If we are to really believe the New Testament, we must embrace that there is a Power within Christianity.
The power of Christianity is not a political power and it’s not an earthly authority. No, our power—and make no mistake, it is truest power in the world—is the power of wisdom and strength that comes to the church through the Holy Spirit.
Without the power of the Holy Spirit, our lives will always be lacking, always be superficial, always only be a fraction of the true Christianity. Why? Because our faith is not about what we do, or even what we believe.
Christianity is about a vital connection to Christ, with the Holy Spirit of God inside us, for a life of joy and peace and power in the Church and the World.
In one of my favorite chapters in the entire Bible, Acts 2, we discover what happens when the true power of Christianity enters the world—what happens when the Holy Spirit comes to church.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4, NIV)
Taking Back Pentecost
When you hear the word “Pentecost,” what comes into your mind?
The majority of us, I’m guessing, think of “Pentecostalism,” the denomination that emphasizes speaking in tongues and prophesying. At the seminary I attended, “Pentecostal” is a general term you could call somebody who gets a little carried away with the Spirit, isn’t quite gospel-centered enough, or gets less than a B- in elementary Greek.
So we need to recapture this word.
In the context of Acts 2, the original hearers of this message well understood the meaning of Pentecost, the national Hebrew holiday. The word Pentecost means “fiftieth day,” celebrating the famous Old Testament story in Exodus, when God provided an escape from Egypt for the people of God.
As the sunset on the evening of the Passover, the Israelites nervously painted the blood of their firstborn male lamb on their doorposts. By morning, they were saved. For fifty days, they escaped through the desert, through the Red Sea, and into the Sinai desert. On the fiftieth day, they reached Mount Sinai, where God made a covenant with them and gave them the Ten Commandments.
For centuries afterwards, Israel celebrated Pentecost also as an agricultural festival. It was the day when they celebrated the “firstfruits” of the harvest, that great initial sign of the crop that signaled that the harvest was coming.
So the festival of Pentecost takes these two elements together—the arrival at Mt Sinai for God’s covenant, and the firstfruits of the harvest—and you get an annual reminder for the people of God. “We have been redeemed from slavery,” they could say, “and can now carry out God’s purposes in the world, as a foretaste of a massive, coming harvest of righteousness.”
What a beautiful day!
A Second Pentecost
In Acts 2, the disciples of Jesus have gathered to celebrate the Festival of Pentecost, a few days after Jesus has ascended into heaven and told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to arrive.
Suddenly, the Holy Spirit descends, and Pentecost takes on a whole new meaning for Christians.
It still calls us to remember the Exodus and God’s law and the promise of fruitfulness, but now it also means that God provided his very own Spirit to us. The Church is the new Israel, the new Temple, the primary dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
In this sense, we’re all descendants of God’s people, recipients of his promises, and temples of his Holy Spirit. We may not be capital-P Pentecostals, but in the grand scheme of redemptive history, it matters that we remember we’re in the post-Pentecost era.
We are all pentecostals!
All Life and Ministry is Pentecostal
This is an extraordinary, powerful moment. In the moments that follow (Acts 2:5-6), the text says there was a violent wind from heaven, and tongues of fire rested on the apostles, and they began to speak in languages totally foreign to them.
This is a pretty great church planting model: A fiery hurricane arrives, fills the place with the presence of God, leaders speak miraculously speak foreign languages, and thousands of people come to Christ.
It’s a clear, definitive start to a new era: The old is gone. The new is here. The firstfruits are now on the vine. A harvest is coming.
Remember that this is true and eternal power, and it’s being given to the Church. Jesus, in all his power and glory, has ascended into heaven, and now the Holy Spirit, in all his power and glory, has descended onto earth.
Jesus—the power of God embodied in a single human being—goes up, and the Holy Spirit—the power of God for every single human being who believes—comes down.
This is the first Pentecost: Moses went up the mountain, and Law of God comes down. And this is the second Pentecost: Jesus goes up into heaven, and a new sort of Law comes down. But this time, it’s the Spirit of the law, a personal, intimate union with God.
From that moment onward, including our current day and age until Christ returns, we are post-Pentecost people. We are, in the words of N.T. Wright, dual citizens, a people caught between heaven and earth. We have the power of heaven in our lungs and yet our feet are firmly planted on the earth’s soil.
Later in Acts 2, as Peter is making sense of all this, he quotes the prophet Joel, who spoke of a time when God’s Spirit would be poured out. Peter is saying: We are now living in that time. Pentecost was a one-time event, but it’s also the firstfruits of a whole harvest. We are the harvest.
The apostles, the Israelites in the 1st Century, they were the firstfruits. But you and me—assuming mots of us are Gentiles—we are the harvest.
Our post-Pentecost church planting, then, is the fulfillment of Joel’s vision 3000 years ago and the promise of the Pentecost 2000 years ago.
This is the season of the Lord’s favor and harvest: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!
So what does it look like for an evangelical, Reformed, church-planting church to be appropriately Pentecostal today? How can we embrace the power of God for our lives, relationships, ministries, and churches? Part two will cast a little vision about how we can become pentecostal (small “p,” not the capital “P” denomination and subculture) without giving up an inch of our liturgical, Reformed tradition.
Indeed, it may be that our tradition is most fully realized when we embrace this wonderful reality: We are all pentecostals.