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Today's Church in America, Part One, Page Four

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1906 matters for two reasons. It first mattered because a fellow named Albert Schweitzer publicly asked the question: What if the Jesus of Nazareth is not the Christ of history? What if the Christ of history is not what Jesus of Nazareth was? You can read in his diaries that these thoughts frightened him so badly that he stayed in Africa the rest of his life, knowing that by giving, he could at least come near to the Jesus of Nazareth because he truly was not sure who the Christ of history was. We call this the pursuit for the historical Jesus.

Jack Spong is the last of the Reformation voices.Dr. Marcus Borg has worked in this field, as has John Dominic Crossan and John Shelby Spong, all three are wonderful, devout, and dedicated men. In many ways I would submit to you that Jack Spong is the last of the Reformation voices. What Martin Luther began, Jack Spong gives closure to. Both are such rationalists, that the mystery can't seep in.

Part of the conflict of the historical Jesus is that somehow in the Christ of history, we lost part of the mystery. We lost part of the mystery. We fell into 500 years of severe rationalism.

Those 500 years were washed away starting with Mr. Einstein who said, "There is something out there so much greater than what we can envision or ever know." Science has been, in many ways, where theology is now. Some of the best theologians I know are in the physical sciences because they recognize the mystery.

Another thing happened in 1906. There is a place called Azusa Street in Los Angeles. In 1906 it had a little stable on it that at one point had been a Methodist church. The Methodist Church had moved out, and the horses had moved in, and then a black man named William Seymour came. His mama was named Phyllis. I always remember that. He came from Jackson, Mississippi. He'd gone west by way of Charles Parnham, and some of the so-called apostolic church people out in Kansas City. He'd gotten a case of passion for God, and he began preaching in Los Angeles on a front porch. So many people came one Saturday night, the porch fell in, and they had to move to the stable. (I've always loved the fact that it was a stable at Azusa Street.) They cleaned the horses out, and they moved in, and for three years, a fellow named William Seymour preached almost without stop, ten and 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to white, black, Asian (of whom there were very few at that point), to wealthy to poor to anybody who would come. He talked about the baptism of the Spirit and how at Pentecost, the spirit had come, and [people there] had spoken in tongues, and they had filled the world with change, and by God, it could happen again. And it did in 1906. Suddenly, one evening on Azusa Street, the spirit fell, and the place was as filled as on the day of Pentecost with the speaking in tongues, with the fire of the spirit, with every evidence of the charism of the Holy Ghost.

There was, sitting in that audience, a young man who had gone west because he was apostolic and because he heard they were praying for the spirit and because he, too, believed it might happen, and his name was Charles Mason. We call him Bishop Mason. He came from Memphis, Tennessee. It was at Azusa Street that he received the Spirit. Some months after receiving the Spirit and the gift of tongues, he received sanctification. This is a step white culture does not normally recognize, but black culture does. In the business of sanctification you go beyond mere conversion, and you become, indeed, Christ's own.

That young man, Charles Mason, came back to Memphis, Tennessee, and he began to preach, and out of it came the Church of God in Christ. It is the eighth largest Christian church internationally. And it came from this.

Why it's important is that Azusa Street is the beginning of Pentecostalism. There Azusa Street is the beginning of Pentecstalism.had been a lot of holy rollers, but holy rollers aren't the same thing as Pentecostal. There are eyewitness records of this event in which people--street workers--were speaking German, Spanish, French, Italian and even ancient Greek coherently. We're not talking about gobbly-gook. Some of it would seem like gobbly-gook. The gift of tongues was a substantial mark of the coming of something that has rippled through this whole century and rippled into our lives right now.

One of the things that Pentecostalism gives us is that sure knowledge that prayer works. It happened because these people prayed. It happened because they believed it was going to happen. It's what we've forgotten how to do, especially in the mainline churches. We've lost our zest for doing this kind of frank, outright pouring of emotion and dedication. It's with the fire. You see it now in the Toronto blessing. You see it in the Brownsville laughter. You see it all over the country. When you read those things, those are Pentecostals who are still on fire.

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