BEYOND PENTECOST - WHAT COMES NEXT?
R. D. Ice 10-21-2003
After Pentecost, what??? One has written: “Perhaps it is time for us to realize that as long as we debate institutions and structures, and not the mystery of the Church in her depths, we are bypassing the real issue.”
What if God withdrew His Holy Spirit from our world???
Without the Holy Spirit, God would be far away. Christ would stay in the past. The Church would be simply another organization. Authority would be a matter of domination. Preaching the gospel would be a matter of propaganda. Worship would be no more than seeking to “call upon” an absent Deity. Christian living would be no more than a “slave mentality.”
The Holy Spirit IS present. The Creation is resurrected and groans with the birth pangs of the Kingdom. The Risen Christ is here. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation. The Church shows forth the life of the One God who is a Trinity. Authority is a liberating service to bless all humanity. Preaching the gospel is a “Pentecost.” Worship remembers the Cross & Resurrection; celebrates present blessings; anticipates the coming future glory. Human action is given a divine meaning.
James M. Campbell wrote in 1897. “The truth for which Pentecost stands requires to be specially emphasized in the present day to counteract the tendency towards materialism in philosophy and life; and also to counteract the tendency toward formalism in religion. On the one hand we have a science which denies the existence of spiritual agencies and shuts God out of His world, combined with a worldly spirit which takes account of the seen and tangible only, and ignores the spiritual in life; and on the other hand we have a religion which shows a decided tendency to decorous formality in worship, and to exclusive absorption in mere outward activities and in material and humanitarian interests, to the neglect of the cultivation of inward life, from which all the streams of religious activity are fed. How needful, therefore, it is to see that the Holy Spirit is here to oppose and to overcome this downward drift! . . The advent of the Spirit means that there is now present in the world a divine power working for spiritual results. . . The two pivotal events in historic Christianity are the coming of Christ in the flesh, and the coming of the Spirit.”
Note that Jesus said: “And I will pray to the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:16-18. NKJV
Jesus said: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” John 16:7-11. NKJV
"Nor bound, nor clime, nor creed thou know'st
Wide as our need thy favors fall,
The white wings of the Holy Ghost
Stoop, seen or unseen, o'er the heads of all."
Partly because of the rationalism of John Locke, partly due to the extremes of "pentecostalism" on the frontier, God The Holy Spirit has been pushed aside or ignored [even denied by some] among the Restoration Movement.
"An attempt is made to bring the doctrines of the Holy Spirit into harmony with the enlarged Christological thoughts of the present day. The place which the doctrine of the Holy Spirit occupies in the self-revelation of God to man is just beginning to be appreciated. It is not too much to say that no other doctrine within the circle of evangelical truth has suffered a more complete eclipse." [James M. Campell]
In New Testament Christianity the Holy Spirit is acknowledged as One with the Father, and it was sufficient to appeal to Christian consciousness as evidence of His continual presence, to regenerated lives as evidence of His divine power. “The Fathers in the church appealed to experience because Christianity, as they knew, is essentially not a past event, but a present life; a life first manifested in Christ, and then perpetuated in His church.” [Gore]
We do not need to go back to Pentecost. We need for the church to bring Pentecost into the present. We look to the past, but we must look to the future also. God’s great kingdom must reach forward into the future, to spreading the gospel of Christ Jesus - Crucified, Risen Coming Again. As a historical event, Pentecost can never come back again. But everything that was spiritual and essential remains. The heavens that were opened are kept open. God The Holy Spirit continually bestows vitality and spiritual power to God’s church.
1. A spiritual Christ. A changeless gospel must adapt to a changing society. Note Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. The message never changes, but methods do. And it is the historical task of the church to be forever spiritualizing more and more her understanding of the Christ and of salvation.
The One God is Father-Son-Holy Spirit. [Some demote the Spirit to emphasize Christ, and then demote Christ to emphasize the Father.] The coming of God The Holy Spirit on Pentecost was the coming of Christ to dwell in the hearts of His people by His Spirit. James M. Campbell wrote: “No more serious mistake could be made than to regard the Holy Spirit as supplying the lack of an absent Christ. He is rather the ‘bodiless divinity’ [the Nameless One] by whom Christ, no longer with us in the flesh, is made present and omnipresent.”
