June 12th is Pentecost Sunday, celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. One of the questions that need consideration surrounding Pentecost is “why” or “what for.” What purpose does the sending and indwelling of the Spirit fulfill in the church? Jesus addresses this issue in John 14-16, commonly known as the Farewell Discourse. At the opening of Acts, the story of the church, Jesus provides a concise summation of the reason for and results of the Spirit’s presence and ministry. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, ESV).
Scholars have observed that this verse is programmatic for the book of Acts, that is, it gives the form for the missionary work of the church that follows as the church is birthed in Jerusalem and extends throughout Judea, Samaria, and then leads Paul in the final chapter to Rome. The book has an open ending, which is appropriate, since the story of the church is ongoing. The church continues to proclaim the good news to the ends of the earth, to every nation, people, and place.
God gives the Spirit to the church so that we might have power to be Christ’s witnesses in the world. However, some classical Pentecostal traditions have privatized the work of the Holy Spirit. Growing up in the Assemblies of God about all I ever heard about the Holy Spirit (and just about all I ever still hear from some denominational colleagues) is the necessity of speaking in tongues for Spirit-filled living. I don’t wish to deny the blessing that speaking in tongues is to both individual believers and to the church, but I hope to retrieve a more fully-biblical comprehension of and appreciation for the Spirit’s ministry. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just lead us to our prayer closets where we can pray in tongues, but sends us into all the world that we might speak intelligibly and passionately the truth about Jesus Christ. To divorce speaking in tongues (Acts 2:1-13) from the church’s gospel proclamation (Acts 2:14-41) and the church’s sacramental fellowship (Acts 2:42-47) is to deny the full power of Pentecost.
God gives us power in the Holy Spirit but not just for ourselves; it is the power of God for witness to Christ in a hostile world (John 15:26-16:33). We find spiritual power (or the Spirit’s power) not only in occasional ecstatic experiences (2:1-13), but in inspired preaching (2:14-41) and generous living (2:42-47). When we keep these diverse yet related components of the Spirit’s ministry together we find the seamless unity to which he directs us: witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire world.
So may Pentecost give you a bigger world and bigger heart. And may God fill you with the Holy Spirit that you might pray (2:1-13), proclaim (2:14-41), and practice (2:42-47) the truth embodied in Jesus, our Savior and Lord until the whole world hears the truth and sees the light.