Today is Pentecost, the day on which Jesus’ disciples and other followers of Christ received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This day is celebrated 50 days after Easter. I have never attended a church that devoutly followed a liturgical calendar. Most of my knowledge of Pentecost comes from reading the Bible, reading books and just talking with other Christians about it, less so from the focus of any one church.
But this year, for some reason, I feel moved by the event of Pentecost. The events of that day marked the beginning of the Church. All who worship in a church today, whether it’s a small home church or a mega church, are there because of Pentecost. That excites me because I have a passion for unifying the church and what better way to work towards unification than going back to the original source. I get sort of sad when Baptists speak poorly of Methodists and Lutherans speak poorly of Catholics (I just chose these denominations for the purpose of example, not to specifically criticize). I don’t know how to solve an issue thousands of years old with my own two hands but I do know God can work through a few to affect many. So before I try to “change the world,” let’s look at what this whole Pentecost thing is all about.
Pentecost began with a supernatural event (yeah, I know… kind of common in the Bible) shortly after Jesus’ ascension to heaven:
“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. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.” – Acts 2:2-6
What was going on was so out of the ordinary that people thought the Apostles were drunk. Peter exclaimed they were not drunk as it was only 9:00 a.m. He then addressed the crowd and quoted from the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Peter went on to explain how King David had foretold the coming of the messiah:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
Peter called on the people in Jerusalem to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and on that day 3,000 were saved. You don’t hear about that many people being saved every day anymore.
Pentecost was the start of the early Christian church. But what is church, a body of believers or just a building? The Pentecost story continues with the explanation of the “fellowship” of believers, outlining specifically what people do when they gather together in the name of Jesus Christ. So I think it’s clear that the Church is when two or more gather in His name. Acts 2:42-47 says:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
This scripture should serve as a blueprint for every local church. Let’s break it down by each focus area:
Teaching provides a foundation from which we can speak about God, the scriptures, and apply Jesus’ teachings to every day life.
Fellowship provides Christians with glue to hold them together in the form of relationships. Even though many on the day of Pentecost came from different places and spoke different languages, all of them shared a faith in Jesus. The same is true today as the Church is multi-cultural and spans the globe.
Meeting in homes allows Christians to get to know one another on a deeper level as family. This continues to strengthen those relationships that begin in the local church and people can connect on a one-on-one level.
Breaking bread and sharing communion allows Christians to continue to remember the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, just as Jesus taught his disciples to do at the last supper when he said “do this in remembrance of me.”
Prayer provides Christians with a direct way to communicate with God for confession, gratitude, asking questions, asking for help, and listening for answers.
Praise allows Christians to experience God and access the Holy Spirit through worship, glorifying God, and thanksgiving.
Miracles, including healing, provide moments of awe for believers and non-believers alike that enable faithfulness to grow.
Providing for anyone in need (especially through selling your possessions in order to provide) allows followers of Jesus to be humble and reject materialism and greed, as Jesus taught us. It also, more importantly, shows how our main concern should always be for our brothers and sisters who are suffering and in need of help. The best way to help others is to sacrifice our own lives just as Jesus did, to be a servant to others as Jesus was a servant to each and every person he encountered during his ministry on earth.
Evangelism, although not as clearly stated as the other focus areas, should be included in this list. The scripture reads, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” As the Church was meeting for teaching, prayer, fellowship, and service, God was moving in the hearts of people so they would repent and be baptized. I believe others in Jerusalem at the time wanted to be part of this new faith because the Holy Spirit was alive, working through the Apostles and new Christians, and they were emanating the love and light of Jesus Christ for all to see.
I think a lot churches try to focus on one or two specific areas instead of approaching it from a holistic point of view. Should we be a church focused on outreach? Should we be an evangelical church? Should we be a church that continually prays? Should we focus on worship? Should we focus on teaching the Gospel? She we focus on communion (the Eucharist)? Should we focus on healing, signs, and miracles?
When a church starts focusing solely on one or two areas, the other important areas may be put on the back burner. People who attend that church may feel a certain area is lacking and eventually decide to move on to the next church, seeking something deeper. That is one of the problems causing people to church hop today. Over time churches have decided to reject the focus of other churches, so much so that there are now literally tens of thousands of Christian denominations around the world. Often when one church rejects the focus of other churches, the pendulum swings to the other extreme and certain focuses are avoided almost completely. For example, going from a church that has communion every day to one that has it four times a year… too much focus may create a ritual without meaning while too little focus may disregard its relevance and intended impact.
A healthy church will have balanced aspects of all of the areas mentioned in Acts 2, that way believers can become disciples of Jesus Christ to live out both the great commission and the great commandment - go and tell the Good News to others and love God and all neighbors as themselves.
Wouldn’t it be beautiful if churches from all denominations and theological backgrounds would refocus themselves on the original purpose of Church and the call of Christ? Then once we all reconcile and come together, we could actually work towards building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, at least as much as possible until Christ’s return. In the end, there is only one Church. Thank God there will be no denominational silos in heaven. I’m thinking it might be worth our while to get used to it now.
What area does your church focus on well and what area can be focused on more? Do you think any of these focus areas as described in Acts are more important than others and why? How can denominations reconcile and partner up effectively to further the Kingdom of God?