Pentecost Sunday: Happy Birthday, Church! Are We Celebrating a Missional Movement or a Monument?

photo-1424162539895-29afe3897f11_optJust as people celebrate birthdays, and nations, too, the church celebrates its birthday today on Pentecost Sunday.

Pentecost is the fiftieth day after Easter (including Easter). The Old Testament backdrop is the Jewish festival of Shavuot or the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22; Numbers 28:26-31; Leviticus 23:15-21). This festival occurs fifty days after the Passover celebration. The Passover celebrates God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The Festival of Weeks celebrates God’s giving the Ten Commandments to Moses at Sinai for his people. Just as the Law came down from heaven to Israel, so the Spirit of God came down from heaven to the church on Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection following Passover. God’s Spirit internalizes the Law in keeping with the New Covenant (See Hebrews 8:8-13). One might argue that Israel began as a nation with the giving of the Law at Sinai. So, too, the church began its history with the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Fifty is a number of perfection. In Jewish cosmology, God created the world in seven days (if one includes the day of rest). Seven times seven plus one is fifty, which signifies the perfection of creation in this case. The Festival of Weeks also marks the occasion of the first wheat harvest with the beginning of summer. So, the church is to begin its harvest of Great Commission witness ‘today’, as it participates in Jesus’ life and work (Matthew 28:18-20). We see evidence of the first-fruits of that harvest at Pentecost as three thousand believed and were baptized into the church (Acts chapter 2:41). The Messianic Age, which dawned in the person of Jesus (See Acts 4:16-21), has come in its fullness with the descent of the Spirit (Acts 2). For other articles on Pentecost, refer here, here, here, and here.

Rather than living off the fumes of the past, we need to fan into flame the Spirit’s spark in our lives. Just as tongues of fire appeared and rested on the believers and they were filled with the Spirit and proclaimed the good news of Jesus in other tongues (Acts 2:3-4), we must wait on God in prayer, long for the Spirit’s movement, and obey Jesus’ word by sharing and enacting the good news of the kingdom as the Spirit of God ignites our hearts and lives.

It is very easy for churches to look back nostalgically as the Spirit moved in their midst when they were born. After a few years, church anniversaries can easily move from celebrating the Spirit’s ongoing movement to cemented monuments. This classic hymn by C. Michael Hawn “Spirit of the Living God” is an appropriate one to sing today, as we seek to guard against turning Pentecost celebrations and church movements into monuments:

Spirit of the living God, Fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, Fall afresh on me.

How can we become more sensitive to the Spirit, seek not to grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), not take the Spirit for granted, and be filled with the Spirit, as we seek as churches to be and remain missional movements every year of our lives? The answers we give will either help or hinder us in our efforts to guard against turning the celebration of the church’s birth into a memorial monument.

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