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The Purpose of Pentecost

By: Rev. Mr. Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC


"When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And 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." Acts of the Apostles, Chapter two.


As we came to the close of the last millennium there were numerous groups within the contemporary Christian community claiming that they "really" knew the purpose of Pentecost and the reason for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples who gathered in that Upper Room. Movements both within and "alongside" ("para") of Christian churches, communities and confessions grew up throughout Christianity, claiming to be especially connected to the encounter that the early followers of Jesus had in the upper room.

Some evangelical and mainline Protestant Churches developed cherished traditions of special outpourings of the Holy Spirit at special times in the twentieth century. A modern "Pentecostal" movement was born out of several of them. Out of it, much good came. The Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church began with a prayer for a "new Pentecost." Within this Catholic Church, similar movements also began, some helped by the early pioneers of other Christian communities in a sign of authentic ecumenical brotherhood and sisterhood; one of the true fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, small groups within these larger movements began to lay some claim on both the experience of these encounters with the Holy Spirit and the criteria for judging their legitimacy in such a way that this fresh encounter with the Holy Spirit soon became a point of division rather than unity among Christians.

We still have an unusual eclectic group of some within the Protestant traditions who want to carry on this exclusive claim to somehow "having the Holy Spirit" by focusing on certain aspects of what they maintain is the "Pentecostal" experience. They seem to emphasize that they have the Spirit and others apparently do not. Or do the others just have less of it? From within them have come some high profile personalities who appear to "strut" across stages and fill TV cameras with their emphasis on themselves and their own power to perform claimed miracles; others who appear to reduce Christianity to a formula for health and wealth; and still others who reinterpret "biblical prophecy" in a science fiction-like timeline predicting when some kind of "end" was going to come.

This modern subculture of "Christian" television has fashioned almost a caricature of Christianity, far from the experience of these early followers gathered in one place expecting the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus Christ..

Was this encounter with the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room, recorded by the Apostle Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, really about a show of personal "power", in the sense of drawing attention to any individual? Was it intended to enable a select few to "figure out" some kind of timeline so that they could "predict" events or write best selling Novels purporting to explain "Bible prophecy"?

Or, was it a call to all the followers of this Jesus Christ, this Messiah who had been raised from the dead and ascended to the Father, to now become His Body on earth, His Church, and to carry forward in time His ongoing redemptive mission until he comes again? Was it a call to shows of "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 all of us who are now baptized in water and the Spirit and joined together as the Body of Christ?

Unfortunately, what is lost in the strangeness of this kind of Christian subculture and all these claims of those who maintain they have some "inside track" on experiencing the "power of Pentecost" is the real and primary purpose of Pentecost, the birthing of the Church and its "clothing in power" for the ongoing mission of her Founder and Lord.

In addressing the purpose of Pentecost at the beginning of a new missionary age we should ask ourselves some questions. Had Jesus ever conducted massive rallies to somehow show His "stuff" during His earthly ministry? No. Rather, when crowds would gather He would feed them, preach, teach and then love them in both word and deed. What did he have to say about the timing of His inevitable return? "No-one knows the day or the hour..."

So, what was the primary purpose of this event called Pentecost? The purpose of Pentecost was the Church. The Holy Spirit was sent to birth and equip the Church for Her mission. Even the gifts of the Spirit were given to the whole Church and for the common good. Yes, they can and are manifested by individuals but they always serve the greater missionary purpose of the Church.

By the end of the second Christian millennium certain of these "Pentecostal" movements had grown in many major Christian traditions. That is what they were originally called, even in the Catholic Church - I am old enough to remember. Some chose to later be called "Charismatic". Some good fruit was borne through those movements. The encounters they provided with a dimension of the Pentecost experience led many Christians to a deeper and more "personal" encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.

These were essentially "evangelical" movements, emphasizing the call for every Christian to have a "personal" relationship and encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, the "evangel", the "Good News.". They also emphasized the missionary nature of the Christian vocation and the very real presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the ministry of the Christian Church. Finally, they reasserted a simple truth, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so clearly prevalent in the early Church, were still available for all Christians who sought them through sincere repentance, prayer and holiness of life.

However, many of these groups, implicitly or explicitly, began to claim that they "had" the Holy Spirit and that everyone else did not. Using exclusive phrases to describe their movements (such as "THE renewal"), some devolved into one more sub-group in a kind of cafeteria of religious "experiences" that substituted for the life changing, ever renewable call to holiness and transformation that this encounter with the Holy Spirit actually produced in the nascent Christian Church who had gathered in that Upper Room.

Unfortunately, many of these movements also went the way of most "enthusiastic" movements throughout Christian history, claiming to have a kind of "inside track" on what it "really" meant to be a Christian; they devolved either into "other- worldly" sects or "para-church" efforts. They switched the adjective "charismatic" or "Pentecostal" for the Noun, "Christian", focusing on subjective experience rather than the objective truth of the Christian claim.

Some of these groups also left their institutional Church bases, starting "new" groups and actually ended up promoting the continued fracturing of the Body of Christ. The very unity that lies at the heart of the purpose of Pentecost was reversed in the name of Pentecost. This is the very opposite dynamic of what had occurred on that great day of Pentecost when the divisions of the Tower of Babel were reversed by the work of the presence of the Holy Spirit; when all present heard the Word of God spoken in their own language.

We have now begun the Third Christian Millennium, a new missionary age. We should ask ourselves as Christians, once again, what is the purpose of Pentecost?

Let me suggest an ancient insight is where we should begin. In the anciaent Christian tradition, the purpose of Pentecost was primarily seen as the birthing of the Church. Pentecost is all about the Church. The Church is "Plan A" and there is no "Plan B". The very notion of a Christian group being "para" Church is as far from the purpose of Pentecost as one could ever get. The early Christians did not form "para" Church movements; they lived as the Church. The Holy Spirit was not poured out on the disciples so that they could form movements outside of the Church, rather so that they could become the Church, the communion of the faithful, living in the Church and in midst of the world, on mission. Their work was "intra-Church", from the heart of the Church; and it proceeded into the center of the world.

They gathered in one place "together" when the promise of Jesus was fulfilled. He had told them that He must ascend, in His own words to "my Father and your father, my God and your God", because, again 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. Coming of the Advocate "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

The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church on that great day of Pentecost so that it could continue the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. The "New Israel" was formed, the "communion of persons" now redeemed in Jesus Christ. They were empowered to live differently now in the midst of a world awaiting the fullness of redemption. They were empowered to live as a new people, constituted in history, and called to lead the world back to the Father, in and through the Son, because the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity now presided over them and filled them with the very life of the Living and True God.

Through this Holy Spirit, sent from the Father, they continued in communion with Jesus and in Jesus, with the Father; in Jesus with one another; and in Jesus for the world. That is why the last part of the Second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles is where we need to focus to uncover the "Purpose of Pentecost" These disciples now lived in a new way.So should we:

"They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved." Acts, Chapter Two

The Church is the purpose of Pentecost. Can this Third Christian Millennium bring with its promise a New Pentecost? Can we begin to live this kind of transformed Christian life as we enter into this third Christian Millennium? Can we demonstrate a true Pentecostal Christian faith to a world waiting to be reborn...a Pentecostal experience that restores the beauty of the Church to a world that is still desperately in need of redemption?

Yes, we can! Come, Holy Spirit, Come!


Deacon Keith Fournier is a married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with approval. He is a human rights lawyer and a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He the founder and Thomas More Fellow of the Common Good Movement and was a co-founder of Your Catholic Voice.


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