“While He [Christ] was with His disciples they were like weak children clinging to the hand of a father; when He was taken away they learned to walk alone. The blossom dropped off that the fruit might appear; the earthly Christ faded from sight that the spiritual Christ might be revealed; the visible hand was withdrawn that the unseen hand might henceforth guide and sustain in all life’s dark and difficult ways.” [J. M. Campbell]
Paul speaks of an ongoing spiritual transformation in we Christians. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” [2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV]
God is One. The Christ who could die is seen to be also the Christ who has conquered death and is alive forevermore. It is not enough to believe in a Christ who lived and died. We must also believe in a Christ who lives and reigns right now. The ransomed march on their way to
with everlasting Holy Joy upon their heads. Zion
2. A spiritual God. In giving a spiritual Christ Pentecost gave a spiritual God. Pentecost did not give a new God, but a new and fuller conception of God. The Incarnation was God manifest in the flesh. Pentecost was God manifest in the Spirit. “God is Spirit, and only by the power of His Spirit can people worship Him as He really is.” John 4:24 GNB [A correct way this verse can be translated.]
J. M. Campbell writes: “Taken simply to express the threeness, or the three-foldness of the One divine Being, the names Father, Son and Holy Spirit are full of precious significance. But, instead of saying Father, Son, and Spirit are one God, we ought to say there is one God, who is Father, Son and Spirit. The Father is God in universal relations; the Son is God in revelation; the Holy Spirit is God in operation. If love be the immanent power ‘by which Deity unfolds into a Trinity,’ in the Father we have the original fountain of love, in the Son we have love revealing itself, in the Holy Spirit we have love communicating itself. God as love could not remain in solitude or inactivity.”
Pentecost did not mark His coming into the world or into the heart of man for the first time. But it did mark His coming in fullness of power. It marked a new stage [dispensation] in His continuous and continuing redemptive activity. “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (Jesus in John 5:17)
Peter in his sermon on Pentecost makes the fullness of the Spirit’s operations the distinguishing. feature of the new covenant age ushered in that day. “I will pour our My Spirit upon all flesh” was declared to be fulfilled. Sons and daughters, young men and old men, servants and handmaidens - there was a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all. Compare Peter’s defense to the Jewish leaders at
Acts 11:15-18. “Then I remembered the
word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall
be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” Jerusalem
3. Spiritual worship. J. M. Campbell wrote: “The truth that God is spirit carries with it the obligation to worship Him in spirit and in truth. The revelation of God in the Spirit being the final form of divine self-manifestation, those who do not know Him in the Spirit do not know Him as He is now revealing Himself, and those who do not worship Him in spirit do not worship Him in the way in which He seeks to be worshipped.” An alternate translation of John 4:24 would be: “God is Spirit, and only by the power of His Spirit can people worship Him as He really is.”
Worship in the New Covenant is not of “ritual and holy places.” Not location centered, yet the First Century church gathered together in groups to join in worship. Somewhat like the synagogue, they sang praise, studied the Bible, preached [someone spoke a lesson of encouragement], took up a collection to carry on the work of the Lord (including taking care of the poor and needy). Since Jesus raised from the dead, we now celebrate the Lord’s Supper [the Holy Meal] to remember and to praise Him. Material actions can have spiritual results. The group of worshippers has fellowship - koinonia - as we/they raise one voice to God. The more real the love of Jesus becomes in and through our lives [and our worship], the more real our fellowship with fellow believers. Compare 1 Corinthians 10:16-17.
When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, our attention is drawn to the bread and the cup (fruit of the vine) and the statement: “Do this in memory of Me.” However, we first look to Him who invites us. As Jesus prepared for the Last Supper, He said, “I have longed to eat this Passover with you” [Luke 22:15]. It is the Lord who first desires to unite Himself to us. He loves us first and invites us to His table at which He presides invisibly while, in His name, a brother presides visibly. The Holy Meal is Jesus coming to be with His own. The Holy Meal is an act both of the Lord and of His Church; or rather, an act of the Lord in and for His Church.
4. A spiritual apprehension of Truth. The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit [1 Corinthians 2:14]. We thank God that the “ABCs of the Gospel are so clear that anyone can understand enough to produce faith in us and prepare us for spiritual knowledge. Being born of “water and the Spirit” [John 3:5; Titus 3:5] gives us the ability to evaluate the written word - God’s wisdom - as the Spirit makes this known to us. To a soul immersed in carnality, the spiritual world is a blank page. But to the spiritual man/woman, sensitized by The Spirit, the spiritual world stands revealed. Paul writes: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory” [1 Corinthians 2:7].
