Confusion. Ecstatic joy. Incredulity. Interruption. Messy. Bold. Challenging. Spilling over.
This is some of what we are asking for when we pray the ancient prayer: “Come Holy Spirit” during this Eastertide Season before Pentecost.
Over a 40-day period, the Risen Lord appears to his disciples, confirming their faith, instructing them in the Scriptures and commissioning them as witnesses to the nations. At the end of the Gospel of Luke and the beginning of the Book of Acts, Jesus tells his friends to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit that will empower them for the mission. The disciples had already received the regenerating breath of Christ in John 20. They knew that their words and works for the kingdom required the power of the Spirit (Luke 10-11; John 3). What were they waiting for?
Pentecost is the public unveiling of the “incendiary fellowship” (E. Trueblood). It inaugurates the global and local mission of those first called Christians a few years later in Antioch (Acts 11). These followers of “The Way” boldly shared the good news of salvation offered through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Though the first Pentecost is an unrepeatable event, we discover that everywhere Christ-followers go on mission, there is a fresh bestowal of regenerating and empowering grace. From racial rivals in Samaria (Acts 8) to Gentile God-fearers in Cornelius’ household (Acts 10), to anonymous Jewish and Gentile converts among the cities of Asia and Europe (Acts 11-19), the Holy Spirit comes and transforms individuals and communities.
Ethical Evidence of the Spirit
In St. Paul’s writings we are urged to, “be filled with the Spirit “ (Eph. 5:18-21) continually in the course of Christian discipleship, fellowship and worship. The four active participles of this passage (speaking, thanking, singing and submitting) are the roots and fruit of God’s work in the Body. The fruit of Gal. 5:22-23 and the virtues of 2 Pt. 1:4-8 are both evidence of the indwelling Spirit at work. These outcomes are the proof of authentic growth in grace. All the comments above and below about Pentecost must issue in such ethical-relational demonstration or they are hollow and hypocritical (I Co. 13:1-2).
Throughout global Christian history, we have many followers of Jesus, “Christian peoples of the Spirit” (Stanley Burgess’ designation and the title of his delightful book) that have been arrested and awakened, renewed and revived by the work of the Spirit. Such moments are often disruptive and dramatic and full of ecstatic experiences unsettling to ecclesial authorities. Later, of course, every Christian movement will memorialize such moments, even as they resist them in their own context! Here is a refresher to our memory:
- The early Montanists (late 2nd/early 3rd century) began well and ended poorly. They longed to revive holiness and manifestation gifts and well as an egalitarian ethos. Alas, the leaders moved in a megalomaniac direction. However, out of this came some of Tertullian’s writings – and our best early language for the Trinity.
- Early Monasticism (3rd century to Benedict in the 6th century) is full of spiritual gifts, miracles, dreams and visions. Devout hermits found themselves discipling many in the ways of the Lord. There is much to commend and critique in these Desert mothers and fathers, but they led the ways in compassion, missions and spiritual formation.
- Hildegard of Bingen (11th century) enjoyed a robust Spirit-inspired spirituality, with dreams, visions, prophecies, singing with the Spirit united with a lively biblical and empirical mind, canny influence on ecclesial leadership and profound impact on many communities.
- Waldensians, Lollards and Hussites (11th to 15th centuries) were all “restoration” and “purification” movements within the Western Church. Testimonies abound of profound encounters with God, supernatural protection and spiritual insights.
- Our friends in the Churches of the East (Nestorian and Monophysite) evangelized throughout Asia for over a thousand years (400s to 1400s), with abundant accounts of spiritual renewal.
- Eastern Orthodox communions celebrate spiritual gifts, especially the gift of intercessory tears. The Hesychastic prayer traditions yield all manner of spiritual expressions.
- All Five Reformations contain testimonies of awakening and empowering, albeit in quite diverse language and expression.
- The Awakenings of America and Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries animated missionary movements while dividing ecclesial organizations dues to the “enthusiastic” nature of adherents.
- Global Pentecostal movements in the 20th and 21st centuries have ended Cessationism as a viable missiological and theological position and compelled Evangelical believers to consider the state of their spiritual thermostats.
The purpose of these historical bullets is not apologetic, but demonstrative. When the Spirit comes, unbelievable love unites with often unsettling awareness of need. When the Lord awakens a community, change is the order of the day. When a fresh Pentecost invades, there are challenges to the status quo. At first glance, the casual reader might say, “Amen! Bring in on, Lord! Come in your power!” Such petitions are fitting and evidence of rightly directed desires. But such cries come with a price. The question for our hearts is clear: Are we willing to accept the changes that arise when a fresh Pentecost comes? Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians: are you willing to receive God’s gifts in new expressions or are you stuck in old packaging? Evangelical stalwarts: thank you for making sure our experiences align with the ethos of Scripture; however, are you unconsciously committed to liturgical and intellectual structures that may have to change?
What ARE We Asking For?
We are not asking for a new theology or subjective “revelations” that glorify being novel. We are not asking for judgment on our cultural or ecclesiastical opponents. We are not asking for ecstasy without ethics, or feelings without faith operating through love.
We are asking for four things when we welcome a new Pentecost:
- Conviction and confession of personal and corporate sin. Authentic encounter with the living God unveils our Lamb and Lion, our Lord and Lover, as, “Holy, Holy, Holy” and we will not emerge from any such encounter unchanged.
- Conversion to a new sociology of grace that welcomes all nations to the Table. Amos Yong speaks of the “new sociology of the Spirit” found in the Luke-Acts narratives. When the Spirit falls, enemies become friends, the formerly excluded are freshly embraced (M. Volf) and fellowship transcends old economic, gender and racial and religious divisions (Gal. 3:28-4:7). This was the testimony of defenders and detractors of the Azusa Street Revival of 1906-1909. “The color line was washed away in the bloodline.” (F. Bartleman)
- Commitment to evangelization and compassion with new relationships and responsibilities. The empowering of the Spirit is always missional, offering inner assurance and ministry anointing for the great task of bearing witness to all nations. A humble and open heart means new habits and hands on service. Awakening Methodists eschewed anonymous charity and fought for the emancipation of slaves and justice for all classes.
- Cooperation with diverse streams of the global Christian family so the Great commission is fulfilled. The awakenings of the past three centuries propelling Evangelical mission created alliances that were unthinkable before the encounters with the Almighty. Whitefield and Wesley needed each other. The former needed the organizational skills of the latter and Wesley was forever indebted to Whitefield’s compelling call to preach outside the church.
What are we asking for? Transformation. Not changes wrought by magnetic personas or novel strategic plans. When the Spirit comes, we are changed from the inside out. When the Spirit comes, our circle of relationships opens and never closes again. When the Spirit comes, we share the gospel and our story with boldness and wisdom and willingly become the answer to our prayers. When the Spirit comes, we embrace the whole church and her global/holistic mission.
Let’s join with all believers of all ages and places and pray with new expectation, “Come, Holy Spirit!”
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