The Founding of the Christian Church at Pentecost
By Samuele Bacchiocchi
*Mr. Bacchiocchi is a Trinitarian. This article implies that the Holy Spirit is a person which the BICOG does not adhere to.
Pentecost celebrates also the founding of the Christian church as an organized body of believers with a message and a mission. The institution of the Church began when Christ called the twelve disciples and trained them to become His witnesses. But the constitution of the Church occurred at Pentecost when the disciples were qualified for their calling by the power of the Holy Spirit. On that day, Christ’s followers were consolidated into a new body with the conviction and courage to preach the Gospel to the ends of the world.
The Christian church was not extracted from the larger Jewish social order to become another separated-unto-God sect within Judaism. Rather, Pentecost marks the initial fulfillment of the prophetic vision of the ingathering of God’s people from all the nations to the uplifted temple in Zion and the going forth of the Law to teach all the nations (Is 2:2-3; Mic 4:1-2; cf. John 2:19; 12:32). A new people of God (the Church) was formed on the day of Pentecost, consisting not only of Jews but of “all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39).
The loving acceptance of one another and the selfless sharing (koinonia) among the members of the new community of faith reflected the universalization of Jesus’ ministry by the Spirit in and through each member. They expressed their spiritual oneness by devoting “themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Their mutual commitment to Christ was expressed by sharing their means with “all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). Pentecost reminds us that our commitment to Christ finds expression in loving service to others.
The Birthday of the Christian Mission.
Pentecost celebrates also the birthday of the mission of the Church. After His resurrection, Christ instructed His disciples about “the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) and promised them that, after being energized by the Holy Spirit, they would become His witnesses from Jerusalem “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Peter’s proclamation “standing with the eleven” (Acts 2:14) was the first manifestation of Christian obedience to this missionary task. Throughout the book of Acts, we are reminded that Christians became witnesses as a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “We all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32). “We are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem” (Acts 10:39; cf. 3:15; 5:32; 10:41; 13:31).
The gift of tongues that were intelligible to “devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) underscores the universal scope of the Christian mission. In view of the fact that most of the Jews who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost understood Aramaic or Greek, the linguistic abilities given by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost may be indicative of God’s desire that each language group should hear the Gospel in its native language, the one most meaningful to the individual heart.
It should be noted that the Spirit was given at Pentecost not merely to enrich the corporate worship and fellowship of Christ’s followers, but primarily to energize them for missionary activity. Acts frequently refers to the role of the Spirit in the evangelistic activity of the Church (Acts 4:8; 13:2; 15:28; 16:6). The initial Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit is to be distinguished from the subsequent infilling of the Holy Spirit that empowered Christians to share the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Acts 13:52; 14:1; 15:28).
Pentecost reminds us that the Christian Church was founded by Christ, not to perpetuate itself as a self-serving organization but to extend the divine provision of salvation to men and women everywhere. The speaking in tongues at Pentecost for a moment set off in bold relief God’s redemptive purpose for the whole world. The missionary outreach of the Church, which unites people of different languages and cultures as one body in Christ, represents the reversal of the scattering and hostility of the nations that followed God’s judgment at Babel (Gen 11:1-9). Pentecost celebrates the birthday of the Christian mission.
The Bestowal of Spiritual Gifts.
Pentecost marks the beginning of the bestowal of spiritual gifts on all the redeemed so that each may participate in the life and mission of the Church. Before His death, Christ reassured His disciples that He would bestow upon His followers the gift of the Holy Spirit– “the gift that would bring within their reach the boundless resources of His grace.” “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
Christ was pointing to a day when the Holy Spirit would come to do a mighty work as His representative. That day came on Pentecost, when His disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4) and “great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). In a sense, Pentecost represents not only the fulfillment of Christ’s promise but also God’s answer to Moses’ prayer: “Would that the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Num 11:29).
From the day of Pentecost onward, all Christians are called to the fulltime task of proclaiming “the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet 2:9). All Christians can receive the spiritual gifts that “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).
“From the Day of Pentecost to the present time, the Comforter has been sent to all who have yielded themselves fully to the Lord and to His service. To all who have accepted Christ as a personal Saviour, the Holy Spirit has come as a counsellor, sanctifier, guide, and witness. . . . The men and women who through the long centuries of persecution and trial enjoyed a large measure of the presence of the Spirit in their lives, have stood as signs and wonders in the world. Before angels and men they have revealed the transforming power of redeeming love.”
The mission of the Holy Spirit will continue until the Gospel has been preached to all nations (Matt 24:14). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is likened to the “former rain” that ripened the Spring harvest that was gathered in at the beginning of Christianity. “But near the close of earth’s harvest, a special bestowal of spiritual grace is promised to prepare the church for the coming of the Son of man. This outpouring of the Spirit is likened to the falling of the latter rain; and it is for this added power that Christians are to send their petitions to the Lord of the harvest ‘in the time of the latter rain.’ In response, ‘the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain.’ ‘He will cause to come down . . . the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain’ (Zech 10:1; Joel 2:23).”
The celebration of Pentecost invites us to seek for the outpouring of the latter rain by putting away all differences and by coming closer together in Christian fellowship. It challenges us to pray daily for a special endowment of spiritual power to become fit to be labourers together with God in the final harvest of the earth.
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