The Purpose of Pentecost : and the New Missionary Age of the Church
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
As we came to the close of the last millennium there were groups within the Christian community who claimed to have a special connection with the encounter that the early followers of Jesus had in the upper room on that great and glorious day. A modern “Pentecostal” movement was born. Out of it, much good has come. The Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church began with a prayer for a “New Pentecost.” Since the Council, what are called the “ecclesial movements” have flourished in the Catholic Church, each with differing charisms and distinctive missions, but all clearly led by the Holy Spirit which was poured out on Pentecost and continues to be poured out.
In one of those movements, a few who had experienced the grace of an encounter with the Holy Spirit contended that they knew the criteria for judging the legitimacy of being “baptized” with the Spirit. This became a point of division rather than a call to unity. Some within Protestant traditions who spoke of a similar experience also focused on certain expressions of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer to the exclusion of others. A smaller group among them even reduced Christianity to a formula for health and wealth and teeter on heresy, all in the name of the Holy Spirit. Still others interpreted what they called “biblical prophecy” in a timeline predicting when some kind of “end” was going to come. Unfortunately, such diversions can become a caricature of Christianity. They are far from the experience of the early followers of Jesus who gathered in one place expecting the fulfillment of the promise he gave them on that great day of Pentecost.
After all, was this encounter with the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room about a show of personal “power” in the sense of drawing attention to any individual or group? Was it intended to enable only a select few to “figure out” some kind of timeline so that they could “predict” events or write best selling Novels to explain “Bible prophecy”? Or, was it a call to all the all of the followers of Jesus Christ to become His Body, the Church on earth, and carry forward in time His ongoing redemptive mission until he comes again? Was their experience of the power of God a call to shows of such “power” before crowds or an invitation to live lives of sacrificial love, holiness and service on behalf of a world that God still loves - a world into which He still sends His Son through the Body of Christ?
The answer is clear from the biblical witness and has been borne out in the extraordinary missionary work of the Church. The purpose of Pentecost was the empowering of the Church with the very same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead! That is still the purpose of Pentecost. The gifts of the Spirit were given to the Church for the common good and they still are. Yes, they can be manifested by individuals, but they always serve the Church. I believe in what are called the charismatic gifts. I have experienced them and thank God for them. However, that experience is not the end, but only the beginning of a continuing invitation into an ongoing communion with the Lord and participation in His Divine Life and mission.
By the end of the second Christian millennium “Pentecostal” movements were present in many major Christian traditions. I am old enough to remember the early days of what came to be known as the “Catholic Charismatic Renewal.” The first significant book on the modern experience of the charismatic gifts was written by Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan and entitled “Catholic Pentecostals.” As the movement in the Catholic Church grew it was called “Charismatic” rather than Pentecostal. Like many enthusiastic movements in Church history, it had its “ups and downs.” However, those who had experienced its grace, who stayed faithful to the Church and received her ongoing guidance, found their home within her full life and became workers in the vineyard for this new missionary age. That movement is now viewed as one of the several “ecclesial movements” which both the late Servant of God John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have called the “finger of God” for the mission of the Church in this age.
Good fruit has been borne through all of these ecclesial movements. Though they each have their important distinctives, they also have many commonalities. They all invite Christians to have a “personal” relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, an encounter with the One who has been raised from the dead and is alive in our midst. They call their members to holiness of life. They emphasize living a unity of life where their Christian faith permeates their daily work and vocations. They love the Church, recognizing that she is “Some – One” not something, the Body of Christ continuing His redemptive mission until He returns. They know the missionary nature of every Christian vocation and the real presence of the Holy Spirit and live it. In doing so they demonstrate that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still available for all Christians.
The purpose of Pentecost is the birth - and continued rebirth - of the Church. The Church is “Plan A” and there is no “Plan B”. The notion of a Christian group being “para” Church is far from the purpose of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was not poured out on the disciples so that they could form movements outside of the Church but so that they could become full members of Christ’s Church, living His life together for sake of the world. He told them that He must ascend, to “my Father and your father, my God and your God” (John 20:17) because, in His own words “If I do not go I cannot send the comforter. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” And in the same Gospel “…I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.” (John 16, and 20)
The Church was empowered by the Holy Spirit to live differently in the midst of a world awaiting the fullness of redemption, to live as a new people to lead the world back to the Father, in and through the Son. Through their experience of the Holy Spirit the early Christians continued in communion with Jesus and in Jesus, with the Father; in Jesus with one another; and in Jesus for the world. Can we live this kind of transformed Christian life as we proceed into this third Christian Millennium? Can we demonstrate a true Pentecostal Christian faith to a world waiting to be reborn? Can we live a Pentecostal experience that reveals the beauty of the Church to a world that is still desperately in need of redemption?
You bet we can and we must! Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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