Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Celebrating Missionary Movements This Year

2006 marks the 100th anniversary of the famous Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. In 1906 William Seymour led a group of African American believers in the way of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The testimony of those who were part of this "baptism" states that some were "slain in the Spirit" and many spoke in tongues. These statements raise as many eyebrows now as they did in that year, yet from this Penecostal wave came a number of missionary movements. The Azusa Street revival sparked such an interest in the spreading of the gospel that by 1910 Penecostals had 200 missionaries. The assumption that was made from this passion for missions was that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, as they saw it, was a compulsion to mission work. For Penecostals, the outpouring of the Spirit on the Apostles at Pentecost is to be taken as normative. So as they went forward to preach the Gospel in many different tongues because of this "baptism," then so it should be concluded that missions is accompanied by this same outpouring of the Spirit. These charismatic gifts lead to, in a sense then, the missionary movement.

It is interesting to note, however, that this year also marks the 200th anniversary of the "Haystack Prayer Meeting" of 1806. While praying under a haystack in a thundedrstorm a group of men from Williams College began to pray for God to send out missionaries to Asia and indeed to the whole world. The event marked the beginning of the American missionary movement that led to, six years later, the departure of the first American missionaries, included among them were the Congregationlists turned Baptist Adoniram & Anne Judson, and Luther Rice. There is a bit of irony invovled in the occurence of these two anniversaries arriving at the same time. For the one seems to suppose that the Spiritual gifts are the makers of passionate missionaries, and yet its pre-cursor denied that such was the case. Judson's impact on the missionary movement is profound. He was a rational thinking man who challenged the Burmans on the intellectual level, debating philosophically with both the Karens and the Burmans. Yet he was a equally passionate and spiritual in his endeavors, calling all to repentance and telling one man in particular that he must not presume to judge the word of God by his rationalism.

It is an amazing thing that both these events are being celebrated this year. They mark some great differences theologically and methodologically in missiology. And while we may rejoice that missions is going on from both sides of the debate over the "Charismatic Gifts," we must be careful as well. The Penecostals of Azusa street seemed to have forgotten their forerunners. They needed a lesson from history to understand that these "gifts" were not the makers of good evangelists, for Adoniram Judson may well have been the greatest missionary of American history. But those of us in the present too must be careful not to discount our Penecostal and Charismatic brothers. Their history evidences a missionary movement that deserves note. While some would prohibit them from doing mission work, we need to thank the Lord for their spirit. Engage them in friendly debate, yes, but where possible rejoice with them as they spread the gospel.


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