Wednesday, May 15, 2002

PENTECOST - how should we use this word?

"We need another Pentecost" say some fervent souls as they urge us all to pray for revival. For them, as with many evangelical & charismatic bible-christians, the word "Pentecost" sums us the descent of the Holy Spirit to energize believers and to convict sinners, so that there is a local revival.

In thinking and speaking this way - and even creating denominations with names based on this form of speech -these fervent souls (whom we may describe as "Pentecostal Christians") are of course being guided by what they read in Acts 2, where there is the descent of the Holy Spirit, the manifestation of his presence in miraculous ways, the preaching of the Gospel and the conversion of thousands to Jesus as the Messiah & Lord.

"I'm so looking forward to Pentecost" say other fervent souls. These are Christians, whose thinking and speech is informed by the Bible and Church tradition, for whom "Pentecost" points to a Festival of the Church that occurs fifty days after Easter and ten days after the Feast of the Ascension of Christ. For them Pentecost is a festal day for celebratory worship for it is the last of the Feasts which commemorate the great acts of God related to Jesus - his birth of the Virgin Mary (Christmas), his death on the Cross (Good Friday), his Resurrection (Easter), his Ascension (Ascension day), his Sending of the Holy Spirit to be his Paraclete (Pentecost).

Some of these "liturgical Christians", if we may so describe them, also refer to the Feast of Pentecost as "Whit[e]Sunday" since on this day or on the eve of it - especially in northern Europe - Baptisms were performed with the candidates in white gowns.

For the "Pentecostal Christians" the keeping of the actual day, the Feast of Pentecost (in origin a Jewish & O.T. Feast), according to the Jewish Calendar and the Church Year, is not deemed important. What is really important is the Pentecostal experience!

In contrast, the keeping of the actual day is for "liturgical Christians" very important because they see the Church Year as a means of walking with the Lord Jesus and keeping in union with him. Certainly the appointed prayers for this Day, if seriously intended, do actually call for the filling of the Church by the Holy Spirit, exercise of the gifts of the same Spirit in the Church and the producing of the fruit of the same Spirit in the lives of the baptized.

What I think we all need to agree on is the following:

The Day of Pentecost that followed the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord Jesus was a unique & unrepeatable Day in terms of its place in time and place in the saving work of the Holy Trinity. There was/is only One occasion when the Lord Jesus from heaven sends the Holy Spirit in his Name to the awaiting apostles and disciples to equip and empower them for holy service in the Church. In terms of the saving work of God, the Spirit of Christ is given and sent once. Of this sending there may be, and have been, many celebrations - annual now in the liturgical Church - but there is only One Sending as such. This Day was the beginning of the era and epoch of the Spirit in the Church and by it the apostles and disciples were equipped to begin the work of evangelisation of the world.

Once the Holy Spirit is sent to the Church, then he is present and available to come upon, to enter, to fill, to inspire, to guide, to cleanse, to purify, to empower, and to revive the people of God, the Body of Christ. Thus there have been and will be many outpourings, revivals and fillings caused by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. Any of these may be called a Pentecost but at the risk of confusing Christian discourse. However wonderful, these revivals are not unique events for they occur only because the unique event has already occurred, and it did so on the Day of Pentecost following the Ascension of the Lord Jesus ten days earlier into heaven. On these revival days the Spirit who is already given, gives himself once more to his waiting people to make them the temple of God, wherein he indwells, & the fire of God which he fuels.


The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America

No comments: