The Azusa Street Prophecy.
In the last days three things will befall the Great Pentecostal Movement:
1. An overemphasis on power rather than righteousness;
2. An overemphasis on praise to a God they no longer pray to;
3. An overemphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, rather than the Lordship of Christ.
This is a very famous prophecy, it was given during the Azusa Street Revival from which it gets its name. I am going to use it as an example of how we should view prophecy, as it is well-known and generally accepted.
The question is this. Is what is talked of in this prophecy an absolute certainty, or is a warning of what we need to avoid, and deal with if it occurs?
Now in the Bible there are prophecies that are certain to happen, such as those about Jesus’ First and Second Comings, although these have been misunderstood by many Jews (about Jesus’ First Coming) and many Christians (about Jesus’ Second Coming). But many prophecies in Scripture are conditional, and outcomes can be delayed or changed due to how people live before God. An example about this is how God delayed the exile of the nation of Judah until after Josiah’s lifetime because he had humbled himself before God (for the whole story see 2 Chronicles 34-35).
So what of extra biblical prophecies?
Firstly, the simple fact that they are not in Scripture means that they are not inerrant. Part of the prophecy may be spot on, another part may not be. The emphasis may not be exactly right. If a prophecy involved a definite date or year it is false if it does not happen then it is a false prophecy, or that part concerning the date is false is it happens either later or earlier. (All the predictive words I have given which included years or referred to specific occurrences have happened.) Secondly, if we say that a prophecy is inevitable then we are misunderstanding how Christian prophecy works. To say something is inevitable is fatalism, we see this in other religions, but not in Christianity. God is not a divine watchmaker setting things off in creation then just sitting back and not interfering with it any more. He is actively involved, and when ever we pray into something we are inviting him to fulfil on earth what he already done in heaven, as we pray in The Lord’s Prayer. In most cases we need to both pray and act in faith to see God move and fulfil a prophetic word that he has given, God can and does act sovereignly but in most cases he works with and through US. Thirdly, warning prophecies in particular will either happen if certain things are either done (or not done), or they contain within them how to either avoid it happening, or how to deal with the situation if it does happen.
Azusa Street Prophecy – Certainty or Warning?
So how should we consider the Azusa Street Prophecy? It is an extra Biblical prophecy so it is not inerrant, however it has been well-tested over the years, and is generally accepted as a word given by God. It is actually a prophetic warning not an inevitability. To see it as inevitable is to misunderstand the reason why God shared this. The prophecy includes with in it how it can be avoided or dealt with if it happens. It does not say that each of the things are overemphasized are not important, but that too much stress is put on them, and so things that are equally important are neglected. The church needs to focus on BOTH the power of God AND the righteousness of God and how that should impact our own lives. We should never deny God’s power, and seeing him move in power should always happen in the church, but we should not overemphasize it – it should just be a supernaturally natural part of church life. God is righteous so we should seek to live rightly before God and with our fellow people, not to gain God’s favour, but because of God’s favour in Jesus dying for us. In both the Old and New Testaments righteousness has both vertical (with God) and horizontal (with men) components, we should never forget that! The church needs to focus on BOTH praise AND prayer. This is one focus that has definitely slipped, but that God has been seeking to redress. Jarrod Cooper from New Life Church in Kingston-upon-Hull wrote an excellent post a while back The Greatest Mountain? The Greatest Battle!, and the statistic that 60% of churches no longer have a corporate prayer meeting is easily believable from my experience in churches in suburbia. Over the years I have had contact with various churches as I have worked in Christian bookshops. Growing prayer in churches is very dear to my heart and God has given me a vision to help grow prayer in churches even before I became aware of this statistic. This might surprise you from looking at this part of the prophecy is that praise and worship is not the main thing that has displaced the place prayer should have in the church. The main thing that has displaced prayer is actually the focus on small groups, and this has been future exacerbated by churches following Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church model which marginalises prayer by NOT making it one of the purposes of the model (the five purposes are Fellowship, Discipleship, Worship, Ministry and Evangelism). This could be addressed by adding Prayer as one main focus to this model. In fact to grow prayer in churches you really need to reconnect it back with praise. We see the two linked in the Psalms and in The Lord’s Prayer, and elsewhere in Scripture. Again it should not be a case of either/or but both/and, let’s get the balance right! The church needs to focus on BOTH the gifts of the Spirit AND the Lordship of Christ. In fact the gifts of the Spirit should just be an expression of the Lordship of Christ in our lives. That is what they were in the early church, but even then things got out of focus at times. That is why we have a whole section on public worship in 1 Corinthians 11-14. Again this is part of the church being naturally supernatural. Spiritual gifts functioning correctly is the greatest expression of the Lordship of Christ in the church that there is!
So where do we go from here?
Pentecostal and charismatic churches are no longer just denominations, we now see the baptism and gifts of the spirit recognised across all denominations to one extent or the other. Where the church is growing the most locally, nationally and internationally these are considered normal. This would not have been foreseen when this prophecy was given. Now in different sectors of the church we do see different problems, we do see the different problems in different churches, in some churches all are problems, yet in others we see none of these problems. Let’s get things in balance, if things are out of balance we are given in this prophecy how to redress the balance, by focusing for a while on the thing underemphasized until the balance is restored. Let’s re-focus on righteousness (which is a gift from God), prayer (through which he chooses to act on earth) and the Lordship of Christ! What do you think about the Asuza Street Prophecy? Have you looked at it fantastically? Will you now look at it differently? I’d love to hear you thoughts.