This coming Sunday is the Christian community’s annual celebration of Pentecost, … and, frankly it’s a bit amusing. The commercial interests have learned how to co-opt other Christian celebrations, or feast days, such as Christmas and Easter, along with the semi-religious national holiday of Thanksgiving, with all kinds of sales and promotions and overpowering media programming, … but it’s strangely quiet on Pentecost. Hallmark Greeting Cards doesn’t have whole racks of greeting cards about Pentecost.

What makes it a bit amusing is that Pentecost is also something of a confusing stepchild with most churches. What do you do with the coming of the Holy Spirit for a church that is so immunized, religiously comfortable, and humanly formed that it really is not desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit in order to accomplish its raison d’etre? It’s mission? When the church is formed to be a humanly controllable religious institution, then it can tip its institutional and liturgical hat to Pentecost, … but then it really is not at all dependent on any Wind of God, any divine force field, for the authenticity and accomplishment of its life and mission.

This was one of the ongoing filters that Jesus was dealing with in his disciples before the crucifixion and resurrection. The disciples had a vision of Jesus’ kingdom in terms of some grandiose new chapter in God’s working with Israel, in which they would be key players. They did not conceive of it in terms of a New Creation, even though he kept trying to get through to them that it was necessary for them to wait for the promise of his Father, namely the Spirit.

That being so, the events of that first Pentecost visitation in Jerusalem had the audible and visible thunder and tongues of fire, … but the real miracle was the most essential one, and that was that the eyes and ears of all of that international set who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost were opened and made responsive to God’s thrilling fulfillment of his promise of a Messiah, who would inaugurate his New Creation, create a new humanity in which the very life of God would take up dwelling in their human lives and inaugurate the Age to Come in this age.

The result was that from that point the gospel and the church were out of control. A force field of the Spirit took possession of men and women, took possession of communities, and kept focusing them on the purpose of such communities of the Age to Come to herald the message of God’s reconciling love in Christ to every people group in the whole world. From Jerusalem to Rome in no time flat. Paul tells a small group in the synagogue in the port city of Ephesus about Jesus and the resurrection, and the Spirit opened the eyes of a dozen people, and within a short period the account reports that all in Asia Minor heard the gospel. Out of control.

Not a word anywhere in the accounts of setting up institutions, or forming church professionals to be institution keepers. Not a word. What you have are men and women who are the habitation of the Spirit creating colonies of that New Creation, and engaging in that which only the Spirit could empower them to do, namely: “Go, open their eyes, turn them from darkness to light, and from the dominion of Satan to the dominion of God’s dear Son” (Acts 26:18).

Somewhere so much of that got lost as the church became reduced more and more simply to the institution of a religious Christianity, familiar with the words but devoid of the eye-opening, ear opening, life-transforming power of the Spirit which produces those persons who are the dwelling place of God by the Spirit. But God keeps breaking in, and there are in the world today powerful Spirit movements that are radically transformational … but don’t be surprised if no one comprehends what you’re talking about in most traditional church contexts. All you will get is puzzled looks. And don’t expect a mailbox full of Pentecost greeting cards!

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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