Christ has finished the work He came to do. A baptized Christian has been born of water and The Spirit. Baptism is a “finished work” in that he/she has already received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not still on His way, but He is already radically present from the very beginning of this Christian life - even if the awareness of His Presence is not known by the person. Strictly speaking, our need is not to become holy, but to remain so (compare 2 Corinthians 5:17): we must become what we already are. We have received the Spirit of Holiness within us as a pledge and first fruits. Now we must be faithful to this and in faithfulness cultivate the resources already within us. “You must be holy,” says God.
When the action of the Holy Spirit becomes more effective in us, it is not that the Spirit has suddenly awakened like some dormant volcano unexpectedly come to life. It is we who are awakened to His Presence by a combined movement of His grace, a deeper faith, a more living hope, a more burning love. It is God who reaches out to us and bears us aloft. This is a truth that we must learn and learn again.
5. An influx of spiritual life. Salvation is much more than forgiveness. We are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus [2 Corinthians 3:6-18]. This larger life which the Holy Spirit brings is the life which Christ brought down from heaven. Christ said: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” [John 10:10]. This abundant life which He came to bestow is administered by the Holy Spirit. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. . . But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive” [John 7:37-39]. After Jesus was glorified in the Cross & Resurrection, the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is Himself the “rivers of living water” of which Jesus spoke. Compare Isaiah 12:3; 43:20; 44:3; 55:1; Ezekiel 47:1-12. And, Jesus’ offer to the Samaritan woman [John 4:13-14].
6. The spiritual man. As we bear the image of the first Adam, so we Christians bear the image of Christ who is the second Adam [1 Corinthians 15:47-49]. Brinsmead said: “The Holy Spirit works into us what Christ worked out for us.” We are to “work out our salvation” in the sense of making our salvation a real experience, a new way of life. Compare Romans 12:1-2.
“For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father .” To be a Christian is to be Spirit-filled. Compare 1 Corinthians 12:13. In preaching the whole gospel, we must include the role of The Spirit also. [The written word is not intended to be a substitute for The Spirit. Nor is the church a substitute for Christ.]
A human is body/soul/spirit [1 Thessalonians 5:23]. The spiritual human is possessed by The Spirit. We are Spirit-moved, Spirit-possessed, Spirit-governed, one with Him in all things, filled with the love of God, holy joy, and all the fruit of the Spirit.
The spiritual human has gained the mastery over the material. Jesus and His apostles dignified work by being a carpenter, a tentmaker, a fisherman. But material things were tools to be used to the glory of God. Compare Ephesians 4:28; Acts 6:1-6; Luke 3:11.
The spiritual human is one to whom all of life is spiritual. No distinction between sacred and secular. It is not that the sacred has become common, but that the common has become sacred. What is the church doing? Plowing the field, clerking in a store, feeding the hungry. But especially praying, preaching the gospel, praising God. We know no one is a “fleshly way” [2 Corinthians 5:15-19]. In Christ we are a new creation, related to God through a new covenant, and the world is crucified to us.
The spiritual human is empowered to do spiritual work. [Warning: it would be an error to be so spiritually minded that we were no earthly good.] Filled with the Spirit’s sympathy and love, he/she gives himself/ herself to others, expecting nothing in return. Without spirituality all gifts, natural and acquired, are useless and vain. But let a man be moved by the impulses which come from the heart of the Spirit and he will be impelled to bring the fruits of his life as an offering of love, and lay them down at the feet of the Divine Master whose service is the service of mankind. Put “men whose heart God has touched” behind the truth and it will touch other hearts. We do not need a “new gospel,” but we need men and women who are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
7. Spiritual holiness. “Fill the bushel (basket) with wheat,” said John Newton, “and you may defy the devil to fill it with tares.” Note Jesus’ parable about the evil spirit [Matthew 12:43-45]. It is not enough to flee from sin. We must practice righteousness as a habit. As light displaces darkness; as dead leaves are pushed off by the swelling of new leaf-buds; as snow slides of the roof when reached by the heat from within; so evil disappears when the Holy Spirit, the Conqueror of sin, takes possession of the heart and life.
