Here is my post for tomorrow, Pentecost Sunday.
Today, being Pentecost Sunday, is what we might consider the birth of the church.It is that moment when the Holy Spirit empowered the gathered in Jerusalem to go out into the world and carry forth the mission and Gospel proclaimed by Jesus Christ.
But, just like any person or organization who celebrates a birthday, we should pause for a moment and consider what the passage of time as brought to the church.Now I consider myself evangelical but not Pentecostal; in fact, I am not totally sure what it means when you say you are Pentecostal.One of the difficulties that we have today is that the public image of those who claim to be Pentecostal or Evangelical is probably very different from what it actually is.
The difficulty Peter had that one morning some two thousand years ago (1) is still with the church today.What do we mean when we say that we are Pentecostal; what do we mean when we say that we are Evangelical?
One of the many choir directors that I have sung for used to encourage us to sing more like Pentecostals, which I took to mean sing with more spirit.Those who call themselves Pentecostal inherited the idea of a subsequent crisis experience that could be called “entire sanctification”, “perfect love”, “Christian perfection”, or “heart purity” from John Wesley.While believing in baptism by water as a sign of God’s grace, Pentecostals also believed in baptism by the Holy Spirit as a “second blessing.”Wesley suggested this in a 1766 publication, “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection”.It was from Wesley and these ideas that the Holiness Movement developed the theology of the “second blessing”.
Wesley’s colleague, John Fletcher, was the first to call this second blessing a “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and described it as an experience which brought spiritual power to the recipient as well as an inner cleansing. (2) During the nineteenth century, thousands of Methodists claimed to receive this experience, though no one at that time saw any connection with this spirituality and the speaking of tongues or any of the attributes that we identify Pentecostalism with today. (3)
For most people, it is the speaking of tongues that is the most common evidence of the baptism by the Holy Spirit.But the most prominent characteristic should be the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.Pentecostals believe that everyone that has been genuinely saved has the Holy Spirit living in them and working through them.
Pentecostals may differ from other Christians because they believe that it is the second baptism, the one by the Holy Spirit that opens them up to a closer fellowship with the Holy Spirit and empowers them for Christian service.Just as that first day in Jerusalem where all thosegathered from the many lands spoke in their own tongue but were understood by everyone (4), so too do Pentecostals see the speaking in tongues as the normative proof (though not the only or sufficient proof) of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.Here there are major differences with other churches and denominations. (5)
As I was reading about and trying to write about the Pentecostal movement, I could not help but think that perhaps I am a Pentecostal, perhaps not in actuality but in spirit.If you have accepted Christ in your heart and have allowed the Holy Spirit to come into your life, how can you not be Pentecostal?Of course, I do not speak in tongues, either in the way that many Pentecostals would have me to do nor do I even speak a foreign language.But it is the empowerment by the Holy Spirit that has brought me to this point; it is the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that allows me to know that I am alive and a servant of Christ.
Though I may speak with bravest fire,
And have the gift to all inspire,
And have not love, my words are vain,
As sounding brass, and hopeless gain.
Though I may give all I possess,
And striving so my love profess,
But not be given by love within,
The profit soon turns strangely thin.
Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control,
Our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
By this we worship, and are freed. (6)
I think that the same is true for being an Evangelical.Today people see Evangelicals as close-minded, judgmental, and strict interpreters of the Bible.But to be an Evangelical in the truest meaning of the word is to be one who spreads the Gospel, not limits it.Those who claim to be Evangelical are quick to condemn those who are in sin; those who claim to be Evangelical are quick to shut the doors of the church to those who most need what the church can provide.
I have struggled long and hard with this transformation of the nature of evangelism.I thought, and still actually do, that to be evangelical was to take the message of the Gospel out into the world.Yes, we are to make all who would hear disciples, for that is the Great Commission.But it is not up to us to decide who should hear; we are to tell everyone.Those who would choose not to hear will face the consequences; it is not up to us to decide what punishment awaits those who do not hear.After all, Jesus told his disciples that when there were those who would not hear, they (the disciples) should just walk on to the next town where the reception would be better.And those today who would pass judgment today are perhaps like those of Jesus’ day who choose not to hear the Gospel message.
On this day, when the Holy Spirit descended upon all those gathered in Jerusalem and empowered them to take the Gospel out into the world, we should pause and think about what it means for us.We are all, in one sense, Pentecostal.We have acknowledged that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior; we have accepted the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
Having done so, we are in a position to do those things which we could not do. As Paul wrote to the Romans (7), we could not see any hope in our lives before we accepted Christ as our Savior.Now that hope exists.Before Christ, we were unable to pray or communicate with God; but now, with the Holy Spirit, we are able to do just that.It stands to reason that we are able now to do many things which before we could not do
In those last days before Jesus left, He told His disciples that there was much they did not know.But after He left, the Holy Spirit would come and bring them the ability to know the truth.With the coming of the Holy Spirit would come the true meaning of righteousness and justice.Just as we are Pentecostal, so too are we all Evangelical.
Like those gathered that morning in Jerusalem, we celebrate the presence of the Lord and the Holy Spirit by our attitudes.And having received the Holy Spirit, we are now empowered to take the Gospel message out into the world, not to condemn the world or shut it out.But we take the Gospel message out into the world to offer the hope to the lost and justice for the oppressed.
Let us take this opportunity to see what it is that we have been given in the way of a birthday present and let us find ways to share this wonderful gift with others.
(1) Acts 2: 14