the future of Christianity—in say 50 years—may look more Pentecostal than anything else.


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