Pentecost Sunday is a day on the Christian calendar observed by most Christian denominations today including Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. This year it falls on Sunday, May 15. It is a day commemorating the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the early church, as recorded in the Second Chapter of Acts. This was not a new feast or holy day that was founded by Jesus or the first disciples, but was actually one of the Old Testament feasts in the Levitical law as given to Moses. Pentecost, “the fiftieth [day]” is the Greek name for Shavuot (Hebrew, lit. “Weeks”)or the Feast of Weeks, a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai. In Christianity, Pentecost is celebrated fifty days after Easter Sunday, inclusively (i.e., 49 days with the first day counted, seven weeks), hence its name. In Judaism, Shavuot is on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. Pentecost falls on the tenth day after Ascension Thursday (which itself is 40 days after Easter).
In the Christian world today, the Day of Pentecost is celebrated as a remembrance of the giving of the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus in Acts 1:8, when he said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (NKJV) Earlier he had promised to send them a Comforter (some modern translations say Advocate or Helper), when he said to the disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:16-17 KJV)
The Holy Spirit, a person and member of the Triune Godhead that is part of the central beliefs of all Christians, has been around from Eternity past. He came upon individuals from time to time in the Old Testament, before the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit. The Spirit would come upon men of God and prophets, and they would prophesy. This sovereign act of God did not always mean that the recipient was necessarily a pillar of righteousness, as at one time King Saul, not the most godly man and who was hunting down David to kill him, had the Spirit of God come upon him, as recorded in I Samuel 19:23-24. There are several instances in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit is poured out upon or given to a group of Christians gathered together for prayer and worship.
Day of Pentecost
Many Christians are familiar with the signs and wonders that accompanied the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, including the sound of a mighty rushing wind, and tongues of fire that seemed to separate and rest on the heads of the 120 disciples gathered there. They received the gift of speaking in unknown and unlearned languages, making the message of the gospel as preached by Peter and others intelligible to thousands of God-fearing Jews from all over Asia Minor and Eastern Europe, as they were gathered for the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). (Acts 2:1 41) As a result of this outpouring and the signs that accompanied it, Peter, who just a few weeks earlier had denied Jesus three times, preached a powerful sermon and over 3,000 were converted to Christianity and were baptized. This event is seen by many as the founding of the Christian Church.
Second Outpouring at Jerusalem
“After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31 NIV) No tongues of fire or speaking in tongues were in evidence.
Outpouring in Samaria
The early Christians believed that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit or “receiving the Holy Spirit” was not synonymous with the initial conversion experience, as we see in Acts 8:14-17 ISV. “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
The House of Ananias
Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, had the experience of scales falling from his eyes and restoration of sight as Ananias laid hands on him to receive the Holy Spirit. “And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.” (Acts 9:17-18 NKJV) We know that Saul was already saved as Ananias called him Brother Saul; later he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and after that he was baptized in water.
The Radical Middle
We see two extreme views on these events and their place in the Church today: one is the Cessationist position, which states that the gifts of the Spirit had a specific and limited purpose in the Early Church and have since ceased; and the other are the Sensationalists, who emphasize signs and wonders and miracles more than the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy and peace. There is a growing and significant movement within evangelical Christianity today to find that balance between these two extreme views that some call the “Radical Middle.” Many of us are more comfortable taking a strident position with all issues black and white and using the prooftexts which align with our preconceived notions. Pastor Duke Taber of the Mid-Peninsula Vineyard Christian Church in San Carlos, Calif., explains that finding the illusive Radical Middle involves getting out of our comfort zone and finding the middle ground where legalism and liberalism (licentiousness) intersect, and where stoicism and hyper-emotionalism meet. All four of these extremes were the basis for early Christian heresies which Paul wrote most of his 16 books to confront. The quest for the Radical Middle is seen in some of the independent Vineyard and Calvary Chapel fellowships as well as some of the larger Assembly of God churches.
Gifts of the Spirit
The gifts of the Spirit have been given for the building up of the body of Christ, for ministry and for evangelism. The Apostle Paul examined these gifts in depth in I Corinthians 12-14, with the centerpiece of his masterful expository teaching being I Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter. We need to follow the example of Christ in our attitudes toward other Christians who may not hold the same beliefs as we do, as we are all his Body and the expression of Christ in a lost and dying world. The majority of the Evangelical Church throughout the world believes that the gifts of the Spirit are for us today. A careful and prayerful study of the Scriptures will help us to exercise them properly and in a way that glorifies Jesus and advances the Kingdom of God.
Further information is available online at www.spiritfilledchristianliving.com/the-quest-for-the-radical-middle and www.christianpost.com.
Bob Woods has worked as an engineer at AECOM Technical Services and HBC Engineering, and is a published Christian author. He can be reached at [email protected]