Pentecost and mission

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Fifty days after the Passover came the feast of Pentecost. This was the third feast in Israel’s yearly cycle of feasts. It celebrated the harvest of the first fruit and served as an annual reminder of God’s blessing. In spiritual terms, “first fruits” is a mission concept. It is a celebration of people won to Christ.

The Church’s nature has always been a continuing witness to the salvation and power of God. This is true for the Old Testament where God raised up a people out of nothing to be His witnesses in the earth.

In the covenant made to Abraham (Genesis 12) we find the theme of God’s salvation embedded in the first three verses: “I will make you a blessing to all people.” However, this is also an indication of mission.

The stories in the Exodus and the book of Judges also show a saving God.

Then came the Babylonian captivity. This was a wakeup call. But unfortunately the wrong lesson was learned. Faithfulness to the law and rituals became confused with faithfulness to God and Israel’s role to be a light to the world.

When we get to the New Testament the theme of a saving God in the Gospels leads into the book of Acts. Here we see God raise up the Christian church to replace a failed Old Testament church, a church that had become institutionalised. It no longer was interested in being on the cutting edge of mission, but had become satisfied in maintaining its structure and forms. Its nature had changed and purpose subverted.

God’s plan for His New Testament church was for it to be a continuing witness to the crucified and resurrected Messiah, Jesus Christ. This is still the church’s nature and purpose. It is still to be a missionary church.

Harry Boer in his book Pentecost and Mission argues that Pentecost and not the Great Commission was the conscious ingredient in the mission thinking of the early church.

Think about that for a minute.

We usually hear that it is the Great Commission that gives us our imperative for mission. We have heard a lot about Matthew 28:19,20, “Go, and make disciples of all nations,” baptise, teach, etc. But in our preaching of mission have we given thought to the place of Pentecost?

If Harry Boer is right, and Pentecost was the motivating factor for mission in the early church, what does this say to us as a church today, and how should we view Pentecost?

Perhaps Acts 1:8 sums it up for us: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come.” Or in other words, mission and witness can only really be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. The command to “Go, make disciples” anticipates the promise “You will receive power”. In truth, you can’t have one without the other. If the Great Commission gives the church its instructions, Pentecost provides its initiation, initiative and power. (For example see the stories in Acts 2, 3, 4, etc.)

And so Pentecost stands at the beginning of the Christian church shaping its nature, which is mission. When we talk about the mission of the church we must not stop at the Great Commission, but understand that the power for mission is experienced in Pentecost. The church’s work of mission, therefore, must also be rooted in every member of the church having a Pentecost experience.

In Acts we read, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” The KJV puts it this way: “they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). Now this is not talking about just being in the same room together. This is talking about a certain type of harmony and unity. About seeking God’s will through prayer and the study of Scripture and moving forward together to achieve His purpose. Too often everyone wants their own way and they think that they know what is best. And so the church pulls in different directions. And sometimes it even pulls itself apart. Independent groups break away from the church, each thinking they know best. [pullquote]

But what do we see here?

That the prerequisite for mission requires that the church be in one accord. That it be in the same place with the same goals and purpose. For it is through a church united in the worship and service of God that God can do great things and that mission can truly be accomplished.

However, the phrase “being of one accord” may indicate far more than just the principle of unity. For within it are the seeds that form the foundation for a revival of mission. And what we read here at the beginning of chapter 2 is expanded into a far more detailed picture of unity and activity for the church at the end of chapter 2.

After the dramatic entrance of the Holy Spirit appearing as flames of fire, and after the disciples going out and preaching powerfully and in tongues, we read how a large group of people are convicted and converted and join this new Christian movement. And then we read, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

How many great revivals have resulted from a fervent study of the Bible and prayer? Even our own history evidences such beginnings. This is what we see on the day of Pentecost. Bible study, fellowship, prayer, sharing with others and the Holy Spirit. These are the foundations for mission.

So what is the state of the church today? How ready is it for a Spirit-led revival that will usher in the close of this world’s history? Have we grown complacent and become the lukewarm church of Revelation 3? Do we take seriously our need to know Christ each day? Are we spending a thoughtful hour in Bible study and prayer with our Lord and Saviour? And are we sharing Jesus with others? Or have we lost our awareness of the urgency of the hour and our great need to “put off the deeds of darkness and to put on the armour of light” (Romans 13:12).

Towards the end of The Great Controversy is the following statement: “Before the final visitation of God’s judgements upon the earth there will be among the people of the Lord such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times. The Spirit and power of God will be poured out upon His children.”1

Isn’t this what we are longing for?

If the church therefore—meaning you and me—is to take seriously its mission and purpose, it must take its lead from Pentecost. We must call the church to unity and fellowship. We must call the church to pursue meaningful study of God’s Word and intimate prayer. And we must call the church to become dependent on its relationship and fellowship with Jesus through His Spirit. For without the Spirit’s presence in our life we face the very real danger of becoming like the Old Testament church that had lost its way because it came to rely on its forms and structures2 and not its heavenly Leader.

May God help us start such a revival and may we each determine to be His instruments in calling men and women back to an experience of “primitive godliness”.

  1. E G White, The Great Controversy, 464.2.
  2. See Jeremiah 7:3,4 and Isaiah 1:11-20.
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