Pentecost Sunday is an important day for me. I came into Christianity through the Pentecostal paradigm. I know that many branches of Christianity celebrate this day, but there was something special about celebrating it as a Pentecostal. It was a day to remember when in 1906 a building located at 312 Azusa Street, Los Angeles, CA, became one with an upper room of a building in Jerusalem, Judea sometime in the early part of the fourth decade of the first century. It was a day when we all celebrated the arrival of the New Covenant Spirit upon humanity as foretold by the prophets that still comes into the heart of people today.
My own relationship with the Pentecostal movement has been love/hate. In part, I think this is because it began in the Oneness Pentecostal context and there is a lot of baggage from those days. Yet there is something about global Pentecostalism that I appreciate (maybe even need). In its purest form it is the Christianity for those whom Christianity has chosen to ignore. It welcomes those who work tough 9-5 jobs to be on equal footing with something who holds the professorship at a local university. Scripture is not the book of the elite, but rather it is the book of the oppressed (for a thousand doctoral degrees do not surpass the work of the Spirit). Worship is unrestricted allowing us to reach to the Spirit as it comes down to us. You don’t need to know the jargon, you just need to say what is on your heart. While people fight over whether or not Jesus has resurrected there is no doubt for those who feel his presence, by the Spirit, when they call out his name.
It is the type of Christianity that answers the powerful wisdom of the scholars with the confounding testimony of the cross. When Judaizers came at the church in Galatia with their reading of Torah all the Apostle Paul had to do was remind them of when they received the Spirit. There is something to this. While I do not adhere to the classic “initial evidence” doctrine I do agree with Pentecostals that the Spirit should be evident. One should know (at some points, maybe not all) that they are the temple of God because there was that moment, or that day, or that week, or that year when the presence of God was as thick and real as the Shekinah glory falling on Solomon’s newly christened temple.
Like Bono I can say “I have spoke with the tongue of angels” yet “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, though without those times I am not sure I’d still be searching.
We humans are more than brains in vats. Yes, Pentecostalism often makes the equal and opposite mistake of treating us as emotional zombies, but it is a fitting critique of those who say, “Well, I researched this all day every day and I decided Christianity can’t be true because…”. Many with their intellectual arrogance are deeply frustrated by the Pentecostal style of faith that says, “You have your arguments, I have my experience.”
One of the great things that has happened to Christianity since 1906 is the Pentecostalization of our religion. I am not saying everyone looks and acts “Pentecostal” (I don’t even go to a Pentecostal church), but rather that this movement has forced us to remember that this is a Spirit-religion. The gospel goes forth and signs and wonders are real (in spite of the enlightenments misguided, one sided, attack). Even if you are not “charismatic” you who are Christ’s have the Spirit working through you and gifting you to do a work you could never do alone.
Pentecost Sunday is not about Pentecostalism, per se. It is about Pentecost. And Pentecost is about the Spirit of God birthing a new people with a new covenant. It is about the beginning of a tidal wave that took Israel’s God and made sure that everyone hears that he is God of the world. Whether you are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, or some other brand of Christianity, let us never forget the importance of Pentecost. For the Spirit is shared by all of us who call Jesus “Lord”, who confess him to be God’s chosen one, who await his return. Let us remember that we still have a great mission before us. We must proclaim the gospel of our returning King in the face of all those who deny him and scoff at our hope.