The Holy Spirit does not flow into a self-emptied soul like air into a vacuum. The command is not, “Empty your hearts and I will fill them.” It is “Open your hearts and I will fill them.” Note the example of Joshua the high priest [Zechariah 3:3-4]. “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.” Some are desperately trying to do with their own efforts what has been already accomplished at the Cross. Even at its best the religion of the Pharisees was a thing of formality and ritual rather than life. It was good form, but lacked a right spirit. Compare Luke 18:9-14. When at Pentecost God filled the lives of the 120 with power, and again at the house of Cornelius, a transformation took place in the lives of these disciples which was as great a change as any of the signs and wonders. Power to be holy was bestowed on sinful men/women.
Paul warned about having a form of religion, but denying the power (“they will hold to the outward form of our religion but reject its real power” GNB) [2 Timothy 3:5; 1 Timothy 5:8]. Jesus Himself went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil [Acts 10:38].
8. Spiritual authority. J. M. Campbell wrote: “Pentecost marks advancement from outward to inward authority; from outward obedience to inward obedience; from outward restraint to inward constraint; from a law written upon parchment to a law written in the heart.” Compare Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:3.
The authority of God over our lives is spiritual. The Law was “rule and regulations” covering the details of life. The New Covenant is written in hearts and lives. The two great commandments are to love God with our minds, heart strength, lives; and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus said on these hang all the Law and the prophets.
The authority of God over our lives is administered by Christ. “The government is upon His shoulders.” His nail-pierced hands hold the scepter of universal dominion. He is King in the absolute sense, having all power and all authority. And He is a King who loves His people and works for their good.
Christ administers His authority through the Holy Spirit. J. M. Campbell wrote: “Apart from the work of the Spirit upon the hearts of men, the influence of Christ would soon have faded out, and Christianity have become a spent (exhausted) force. By the coming of the Spirit the spiritual authority of Christ was perpetuated, and His authority made a reality in human experience.” [Salvation is too important to be left entirely in human hands. Compare Romans 8:26-30.]
God, through Christ, through the Holy Spirit, imparts a new principle of obedience. This principle of obedience is love - Christian love. Compare 1 John 3:23; 4:7-21; 5:1-5. God’s own love is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit [Romans 5:1-5]. J. M. Campbell wrote: “The authority founded upon love is compatible with the largest possible freedom. The law of love which Christ promulgated and exemplified, the law by which He rules, is ‘the perfect law of liberty (liberation).’” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Loveless labor and duty is drudgery. Labor of love is a delight. B. F. Mills was quoted as saying: “to be a legalistic Christian is harder than to be a perfect Jew.”
9. Spiritual gifts. Each is born with a gift or gifts. All have at least one. This is true of natural, but not of spiritual gifts. In the church of the First Century spiritual gifts were given by the Holy Spirit to each as He willed, so that each was equipped to do his/her part in the work of the church. Compare Ephesians 4:7-16; Colossians 3:12-17.
Coming together as an assembly to worship is vitally important [Hebrews 10:25]. But there is also an overall “life” of the congregation at all times. An English writer of the 1800s wrote: “The whole world is a temple and man is everywhere a worshipper.” Pure religion (worship - threskea) is expressed in outward actions. Jesus pictures the Judgment as “pass/fail” according to works of kindness and helpfulness. (Matt. 25:31-48).
Some set up “zone meetings” to get the congregation to interact with each other. Others act as though they believed the church ceased to exist between “assemblies.” The
day in the temple and house to house as well.
They began works of benevolence
immediately as we may infer from Acts 6:1-7. church
Spiritual gifts are for the good of the whole church. One has written: “Authority owes it to itself to listen and to assume at times its proper responsibility when faced with necessary changes: it will thus avoid being relegated to rearguard action. It is striking to see how the ‘children of light’ can be so far behind the ‘children of this world’ when it comes to accepting self-criticism and a strict and impartial evaluation of methods and results.”
10. Spiritual operations. One wrote in 1973 looking forward to the future of his “brotherhood.” “We shall have, therefore, a period of greater freedom in the life of the Church and her individual members. It will be a period of fewer legal obligations and fewer interior restraints. Formal discipline will be reduced; all arbitrary intolerance and all absolutism will be abolished. Positive law will be simplified, and the exercise of authority will be moderated. There will be promoted the sense of that Christian freedom which pervaded the first generation of Christians.”
