Our current editing work on books to be released in the next month is very rich with thoughts for Pentecost Sunday. In each case, page numbers are from the advance reader copies and may vary slightly in the final edition.
First, from Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening by Bob Cornwall, pages 53-54:
The place to start, as a community of faith, is to affirm in our own contexts the word that described the experience of the Corinthian church. That word, according to Paul, declared that the community had been enriched in every way through gifts of “speech and knowledge of every kind.” They didn’t lack any “spiritual gift as [they waited] for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:4-7). If the church grasps this message, then the next step is for God’s people to discern and discover the nature and use of their own gifts, so that they might join together as one body in missional service to God and God’s creation.
Embracing our spiritual potentialities, our giftedness, is to affirm that we are created in God’s likeness, with a mandate to love and serve God. The implications for churches, especially Mainline Protestant churches, of the promise that the people of God can discover spiritual gifts that will enable and empower them to engage in the transformative work that accompanies the coming of God’s reign, is incredibly significant.
The reticence that some feel about this understanding of ministry in the church is that it runs counter to the long held belief that ministry is something that ordained clergy do, while the laity benefits from this ministry. This understanding of ministry creates a built-in sense of dependency on clergy. The point here isn’t to offer a critique of structure, for structure has its place. The question is—have we created a sense of dependency that undermines our ability to live into the mission of God?
The potential benefits derived from embracing the idea that the whole people of God are gifted for ministry are too great to ignore. In discovering their gifts, the people of God will first of all begin to grow spiritually as they throw off the shackles of dependency. From there the people, having understood that the Spirit is alive within them, can join together as a community and begin to share in ministry that brings hope and healing to a fragmented and broken world. (emphasis added)
And next from Bruce Epperly, Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel, pages 36-37:
On that day, Jerusalem hosted Jewish worshipers from throughout the known world. They had come for the Pentecost festival, traveling great distances at great sacrifice to deepen their faith and give glory to the God of Israel. No doubt they expected meaningful prayer and worship, but few expected to be part of a spiritual earthquake. Luke describes the ethnic diversity of the Pentecost pilgrims and their surprise at the words of the Apostles: “And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
Divine inspiration transcends and transforms diversity. Everyone hears in her or his own language. They united in their active participation in the movements of God’s spirit. Though some scoffed at this astounding revelation of divine unity, the Spirit continues to move, uniting the separated and creating a new community of faith.
United as they are, this community also honored diversity. Medes were not asked to become like Elamites and Parthians were not asked to follow the cultural practices of Pamphylians, nor was anyone asked to become a cultural Jew. The Pentecost spirit created a unity in Christ that embraced and affirmed diversity.
Pentecost reflects God’s own quest to balance unity and diversity. God loves diversity. Just look at the non-human world in its wondrous variety. Explore the many hues of humankind and the many gifts of culture. Pentecost faith challenges us to affirm two important things: God’s Spirit makes us one and God’s Spirit brings out the gifts of our diversity. Today, the movements of the Spirit are inspiring many new forms of Christianity alongside traditional Eastern and Western Christianity. We can rejoice in the imagination and innovations of emerging Christianity, the growing Pentecostal movement in the Southern hemisphere, the rebirth of socially conscious evangelical Christianity, and the revival of open-spirited progressive Christian faith. Like the colors on a palette, we recognize differences, but difference calls us to affirm contrast rather than opposition even when we challenge one another’s theological, social, or ethical positions. One in the Spirit, we delight in our manifold diversity.
And finally from Identifying Your Gifts and Service: Small Group Edition by Henry Neufeld, pages 44-46:
… Paul calls for the church to bring its great variety of resources under the control of one Spirit.
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
So the church is characterized by great variety that is brought into unity as it brings itself into one Spirit.
It’s important to notice at this point that everyone who receives Christ is brought under the power of this Spirit. It is not the result of a special event such as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but simply the result of putting our trust in Jesus Christ at salvation. When we put our trust in Jesus Christ he gives us his Spirit. As Paul says:
12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NRSV)
The reason it is important to emphasize this point is that everyone in the church is gifted by God. There is no specially privileged group. There are only Christians, gifted by God, empowered and guided by the one Holy Spirit. The experience of Spirit baptism can bring new gifts to our awareness and help us to use them, but the Holy Spirit is active in all Christians.
Our natural response to the diversity that is present in any congregation is to attempt to control it. Control is characterized by the following:
Limit the diversity of ministry
Control results from fear and thus looks first at the safety of any sort of ministry. What harm can be done? How can we prevent such harm? If there is a potential for harm, then control hopes to prevent the danger by cutting off the ministry.
Aims to prevent problems
Rather than looking at the potential benefits of a ministry, a controller looks at managing the risk.
Characterized by “emergency response” approach
Often the person interested in control prefers to leave things alone and prefers to ignore them. This is not a desire for freedom, but rather an attempt to keep activities quiet so that they don’t get out of hand. When they do get out of hand, then the emergency response is generally to clamp a large body of rules to prevent the potential risks.
In contrast the leading of the Spirit places emphasis on ministry.
Brings diversity into the body
Spirit led ministry tries to bring all parts of the body into full participation in the ministry of the church, because that is the way the body can best be built up.
Guides the diversity into unity of ministry
Unity of action using a diversity of people and diversity of gifts is the true mark of a Spirit led ministry
Focuses on maximizing the ministry
Spirit led ministry does not focus on giving particular people credit, or on minimizing the risks, but rather on maximizing the ministry. (Note that maximizing the ministry may involve minimizing risks; the issue is which of the two is your primary focus.)
Constantly anticipates needs
Instead of waiting for trouble, Spirit led ministry is always looking for needs to fulfill.
Brings maximum gifts to bear on each need
Whatever gifts are available and relevant are brought to bear on the problem.
So Happy Birthday Church! Let’s work to apply the lessons of the early church to our churches today and see what God will do!