The church that Christ built (and is building): a Pentecost reflection

pentecost doveI’ve had some swirling thoughts today that I wanted to spit out in reflection on Pentecost Sunday. If you’ve read my About page, you’ll know that I’ve gone through quite a theological transformation. My Christian life began with prosperity oriented, Word of Faith, Pentecostal based teaching. I read the Bible in a very fragmented fashion that led to all kinds of erroneous beliefs about Christian faith and practice. I then went through a dispensational/baptistic phase because I started reading the Bible in a more holistic manner and came to recognize the connectedness in Scripture. That evolved in a solidly Reformed position.

I couldn’t help but think of this trajectory as I listened to the sermon today on Acts 2:14-36. In my earlier Christian days, the focus of Acts 2 had been about the evidence of tongues as proof of the Holy Spirit’s work. It demonstrated the miraculous work of the Spirit that moved people to prove their Christian position through extraordinary events. In this view, the Spirit moved individuals to do whatever it is they believed God called them to do based on some existential, individualized perception.

Since 2006, I’ve come to see that Acts 2 is but a reflection of the Christ-oriented nature of Scripture and God’s redemptive plan for his creation. The baptism of the Spirit had less to do with extraordinary events but had everything to do with the testimony and proclamation of Jesus Christ and our empowerment to proclaim him. After all, in John 14-16, Jesus had promised the Spirit after he was no longer with the disciples. Specifically, he said;

But when the Helper comes whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me and you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

A good trinitarian understanding will negate seeing the Holy Spirit as a rogue agent that propels us to focus on the Spirit’s work apart from the work of Christ. The Spirit’s role is to glorify Christ and point to him according to the Father’s good purpose that he has already revealed. So while it might seem plausible to focus on the the extraordinary works of the Spirit, the central character of Acts 2 is not the 3rd person of the the Trinity, but the 2nd person – Jesus the Christ. (Also, regenerating hearts to believe the gospel IS a miraculous event.) This is wholly demonstrated in Peter’s speech in our sermon passage today, vv. 14-36.

The main point is found in 2:36;

Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

The Holy Spirit does not give us some wild and crazy ideas about what God is doing disconnected from his redemptive-historical purpose, since he testifies to what has been accomplished through the Son. John Calvin puts it nicely;

But what kind of Spirit did the Savior promise to send? One who should not speak of himself (Jn 16:13), but suggest and instill the truths which he himself had delivered through the word. Hence, the office of the Spirit promised to us, is not to form new and unheard of revelations, or to coin a new form of doctrine, by which we may be led away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but to seal on our minds the very doctrine which the gospel commends.

But let’s be clear, the Spirit’s work is not just about us individually. As many times as I’ve read the book of Acts, the impact of the Spirit’s work jumped out at me in vs 42.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The testimony of Christ had everything to do with the work of the church, those united to him through the work of the Spirit that are charged with proclaiming his person, work and greatness.  If the Spirit’s work does not encourage an orientation towards 1)wanting instruction in the Word; 2) fellowship with the saints and 3) living that out together as a church, I dare say perhaps the Spirit’s work has not yet resulted in regeneration and baptism into the kingdom of God.

Speaking of church, another aspect that has transformed as well has to do with the church being birthed at Pentecost. I’ve come to reject the notion that the church did not start until Pentecost. If this is the case, that creates a disparate and I dare say, schizophrenic view of how God called people to himself and united them in Christ. It means essentially, the Old Testament saints have a different means of unification than belief in covenantal promises, which find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20). I think this article here, The Church and Israel in the Old Testament pretty much sums it up. Also, the church and Israel in the New Testament, provides some further clarification on the topic.

Nonetheless, I’ve recognized that it’s easy to use this knowledge to spurn or disdain other members of the body of Christ. I was struck by this article today in A Place for Truth titled Will the Church Survive? It was a glorious reminder that through the Spirit’s work by the will of the Father, Christ has been building his church regardless of some doctrinal differences, in light of increased persecution and infiltration of heterodox theology such as the prosperity gospel that continues to usurp the historic Christian faith.

Too often Christians see the church as their property – not merely in the sense of its buildings paid for at their expense, but as being for them to decide what it should be and how it should function. When that happens, the security of individual churches and denominations is indeed shaken and not infrequently marks the end of their work and witness. But the continued global expansion of the church only serves to prove that Christ is indeed holding on to it.

There is a line that gets crossed that we are no longer talking about the Christian faith. Yes, even the Spirit’s work through our humanity capacity has produced all kinds of differences for people who love and proclaim Jesus. Whether it be differences in views on baptism (paedo vs. credo) or eschatology (premillennial vs amillennial vs post-millennial) or sanctification, the church of Jesus Christ is called to proclaim him, to live for him, to demonstrate allegiance to him in an increasingly hostile world. This is a world  that elevates personalized spiritual experience but has no interest in the foundation of Christianity and needs to hear the truth of Jesus Christ. And it is a world in which Christians across the globe are being marginalized for their faith.

So on this Pentecost Sunday, I want to hold by particular Christian beliefs close, but hold Christ and his church closer. Christ is indeed building his church of every tribe, tongue and nation as reflected in Rev. 7. After all, this is the work of the Spirit demonstrated at Pentecost whereby Jesus is recognized as Lord and Christ.

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