Pentecost and the Church
PENTECOST AND THE CHURCH
There are two things that constitute the church (or is it one?) – Jesus is Lord, and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is claimed, in Christian circles, as the birthday of the church. That is, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first believers on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) the church was brought into being.
What was first created looked nothing like what we call “church” in the 21st century western world. We have public buildings and a place in society; they had no property, an often hidden existence with persecution, and no place in their society.
They evidently had some expectation of God acting supernaturally among them, though there is no reason to think that was uniform or predictable. They initially had a high expectation of Jesus returning within their lifetime, and therefore developed a loose connection to the things of this world.
Generally in non-Pentecostal churches in our era there is little expectation of God acting supernaturally, though that is also not the case everywhere. And of course 2,000 years has passed and we have pretty much no expectation of Jesus returning in our lifetime.
Throughout the New Testament era (30-90AD approx) the early church was enthusiastic to introduce people to Jesus, and they were spreading across the known world and Christian numbers were on the rise.
In our era, at least in the western world, the church is unsure how to introduce people to Jesus and not at all enthusiastic about the task, we have spread everywhere, and numbers are generally on the decline.
You could be forgiven for thinking that what the Holy Spirit gave birth to on the day of Pentecost and what we call church are two entirely different things. You could be forgiven, but I think you would be wrong.
There are two things that constitute the church (or is it one?) – Jesus is Lord, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The form of the church does not make the church. It doesn’t matter if you meet in a cathedral with a pipe organ, or a shack with a guitar or a secret house with nothing. If Jesus is Lord and the Holy Spirit is present, it is church.
It doesn’t matter whether you sit in quiet rows, yell out ‘hallelujah’s like the Southern Baptists, fall on the floor like the Pentecostals, or even shake like the Quakers – if Jesus is Lord and the Holy Spirit is present, it is church.
To be sure sometimes it is easier to tell if it is church. The meeting in the secret home with no music, no singing, no crosses or banners or communion table or baptism font – just a bible being read, bible teaching and prayer – there is no doubting that is church.
If you go into a grand cathedral with all the pomp and ceremony, visual aids, magnificent architecture and all manner of magnificence, it may look like church, but it can be less clear who is Lord, and whether the Holy Spirit is present.
But quite aside from the possible problems, God has not given up on any of these churches. The promise is still true, that when two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, he is there among them. Even if 98 are worshipping the building and two worshipping Jesus, the Holy Spirit of God is still in that place. It is still church.
Of course it would be better if we were all of one mind and heart, and that Jesus was at the centre, and that the power of the Holy Spirit of God was being visibly released among us to the Glory of God. And that is what I believe the Holy Spirit is trying to lead us towards. We may never quite arrive, but we needn’t walk away.
To invest the Holy Spirit in us is to declare that we have incredible value to God. We have gotten so very used to saying that we are not better than others or more special than others. But the Holy Spirit has been poured out on us as followers of Jesus, and with that goes great value.
If you took two identical common stones, they would have the same value – nothing. But if you coated one of them with pure gold, has the value changed? The rock at the centre still has no value, but it is now packed with the gold and so has great value.
Even in our simple gathering here, God has created such incredible value. It remains for us to live lives that honour what God has done in us, but the value is here all the same.
“Church” is just an identifying name. A church building is just a meeting place. But being church is something else. Being church is actually living willingly under the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, along with others doing the same.
Being church is a living, breathing, unpredictable, changing thing, seeking to know and follow the will of God in the midst of life.
Being church is, in my opinion, the most exciting, rewarding thing available to us. Unlike most things, it really is available to all of us equally.
Jesus rejects no one. You only qualify by being a normal human being with faults and sins. If you pass that test you qualify for the church journey.
Thank God for sending the Holy Spirit. Thank God for creating church so we can do this together. Thank God for not giving up on us. And thank God for the future that is yet to be revealed.