Subscribe to Christianity Today
All Shook Up
During 1906 and 1907, the headlines that lured American readers to pore over newspapers while sipping their morning coffee occasionally described startling local religious excitements. In April 1906 the Los Angeles Times alerted its readers to "howling, shrieking, and weird phenomena" at a downtown mission on Azusa Street. The Des Moines Capitol reported in July 1907 that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of the wife of the popular Republican Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. The charge? Disturbing the peace of a residential community. The socially prominent Emma Cromer Ladd was found presiding serenely over raucous religious services in which the devout lay strewn about the floor, apparently unconscious, or shouted in tongues while twitched by contortions. And the front page of a Salem, Oregon, paper followed the case of the frustrated wife of a colorful local preacher named M.L. Ryan. She sued for divorce with the wry observation that the gift of tongues did not mix with family life.
Reporters of such stories seldom masked their own skepticism. For the most part they described an unprepossessing constituency—humble folk in modest surroundings professing the firm belief that among and within them God was doing an extraordinary thing. These people audaciously claimed to be both signs and agents of the end-times. They adeptly reinterpreted secular rejection as divine approval. Bemoaning the "carnality" of congregations that objected to their enthusiasm, they created alternative religious affiliations. For some this meant taking a second or third step away from the forms of church life most Protestants experienced. Resisting "dead denominational churches," they opted for the freer environments of storefronts, tents, and camp meetings. Taken together they constituted an emerging, loosely interrelated network that had at its core the unshakable conviction that the New Testament "apostolic faith"—with accompanying signs and wonders—was being restored in twentieth-century ...