The Anticlimax of Pentecost
What do you see when you read about the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2? The outpouring of the Holy Spirit? The birth of the church? Bold preaching? Revival? [An argument for] speaking in tongues? Justification for all of those things in twenty-first century church life? Maybe you see a summary of Peter’s preaching (Luke does hint that he has summarised Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:40).
Have you ever spotted the anticlimax though?
What I mean is this: the Holy Spirit comes, they see fire, they hear a rushing wind, they speak in tongues (or hear tongues, depending on where you want to place the emphasis in 2:5-13), Peter preaches an incredible sermon and then makes an appeal with the encouragement that the “promise” (read “Holy Spirit”) is for all whom God calls (v.39). And then, having told us that 3,000 people were “baptised” and “added”, Luke gives us a summary of the life of the church (by the way, all the verbs in Greek in 2:42-7 indicate ongoing actions, e.g. “They were devoting themselves…” not “They were devoted…”).
Similarly in Acts 4:32-7, what immediately follows the outpouring or filling of the Holy Spirit is Luke’s second major summary of the church community (the same pattern emerges with participial verbs denoting the ongoing actions of the church community).
As much as the action of individuals in Acts is fairly dynamic, with a sense of the spontaneity of the Spirit’s empowering on specific occasions, it seems quite important to take note that after Luke has narrated the Holy Spirit’s work, the immediate identity that marks the presence of the Spirit is the church, in precisely the terms that Luke has given- worship, sacrament, generosity, ritual, prayer etc.
Okay, confession time: I am a charismatic Christian. I speak in tongues. I’m generally okay with prophecy (or what most charismatics think of as prophecy) and I have experienced miraculous healings. And yet, as much as C/charismatic manifestations are good, desirable and exciting, I can’t seem to get away from Luke’s description of the church as the primary and ongoing manifestation of the power and life of the Holy Spirit in Acts.