The Church in all her dimensions obeys one and the same Spirit. As a visible reality of this world, she must have laws and mechanisms. The Word of God and the Spirit of Jesus are the ultimate authority in the Church and all “leadership” is at her service.
But the danger of legalism becomes greater whenever the “leadership” attempts to create “laws” which are too precise, with all the risks that implies, since these must then be applied concretely in very different circumstances. To strive for unity in the Church through rules and regulations is to confuse unity with uniformity. [Unity is in Christ and the Holy Spirit.]
One wrote to warn against “legalism” in our thinking. “We have made the Church an organization like any other. We have invested all our efforts in making it able to stand by itself, and now those efforts are expended in getting it to function. It goes, more or less, really mostly less, but it goes. Only, it goes like a machine, not like something alive.”
The Church must always step back from her history and look at herself in the mirror, as James says, to “see the face she was born with,” lest she go off and “forget what she looks like.” The history of the Church if for us a school of humility. This same history is a school of hope. We learn that the Church’s most disconcerting moments prepared the way for unexpected tomorrows. We now can easily think we are at the end of the world when we really are only at the end of a world.
11. A spiritual Kingdom. Love & Power, There is a surprising link between Christian love and spiritual power that we need to look at closely. The love of God that is poured out into our hearts [Romans 5:5] is just that, the love of God. That love is profoundly humble, but it is also profoundly free and powerful. This doesn’t look like the freedom and power that the world recognizes. Immediately after Paul’s great hymn of praise to Love [1 Corinthians 13], he goes on to say: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” It is not enough to sit back and let love come to us - we are to pursue love. We are to seek eagerly after love, to seek God Himself, to seek eagerly to walk the way of love. And it is not enough to be “open” to the spiritual gifts; instead we must set our heart on them, positively desire them, pray for them, confidently yield to them. Love impels us to avail ourselves of all that God is willing to make available to us as a way of helping and serving others, of setting others free, of encouraging and strengthening them. Not to set our hearts on spiritual gifts is to fall back into that cowardice, timidity, or fear that Scripture explicitly warns us against. Compare 2 Timothy 1:6-7.
As one has said: “We must recover holiness without legalism, boldness without presumption, and power without pride. When the church does this she will gain the attention of both the heavens and the earth, because her God will be with her in His manifest presence.”
There is an energy, a dynamic, a power, a strength imparted by God through the Holy Spirit, love poured out into our hearts that energizes us to act. “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily (Colossians 1:28-29 NKJV).
Christian love and spiritual power are intended to be profoundly linked; when they are not, something less than the fullness of the gospel is present. Strengthened now, in faith, hope, love, and spiritual power, let us look again at the situation in which we and the whole Church are living.
Ralph Martin wrote in 1994: “Seventeen hundred years of Christendom are falling into ruins around us. An age is coming to an end, not just the end of a remarkable century but the end of seventeen hundred years of Christendom. The greatest apostasy since the birth of the Church is clearly far advanced all around us.” Yet at the same time we can see that Africa and
(and China?) have emerged as a new center of Christendom. India
God has made all mankind with an instinct for truth, a sense of right and wrong, and most of all a hunger for God Himself. Eventually, truth will win out. Perhaps after great suffering and great waiting, but truth will win out!!!
God is judging His church. Judgment begins at the house of God. 1 Peter 4:17. Our choice: Throw up our hands in despair? Lift up our hands in prayer, praise, joy, hope! Note 1 Timothy 2:8. We are privileged to live in a time that while exceedingly difficult, is also a time where we have seen and will see yet more of the great interventions of God. But one thing is certain, God is not worried about the situation. He is not anxious. He is not afraid. He is in control and will see to it that all things work out to the good of those who love Him. The nations may rage. Mankind may scheme. God laughs. Compare Psalm 2:1-6.
At her best the Church is full of faults, many warts and wrinkles. An ideal church is nowhere to be found, but a church with an ideal is found wherever there is a church in which the Holy Spirit dwells. She - the Church - believes that great things are struggling to birth in the womb of the present. She “abounds in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” ([Romans 15:13]. The Holy Spirit fills her life with a never failing hope. “Then he said to me, ‘Write: Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true saying of God.’” Revelation 19:9.