Ministry Today magazine cover

Lessons From Aimee





As one denomination’s founder proved, Azusa Street’s power was intended to unite us in mission, not divide us on doctrine.

Dedicated to Interdenominational, Worldwide Evangelism"—the cornerstone reads, and wherever you find the kind of ministry she extended you will always find the same heart—for all Christ's body, for all the world and for all the gospel! Let me wait to say who "she" was, but for the moment simply say—"she" would delight in the broad, interdenominational spirit that continues spreading throughout the global church.

I've been quoting those words more often lately, even though they've been favorites of mine for all 50 years of my ministry—notwithstanding they have all been served as a licensed pastor, ordained by the same denomination—the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. I am impassioned by the values inherent in the simple, direct summons that cornerstone would call all of the church to seek to advance and preserve:

 

  • That we all be embracing toward one another, loving Jesus more than our church, and His church more than our family unit within the Father's "whole family in heaven and earth" (see Eph. 3:15),
  • That our hearts be impassioned with the heartcry, hunger and need of the whole world—with a love that removes ethnic bias, nationalistic pride and selfish preoccupation with our private comforts and kingdoms and,
  • That we "lose our life to find it," as each of us, and those associated with is in nearest fellowship, partner in spirit to serve the interests of one another as we give, reach and jointly seek to draw others to our living Savior—amazing them by the love we reveal among ourselves.

    "'I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me'" (John 17:20- 21, NKJV).

    I believe any fellowship of churches, association of pastors, denominational entity or independent group ought to be measured by those words and values.

    I also believe that wherever passionate hearts grow uneasy with "ecclesiastical institutionalism," "denominationalism" or "religion" (in the narrow, death-dealing sense of form without vital life), it's because the spirit and truth of my opening quote has either been violated, or wasn't present in the first place.

    WHAT INSPIRED THE QUOTE?

    Let's start with a clue: Join me by making your own plans to come and celebrate the Azusa Street Centennial in Los Angeles in April 2006! Why? First, because it will inspire and refresh everyone who comes.

    But second, because it celebrates the essence of trans-denominational fellowship—of the Holy Spirit's outpouring igniting a century of breakthrough that has brought the church to a time and place when Jesus' family, has become more important to most of His people than their own portion of His body.

    There is no question that Azusa Street is where the inspiration behind "the quote" was birthed. And interestingly enough, you can not only visit the precise site of the Azusa Street revival today, but less than three miles away you'll find the words above engraved on the cornerstone of a building at 1100 Glendale Boulevard, across the street from the city's lovely Echo Park.

    It was that mighty move of the Holy Spirit, which broke like a thunderous outpouring of globe-encompassing blessing, that with its "latter rain" formed torrents of love that began to erode both denominational and ethnic separatism.

    The uniting dynamism was not simply an experience in the Spirit's power, but in the grace of God melting the cataracts of tradition that so easily cloud any of our vision for loving one another and loving the world. And with that outpouring, a river of revelation was released that has gradually engulfed the whole church—over an entire century, producing an increasing willingness to acknowledge, open to and welcome the Holy Spirit.

    If there is anything that is at the core of anyone's desire to avoid sectarianism in the church, it's that river. And if there is anyone behind your or my desire to be "interdenominational" or whatever term you use to describe keeping untrapped by Spirit-less, mechanistic structures, unchained by dying traditionalism or bound by deadening dogmatism, its the Holy Spirit. He was the One who stimulated the quote above.

    THE WOMAN—THE REASON

    The building the quote appears on—and where it is "lived out" even to this day—is Angelus Temple; and the woman who had the words inscribed there was Aimee Semple McPherson. She came to Los Angeles in 1919, during the wake of the Azusa Street outpouring that began in 1906.

    She would later become known as the founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, another set of words she developed, but not an institution she saw as being "a denomination."

    Her vision was for the advance of an interdenominational movement of people—transcending any one group, but bonding all who would share a common passion for the New Testament message of Jesus Christ. Her breadth of vision (not reluctance toward the power of Pentecost) explains the interesting fact that Aimee didn't even claim to be "Pentecostal."

    Even though she was the epitome of passion for a ministry in the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit—with every manifestation of His gifts and graces expected and operational—she decried anything that would detract from Jesus! Christ alone—Christ all-in-all!

    She used the word "foursquare," utilizing it as a completely nonsectarian term. Beside being one commonly appearing in some passages of the then-in-use old King James Version of the Bible, "Foursquare" was also in the common usage of the era—1900-1930s; "Foursquare" meaning, "to take a firm, forthright position, balanced and marked by conviction."

    In an hour of U.S. church history marked by a declining belief among churches that had been plagued by doubt, compromise, intellectual pride and spiritual slackness, she called forth leaders who would proclaim God's Word at its face value.

    While conducting a huge evangelistic and healing crusade in Oakland, California, in March, 1922, she projected a visionary message of "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (see 2 Cor. 4:6).

    Beginning with Ezekiel's vision in chapter 1, she elaborated the depiction of Christ in the faces the prophet saw in his vision of God's glory. "In the face of a man," she declared, "we are pointed toward Jesus, the Son of Man, sent to be Savior of mankind." She continued, noting the pictures of Jesus Christ: (a) in the face of the ox as Jesus our healer and burden-bearer; (b) in the face of the lion as "Jesus, the mighty baptizer with the Holy Spirit;" and (c) in the face of the eagle as "Jesus, our soon-coming-King," who, like an eagle, will sweep down to catch away His church when He comes again.

    Credibility for the soundness of this message was compounded by the soundness of McPherson's ministry values. She refused fanatical extremes or imbalanced emphases, and was committed to balance—to a sane, sensitive church life and ministry kept warm with a passion for the Holy Spirit's workings while keeping fully grounded in the solidity of God's Word. And it was doubtless that balance that occasioned more than 1,000 leaders from scores of denominations to sign the pledge.

    They were convinced: their congregations and communities deserved and needed a full-orbed "foursquare" message of Christ, joined to a commitment to the power of the Spirit and the truth of God's Word. They saw and moved to carry a message of "Jesus Christ—Savior, Healer, Baptizer with the Holy Spirit and soon-coming King" to their constituencies.

    Photographic records of what happened throughout California are still available as more than 1,000 leaders returned home to preach "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8, KJV).

    Monument signs on church corners were inscribed: (e.g. First Methodist Church—Preaching the Foursquare Gospel; First Baptist Church of San Jose—Preaching the Foursquare Gospel). Having seen McPherson lead and preach in ways that refused fanaticism, and were unmixed with the bizarre habits of some supposing supernatural power requires peculiar behavior of disordered services, they preached Christ Jesus—and the Spirit's power was welcomed to confirm His Word, manifest His glory and reveal His gifts and works of divine grace.

    That order of movement exists under many names today, and I have taken time to contextualize it, because to remember history is to avoid vanity in the present—to recognize that together, we are a continuum of God's grace. What we are experiencing today is an ongoing flow of a work of the Spirit intended to bond us in the love of God, the life of Christ and the flow of the Spirit. Let's re-declare our commitment in our century!

    We are people of a movement—a transformational, inspirational and incarnational manifestion of Jesus Christ in all His glory—as lost humankind's one and only Savior, as afflicted humanity's compassionate Healer, as each believer's empowering Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and this world's soon-to-be-seen Coming King.

    One woman saw this—back then. I seek to live it today ... and join hands with you in doing so.


    Jack W. Hayford, Litt.D., is the founder of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California; chancellor of The King's College and Seminary and the president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.
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