May 25, 2015 / Charles Self

Pentecost Reimagined For the 21st Century

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday.

On that day the Holy Spirit comes with tongues of fire and an “incendiary community” (Eldon Trueblood) is empowered for mission.

Pentecost is not the birth of the church.

The church is conceived in the words and works of Jesus as he gathers followers and promises, “If any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believers in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-39)

The church is born when our Resurrected Lord appears to the fearful disciples and breathes new life into them and sends them out in mission (John 20:21-23).

There was one more moment to come in this drama of unveiling a missional people reflecting the manifold wisdom of God: empowerment for witness and the formation of heterogeneous communities of faith, hope and love (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8).


The Book of Acts unfolds the story of a small band of Messianic believers in Jerusalem becoming a diverse movement with impact in Rome and beyond. From Acts 6 forward, the “new normal” is diversity-in unity, not homogeneity. Judean and Diaspora widows learn to share (Acts 6). Jews and Samaritans are baptized into the Body of Christ and share the same Spirit (Acts 8). Enemies of Jesus’ followers become apostles of grace (Acts 9). God-fearers are no longer on the margins, but welcomed at equals (Acts 10). Pagans with no Judaism in their background come to faith and now Jewish believers must drink from the same Cup and eat from the same Bread (Acts 11-55; Gal. 2).

When the Spirit comes, individuals are converted and empowered…but there is much more. When the gospel of Christ is declared and demonstrated in the power of the Spirit, new communities are created with the mission to bear witness to Christ. When the Spirit comes, these communities reveal a

  • New anthropology as our Second Adam is the Source of a new humanity of women and men transformed by grace and living resurrectional lives (2 Cor. 5:17).

  • New sociology as former enemies become friends and divisions of class and culture, gender and religious tradition give way to profound unity and mutuality in Christ (Gal. 3:28-4:6).

  • New economy (oikonomia = stewardship) with believers voluntarily opening their hearts and homes, sacrificially share their resources and Gentile converts keep their Jewish brothers and sisters from starving (Acts 11-19; 2 Cor. 8-9) Personal responsibility displaces dependency as well (2 Th. 3:6-13).

  • New topography of grace as believers are both locally placed as light and salt and globally called to the ends of the earth (Mt. 5; Phil. 2:12-16).

  • New eschatology of living the future now in the power of the Spirit, welcoming God’s delivering, healing, forgiving and reconciling power (Rom. 14:17; Eph. 1:13-14).

Pentecost reimagined for the 21st century

What does all this mean for missional believers in the here and now? Let’s reverse the order of the aforementioned points and draw some insights from our pioneering sisters and brothers.

When we believe the gospel and welcome the Holy Spirit to empower, guide and lead, we are entering the presence of God’s reign – the justice, joy and shalom of the future – in our here-and-now life story (Rom. 14:17). We are both part of the great redemptive history and a signpost of the coming consummation.

Place matters. Leonard Hjalmarson’s No Home Like Place: A Christian Theology of Place expresses the incarnational power of local community in a globalizing, impersonal world. We can have a heart for folks around the world – and across the street. Are we connecting our weekly gatherings with the good of the local community? Are we commissioning people in all domains of work for the flourishing our cities and counties?

Economies are moral and social systems of exchange. The ethical creation of value and wealth and sacrificial sharing are both part of the ethos of the “new economy” inaugurated by Jesus. Are we celebrating new businesses and non-profits that steward well? Are we opening access to markets and confronting structural injustices? Are envisioning our churches for wise generosity?

Class, culture, gender, race and religious backgrounds are not obliterated – they are transformed by the grace of the gospel. It takes the whole church bringing the whole gospel to the whole world – and the heterogenic unity of the Body of Christ is a powerful witness in our strife-torn world. Practically, are we really befriending people across age, class and race or just giving lip service as we stay safely in our enclaves?

All this begins with the new anthropology rooted in our Second Adam, the Risen Lord Jesus. Do we really believe that every believer – and each community – is a “new creation” – a microcosm of the new heaven and new earth? Are we eschewing fatalism and stimulating faith for real progress in holiness? Are we integrating emotional and relational wholeness with spiritual maturity (they are inseparable)? Are we encouraging one another to live in light of our new identity and refuse to capitulate to false ideologies or broken narratives of our life before Christ?

Pentecost reimagined includes ecstatic experiences and supernatural signs in service of mission.

Pentecost reimagined is a new humanity-in-community empowered for transformational witness.

Pentecost reimagined looks for Christ in the “distressing disguises” of “the other” – who is now “in” through the grace of Christ.

Pentecost reimagined is creatively messy, turning hearts around and the world upside down.

Come Holy Spirit!

[Photo: Waiting For The Word]