Interpretations of the Pentecost narrative of Acts 2 vary from an unrepeatable moment of ecclesial birth to a paradigmatic encounter repeatable in all generations, including the universal sign of tongues. The relationship of Luke-Acts narratives to Pauline prepositions provides fertile ground for hermeneutical-theological debate as well.
Thankfully, the past four decades offer substantive pastoral and scholarly witness of Luke’s Spirit-inspired brilliance as an evangelist-theologian and apostolic witness. From I.H. Marshall’s ground breaking, Luke: Historian and Theologian in 1979 to Roger Stronstad’s tireless work of two decades (The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke) to the recent works of Scot McKnight (The King Jesus Gospel) and Frank Macchia (Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology), God’s people are enriched.
As we allow Luke to speak as an authoritative witness, Acts 1-2 and subsequent history offers surprising resources for the 21st century missional church. In this essay, I offer four “surprises” of Pentecost that may be overlooked in some of the theopraxis debates. When the Spirit comes, a new sociology is present as enemies become friends (Acts 8) and the nations join with ethnic Jewish followers of Jesus in fellowship and worship (Acts 11-15).
Surprise One: Encounter as the foundation of the egalitarian ethos of the new community. Experience of the Spirit’s grace and power often precedes exposition of its meaning. Peter’s great sermons (Acts 2-3) are summary explanations of prophecy fulfilled and unprecedented divine activity creating a new community with a universal trajectory. The Spirit is poured out of ALL flesh here – women and men, apostles and disciples – an intriguing anonymity characterizes the 120 gathered in prayer, the 3000 welcomes and the scores present for a fresh “filling” in Acts 4. As Acts unfolds, Luke’s missionary narratives continue the format of his Gospel, with women prominently at the forefront of mission and a wide cast of characters touched by the Good News.
Surprise Two: Voluntary sacrifice for the community is organic to fellowship and mission. From the immediate necessities of Acts 1-6 (a few thousand folks need food and shelter, including pilgrims and widows), to the strategic solutions to famine and church unity in Acts 11-15, making sure people are practically cared for is integral to discipleship and evangelism. We must not impose our ideological histories and preferences on the text, but allow these narratives to inspire creative personal and systemic transformations.
Surprise Three: Supernatural signs of the kingdom accompany pioneering efforts. Signs and wonders are not for the entertainment of consumers, but the demonstration if the veracity of the victory of Christ crucified and risen. We can expect more of the same as we reach the unreached across the street and around the world. Deliverance and healing, miracles and other charisms will grow in proportion to missional effort.
Surprise Four: Tongues and other manifestation gifts are normal signs of kingdom life. The universality of tongues as a sign of the reception of the Spirit may be debated, but the facts on the ground in Acts treat this gift as normal and Paul’s later exposition in I Co. 12-14 only reinforces its “normality” (even if public practices need refinement). The 21st century missional church must end all vestiges of Cessationism without equating manifestations with maturation. The global church has much to teach American Evangelicals obsessed with trying to be inoffensive to inquirers. Enthusiasm explained and well-ordered expressions of the Spirit are attractive to spiritual seekers!
Pentecost is the fullness of Divine self-disclosure. The Holy Spirit is unveiled as God present in and with believers. The Spirit will always glorify the Father and the Son, making Christ our contemporary and the Almighty our Abba.
Let’s welcome divine intrusions into our liturgical and missional activity and go “back to the future” in our adventure with the Triune God.