While I (and my generation) shy away from labels, the language we use does provide meaning. Therefore, it is practical and pertinent to ask the question, “What does it mean to be Pentecostal?”
I've heard many people identify themselves to be Pentecostal and there are a variety of meanings that are attached to their usage of the term. For instance:
- I grew up in a Pentecostal church, or my parents used to go to a Pentecostal church.
- I attend a Pentecostal church.
- I like dynamic worship songs, so I must be Pentecostal.
While the above elements are not "wrong" per-say, Going to a Pentecost church doesn't make you any more Pentecostal, than going to McDonald's makes you a hamburger. However you may label yourself, I would like to redeem the term Pentecostal and provide a brief, yet Biblical definition in a 2 part blog-entry.
The purpose of this entry is not to separate a Pentecostal Christian from other Christians, but to properly clarify what it means to be Pentecostal. In fact, in the first century as the church was being formed, there was no distinction between a Pentecostal church and a non-Pentecostal church. This move/gift of God's Spirit was shared with all those who accepted the message of Christ.
In order to progress, we will first begin in the Old Testament which provides the context of what now has become reality through Christ. Part #2 we will return to Acts 2:1-4 which will help define specifically what it means to be Pentecostal in the New Testament and beyond to present day.
- In the Old Testament, Pentecost or Shavuot, was to be celebrated 7 full weeks (or 50 days according to Leviticus 23:15-16) after Passover when God brought the national of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. It was traditionally a joyous time of giving thanks and presenting offerings for the new grain of the summer wheat harvest in Israel. The parrellel between Old Testament and New Testament was that following Jesus' Resurrection (of which Christ was the “Passover lamb”), there was a span of 50 days that passed before the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The outpouring of God's Spirit in this chapter was an empowering work for the spiritual harvest.
- This day of God's outpouring was foretold in Joel 2. We know this because Peter explains what happened in the beginning of Acts chapter #2 as he addresses the crowds, referencing Joel's prophecy.
The "promise of the Father," foretold in Joel 2, became the launching point for the Church recorded by Luke in the book of Acts. Since the Old Testament provides a shadow (or representation) of what was to come in Christ, briefly describing the OT references allows us to understand the New Testament revelation of Pentecost. It is so vitally important for us to not only understand what it means to be Pentecostal, but also to BE PENTECOSTAL. The life of the Church depends on it.
How this is practically expressed will be examined in the next entry. Stay tuned...