Anchor Sunday School Class
by Bob Marsh
SHOULD WE BE PENTECOSTALS? WHAT IS PENTECOSTAL PREACHING?
Some years ago, I announced in the Church’s paper that my Sunday Bible study would be a question, based on Acts 2. “Should our Church be a Pentecostal Church?” Those who attended the Bible study quickly grasped the point: Acts 2 gives to us the birthday of the Church and the characteristics of a New Testament Church. It is about the DAY OF PENTECOST, and the features that would define a Spirit-filled Church. I had not considered that some dear soul would completely miss the point, embrace a caricature, and chase after a stereotype. One deacon, whose spiritual gift seemed to be fault-finding, was outraged that the pastor would even consider moving the church into the Pentecostal movement, for surely that means “speaking in tongues, slaying in the spirit, maybe embracing snakes, and all sorts of weird manifestations of being Pentecostal.”
Acts 2 gives to us the pattern of a true New Testament Church, which is tantamount to saying “Pentecostal Church.” When we get past the stereotypes and caricatures of what “Pentecostal” actually means, we find some exciting and healthy marks of what a Church should be. Let me distill Acts 2 by asking a simple but extremely significant question:
“WHAT ARE THE MARKS OF A SPIRIT-FILLED, CHRIST-CENTERED CHURCH?”
First of all, in Acts 2:1-13, we have the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell the people of God, bring the redeemed people together to form a new body, a new community, a caring fellowship, a new temple, and empower them to go into all the world and share the gospel(Acts 1:8; Ephesians 2:14-22). Old Covenant (Testament) prophecies were fulfilled, the “Last Days” were inaugurated, and “a people belonging to God, the Church, was created in order to declare the praises of Him Who called them out of darkness into His wonderful light (I Peter 2:9).
But our question for today is “WHAT SHOULD BE THE MARKS OF THIS NEW COMMUNITY?” Or, am I striving to make certain that my Church is reflecting what a New Testament Church, born at Pentecost, should be?”
Secondly, beginning at 2:14 we learn that the best way to understand Pentecost is not through the Old Covenant, though we begin there, but through the New Covenant fulfillment. As Peter summons the people together to listen to him, the first words out of his mouth are “Jesus of Nazareth.” Then Peter goes on to tell the story of Jesus in several stages. Nail this fact down! This “new thing” is not about the forming of a denomination, nor a new philosophy, not even a new religion. It is about the fulfillment of the Old Covenant in a Person, the Messiah, JESUS OF NAZARETH. Notice some vital theological factors that must be incorporated in and through a Spirit-filled Church.
1. The Doctrine of the Incarnation, vs 22. “Jesus was a man.” That was as radical a statement as could be spoken; that the God of the universe would become human! The DOCTRINE OF THE INCARNATION is the foundation of the Gospel, and this truth must permeate the proclamation of a “Pentecostal Church.” John 1:1-18.
2. The Doctrine of the Cross, the Atonement. Vs 23. Here Peter declares that the crucifixion of Jesus is attributed to both the purpose of God and the sinfulness of humankind. It will be later before a developed doctrine of the Atonement is presented, but here there is an understanding that through Jesus’ crucifixion God’s saving purpose was being worked out.
3. The Doctrine of the Resurrection, vs 24-32. We will hear this truth proclaimed throughout Acts, and the other letters of the New Testament. E.g., Acts 3:15; 4:10, 33. Peter emphasizes that the Old Covenant is fulfilled in Jesus, and the amazing fact that “God raised Him from the dead.” 2:25-31.
4. The Doctrine of His Exaltation, vs 33-36. Peter moves from the resurrection to Jesus’ exaltation at the right hand of God, again claiming that this is another fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Ephesians 2:19-22; Philippians 2:5-11.
5. The Doctrine of His Gift of Salvation, vs 37-39. A “Pentecostal Church” will proclaim “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD.” (Romans 6:23). A Spirit-filled Church will proclaim that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12). Those who heard Peter were “cut to the heart,” that is, convicted of their need to come to God through Christ. “Conviction of sin” sounds so “not with it” today, yet this is an imperative result of Spirit-filled proclamation. Acts 2:37-39 is a non-negotiable mark of a Church that seeks to be a New Testament, Pentecostal Church: when the gospel is proclaimed, the natural response would be “what shall we do?” The answer given in vs 38 is Heaven’s answer for Earth’s question, giving Heaven’s light for Earth’s darkness, giving Heaven’s Hope for Earth’s hopelessness. Those who repent, a change of mind that results in a change of direction, will receive (1) the forgiveness of sin (rejecting God’s Messiah), and (2) the gift of the Holy Spirit (who will regenerate, indwell, unite, and transform them). The “promise” of the Spirit mentioned in 1:4 and 2:33 was not only for the Apostles, but for “all believers in Jesus,” including those who were “far off.” Everyone God calls to Himself through Christ, and who responds to that call, receives both gifts.
6. The Doctrine of His New Community, vs 40-47. Luke, the writer of this letter, joins voice with all the other writers of the New Testament: “Salvation is personal, but it does not isolate us.” There will be a public identification with other believers. When a person makes a commitment to the Messiah, there is also a commitment to the Messianic Community. That New Community is the Body of Christ, a new nation, a new family, and a new Temple. Ephesians 2:14-22; I Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; I Peter 2:4-10. Coming to Jesus the Messiah is a transfer from one community (Colossians 1:12-14; Ephesians 5:8) to another. It is the coming from darkness to the kingdom of light, from death to life, and it the coming into a Kingdom of love, peace, and power. (II Corinthians 5:17-2).
What is the point? The Day of Pentecost did not stop when the sun set on that transforming day. It was the beginning of (1) The last days, (2) the beginning of the New Community of Faith, the Church, (3) the bringing together of the Body of Christ to be a new family, a living Temple of God, (4) the indwelling of God’s Spirit in the lives of His people, (5) to empower them to witness, share the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Here we have the MARKS OF A NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH. When the Spirit of God indwells God’s people, they become a New Community of the Spirit, PROCLAIMING DOCTRINAL TRUTHS about a person, JESUS OF NAZARETH. We can determine whether a church is truly a NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH (Pentecostal) by what is being proclaimed. The first sermon preached by the early church, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, is the harbinger of Spirit-guided proclamation: JESUS OF NAZARETH. What was proclaimed on Pentecost is the same gospel that is to be proclaimed today. So, yes, we should be PENTECOSTAL CHRISTIANS in order to manifest that we have “been called out of darkness into His wonderful light.”
The DAY OF PENTECOST as a calendar event has passed. The MESSAGE OF PENTECOST, PROCLAIMING JESUS THE MESSIAH, defines a true NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH and it will never pass. The EMPOWERING OF THE SPIRIT to create a community of Salt and Light, proclaiming Christ to the nations, is available today to those who will be available to JESUS THE CHRIST. So, again we say, let us remember that we are IN-CHRIST people, followers of the living Jesus, or to put it in the context of Acts 2, PENTECOSTAL CHRISTIANS.
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