“Don’t destroy yourself by getting drunk,” warns Ephesians 5:18, “but let the Spirit fill your life.” That’s a divine command, but just how do we let the Spirit fill us? That question has occasioned a century of debate.

From rural Iowa, Rev. Charles Fox Parham brought a message of holiness to midwestern towns at the close of the 1800s. In October of 1900, spurred by his success as a preacher and healer, Parham opened a small Bible school in Topeka. He was intrigued by the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” In December he left for meetings in Kansas City, instructing his students to investigate the subject in his absence. Upon his return, December 31, his 40 pupils had unanimously concluded from their studies that speaking in tongues was the “indisputable proof” of spiritual baptism.

That night as they gathered for New Year’s Eve services, the students began to pray. The next day, January 1, 1901, student Agnes Ozman began speaking in tongues, and a sense of revival swept through the group.

The school soon closed as its professor and students fanned out as evangelists of their new discovery. In Texas, Parham’s message reached a Baptist Holiness minister named William Seymour, a one-eyed descendant of African slaves. Seymour traveled to Los Angeles and set up shop at 312 Azusa Street in an abandoned livery stable. There he began preaching. On April 9, 1906 Seymour and several others had an experience they claimed as the “baptism of the Spirit.” Excitement spread, and a Los Angeles Times reporter visited their meeting, writing, “The night is made hideous … by the howlings of the worshipers.”

Large crowds came from across the nation and around the world, and three years of nonstop prayer meetings followed. Seymour usually sat at the front of the room behind two empty boxes, one on top of the other. During meetings, he kept his head inside the boxes, earnestly praying. The Azusa Street Revival is commonly regarded as the beginning of modern Pentecostalism, which has mushroomed into one of the largest Christian movements of the twentieth century.

Don’t destroy yourself by getting drunk, but let the Spirit fill your life. When you meet together, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as you praise the Lord with all your heart. Always use the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to thank God the Father for everything. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). April 9.

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